In these strange times, one thing is certain…it’s uncertain. We’re in a post pandemic world but what that means – among swirling economic factors, looming AI replacements, a wave of book bannings, punishing weather disasters and….well you get my drift.

The booming pandemic economy for comics is settling back into a new normal, whatever that is. David Harper took stock of comics retailers at SKTCHD in a piece everyone has been talking about. (Please subscribe! David is one of the few people doing this kind of writing about comics these days.) If you haven’t read it yet, just click the link, but the general tone among those surveyed is glum.

But it was clear there were storm clouds on the horizon, if not there already. It wasn’t because sales were down dramatically, or even across the board. It was because everything was harder and more exhausting than it had been before, with several retailers not even understanding how they came out of 2022 ahead. While success was there, it often felt tenuous. It’s like Bruno Batista from Dublin’s Big Bang Comics put it at the time: “The uncertainty is bigger than ever” for retailers.

They were hopeful, of course. Comic retailers are a hardy bunch, passionate individuals eager to do their job and do it well. But doubt was seeping into the picture. Shops were surviving or even thriving in some cases. They just didn’t always feel very good about it.

If that was the case then, then the bad vibes have only gotten more pervasive since. Just as before, it isn’t because everyone’s sales have evaporated. Some shops are level or even up from 2022, albeit fewer than before. It’s just a lack of faith in publishing partners and the material itself is taking hold, particularly when it comes to single issues. That’s for good reason. Much of it isn’t working. More than that, the job has gotten harder, and the margins tighter. That was more palatable during the boom times of 2021. Higher costs are easier to deal with when everything was selling. But as Joe Field of Concord, California’s Flying Colors Comics put it to me, sales shifting back towards pre-pandemic levels but with post-pandemic costs is “not a good recipe” for success.

That pre-pandemic sales to post pandemic costs is something we’re all dealing with and it’s no fun. There’s also the general glut of content everywhere, as Batista put it brutally: “70% of the publishers could disappear tomorrow, and 90% of the customers wouldn’t even notice.”

I’ve chatted with a few folks since the piece came out who eye-rolled or pointed to success stories, and “better than 2019” is still true for the industry at large, but there’s no denying something is up.

One of the biggest issues I hear over and over is “We need a new Saga!” That undeniably addictive hit that everyone talks about is getting harder and harder to launch. It’s not a knock on the talents involved. Everywhere you look there are incredible creators making comics that would have been groundbreaking lightning flashes in a smaller industry.

It’s just harder and hard to stand out.

And looming over it all: younger audiences moving to manga/webtoon style storytelling.  (Aside: the viral tweet of a well stocked manga section next to a meagre graphic novel stand is from a now suspended twitter account. Always screenshot, people.) Marvel and DC are aware of this, with their tentative branching out into alternative storytelling styles, and PRH is right on it, but abandoning the traditional comics audience isn’t the answer either.

The piece did point to some success stories: The Transformers launch at Skybound has been a success, and Dawn of DC has been a much needed hit, lifting series other than Superman and Batman. But retailers fret that DC’s two month Knight Terrors event will stall that momentum. And a sea of well made but interchangeable new series from [name of publisher] are not exciting fans. Finally, rising prices, as with the $9 Ultimate Invasion, are a real pain point.

So what’s to be done and where do we go? Next week’s SDCC should be full of conversations on that topic (and a lack of big media competition should make it even easier to focus on). A few Twitter threads also advanced some ideas. (Sorry, twitter is in the shitter, but until BlueSky or Threads have hashtags and threading, it’s still where we’re at.)

Skybound brand manager Morgan Perry had some thoughts:

Clean Metadata, Clear Communication, and Purposeful Publishing Plans are keys to increasing sales overall for everyone, and publishers are in control of that.

Clean Metadata starts w/ the publisher. Do your comps make sense? Are your Bisacs correct? Do you have Advance Diamond Codes/Lunar Codes and UPCs in your announcement? Are your covers finished, approved, & available for solicits?

If the answer is no, prepare for lower orders.

Are you Clearly Communicating with retail & distro partners? Are you communicating frequently? Do you actively listen to them? Are you stress-proofing your rollout & new initiatives?

I often say I am Doctor Strange, looking into every timeline for where it all goes South.

I think a lot of folks don’t actively listen to retailers on the ground when issues are presented.

1. Because I think a lot of folks think they know how things are.

2. And Active listening forces you to take accountability and engage. That can be uncomfortable.

Is the Publishing Plan Purposeful? Are variant covers high ratio and seemingly random or is there a creative theme that actually drives collectability & excitement for retailers & fans. Does the plan include targeted social/pr rollouts driving discussion & speculation?

Does your plan include active engagement with creative on the project for both pre-marketing and post-mortems? Are you aware the market discourse about orders & more importantly, sell through to manage expectations & contextualize missed goals?

These are all questions I ask myself for every launch (in addition to many others), but a strong launch starts with those three things and if well executed (and on schedule), it can result in the order numbers publishers want & the sales to customers retailers want.

Retailer Ryan Higgins weighed in:

Lots of good stuff in here (including some comments by me!). I’m not too concerned for shops, these things bounce back and forth all the time. If I was a small press comic creator, though–especially if you’re expecting that big licensing payday–I’d be a bit worried.

Bruno @TheBigBang‘s comment of “70% of the publishers could disappear tomorrow, and 90% of the customers wouldn’t even notice” is spot-on, but this has kinda always been the way it is? Lots of books being made for no one.

For my weekly crowd, when things get tough, they drop anything on the edges. That usually means most indie titles and small mini-series and side books at Marvel and DC. They keep buying Batman and Amazing Spider-Man.

A few years ago I strongly considered dropping almost all non-Marvel/DC single issues as the market just totally evaporated for them. Then 2020 hit and everything started selling again. Now we’re back to where we were where almost all those series are sub-only after #1.

(and before any fucking c*micsg@te fucks jump in here, no, all the “woke” Marvel and DC comics continue to sell fine off the shelf and to subscribers)

So yeah, small press stuff is hard to move in-store. Even Image, IDW, and companies we’ve had success with in the past, the numbers aren’t great! I don’t know what the answer is, customers dictate what shops carry. If no one buys it, we don’t stock it.

That said! I hinted at some big changes coming to ComicHub soon that miiight actually help pretty significantly with a few of these stocking problems. Hoping it all works out.

With an even more disruptive take, former Marvel and Amazon exec Bon Alimagno wrote:

If pre-paid pre-orders were the norm in the comics industry (like EVERY OTHER INDUSTRY In 2023) retailers wouldn’t have to keep guessing what customers want. But no one listens. We embrace the hardest possible path and then complain about the resulting pain, like it’s a surprise.

All of this comes as the ongoing WGA and now SAG-AFTRA strikes are completely resetting the landscape for streaming media whose trickle down has been fueling much of the comics industry’s expansion over the last few years, as this “Peak TV is over” piece discusses:

There is no doubt that the TV content landscape will be very different once the strike is settled. The work stoppage has set off a domino effect among delayed shooting schedules that will complicate the best-laid plans of networks and streamers for months, if not years. But even without the strike-induced disruption to the content pipeline, the volume of scripted series orders is expected to drop by double-digit percentages in the coming years.

In 2022, mainstream TV networks and platforms delivered a record high of 599 total English-language adult scripted TV series, according to the annual industry benchmark compiled by FX Networks. That compares with 182 in 2002, the year FX announced its arrival as a major player with the police drama “The Shield.” The success of “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” — two beloved dramas that transformed the fortunes of the once-sleepy movie channel AMC Network — added more demand in the late 2000s among cable networks that were then flush with profits. In 2012, just before “streaming” became synonymous with “television,” the industry’s aggregate original series count hit 288, per FX.

So yeah…nobody knows anything.

I’ve written many of these industry overview pieces over the years and I usually end with some variant of “content is king.” And it still is and will always be. But the delivery systems have been built up into unstable structures by greed and the need for endless growth. They’re like those crazy AI-made treehouses I see all over my IG feed: they’re pretty but impossible. Many of these problems are the product of a system built on the start-up mindset that sees success as building something great to sell off so it can be destroyed by the need for endless profits.

Comics, being a chronically underfunded and low-profit margin industry, have never been built on that idea. We’ve seen tech money creep in a little but where are Substack and Zestworld now? Many comics publisher in the DM has taken on some kind of investment money and as the IDW story shows, it doesn’t always go well. Most people (even publishers) stick with this industry because they love it, not because it’s a cash cow. Certainly that’s why most retailers stay the course. 

As I approach this year’s SDCC, I keep feeling that the 2022 show was the last of its kind, and 2023 will be the beginning of a new era. Certainly without the big stars and presentations in Hall H, it’s going to be a comics show first and foremost. All of the old systems are breaking and evolving. It’s a time to be bold and listen to new ideas. You can bet that all of these issues are going to be endless discussed on panels and at dinners and parties. I’ll let you know what I find out.





  1. clickbait, headline. Have you become Bleeding Cool? Our store will beat our 2022 numbers by the end of July. By the way , 2022 was our best year in 30+ years of owning a store. Higgins is correct , most people buy DC and Marvel, but it has always been this way. There are 12+ stores within a half-hour max , from my store. We talk all of the time, 6 or 7 are reporting the same thing. DC sells , Marvel-Core sells , Manga Does Not sell in any of our stores, those buyers prefer Wal-Mart type stores. Evergreen Trades always sell (mostly DC) Watchmen, Sandman, anything with Batman , nearly anything with Superman, Green Lantern (Johns), Doomsday Clock , anything by King , Taylor , Johns , Waid’s DC stuff , Snyder’s DC stuff. Creators need to learn, most buyers buy by Brand. People want to buy Snyder when he is working for DC, anything else, they pass. Lemire’s Dark Horse material would sell 10X better , if published by DC. Likewise with Mark Russell , who needs to get all of his books under the DC imprint.

  2. Manny suggests creators take their ball to DC, who stopped publishing creator-owned books with the death of Vertigo. Lemire published by DC may sell better, but then WBD would own it. I bet Lemire makes more off his creator-owned books than he does his WFH, because if he didn’t he’d be on a lot more superhero books. Creators know people buy by brand, which is why they do Marvel and DC until they build themselves a solid enough fan foundation to launch the projects they really care about.

  3. I…I’m incredulous that Manny thinks creators aren’t looking out for their best interests by not working for Marvel or DC. How can you run a store for 30+ years and still have no idea how things work.

    You say you’ll beat 2022 by the end of July…prove it. Let’s see some numbers.

  4. The industry is the way it is, due to the wishes of the publishers and retailers.

    The industry decided a long time ago that it was better to focus on “mature readers” who can afford to spend much more money on comics. The industry decided that comics were going to be very niche and that is how things have played out. If money gets tight, they can always raise prices. The hardcore collectors will still buy. They don’t buy by brand, they buy out of habit.

  5. “You say you’ll beat 2022 by the end of July…prove it. Let’s see some numbers.”
    . A comic that sells twoa total of copies worldwide can be profitable if the price is high enough,
    Besides, who cares about money? No ones really sells comics to make a profit.That’s greed. Greed is bad. Voluntary poverty is good.

  6. Not that anyone is voluntarily in povery. If anyone is in poverty is is because management is mistreating them.

    The industry is doing great , otherwise.. The future of movie adaptations based on comics is uncertain but that is due to GREED. Management needs to stop thinking about how they can make more money and pay everyone better.

  7. Why did Zaslav give DC (publishing), a huge budget increase. And promote Jim Lee??? They are the only division in the Warner/Discovery portfolio to show a profit and also post year to year increases , going back to 2016. Facts don’t lie. One only has to look at employee cuts, and DC publishing only had more then a handful. Jim Lee is running tight, profitable company, and oh yeah , Jim has the green light to sign exclusives , and long term one’s , at that.

    Thank you , Jim Lee
    the summer crossover (based on the first couple of weeks of sales) is huge and most importantly , a good read
    Mark Waid , GWW , The 2 Tom’s , Geoff , Chip , Ram V, Josh, Mark R, PK Johnson , Priest , Venditti , I am sure I am missing someone
    but this is the most solid , of a group of writers that DC has had ever.

    Plus the rumor is Grant is coming back!! for 2 different series

  8. “One of the biggest issues I hear over and over is “We need a new Saga!” That undeniably addictive hit that everyone talks about is getting harder and harder to launch. It’s not a knock on the talents involved. Everywhere you look there are incredible creators making comics that would have been groundbreaking lightning flashes in a smaller industry.

    It’s just harder and hard to stand out.”

    If people know American comics exist and avoid them and buy manga, then it IS a knock on the talent.

    I want to know where all these “incredible” creators working for minimum wage are because they sure aren’t in the American comics industry anymore. No one can name an artist a large swath of collectors like who isn’t old or dead. Just as was the case 20 years ago, there is too much emphasis on writers “pushing the envelope”, while trying to write what they think people who don’t like super-heroes or comic books will find respectable.

    People who visit this site are having a hard time accepting that many younger readers are rejecting what the American comics industry is producing.

  9. we have near 800 people on are reserve/sub boxes
    1/2 of these people are under 25
    the most telling quote in the original article “70% of the publishers could disappear tomorrow, and 90% of the customers wouldn’t even notice”

    I have to agree , 400+ people in our store have “Batman” on their hold list
    200+ have “Amazing Spider-Man”
    100+ have all Batman related titles
    100+ have all Superman related titles

    people enjoy buying what everyone else is buying
    the same way it is with Movies , TV , etc

  10. So why not just ask for prepay then ? Seems like the no-nonsense approach if people ask for pull list reservations they never pick up or just ignore. I wouldn’t order anything on Amazon without filling in my credit card details and if I made an appointment with a doctor and don’t show up there will be a fee. How is comics world any different… Even before the direct market, returnability was a privilege that hardly any other industry has.
    Also, “another Saga” ? Really ? an over-hyped series that will go nowhere and fizzle out like every other Vaughan series before ? Sure, why not…
    Also, stop buying variants and they will go away. It’s that simple.

  11. Sure, content is king. But regardless of your content, accessibility is key. Is it easy to obtain? Is it affordable? As comic books evolved into a premium item the working class family was largely priced out. A comic book used to be a widely affordable item that poor children might obtain; these days it’s too expensive for the college graduate adult male that it’s prioritized towards. So many threads in the tapestry and all of them are self inflicted wounds.

  12. This site can never, ever seem to balance reporting the news, with the need to lecture the reader from a position of assumed self-importance and objective rightness. See also The Comics Journal, which disappeared so far up its own behind that I usually think the truth is the exact opposite of whatever propaganda they’re spewing out on a given day.

    The problem doesn’t lie with any one publisher or distributor. The problem is with the comics industry itself and how thing have been accepted to be run for decades, and unless that changes- mainly by getting the same old dinosaurs out of power- it’ll persist. By the old dinosaurs, I mean the same Quesada cronies still at Marvel, the Merklers at DCBS/Lunar, the usual retailers always wanting the spotlight with their terrible ideas for how the industry should be saved which conveniently involves lining their coffers, and so on and so forth.

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