In the last two weeks alone, popular comics writers J.M. DeMatteis and Grant Morrison and artist Phil Hester have all seen some of their older, out-of-print work return to print through publishers who acquired the rights. In the case of Hester, it’s particularly notable in that his miniseries Holy Terror (no relation to the 2011 Frank Miller graphic novel of the same name) had an issue which had never before seen the light of day.
Meanwhile, critical darlings from decades past like Major Bummer, Chase and Resurrection Man have returned to print in the form of omnibus collected editions that were never made when those comics were actually being published and distributed to the direct market (although Resurrection Man is back as part of DC’s New 52 and Cameron Chase is presently a recurring character in Batwoman, her second ongoing DC title since the end of her solo book).
“In our case the hiatus was prompted by nothing more than day jobs and paying gigs getting in the way of finishing up the final issue,” said Jason Caskey, writer of Holy Terror, a wrestling/superhero mashup book drawn by Phil Hester. “It took us a while to whittle-away at it before we finally were able to complete it. In the end I think the time Holy Terror was first out of the public eye has been a good thing, as our readership has been a mix of new readers who didn’t pick it up when it was [at] Image and others who remembered it and were happy to see we were back.”
It’s hard, with a somewhat cynical eye, not to view many of these moves as a kind of greatest hits tour–a move by publishers and creators to eke a few more bucks out of an old property in the same way movie studios have been accused of doing with the recent torrent of prequels, sequels, remakes and reboots.
That mentality, though, misses something huge: if it were only about making a few dollars more, creators or publishers could simply reissue digitally. With the initial production work (and in most cases the formatting required for collected editions) all done for them, the process of scanning and uploading to ComiXology theoretically should cost next to nothing. Certainly that’s true for DC, who have made Resurrection Man and many other forgotten and canceled titles available through their app and on ComiXology but who are still choosing to reissue a select few.
DC themselves have let some of these titles slip through their fingers, though; J.M. DeMatteis’s critically-acclaimed Brooklyn Dreams began its life as a miniseries for DC’s Paradox Press imprint and later was collected by Vertigo before vanishing into thin air and recently reappearing at IDW. Similarly, Dark Horse picked up John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke’s Major Bummer, originally a short-lived (but much-loved) DC series, and gave it an omnibus treatment late last year.
“I actually wasn’t aware that there was a wave of reprints, but it makes sense,” said Arcudi. “As licenses expire and creators get full control of properties originally released by other publishers, this is what happens.”
In the case of Major Bummer, Arcudi said that he had hoped to get the collection out much earlier, but that he had trouble acquiring the final colored art files for the reprint edition. It’s a consideration for some of these reprints that probably will be moot in the future, as everything at every step of the way is digitized and cataloged, but it makes sense that comics produced in the 20th Century might not be quite as organized in that way.
“As to why we did it with Dark Horse, they gave us the best deal,” Arcudi explained. “I could make something up about this being the right time with the disenfranchised zeitgeist of this generation embracing our slacker anti-hero, Lou Martin, but that’s the real story.”
“DC wasn’t really supporting the book and we very much wanted it out there in a nice, hardcover edition,” said DeMatteis of his and Glenn Barr’s decision to take their creator-owned graphic novel to another publisher. “I spoke to IDW and they responded immediately and enthusiastically. We had a deal very quickly and Glenn Barr and I are both delighted with the way the book turned out. This larger-size hardcover is everything I could have asked for. Brooklyn Dreams is one of the two or three best projects of my career and it means the world to me to see it treated with the kind of care and respect IDW gave it.”
DeMatteis–who works extensively in animation and whose last project with IDW, a five-issue miniseries called The Life and Times of Savior 28, was shortened midway through for sales reasons–says that he’s interested in more work together in the future. “Although I was disappointed with the shortening of The Life and Times of Savior 28 from six issues to five,” he said, “in the end the book turned out just fine. In fact, it’s another project that I consider a career high-point. “
Boom! Studios obtained the rights to a long-out-of-print Steed and Mrs. Peel miniseries (featuring members of the BBC Television series The Avengers, no relation to the Marvel Comics Avengers) by Grant Morrison not long ago and, in short order, have begun cranking out the miniseries as a monthly. Doubtless the next step will be to have a similarly nice hardcover collection, allowing the publisher to spend relatively little money to have a book in Barnes & Noble by one of the best-selling comics writers in the bookstore market (his Batman & Robin and All-Star Superman runs translate very well outside of the direct market).