Marvel and DC may have dabbled with straight-to-digital comics, and they and the other major players in the comics industry may continue to expand their original digital offerings, but in celebration of Independence Day, upstart Monkeybrain Comics announced their own “Independents Day” during the week of July 4th and launched their lineup of five brand new digital series and made a bit of a splash in doing so.
Sure, they were overshadowed a day after their launch announcement when Marvel hit the mainstream press with news about their “Marvel NOW” shakeup this fall, which will bounce current Marvel writers and artists onto different Marvel comics. But the Monkeybrain Comics launch should have been bigger news – with much greater ramifications – than which X-Men writer will be swapping capes-and-tights with which Avengers writer.
Because the Monkeybrain Comics reports may not have reached all of the Tor.com readers, I thought it worth bringing to your attention. So here we go: Five Reasons Why the Launch of Monkeybrain Comics is a Big Deal!
1. The Price is Right.
I ran into an old friend of mine, a guidance counselor who has three kids about the same age as my kids. He knew I was a regular reader of all kinds of comics, though I’d never heard him express any liking for comics himself, but apparently he used to read them when he was young, and he was getting back into them now as his children were getting old enough to be interested in the various adventures of the superheroes they saw on the big screen.
He talked about enjoying the experience of reading comics on the iPad, but he couldn’t bring himself to pay $2.99 or $3.99 for digital comics.
It’s a feeling that I’m sure is quite common. Those prices seem ridiculous to me as well.
But Monkeybrain Comics launched with most of their brand new, full-length comics at the magical price point of 99 cents each. Two of their five releases are priced at $1.99, but those comics are longer than the others (though I still think $1.99 is a bit too high). And the kicker is this: they plan on keeping many of their series at 99 cents an issue – not just as an introductory price, but as the normal price each month.
I really think that 99 cents an issue price is the sweet spot for digital comics, and if it doesn’t pay off in the short run for Monkeybrain and their creators, I’m sure it will have long-term benefits. Imagine hearing some buzz about, say issue #6 of one of the series and then being able to pick up every previous issue, instantly, at less than a buck apiece. Or imagine getting the full line of all five Monkeybrain Comics for less than the combined price of one Marvel and one DC comic. You can.
It’s one thing to have accessible comics that readers can get at their fingertips via any Comixology-enabled mobile device, but it’s another thing to make the comics financially accessible. Ninety-nine cents is a big deal.
2. We Get a Variety of Genres.
The bestselling comics in the direct market comic shops, month in and month out, are overwhelmingly superhero comics. The industry is absurdly slanted in favor of the superhero above all other genres. Any look at monthly sales figures will show almost all the Top 50 best-selling comics as straightforward superhero books.
I happen to love superhero comics, and I also know that more comics of other genres – from around the world and from times past and times present – are more readily available now than ever before. It’s a good time to be reading comics if you want variety, as long as you know where to look for it (because your local comic shop isn’t likely to have as much variety as it might).
Monkeybrain Comics has some superhero flair – the best of the first issues is Edison Rex and that’s a twist on the superhero genre while the roguish super-thief Bandette wears a mask and costume in her self-titled comic – but in its opening salvo of titles it also has dashes of urban fantasy, magical worlds, light-hearted adventure, mystery, fabulism, and anthropomorphism. I don’t expect that Monkebrain will release a whole lot of tragic realism and daily autobiography comics any time soon, but they very well could. They seem open to almost anything, as long as it’s good, and their launch shows that they are very aware of the need for more variety in the sometimes suffocated and conservative comic book field. Variety, done well, is a big deal.
3. The Comics are Very Good.
All the variety and 99 cent price points in the world are not going to mean anything if the comics are terrible. It’s not even going to mean anything if the comics are merely good. They have to be very good, consistently so, to make a difference and to have a chance of survival in this uncertain marketplace.
The Monkeybrain comics are, overall, very good.
Not every single one is perfect — I think the whimsical hand-lettering and intentionally unfinished art for the Aesop’s Ark series is a significant blow to the quality of the lineup — but the other four Monkeybrain series are excellent beginnings, and with the talent involved, they look to have the juice to maintain their top-notch quality for the long term.
Besides Aesop’s Ark, by J. Torres and Jennifer Meyer, which provides cute anthropomorphic fable-telling, the rest of the line include such strong starts as the previously mentioned Edison Rex, by Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver, a story about a egomaniacal villain who must live up to his boasts, the moody and evocatively creepy fantasy of Matthew Dow Smith’s October Girl, the dangerous alternate reality of Amelia Cole and the Unknown World, by Adam Knave, D. J. Kirkbride, and Nick Brokenshire. And, of course, as I talked about above: Bandette, the almost Herge-imbued crime/adventure series drawn by Colleen Coover and written by Paul Tobin.
Many of these writers and artists, when they have gotten chances to work on comics at major companies, end up ghettoized on the merchandising spin-off comics or the children’s versions of the popular characters.
Here, Monkeybrain Comics has given them a chance to do their own thing, to create their own worlds and characters, and the results are good enough to be ranked among some of the most entertaining and delightful comics of the year. Big deal, that.
4. Publishers Chris Roberson and Allison Baker Know What They’re Doing.
Chris Roberson, writer of Edison Rex, made a splash earlier this year with his vocal criticism of DC editorial policies, specifically around the Before Watchmen controversy. Roberson’s iZombie is finishing up this summer from DC’s Vertigo imprint (it was slated to end before his statements), but he was removed from his planned Fairest arc because of his statements. In essence, he was fired by DC, even though he had mostly quit the company. (As recently as last year, he was the writer of DC’s Superman series, turning J. Michael Straczynski’s leftover plot summaries into something ultimately worth reading.)
Roberson was a novelist for years before he cracked into mainstream comic book writing, and he and his wife, Allison Baker, founded Monkeybrain Books almost a decade ago, not to self-publish Roberson’s own work, but instead to publish interesting genre fiction and non-fiction, from the likes of Jess Nevins, Paul Cornell, Kim Newman, and Philip Jose Farmer.
Baker has also spent much of her career navigating the trenches of politics and film, in addition to co-publishing the Monkeybrain Books line with her husband.
Monkeybrain Comics isn’t just a startup attempting to jam a toe into the doorway of digital comics. It’s the next logical progression of what Roberson and Baker have been working on for years, and it is a direct artistic and business statement in support of quality creator-owned comics that’s also run by people who know what they’re doing. A big deal, certainly.
5. Bill Willingham is Involved. And More!
And finally, though his series wasn’t one of the five initial launches during the week of July 4th, Bill Willingham is slated to write for Monkeybrain Comics.
Willingham, creator of the mega-successful Fables comics and spin-offs, a comic book series so popular that it’s getting its own convention next year, was the guy who brought Roberson into the DC fold years ago, for a guest stint on a Fables comic that turned into a shot at a spin-off series that turned into a brief but impressive career with the company. Now Willingham is coming over to Roberson’s (publishing) house to contribute something.
A direct-to-digital, inexpensive Bill Willingham comic book series is an enticing proposition, and Monkeybrain plans to deliver.
I’d guess that we’ll find out more about Willingham’s comic at Comic-Con International in San Diego this summer. And perhaps we’ll hear about other planned series as well, because the Monkeybrain press release from July 2nd teased an impressive group of creators who are scheduled to join the stable of talent, like Ming Doyle, Joe Keatinge, Phil Hester, Kevin Church, Chris Haley and more. Names like that demonstrate a keen eye for good comics-makers (which I would expect from Roberson and Baker) and an expansive plan to make Monkeybrain Comics something with a wide impact on the industry.
This is all pay-attention, go-read-these-comics stuff.
Monkeybrain Comics. Kind of a big deal.
Tim Callahan is buried in the second half of the Great Alan Moore reread, but he always makes time for new comics. As long as they are good.