The End of the Magazine Age: ACE, We Barely Knew You
At the beginning of the year, I wrote about the planned launch of ACE magazine, a new publication from the editor of Comic Book Artist, Jon B. Cooke, and publisher/retailer Robert Yeremian.
“ACE” stands for “All Comics Evaluated”, and the magazine promised both interviews and reviews of current material as well as a price guide. It debuted in March, and it was monthly after that — until May, when issue #3 was published. No issues have followed, although issue #4 was solicited for June 17 (APR15 2030); issue #5 for July 15 (MAY15 1843); and issue #6 for August 19 (JUN15 1771). The Twitter account stopped updating in early July, and the website is even more out of date.
One regretfully assumes that ACE couldn’t make a go of it. I say regretfully, because it was an attractive, well-laid-out publication that talked about a range of today’s comics. It was also a hybrid, aiming to attract those who read comics and those who collected them, audiences that no longer have much in common. And the inclusion of the price guide may have doomed the publication. I’m guessing that’s why the magazine shipped bagged, so you couldn’t flip through it on the shelf. Price guides often don’t want to give their data away for free, but preventing people from looking through a new magazine makes it easy to skip purchasing, because you’re expecting them to buy blind.
Then again, comic fans have often preferred to buy comics instead of magazines about them. They could spend the $7.99 cover price on two more comics. Journalism is a tough sell in today’s market, particularly since so many people give away these kinds of pieces online for free. I liked the blend of material, for the most part, with features on Lucy Knisley (Displacement) and Noelle Stevenson (Nimona), among others, but I already knew how great their work was. Are comic book store customers interested in expanding their horizons that much? Are those who are curious already aware of such books?
Issue #1 was something of a mixed bag. The first news piece was about Marvel’s Netflix plans, and the cover article promoted DC’s superhero TV shows, media-focused items that demonstrate a mass-market approach. (Note that the now-cancelled Constantine disappeared from the cover between solicitation and release.) The news blurbs that followed were written in breathless, Stan-Lee-aping prose that seems remarkably quaint and fannish.
However, the interview that follows is substantial, with Scott McCloud on the release of The Sculptor — but marred by a factual error in the introduction. Even if you set quibbling about his nonfiction comics aside, this was not his first graphic novel. Anyway, that’s a small point. This is the kind of comic I want to read more about, as are Lumberjanes, which gets a feature article, and Squirrel Girl, with a piece on her origin. There’s also an interview with Amanda Conner, and somewhat out of place, a piece on how Robin was created 75 years ago. That one seems to have wandered in from some TwoMorrows magazine, as does the piece on how John Romita was influenced by Milton Caniff. But the interview with James Tynion IV (The Woods, Batman, Memetic) brought things back to what I expected.
That’s the color half of the magazine. It switches to newsprint for the price guide and related articles, such as one debating the real first appearance of Spawn that asks “Should ads matter… or just story appearances?” There’s a list of five hot back issues and five more they expect to become hot, plus a couple of pages of some conventions and another page of comic stores. The price guide itself is compiled from “multiple sources (dealer experience, observing online auctions, study of our comprehensive database, etc.)”, which is remarkably non-specific and non-verifiable. Values are NM only, and the magazine “pays special attention to variant covers”.
If I was paying for this — and I did buy a copy, even though the publisher provided digital review copies — I’d feel like I only needed the front half of the magazine, so I was paying twice as much as I should. I’m just not convinced that, given the death of print these days, an attempt to recreate Wizard is a good idea, because the audience for the features is not the same as the audience for the back half. Retailers and speculators concerned with how much their back issues are “worth” don’t care about comics people buy to read, and vice versa.
To get back to my headline, I have a hard time envisioning a magazine about comics that would sell these days. Covering only “the good stuff” means not enough people want to buy ads (and while ACE has a few, there aren’t enough to cover much of their costs). The market is too diverse for an “everything to everyone” publication to work, and anything else would have too small a market to succeed financially.