New Comic Buying Is Broken: In The Offing

Following a look at the current state of new comic buying and then how we got here, this time let’s look at what the near future brings.

It’s been said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome, but that aptly describes monthly pamphlet comics from Marvel and DC. Since the direct market and comic fans becoming comic creators, the mainstream market is stagnant and cyclical.

There was a market boom and bust in the 1990s and we seem to be stepping into the same quagmires with variant covers and crossover events ad nauseam. Increased shipping schedules, series reboots, rapid creator changes. All realities of the current mainstream comic market.

Comic characters have never been more front and center in the cultural zeitgeist, but that has proven to provide no new readers to the comic market. You may love Marvel’s cinematic Iron Man, have the t-shirt, and never read a single Iron Man comic. Marvel and DC’s rich history is providing a wealth of intellectual property for mass media, but that doesn’t require any new comics to be created.

As a culture, we have moved away from episodic entertainment. When was the last time you gathered at work and discussed last night’s episode of whatever? Binge watching is the new norm, with Netflix leading the charge of dropping an entire season of television at once. How long before we abandon that nomenclature?

Comics are a medium, telling stories through words and pictures. The current reality is that comics are huge, worldwide. Raina Telgemeier is a publishing tour de force, and Dog Man dominates. There is an incomprehensible amount of foreign material being translated and made available to the English speaking market. And a myriad of topics: I just read a comic about a gypsy truck driver in the future and another about an engineer who investigates bridges.

Evolve or die. The North American comic market must work towards a sustainable model of publishing that isn’t tied to twenty pages of story a month for $4. Where could they find these new ways? Literally in every other format and method comics are successfully being published.

If it hasn’t come through earlier, I bailed on Marvel and DC comics years ago. The superhero genre had run its course for me and I wasn’t interested anymore. I shifted my focus to other genres, other publishers and then foreign material and finally newspaper strips, going back before there were comic books.

To quote Bruce Springsteen, 57 channels and nothing on. We’re inundated with entertainment options, so much so that we have to curate ourselves. If we limit the topic to only comics, you could find one character and have years of reading with reprint material alone. I’m currently working my way through sixteen volumes of Little Orphan Annie; about 5000 pages of material.

No, this isn’t a neat and tidy wrap up of the topic at hand, because there is no simple solution. Wednesday warriors will continue to buy new comics, no matter the erratic schedule or price increases. But that group is shrinking, as are the number of specialty shops to service them. Local comics shops are tied to Marvel, DC, and Diamond, in an ever-shifting order. When one of those falls it’s game over.

Scott VanderPloeg
Scott VanderPloeg

Scott works in I.T. but lives to eat and read. His other ramblings can be found at AE Index and eBabble. Art collection at Comic Art Fans.

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  1. I could tell by your reviews in the past where your interests were. I am not a fan of current comics as a whole myself and like whats gone on before including newspaper strips far better. We can complain about the crossovers, restarts, multiple covers all day but the companies are going for those quick bucks and not at all interested in the future of the medium because of its tiny share if the entertainment market. I still think as was discussed last time, cheaper paper, fewer crossovers could help in lowering the cost as 4 bucks a pop for stuff without knowing the whole story is a bit too much for my wallet. I loved the days when a linger story line was only three issues… not a year and such with having to buy comics you don’t really want to keep the story thread.

  2. There’s plenty of blame or reasons for the current state of course. In addition to the usual check list items that include iPads, inflation and declining literacy… I also think the fans themselves are partially to blame. Older collectors simply do not welcome change and prefer that comics stay the same, which in itself is irrational. They reject anything new or different and claim that their childhood years were the best of times. What is a publisher to do when they need to service their primary audience in order to maintain profits but is also unable to attract new readers for fear of leaving all that money on the table? If you got into comics at age 10 in 1965, today you’d be 64 years old. If average lifespan is 70 to 80… I think it’s logical to expect more and more vintage collections to become available in the coming years. This is why I say that current initiatives to attract new readers is too little, too late.

    I’ve always felt that Marvel and DC were protected because their characters had lots of equity, meaning that they would keep producing comics, even at a loss, just to maintain the value of their properties. However, now that the movies have taken over… and, if you were the head of Disney or Warner… say, 20 to 30 years from now… and you no longer need comics in order to keep Spider-Man relevant, because movies are doing a better job at it… from a business perspective, would it make financial sense to keep the publishing divisions still around?

    The other issue is disposable income. If you feel like you’re always behind and struggling to keep up financially… you’re not alone. Wages have been flat for a good 30 to 40 years. For all the rhetoric you hear on the news these days, the truth is that America suffers from being a one party system, which is Corporate America:

  3. No argument from me Charlie, I agree with what your saying. I am a bit guilty of the nostalgia thing myself but this site keeps me aware if new stuff that appears well written and artistically note worthy. I just feel I don’t need to pay for slick paper when a flat paper will suffice… why make it cost more if sales are down?

  4. I think because sales are down the books cost more to compensate. Paper is getting more expensive but the current stock they use is essentially just a coated version of newsprint. It may cost more but it isn’t double or triple that of newsprint.

    It also doesn’t help that even comic retailers don’t like new material, let alone read and actually follow the stories, which has me scratching my head how they can champion stuff they don’t like (I’m not naming names). And if you’re disappointed by Marvel and DC, there are a tons of indy material each week. I’m pretty sure that almost every jaded comic fan can find 1 or 2 titles that they would enjoy. But we’re all older now, our sensibilities have changed, we work more for less so the root cause for our lack of motivation is much more systemic.

    I myself pick up a few new books each week to flip at the local show. But for reading, I tend to pick up oddities from the used book store. I guarantee that if people were interested, they could find something enjoyable to read… but it is much easier to kick back and flick the switch to Netflix.

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