June 5, 2012

The Compost Pile

Decompression and Value

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This is part 2.

Part 1 was several months ago, when I re-edited Justice League #1 to see if the same amount of story could have been packed in to fewer pages. Opinions varied on my results, but I think my experiment showed resoundingly that yes, more story could have been told in those 24 pages.


Click to See the re-compressed Justice League

I still think about compression in comics a lot, and have been refining my opinions on this.

Today, for part 2, I want to talk about the problem I have with compression, and that problem is primarily value.

Satisfaction In The Reading

My original re-editing project started after I read Justice League #1, and it took me 8 minutes to finish the comic. I didn’t really feel like I got my money’s worth of story (the comic cost $3.99, after all).

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had an experience where I didn’t feel like I got the value that I should from a comic. I’ve told this story before, but during the build up to Secret Invasion at Marvel, I was rather excited for the event. I was buying the New Avengers and Mighty Avengers books to read the build up to the event. I got back to work from the Comic Shop one week with only 5 minutes left of my lunch break, but I really wanted to read that issue of New Avengers. I picked it out anyway, figuring I could take a little longer lunch that day. I finished reading the comic before the 5 minutes were up.

This isn’t a question of whether the comics were good or bad. A lot of the decompressed comics have good stories, or at least “good enough” stories. The problem is that there just isn’t that much story in them, and as a result, they aren’t satisfying, and don’t take long to read.

Your Entertainment Dollar

I’ve got a lot of choices for how to spend my dollar. There are movies, books, video games, music, etc.

I’m also not made of money. I’ve got a limited amount of funds to work with. With that in mind, I want to look at the amount of entertainment I get for my dollar.

That four dollar Justice League comic that took 8 minutes to read cost me 50 cents per minute.

I guess that doesn’t seem like a lot, or does it? Let’s compare to some other types of entertaiment.

A 2-hour movie that costs $12 to get in to is 10 cents/minute.

A video game I play for 10 hours that costs $60 is 10 cents/minute.

A nice dense book that takes 10 hours to read (like Game of Thrones) and costs $15 is 2.5 cents/minute.

Or how about the TV show of Game Of Thrones, it costs $30 to watch the 10 hours of season 1, that is 5 cents/minute

It looks like decompressed comics are half an order to a full order of magnitude more expensive than other popular forms of entertainment.

How Much Does It Take To Beat Comics?

It takes some refined tastes to beat the price per entertainment minute cost of decompressed comics.

The last concert I went to, 3 bands, 12 bucks. The three hour show was 7 cents/minute.

How about a big, expensive concert? The last big concert I went to (Testament/Megadeth/Slayer), was $45 for a three hour concert. 25 cents/minute. Still doesn’t beat comics.

The last time at the symphony was $80 for an hour and a half to see the San Francisco Symphony play Mahler’s Ninth. I got the good seats. 89 cents/minute. Finally we’re beating the cost per minute of comics.

The last time I was in Las Vegas with some friends, we got a cabana for the day. It cost us $300 each for 6 hours. 83 cents/minute.

I have to get the good seats to a world class orchestra, or get VIP service in Las Vegas, to beat the cost per minute of a decompressed comic book. Even then, it’s not double.

It Works on the Other Side Too

Just so I don’t get accused of using an extreme example to prove my point, let’s look at one of the best, and most dense, comics being released today, Moriarty. If you haven’t heard us rave about Moriarty on the Only The Valiant Podcast, just know that it is a really good read, and it is really dense.

I’m not the only one that thinks so either. When I spoke to the author, Daniel Corey, at Image Expo, I told him that I enjoyed how dense of a book it is, and that I feel like I get a lot of story in each issue. “A lot of people tell me that,” he said. I know I’m not the only one.

A 3 dollar issue of Moriarty takes me about 15 minutes to read. It’s a good, solid, satisfying read.

It’s still 20 cents/minute though, more expensive than TV, books, games, and movies. Not a huge amount more expensive, but still expensive.

It’s value, not minutes

I recently got called out for my views of decompression, the author, Leif, claims I equate the minutes it takes me to read a comic with how much I enjoy it.

That’s not true. There are plenty of comics I have read that I enjoyed quite a lot, it just only took me 5 minutes to read it. My displeasure isn’t from the quality of storytelling, it is for the amount of value I get for choosing to entertain myself with comics.

What if it cost $60 to see Avengers?

Avengers was a fine, fine movie. The most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a while. I’m pretty sure that we would all still think it was a great movie, but I imagine that some of us would consider it a poor value if it cost $60. regardless of how good it was.

What if Call Of Duty cost $300? What if the Game of Thrones book cost $300? And the TV series too?

That is how much they would cost if they were priced at the same price per entertainment minute as Justice League #1 was.

Coming Up

In Part 3, I’ll talk about how my views of decompression have evolved, and they have evolved quite a bit in the last year or so. Plus, I’ve got a response to Leif’s article about decompression.

What do you think? I imagine that as many people will disagree with me as agree with me, I’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


  • dbngaa comments:

    I haven’t read any replies yet, just your post, so this may have been addressed – would you allow re-reads to be counted towards the per minute cost? Assuming JLA was an issue you wanted to read again, you would not have to pay each time you re-read it, thereby making the CPM drop. I agree that you should feel you get your money’s worth from a single reading though.

    Off topic – Mahler’s 9th live?! Was that with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting? (He was just in London this week conducting MAhler’s 6th with the LSO – hope that recording is released). Pretty awesome – and a good price on those tickets compared to the much smaller scale symphony here that would charge as much for only ok seats.

  • Yup, it was Michael Tilson Thomas conducting, and it was awesome. I’ve been a fan of Mahler’s ninth from the very first time I heard it. I’ve got a couple different recordings of it on CD, but hearing it live at the San Francisco Symphony was like hearing it for the first time again. I heard things I had never heard before listening to it live.

    I’m a big fan of Mahler.

    Oh, and I’m not too sure I would want to read Justice League #1 again.
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  • Dbngaa comments:

    I’m the same way with Mahler’s 1st – many copies – probably because it was the first Mahler I heard, and it was a revelation. And to sort of bring this back to being on topic, Mahler gives you great value for your listening dollar. I mean, the 3rd symphony is an hour and a half when some composers (I’m looking at you, Mozart) will try to get by with a symphony less than 30 minutes long. (I realize this is not a very sound comparison) And Symphony No. 8 has 1,000 musicians! Who else gives you that?

    I was re-reading a few comics from the past few weeks last night (including the 3 new Valiants) and I almost think, for me, that re-reading is a must sometimes in order to get the pacing right while reading. The 1st time through I’m more focused on dialog and plot, but the 2nd time I can let each panel or sequence have the space or weight it needs, and the reading time is usually longer. Not the case with every book – sometimes a re-read hurts the book because you’ve had time to think about it and see all the flaws.

    I’ll be paying closer attention to this as I’m reading now and see which books I feel provide good value.

  • Michael comments:

    I think it comes down to storytelling. If I can get a full rich story for my $2.99 or (ugh) $3.99, then that’s one thing. But when you get a story stretched out, issue over issue just to fill out the 100 pages needed for the trade, it becomes silly to even read the individual chapters. Would you pay $3.99 for a chapter of Game of Thrones? (Tho a better comparison to modern comics might be DaVinci Code with it’s 4-page chapters that take minutes to read.)

    Compare the story in the new X-O #1-2 to the original. So far the remake has retold the last half of classic issue #0 as four pages of issue #1. What took sixteen pages then took fifty-one pages today. We really didn’t get any different information out of the retelling to justify taking three times as much space. (We actually lost something: no Elvis.) When you’re charging that much money, I would expect MORE for my dollar.

    I like the comic, but at the rate we’re going, we might not see Ken (if he returns) until 2013. 😉

  • Michael comments:

    as four pages of issue #1 should read “and four pages” (need a edit feature)

  • No edits allowed! :)

    I don’t mind the pace of X-O, I think we are getting a lot of information in the process of the story about the Vine, and about Aric’s character and motivations.

    What I’m coming around to is wanting a satisfying amount of story in each issue, and feeling like each issue has a satisfying amount of forward story progression. I don’t need a whole story to be told in one issue, I just want to feel like each issue tells an important chunk of the story.
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  • blujay1524 comments:

    As much as I love the stories told by Geoff Johns (Bendis not so much) I never buy anything he writes unless it’s in a trade.

    Johns really does “Write for the trade” which I think is pretty stupid, if you’re not going to write a worth while single issue, why would I pick it up? And if other people who feel like me aren’t picking it up what’s going to guarantee that it gets enough issues to sustain multiple trades?

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