I have been a comic book reader and collector for quite a while. Long enough to have been raised up in the hobby, spent years out of the hobby, and to have come back to the hobby.
One of the periods I went out of the hobby on, was the 90s. The exciting boom years of the late 80s and very early 90s, where comics were selling millions of copies and making creators millionaires, as well as putting money in every part of the chain from collectors to retailers. Everyone was bullish on comics, from the TV shows to wall street, and this initial high spotlight, created a desire for more and more and more. A desire across the board. Variant covers and the speculator market was born in this feeding frenzy. Comic publishers happy to keep inflating those sales #s by creating a demand for multiple covers of an issue, and Retailers likewise making money hands over fist by selling people multiple copies of the same book, and creating ‘rare’ varients that would put the customers kids thru college.
What became quickly evident is the books, filled with garish art and poor writing, were not very good. And when that lightbulb hit, and people rushed to cash out their ‘rare’ varients and books, they quickly found everyone was looking to sell and no one was looking to buy. There was very much a rush on the bank, and a lot of people found their pricely purchased books, were literally not worth the paper they were printed on.
It was a massive contraction, as the bull market turned into a catatonic bear, and fortunes and busineess that were rich only in belief, fell apart as the belief in the product crumbled almost overnight. Imagined Comic fortunes, sometimes leveraged against mortgages, disappeared, individual collectors and speculators were wiped out, comic shops were closed. and the person who just wanted good stories, left the comic medium, to find quality elsewhere.
It was a devastating culling, that left a medium, that had known great highs, brought to crashing lows.
But a few things saved the medium.
Quality. A few creators reinstilling faith and awe in this four color happy with books that just wowed everyone. Many creators, but most notably Alex Ross, his beautiful painted, Norman Rockwell influenced visuals, and the iconic nature of the tales he and his cocreators crafted, gave a much needed maturity and sophistication and credulity and awe factor to a medium that very much needed to be viewed seriously again.
More, Alex Ross’ visuals grabbed the eyeballs of noncomic readers, and creators in other mediums, who for the first time saw these heroes translatable to live action, and the big screen.
Alex Ross and his KINGDOM COME is the reason I came back to Comics. There is a line in that mini-series about ‘faith rewarded’, and that series I feel was very much that for the industry, it was a calling card to the naysayers and the lapsed and the burnt… to look up, good comics are back.
And in the two decades since that series, that faith has been rewarded. Comics across the board, the whiners and haters and bigits and johnny come latelys ignored, have never been better. The quality of artistsand writers, and the diversity of genres amd content and publishers and creators has never been better.
Comics are the idea space and driving impetus for all other mediums today. Studios are making billions and billions, because Mark Millar and John Cassaday, very much following in the mold of Alex Ross and Mark Waid’s KINGDOM COME created with the comic THE ULTIMATES, a blueprint, that steadfast genius cheerleaders like Stan Lee and Kevin Feige could use to show studios how these comics could be translated into films. A road that Stan Lee started Marvel on back in the 60s, and has been fighting in Hollywood ever since. So his cameos in those Marvel Movies are well eaned.
So Superheroes have never been more popular, comics of every stripe and genre have never been better, and never had more options. So we come to the 800lb gorilla in the room, if this is a golden age in terms of content and creators, where are the readers?
The market has gained new readers as it alwys does, but it continues to lose readers in equal if not slightly greater numbers.
If Comics are so good whay is this happening?
It’s simple. One of the boons of the direct market, was it took comics off the newstand, allowing them not to have to deal with returnability, increase their profit margin, and market to a more mature, specific audience. Allowing for sophisticated titles like Moench and Sienkiewicz’s Moonknight and Moench’s MASTER OF KUNG FU, Moore’s SWAMP THING and WATCHMEN, Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and Sim’s CEREBUS and Bruce Jones’ TWISTED TALES and many more. It allowed creators to have a more intimate conversation with their reader, with not having to make it kid friendly for the spinner rack. No kid would accidentally wander onto these titles, they were curated through the distributors (plural, there used to be more than one) who then put the realtor and the comic publications in the know.
Great for servicing a thriving existing readership, but a doubleedged sword in that model is decidedly not newbie friendly. Most people who work in comics or are fans of comics, were indoctrinated into it by spinner racks at Rite Aid (or insert drug/convenince store here). It was an onramp that evry day just brought new readers to the medium.
The Direct Market model, which as I stated had and has a lot of benefits, had one glaring negative, it blew up that onramp. Add to that the loss of multiple distributors and the current monopolistic distributor situation that currently exists in comics, and the bottle neck that has inhibited growth in comic for years is understandable. Add to that the greed and price gouging of publishers, particularly and most glariingly Marvel, that is now charging over $4 for its cheapest comic, and has recently added $5,$6, and $7 price teirs to a 20page book that may take you 5 minutes to read, and they have priced their comics out of business by even die hard grown ass men with jobs, much less a kid just looking for leisurely read. Even if we had newstand distribution back at 1970s levels, no one in those newstand would pick up Marvel Comics.
DC, Marvel’s estemmed competition, has done a much better job of keeping their books at $2.99, which for me is the cutoff amount. I buy no books from Marvel Comics due to their price gouging. I pick up 2 or 3 books fom DC, but even they have gone to $3.99 on some of their biooks (DEATHSTROKE by Priest is my favorite DC comic, their desire to have it now at $3.99 is disappointing. I’ll have to drop the singles and go to trade).
So at a time where millions of people rush out to see movies, and studios are swimming in money, and conventions are doing record numbers, the book itself through a confluence of bad and suspect factors, 1/ a distribution monopoly (competition is the life- blood a
2/ price gouging, $2.99 shpuld be the limit on the traditional comic/periodical
3/ not creating onroads to new readers (though the recent proliferation of Graphc Novels in Book Stores and Libraries and the rise of digital options such as Comixology, is Fantastic. But I still believe we need to do more to reach those who are not in this seemingly archaic circle of trust)
So by reigning in those three things, I think we can make a Marvel Comic Publishing that is as viable and cost effective and as enticing as their successful slate of films.
So yeah, in brief i wanted to discuss the market, and give my overview on where it stands, and what could be done to raise its standing in 2018.