Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ten Random Things About Comics

It's all the rage this week to make up lists of ten things about comics. And it's fun to rant. So...

1. Everybody reads comics. Well, nearly everybody. They may not be reading traditional comic books, but they will read collections of their favorite comic strips; or one or two Web comics; or the latest graphic novel reviewed by the New York Times; or the comic that an upcoming movie is based on; or a comic purportedly written by their favorite prose novelist; or, well, you get the idea. The notion that comics readership is limited to one particular demographic (be it 40-year-old super-hero fans or 15-year-old manga fans) is just not true.

2. Not all of those people pay for the comics they read. They borrow them from the library, or a friend. They read their favorite Web comics online. I've even heard that some people download comics through means of dubious legality. Most people enjoy comics, but not enough to pay for them more than occasionally.

3. The big two publishers cater to a particular demographic because those are the people who continue to pay for their comics. If you want to see a Supergirl comic written for tween girls, people are going to actually have to buy it when it is published. If not, you're just going to get yet another iteration of Secret Civil World War Blackest Infinite Crisis War.

4. The big two have created an event mentality that hinders their ability to successfully launch new titles. When you send out the message that "these comics 'matter,'" that also sends out the message that "these other comics don't 'matter.'" Take for example Marvel's new all-ages Thor: The Mighty Avenger; just about anyone who has actually read it agrees that it is very good, perhaps even wonderful. But hardly anyone reads it, because it's not the 'real' Thor, and the out-of-continuity stories don't 'matter.' It also doesn't help that there are something like five or six different Thor comics being published every month right now, which leads us to the next point:

5. The big two are flooding the market with titles, which has destroyed the mid-list and hinders their ability to successfully launch new titles. If one Deadpool book is selling moderately well, then why not have five Deadpool books? Well, because 50,000 people copies sold of one Deadpool comic does not equate to 250,000 copies sold of five Deadpool comics; you'll actually be lucky to get 100,000 sold. (I just made those numbers up; I'm too lazy to look up actual sales numbers.) That equates to money that comics buyers could be spending on something else; it also equates to an opportunity cost in not publishing something else. The only comics properties that should be carrying more than one title are Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and maybe X-Men; and those should cap out at two titles for each.

6. The manga boom is over, and it's not coming back. It was killed by a flood of titles. And returns. A few popular titles like Naruto continue to sell well, but it's mostly transformed into another niche market. Not that there's anything wring with niche markets; as long as I can still get Yotsuba&!, or stuff by Jiro Taniguchi, and Fantagraphics is willing to put out a nice hardcover of Moto Hagio's stuff, I'm happy.

7. The best way to sell comics to a general audience is to have a tie-in to some other media, preferably a movie. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Scott Pilgrim. The Walking Dead. Kick-Ass. Buffy. Etc. Mostly this means "Well-regarded comic becomes a movie," and not "make a comic based on a movie property." Or (in the case of Buffy), "creator with a rabid fan base continues his creation in comics form." (Note the necessity of the term 'rabid.')

8. Some of the biggest comics series are not sold primarily (or at all) through Diamond. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Amulet. Witch & Wizard. Ook & Gluk. Did you see those at your local comics store? Probably not. But they're comics for kids that are selling quite well in the bookstore market.

9. Digital is the wave of the future for the traditional comic book. It's simple math: when you cut out printing and distribution costs, you need only sell half as many comics to make the same profit digitally. (Alternately, cut your prince in half, and make more money in volume.) With digital distribution, your comic is always available, and you can get long-tail effects. In five to ten years, look for the digital market to replace the traditional floppy market. Absurd you say? I'm sure they thought the same at Tower Records. Or Blockbuster.

10. People will continue to create comics, whether or not there is an industry to support them. Just like people will continue to write and perform music whether or not there is a record industry. We just had a 24 Hour Comics Day event at the library where I work, and I had the pleasure of sharing a room with thirty mostly college-age kids all making comics. Most have no desire to be professional comics creators, but they do have a desire for self-expression through art. And with the Internet, they can share their work with others. The currency they'll trade in is attention (and for those who are profit-minded, they'll find that attention translates to sales).


George S. said...

I especially love number 4, mainly because it's so true! Great post!

Anonymous said...

Great list.

I'm not sure that I agree with point about the Manga boom. At least here locally, at my library, the kids are demanding more and more Manga zines, while the traditional titles sit collecting dust. (Until I check them out again!)

chikbabygurl said...

Interesting list.

Number 4 is great!

As for the "manga boom" I feel like the actual boom is over. I feel like anime is still big tho. I also feel like it depends what age groups you are looking at. My little sister (still in high school) has discovered Manga recently and it seems like her whole school is having their own BOOM of Manga.