Tag Archives: comic book outsiders

The end of CBO…well, sort of.

Five years ago this July I started podcasting with a friend. This is back in 2007 when there weren’t that many podcasts. That sounds like a crazy thing to say, but ten years ago there weren’t any smart phones either, not really. The first one might have just come out, but it was nothing like the powerful machines we all carry around in our pockets these days. Machines with more memory than a hundred or even a thousand of my first PCs. But I digress. The point was, when I started doing podcasting on a regular basis, it was at a time when I had a sign on my table at a comics convention that read, ask me about podcasts. Almost every hour during that weekend one or two people came up and asked me ‘So what is a podcast?’

We weren’t one of the first, not by a long shot, but we were fairly unique at the time in that we only focused on comics outside the mainstream publishers of Marvel and DC. By that time the majority of the comics I was reading came from other publishers and other podcasts had coverage of the Big2 all sewn up. It seemed like a good fit. I was a life long comic book reader and I wanted to talk about some great comics people might not be aware of. My co-host was someone recently returned to comics and he was looking for some original material.

Five years on and we’re bringing the podcast to a close. During that time the show evolved in a number of different ways with new segments and we expanded our remit into covering hidden gems from the world of independent comics, movies, films and television. We also added a book club and I’m very proud of it and grateful to our listeners for taking part and getting involved. I’m also very pleased that we started it because it forced me to read some books I would probably never have picked up otherwise, it filled in some gaps in my classic SF and genre reading, and it introduced me and the listeners to some fantastic authors. Over the years we were lucky enough to get some great authors to take part in the podcast and interview them about their work including Arthur C. Clarke Award winners such as China Mieville (The City & The City) and Lauren Beukes (Zoo City).

We’ve also interviewed a number of independent filmmakers, and people I struggle to classify even now, but ultimately they were all extremely creative individuals trying something new, such as Jason Neulander, the creator of The Intergalactic Nemesis, a live stage show with a graphic novel projected behind the actors. He and the show were recently on Conan doing a mini performance with Conan taking part. Since 2007 we have also spoken to a number of comic book writers and artists, people I greatly admire and respect and whose work I still eagerly follow.

At times life or other commitments got in the way and the frequency of the podcast changed, or sometimes one of us wasn’t available and guest hosts stepped into the breach bringing fresh eyes, but we kept going. We always said we make the podcast because we enjoy talking about comics and so on, and best of all I like introducing people to new material they might not have heard about because it’s not local, or their comic shop doesn’t stock it, or they just weren’t aware that it even existed.

I had attended several comic book conventions before we started the podcast, but thereafter I was occasionally on a panel talking about podcasting and other forms of new media and where podcasting sits in the new wave of social media that has become increasingly important in the last eight years or so. It was very interesting to be on the other side of the table and to be sat facing a crowd of people. I actually dislike public speaking and don’t like being the centre of attention, but thankfully I wasn’t on the panels by myself and through the podcast community and the conventions I made a lot of new friends.

It’s also worth mentioning that what started out as a hobby, something that I did for fun, became something that I was able to use in my day job. Over those five years our skills at recording, editing, producing and even speaking on a chosen subject improved dramatically. We didn’t rehearse but we learned the rhythms of the other and we stopped saying um, and er, all the time. It also meant that the amount of time we spent editing was greatly reduced. A couple of jobs back, in the wake of the rise of social media and the growing importance it plays in business, the company I was working for at the time wanted to start an internal podcast for their staff who are spread out across the globe. A few weeks later I was training other people and passing on some of my podcast skills. A very weird but quire rewarding twist indeed.

I still enjoy doing the podcast but after five years I think we’ve sort of run our natural course. There are now thousands, if not tens of thousands, of podcasts, and many of them cover some or all of the same material as us. Some specialise in segments we touched on occasionally and others are equally as broad in their remit, so there is a lot more choice nowadays compared to when we started. I have a list of almost two dozen podcasts I regularly listen to during my daily commutes and, regardless of the subject, all of them are producing by passionate fans.

So, what happens next? Well, Comic Book Outsiders in its current form will cease to exist at some point in July. Thereafter the book club is going to continue so I will still be speaking to my co-host Scott on a regular basis and I’m starting a new (probably monthly) podcast. This will be something equally personal and something else I’m very passionate about. I say probably monthly because a lot of work goes into producing a podcast and I am trying very hard to focus on my writing and not commit myself to any new projects. The time spent on the new podcast should actually be less than CBO. Well, that’s theory anyway. I also think this new podcast will help me. Hopefully it will fuel my writing, give me something to think about and drive me (and hopefully other writers) forward. More info will be announced closer to the end of CBO. Also Scott is going to be doing a new podcast too and again there will be more info towards the end of CBO. So it is an ending, it’s just not the end.

We started out with good intentions – introducing people to comics (and later movies, books, TV and films) outside the spotlight, and overall I think we succeeded.

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Changing Media and new technology

For the last four and a half years or so I’ve co-hosted a comics and geek culture podcast called Comic Book Outsiders. We recorded our 127th episode the other night and we spoke to an independent comic book creator, artist and writer, called Terry Moore. He’s written some incredible comics including Strangers in Paradise, Echo and his most recent series is Rachel Rising. You can listen to it here. We talk about his comics and also what he thinks about digital comics and how it will help or hinder him. Recording this episode, talking to Terry about digital comics, but also the end of a favourite podcast of mine, Geek Syndicate, made me think about the rate of change and how fast we adapt and embrace new technology.

When we first started the podcast not that many people were doing comic book podcasts and the number of podcasts in general was small by comparison to the present. At comic book conventions we even had a sign on the table which read ‘Ask us about Podcasting’. Several people came up to the table each day to ask what a podcast was and how it worked. Now most people don’t need to be told what they are and there are thousands of podcasts across pretty much every subject under the sun. MP3 players, smart phones and lots of other devices now allow people to listen to podcasts at any time. The tools to analyse where our listeners come from have grown more complex and they show a remarkable breadth of people from all over the world. In a previous job I was asked to pass on my knowledge of podcasting – editing audio and distributing it – to the business to help them with their social media strategy. I trained and taught other people, something I learned as a hobby, so that they could deploy it in a professional capacity. And all of this has happened in less than five years.

Podcasting is yet another form of entertainment which allows the user/listener to choose what to consume, where and when in their own time. TV has adapted to become similar service with various recording devices, but it didn’t start out life in that fashion. We were all locked in to schedules but not any more.

All of this made me think again about the future and the reality of where we might be in another five, ten, fifty or a hundred years with technology and specifically comics. There was a recent article in the Financial Times of all places about comics and digital comics. Someone was quoted as saying that in a year’s time we will be looking at paper comics in the same way as the music industry views vinyl. I believe this person is wrong for several reasons, a few of which I wanted to explore by looking at what might actually happen and what it would take to get to that place on the horizon.

Paper comics will be around for quite a long time in one shape or another and the collected editions – trade paperbacks, hardback, ultimate editions, absolute editions, omnibuses etc – are not going to disappear. Comparing paper comics to vinyl and music is apples and oranges, it’s just not the same.

Let’s pretend that monthly paper comics vanished and went completely digital, what would it take to get there? Reading comics on an electric reader, tablet or other, is only feasible when the screen is almost as big as the original page. You can read comics on your smart phone, but it’s awful. I’ve tried and I hated every second of it for several reasons. It’s a much more controlled experience for one as the software takes you around the page, guiding you from panel to panel or you have to zoom in and out, and it’s just hideous. There’s no flow, no movement, no time to think about what happens between the panels that you don’t see but is implied. A page isn’t a page anymore. It’s just a collection of cells like stills in a film. Turning it into a motion comic is just a horrible halfway house because it’s neither an animation or a comic book but a weird amalgam of the two that is always disappointing. Also the art was never designed to viewed on such a tiny screen and squashing it down like that doesn’t do the art or artist any justice. Don’t even get me started on single splash or double splash pages.

So ignoring smart phones, the current alternative is to view comics on a tablet. All of those that currently exist which are decent, and by that I mean those with a good sized screen, good resolution so it doesn’t look pixalated, are all fairly expensive. MP3 players are now dirt cheap and they come in a hundred colours, brands, shapes and sizes. I’m old enough to remember how expensive Walkman’s were and personal CD players back in the day, and eventually they too become cheap and cheerful. The best tablet I’ve seen for reading comics is still very expensive. The device is not specfically designed for comics and so it comes with a lot more toys out of the box which are pointless for me and I have access to all of the features in other places. So it’s a lot of something I’ll never use.

If there was a stripped down version (a Kindle or Nook equivalent for comics) with almost no other functionality apart from being able to read comics, and with a price point to match, I would buy one tomorrow and say goodbye to monthly paper comics. However, that isn’t a reality, not yet anyway, as not all comics are available digitally. We are inching towards that place, but even the big move by Marvel and DC to go day and date is just a stepping stone. No one will actually say what percentage digital sales makes up of their monthly figures but I would estimate it’s less than 20%. Also there is no Amazon equivalent for digital comic book distributors and although Comixology is perhaps the most popular, the scale compared to Amazon is very small.

So, until every publisher (indy, small press and mainstream) has day and date for all of their monthly comics, and until the balance between digital sales and paper is more even, or it leans more heavily towards digital, and until there is a device that is very easy to get your hands on that is cheap and specifically bent towards comics, or it has inbuild tech that was added with comics in mind, paper comics are not going anywhere

I estimate paper comics will be around for at least another 20 years and that is probably being conservative. As a point of interest the first Walkman was developed in 1979. The first portable CD player in 1984, but I would argue it took another six years or more before they were readily available and enough me-too versions existed that the price came down across the board. The first portable MP3 player was on sale in 1997 and it was 2001 when Apple release their first iPod. The two largest comic book publishers, Marvel and DC, have just gone day and date with all of their titles, so this is really just the start of the journey and it’s going to take years before all of those requirements are met. Then there’s the fans themselves, the retailers, the conventions and getting sketches and signatures and a whole host of other elements.

I really believe a physical comic will always exist in some form , even if, to go back to the beginning, it exists like vinyl today, which is a collectors item for older music, and certain bands release special limited editions of their new albums on vinyl, such as Radiohead.

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