For the last decade, the status of the comic book industry has been a great concern among both fans and the industry itself. Growing technologies and widening options for digital media are vying for the attentions of consumers. The comic book industry can’t keep relying on their built in fan bases to carry them with extras like variant covers or special hardback editions. Now they are realizing that they need to embrace the same technology that has been threatening sales over the last 2 decades.
In room 29 AB of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, comic book writers and publishers were collected to discuss strategies on where they are taking the business. Shaene Siders, Marv Wolfman, Zac Atkinson, Rob Cain, Ralph Miranda and Daniel Corey were collected for the panel.
The comic book industry began in the 1930’s, gaining popularity in the later part of that decade with the publication of Action Comics. The printing technology available at the time were fully utilized, and even improved due to the rise of comic book publications, especially in a time when much of the printed media was still much in black and white. The industry continued to grow during WWII, where we can trace much of our favorite heroes’ origins.
In subsequent years, the industry made a few errors in regards to rising streaming media and interactive entertainment: Instead of embracing the digital market at the first sight of the ebook trend, they pushed more into their printed exclusives, only entering the download market relatively late in the game with services like Comixology. Also, as their child fans began to grow, the market followed them, but almost completely disregarded the next generation of comic readers. Lastly, when the industry did finally decide to evolve with the times, they chased trends instead of trying to predict what was next.
So what now?
The comic book makers at the panel shared their various approaches to trying to gain the attention of old and new readers. Not surprisingly, all of them focused on an all immersive experience. One comic plans to use AR technology, so when one’s smartphone camera is aimed at the cover, a 3D version of it appears on the screen. This in turn reveals buttons and links that can be clicked on to reveal more features or to direct readers to website pages. Further plans are being discussed to have the same technology available to be able to have the reader purchase items featured inside the comic, presumably the ads. About 5 years ago, television tried for the same technology, where if you saw a product featured in the show, you could somehow select it and purchase it on demand. However, this never went beyond the planning stages.
Other experiences for the comic book industry will involve VR technology. Using Google Cardboard and your smartphone, the reader will become immersed in the comic’s scene. A rendered area will be around the user in 360 degrees, with panels and dialogue bubbles imposed on the areas that the story takes place. In my opinion, it looks more like a VR game, without the gaming part.
The comic industry has a lot of ground to cover if it wants to regain the attentions of consumers from that of other interactive medias. If both major and independent publishers continue to explore possible options to take the stories together, there still yet is time to win back its share of the market.
Nicholas Eskey is an avid reader and writer. When not contributing to The Beat, he works on his personal projects, the latest being a fantasy novel called “My Personable Demon.” He lives in San Diego, California, and is frequently bossed around by his cat.