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A Dissenting View on the Humanoids/DC “Fiasco”

In the world of European comics, Humanoids is the preeminent publisher.  That goes for both Europe and the U.S., which has been graced with glossy English language editions of essential Euro comics like Enki Bilal’s NIKOPOL and BEAST trilogies and Alejandro Jodorowsky and Francois Boucq’s BOUNCER.  Such Euro-flavored sagas are notable for their fearless genre spanning, with an emphasis on horror, sci fi and overall weirdness that’s miles removed from the formulaic superhero comics prevalent in this country. 

     In 2004 Humanoids made the controversial decision to partner with DC Comics to produce new editions of several of their more popular titles.  The resulting publications were trade paperback sized, in contrast to Humanoids’ traditional large format hardcovers, and far longer than before, with several episodes of each comic contained in single volumes. 

     This always seemed like a good idea to me, although I was initially put off by all the bellyaching that issued from the comic book community.  Commencing on practically the very day Humanoids and DC joined forces, the complaints alleged that the format of these new trade paperbacks was too small, the layout poor, the printing shoddy and the paper cheap.  I only got around to ordering my first Humanoids/DC publication last year; it was the Jodorowsky/Bess SON OF THE GUN, and I’ll confess that, based on all I’d been hearing, I was expecting something equivalent to a homemade pamphlet. 

     Yet what I received was a slick, well-produced publication.  The artwork came through bold and clear, and the format wasn’t as annoying as I’d feared--I do agree the larger sized hardcovers are preferable, but they were also ungainly and expensive.  With these trade paperbacks we’re given more content at reasonable prices (well okay, semi-reasonable--15 to 20 bucks a book is a little steep, which brings up a whole new issue: that of publishers, and not just DC and/or Humanoids, pricing themselves out of business!).

     Yet the official word is that the Humanoids/DC collaboration was a failure, with the affair now widely dubbed the “DC/Humanoids fiasco.”  The haters have been given ammunition by the fact that the collaboration only lasted a little over a year, apparently due to low sales. 

     I say apparently because Humanoids CEO Fabrice Giger disputes this, claiming sales of the Humanoids/DC trade paperbacks were actually fairly respectable (from an online interview: “we were way over 10,000 copies for some trade paperbacks selling at $15 to $20. This was far from being a bad result”).  I’m inclined to agree with him, especially considering that used copies of those books now sell for astronomical prices on the internet.  That’s something that usually only happens with sought-after titles (seeing as how booksellers routinely charge what they think they can get).

     So to be quite honest, the Humanoids/DC collaboration was hardly a “fiasco.”  One can nitpick about design or packaging issues as you can with any book, but those complaints pale when considering the less-than-respectful way Euro comics are traditionally treated by U.S. publishers.  They’re usually compressed into the pages of HEAVY METAL magazine, or, as was the case with Dark Horse’s release of the Jodorowsky/Moebius MADOMWAN OF THE SACRED HEART, published incomplete (with only two of its three parts included) and in black and white.

     However, I believe all the bitching about shoddy printing, poor paper quality, etc. points to another, more insidious issue: the collector mentality.  From a collecting standpoint six separate hardcover episodes of the Jodorowsky/Bess WHITE LAMA would definitely seem more desirable than the two-volume trade paperbacks issued by Humanoids/DC.  In virtually every other respect, however, the trade versions are preferable.

     Yes, I happen to be a collector myself, but not a traditional one.  By this I mean I prize content over packaging, whereas most collectors have the opposite preference--and that preference has dangerous implications. 

     Think back to the “Collector Bubble” of the nineties, in which collecting was all the rage among comic buyers.  Publishers catered specifically to that crowd with multiple covers and special “collectible” editions of popular comics.  This situation lasted until the bubble inevitably burst...and very nearly brought down the entire industry.  The moral: content should always come before packaging! 

     Of course the great irony here is that the Humanoids/DC publications have gone on to become highly sought-after collector’s items, more so than the original hardcover editions.  Not that this has staunched the whining from the collector set.

     Speaking of which, somebody better call the waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaambulence, as in late 2008 Humanoids teamed up with another popular company, Devils Due Publishing, for a new line of European comics in trade editions--and at least one of them, John Cassaday and Fabien Nury’s I AM LEGION, has already commenced its run.  Let the bitching begin!