The Comic book Straight Jacket
My friend Robb Orr over at Comicbooked wrote an interesting article that you should probably go read this morning about the comic book industry. In the article (for those that won’t go over there and read what Robb has to say) Robb more than suggests that the comic book readership that relies only on Marvel or DC is really missing the boat. They are not seeing the awesomeness that is coming out of some of the independent comic book houses, and they are missing some awesome story lines to go along with that.
I can really agree with a lot of what Robb is saying, way back when we started Comics Forge, Lance Stahlberg and myself debated this with “the sky is falling” viewpoints on the market and where it was going. This is a never ending cycle, we want everyone to at least experience an independent comic book, but not give up their Marvel and DC super hero goodness.
There is nothing wrong with that, Marvel and DC are the important players in the industry, but IDW, Dynamite, Slave Labor Graphics, independently produced and published works are in many ways equally good or better in technical execution, story line, coloring, and continuity. Robb however brings up one very good point:
But if fans want diversity as much as they claim, I don’t understand the unwavering loyalty at play here. To borrow a phrase, “You’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled, run amok!” Faith in individual creators, I totally “get.” Preference for a certain character? Sure, completely understandable. But why do so many people only read comics from a single publisher? What do they have on you? Are they holding your families ransom? Do they have compromising and damning pictures that they blackmail you with? I understand that people can’t help what comics they enjoy, but for the future of the industry we love, it is time for comic readers to free themselves from these comic straightjackets. Source: Comicbooked.com
Comics are a funny market, and while they might not be holding the family pet hostage, in our hyper connected world stores can only afford to stock what sells on a regular basis. So we tend to heterodyne on each other, Marvel and DC sells regularly so we will stock it. Customers go into a store and buy what the store stocks because that is what is popular or safe or comfy because the characters are so well known. We get a great story line sometimes for a couple of bucks, and we will forgive Marvel or DC, Batman or Wonder woman a poor story line for a couple of months. Customers will still buy them, life is good, and bills are paid.
The bad part is that this leaves a lot of independent publishers in the cold. It is hard to get shelf space in a regular commercial store. It is a huge risk tying up money for a year if the item does not sell. The economics of a comic book store are poor and decreasing all the time. Distribution is nearly a monopoly, and it is so much easier to buy from one source, than it is to cultivate many sources. For instance we own a comic book store in our own right helping to keep the web site alive. We use multiple sources, and I hear continually from people that we are really unique; no one buys like we do. This is good and bad; it is good that we work with a lot of suppliers, bad that people are telling us we are unique.
We can afford to take some risks that are above the ordinary because we are online only. Of course we lose a lot of foot traffic, but then I don’t have to pay 2 to 4 grand a month in rent. If I did, I would stock a lot of Marvel and DC because they are what sells and Diamond would be a lot happier with me than they are right now.
Two edged sword in the market, and this is why we need to really plug independent comic books. Customers have to know they exist, and what people think of them. That is one of the reasons we exist over here at Comics Forge. In the last 14 months we have written about some 750 independent comic books, done interviews, talked to people on camera and off. If there is more press coverage maybe, just maybe someone will be on a cell phone in some store and see that someone liked the title. Or maybe just maybe someone will be on Amazon and see the review as they flirt around and see what they want to buy.
The independent comic book market is alive and well, but like all small markets, has so much more to grow, and that is where the press, the authors, and the distributors can all work together to get information out into the hands of people. What we say about the efforts of the independent comic book market matters. And that is what makes this so exciting. But yes, the customers have been hoodwinked, but it is an industry wide issue, an economic issue, a distribution issue, and a social issue in the markets. That does not mean it won’t change, it means we all face an uphill climb, and there are days we are going to be like Sisyphus, but there are other days we will have a good solid win for the team.
- 2011 Comic Book Market by the Numbers (comicsforge.com)
- An interview with Joe Ahearn of Captain Action Enterprises (comicsforge.com)
- Savage Beauty from Moonstone Comics (comicsforge.com)