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NCallahan said on March 22nd, 2009 at 10:40 am

You’re point about the radio and the library is a good one. A lot of Cleveland Public Library branches used to have bins of regular newsstand comics in the children’s section and I remember that it used to be part of my grade school routine that I’d stop at the library on the way home and see what the Avengers were up to. This is how I became a fan of Thor and for his sake, I ended up becoming a comic shop regular, following both Heroes Reborn and Heroes Return out of devotion to the character, then not missing a single issue of Thor v.2 for three years in high school. And because I was in the comic shop, trying to find Thor among the racks, I would occasional pick up X-Men or Spider-Man if the cover caught my attention. (Not to mention Superman, Sandman Presents, or Ranma 1/2, but that’s not important right now…)

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Garfield said on March 22nd, 2009 at 6:40 pm

There ought to be a dozen random comics available, free, for reading on the DC or Marvel sites at any time. It wouldn’t be a whole run of some multi-issue storyline, or anything else that might compete with a (real or hypothetical) trade paperback — just an assortment of what entertaining stuff the company has done. At DC a given month might see a Weisinger-era Superman story at that period’s most imaginative; a powerless-era Wonder Woman; a Weird Western; a romance; maybe even an issue of a limited series like Camelot 3000. Alternately, yes, put ’em in a cheap digest and sell them for a buck and a half. Long family car trips did much more to turn me on to comics than anything else.

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Sage Freehaven said on March 22nd, 2009 at 7:08 pm

I think the paper issue is something comic book publishers should really look into, and I think it’s the best point you raise out of all of these in terms of what comic companies could do to easily cut costs and turn their business around.

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I’ve heard that even if you went to newsprint the price wouldn’t drop that much (and the Johnny DC titles are published on non-glossy paper and still hover at $2.50). That said, that’s a problem with the periodical print market in general.

Advertising definitely needs to be more enthusiastic, though. Even in terms of in-house stuff: there are fewer in-comic ads for other comics (mainly because they need that space for other sponsors), and they’re invariably these ultra-minimalist affairs with a picture of a character in the book, a slogan of some kind, the writer and penciller’s names, and the month it starts. DC Nation has a few nice blurbs but it’s still not much. It’s no wonder that titles live or die based on the established cachet of a character, writer, or artist- there’s just no publicity.

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The price point being what it is, I think the lack of news stand/corner store Comic books will be a long run deathknell. I do not see kids at my local shop. I’ve seen kids there a handful of times ever. It closes at 5:30-6 an hour or two after they are out of school. It’s not well located for foot traffic. When I was a kid I bought comics because I saw them at the convenient store or drug store. I was lucky to get more than 6 issues a row in a run, but thats how I started. Walden books at the next biggest town was my savior. But where do small towns of 6000 or so turn to for their comics now? They can’t get them at newsstands, if the town can’t support a shop, they are screwed.

Without an influx of new kids can the industry last? Are movies/media enough to garner interest? I don’t think it is honestly.

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Not to criticize the article, but DC/Marvel do have a preview-like mechanism similar to radio. It’s called television (and to a lesser extent movies/movie trailers, although those have a cost.)

But I don’t know how effective DC is at saying things like “Did you like Adam Strange in this episode of Batman: Brave and the Bold? Then follow his adventures in Strange Adventures by Jim Starlin!”* during it’s cartoon. (In fact given that WB keeps DC’s cartoon and comic book business mostly separate, I doubt they do that.) Similarly, I don’t think Marvel is doing that good of a job of synergizing their multimedia and comic book products.

Of course, this is a market where the best selling comic in 15 years is the Amazing SpiderObama.

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Frankly, I’m not sure newsstands are all they are cracked up to be. You can still get comics in the UK at newsagents (2000AD and its spin offs, The Beano, The Dandy Marvel and DC reprint books and a kids’ UK Spidey book), but the market isn’t exactly doing great over here either.

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mygif

Not to criticize the article, but DC/Marvel do have a preview-like mechanism similar to radio. It’s called television

Which sells a different and similar product, not the same product. This is like saying that a musician’s previous albums are previews for his or her next album; not untrue, but wildly missing the point of marketing in general.

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> This is to say nothing of the Big Two’s current collection strategy, which is insane: release the more expensive hardcover initially and then delay the softcover for anywhere from six months to an entire year after that.

This strategy is pursued by most book publishers. The rationale is clear: force the most devoted fans, who are too impatient to wait for the paperback, to spring for the more expensive hardcover. Hardly “insane”.

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This strategy is pursued by most book publishers. The rationale is clear: force the most devoted fans, who are too impatient to wait for the paperback, to spring for the more expensive hardcover. Hardly “insane”.

You’re forgetting that book publishers are presenting brand new product.

If every hardcover the Big Two put out was a Pride of Baghdad or Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall, all-new material, the hardcover/softcover thing wouldn’t be an issue. But they’re not; the vast majority of trade collections initially presented in hardcover are collections of recently-published comics, often where the last issue collected was distributed as little as two or three months previously.

In this instance, the “most devoted fans” have already purchased the product in the form of individual issues. The collection should be an opportunity to entice less devoted fans who don’t want to bother with single issues to purchase the material; the hardcover-to-softcover policy encourages only hardcores willing to buy the material a second time around.

(Well, and to a lesser extent it encourages people who downloaded the comics for free, who haven’t spent any money yet on the comics. But I am given to understand that DC and Marvel want to discourage piracy.)

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Rob Brown said on March 22nd, 2009 at 11:11 pm

The first comic I bought was on a rack in a book store. It wasn’t very expensive at all, and the cover looked interesting. I sometimes see a rack of comics in Chapters these days, but not always. They also used to be sold in every convenience store (I’m thinking back to the Spidey Clone Saga days). Not any more.

So making the single issues less expensive and putting them in places outside of comic book stores? Seem like pretty good ideas to me.

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Goddamn, that issue of What If was the FUCKING BOMB. The bit with Black Bolt confronting symbiote-encrusted Thor was far and away the most awesome part.

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Rob Brown said on March 22nd, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Yeah, I was hooked and as I’ve said before, What If was a great way to learn about the history of certain characters without having to dig through back issues or look for trades.

After I got more into Spidey and became more familiar with Venom, I realized that the characterization of the symbiote in that issue was pretty different from Michelinie’s stories. But aside from that little nitpick, it was a pretty awesome story and it’s still one of my favourities to this day.

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Andrew W. said on March 22nd, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Hardcovers ought to really have the big, juicy extras. For example, my two hardcovers for Ultimates 1 & 2 have prefaces (one of them is an imo poorly written piece of pap by Joss Whedon, while the other is a multi-page affair that’s very nice by another individual whose name I cannot recall). Ultimates 1 & 2 conclude with issue by issue commentary from Millar and Hitch, along with unused or promotional pieces of artwork. Ultimates 2 even includes the pencils only issue 1 variant at the end, along with the script by Millar, along with unused art. Both have a cover gallery.

My trade for the first six issues of Ultimates 2 (I bought it because it came out before the Ultimates 2 hardcover – the series hadn’t ended, in fact, by the time iirc, as Ultimates was unfortunately plagued with delays) has just the covers as an ‘extra.’ So it’s not exactly even a good comparison between hard and softcover novels. Unfortunately, the hardcover I have for JMS’s Thor is essentially a glorified trade, with no bells and whistles whatsoever, while my Kingdom Come softcover has all kinds of neat stuff to it.

I’d rather see trades come out first, and let them have the glossy paper and just the art. I’d rather, when I pay for a hardcover, get all of the fun stuff I got with the Ultimates 1 & 2 hardcovers.

And back when Toybiz was handling Marvel’s action figure lines, they would often package reprints of comics on newsprint type paper. These stories were generally truncated, but they managed to do their thing most of the time (unfortunately, trying to get a comic to match the character failed hardcore – the comic that came with Omega Red came from the middle of a very busy ’90s story arc that dealt with the tangled mess of Wolverine’s CIA days), and they offered free 3 month subscriptions to kid-friendly titles like Ultimate Spider-Man and that 1-800-COMICBOOK number or whatever it was. I don’t think Hasbro does that.

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JoeHelfrich said on March 22nd, 2009 at 11:54 pm

I believe that the change in paper for floppies has been largely caused by the growth of the TPB. Coloring for newsprint and coloring for glossy stock is probably not quite the same.

Which is not to say that a solution couldn’t be developed, but that would require the comics industry to initiate change, rather than spend 5 years denying it before being dragged kicking and screaming into a new way of doing things.

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mygif

Comics didn’t leave the newsstand, they got kicked out because the cost / benefit ratios became way too unattractive for anyone running a newsstand. The chocolate bar / comic book ratio is a good one, and unfortunately it takes a lot more time, energy and space to rack a comic than a chocolate bar – especially if you own a convenience store and are considering whether or not you should bother with comics when you can just put ten issues of People in the same slot and be done with it.

Also, the music analogy rings false for me because music is a multi-use object. I mean, you can listen to songs hundreds of times – usually, if you’re buying a CD based on hearing a song, you’ve heard that song already enough times to make up your mind as to whether you like it and want to hear it more. The thing with comics is that they don’t have great re-use value, not anymore. A few do, certainly, but most comics from the big two are just storyline vehicles, and don’t bear rereading. So if you read a comic online or in a store, well, my reaction at least is not “I like that, I must go purchase it so I can read it again multiple times”, but “well, now I know what happens in that comic, I’ll probably never think about it again”. Back in the days when it took twenty minutes to read an issue of Avengers, it probably wasn’t such a big deal, but now that it takes five minutes to read that same book, it matters considerably that the books themselves are so disposable.

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sonofzeal said on March 23rd, 2009 at 3:20 am

I just want to mention that I’m only starting to get into comics now (bought my first two trades in the last few months, Blue Beetle’s Shellshocked and Road Trip), and I’m finding libraries to be a fantastic resource. There’s so much backstory, and so much going on in the universe, that being able to browse for free and get peaks at bits and pieces is invaluable. I now know who Cloak and Dagger are, what the deal with the Thunderbolts is, and the basic idea for the Legion of Superheroes – all things I didn’t know before dropping by random libraries for afternoons. It’ll hardly get me hyped on some exciting new lines (are there any exiting new lines?), but it helps me break in to an otherwise intimidating universe.

That said, I think there could be more done on that front, to get new readers up to speed with the current narratives. I’m imagining a sort of “Tales of the Justice League” or “X-Men Myths”, where some recognizable character from the TV shows (Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, Nightcrawler, Bruce Banner) narrates important stories from the current continuities to a younger or less knowledgable character. Add enough colour and commentary from the mentor character, some banter between mentor and student, and with just a hint of Unreliable Narrator thrown in, you could turn a boring history lesson into an enjoyable retelling with some good character development in the process. With the right choice of mentor/student, new art, and a new angle on aspects of the events that hadn’t been shown before, and I could see it selling to pros as well as newbs.

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stop him said on March 23rd, 2009 at 3:43 am

On paper:

It is my understanding than newsprint is no longer significantly less expensive than glossy stock to make printing comics on newsprint have much of an effect on cover price. At least, that’s what I’ve been told by some small-press comics printers, and heard echoed by some indie publishers.

Certainly if you were to go back to newsprint the coloring style of modern comics would have to be adjusted – a lot of the subtler coloring tends to turn to mud on coarser paper.

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[…] Christopher Bird pokes at the current comic-book business model with a sharp stick. […]

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Yeah, the whole “paper quality” thing is pretty much a dodge to cover up the fact that comics are expensive because they’ve become a niche market–you can’t find a million people who will pay 40 cents a copy, but you can find a hundred thousand who will pay four bucks. :)

(Yes, I know that’s not exactly how the math works. But you can make the same amount of money on a lower profit margin per copy if you’re selling more copies.)

Oh, and let’s bring up a nasty, blunt issue–a big part of why comics are more expensive is that they’re paying lots of money to swing A-list talent…they could save a lot of money by finding young up-and-coming writers, paying them a pittance for the exposure and the chance to work on their “favorite” super-hero, and then kicking them to the curb when they start asking for more dough. But these days, nobody wants to be accused of being heartless to the talent.

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The biggest problem comics has going for it right now is that when compared to other forms of entertainment, comics give the least about of entertainment for the buck. I can spend $3 or $4 on a comic and get about 10 minutes of reading out of it. I can spend twice that on a paperback novel and get hours more reading time.

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As far as “abandoning the newsstand” goes – you’ve got the dynamic backwards. The newsstand kicked comics to the curb. The reasons for that are long and varied, but the most important one is that at the time comics cost the same as a chocolate bar, but were competing for space with books that were priced 5-8 times what a chocolate bar was priced at. If you’re tight on space and can put another $1-2 sports magazine or cooking magazine or whatever on your stand or you can put a $0.20 comic book in the same spot what smart business owner is going to do the latter? No one.

And that was part of the problem with comics – back in the 40’s and 50’s they competed with other magazines pricewise and contentwise. By the 1970s they were competing with chocolate bars pricewise and most magazines had beefed up their content. Perhaps comics would have died without the direct market. Or perhaps DC or Marvel would have finally had the balls to do what DC tried to do and got smacked down for – raising the price to $1 and making the books the size of a small magazine.

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A town of 6000? Hell, I’m in a town of 70,000 and there’s not an LCS in sight.

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Two things.

One. Comparing placing comic books online to a library is not reasonable. A library has a way of tracking down people who have borrowed books and can levy fines against them if they are not returned on time

Two. The paper issue is valid, but I am not convinced that newsprint can hold the amount of ink necessary to make modern images pop off the page (both sides). A return to newsprint may require a return to halftone patterns. For modern images without a halftone print, a thicker bond is required. Maybe if there was a way to make a 40-50lb newsprint – but even then newsprint soaks a lot of ink by itself.

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As an outsider I see the comics industry as a place where people get ideas for movies. In my mind it is much more profitable for Marvel and DC to manage their stable of IP by licensing them out for movies and t-shirts then it is to continue making paper comics.

From my perspective the weekly print comics are like an appendix to the IP holders. It exists because it used to serve a purpose and it is only worth paying attention to it when there is a serious problem.

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I was going to mention the paper issue (I always thought that going newsprint to bring down the floppy price with slick paper as the “added value” of the hardback was the way to go), but it seems smarter people than me have already talked about the issue.

What about a Kendle for comics? You could get all your points addressed: lower price point (after the initial investment), free previews/freebies, IP controls, with the book store hardback/trade as a long-term archival solution.

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What about a Kendle for comics?

The Kindle isn’t big enough and doesn’t do color. The Plastic Logic Reader is big enough in terms of screensize but likewise doesn’t do color. We’re probably two years minimum away from a reasonably affordable color e-reader.

Of course, once the Plastic Logic is released, there’s nothing stopping comics companies from selling black-and-white versions of their comics in downloadable form for the Plastic Logic other than their own inertia.

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I talked about a lot of what you mention (particularly trades/hardcovers) in a post on No Scans Daily:

http://community.livejournal.com/noscans_daily/40484.html

With that said, I agree. Comics used to be something you could pick up in a lot of little shops, grocery store lines, etc. Now, it’s almost exclusively comic stores. And the price scares people away, too ($3.99 for 22 pages, something that’s read in mere minutes). They’re creeping closer and closer to a full-length novel, where you at least get (most times) a full story that leaves satisfied by the end. Unless it’s a trilogy or The Wheel of Time, but you get the point.

Frankly speaking, I think the monthlies are going the way of the dodo. I think full graphic novels, with a full, self contained story, is becoming more and more common. This is especially true when you think about people that buy trades only because there isn’t enough in a single issue now to satisfy them. Not for me, anyway.

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I’m a big fan of trade paperbacks. But even then, I think they just aren’t convenient enough. You still need to order by mail or pick one up at the book store. For an internet savvy user like me, that’s just too long. Especially when I can just hop online and read Girl Genius, Order of the Stick, It’s Walky, Dork Tower, Exploitation Now / Errant Story, Freak Angles or any number of other interesting to superb web comics for free whenever I want.

I can get caught up on as much back story as I choose whenever I want. I can visit forums to praise / bitch about the plot. And every now and then, when a trade paperback gets released, I can pick it up on Amazon if I want. I’ve done this with a couple of my favorites, since its easier to reread a book than go scrolling through a web browser waiting for images to load.

Frankly, I think web comics had the comic market nailed down for the past ten years and the paper comics just haven’t been paying attention.

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[…] making Kick-Ass, and that should be plenty over-the-top and rapealicious or whatever. * here’s a longer-than-usual piece on comics on the Internet as a reaction to inadequacies in the print model and its distribution. […]

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MGK:

(How often does that sort of thing happen any more? Used to be it seemed like there was at least two or three promotions like that every year[…] Can anybody think of any others?)

The “Special edition” of videogames that come in a big chunky can and feature the same product augmented with some needless bits of crap only rubes take any interest in regularly feature little comic books devoted to the game’s backstory among said needless bit of crap. I’ve not checked to see how many of same are “Big Two” (or Dark Horse or second-tier imprint) issues, but I’d imagine at least the Big Two-licensed ones would be. Your point still stands when you compare the cost of a videogame special edition to that of an underpants regular edition.

Rich:

As an outsider I see the comics industry as a place where people get ideas for movies. In my mind it is much more profitable for Marvel and DC to manage their stable of IP by licensing them out for movies and t-shirts then it is to continue making paper comics.

One would hope the recent fracas involving the adaptation of the Best-Regarded Comic Book Ever(TM) into what was acknowledged by the studios to be One Of The Most Middling Underperformers Of The Year(TM) might highlight the flaws in this idea. The comics industry is where people get ideas for bad movies, and I couldn’t name more than five comic-book properties with a large enough cultural presence to market merch to people who weren’t active fans of the comic. I may be misunderstanding you.

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[…] then we need to remember that comics used to be priced equal to chocolate bars, which has some important […]

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Trades have always irritated me, and I point the majority of the blame at DC. While marvel may (depending on how popular the specific product is) release a trade WITHIN THE NEXT MONTH, and follow it up with a softcover a month afterward, DC takes 6 months to release a hardcover, and then ANOTHER 6 months to release a softcover.

And here’s what gets me: DC OWNS Vertigo and Wildstorm, which both produce softcover trades in a prompt manner (hell, Vertigo pioneered trade paperbacks in comics). Why can’t the parent company get on their shit? It just doesn’t make sense.

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Cookie McCool said on March 25th, 2009 at 3:20 pm

About t-shirt moneys… I have to admit, MGK’s portrayal of Captain America seriously got me to buy two Cap t-shirts… Maybe they should just hire you to rewrite their crap if they want licensing.

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Evil Abraham Lincoln said on March 25th, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Simply put: Shonen Jump costs $5.00. You receive 250+ pages of art, 30+ pages of information (interviews, language lessons, recaps, in-jokes, fan art, _fan letters_, etc.), and 30+ pages of advertisements for games, issues and the like. The average American comic book costs $3.00. You receive 16-22 pages of art, 10+ pages for ads, no letter section, no recap, just the art. And the writer/storyline is at the whim of whoever’s in charge of the company at the moment.

Compare

Manga: One writer, period, until the original writer dies (or quits without getting the rights for his/her characters)
Comic Books: If you’re on MightyGodKing, do I even need to bother? To throw a bone, I’ll mention “X-Men comic books” and move on.

Winner: Manga. I mean, X-Men, really. New author every 6-12 issues, new author’s favorite character getting more face time and contradicting what you just read two months ago. Naruto has it’s share of continuity issues, but the storyline itself is consistent. DBZ didn’t suffer from a “Goku, the hero? I’ve always been a fan of Yajirobe, so I’m making him a Super-Duper Saiyan! Fuck Goku in his boring, girly voice having ass!”

Manga: (booklet or anthology sized): At least 100 pages, American marketed series usually having extras. The anthology books feature 6-12 series with 12-30+ pages per series.
Comic books: Usually tops out at 40 pages. And when was the last time that you purchased a monthly book with a self-contained side-feature? Or a concurrent running story, a la the GL/Rose and Thorn book? Bueller? Bueller?

Winner: Manga. More story for your buck.

Manga: $5-6 for your Shonen Jump/Yen/whichever new company decides to stretch it’s wings, with the abovementioned supplementals.
Comic books: $2.50-4.00 for the aforementioned 20 pages. Then another $2.50-$4.00 to collect the books that you need to read to make sure that the book you bought can be enjoyed in context. Yeah, all of these maxi-series and crossovers are really newbie-friendly. When I was 10, my allowance and chore money were stretched to the limit to keep up with X-Men books. How’s a 13 year old supposed to pay for Final Crisis?

Winner: Manga. It’s more expensive, but far more economical (as mentioned above)

Manga: Something looks interesting? Check out a few pages online, then order it! Or steal the damned thing, like I did with Ranma 1/2. Can anyone point out the person who bought the entire manga series of Ranma 1/2 as soon as he could afford it? {Hint: it’s me}
Comic books: Scans_daily is dead. You have to be a carefree Internet user to find free issues (Viruses? Whatever…) And you can subscribe, but who knows if you’ll get them in good condition?

Winner: Manga. An inability to receive their comic books in _readable_ condition was one of the reasons why my overseas buddies switched over to manga. A comic book gets slashed accidentally, then twisted as it’s shipped. Manga arrives with a slashed cover. The insides were still readable. And, unlike comic books, manga tend to show up _on time_.

Manga: Rapeman, a hero who travels Tokyo and rapes bitchy women.
Comic Books: Dr. Light, a (barely) closeted villain who raped a hero’s wife for teh LULZ. When captured, the heroes mindwiped him and sent him off to fight _their children_. IOW, by making him an innefectual villain and allowing him to be repeatedly beaten by children, they made him a victim in a way that killing him or imprisoning him off-planet wouldd not have allowed. Who’s the hero now?

Winner-Manga: Because they display their fucked-upness on their covers and insleeves. Very few people bought Legend of the Overfiend and thought “This looks appropriate for children. Overfiend sounds like the kind of thing that I want children to read.” They don’t just pop up with “Waaahaahaa! I R a rapeist now!”, “OK, we’re gonna erase your memories and send you out to fight children.”

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