Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Wednesday Comics: Can Comics Survive?

Lauded comic book writer Grant Morrison said that comic books as an art form will endure.  He said even if it evolves into a weird technology that beams the image directly into your eyeball, there will be some kind of persistence.

With the shutdown of the major publishers and hundreds of comic book shops, the entire industry is hurting.  The main way the comic book industry has maintained itself is through the direct market to the individual comic book stores.  They ship new comics to the stores that release them on Wednesdays.  Long time collectors like myself make up the majority of their business.  They also release digital comics through apps like Comixology, but not nearly in the numbers that they do at the brick and mortar stores.  Because of the massive shut downs, there has been a month of no new comics being made, shipped, or sold.

Will it survive in its current form?

There are many people who are more learned than I about the ins and outs of the comic book industry.  I am writing from the perspective of an avid customer and an enthusiastic amateur.  These are my observations.


If comics in the current form is to survive, it will depend on the local comic book shops staying open.  The major companies have to do everything that they can to support them.  A store owner could probably give you a better perspective on what DC, Marvel, and the other companies can do to help.

The most important thing that I can think of is returning unsold comics.  DC offered to do this at the start of the outbreak.  To understand, the standard practice was for a company like Marvel or DC to sell a set number of each title like Iron Man or Batman to the store each week.  The store own buys them for a certain price below the cover price and then sell the comic for the cover price (standard now is $3.99 per comic book) and then they keep the difference as profit.  The problem is that if the comic does not sell with customers, the shop owner is left with a lot of product that they paid for to sit there and not sell.

For example, imagine you bought 30 copies Captain Marvel #1.  Cover price is $3.99 and you buy them for $1.99 each (these are only example numbers).  You then sell 10 copies.  You've taken in $39.90, but you've paid $59.70.  So you are at a loss on your investment.  Add to that shipping costs and other basic expenses of running a business, and you can see the problem.  Especially with first issues of a series, companies push high numbers on the stores and the stores might want to speculate as well.  But if the stores would be able to return the unsold comics, it could prevent them from taking a loss on poorly selling comics.

This would also help with the second issue


Every industry calls for this, but there is a real need for quality control in the comic book industry.  This is not exclusive to comics.  Movie box office numbers have been declining for years.  Even with record-breaking hits like Avengers: Endgame, the overall amount of people purchasing tickets continues to decline.  There are several reasons for this, but we have to take into account the poor quality of many of the movies Hollywood is producing.

The same thing applies to comics.  Avengers: Endgame is the highest grossing film of all time.  Why isn't the Avengers comic book being given this same investment of quality?  Marvel keeps pushing low-selling characters like Ms. Marvel.  Look at the debacle of the upcoming New Warriors, which has so much negative buzz that I am shocked that they are still making it.  Like Hollywood, so many comic book writers have forgotten that the most important thing is to create an entertaining and exciting story.  Instead, many of them want to make "important" stories that impact the culture.  This agenda-driven approach always harms the stories because people want to be to transported away to another world, not be lectured to about the world. 


While the local comic stores have been struggling, there are some creators that have been doing incredibly well with crowd-funding.  They pitch a story through the internet and comic book fans can pay them to produce the stories they want to read.  It is really an inversion of the current model where many of the big companies create lots of comics that most people don't want to read or purchase.  Hasbro did something similar with their HASLABS where they crowdfunded massive toys like Jabba's Sail Barge. 

The success of people like Ethan Van Sciver and Richard C. Meyer is actually quite stunning.  Other professionals I love like Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel are also doing well here.  Todd McFarlane recently crowdfunded an action figure of his comic book creation Spawn and he made over $2 million in 2 days. 

The advantage of a system like this is that it gives you an immediate gauge of what fans want and what they don't and it gets you the money upfront even before you've spent in on writers and artists to create it.  Right now, crowdfunding results in comics being directly mailed to customers.  But if these campaigns made enough profit, they could work to have them distributed to comic book stores.  In fact, Meyer was planning to do this with his first crowdfunded comic Jawbreakers: Lost Souls.  However, because he is disliked by other comic professionals, it is alleged that his distributor was pressured into dropping him.  This is actually the subject of a current lawsuit.

This could even be a model that the bigger companies use.  They could experiment with prestige projects and then see how that it could work on the series level.  McFarlane, Meyer, and Van Sciver have together raised millions of dollars and proven that there are people who want to spend their hard-earned money on stories that they want to read.  If Marvel and DC catered to their audience in a similar way, they could create more comics that fans like me will want to buy.

Will the big companies adapt?  I see that DC has been doing a lot to try to adjust to these new circumstances.  Also, they have some great writers like Geoff Johns and Robert Venditti producing some incredible work.  I don't know about Marvel.  In order for local comic shops to do well, both of the major companies need to have healthy sales. 

We will see.

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