Richard and Wendy Pini are the husband-and-wife team responsible for creating the well-known Elfquest series of comics, graphic novels and prose works that started in 1977 and are still going strong today. We were recently lucky enough to be able to ask Richard some questions about comics: where they’ve been, where they are, and where they are going…completed from last week.
6. What were the direct effects, if any, you experienced in the “comics boom” of the nineties?
Well, there were really two comics “booms” – one around 1985, and the other around 1992 or so. The first was the so-called “black and white” boom, and I feel a certain pride that in large part Elfquest’s success was the cause of it – or at least a major cause of it. Of course, that led to its own bust, because there was a glut of black and white indy comics taking up miles of shelf space in shops – and because no one could predict whether or not a new title would fly (like Elfquest or Cerebus or the Turtles) retailers were buying a lot of inventory that ultimately they had to eat. In the early 1990s we had the same thing, magnified obscenely. From where I sit, and I’m simplifying, there was the growth of the Wizard-driven speculation in certain titles and creators, which led to crazy numbers of copies of first issues and variant “collectible” covers, which led to retailers buying far too much stock ever to sell, which led to financial chaos for two-thirds of the retail shops and, ultimately, all but one distributor. The direct effects that we experienced – in both those cycles – was that as the market floundered – a bit in the mid-1980s and terribly in the early 1990s – so did our sales of Elfquest. People used to say to me “Don’t feel bad, this is happening to everyone.” To which I would usually reply, “That didn’t comfort anyone left behind on the Titanic…”
7. What are your thoughts about digital “comics” and experiencing “comics” on portable devices?
I run hot and cold on that. I am an avowed bibliophile and book collector, and until recently also had a huge collection of comics. To me, there is nothing at all like the feel, the smell, the sight of the colored pages that I can hold in my hand. It’s a totally visceral experience, and I would be sad if comics in that form ceased to exist. I don’t think that will happen, though. There’s still a niche market for poetry magazines, even though those used to have much higher circulations decades ago. People will also want to put ink on paper. As for digital, it’s such a different paradigm. There’s little or nothing of that tactile to a digital comic, but the channels of production and distribution are cheap and plentiful – if you’re not tied to the old model of getting a check from the direct market every month or two. In theory, I find that exciting – though as someone who’s “old school” I still want my books to make a nice sum for us. Aesthetically, there’s another factor to consider. Looking at a comic page on a computer monitor in crisp high definition, you’re seeing colors that can never exist on the printed page, because the digital comic is literally printed with light, and there’s an intensity and luminescence impossible to achieve with print.
8. Have you published digitally? To clarify I’m talking about in a particular file type that could be experienced and delivered to digital devices.
The specific form of the question leads me to the answer, nothing yet. As you may or may not know, starting in 2009 we began to make available to online readers, for free, every Elfquest comic we’d ever published. We get over ten million hits a month because of that. But that’s not what you asked. Currently I’m still trying to make sense of what seems like a jungle of competing formats and delivery systems.
9. Would you consider publishing digitally? If so, in what format/ method?
Absolutely I would consider it – I have been considering it for a while. For a number of reasons that need not be gone into, we put that project on hold for a year or two, but we’re back on the learning track. As to what format or method… Good question. I’ve seen comics on the iPad and there’s a lot of potential for Elfquest to look very good. But as I said above, there are so many different systems, I’ve not yet settled upon the one I think will serve the double purposes of having the work look good and making a decent return.
10. What do you think the next decade or two holds for “comics”?
Ten, twenty years – that’s a long time. I suspect there will always be comics magazines (what some call “floppies”), but the audience that those cater to will reach a point of stagnation where there’ll be no growth, and no decline. For the large companies, economies of scale will ensure that they can continue to make enough on the magazines to keep them going for the creators and the consumers who like to create and consume. Then there’s print on demand. We’ve done a couple of projects using that. It’s gratifying to be able to make a magazine or a book happen without going through the major headaches and costs of a traditional printing house, but on the flip side, the cost per unit is high. There’s no room for distribution (with its deep discounts) in that model. Which leaves digital. With all the hoopla about how tablets and similar devices are going to be the future of media (to the point where some pundits are even predicting the decline of laptops themselves as the portable device of choice), there may be a growing market and audience for the delivery of comics and graphic novels. I wouldn’t mind being a part of that evolution – though I’d still very likely want to be able to hold a new book in my hands now and then too.
Thank you so much Richard.