Comics are a business that is relatively insulated from the ups and downs of the economy: things are ALWAYS marginal. While there’s no doubt but that the global recession has impacted the comics industry — especially with customers dealing with price increases — quite frankly, there wasn’t a lot to cut back. There’s a good living to be made in comics, and many people do, but no one is buying a yacht — or not very many anyway. And maybe comics are a survival industry because it seems like everyone is just one or two issues away from square one.
For instance, you don’t think of Jeff Smith, creator of the beloved BONE series, as being someone who has had ups and downs, but in an interview at Tom Spurgeon, he talks about the low times:
2001 was a bad year for me. We had a lot of money troubles. I got into these rows with Dave Sim and Linda Medley, and it was very demoralizing. I forgot how close we came to going out of business. We put a bunch of money into toys — toys were really big — in 1999 and 2000. We didn’t lose any money in the long run, but it tied up a whole bunch of money for a long time… I was slowing down my output right around that time, because I was getting into the heavy parts of the story and it was hard to write. Just a lot of factors came together. I forgot how tough that was. We had to let all our employees go. We had to leave our office. I completely forgot that there was a year when Vijaya and I and Kathleen — Kathleen Glosan, our production manager — the three of us were all in my one-room studio above the garage trying to survive. Eventually we did.
But being a survivor, and being adaptable, he made it through. Here’s his account of the recovery:
We just had to tighten our belts in the hopes we could ride it out, and eventually we did. We were smarter about things. We stopped doing the toys, obviously. That was silly. We were always thinking about ways to repackage the books. Eventually we pulled it together.
Eddie Campbell, a veteran of many of the same tidal shifts that Smith has dealt with, reads the above and
has his own memories of the time after Top Shelf’s distrbutor and printer both went bankrupt:
I was never operating on the same scale as Jeff, but in 2003 we had to turn my home studio into a bedroom. The intention was to build a shed next to the house for me to work in, or for somebody to sleep in, but that looked like being too expensive, so I moved my operation onto the far end of our dinner table, a big eight foot long polished oak object. For a year or so my life consisted of going from one end of the table to the other.
While it would be nice if we were all 1%ers with vacation homes in Tuscany, there’s also something to be said for not being a fat cat: at least you don’t have so far to fall when things do go bad.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.