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Red One Tries Again to Bring the European Hardcover to the American Market

Red One #1 cover

With just two issues released so far, Red One hasn’t made much of an impact, yet it’s already being reprinted in “an oversized European-style hardcover” from Image Comics in July. That’s 59 story pages, plus enough bonus material to make 80 pages of content for $14.99.

I’m not a fan of the format, because I think it’s a lot to pay for not a lot of reading — particularly since many of the European albums I’ve seen prefer art to substantial story. Of course, if that’s what you’re looking for, this series, illustrated by Terry and Rachel Dodson, has lots of pretty pictures, particularly of its heroine and her skin-tight jumpsuits.

Red One #1 cover

I suppose part of my distaste for this marketing method comes from how it was introduced. After reading issue #2 — which ends on a couple of cliffhangers, by the way, so not a complete story — there’s a text page that justifies sort of defensively (in my opinion) the choice. They claim the system “raises the bar for quality over quantity” and then do some page cost math to show their book will be a better deal than DC and Marvel comics. That’s the kind of argument that people make only to justify a position they already believe in.

The creators go on to say “it’s the model that we love for entertainment and we are going to try to make it work here!” Good luck with the crusade, but one generally gets more success serving the market instead of trying to convince the market to share your emotional reactions. You may love the format, but it remains to be seen if stores or customers are willing to put up with it. Particularly when it’s sprung on them retroactively. And when it means that we won’t find out what’s going on with the characters until a year from now.

I know this complaint is superficial, but oversized books also cause problems in storage and shipping and sales. They’re more likely to get damaged in getting them to the stores, and it’s hard to find a place to keep them. That shouldn’t matter, but sales figures in the past show that it does.

Anyway, Red One, as written by Xavier Dorison, isn’t a bad comic, even if many of its jokes, about a superstrong Russian fighter sent to infiltrate America, feel like they fell out of Yakov Smirnoff’s filing cabinet circa 1985. It’s set in 1977, and aside from Red One coming to the US as a Communist superhero, there’s also a moral crusader killing sinners, and Vera working for a crotchety old porn director. She’s got a hammer and sickle for weapons, of course, and one of those “only in fiction” innocent loves of sex in all its forms. Overall, it’s got a good heart under its heroine’s super-sized chest, even if many of the elements can feel overly familiar.



4 comments

  • And there’s another problem with the Direct Market – comic book retailers who refuse to support diversity, not just of content, but also of format. I love the French model for comics and want to see it work here, but it can’t work in a Direct Format that whines like teenagers the second a comic book isn’t the same exact size as Marvel and DC.

    As for the likelihood of them getting damaged on the way to stores — it would be nice if Diamond didn’t have a monopoly and was actually held accountable for its poor shipping practices, wouldn’t it?

    It drives me crazy that we get so few English translations of France-Belgian comics in America, and that when we do they have to squish the art down to more closely approximate the “standard comics format.” It makes some of them almost unreadable. I wish sometimes that the American publishers valued their artists as much as the French publishers do.

  • What do you love about the French model? As I said, to me it seems like less content in fancier packaging for a higher price, but I don’t know as much about it as I should. Are you only considering the size, or are there other aspects about it to consider?

  • I haven’t read the text piece at the back of the book yet, so if I repeat any of it, that’s why. But:

    I like the idea of a creative team having a year to put together a story, of it being released in one blast, of the extra time being taken on it showing in the artwork.

    I like the idea of a graphic novel — like the book world, where the novelist puts out one novel a year and it’s an event.

    And I like fancier packaging for that, too. ;-)

    I like larger page sizes and to see the art bigger, particularly when the artist packs more detail in. (I like “Largo Winch,” but I would LOVE to see it at its original size, and not the shrunken down thing Cinebook gives us, for example.) Thankfully, most of Francois Schuiten’s work that’s been republished over here over the years stuck to the larger page format, save that one awful time DC put it out during their deal with Humanoids. (Someone fact check that last sentence — my memory is getting dull on the details of that one.)

    That level of work can’t be completed on a monthly schedule, and since there’s so much more story put on a single page of Franco-Belgian comics than typical North American comics, the larger page size is well-earned. It takes me, for example, as long to read a single “Largo Winch” volume as it does a six issue trade paperback collecting some Marvel or even Image series. So the bang for the buck is still there.

    Now, the story also needs to reflect the packaging, just as it does here in the States. You should have a complete story in that one graphic novel, to some extent. Again, with Largo Winch, they run as two parters, but that doesn’t impact me much since I’m not on the French publication schedule with those. Still, who doesn’t love a good cliffhanger?

    I haven’t read “Red One” yet, so I can’t talk to how “satsifying a chunk” or story it is just yet. But if one 48 page chunk of story a year is the best we can get out of him, then I’ll take his best art.

    Better than all the other hot artists who can’t make it past three issues without a million guest inkers, fill-in artists, and rushed art jobs.

    I love getting the complete Asterix story in a single oversized graphic novel, where all of Uderzo’s amazing cartooning can be seen in graphic detail. Thankfully, those are still available at full size in English. But, yes, those are all complete in one book. I like that model the best.

    Sorry — I think I’m rambling now. I do think the album model they have over in Europe is something I’d like to see here, but realize it’s not possible given the way comics are distributed here. The Direct Market won’t take them for various silly reasons. Bookstores are a possibility, but there aren’t many of those left anymore. Maybe libraries; I don’t know the economic pressures that are there, but it seems like most books made for libraries go smaller, not larger.

  • Oh, I love serialized graphic novels, too — if the story is sufficiently stand-alone. I thought this “miniseries” failed at that part of it, so instead of a plan, the release seems more like thrashing for a business model. If the story was more satisfying, I’d feel very differently about their plans. (And it’s not like how I feel matters anyway, since I’m not the target audience for this story, which falls more firmly in the “typical direct market customer” bucket.)

    Good points about the art being denser. Red One does seem to be following that pattern well.

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