This is the first installment of the Why So Weak Award here on the Parlor. The award was something I’ve wanted to do for awhile, but didn’t have a good enough reason to justify a post. Last night I found that reason.
I went to the comic shop and picked up a copy of the new Dick Tracy collection. I was floored. Any sort of collection of Dick Tracy strips is hard to come by, but now it was finally getting its due, thanks to Fantagraphics. The publisher really struck a nerve when it got the rights to reprint all of the Peanuts strips a couple of years ago. With the simple vintage designs of cartoonist Seth hallmarking the series covers, I was sold on those hardcover reprints right from the get go. Seriously, what a great way to enjoy all those old Schulz strips.
Fantagraphics didn’t stop there. They also got the rights to reprint all the Popeye and Dennis the Menace strips also. Their presentation is similar (hardback, great paper), but their designs are unique to each property. I’ve enjoyed each of these packages aesthetically, so why did Fantagraphics retread the Seth/Peanuts design for Dick Tracy.
Then I saw that IDW had in fact published the book, not Fantagraphics.
So, IDW basically just ripped off the design.
So, so weak.
Why, IDW? You are a good publisher! I admire your grit, your determination. In a time where most new publishers try every gimmick and trick out of the gate, you knew how to build it right: slowly. And not only that, you stuck to a core genre (horror), and have begun to branch out. Had I heard previously you were doing a collection of Dick Tracy strips similar to what Fantagraphics had been doing, sight unseen, I would have been excited to see it, to see how you would treat it.
You will make a buck or two on this deal, because as Erik Larsen pointed out in a recent article, there is a demand for Chester Gould’s work. Dick Tracy has been and influence on so many cartoonists. But you had to steal a design, didn’t you?
See, I was duped, as I’m sure a great many other consumers will be also. I thought this was the same company that had made the Peanuts collections (and other classics) available, and I know they treat the work with great reverence because of how they think about the entire package and how it will translate to the readers’ experience. However, by doing this, you are basically saying you don’t trust Gould’s work to stand out on the shelves on its own.
I’m a designer, so I know how the design-rip goes. Someone’s boss sees a banner ad on a website outperforming theirs, they make their designer create a new ad that looks similar to the better performing ad and they put it out there. Guess what? It works like a charm – I’ve seen it happen first hand. The new, similar ad will outperform its previous version despite the fact that it looks like another ad on the page (the only unknown factor is if the new ad cannibalizes click-through from the other company’s ad). The only difference being that it is a banner ad with a shelf life of maybe two weeks. This is a book that will be on people’s bookshelves for the rest of their life. If ever there was a time for a unique design, this was it.
So IDW, I bestow the first Why So Weak award. You could have had any plethora of cartoonists/designers who were fans and probably would have done a unique presentation for the book on the cheap (including Art Spiegleman, who gave you quote for crying out loud). Looking on the forums, it appears Ashley Wood created the design, which isn’t at all similar to his typical work.
I still bought the book. However, I think I’ll be designing my own cover for the ongoing collections. Please, before it gets too expensive, consider having the first two collections redesigned on a next printing.
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