Saturday, September 10, 2005

Making the Horse Drink - Why Do Fans Give Jack Staff the Cold Shoulder?

We constantly hear from people about how they want "good, old fashioned superhero comics," and yet, when Paul Grist gives them exactly that, in his excellent Image series, Jack Staff, people just do not buy it. Another Image title, Invincible, is practically a calculated effort at appealing to just those fans - and it sells 11,000 copies, less than John Byrne's not-so-well-received Doom Patrol series. However, Invincible is a roaring success compared to the sales of Jack Staff, which sells about a quarter of the copies that Invincible does. So what gives? We have led the comic reader to the water, why will they not drink?

The usual response when someone mentions something like this is, "These are great comics that should be more popular! Comic readers suck!" Which is all fine and good, but that is said while the book sells 2,679 copies in the direct market.

2,679 copies!!! That is more than 1,000 copies less than REORDERS of the parts of that lame Judd Winick Superman/Captain Marvel team-up in the Superman titles!

That is HALF as many copies as Brian Pulido's War Angel.

So how can it be? How can something of such quality that is directed almost entirely towards filling the need that superhero fans SAY that they want filled (i.e. well-written, old-fashioned superhero stories), sell so poorly?

There are two possible explanations that make some sense to me...

1. These fans really DON'T want good, old-fashioned superhero stories. They just want good, old-fashioned superhero stories starring Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, etc. Not NEW characters.

2. For some reason, fans do not appreciate Paul Grist's really great artwork. They can accept art light-boxed from a photograph in their superhero comics, but not artists who try to do creative things with shadow and layouts.


Image hosted by

is great.


Image hosted by

is great enough to warrant a promotion to a higher profile title.

But this

Image hosted by

apparently is "too weird."

This is

Image hosted by

too "amateurish" (as some people actually describe Grist's work).

I think, then, that the latter explanation is probably the BEST explanation, as it explains why Invincible, while still selling worse than titles DC is cancelling due to low sales, sells four times as much as Jack Staff. Old-fashioned superhero stories CAN be somewhat successful, but only if they contain certain styles of art.

It is too bad, because Paul Grist's Jack Staff, as Tadhg was just saying to me, is "a good throwback without pandering," or, in other words, just the kind of water a lot of comic fans SAY that they are thirsting for.

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Blogger hazylium said...

I live in Singapore from what I've seen most people who buy superhero comics are ONLY interested in their favourite superheroes. And people who want to read "mature" works read exclusively Vertigo stuff. It's quite sad.

But this is the 1st I've heard of Jack Staff! Paul Grist's artwork looks really cool- is there a trade available?

9/10/2005 10:44:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

This would explain why I have never actually seen a copy of Jack Staff lying about.

Anyway, Invincible gets a lot of buzz, so it's been steadily rising in sales over time, same with Walking Dead. Kirkman's a bloody wunderkind if he can *raise* sales on something...

9/10/2005 11:06:00 PM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

I was thinking black and white might be part of the problem, too, since the only Jack Staff I've read is that thick trade Image put out of the issues Grist self published. Since I won a copy of the trade reprinting the first story arc, this post has given me an idea...

Backing up what you wrote, from my purely anecdotal experience at least, there's a real aversion to "cartoony" art amongst some superhero fans. If it even gets a flip test from people in a shop, that could be a strike against it. I remember someone on this blog saying that his kid could draw better than Grist. That's the kind of trenchant criticism I've seen for all kinds of artists, from Jim Mahfood to Mike Allred. It makes my teeth gnash, it does.

9/10/2005 11:52:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

Back in the day superhero fans were primarily young 'uns, so new characters had as fair a shot as old established characters, since to a kid ALL the characters are new. When I was a kid in the 80s, I had no idea that Superman was decades older than Spider-Man, who was himself over a decade older than Wolverine. They were ALL new to me and I gave them all an equal chance.

Since most superhero fans are in their late 20s to early 30s, they have established buying habits and are resistant to new characters. Similar things are happening with videogames, where the average player is now 29 instead of 12. Now it's an industry dominated by sequels rather than new original concepts.

By the way, read my blog Discussion of why mutants are a sucky civil rights analogy, a review of "Birth of a Nation" graphic novel, and an appeal for some pretentious folk to explain the appeal behind Seaguy.


9/11/2005 12:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because "Jack Staff" himself rarely appears in the comic? Because mostly the comic features, well, nobody? Because the storyline wanders hither and thither, past, present and future, focussing on whatever "shiny object" seems to currently fascinate the creator? Because it resembles "old fashioned comics" as much as a McDonald's Big Mac resembles a real meat hamburger.

"Invincible" has occasional flashes of the Right Stuff, but then bogs down in a morass of cutesy winks and sneers.

It would also help if either title came out more than once or twice a decade. At least, that's as often as I see a new offering.

9/11/2005 12:38:00 AM  
Anonymous thekamisama said...

My first inclination is to blame retailers who dont support, stock, or order great books (and probably by proxy the continual cdumbing down of fandom by that god awful Wizard rag). But I really don't have the exposure to Superhero fandom and retailer response to them anymore. I dropped out of Superheroes as a whole a few years back.
I don't like mine "old fashioned" by anymeans. I do like them well written, a little edgy, and dripping with the sort of dialouge I can believe actually falls out of peoples mouths. Needless to say the only capes and tights I read are Ultimates and Astro City.

But that second page has me interested... Is that the Spider? That is awesome! Looks like a much more interesting take on UK superheroes then Albion has turned out to be.

9/11/2005 01:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Paul Grist's stuff is amazing. Before JACK STAFF, PG did a series called KANE, and I loved it. JACK STAFF came later, and I had a problem with Image reprinting the various issues that PG had published under his Dancing Elephant imprint. I bought the first few Image issues, discovered I already had them, and then never learned when the new stuff started. with the price of comics today, I really can't afford to re-purchase the same stuff again.


9/11/2005 01:49:00 AM  
Blogger Althalus said...

@hazylium: There are two trades available from Image. "Everything used to be Black & White" collects the complete 12-issue b&w run from Dancing Elephant Press (350 pages). "Soldiers" collects #1-5 of the current color run from Image (160 pages). The latest issue in the current series is #8. #9 will probably be out in October.

A couple of problems with Jack Staff were already mentioned:

* focus often leaves the titular character
* deceptively simple cartoony style
* comes out irregularly, though regularly with delay

Whatever his reasons, Grist is indeed one of the authors with the most delayed books I've ever seen.

All that together probably serves as ample reason for anyone who hasn't built up a natural affinity for (or resiliency against) most of these things via being an indie / small press buyer, to not try out Jack Staff (or lose it from view after the first issue).

A shame, really. It is a nice and readable series. More accessible than Kane, anyways... ^^;


9/11/2005 06:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Dizzy said...

To sell a title the public has to know the title exists. There is only a very small public for comics and many of us have a limited budget. It's understable that most people stick with the titles they know than risk a new title by talent they don't know.

I've seen no promotion for this title in the Image title I buy and the only time I have ever seen the title was when Invicible just came out and I was pointed by Jack to the Image website.

BTW: I can't be the only one who thought "Union Jack?" when he saw Jack Staff for the first time.

9/11/2005 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

"BTW: I can't be the only one who thought "Union Jack?" when he saw Jack Staff for the first time."

I've always heard that this series started life as a rejected Union Jack proposal Grist made to Marvel that he then retooled for his own use.

This is a great little series, but after picking up the Image TPB release of the first series ("Everything Used To Be Black & White"), I've been planning on picking up the trades for this series as well. Given the sales figures you state, though, I may need to rethink that plan. Thanks for opening my eyes to this, Brian.

9/11/2005 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Kelson said...

T: I was going to go over to your blog like you asked and comment about Seaguy, but you don't allow comments from people who aren't blogger members. It seems a bit silly for me to sign up with yet another new service when (a) I already have a blog and (b) it's only to make one comment.

Back on topic: I can never quite grasp how bad Huntress' costume is. It seems like my mind blocks it out every time I see it, and the next time she shows up in something I read (or on a cover I see), the horror all comes back.

Not that her original costume was fantastic, but it was a lot less... gaudy than the one she has now.

9/11/2005 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

The Ed Benes thing escapes me. It was like each issue of Birds of Prey was TRYING to give my wife, AKA She Who Must Be Obeyed, who wanted to read the book specifically because she liked the concept but hated the execution of the TV series, reasons to drop the book from our list. I'm amazed it lasted as long as it did.

9/11/2005 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

I went over to the Triangles blog and replied via Seaguy. Fear me.

And, dammit, Sue and Namor look very familiar, and I'm wondering how Land "cast" them as.

9/11/2005 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I think they may be the guy who playes Sawyer and Evangeline Lilly, both with worse hair than they have on LOST.

9/11/2005 04:03:00 PM  
Anonymous RAB said...

I've been a big fan of Paul Grist for twenty years...and I can't count the number of times I've thrust his work under the noses of serious American comic book geeks, saying "You must read this! It is great!" only to have them shrug and look away. I don't think it's anything to do with the focus of the story or the subject matter; in this case it's not about the lack of buzz or insufficient promotion. It's an immediate reacton of total indifference to the art. Considering Grist's obvious brilliance, the readers have to take the blame for this. Just as with film or music, slick and soulless pap will ALWAYS win a bigger share of the audience.

The only solution, as with film or music, is to make the overall audience for the medium so large that even the small titles, such as JACK STAFF or HARD TIME, reach enough total eyeballs to make them successful enough to continue. Too bad the comics industry is going in the opposite direction...

9/11/2005 04:38:00 PM  
Blogger T. said...

Hey Kelsum,

I totally didn't know my blog had that "blogger account only" feature. I'm a dumbass. I'll go change it now.

9/11/2005 04:44:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

One fellow on CBR believes that the Namor is Land casting Jason Mamoa.

9/11/2005 04:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Jason Sacks said...

I agree with the anonymous poster who talked about the problems with Jack Staff. I really enjoy the comic, but its meandering ways and sometimes very bizarre pacing is very off-putting. I enjoy the secondary characters like Betsy Burdick, Vampire Reporter and the Q Men, but all the different disparate elements just don't fall together for me.

It's still a fun comic, but I can't help feel that if Grist applied discipline to the storylines, it would be a blockbuster.

9/11/2005 05:04:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Rice said...

I dunno, Brian. What reason is there other than "They're morons with shitty taste"? That's pretty much it. The fact that anyone has ever bought an Ed Benes book pretty much proves it.

9/11/2005 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

I bought Jack Staff for quite a while but gave it up. As much as I enjoy Grist's style, which kicketh much ass, the lack of clarity in the storytelling put me off. It jumps from story to story, leaving wide gaps for the reader to mentally fill in. Grist sometimes left that gap just a little to wide for my tastes.

I recommend the trades. Trying to follow all the various weird stories while picking up the very irregularly and infrequently-published issues is dang near impossible. In trade format, his large-gap style feels cool and intelligent. In irregularly-published comics, it feels like he's just throwing up random pages.

9/11/2005 11:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Iron Lungfish said...

I honestly hadn't heard of Jack Staff until this post, but I'll concede I don't pay as much attention to non-"big two" superhero books as I probably should. The art is gorgeous, however, and just the sort of thing I like; I'll look for this book the next time I'm at a comic book store.

9/11/2005 11:55:00 PM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Or you can enter the giveaway contest at the top of the page and WIN a FREE TPB of Jack Staff!!

9/12/2005 12:58:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

Waitasec. Is Sue Storm supposed to e underwater in that photo? Namor's hair seems to indicate he's underwater but Sue's hair seems to indicate she's not. Obviously he's photreferencing too slavishly and forgot to alter Sue's hair.

9/12/2005 02:47:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Cronin said...

Well, couldn't Sue be surrounding herself in an invisible force field so that she could breathe underwater?

9/12/2005 04:48:00 AM  
Blogger mapletree7 said...

I love the Grist artwork. BUT - it's a very modern look. If the Jack Staff title is truly a throwback to 'good. old-fashioned superhero comics', then there's a disconnect between the material and the art that may be affecting sales.

9/12/2005 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger T. said...

"Well, couldn't Sue be surrounding herself in an invisible force field so that she could breathe underwater?"

Maybe, but it'd have to be either REALLY close to her skin on one side to let her lean on Namor like that, yet big enough on the other side to let her hair flow a little. Just sloppy thought process to me on Land's part.

He's done this before, where he had Sue in the rain with wet hair, slavishly photoreferenced a picture of Sue in the next panel and forgot to make her hair wet again and made it match the dry hairstyle in the photo he was referencing, then made it wet again next panel. Also, sometimes when he photreferences he also reproduces the shading of each characters original source photograph, resulting in a group scene where everyone seems lit from a different angle.

I don't remember him being such a lightbox freak at DC.

9/12/2005 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Marionette said...

It's true that Jack Staff works better in collected format, as do so many titles these days, but I feel this needs to be said, since several people don't seem to have worked it out:

Waiting for the trade will kill this comic. The sales are so low that every copy sold makes a difference to whether there will be another issue.

And the reason the publishing schedule is so irregular is probably because Grist makes so little money doing this that he needs to go and get paid work from time to time in order to eat and pay the rent.

9/12/2005 03:51:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

Because the storyline wanders hither and thither, past, present and future, focussing on whatever "shiny object" seems to currently fascinate the creator?
You're joking, right? This is called complex storytelling. Grist always pulls the diverse threads together in a clever and pleasing way by the story's end.

Grist is one of the most clear and structured stoyrtellers in the medium right now (at least the superhero corner), and I'm baffled by all these comments about his style being vague and random. Are people's attention spans that stunted nowadays?

9/12/2005 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

I do agree that Grists art may be a turn off for those bred on Jim Lee and Bryan Hitch and the fact it's not Batman is another turnoff. But also Jack Staff is kind of a dense read. The multiple interconnecting storylines and characters can be intimidating to a new reader.

3/10/2006 12:09:00 AM  
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