Saturday, February 20, 2010

Regarding Comics

I received a comment from my pal Scott Godlewski the other day regarding the quote I posted from James Patterson:

“Comics could reach a much larger audience than they do right now,” says Patterson, who often works with co-authors and whose thrillers are frequently at or near the top of USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list. “With all of the quality work and talent that’s out there, this industry could be so much bigger.”

Scotty asked,"  Then why don't they?"

Here in the US and Canada we've marginalized comics for so long and in so many ways that we've fallen out of the pop culture radar field, even though we've been making these huge blockbuster movies based on comics properties...

We've concentrated almost exclusively on the superhero idiom. Those that don't are the exception that prove the rule.  You don't see these on newsstands anymore:

We've moved comics away from the mainstream retail corridors and into exclusive comic shops which again, limits traffic and potential new readers. 

We've elevated the production value of comics making them very expensive per minute in relation to other forms of entertainment - movies, tv, games.

Storytelling has become insular in comics. I can't pick up a comic at a store and read it without having to understand 70+ years of continuity beforehand.  

Comics - for the most part as there are some companies that are the exceptions - cater to a marginal audience.  Take the audience for comics as a single demographic and compare it to movie-going audiences, game playing audiences, book-reading audiences ; and you'll see that comics is a very small pond. 

And even though we are making these huge movies, the comics publishing community is doing little to capitalize on it.  To see the numbers of new readers brought into the fold by these movies is disheartening.  They are miniscule.  

Someone in the industry told me that 10k books shipped for an indie title is a big hit. (Which it is, given that they are mainly going to just comic books shops).

And though the Asian manga and European comic industries have taken their hits of late thanks to the economy and emerging technology, they are still healthier than we are because they are so diverse: In subject matter, audiences and distribution. 

They also take a look at where their money is best spent and act accordingly. 



RJ said...

A large part of the problem with the comics industry over the past few decades has been the move to the specialty comic shops. Very few comic book publishers have bothered with the traditional newsstand/convenience store distribution and instead relied on the big distributors like Diamond Distribution to ensure that their product gets into the specialty stores. Apart from Archie Comics and a few Marvel and DC titles, every comic book company sells through the comic books stores--and hence through a supply chain effectively dominated by Diamond. This is by no means the only problem with a very sick industry, but it is a big one.

"Fixing comics" is a big challenge, and will take a lot of work for anyone wanting to use comics as a medium.

Cunningham said...

I also think it's an ongoing process being tackled on several fronts:

Companies like BOOM creating kid friendly comics for news stands, book stores and general consumption...

Webcomics folk using internet tools to distribute material outside the mainstream.

People like King and Patterson becoming involved in comics, and bringing a huge audience with them.

scottygod said...

The Diamond monopoly seems like a huge hinderance, but I'm neither informed nor smart enough to offer an opinion on why or how to fix it. The price point of a single mainstream comic is outrageous. And with everything being written "for the trade", any issue you pick up is just a quarter of the overall story. With monthly publishing you're waiting 4-6 months to complete a whole story and spending $16-$20. It is a shame that the mainstream movie-going public is enjoying the films so much, but is so blind to the source material.

Cunningham said...

Like I said earlier there are many fronts to this the battle, and no one person or company has ALL the answers because different companies have different issues at stake.

I don't want to even suggest I have all the answers, but I am absolutely dead certain that we all need everyone to start asking many more questions...

DecoderRing said...

DC and Marvel are both addicted to a never-ending parade of universe-wide crossover events that run for months and months and require anyone foolish enough to get involved to track down issues of a dozen different titles to cobble together the bloated storyline, which will change absolutely nothing, since whatever a comics writer does for the big houses, some jerk is just going to come along and change it all back to the way it was when he was a boy.

It's a cynical and desperate tactic - to take the small and shrinking audience of devotees and wring every last nickel out of them, and the companies deserve what they get for indulging in it for so long.

Want to get more people buying comics more often? How about some single issue adventures? Throw in a two-parter once in a blue moon. We'll be there. Ask me to hand you my wallet for crap like Civil War or 52? Get bent.

Unknown said...

In Britain we've still got stuff like Commando- small format one off stories on pulpy paper. Often a little stilted but with some great art. I'd love to see someone do some stuff in that format but aimed at an older audience.