Home News Business News Are we facing a “mid-level” comics glut?

Are we facing a “mid-level” comics glut?

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The announcement of Ahoy Comics – the latest new comics publisher on the block – got a lot of attention for its unconventional formatting and strong creator line-up. But it joins a crowded field of smaller publishers – mostly of comics periodicals – who reside in the back of the Diamond catalog, some of them having launched (or relaunched) in just the last few years. Valiant, Aftershock, Vault, Action Lab, Avatar – even companies that do not begin with ‘A’ or ‘V’ like Scout and Black Mask – or even Lion Forge, which owns this site through its subsidiary company Affiliated Comics. I”m sure I’m forgetting a ton so get outraged in the comments.

While a lot of excellent comics are coming from these imprints, there is also a similar marketing pitch – and a similar audience, as Rob Salkowitz points out in a piece with the sinister title Is the Middlebrow Comics Glut Sustainable?:

The comics market has been feeling glutted for a while now, though most of the attention has been focused on the antics of DC and Marvel, flooding the market with titles and variants to soak up fan dollars and monopolize retailer shelf space.  That’s a problem, but at least DC and Marvel have relatively large and established fanbases to backstop their publishing strategies, deep-pocketed parent companies vested in their IP, and they have retailers by the short hairs.  Say what you want about their bad behavior, they can get away with it most of the time.

Obviously a lot of the new entrants would love to get a slice of that DC and Marvel market, but that’s a tall order without the household-name IP.  And it’s not like you can just conjure up a connected universe overnight or create a passionate fan base around a forgotten franchise without a lot of talent, effort and luck.

There does seem to be a glut in the middle, and a shortage of top tier talent, even as Boom, IDW, Oni and Dark Horse branch out into new licenses and genres.

To be honest, when some of these new lines launch, it’s obvious that the top names involved have reached into their desk drawers and pulled out some pitches that have been making the rounds. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – a lot of great ideas got rejected at first – but it show how few “surefire” superstars there are to go around in this IP-focused era.

But it’s not even just periodicals. Spike Trotman jumped in with an observation that no one had said aloud- that we’re also seeing a jump in the number of kids/YA imprints that may not be sustainable, comparing it to the post-Twilight glut of YA lines.

To be fair, I have a feeling that kids interest in comics has yet to be fully sated, but the books need to be good. And as Spike points out, people who are truly dedicated to their content are the ones that last.

Despite the hand wringing over falling comics sales – and the troublingly unexplained and ongoing drop in graphic novel sales this year – the comics industry has not contracted one iota. On the contrary, people are moving around to new companies and getting hired at amazing rates. Is this all going to crash and burn into ruin and dumpster fires?

Well, I always compare it to the tide. Back in the early aughts mainstream publishing houses tried to get into the graphic novel business with mostly tepid results. They didn’t know what they were doing and editors and bookstores weren’t ready.

It’s literally taken more than a decade for some houses – Penguin, S&S – to get back into the game. Bu this time they’re hiring better people who know what they are doing, like Gina Gagliano at Penguin Random House. And the people who have come up as editors since then who are working at the major publishers have a better grasp of the comics medium and the talent available.

But still, the tide comes in and the tide goes out, and usually it leave things a little wetter than it was before. So two steps forward one step back on most of this. As we live in tumultuous times, I do expect to see more contraction in the future – but the book market, especially, it takes a while to get results. So the middlebrow will muddle along for a while yet.

Who will be the first to fold in this Dead Dog Derby? That’s a question that will fill many a barcon conversation in the months to come.

6 COMMENTS

  1. All I can really speak to is my personal experience, but I’m loving all the publishers out there. I recently got back into reading singles again (thanks to DCBS with their insane discounts and easy-to-use website) and I enjoy being able to balance out an order with DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Oni, Boom, Aftershock, etc. The more choices, the better, I say. I’ll definitely be checking out some of the Ahoy books, for the value they’re offering alone, if nothing else (but “Cats In Space” is pretty irresistible to me, regardless).

  2. I don’t know if I’d consider it mid-tier stuff. There is just too much stuff out there and they throw more baloney at the wall. I’d be real interested to know the rates that these places actually pay. Most pay crap so why kill yourself doing A-level work for low end pay which may be why the writer considers it B-Level quality. There are, of course, the young who will work for peanuts thinking it will move them up the ladder someday. Haha.

  3. One way to look at things is that we have too many full-time pro creators for the size of this market who need to constantly churn out stuff to make a living. Or the the other angle is that page rates are so low, that creators need to work on 3 or 4 books at a time because they can’t survive financially on 1 even if that’s what they’d rather do. Low page rates could be a factor to the glut and mediocrity in the middle tier. There’s just too many people creating too many books for low wages for too small of an audience.

  4. I think some of it is probably a bit of a new Golden Age for comics publishing. Everyone wants to try something new, and some of it will stick around. But I wouldn’t expect any particular publisher to last forever. The cream will rise to the top over time, or some of these publishers could even end up getting bought by bigger publishers like has occurred before.

  5. I think Boom, Aftershock, Black Mask, Oni and Valiant will probably survive a meltdown, though Aftershock has some scheduling problems, and has too many series that fold after one mini-series. Avatar is on it’s way out.
    There are also many imprints glutting the mid-level range, like Young Animal, Black Crown and Berger Books. I’d give Berger Books the biggest chance of survival, supposing Karen doesn’t loose interest.
    But the glut does indeed seem to reflect that one job in comics doesn’t pay the Bills for most creators.

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