There is a happy feeling in general when comics folks get together these days. Oh, there may be the occasional digital kerfuffle, and DC personnel changes allow folks a satisfying “tsk, tsk” or two, but in general more things are working than not. Retailer Brian Hibbs captures this happy moment in his latest Tilting at Windmills column which looks back on a ComicsPRO meeting that was, by all accounts, quite sanguine. I hope I may be forgiven for a longer than average quote just so everyone gets it:
As I probably mentioned last time, one of the largest focuses at ComicsPRO have become the Publisher Speed Dating, where groups of 3-4 retailers move from table to table, meeting with a new publisher every five minutes or so. The time is just short enough that we have to clearly focus on our concerns, but just short enough to keep your brain moving! We were up to 24 participating publishers/vendors this year, and I don’t think there was a single one of them who didn’t also walk away with pages of excellent, highly-focused notes on how to make their businesses stronger as well.
The repeated refrain from every single attending retailer was how well business is doing — I heard so many positive numbers and percentages of growth that one might think people were lying… except that national statistics are backing our individual experiences up — the national market is up a staggering 19.78% Q1 2013 vs Q1 2012, and that’s the “dead quarter.” That’s also after a yearly growth of 14.72% of 2012 vs. 2011, so things are going in what appears to be the overall right direction, and we’re also seeing the second consecutive year’s rise of the total number of comic book stores.
So, yeah, comics are thriving, and even more specifically, print comics are thriving in a way that many pundits did not see coming — unlike virtually other media’s experience in the face of new digital release models, the physical market for comics is growing — in fact, if I’m doing the math correctly, it appears to me that just the increase of physical sales in 2012 was larger than the entirety of the digital market combined! That is phenomenal for a medium that too many people are quick to write off as “dying.”
He goes on to say that most publishers seem to have their shit together, which, despite the tut tutting and tsk tsking here and there is mostly true. Complain as you might about all the comic book movies and TV shows, but the characters are better known than ever, licensed properties in comics are mostly being handled in a quality way, there hasn’t been a new rip-off comics company that fooled anyone in years, and there are more better comics, new and old, than ever.
During my trip last month to the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont (a trip I still hope to write about before things get totally crazy) I spoke on the Industry Day panel with Abrams editor Carol Burrell, micro publisher Robyn Chapman, Scholastics editor Adam Rau and agent Stephen Barr. The mood was mostly practical and upbeat; in fact, we were told we were a way more positive panel than the previous years which had been a real wrist-cutter.
The mood was jovial throughout the day, moving on to the mixer at night, where the students mingled with the industry vets. Towards the end of the evening, and a few $1 raspberry wheat beers in, one of the students stood in the middle of the conversation circle and said “I want to ask you one thing. You sounded so positive today, but is it all a bubble. Are comics going to go away in five years?”
And I replied what I believe to be true. “No. We’ve passed the hump. The tide may go out a bit, but we’ve reached a place where the medium is established, and it’s mostly because of the great backlist of lasting books and the important creators. And the movies and TV will keep driving interest.”
Now maybe I was being a bit too optimistic, but I do stand by that statement. Geek culture is here to stay, comics are part of that culture—although kind of in the way that poetry is a part of publishing—small but inspirational. I think Chris Ware may be a one of a kind artist who can never be replicated, but his comics have forged a way to literary acceptance that will be hard to eradicate. On the artistic front, forget it…comics are so embedded in our visual literacy that they will never go away.
So yeah. A happy moment, for sure, a time of challenges and chances, but lots of both.
BUT. See my next post.
To be continued….
Photo: Thank You, the Secret Headquarters spin-off store in LA that opened last fall.
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.