Wow… It’s been a crazy year! Most thought 2010 was crazy, what with Marvel and DC and digital comics… and now that I look back at the year past, it wasn’t quite that momentous, which is probably a good thing. Lots happened yet I was a bit challenged to think of what the biggest story of the year was… because there wasn’t anything which seemed historic… it’s more like a footnote, or a subordinate clause in a larger paragraph.
Borders officially declared bankruptcy, failed to find a buyer, and within six months was liquidated. Like a terminally ill relative, this wasn’t unexpected, as Borders had been faltering for many years. Borders was a large supporter of graphic novels, and was instrumental in popularizing manga in the United States. What effect this has on comics publishers and distributors will probably not be known. Creditors are expected to get ten cents on the dollar.
Amazon released a color tablet, the Kindle Fire, a full year after Barnes & Noble. Since it was from Amazon, the Internet completely ignored the other seven-inch Android tablets already on the market and instantly started debating if this would compete with Apple’s ten-inch iPad. Amazon did sign an exclusive agreement with DC Comics to offer their top 100 graphic novels for the Fire, which caused Barnes & Noble to pull the paper copies from store shelves (but not from the website, where customers could still purchase copies). Amazon brilliantly linked the Kindle Fire to their website, effectively selling customers a computer which makes it easier for customers to buy product from Amazon. (Not only are they drinking the Flavor Aid, they are buying the water, cups, and sugar from Amazon as well!)
Barnes & Noble, which had emphasized toys and games in stores years ago with major remodels, remodeled many stores to further promote the Nook line of e-readers (by taking space from DVDs and CDs). The Nook Color was joined by the Nook Tablet, a somewhat more powerful version of the Color. Both became media centers, offering streaming media to compete with Amazons’s digital storefront. B&N also announced exclusive Marvel e-books, in addition to the comics app which has been available since the debut of the Nook Color in October 2010. The NOOK Comics page also features digital comics from Archie via the newsstand.
Comics shops? Some went out of business (Atomic Comics, Al’s Comics, Comic Vault), some reopened with new ownership (Comic Relief > The Escapist / Fantastic Comics, Cosmic Comics > Manhattan Comics & More), and some were brand new (Little Island Comics, a shop devoted to kids and the comics they love!)
The big story for comics shops? Well, it’s kinda yes, kinds no… Digital comics and how they’ll affect retailers. What hasn’t been reported much in 2011 was digital comics sales within comics shops. Comixology made some waves when they announced the initial terms of their digital storefronts offered to comics shops (currently being revised), and Diamond Digital announced in February that they would offer a digital service starting in July, then September, then…? Both DC and Marvel have offered polybagged comics containing codes for free downloads. Most publishers now offer simultaneous releases for paper and digital comics, charging the same price with digital price reductions occuring a few months later. Are digital sales affecting comics shops? Are comics shops selling digital comics? Will online retailers “Amazon” brick-and-mortar stores by offering cheap digital comics (and graphic novels) and undercutting them on price? For the answer, try this.
Another big development for retailers? Early shipping to stores! Stores in good standing with Diamond can get delivery of Wednesday shipments on Tuesday, so long as the merchandise is not sold before Wednesday. This program has been successful, with a few retailers caught breaking the agreement, but with almost no mention of it in the comics community after the initial roll-out.
Lots of comics movies in 2011, almost all of them major properties. Some did better than others, most will have sequels. Cowboys & Aliens was the biggest flop, so big even studio executives admitted mistakes were made. Some sequels performed horribly, possibly foretelling the end of some franchises, or a move to direct-to-digital (since DVDs are slowly marching to the fabled Media Graveyard).
The Hollywood box office was down this year, 3% in receipts (even though prices were higher for 3-D films). (Hmmm… where have I seen that before?) Attendance dropped to a 16-year low. The top three movies of the year had strong fanbases: Harry Potter 7.2, Transformers 3, and Twilight 4.1.
Television was also a mixed bag. Walking Dead was a big hit, while Wonder Woman was dead on arrival. There’s lots of geeky memes on television, long gone are the days when geeks would plotz over the sight of a Sandman poster in the background, a Superman magnet on a refrigerator, or comics creators appearing in an episode. Numerous comics are in development as television series, but frequently they don’t develop. Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory will continue to inspire Hollywood to produce similar series, but you’re more likely to see cartoon adaptations than live action on television.
Oh, and then there was Broadway. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark finally premiered. The drama off-stage has died down (and no one has died), although it did make MAD Magazine’s MAD 20 list of the stupidest people, events, and things of 2011, with a multi-page satireby Ty Templeton.
Remember those parody comics where a character kills everyone? DC did just that, via their Flashpoint series. The surprise ending? Everything You Thought You Knew was no longer valid, as the entire superhero line was revamped (can I use that word, DC? What was the official descriptor? “Relaunch”?) The New 52 was released in September with amazing sales, but three months in, the sales seem to be trending lower. DC went to simultaneous release with digital and paper editions, but no one publicly knows how the digital comics are selling. Analysis will have to wait until next Summer, when the collected editions of the new titles are released, and a year’s worth of comics sales can be reviewed.
At Marvel, things were pretty much like previous years, with various events, gluts of titles to tie-in with superhero movies, and titles going out of print to reappear a few years later, like a third-tier villain. The biggest event this year at Marvel? A return of “Marvelcution” as many staffers were either fired by Disney or by Marvel. Will Marvel’s output replicate those of the 1990s? Or will Marvel figure out the mass market with help from Disney Publishing Worldwide?
Other publishers? Disney pulled most of their licenses from Boom! Studios. Boom had seen this coming when Disney purchased Marvel, and launched their Kaboom! imprint, landing a license almost as colossal as Mickey Mouse: Peanuts. Most publishers which publish comic books (and there aren’t many) now offer digital editions simultaneous with paper editions, and, for the most part, retailers haven’t been too fearful.
Two significant publishers ceased publication. Tokyopop halted production immediately, leaving many series unfinished and some licenses in limbo. Royalty compensation as well as who owned which copyrights clouded the announcement. Wizard Magazine ceased publishing a paper magazine, moving completely to digital. The revolving door at the magazine continued to spin, with company founder Gareb Shamus leaving the corporation in December.
Also joining the ash heap of history: The Comics Code Authority. DC Comics decided to use their own ratings, and the remaining member of the Comics Magazine Association of America, Archie Comics, stated that they, too, had decided to drop it years ago.
Self-publishing, already supported by web comics readers and smartphone apps, became more mainstream as Kickstarter campaigns raised capital for deserving projects. As the web became more of a source of funding, the Xeric Foundation announced the end of its 20-year program of funding self-publishers. Art schools continue to recruit cartoonists with specialized programming, creating a diaspora of comics colonies throughout the United States, with small regional comics show of some sort to promote local artists.
- Rob Granito gets an Internet beat down, Sharon Moody starts a discussion. (Yet no one questions comics artists when they swipe homage iconic covers without attribution, let alone a design fee)
- Vermont gets a Comics Laureate! (But Alaska did it first.)
- Copyright rulings favor Marvel, not Kirby or Friedrich. Antarctic Press agrees to a Temporary Restraining Order while it negotiates with The Wimpy Kid. Tintin is not racist. George Lucas loses a battle with the empire.
Well, here was my prognostication from last year.
Graphic novel E-books continue to be a minor subcategory of e-books.
DC managed to bring lapsed readers back into comics shops with the New 52.
No “Digital Direct Market” yet, as digital comics aren’t a thriving market yet.
Some publishers migrated from Diamond, but no major clients, and Diamond Books did gain some new clients as well (including the Angry Birds folks.)
The Biggest Story?
Geez… there really didn’t seem to be one big zeitgeist of a story this year. I’ll pick:
the continuing evolution of the digital comics, e-readers, and e-books markets
as seen by the sales of the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Barnes & Noble Nook, various other tablets, and the use of these and other e-readers in libraries. What’s under the radar: self-publishing via CreateSpace and PubIt, where micropresses can sell directly to buyers without the need for extensive marketing. Big Six publishers are testing the waters with graphic novel e-books, and they, along with publishers who market to school libraries, will most likely be ones who blaze the market for graphic novel e-books.
There’s also the local comics shops. Will they actively sell digital comics? Or will various websites “drink their milkshake” by actively selling digital comics online, undercutting these stores with cheaper prices and easier downloads?
Or will the world pull a “52” and relaunch itself when the Mayan calendar ends?
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!