A little more on the Creator's revolution

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pot o gold A little more on the Creator's revolutionThere’s been a lot more chatter on the internet about the ideas touched off last week by Eric Powell and Steve Niles. Here’s one piece by writer Van Jensen that pretty much sums up how we feel:

The problem, for starters, is not Marvel and DC. A lot of criticism centers on the big two superhero publishers, but I don’t think it’s deserved. Marvel and DC haven’t done anything to limit the proliferation of creator-owned books in the past 20 years. Yes, they dominate the direct market, but they also provide tons of work to lots of great comics people. And by keeping the direct market viable, they have helped maintain a market for creator-owned books. The problem also is not diversity. Comics are incredibly diverse today (at least in content, if not in those creating them). In recent weeks I’ve read work by Brecht Evans, the brothers Ba and Moon and the fantastically different Return of the Dapper Men, just to name a few. There are comics being made that anyone and everyone can enjoy. The problem is connecting with those potential readers. Estimations are that about 300,000 people make up the core American comics market. A glance at any sales chart from the direct market shows that these people are spending the vast majority of their cash on Marvel and DC superhero books.

Actually it’s not even just connecting with superhero readers…it’s connecting with more readers, period. In a time when creator-owned comics get tons of mainstream publicity and praise, it’s still incredibly hard to sell enough to make a living off them. Is it the audience? The market? The material? To be continued…

Comments

  1. Tom Spurgeon says:

    It’s a pretty dim reading — or an overly ass-kissy one — of comics history to suggest that DC and Marvel have never been hostile to diversity in the Direct Market. In their history they’ve at times *openly worked* to limit diversity. I attended a presentation where they directly and actively encouraged retailers to order more Marvel books and fewer alternative books because those can’t sell; it doesn’t get more blunt than that. I’ve had conversations with top alt- and indy-creators, that are creators successful and savvy enough they could probably retire right now, where this move and that move by Marvel and DC were discussed in terms of limiting their access to the marketplace or otherwise keeping them from selling more books. I tend to believe those people.

    I don’t think they are Abominable Bogeyman who are always working against diversity or anything like that, or that they’re Evil, or that they need to promote diversity or whatever. In fact, even with my example above, I think that saying your books sell better than alt-books is a reasonable thing to say. They do! But this hardly makes them a non-participant or benign factor in the relative rigidity of that core market.

    I don’t know why people in comics are afraid of negotiating criticism, and I’m sure this comment will be maligned as a message in bad faith or working out of some pathology or grudge. Things can be better, and part of that can be working through some blame where maybe some blame is due. Part of it!

  2. Sabin says:

    I think pointing to the fact that artists and writers can work on these books also points out that they won’t OWN the rights to that work, they are work for hire… yet who is paying the creators of these characters? There is a really sad history behind almost all these characters. Great artists like Steve Gerber created characters that are still making money and he was fighting for those rights his entire life. So now they pocket his money to make another forgettable movie in a clamor to make more cash.

    I have a soft spot in my heart for superhero books (who doesn’t?), but what was once innovative and inspiring has been turned into open-ended soap opera (long before I was born) and I think this is directly related to their business model. Personally I am uninterested in the focus-modelled story, the blockbuster movie tie-ins and all the other gimmicks. I want a great story with serviceable art. You’re not likely to squeeze that out of creative peoples’ dreams by stealing their talent. You know where I do find those? Small press and independently published books.

    I find it odd that the sections repeated above are the pull quotes chosen, since the original post is about an actual strategy for pushing independent work. These pull quotes are not helpful out of context and I think it’s quite a positive (and realistic) outlook on how to compete with Disney and Warner Bros. I can’t tell if this is intended to fan the flames, make apologies for Marvel or DC or if the point is completely lost on this blog?

    I would suggest reading the entire post as it actually has some good advice from an indie creator on how he does it.

  3. I think Marvel and DC aren’t opposed to diversity in that if they think they can sell a diverse line, they will. It’s not diversity that makes them argue against buying other publishers’ work, it’s the fact that it’s other publishers’ work. They’d rather you bought AMAZING SPIDER-MAN or SUPERMAN than EIGHTBALL, yes, but they’d rather you bought SWEET TOOTH or THE STAND than SAVAGE DRAGON, too.

    The key factor is whose pocket the profits go into, not whether the books in question represent diverse choices. To that extent, if they do things that are anti-diversity it’s simply a side-effect of being hoggy. They want as much of the market for themselves as they can get, so when it comes to creator-owned work, they’re going to be all in favor of CRIMINAL and FABLES but not SIN CITY or CASTLE WAITING.

    There were times when this wasn’t as strongly the case — in the 1980s, when Carol Kalish ran Marvel’s Direct Sales Department, she took a “rising tide lifts all boats” view, figuring that since Marvel dominated the industry in sales (and they did back then even more than they do now) that she should take actions to make the industry grow, and while everyone in the industry would benefit, Marvel would naturally benefit more, because they had the largest market share. That was what was behind Marvel’s cash-register program and other retailer-support strategies — she figured that anything that could create more well-run stores that were out there promoting comics was good, and it didn’t matter what got a new reader into the store. Once they were in the store, Marvel had a crack at them, and would be happy to compete for that reader’s attention.

    Even today, Marvel and DC’s support of Free Comics Day is probably rooted in the same idea.

    The effect may be, as you point out, restrictive, but the motives behind it are worth understanding. They’d be trying just as hard to keep money out of the pockets of Oni Press and D&Q if they were fellow superhero event publishers who did lots of work for hire. Which doesn’t make them any easier to get around, admittedly.

    Though they do seem to be easier to get around these days than they were in the 1980s — back then, Marvel often had more than 50% of the market and DC over 30%, so between them it wasn’t unusual for them to represent 85-90% of the DM, maybe more. It’d be interesting to see how the size of the non-Big-Two market share has fluctuated over the years, and what trends it’s been showing.

    But again, that’s the historical perspective making it look different depending on one’s vantage point.

  4. Point of clarification — The point I was trying to make in the article is that we should strive to expand the market beyond the 300,000 core superhero readers, not just get more of them to buy more indie stuff.

    Tom — I didn’t know that history. What I was trying to say is that even with Marvel and DC being so dominant, American comics have grown much more diverse in the past couple of decades. At least that’s my view. Thanks for calling me a dim ass-kisser all the same.

  5. Joe - weird ideas says:

    The main Issue here is how to create more comic shops. In a city like LA is a fraggin’ hassle to get comics! Build some kinda cheap kiosk that only sells comics and put them evrywhere!

    in japan there’s no way to escape the offerings of manga and manga related products…

    Digital comics will only connect with the bloody choir won’t get us anywhere.

    make it so there’s no escape from buying any kind of comics.

    Creators are not executives nor salesmen and we should not expect the solution to this problem from them. Let them create what they will. it’s not their place to decide “distrubution”

    in Italy and France comics are everywhere. In England and USA things are quite the opposite i’m afraid.

    I’m aware. I buy anything from Astro City to like a velvet glove cast in iron and Blackest Night.

    make the rest Aware.

    J.-

  6. If we’re going to talk the history of money in comics, we have to include the fact that comics are a mass medium and competing with every other mass media for the time and money of a limited audience (6 billion+ people big but still finite). In the direct market era, we’ve had two new mass media mature, video games (now the same size as the movie industry) and the internet (hi there!). I’m not going pretend I have the numbers at my fingertips, but I’m guessing there’s a strong correlation between the rise of those industries and the decline in direct market sales. There has certainly been one reported between their rise and the subsequent decline of television. Video games just steal time and money, which makes it tougher for those in the older media. The internet has been something else.

    Like video games, internet has been another time and money sink for consumers. However, it has also opened up new distribution channels for content sellers, like people making comics. We’ve seen the webcomics side of the industry grow from strips put up for fun to having a solid cadre of full time professionals. Here’s the Wikipedia list for those that missed it on the other thread. Add in the many, many semi-pros on the net, some of whom will eventually be pros, and we start reaching numbers matching the number of comic creators in the newspapers.

    I know there are some that like to claim that making it on the web is like hitting the lottery in terms of the odds. They’re absolutely right. However, the odds making a living doing comics in newspapers (Peanuts or Garfield), magazines (Mad Magazine or New Yorker), or the direct market (Batman or Cerebus) are every bit as bad. If you’re making your living doing comics, it’s because you worked hard enough to get enough lottery tickets to have a real chance of earning a living wage. Maybe you wrote regularly to the comic’s letter page. Maybe you carried your portfolio to cons year after year. Maybe you had an internship at one of the publishers’ offices. Maybe you got a lot of rejection letters. However you did it, it was no less work that the process of assembling an audience one by one on the web. Yes, there is an element of luck involved, but work can do a great deal to shrink those odds to something manageable, assuming you have the talent to create something worth the audience’s time.

    Now digital downloads are adding another distribution channel for comics, and it’s in a format that should work well for the same types of creators that enjoy working in the direct market. Heck, it should even carry the Big 2 as the direct market and book stores continue to contract.

    Contract, not disappear. If hardbacks, trade paperbacks, and mass market paperbacks for novels can exist side by side for decades despite being the exact same product in only slightly different packaging, then that suggests packaging as different as floppies and trades and webcomics and digital downloads will all have audiences that will support them.

    Collectors and floppy fetishists will keep that format going, but it will be increasingly dominated by older titles and titles tested first as mini-series by the Big 2 in the digital market that are then relaunched with a first issue to catch the direct market’s attention. Independent creators will abandon the direct market for digital downloads, unless they are floppy fetishists themselves.

    To extent they work with the direct market, independents will ship trades collecting their digital work. The webcomic guys already do. Oh, some are ignoring it and selling their trades just by their websites and at cons, but some are paying the price of splitting money with a publisher to get into the direct market and book store distribution channels. Turning my head, I can see five different webcomic books on my shelf with Dark Horse on the spine, one from IDW, and one from Archaia. Digital downloads are nice, but they’re hit and miss as gifts and you can’t read them in the tub.

    The relationship between digital downloads and webcomics will depend on the content. If it is drama, the webcomic side will probably be only modestly profitably but will drive consumers to buy downloads they can read comfortably away from their clunky PCs. If it is comedy, downloads will be driven by those that want to own the files for the strips or want to reread them comfortably away from the internet or their PCs.

    That ownership is pretty important, since there’s no guarantee that the website for the comic will be up forever. Cloud storage has its place in computing, but it doesn’t actually replace having a file on hardware in your own possession. DRM on the downloads has a similar problem when the specifics of the format encryption becomes unsupported because of business failures and software changes. However, at least if you have the file in your possession, someone on the internet will eventually figure out how to jailbreak it.

    Or, if you’re like me, you’ll just wait the publishers out like I did the music industry. Dear publishers: I don’t care if your business fails – I won’t buy from you if you have DRM. Yours won’t be the first creative endeavor to abruptly stop, and I got plenty of independent creators to fill the void you left behind.

    Okay, that’s the best I can do for where we’ve been and where I think we’re going without writing an entire book. I just get wound up by those who think their little sliver of the market is the whole business of art and commerce, and then compound their error by seeming to be oblivious to the fact that their little sliver used to be different in the past.

    UPDATE: I refreshed the comment page before I posted, so I’ll take on my response to Joe here. Joe, creators most definitely have to be business people. Yes, I believe the Big 2 does have some as full employees. I could be wrong about that, and we have enough industry people around here to correct me. However, they also do a ton of business with freelancers. In fact, all their creators that are full employees would have been freelancers at some point. Being a freelancer means making a lot of decisions about your business, because there’s no office giving you a paycheck or health insurance or a 401k or tax withholding. Trust me; compared to all that junk, starting to market and distribute your own stuff is easy. Finding someone else to do that work if you don’t want to do it yourself is no worse than (or just as bad as) the process of courting and working with a publisher. Having a publisher can be nice, but creators have to be able to look out for themselves too.

  7. Joe makes a good point. Gone are the days when comics could be an impulse buy at a random newsstand, which is probably how a lot of kids discovered them back in the day (myself included). Today people have to consciously go out of their way and visit a specialty comic-book store to buy comics.

    It’s agreed that the direct market saved the comics industry, but what was lost was the easy access to comics that newsstand distribution allowed. But that was another time and those days are gone–you can’t turn back the clock. With the traditional newsstand market gone and bookstores disappearing, it’s difficult to imagine how comics can be made so ubiquitous again to put them on the average person’s radar.

    The disappearance of the newsstand market effectively took comics out of the mainstream. On the other hand, comics likely wouldn’t have survived, nor would much of the independent market developed.

  8. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Oh Van, I’m not calling you dim and ass-kissy, I’m referencing aspects of an argument you made as characterized here, a general stance which I think is likely one or potentially the other. Since you admit to having little knowledge of the history involved, I don’t even why know why you’d find such a suggestion alarming, let alone personalize it, even if you disagree with my appraisal. If everything I said on the Internet were an avenue for summary judgment on me or my character, I’d have shot straight to hell ten years ago wearing a dunce cap, where’d I’d be spending a significant chunk of eternity having misspelled words and phrases of strangled English tattooed onto my chest and back and then scraped off. For starters.

    I agree with you that there are many other markets out there and that they’re all valuable and restricting yourself to a fight over a bigger share of a diminishing market is kind of silly. I just don’t think there’s any problem with wanting the DM to work, too, or saying about a company, “these policies were terrible.”

  9. NYC has lots of kiosks… the newsstand. But comics don’t really sell there. If they don’t sell, the owners will use that real estate for something which does.

    Europe is different. There, comics are driven by Donald Duck and Mickey Maus, not superheroes. Kids read them, but also adults, as the stories are actually quite good and fun. In Norway, each issue is read by about four people. Then there are the paperback magazines…small, thick monthlies with studio artists teling stories.

    That tradition does not exist here. I would love to see a weekly “Marvel Universe” magazine like Ehapa’s Micky Maus. But that won’t happen. Print is dying.

    Comics on newsstands were on life support when the Direct Market was created. Publishers had little data, had to deal with stripped returns (three printed, one sold was a good sale), and compete with every other magazine.

    The DM created diversity. With newsstands, if you didn’t sell 100K, the book was cancelled. With the DM, there’s little risk for the publishers… but lots for the retailers.

    Marvel and DC are the big leagues. While I miss Epic Magazine, Marvel has hired new talent and has a sizeable chunk of non-616 titles. DC… even moreso.

    Let DC and Marvel blaze a mainstream trail through the jungle. There are lots of publishers right behind them to exploit these new avenues.

  10. Tom Spurgeon says:

    Ironically, Kurt, at the same sales presentation where I watched Marvel reps openly urge people to buy more Marvel superhero comics at the expense of those alt-comics, they also kind of stumbled their way through the presentation of their own then-offerings of a similar type as if this were some sort of bad joke being played on the presenters and definitely not the company’s real comics.

    That’s history, of course, although I think a lot of those tensions still exist at those companies. Certainly I can’t be the only person to ever watch, for example, a general DC presentation and come away thinking that Vertigo was treated more like a dotty aunt that wets herself and eats a lot of cheese as opposed to a successful, vibrant imprint crucial to the company’s future plans.

    I don’t begrudge any company to constitute itself the way it wants to or to try and sell their books to the exclusion of the others. I’m just open to arguments that their actions shape the market in a variety of ways and can be closely scrutinized, even criticized.

  11. Tom Spurgeon says:

    You know, like my shitty grammar.

  12. Tom Spurgeon says:

    In that you can scrutinize and criticize it, not that it shapes the market. Thank god. That would be one confusing-ass, mush-mouthed market.

  13. Gosh darn it to heck… all these mainstream comics publishers clogging up the shelves! Star Wars, and GI Joe, and Peanuts and Donald Duck and Fraggle Rock and Shrek and Yo Gabba Gabba and…

    1) All comics publishers are diverse, some more than others.

    2) Bills must be paid. Publishers, retailers, creators all must make a profit. Some creators have day jobs. Some creators, like Matt Fraction or Colleen Doran, produce mainstream work so they can fund their own creations at night or on the weekends.

    3) I believe that “independent” creators make mainstream comics better.

    Artists who learned to draw from comics can be criticised for limited talent. Same for writers… the wok becomes formulaic. Fresh ideas and viewpoints, “new blood”, reinvigorate tired boring series.

    4) A rising tide raises all boats, but more people would prefer a motorboat to a canoe. And some prefer sailboats, or build their own, or compete in crazy regattas, or just take an innertube for a lazy ride down the river.

    5) It takes a long time, hard work, and luck to become an overnight sensation.

  14. Not to derail the argument more, but I saw a lot more than just mickey mouse on the european newstand. In one of the rome train stations kiosk/newstand thingy’s alone they were selling stuff like the Killer (In it’s Italian version) by Matz and Luc Jacamon alongside other more traditional european comics.

  15. Calvin Reid says:

    The future of comics be they Marvel/DC superheroes or eccentric indies is in a revived and evolved direct market and, most importantly, in the general book market. The DM does its thing and there are at least some better stores that seek to sell something beyond updated classic superheroes. But the future of the category is to publish in the book format and to bring in new readers who want to read a wide variety of comics including superheroes.

    Van Jensen is right. Despite the perpetual dominance of Marvel and DC in the DM, we are living in a time when comics have never been more various and the work more inventive. its a new golden age. But for this to continue it means the comics market needs to the continued development of multiple retail channels to deliver this huge crop of new works. Nobody said making and delivering inventive creative works would be easy.

  16. As a small, self-published comics creator, I don’t feel that it’s in my best interests to wait around for large corporations to figure out what to do next. Instead, I agree with Van Jensen that my best bet is to focus on an audience outside of the core comics mainstream.

    After two disappointing years of vending at HeroesCon and Baltimore ComicCon, I made the decision that the only comic convention I was going to vend at this year was SPX (largely because it’s a local show); every other show I am vending at is a local mainstream literary festival of some stripe or another.

    My default choice seems to be subjecting myself to superhero fans who lose interest the second that they identify that my book does not feature a character they know, which hasn’t been very productive thus far. On the other hand, people who come to literary festivals want to read and may not realize that graphic novels might be worth their time and money; there’s an educational aspect involved, of course, but that’s going to be required in either market.

    Nobody gave me permission to publish and nobody’s giving me permission to go out and aim for a different market, either. But if I am going to succeed as a creator, I really shouldn’t be waiting for someone else to tell me what to do.

  17. He got attention for a week, but now what? If he really wanted a crusade you have to keep doing it or it was all hollow as next week people move on…the next Piano Cat video is posted! I don’t think cartoonist are interested in crusades.

    The bottom line again to all of this for me is the taste of the fans we have left. They want superjocks 75% of the them or better. But just because Superman sell better doesn’t mean Hellboy won’t sell. Or Acme Novelty Company, but the truth is that most fans just don’t want the other stuff.They want men in tights.

    If the retailers could sell more Hellboy you know they would all come a running. But they can’t. There has been no effective way to achieve this and now it’s too late for print. I don’t see there to be a viable way to change anything with print. You also cannot get a group of comic professionals to ever in mass work toward anything either. They failed in the 70’s when things had a more mass audience.

    Hellboy won’t sell above a certain number because there are not enough fans in the direct market. I mean it’s simple math. Same with American Splendor.

    The sales charts are a reflection of the Walled City of Babymania. I don’t think Powell’s video is saying anything we as creators don’t know. I won’t create anything new for Marvel because they will own it and not give me a fair share.

    We pros all know it, but fans just don’t like indy comics as much, or what in my day was called Underground comics. And that last wave of fans who were really not fans as much as collectors came in and went out, taking too much with it.

    I understand Powell’s frustration, I think all pros working in comics do who don’t just want to do superjocks, but other types of stories, humor, etc. But better to make cool videos of your character and put that on youtube. Build away from the walled city, it’s just dumb to try and force a change where people strongly don’t want a change and don’t think anything is wrong or are afraid. People are dug in and have been and in a fear based climate nobody is going to spend the millions and years to try and reverse it.

    I was talking with my buddy Joel last night. He used to read comics years ago, but he loved Mad and Cartoons. Both really dead, Mad is creatively dead and numbers way down as what it provided years ago can now be found everyplace else including it’s own TV show. And Cartoons is long gone. I think Joel was typical of many kids, but those typical kids are now all into Warcraft or games, and comics as an industry is not interested in getting them.

    Again, decade old arguement….

    You have to advertise and create a sense of demand like they do for Coke,or video games but that isn’t going to happen.

    Its scary or sad to have the future of print comics to a huge degree in the hands of these corporate giants like Disney and Warners. But anyone working today in any fashion that is effected or controlled by the direct market should be well aware of the danger of a boat with one oar.

  18. Tom — Sorry, I was just teasing. Don’t worry, I took no offense. I didn’t word my point clearly enough in my original post, and your comment added some valuable context.

    Above all, I’ll just say this: Blaming Marvel and DC isn’t going to do independent creators any good. Because, again, we need to focus more on selling books outside of Marvel and DC’s core audience.

  19. Calvin — Thanks, man.

    R.M. — You’re doing it in exactly the right way. I guess I missed you at Heroes in the past. Sorry it wasn’t a better show for you. I’m hoping to get back to SPX this year, though.

  20. Van – I’m always the easiest person to find in the room; I’m the man in the purple suit.

  21. >> Ironically, Kurt, at the same sales presentation where I watched Marvel reps openly urge people to buy more Marvel superhero comics at the expense of those alt-comics, they also kind of stumbled their way through the presentation of their own then-offerings of a similar type as if this were some sort of bad joke being played on the presenters and definitely not the company’s real comics.>>

    I’m not remotely surprised. And don’t expect you thought I would be, either. There was a period where there were forces at Marvel pushing for more diversity, whereupon the new books would be assigned to editors who liked superheroes and would do the material badly. There was one memorable line-that-never-existed, where Marvel made a deal with Harlequin to do romance comics; the books were assigned to an editor who had no interest in doing romance comics, who assigned the work to every female comics pro then working at Marvel (whether they had an interest in romance comics or not) and Vinnie Colletta, and the results were so bad the line was was scrapped.

    As you say, though, that was history.

    >> I’m just open to arguments that their actions shape the market in a variety of ways and can be closely scrutinized, even criticized.>>

    Agreed. My push is is for understanding why the various actors do what they do, as well as what, as a means to better understand what’s going on. Simply looking at the results and then imputing a motive, as happens too often, can be emotionally satisfying, but if the motive’s wrong, it’s going to lead to bad conclusions about what to do.

    kdb

  22. Michael Churchill says:

    One of the main things Marvel and DC do that’s passively-aggressive to hamstring creator-owned comics is to publish a ton of titles and eat up real estate on retailers shelves.

    In the January Previews Marvel has solicited five Avengers titles, twelve Captain America books and six Thor offerings. The Spider-Man family of books weighs in at eleven. The X-Type things? There are twenty-two of those (not counting Deadpool or Wolverine’s appearances in the Avengers books and such).

    DC is just as guilty of this, but I’m kinda too fatigued to count their stuff.

    Stores don’t [i]need[/i] to order all of those, but the it’s an almost fiscally essential.

    So, while they may not be specifically saying not to order stuff from other publishers, they put out so much stuff that there’s very little space on the shelves for indy creator-owned, and their books eat up so much of comics readers’ budgets they probably don’t have the money to experiment on something else.

  23. R.M. — OK, I’ve definitely seen you around. I’ll say hi next time.

  24. Brendan T says:

    One problem that I don’t see getting any attention right now is that not only do the majority of creator owned comics have higher cover prices…they also have a smaller markup for the retailer, generally being between 5% and 10% higher cost (though some go higher…up to 15%)

    So, as a businessperson, what are you more inclined to do? Buy the high priced, risky, indy book or spend less for the good ol’ dependable Bat-book? Keeping in mind that even at $4 for both, you’ll make more money off the Bat-book if it sells.

    Of course, the alternative is raising cover prices, which might make the book less appealing to readers. $4.50-$5 an issue is a tough proposition at a time when $4 isn’t holding up well. Neither option is particularly ideal for independent publishers.

    Still, in order to break even on an indy book, you have to sell over 60% of your stock, rather than 45% or so with Marvel/DC stuff. And the chances of making an actual profit are slim. It’s not hard to see why retailers are gun-shy, and without that backing, creator owned work is going to continue to have a hard time getting into the hands of readers.

  25. Van – Please do. I’m chagrined to admit that I couldn’t pick you out in a crowd, though, so you’d probably have to introduce yourself. I’d hate to think that I missed out on a good opportunity for a productive conversation.

  26. I can’t add much to the wisdom posted here, so I’ll just comment on the not-wisdom:

    “Digital comics will only connect with the bloody choir won’t get us anywhere.”

    Digital distribution has the potential to reach a far greater number of not-yet-comics-reader than any development in publishing since ye olde newsstand (may it rest in peace). (And I’m not saying this because I’m some millennial tween; I’m a 35-year-old who likes his comics on wood pulp delivered on Wednesdays… but I can see which way the wind is blowing.)

    “it’s difficult to imagine how comics can be made so ubiquitous again to put them on the average person’s radar.”

    The internet and an army of Droids and iProducts and MeTooProds are working on the barriers to ubiquity, and they pretty well have that licked. The challenge is not making comics available enough to a large enough audience; there’s a newsstand in every pocket. The challenge is finding a way to do that which also (a key point in Eric Powell’s video) makes it financially feasible to produce them. With the exception of certain auto/theocratic states, I can put my very non-mainstream comic in front of people anywhere in the world. But I have to lose money to do it.

  27. Jason, yes you do have to put your money at risk to make money. If you’re with a publisher, they usually take that risk and throw in an advance for the creators in exchange for a piece of the pie. On the other hand, the money you need to distribute webcomics or digital downloads in still a lot lower than print is.

  28. KDB said:

    “I’m not remotely surprised. And don’t expect you thought I would be, either. There was a period where there were forces at Marvel pushing for more diversity, whereupon the new books would be assigned to editors who liked superheroes and would do the material badly.”

    Am I the only one here curious about what period this was, and what books KDB is referencing?

  29. Kurt, while your statement could hold true in some instances, I think it might be examined more closely regarding the subject before us:

    >> Simply looking at the results and then imputing a motive, as happens too often, can be emotionally satisfying, but if the motive’s wrong, it’s going to lead to bad conclusions about what to do. >>

    No one seems to be arguing the results wherein the mainstream comics industry continues to be in dire straits for decades.

    There are two polarized assessments of motives, with perhaps many more in between:

    1) The common perception is that DC and Marvel have the best interest of comics publishing at heart. They try to do what’s in their ability but market forces and audience reading habits render them relatively impotent to change the tides. There seems to be an agreement, even within this scenario that the big 2 could do more to change public perception and buying habits, but fail to do so due to basic business policy that holds their own best interest above the welfare of a more diverse and vibrant market that would allow it to grow.

    2) The opposite extreme view, which I’ve voiced lately, is that DC and Marvel are very happy with the present situation. They don’t need a vibrant flourishing publishing division so much, in that they also operate far more profitable licensing and merchandising divisions that others don’t. The motive I attest to this reality is that a teetering publishing division suppresses creator demands for improved working conditions and IP sharing. Quite extreme, I know, and we’ve discussed it elsewhere. No need to get into it again, it’s just my view.

    It seems to me that regardless of which position one takes, the most palpable action that has a hope of improving the state of the industry is for a growing public criticism directed at DC and Marvel. Public pressure has been the most effective method for budging policy in the past, and it remains a formidable motivator of change.

    Even in the first scenario where no malice is attested to DC and Marvel, public pressure has a chance of convincing them to ease their dominance of the Direct Market, and maybe even do a little more to implement bolder and more creative policies to make comic books more accessible to a growing market.

    Whether intentional or not, the big 2 hold the keys to change so long as they dominate the primary avenues for distribution and sales of comics.

    I arrive at this conclusion about what to do regardless of whether we can prove malice as a motive for DC and Marvel policy. Either way, it is more likely to help than anything else we can do indirectly.

  30. Could I get some clarification from anyone and everyone on some of the ideas and statement being made on this issue(s)?

    1. The word diversity. Are we strictly talking the different types of genre on the shelves? The type of customer that comes in the door(website)?

    2.Has there ever been any real stats of what sells and what new material be could potentially sold to “fans”? Or is this the same ol’ line that people in the business say in order to not try to get a more vibrant marketing strategy in place. Why go target old(meaning long time customers) fans, instead of getting new heads in the door?

    3.If the web is the new frontier, how are the customers going to be found and reached?

    Again I am just trying to get some more defined ideas and actions on what could help comics live in the future for fans and creators.

  31. >> Am I the only one here curious about what period this was, and what books KDB is referencing? >>

    I provided an example of one of them: The stillborn Harlequin line. There was also a stillborn Civil War line, various Christian comics that didn’t happen (the one book that made it through being the half-assed ILLUMINATOR) and more.

    kdb

  32. Allen Rubinstein says:

    I don’t have nearly the investment in the industry that all the rest of y’all do, but I do want to share something I considered long ago, responding to the idea that “kiosk” (at least in New York) equals “newsstand”. My memory of newsstand comics in New York is a grubby, lifeless rack of well-rifled floppies of Spiderman and such that kids could nag their parents into grabbing for them while they bought their copy of People Magazine. Hardly inspiring.

    Years ago, I was seriously considering going into comics as a retailer, and I had various models in mind. I had no interest in the usual foray of comics businesses, and one of the more intriguing ideas I considered was beginning a chain of attractive kiosks that would cater to a casual reading audience. Lower overhead than an established store, the theory goes it could rely less (or not at all) on superheroes and put every other genre and story type known to us humans on display instead. Drop them in college towns and arty communities, and staff them with people who read and appreciate the art form and who can guide curious customers to books they would enjoy based on their tastes.

    I called it “Art In Tiny Boxes”. Maybe it was crazy or Utopian or something. Thought it at least worth mentioning.

  33. @ed: 1. The two kinds of diversity are intertwined. You need different genres to get different customers. Having more diversity in your creators helps too.

    2. DC and Marvel have demonstrated by natural selection what sells to “fans”.

    3. I don’t know the best way to reach new customers for digital distribution (if I did I’d be doing it), but it’s gotta be easier to get them into the Android App Marketplace than than to get them into the Android’s Dungeon.

  34. Stephen C. says:

    If DC and Marvel disappeared tomorrow then, yes, creator-owned comics would have a bigger share of the market, but that market would immediately shrink to near-nonexistence. As for “convincing” the Big Two to “ease their dominance” of the market, as was suggested above, I can’t imagine any business whose purpose is to make money would willingly “ease their dominance” of anything. And it’s a moot point because Van is right. If comics are to find a wider audience, creators need to reach beyond the existing core readership who get their comics through the direct market. I just don’t see a future where John Q. Public visits the local comic shop every Wednesday to get his comics fix. If comics ever reach a more general audience it will be via the Internet and/or at “real” book stores. And when the audience becomes more diverse, the content of comics will become increasingly so. Just my opinion.

  35. Ed, the question for the web is not how new readers will be reached, but how they are reached. Webcomics have already do it, so we don’t even have to look outside the artform for success stories (although we’re going to).

    The first step is to build a web audience. While the internet can be used to distribute files in exchange for money, it is generally used more like television or radio. The audience pays for a box that lets them access channels of information and entertainment. The channel suppliers mix their content with advertisements to turn a profit. The result is a medium that grows so big that it completely screws with the ones that already exists. See the rise of television in the 50’s for a relevant historical example; combined with the Wertham fueled comics crash in the same time period, it probably explains why the English speaking world is behind Europe and Japan in how comics are perceived. In any event, free content always gets more consumers than pay content.

    Now, the questions are what channels will you create, what content will you give away for free, and how will you advertise that your channels exist?

    Channels generally used by creators are Twitter, personal blogs, podcasts, videos, and whatever social sites are hot this year (Facebook for the moment). Which ones a creator uses depends on which ones they feel comfortable filling with free content on a regular basis.

    Regular basis is important here. As bad as the odds are that you’ll make a living as a creator, they’re even worse that you’ll make your living off of a single work. Instead, your living will come from the accumulation of work and the combined income from each of the money streams those works create. The free content you generate is intended to build an audience that are already fans and thus far more likely to give you money when you make something they have to pay to get. They’ll also be hanging around so you’ll be able to advertise directly to them when you have a new pay project.

    Please note that not every channel and pay project will have the same audience. You will have readers of your comics that are oblivious to your web presence, and followers of your Twitter that won’t drop a dime for your comics. That’s normal. The channels and pay projects will also drive audience from one to another. Some of the blogs I follow I found because I bought a book, I liked the content, and then I looked the creators up on the web to see what they had online. That’s also normal. You can you have a career without doing any free content, but this is a discussion about how you reach new customers with the web, where free content is the norm – so free content it is.

    What content are you giving away for free? Neil Gaiman fills his blog with tales of his travels, reports about his projects, the occasional comment on news, the occasional promotion of charitable work, photos of his dogs, and personal anecdotes. He also has a robust Twitter following. Felicia Day of the webseries the Guild has pretty much abandoned her blog but has a rabid Twitter fanbase. The musicians Paul and Storm have a blog and a really good podcast. I have no idea what their Twitter following is like. Actor and writer Wil Wheaton has a blog, an occasional podcast, a Youtube channel for the even more occasional short cell phone video, and another large Twitter following. Science fiction writer John Scalzi has a blog that ranks up near Neil’s in popularity that he uses for personal anecdotes, photos of his pets and family and sunsets, sharp political commentary, and promotion of other people’s stuff. He also has a Twitter account, but I’m not sure how it ranks against Neil’s, Felicia’s, and Wil’s. I suppose some creator is using Facebook as their lead presence on the web, but I have no idea who.

    The webcomics creators do blogs and Twitter. It is also worth noting that they also give away their comic for free, too. It helps them sell trades – you know, collections of stuff that their main audience just read for free a little bit ago. Still, it works. Books end up being one of the major revenue streams for them. It also help them build an audience that buys their other merchandise – T-shirts, posters, original art, buttons, and other swag that you’d find at any comic convention. Throw in the ads on the free content, and if you have a big enough audience you can earn enough money to make a living. Digital downloads are still a new market, but I’ve already shared my thoughts on how they’ll fit into this mix. I mean if the some of the audience will buy the books, some of it will probably buy the downloads because they like that format. Certianly Wil Wheaton’s blog audience has shown itself willing to buy his self-published ebooks that include large sections of work that already appeared on his blog.

    So you’re generating free content. How do you bring people to it? First you make good content. Might seem obvious, but if your content sucks, you’re kinda screwed. The most successful way to advertise is word of mouth, but it’s not one you can manipulate. If the word of mouth isn’t sincere, it burns out pretty quickly. So, while you’re waiting the initial core of fans built from your friends and family to slowly spread, what else can you do? Well, you can be interesting elsewhere on the net. I notice that many of us on these threads link to our personal sites, and some of us are professional creators. You can pay to advertise on other sites. Webcomics are thick with Project Wonderful ads for other comics. You can also do work for hire for other websites. I’m thinking of Chris Sims writing articles Comic Alliance and the comics he writes on the side for this one. I’m sure there are others, but this is already long and I’m going to bed. This is enough to get someone started, anyway.

  36. Everything seems to be argued in black and white. Some comments I’ve read over the issue equate diversity with creator owned and that DC/Marvel must die to let creator owned survive.
    Ideally, DC and Marvel should be pushing more diverse stuff. As long as people buy and creators get paid I see no problem.

    Not that the Big2 don’t produce non-superhero stuff (Marvel a bit more than D) but to actually push it, rather than it be drowned out on the shelf next to the glut of Deadpool books.
    Readers fear change, and they are loathe to try something new/different. It’s simply too big a step.

    Put some big name creators on a different genre book, see if they can get some fans reading a different. Its not a solution but has to work better than announcing “NON-Superhero book written by Bob Neverheardahim and drawn by Jim Newtopencils”.
    Build a bridge to the readers instead of expecting them to take a leap.

  37. Stephen:
    >> As for “convincing” the Big Two to “ease their dominance” of the market, as was suggested above, I can’t imagine any business whose purpose is to make money would willingly “ease their dominance” of anything.>>

    Agreed. But as noted upthread, I think, Marvel and DC are less dominant than they were 25 years ago. Without tracking their market share over the years in between, it’s hard to tell whether that’s been a steady progression or a pendulum swing. But if it’s a trend, then there’s no need to ask, because the competition is taking more market share. It may be slow, but if it’s happening, that’s what’s important. Comics’ move into bookstores was slow, too, but it built over time and became a boom when it his critical mass.

    >> If comics ever reach a more general audience it will be via the Internet and/or at “real” book stores. And when the audience becomes more diverse, the content of comics will become increasingly so. Just my opinion.>>

    The book format has been a boon to diversity — the best-selling comics in book form list looks a whole lot more competitive than the periodical list.

    Jonrob:
    >>Not that the Big2 don’t produce non-superhero stuff (Marvel a bit more than D)>>

    I think you may have that backwards. A quick look at the current Westfield catalog shows Marvel publishing 16 non-superhero titles (counting both newly-listed single issues and newly-listed book editions) that month and DC publishing 32.

    kdb

  38. Torsten:
    >> Comics on newsstands were on life support when the Direct Market was created. Publishers had little data, had to deal with stripped returns (three printed, one sold was a good sale), and compete with every other magazine. >>

    The Direct Market was not created overnight. Years of rumblings and creative analysis in the comic traders community and in fandom preceded it. Yet when this process began, comics sold on the average at least double, sometimes triple and more than they do today. So if the comics were on life support then, well it means they are in very critical condition right now, with little hope for survival, by comparison.

    In retrospect, considering how the DM has played out, who knows if it wouldn’t have been better to leave things as they were and try to solve the problems of an open distribution system without replacing it entirely with a life-jacked that eventually became a continent, as Kurt said.

    There were a few scattered comic book shops operating across the US way before the DM explosion. Who knows if it wouldn’t have been beneficial to support their growth without entirely doing away with the newsstand and open distribution system that was in place.

    Stephan:
    >> If DC and Marvel disappeared tomorrow then, yes, creator-owned comics would have a bigger share of the market, but that market would immediately shrink to near-nonexistence. >>

    Though I’ve never advocated the “disappearance” of DC and Marvel, I don’t think the vast hard core comics readership would just disappear if they did. I also don’t believe the creators working for them today (and the hundreds more who’ve worked for the big 2 in the past) would also simply shrink away.

    If such an unfortunate vacuum was to come about, then I believe all the present forces not inherent in DC and Marvel would quickly re-organize to fill that vacuum. It is a natural law of a the presence and pressure of existing forces quickly filling such an open void.

  39. Stephen: (sorry for the misspell in previous post)
    >> As for “convincing” the Big Two to “ease their dominance” of the market, as was suggested above, I can’t imagine any business whose purpose is to make money would willingly “ease their dominance” of anything. >>

    Exactly my point. Growing public unrest with DC and Marvel policies has a chance of instilling a fear that such unrest would translate to diminished profits across all their divisions. It is an ages old influence on commercial trade that we’ve seen to be effective with boycotts and other campaigns throughout economic history. Corporate policies have been known to change due to public pressure in the past and human nature hasn’t changed much to make such a notion obsolete.

  40. Wow. Sooo much here…

    Van’s original article which is spotlighted and commented upon here talks about finding a strategy to “expand the market beyond the 300,000 core superhero readers, not just get more of them to buy more indie stuff.” It’s a good solid article that leads itself into some great discussion over the questions Heidi’s posing;

    “Actually it’s not even just connecting with superhero readers…it’s connecting with more readers, period. In a time when creator-owned comics get tons of mainstream publicity and praise, it’s still incredibly hard to sell enough to make a living off them. Is it the audience? The market? The material?”

    In the face of that, arguments over the direct market of comics and who dominates it or how doesn’t seem that important to me as a cartoonist or as a publisher. The Direct Market system is distribution method for a product and nothing more. For creative individuals and the businessmen who represent them to be arguing about the restrictions of taste that dealing with a single marketplace might bring is a bit like art dealers quibbling over the kind of posters and housewares sold at a WalMart. If one outlet for your product seems to limit your artistic vision or your business potential than it seems to me that the smart artist or businessman is the one who looks to other outlets.

    For years now independent and creator-owned comics have been getting the kind of “mainstream publicity and praise” that Heidi mentions but very few publishers (with some very important exceptions) have risen to the challenge of placing these products in venues beyond the direct market shops. It’s obvious, for all the many reasons stated above, that ASTERIOS POLYP isn’t going to command the kind of shelf-space at Borders or the local comicshop that THOR sees with an upcoming movie. But why worry about that when better time could be spent looking for the right place and format to sell the kind of creator-owned material that we’re all so obviously intereasted in seeing grow and flourish?

    The making of creator-owned comic material has not, as of yet, been a very lucrative business for most people to get involved with. Eric Powell’s video comments on that and draws it to people’s attention in an entertaining way but it’s certainly not news to any of us. Like actors who love the stage, we all have to do occassional commercial and television work to pay the bills.

    But more attention certainly needs to be spent on how we might change the conditions of our business and help creator-owned work find a larger market. Personally, I don’t think my own comics adaptation of Joyce’s ULYSSES has much of a chance on sales shelves next to SUPERMAN, so it became neccessary to look at different methods of distribution and form a company; different business models for different kinds of products.

    Opportunities for creator-owned properties and more diversity in the kind of comics being produced is only going to come when we start thinking about how those properties are unique. If we’re going to make comfortable livings from work that is creator-owned then we need to figure out how to reach a new audience based on the kind of content we’re making and not concern ourselves with questions about the direct market and why it may be failing us.

    As of yet, I’ve not seen a real plan being offered here for how we can create more opportunities for creator-owned properties. Until we have something like that in place, creators and small- or self-publishers are going to be out there on their own as they have been for decades. Calling it a “revolution” without a plan or an idealogy we can all get behind might be wrong. To me it seems more of an existential “malaise”. Something creative-types have dealt with in any industry.

    But I’m always interested in or talking about hearing a workable plan to end the malaise.
    -Rob

  41. Mike Manley says:

    I think there are a few fairly clear paths in the current situation for the cartoonist now.

    A) work for a major publisher if you can, they pay decent rates and f you can find steady work ( much more difficult today) you can make a good living. However–there is no loyalty for service and royalties are a thing of the past for most guys I know. lasting on a book for 12 issues is almost unheard of now so you’ll likely have to dance around and hope you stay stylistically viable and your editor doesn’t get sacked. There are way more asses than seats today.

    B) Do your own thing.

    Now with things like the Diamond minimum and the anemic direct market the chances you’ll make a middle class living or even get your work out there is almost zero now. I am friends with few people like Thom Zahler and John Gallagher to name just a few who do this but don’t really make a living–they still break even at best. They still support their books more than the books support them.

    2) try newspaper strips-which are also in huge decline, but world wide still very popular. They still launch about a dozen strips a year last time I read up on it. Not a great chance, but if you do well, get in at least 200 papers you can make a living. I make decent money doing Judge Parker, if I also wrote it I’d do even better.

    3) the interwebs.

    This is like being a farmer. You have to do a lot of work, long hours and then see if that crop will yield. the onus is all on you to promote and stay out there waving the flag 24-7. There are many web strips, but how many beside Kurtz and the penny Arcade guys make a living–a real living I don’t know.

    I’ll clarify here, my idea of a minimum living monthly wage is $3,000. Your milage may vary.

    You might have to toss many things out there till one clicks.

    My old high school buddy Lloyd Dangle self distributes his strip Trouble Town. There are other cartoonist who do this. I think any new crop must be web based as the thrust of all media really is going in this direction. I love print, but I have to give over to the new wave too and hope that print will survive as a reprint form or archive.

    4) find a book publisher and sell then your own graphic novels. I have several friends from Jamar Nicholas to Bret Blevins and Nick Bertozzi who have done this. The fact is the advance is really the only money you will see for a long time, so it better be good. The fact is that the book publishers are in general better at getting and maintaining their stock of books out there. If you can get the libraries to order your book you can do very well, there are over 100,000 libraries in the US. But Borders and brick and mortar stores are in decline…

    I have done all of the above, even provided a monthly comic strip, The Creepertins to one of the local Monthly free newspaper/coupon mags..but they dropped the strip for ads.

    There are no guarantees now, you have to strike a hundred anvils raise many crops and hope that one will strike it big and be a hit in the market. In the old days guys like Kirby struck a lot of ideas and most didn’t stick, but a few became huge. the question also is how flexible are you as a creator, how good is your skill-set? Are you weak and limited and do you have more than one idea? Some people just have one idea, one way of working and that hurts them more than the shittiness of the direct market. Don’t just point the finger at the market with a stern wag, but use it to hold that mirror up and look at yourself in a critical way.

    Mike Manley–Editor Draw! Magazine

  42. “Not that the Big2 don’t produce non-superhero stuff (Marvel a bit more than D)”

    Unless that’s supposed to be read as a double (triple?) negative, it’s incorrect. Over the past two decades DC has always had staff and at least one imprint dedicated to putting out non-superhero comics (Piranha, Vertigo, Paradox, Helix, CMX, Minx, Zuda). There were years not too long ago when the closest Marvel came to non-superhero comics was Ultimate Spider-Man #1, in which Peter Parker didn’t have powers yet. Their current ad hoc assortment of non-super output is something of a novelty for them.

  43. >> without replacing it entirely with a life-jacked that eventually became a continent, as Kurt said.>>

    That’s got a couple of the words I said, but is otherwise not what I said or meant, or would agree with on at least two fronts.

  44. I find comic shops particularly depressing these days, and I’m a long time superhero fan! Can you imagine what it’s like for a casual comic reader to go into a comic shop these days?
    What I see on the shelves is “The big event” which I don’t find very interesting. Lots of hype and no substance. That or zombie books. And the new fad is noir books which are very gritty and dark but not particularly smart or engaging.
    If the comics medium is going to survive, it’s got to expand it’s audience to include more demographics besides the Twenty something male geek.
    Ideally I’d like to see more interesting all ages books. The ducks as someone stated that are so popular in Europe is one example, but how about more Wednesday’s comics! It’s a beautiful work! All ages can find something interesting in it.
    Or how about more exposure for works like Kurt’s Astro City or Allred’s Madman.
    These are works that can appeal to a much larger audience from kids to smart adults. These are the kinds of things that will help the market grow.
    The way I see it, the comics industry is being destroyed from the inside, first by the big two by not supplying better and more diverse material, and second by the retailers for not designing their stores to attract a broader audience.
    From one point of view you can’t blame them because they are just selling what works but from another point of view, they are specializing themselves right out of a job.

  45. for one thing he’s said something i’ve been saying for the past 3 years(but i was saying it in a angry way) which is:The comic book industry is rather moronic when it comes to marketing and expanding the readership. they are in the world of publishing inbred mutants who have been selling chocolate to chocalate lovers with no sense of creating a mass market product. instead they make numerous niche markets all unable to grown on thier own without some he-man marketing model(Scott Pilgrim and other comic book movies) which amounts to what if gambling for creators instead of sustainability.

    Part of the problem is that we have too many “cartoonist’s cartoonist” and no people’s cartoonists, the medium for all the attention its getting today is still uninclusive on the grounds there is nothing for the average reader. we don’t have any evergreen products for everyone else to read and act as transitional pieces for people to read and ease them into the language of comics. now in this digital gold rush to the internet, comics have decided to join the band wagon and even repeat most of the mistakes the music industry made along the way in the transition to the digital market, HELLO! your just selling to the same people who were buying the hard copies and gambling that someone might stumble onto the material online and impulse buy cheap and hokey merchandise!

    now in case my point was lost in my venting of “i’ve been f****** saying for so long why is nobody even hearing me out @least?!”

  46. >> That’s got a couple of the words I said, but is otherwise not what I said or meant, or would agree with on at least two fronts. >>

    Right. Sorry if it seemed the whole statement came from you. My mistake. Only meant the part about the DM being a life-jacket that became a continent. Which I thought was an insightful remark worth repeating.

  47. >> Only meant the part about the DM being a life-jacket that became a continent.>>

    That’s what I was referring to, too.

    Among other things, I think the DM was mistaken for a continent, when it was actually a lifeboat. I don’t think it became one.

  48. >> Among other things, I think the DM was mistaken for a continent, when it was actually a lifeboat. I don’t think it became one. >>

    That’s optimistic in the way I like. Here’s hoping we can eventually correct all the mistaken assumptions. Thanks.

  49. kdb said:

    “I provided an example of one of them: The stillborn Harlequin line. There was also a stillborn Civil War line, various Christian comics that didn’t happen (the one book that made it through being the half-assed ILLUMINATOR) and more.”

    Ah. See, because you mentioned the stillborn Harlequin line after your sentence on “new books,” I thought you might have been contrasting the line that didn’t come out with various things that did come out. But thanks for the info on this ILLUMINATOR thingie; maybe I’ll be moved to research it some time.

  50. Though Van Jensen may have overstated things here:

    “Marvel and DC haven’t done anything to limit the proliferation of creator-owned books in the past 20 years”

    his essential point is a good one, for there have certainly been employees of the Big Two who sought “diversity” as much as there have been those who stuck with proven sellers. And in all cases all involved did what they did to advance their own fortunes, not for some abstract goal.

    One problem not addressed, though, is whether it’s possible to expand meaningfully beyond the core audience. AACRO faults the industry for not having produced “evergreen products,” but can anyone, be it Stan Lee or Art Spiegelman, arbitrarily decide, “Today I’m going to bring into being (whether by direct or indirect influence) an ‘evergreen product.'” As other posters have pointed out damn few “indie” creators have done so; they too more often than not appeal to “niche interests” (satire-comics, anthropomorphics,autobio). Are the bulk of indie-people failing because they share the incompetence of the mainstream people, or because there’s something deeper than simple incompetence at work here?

  51. Mike Manley says:

    I think one of the issues is what you define as a mass audience? In the rise of today’s geek culture to basically become mainstream. But that pie is now sliced up with everything from movies to books.

    Newspaper strips are mainstream and mostly humor based. Comic books are mostly not humor based now, and are a niche to a great degree, yet Spider-man as a character is beyond the niche and is mainstream. The most popular form of cartooning and animation is always humor based.

    Family Guy and the Simpsons to name two.
    Yet it has long been proven that the direct market will not support this type of material.

    Can Robert Crumb ever be anything but a niche? He has always been so. American Splendor? Hellboy? even with movies about these subjects they are still an acquired taste.

    I think if you knowingly work in anything but super heroes or create anything auto-bio or humorous and mainly sell your work in the direct market you clearly know you are not going to appeal to most of the retailers who will never order you book because readers from the get go don’t buy much of that material, and the shops that do stock this stuff are usually in University areas or urban hipster areas where you will get that outsider element.

    Again I think you have to be a businessman here and look square at the situation from that perspective when you are trying to make a living and get you work out to the audience and then put the artist hat on in the studio.

    Guys like Eisner had this all figured out.

  52. Seems that one of the issues we could be could be considering is a sort of “normalization” of the comic book market. Bookstores are able to carry mainstream and niche products without much of a problem. A bookstore by nature will try to carry as wide a gamut as possible, giving shelf space proportionate to saleability. Comics stores seem to be tied to an all or nothing approach towards mainstream.

    But even within this narrow playing field, comics are sold in a way that few other products are. The entire orchestration of sales beginning with publisher promotion which in turn dictates an anticipation of success, that subsequently dictates advance orders from stores, which in turn dictates what the customers will look for most. Do we see such control of the buying market in other industries? Seems that everywhere else the method leans more towards putting the product out there and letting the market decides what it wants based on the merit of the product. That’s why we can never know if a certain film will make it until the opening box office results. Yes, there’s more promotion for products that have a budget for it but it’s not such a cornered market as the comics are.

    With everything going against the comics from geographical challenges of limited outlets to a severe lack of an effort to popularize reading habits, isn’t it detrimental to allow this type of control to stagnate the buying force?

  53. Mike Manley says:

    Books stores are a returnable market and so they can stock extra or niche subjects because they will return what won’t sell. Comic shops are run by men who have the taste of the average mainstream fan and order accordingly and the product is not returnable. Its a no risk or little risk business.

    I suppose if they are successful running their business you can’t argue with them.

    Not to beat the dry dusty bones of a long dead horse, but unless you had regular businessmen retailers who run regular books stores as the bulk of the businessmen running the direct market shops you will never change this, and face it–this isn’t not going to ever change. We all know there are those good retailers out there, the awesome shops, but they are 10=20% at most. And again we face the other issue that all book stores are suffering.

    It’s a closed circuit, so I say don’t try and spend your energy on that circuit, find another path.

  54. let me clarify what i mean by creating an evergreen publication. It’s something I feel should not be defaulted to the vets(Spiegleman, Lee, etc.) and is not an individual choice. This is a more a business model to make becoming indie the ultimate goal.

    the set up would be a hypothetical comics mag/anthology which will gurantee all contributors(if signed on) ownership of thier work and x amount of contributions(x min of pages), lets say 3 years worth on a monthly magazine. In those three years the creator could create freely, get paid with a slight sense of security knowing they have a limited but guranteed source of income along with the ability to pursue other freelance work. now during these three years the creator can develop a fan base and refine their craft, giving them a foundation for their independent/freelance career.

    this is a sparknotes version of a section of my manifesto, but this is what i would see as evergreen(still writing, but will be up by thurs) if the industry adopted this model.

  55. Maybe I’m a little eccentric but I don’t see things as being so much a closed circuit. Or if they are, there’s a switch somewhere around here that can help open it.

    When 95% of the talk is being persuaded to move on and forget the switch, and the 5% that come close to finding it are compelled to also let it go, then I’d rather hang back, keep thinking about that switch and trying to find a way to pop it.

    Or maybe it’s a failing of mine that tells me alongside all the fine advice we’re hearing on how to survive in a life-boat while all the big ships sail happily off into the sunset leaving the rest of humanity behind, there’s also room for everyone who’s left behind to think of ways to reach those captains running away with the cake and eating it too, while everyone else is left fending for themselves and starving in the life boat.

    I am a profoundly imperfect human being after all, I admit.

    But here we are in the life-boat rowing away to nowhere with the big ships sailing off in the distance. And while all seems to be lost, we have a few things going for us that I’m not sure we should encourage each other to suppress.

    1) We have a big megaphone, the comics web community that’s opened a big venue for the voice of everyone who touches the industry and is touched by it. We’ve never had such a strong voice in the past and never dreamed of it back in the days.

    2) Our life-boat and the big ships that left us behind are sailing on the waters of history and social evolution that are a dynamic and living turf. No matter how calm or indifferent these waters seem at any time, one never knows when that wind will rear up and turn the calm waters into a raging storm. When we start feeling a little wind in our back, then it makes sense to row like hell if we want to try to get somewhere a little better than a life-boat.

    3) We have a refreshing wind in our back right now. The creator community is talking and wanting to take advantage of the momentum. This is our opportunity to seize and maximize our efforts in every possible direction we can, including the big one of finding that switch that opens the circuit we need to change the seemingly unchangeable tenets the industry operates under.

    4) These waters are going to get stormy. It is inevitable. It is the law of nature and the human spirit. It cannot really be suppressed. The human spirit will seek a better world. It will rage like a storm and ultimately swallow the big ships and oppressive captains who’ve done this terrible thing to the people. We have to begin learning to ride the stormy tides that are coming.

    5) Ultimately, these captains are a cowardly and superstitious lot. They can seem formidable in the calm seas, but when the waters begin to rage and the ships teeter, they fold their tails between their legs and whine like crybabies begging for help.

    We have a megaphone, the wind in our back, and the indomitable human spirit raging within us with which to reach these captains right now.

    We cannot afford to keep telling each other to remain silent anymore. Thank God we live in a time and place where such pressure is only psychological and doesn’t translate to an actual muzzle.

  56. Gene — As I mentioned in response to Tom, my initial post suffered from poor wording. My point is that comics have grown more diverse despite Marvel and DC dominating the DM.

    That was in service of my main point, which is that it’s beyond pointless to be mad at Marvel and DC about their dominance of the DM. Indie creators need to look beyond the DM audience, one way or another. I was hoping to provoke a discussion in that direction. Instead, it seems most everyone still just wants to talk about the Big Two.

  57. Van, I understand I’ve been a discussing Marvel and DC and that might not have been your intent. I do it, however, in the best interest of the entirety of industry, especially the creator owned efforts outside of the Direct Market than are hampered by them. I am not angry or mad or venting frustration. I simply believe that a rigorous debate on the duopoly choking the industry is needed for the same goals you strive for.

    But I’ll bow out for now, on this thread and the previous one. Best wishes to everyone.

  58. Mike Manley said:

    “Newspaper strips are mainstream and mostly humor based. Comic books are mostly not humor based now, and are a niche to a great degree, yet Spider-man as a character is beyond the niche and is mainstream. The most popular form of cartooning and animation is always humor based.”

    Newspaper strips were mainstream as long as newspapers were mainstream. As the principle vehicle declines, so do its “barnacles.” It used to be a given that an artist was better off working in comic strips than comic books (though in the Golden Age of strips it had nothing to do with whether or not the strip was humorous).
    Nowadays, when almost everything is a gag-a-day concept, I’m not sure the majority of strip-makers are so much better off than comic-book people. How many strip collections of current strips are carried by the chains? And how does that compare to the total number of uncollected pro strips?

    Not sure of your point on Spidey. It does have jokes in it, but I don’t imagine most of its fans read it exclusively for the grins and giggles. SPIDEY may be one of the few strips making it on old-timey soap-opera appeal.

    “Again I think you have to be a businessman here and look square at the situation from that perspective when you are trying to make a living and get you work out to the audience and then put the artist hat on in the studio.”

    No argument there. Modern artists have to think how to market their hearts’-desires. I miss the old days of desperate ads, like Fanta advertising Scott Russo on the basis that he made fun of his own editors.

  59. AACRO said:

    “let me clarify what i mean by creating an evergreen publication. It’s something I feel should not be defaulted to the vets(Spiegleman, Lee, etc.) and is not an individual choice. This is a more a business model to make becoming indie the ultimate goal.”

    I wasn’t seriously suggesting that the responsibility lay with the veteran editors, just that they as much as anyone are unable to whip up evergreen products when they feel like it.

    What seems to produce them best is a creative milieu in which creators feel themselves able to address a wide variety of ideas, topics, et al. However, even there you can only grab the lingering attention of the mass public by offering them some basic elementary idea that allows consumers to say, “Oh, I get this.” John Average may not get every joke in PEANUTS or MAD, but he gets enough of them to make him buy the books. But a TRUMP or HUMBUG may find itself dwindling if it is, or merely seems, too esoteric.

    I think the indie creators who have been widely successful outside the shops have been able to offer their readers some “handle” on their characters’ adventures. “Oh, it’s an aardvark doing Conan– oh, it’s a lesbian girl trying to get in on with her straight friend.” If anyone can think of a successful indy comic book that doesn’t have such a handle, I’d be fascinated to learn of it.

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