Whitney Taylor continues to be my favorite investigative comics journalist—well, maybe investigative is too strong a word, but if “talking to a lot of people and painting a picture” is the criterion, Whit is it, as her report on Comic Arts Brooklyn shows. This was a strong show but one that experienced an unexpected glitch: a lot of people thought it was a two day show and didn’t come to the exhibits on Saturday. This resulted in a smaller crowd and, for some, lower sales. On the day there was a lot of anxiety—it’s like basing your business plan on Christmas sales and then there’s a big blizzard the day of the big sale—but everyone seems to have survived intact.
And yet, is a financial model this precarious one that is “sustainable”? I predict sustainable will be THE word of 2015, as a the last few days of posts here have been exploring. Taylor talks about the model with many publishers and creators and key behind the scenes people like publishing rep Tony Shenton, and while everyone is optimistic, there is no real consensus on whether things are working, improving or just providing a false illusion of hope:
Sustainability is a word that I hear floating around the small-press comics world. This is an industry people choose to get into primarily because they love the medium of comics, not because of the money, but that doesn’t mean that financial concerns aren’t real, albeit complicated and often frustrating. “Art and commerce is always a troubled combination,” says Fowler. “It’s a contradiction. I’m an idealist, and I like to see artists making work apart from considerations of the marketplace, but I’m involved in a commercial enterprise related to the sale of artwork. These issues are larger than comics, but they’re predicated by living under the dominant economic model of capitalism. Artists shouldn’t think about commerce when they’re making work, but in America people vote with their pocketbooks, and it feels good when a stranger gives you money for your art. It’s important.”
The piece is full of great pull quotes, like Kevin Czapiewski:
Czapiewski also emphasized the dynamic nature of the industry. “I get the sense that the landscape is the middle of a transition, like our ideas about comics shows are evolving, largely in response to this question of whether or not they can be sustainable. I’m optimistic,” he says. “That said, I have to recognize that even my role models need to supplement their publishing operations with one or more other sources of income. We may not be able to completely sustain ourselves on selling comics, but maybe there are ways to make money from the infrastructure of comics, like printing and distribution (those webcomics guys were trying to make a business as Kickstarter campaign consultants… did that go anywhere?). Also, it may sound counter-intuitive, but I feel like the continuing diversification of the playing field, with more and more different people making and selling comics, is a good thing overall.”
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.