Comics: for one fantastic moment, everything was OK

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201210260309 Comics: for one fantastic moment, everything was OK
Is this the magic moment? Probably. Or as a recent ICv2 headline put it:Comic Retailers Cautiously Ecstatic, following the “Return of the Pamphlet.” Despite the innate caution, pessimism and low self-image endemic to the comics industry, it seems that following a year of improved sales, general awareness, mainstream recognition and booming live events, the comics industry has taken a moment to kick back the recliner and crack open a frosty one:

Retailers attribute the growth to “a happy convergence of a lot of things,” as Jamie Graham of Graham Crackers Comics put it.  Those include strong editorial performance from the Big Two (New 52, Avengers Vs. X-Men, and Before Watchmen), the prominence of comic-based properties in movie theaters (Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, and Dark Knight Rises) and on TV (The Walking Dead), the strength of Image (Saga, more), and the relaunch of Valiant Comics.

New and lapsed customers are coming into comic stores, and that’s stimulating sales across the board.  And although there are risks, retailers note that the current surge in sales is based on readers rather than speculators, making it much more sustainable than the comic sales boom in the 1990s.

It does seem the plaintive “If only we could” of the 90s and the plucky “What if we…” of the Aughts has been replaced by a confident “What’s next on the to do list?” of the Teens.

Althought, as discussed at the recent ICv2 White paper, sales for both comics periodicals and graphic novels are down from their 2007 peak, there is a feeling of greater confidence now. It just feels stronger. I got some comment (and in person) flack when I suggested a few months ago that the New 52 Saved comics with its million dollar marketing plan, and they didn’t do it alone, for sure. Alison Bechdel, Chris Ware, Bryan Lee O’Malley Craig Thompson, Jeff Kinney, Jeff Smith, David Mazzuchelli, Raina Telgemeier, Tycho and Gabe, Joss Whedon, Christopher Nolan, Robert Kirkman…they helped. They did make that. It didn’t hurt to have new or newly empowered publishers and editors like Chip Kidd. Mark Siegel, Secret Acres, Annie Koyama and Charlie Kochman. It was certainly useful to have a nurturing environment over the last 10 years to develop emerging talents like Dash Shaw and Kate Beaton and Faith Erin Hicks. Or to have schools like CCS and SCAD and SVA with top notch faculties and programs. I remember having lunch with Eric Reynolds and Calvin Reid 8 or 9 years ago and marveling at how good the crop of new, young cartoonists were, and a lot of them have stuck around and done good work.

Everyone helped.

Not to deny the threat of rain from clouds over on the horizon. Creative inequities remain, and some publishers still see creators as a cog in the machine and not the machine itself. There are wrongs to be righted.

And the pamphlet boom has a particularly troubling cloud rumbling over the hill: the reliance on variant covers to keep the engines running. Marvel’s mandate to hit certain sales targets isn’t the healthiest business model, and DC still hasn’t been able to launch new franchises.

But even that last part may be changing. In an interview at CBR it sppear that 2013 will be a year of trying new stuff again:

“There is one major goal: one of the things we’re going for right now is the introduction of new characters and new ideas to the 52. Right now what we did is take the pre-existing characters, we had to rebuild them and build a strong base for them. Now I feel we have the impetus to try new characters and new things,” DiDio said of publisher’s strategy for 2013.

Pointing to writer James Tynion IV and artist Guillem March’s new “Talon” series as a “perfect example,” DiDio used the title to illustrate what he and Lee hoped to do in 2013.

“‘Talon,’ that concept did not exist prior to the New 52 and when we launched the four new books ‘Talon’ launched the best of the four. It’s tied to ‘Batman,’ true, but I think it also shows something fresh and new that people can get excited about because people don’t have any preconceived notions about it,” DiDio said. “So for me, that shows us that we should be trying more of these things and I think new characters is the way to be because it adds to the universe and adds to everything we do — and that’s when the creators really get involved because there’s a personal interest in characters they create and since they create it from whole cloth you don’t have to worry about what has come before and what everybody else did because you can set the style, tone and voice of the character from that point forward.”

A cautiously ecstatic market is one where the new can finally be supported, so maybe the time is right.

We’re not entirely retiring our cynicism and snoopiness—lots more stupid shit is going to happen. But for this Friday, we’re just going to say “Things are ok.”

PS: The ICv2 piece above also includes lists of the top properties in various categories; worth checking out;

Top 10 Genre Graphic Novel Properties–Summer 2012
Top 10 Fiction & Reality Graphic Novel Properties–Summer 2012
Top 10 Superhero Graphic Novel Properties–Summer 2012
Top 5 Comic Strip Properties–Summer 2012
Top 10 Kids & Tweens Graphic Novel Properties–Summer 2012
Top 25 Manga Properties–Summer 2012
Top 10 Shojo Properties–Summer 2012br />
Top 10 Shonen Properties–Summer 2012

Comments

  1. I hope this optimism proves correct, but for me the big upturn will be (as it will be with the economy in general) when people start getting jobs. There are still tons of unemployed, experienced artists and writers out there. When they start getting calls from editors again, then I’ll share in the optimism.

  2. Love that Kids and Tween list!

  3. Can we stop calling them “pamphlets” (or, worse, “floppies”!), now, then?

    “Periodicals”, or simply “comic book” for non-serialized work (heh), would be much better.

    -B

  4. You used to be able to call them “monthlies” but how about just “traditional comics”?

  5. I think that the amount of books that DC has cancelled has been downplayed… It calls my attention the fact that relatively few titles concentrate large amounts of readers, but there are too many books that sell very little.
    Marvel is milking the cow dry by double shipping their books. Iron Man shipped bi-monthly for the last 5 months.
    And people keep saying that Image has a 10 percent of the market, I love their products, but they only sold that much when TWD 100 appeared, they went back to 5-6% the next month.
    I see a lot of gimmicks that seem to be one-trick ponies (how many times can the launch “Before Watchmen”? did it made as much money as they hoped? how many Marvel Now books will remain as best selling books?)

  6. Phil Southern says:

    I agree. Everyone knows what a comic book is; inventing a new word when a perfectly cromulent extant word is available is, at best, silly, and at worst, pretension of the highest degree.

    Thanks!
    Phil

  7. According to the ICv2 article: “The caution comes from having seen both high and low points across recent decades, but the “return to floppies,” as Things from Another World’s Andrew McIntire described it, has reassured comic retailers that their core business has a future despite the growth of graphic novels and the more recent surge in sales of digital comics.”

    I guess it is okay for a RETAILER to use these words but not a journalist!

  8. I’m just saying, Ace, that you started that nomenclature, you could be the one to stop it!

    (Also? ICv2 interviewers do, when I’ve spoken to them during these kinds of interviews, refer to comics as “floppies”, so y’know, leading the question and all…)

    -B

  9. I wonder, too, whether the improved sales are a reflection of the improving economy….

  10. Torsten Adair says:

    But doesn’t “comic book” also include digital? (Eventually, the industry will probably not make a distinction. An issue sold is an issue sold, no matter the distribution.)

    I prefer “comics periodicals”. (How periodical? That depends on the publisher.)

    If it has an EAN/ISBN, then it’s a graphic novel, regardless of binding or length, as it is distributed and sold differently than comic books. Yes, some books are periodicals (usually annuals), but do you find Fodor’s Germany 2012 (ISSN 1525-5034) on newsstands or book shelves?

    Of course, some mini-comics are pamphlets, similar in production to the political tracts published in the 18th Century. A zine is a periodical, similar in nature to a newsletter.

  11. Citing Talon as a successful new character really is cheating, because that success is based almost entirely on the connection to Batman, and the use of a Bat crossover to promote it. Several other New52 series were really just old trademarks on new (or new to almost everyone) characters, and many of those are either gone and in danger. If a new series has no capetails to ride, the current superhero market will not pay much attention to it.

  12. Torsten Adair says:

    “What’s next on the to do list?”

    Winning of literary awards.
    The Nobel is a footnote (Doris Lessing wrote a graphic novel), and won’t be checked off until there is a writer with a significant body of graphic novels.

    The National Book Award nominated a graphic novel in the YA division. Newbery, Caldecott, King awards are the most prominent library awards not yet claimed by a graphic novel.

    Pulitzer, National Book Award, PEN (which doesn’t even have a category for graphic novels), professional genre writers awards (Nebula, RITA, Edgar).

    The creation of a professional society, similar to the National Cartoonists Society.

    A doctorate and graduate degree program in the U.S. for comics studies and comics art (both art and writing).

    A strong regional comic con for every month of the year.
    Successful (3K+ attendance) comic cons for each state.
    A successful comic con sponsored by a university/college club.

    An annual scholarly journal reprinting papers and proceedings from comics-specific conferences.

    A viral bestseller, like “The Da Vinci Code” or “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

  13. “What’s next on the to do list?”

    Solidifying the CBLDF, The Hero Initiative and other beneficial aspects of the industry which will help protect the legacy we’re creating and give hope to a new generation to join in.

    As for the *good times*… I’ve been praying for this for a long time. I love the line… “Everyone helped.”

  14. What actual comic reader ever called a comic a pamphlet or a trade a graphic novel? Shoot them.

    scott
    http://www.reconditepictures.com

  15. One more thing that’s helped save comics – Comixology and digital comics. I’m back-into comics after a 25 year hiatus because of Comixology. I started buying digital and enjoyed so many different books that I started going to my local comics retailer to start buying them in print too. Now I buy most of my DC books digitally (after the 1 month price drop), and most of my smaller publisher books in physical form (I’m more likely to want those to keep). I’m spending much more on comics than I have in years.

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