200910281023Starting with a letter to subscribers which Tom Spurgeon unveiled, today’s it’s being announced that The Comics Journal, which is about to release its gala 300th print edition, is going to change its presentation drastically, with fewer, bigger biannual print editions and an increased online component. Dirk Deppey, has more:

The expanded, full-service TCJ.com will deliver everything readers love — in-depth interviews, smart columns, sharp criticism, real journalism — on a daily basis. And not only will readers get the traditional Comics Journal content faster, but they will also be able to access features beyond the reach of print magazines: videos, slide shows, audio files, original-art galleries and an army of both new and established Journal-caliber bloggers filtering the comics world through their unique perspectives. In short, it is the dawning of a Comics Journal that knows no bounds.

Focusing on what print does best, The Comics Journal magazine will be more beautiful than ever, an elegant combination of criticism, journalism and objet d’art. Uniquely sized and formatted, evocatively visual and tactile, each issue will be an event. Readers will get their first look at the direction The Comics Journal will be moving in with issue #300.

Spurgeon follows up with a brief interview with TCJ’s Gary Groth on the change

“It was always a strain to assemble eight commercially viable issues that were also aesthetically pleasing — balancing that fine line — every year. I feel much more comfortable concentrating our resources on fewer print editions each year and spending some of those resources on our web presence. It’s no secret that newspapers and magazines are suffering because so much of what they’ve traditionally done can be done on the web, faster and cheaper. We decided therefore to redesign the editorial and physical format of the magazine to take advantage of what print’s best at — upscale production values, longer prose, more permanent content — and bring the Journal’s mandate for criticism and commentary to the web with a vengeance.

Coming, as it does, on the heels of the sale of the once-preeminent online comics news source Newsarama, it’s clearly another step in the evolution on online comics journalism. A beefed up TCJ online, with perhaps a return to some of its take-no-prisoners investigative reporting would be much-needed electric cattle prod to the hindquarters for everyone.

At the same time, the rules are changing so fast and quick. Newsarama’s sale comes at a time when its position as the must-do news source has almost completely eroded. Everyone seems to use their own outlets for breaking news, and there are so many other choices. It’s notable that when Monday’s news of a new Stephen King comic at Vertigo came out, it was announced at Vertigo’s own blog and the first, presumably embargoed, interviews were at the NYT, the Daily Beast and AOL’s comics blog, Comics Alliance. Comics news is now big enough that it doesn’t even get broken on comics news sites any more — with a variety of “mainstream” news outlets covering comics on a regular basis, news can reach a (one hopes) even wider audience.

On a more personal note, the main thing all this reminded us of is a panel at San Diego in 1996 or 7 or so that included The Beat, Gary Groth, and other folks on “The Future of Online,” or some such, where we predicted a “bigger, stronger, faster” model for Online, and Gary said something along the lies of “I like holding things in my hands.” Sometimes it only takes 15 years for dreams to die. (Pretty sure this panel was written up in an issue of the Comics Journal? Maybe one of our helper monkeys can dig it up, because if there’s one thing that’s certain it’s that my memory really sucks these days.)


  1. To be fair, Newsarama’s American Vampire interview was up about the same time as Comics Alliance’s.

    I looked at Quantcast, and Newsarama and CBR are both in the top 6,000 sites, barely 200 places apart. By contract, TCJ’s site is around 297,000. They have an enormous amount of ground to cover to be near Newsarama and CBR, and part of that will have to be coming to terms with posting stuff that everday fans like.

  2. It’s about time that TCJ lowered its frequency — it hasn’t been on time, like, even once in the twenty-five years I’ve been buying it. (If it has been on time, at any point, then it’s a screaming coincidence.) But only two times a year? Who do they think they are — Los. Bros. Hernandez?

    Four times a year is more like it, IMO. With no Year-In-Review page-waster. And going back to actual logos, cover prices and even UPC codes on the issues instead of those idiotic stickers.

    Oh yeah — and I absolutely do NOT want to hunt and peck from a home page. I’d like to be able to download pdfs of the new day’s features. Hell, banner adds (and ONLY __ banner __ ads) at the top of each pdf page would be ginchy as long as I don’t ever have to hunt-and-peck. There’s just not enough time in the day to spend at even three or four regular websites. And I’m not about to drop The Beat or Bleeding Cool.

    — Rob

  3. …”TCJ’s site is around 297,000. They have an enormous amount of ground to cover to be near Newsarama and CBR, and part of that will have to be coming to terms with posting stuff that everday fans like.”

    I agree. Everyday fans wouldn’t be served by it.

    However, I’ve always seen TCJ serving a niche audience. So I probably wouldn’t put them in the Newsarama / CBR race to begin with. But I am happy to see them “beef up” their platform and content beyond what it is now — especially if that also means seeing it on a new schedule. So my well wishes goes out to them.

    As for 15 years to let a dream die…?
    That is a lifetime in Internet years… which is… dare I say almost as old. Netscape browser was created in 1994 – exactly 15 years ago. A lot has changed since then.

  4. On a more personal note, the main thing all this reminded us of is a panel at San Diego in 1996 or 7 or so that included The Beat, Gary Groth, and other folks on “The Future of Online,” or some such. . .

    The future of comics was a panel subject back in 1995, apparently:

    (I still remember a panel I was on at San Diego in 1995 about the state of the market with Chris Oliveros, Larry Marder, Heidi MacDonald and Don Simpson. The night before, Image had announced its exclusivity with Diamond in an unctuous high-fiving celebration, effectively signing Capital’s death warrant. Marder, MacDonald and Simpson — Image shill, Disney shill, indie nihilist respectively — all expressed indifference to Diamond’s imminent monopolistic status and any changes to the worse that would occur therefrom, shrugged off suggestions that human beings were responsible for the current state of affairs, and counseled Oliveros and me to get with the program and embrace the new world order.)

    If I find a similarly dated reference to comics online, I’ll update this comment.


  5. There was no talk about on-line media at that 1995 panel.

    And if there are online listings of SDCC programming from 1996 or 1997, I’ve been unable to find them. The Michigan State University Comics Art Collection has only a few transcriptions of SDCC panels. The 1995 panel was apparently a memorable one.


  6. “I looked at Quantcast, and Newsarama and CBR are both in the top 6,000 sites, barely 200 places apart. By contract, TCJ’s site is around 297,000. They have an enormous amount of ground to cover to be near Newsarama and CBR, and part of that will have to be coming to terms with posting stuff that everday fans like.”

    @Norm – Fair enough point, but I don’t think Fantagraphics is really trying to close that ground. It’s not about quality but scope – I don’t think the average TCJ or Journalista reader is really looking for the type of news on Newsrama or CBR. (In my little opinion, I’ve always thought The Beat was a nice compromise. The Beat has better writing of the type of stuff on Newsrama, CBR, and any other site interested in superheroes yet still covers all the non-superhero stuff without the (admittedly fun) pretentiousness of the Fantagraphics offerings.)

    I think the redesigned TCJ site will be content with servicing the niche they already service. I don’t know if you ever read Journalista, but Deppey has been prophesying the end of print for a while, so really this move seems like a natural step for them.

  7. Tom — Well I toldja my memory sucked. I might be confusing it in my mind with a panel on online that took place at a Chicago Comic-Con around the same time.

  8. I’m sure there was a panel, Heidi, I kind of remember that specific one, too — just in ’96 or so, not the one in ’95 that Synsidar pointed to. That was the Image goes to Diamond panel.

    In fact, just to show how long ago that was, I remember on that panel when we talked about cartoonists losing their publishers, we spoke of them returning to mini-comics instead of going on-line the way we’d probably phrase it now.

    The on-line stuff was about a summer away in terms of everyone chatting about it all the time.

  9. >I like holding things in my hands.

    Are you sure it wasn’t a panel about Eros Comix?

    There, I said it so no one else has to.

  10. I remember that panel.

    I’m quite sure it wasn’t as an Image Comics goes to Diamond panel in the program schedule because that news was kept secret until the night before when it was celebrated at the “high-fiving ceremony” which even at the time I thought was totally over the top.

    Based on the line-up, the panel was probably some sort of state of the industry overview with perhaps a bead on distribution–at the time the biggest topic of discussion because Marvel had already bought Heroes World and and DC had already gone exclusive with DC . The industry had its eyes on what would happen next.

    One thing that I’ve recognized over the dozen years or so that have passed is that no one has really even tried to document the events of that year from all sides and angles. A lot of things have been totally forgotten or swept under the rug because they don’t fit into the current PR self-images of many of the players.

    One question I ask myself when the subject comes up is…what would have happened to the industry if Marvel HADN’T bought Heroes World?

    How many more years would publishers believed themselves obligated to continue to funnel enormous amounts of their profits into increasingly expensive distributor show sponsorships?

    Does anyone really believe that the comic book marketplace has shrunk over the last decade ONLY because there were fewer distributors competing for the same dollars?

    Does anyone think it might be because of other factors like the rise of internet, gaming, the burst of narrowcasting cable stations, netflix and god knows what else?

    Remember when comic book distributors were in a death race to deliver their books one minute before their competitors could? Has everyone forgotten how much of the comics industry’s profits used to go to outside the industry into air freight?

    I can go on and on. I can even remember when a well-known publisher of a small, highly respected indie line who is being celebrated in this column approached Image and asked the partners to consider a proposal to go exclusive with HIM!

    It was a crazy time.
    Crazy things were done by everyone.

    That was then.
    This is now.
    There is no Earth Two to find out what could have happened if the dice took a different roll.

    I’d be glad to participate in a comprehensive history of 1995 when and if someone tried to get one off of the ground. It still may be too soon. Players are still in place defending their turf.
    Not me though.
    To use the language of others…
    I’m not Image’s “shill” anymore.

    What counts is the future.
    The opportunities that lay in front of us.

    Well, that’s what I’m doing anyway.

  11. “What would have happened to the industry if Marvel HADN’T bought Heroes World?”

    Or, what would have happened to the industry if Image HADN’T gone exclusive with Diamond?

  12. FWIW, my takeaway from that interview is that 15 years later there are more better comics selling in more outlets than we ever imagined.

    So…a happy…middle?

  13. Larry, the one that always gets me is what if Marvel had bought a distributor that could have handled the business right away — that is, Diamond or Capital — rather than going for the budget option. If the SkyBox buyout money goes instead to buying a distributor with infrastructure, I wonder whether the two-player post-Capital system of late 1996 would have lasted a lot longer.

    Regardless, as you say, a lot of the spending on infrastructure probably still winds down — since no distributor is shipping the same comics, there’s no reason to fight to get them there first.

    I’ve got a lot of documentation, both public and internal, from that 1995 period — one of these years I’ll hopefully get more of it online.

  14. “Does anyone think it might be because of other factors like the rise of internet, gaming, the burst of narrowcasting cable stations, netflix and god knows what else?”

    or image and others flooding the market with subpar comics and variant covers. I think shitty comics had as much to with folks leaving comics for a time and I include myself in that list.

  15. A 1997 NYT profile of Steve Geppi and Diamond provided some numbers for the industry:

    Now, in an industry in which 300 publishers produce some 1,600 titles a month, Diamond delivers 1,300. Marvel’s distribution business, called Hero’s World, delivers 300 titles a month. [. . .]

    With the average price of comic books hovering near $3, American comics retailers average $250,000 to $300,000 in sales each year. [. . .]

    Then the inevitable bursting of that speculative bubble, coupled with demographic trends that analysts say mean fewer young readers, sent industry revenues plummeting to about $500 million last year from $1 billion in 1993.

  16. I can testify that Gary still prefers print media and would have played the violin breathlessly had he been on the Titanic, but that doesn’t change the reality that people don’t, to my knowledge, buy news monthlies of any kind anymore. It seems far more dream-killing-notable that he started Eros to keep up his habit of publishing non-viable print media (putting his dream’s time-of-death at 1990 and yet Chris Ware wouldn’t even be in the catalog for a few more years after that) than it does that in 2009 he would have to make the Journal twice-yearly. Just saying…

  17. The shitty Image Comics, amongst those of other publishers of the time, brought in speculators and created an enormous bubble.

    No one forced the industry to buy into the speculation bubble.
    Like all bubbles it was fueled by greed and lunacy.

    When the bubble popped in ’94, the people who came in…almost immediately fled the business.

    Pretty much everyone in the business found themselves over extended and in a cash crunch.

    Marvel set the distribution chain reaction in motion when they bought Heroes World in the aftermath of the speculation bubble crash.

    I believe that everything everyone else did was a defensive measure.
    Self preservation became the ruling impulse in the subsequent panic.

    Why each company made the choices they made were based entirely on self-preservation.

    The first rule of business is to stay in business.
    That what everyone did.

    Diamond outfoxed everyone else by being nimble and creative.
    It was in its self-interest to do so.

    It had nothing to do with the quality of the product.
    It was entirely about quantity–marketshare.

    The mission that the distributors were trying to accomplish was simple: replace as much of their Marvel cashflow (approaching 50% of their business) as quickly and easily as possible.

    I don’t think anyone pretended otherwise.
    The bigger the player–the better the subsequent deal.

    It wasn’t much more complicated than that.

  18. I remember that NYT piece — the “300 publishers produce some 1,600 titles a month” bit is open to misinterpretation. The 300 active publishers is right, but I believe the title number refers to the total number of catalog items each month, including backlist trades and recent comics available for reorder — absolutely NOT the number of new comics titles, which has never been anywhere near that high. Marvel published 47 new comic books in February 1997, seen here…


    …not 300 as the article says. Looking at Heroes World’s order form, it looks like the only way you get to 300 is with all the backlist trades, trading cards, licensed products, and line items for things like comics supplies (which I had forgotten Marvel offered).

    A billion is high for the estimates of 1993 I’ve seen — I think the figure we saw most often from insiders at the time was $850 million. (Though, of course, that was total volume shipped at full-retail; many of those comics never actually sold.)

    I agree with Larry’s synopsis on most points, adding only the role that the competing distributors’ battle for accounts played in producing the bubble. Stores were opening across the street from each other, stores that, in many cases, had little to no chance of success. I remember finding one in an office in a medical office building.

    To the actual topic of this thread — the Journal’s move — I wish them luck. I was in the print magazine market long enough to know how challenging it is; any model that works for anyone is a treasure.

  19. It is an unpleasant time for people in the magazine industry. PC Magazine, which I read for many years, recently become online-only. As uncomfortable as the ’90s comics bubble was, because people knew that it was a bubble that couldn’t last, one of the results for readers was a wider selection of comics and magazines to read.

    Kathy Guccione’s Omni Magazine is defunct. It apparently didn’t succeed as a purely online venture either. A memorial Web site reminded me that Omni published comics, too.


  20. I want to go on the record and say I reject the vast majority of Larry Marder’s analysis here, which I suspect to be self-interested, find obfuscatory in places and think either lacking in perspective or willfully limiting context.

    Unfortunately, I don’t have the time necessary to write a spirited response (nor would I have the inclination to post one to Heidi’s site). I know that’s lame but just one notion — that everyone stayed in business — would require a close analysis of just how the market was limited post-’96, how this affected the turnover-dominated category of self-publishers, how Denis Kitchen might have made a better go of it after the Crow 2 fiasco with multiple distributors, and what happened at companies at Black Eye and MU that did not survive this period.

    I agree with Larry an examination of that time period by an uninterested party could be something of great value, and I think a critical analysis of the system as it existed right then would be part of it. I would also go further to suggest that summary statements and cursory analysis made by parties involved during that time period do that eventual mission a disservice.