Earlier today, Wonderworld Comics retailer, Detroit Fanfare promoter, and comics bad boy Dennis "Bam Bam" Barger Jr. sent out an open letter to the comic book industry addressing the fallout from the sexy Powerpuff Girls cover, which was pulled last week in response to Barger's complaints and the ensuing controversy. When the letter was published on Robot 6, fellow retailer, superstar writer, and internet hothead "Murderin'" Mark Waid showed up in the comments to challenge Barger... to a DEBATE!
Kurt Busiek got involved too, because he gets involved in every dispute on the entire internet.
Here's Barger's letter:
Let me start this letter out with a cliché...children are the future of this industry. If you do not subscribe to this philosophy, then you might as well stop reading right now. There is no other way to put this---our industry of print comic books is dying. The number of readers is falling fast. By my estimate, there are roughly 70,000 readers for each of the best selling serialized comic books released today. After counting cross-over readers from the Big Two and people who only read Indy comics, I would guess that we have around 120,000 actual people reading comic books today. Judging from the attrition rate that we are losing readers, we need 12,000 a year to start reading comic books and getting hooked on visiting the stores that remain. When you consider that there are roughly 2,000 comic shops that number means each store needs to be making six new readers a year.
I am a huge supporter of IDW and especially their all-ages line of comics. It wasn't until they released My Little Pony comic books, that I decided to dedicate almost 10% of my store to a kids' section. Now when I say kids, I mean kids the age of my children, 6-12 years old. This is the pure age that if you get them into a habit of reading, they will read for a life time. I have been a huge supporter of IDW's cartoon network licenses with Samurai Jack and Powerpuff Girls. Not that Boom! Studio's Adventure Time and Regular Show weren't enough, but the kids and fans of those shows weren't coming in on a regular basis enough to dedicate the space to just them. Now it seems that everyone has dedicated an effort to a kids' line of comics, most notably DC Comics, Art Balthazar and Franco offerings. But nothing got them through the door on a regular basis like My Little Pony. IDW showed me that as a publisher, they had a great commitment to getting kids through my door and I wanted to be ready for them when they got there. When a kid comes into my store, they are greeted with a sucker, left over Free Comic Book Day comics, Archaia's Mouse Guard hardcovers that I ordered enough to have for freebies and a kids' section of all-ages comics from every publisher. I feature books like Jeffrey Brown's Vader and Son and Brad Meltzer's new book I am Amelia Earhart and every small price point kids' toy I can buy from Diamond. I create new comic readers every time they walk through my door.
I know I am creating my six new readers and then some. I spend $2,000 a year on Free Comic Book Day for kids alone, giving each kid who comes in 10 free comic books from our selection. By spending that money today, I will hopefully make those kids customers for life. It is my ?get them off the video games and into comics? philosophy. And let me also say, that in my opinion, this is the last generation of kids that we have a chance to win. They are saturated to the point that ?pop culture? is the only culture around them. If we can't win these kids over, surrounded by Avengers movies and TV shows with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Batman Legos, Star Wars cartoons and video games and Walking Dead zombies on every parents T-shirt, then I don't know what will.
Which brings me to the point of this letter, The Powerpuff Girls #6 comic book subscription variant by Mimi Yoon. A phenomenal piece of art by an extremely talented artist, commissioned by Cartoon Network and mandated to be placed on a licensee's comic. It was submitted through Diamond Previews to retailers, ordered by retailers and finally on Final Order Cut Off date seen by me for the first time. It was clearly missed by several people, because some didn't find it offensive and other just simply didn't look hard enough. When I finally saw it, I was floored, angry and dismayed. In this day and age, when that happens, you do what everyone does, share your feeling on social media. We all do it, only in this day and age, people listen. Media picks things up and more social media shares it, and it continues. If anyone in this industry doesn't think we live in a 24 hour news cycle, you are kidding yourself. Everything happens in 24 hours. It took 24 hours for Bleeding Cool to run a story on a facebook post; it took 24 hours for more to pick that up; it took 24 hours for ICV2 to call Cartoon Network; and it took 24 hours for them to cancel the variant cover and media around the world to pick up that story.
It also took 24 hours for people in this industry to paint me as the villain in all of this. I will not discuss why this cover upset me and this is the last time I care to talk about it, aside from this. I did not feel that it was appropriate for the cover of a book aimed at young children, especially young girls, and many people agreed with me. A Hollywood corporate machine like Warner Bros and Cartoon Network would not have pulled it unless enough people saw that this was inappropriate in some way. Count how many things Hollywood has lost money on because there was a controversy. You'll only need 1 hand.
We are the only ones who can police our industry, the comic book industry. We are the creators, publishers,distributors, retailers and customers. Comic book creators work diligently to create content which brings in customers. Publishers take risks on a daily basis with their bottom line to make sure there is work for creators and products to sell. Distributors make sure that the retail side is properly supplied. Retailers pick and choose what books they think they can sell, take risks on everything they order, and supply the customers with the products they want. Customers look to the others to make sure they have books every Wednesday that are high quality enough to shuck over $3.99 apiece, every week of the year. Sometimes when I talk to people in our industry they lose sight of a few links in that chain.
Let me point out to you, Hollywood is not a link in that chain. For licensed comic publishers it may be, and for customers who only read licensed comic it is. For creators sitting around and waiting for that fat proverbial ?Hollywood Movie Check? it might be...but from start to finish, Hollywood is not in that chain. We need to remember this. Hollywood came into this chain and told a publisher what they had to do, for no one's betterment but their own. Hollywood needs us, the comic book industry, we are the frack needed to pump into their dying wells. The second we lose sight of that we are done. We cannot let them into the middle of our industry. No one from Hollywood has to tell creators like Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples how to create new readers, no one from Hollywood walks into a comic shop and tells retailers how to create new readers, and IDW knows how to create new readers without Hollywood dictating what's on the cover.
All it takes is six young new readers created by every comic book shop when they walk through the doors to maintain this business we all love.
All it takes is one giant mistake to upset the parents of those new readers and we will lose this industry.
It wasn't long before Kurt "The Killer" Busiek showed up to talk some smack to Barger:
Apparently, Hollywood shouldn’t have any input on a comic based on a TV cartoon. And licensors shouldn’t ever tell publishers what to put on the covers. Just, apparently, on the insides.
Hooray for bringing kids into the industry with non-Hollywood-controlled books like MY LITTLE PONY and ADVENTURE TIME and VADER & SON and SAMURAI JACK. And what a good thing it is that Mimi Yoon got bounced off the variant cover of a book kids might read, because IDW knows better what should be on their covers, which is why they’ve hired her to do something else, and Boom’s got her doing work for that clearly non-kid-favorite ADVENTURE TIME.
Whatever one thinks of the PPG cover flap, this is a pretty muddled rant, embracing the power of Hollywood licenses for attracting kids to comics and then declaring that we don’t need Hollywood having any say over those very books.
But Busiek didn't stand alone. Mark Waid's entrance music hit the PA system, and the crowd in the... Robot 6 Comments Arena... went WILD:
Oh, for God’s sake. Dennis, this is the dumbest, most ignorant thing I’ve ever heard you say, and I HAVE PATIENTLY LISTENED TO YOU TALK A *LOT*.
As a retailer and a consumer, I (and my retail partners) looked at this cover and–truthfully, honestly–saw an innocent “Adult Legion”-style variant, a “let’s do another episode where we see Lisa Simpson as an adult”/”what’ll the Powerpuff Girls look like as teenagers?” riff. There are huge, enormous numbers of us (including my girlfriend’s 13-year-old daughter) to whom it never even occurred this was anything other than that. I still can’t wrap my head around the notion that anyone born after 1920 thinks of this image as “sexualizing preteen girls,” and I’m sorry, but I really do have to wonder about (and get icked out by) someone who immediately does. “Latex bondage dresses”? Really? That’s your take on this?
I salute your commitment to kids’ comics and a kid audience, Dennis, I really do. And I’ll grant that this one specific image might not be the most representative PPG image ever marketed. But of the two of us, I don’t think I’m the one who registered “perv” on this particular Rorschach test. I defend your right to scream “Won’t somebody think of the children???” at the top of your lungs–it’s a free country–but it’s hard to take seriously from a retailer who asks strippers to wear panties emblazoned with his company logo so their pictures can go up on Facebook for customers of all ages to see. You might want to allow that (as usual) your barometer might be a little more uniquely calibrated than you think it to be.
Oh damn! Daaaaammmmmmn! Barger responded, first to Busiek:
First let me address Mr Busiek’s comment. Kurt part of the reason we are in declining sale point of this industry is because we have an industry that didn’t embrace ideals like yours in keeping the few readers we held onto through the 90′s purge. We wouldn’t be in this mess if the industry wasn’t out looking for the next hot thing, when they had talented men like you that they weren’t giving work to. But we have in front of us what we have. We have a declining readership that the people in power don’t want to keep and have very few in the industry creating new ones. But as for your slightly sarcastic remarks to my dislike of Hollywood’s outside influence. I state that Hollywood needs us, they are strip mining and outright stealing our industry for every idea they have, and not giving much back, except for one. They have created the fertile breeding ground of the last great hope for our industry, the kids. They have surrounded them with our culture for us, something that the 10,000 stores in the 90′s couldn’t do, and lord knows that the 2,000 stores of 2000 didn’t have the resources to do. So now it is up to us, when they come through our doors to show them something else from their environment that is where it came from. Hollywood does not pick and choose the writers and artists in most licensed comics cases, the publisher submits who they want and the licensor agrees (usually signing off trusting the publisher).
You are mistaken on the point about IDW choosing the artist, as stating in other stories on this, IDW says that this was a Cartoon Network “Mandated Cover” which means they told the publisher what they had to put on the package that they created without the network. I was hardly alone in thinking this was not appropriate for my daughter or other girls her age, or I am sure that CN would not have ordered it pulled. Hollywood loves to exploit controversy for money.
And then to Waid himself:
As for Mark Waid’s comments, I have offered many times to debate the many things that he has been dead wrong about in this industry, I will take this as the one time I won’t dignify his jibes with a polite comment in return. My invitation is open, any time and anywhere to discuss our industry at great lengths but an internet flame war will not be that place.
Your Fellow Retail Terrorist,
At this point, Waid charged into the ring and hit Barger with a steel chair, then proceeded to... oh no wait, that's what Brock Lesnar did to The Big Show at the Royal Rumble last night. Instead, Waid just responded with another comment:
Actually, Dennis, to be fair, it was my offer to debate you in public, which you accepted–not the other way around. We’ve clearly not yet found the venue, but I gotta tell you, it’s stuff like this that really makes me worry it’ll be a huge waste of time. I’m gradually coming to suspect that it would be hard for most anyone to find significant common ground with you on even the most basic fundaments of reality. I’m sure you’ll be happy to tell me otherwise in Atlanta in a few weeks. See you there.
Atlanta! Georgia Dome, bitch!
Or not... Barger responded with a different suggestion:
Mark, that is a little short notice for a show I wasn’t planning on attending half way across the country, but I think two midwest retailers could find somewhere a little closer to home for this discussion/debate,
Might I respectfully counter with the MSU Comics Forum Feb 21-22 with Keynote speaker Stan Sakai
or your store’s home state of Indiana at the Indiana Comic Con March 14-16th.
and then there is of course Gem City Comic Con April 5&6th one of my favorite shows in the midwest where this debate was first proposed (and yes my mind is fuzzy) probably by you. I’m sure Jesse could make room in his schedule for this.
I await your answer
So the gauntet has been thrown, picked up, and thrown again! Grudges will be settled! Careers will be on the line! Life and death will hang in the balance! None of that stuff I just said will happen, but we may get a debate, and BY GAWD, IT WILL BE A SLOBBERKNOCKER!
Because this is comics, people, and it's only in this industry where all of the major players regularly behave like professional wrestlers. It should be pointed out that, when not performing, not even professional wrestlers fo this. And that's why we love it. Never change, comics!
Speaking of which, this ties up the score, Bleeding Cool. 5 to 5. Your move, Johnston.
Bleeding Cool's Tally - 5 Articles:
The Outhouse's Tally - 5 Articles: