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It does seem the plaintive “If only we could” of the 90s and the plucky “What if we…” of the Aughts has been replaced by a confident “What’s next on the to do list?”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