jim shooterAt Comic Book Bin, Hervé St-Louis asks Is There a Steve Jobs in the Comic Book Industry?

In order for a similar persona to exist in the comic book industry, such a person would have to share Jobs’ equal business acumen, draw a legion of supporters and evangelists, be continually spearhead breakthroughs in the comic book industry, have a magnetic and inspiring personality, be a creative individual with the willingness to change and contest the rules. That person must be someone whose products are constantly copied by competitors. People must want to associate with the products from that individual in order to improve their own standing. That person must have a track sheet of successful endeavours and projects that establish its credibility. This author has looked at many individuals in the comic book industry and here is what I came up.

It’s a great question, although the list and analysis aren’t what WE’D write — and there is at least one person on the list that no one we’ve ever talked to has wanted to be like — but it’s a start. Who are the visionaries of the comics industry? Who are the FUTURE visionaries of the comics industry?


  1. Given that Steve Jobs has turned elevating style over substance into an art form, and has cultivated a truly enviable cult of personality around himself, I’d say the problem with comics is that it has too many Steve Jobses already.

    What comics needs is a Thomas Edison — level-headed, practical, and, more to the point, profitable.

    But everyone wants to be Tesla, which is a good way to be “cool” — and broke.

  2. Rantz Hoseley should be on the list, perhaps. Someone who can develop a system that enables the producers of comic books to economically publish novel-length efforts as (color art) novels, instead of serializing them first, would make an impact on the industry.


  3. Mark Waid and Chris Staros should have made that sort of a list. Rantz Hosely is a creator, editor and now inventor of the Longbox project so I’d suggest him since any ‘Steve Jobs for comics’ is likely going to bring some new technical innovation that leads to new distribution channels (or improved ones, anyway). As much as I’d hate to do it, that Platinum Comics guy should have been there too though I don’t think he deserves it, he should at least be in the conversation. I think I’d also have put Joey Manley on there even if it’s been way too long since the new ComicSpace was announced without much to show for it- WCN and the rest of his sites likely get tons of hits and he’s often trying to find the leading edge and innovate new ways of getting comics out to more people. Scott Kurtz should probably have been included.

    I’d also keep at eye out for some of the people blogging or podcasting about comics as some of them may very soon branch into other avenues (I’d already be interested to see if any creators notice a podcast effect and which ones can bring measurable sales increases).

    Regarding that jab at Apple, when you say ‘style over substance’ it pretends that Apple’s competitors copy it’s style when in fact it’s the substance they copy- nobody makes anything nearly as stylish as Apple and seldom even try. I also appreciate that Apple actually pays attention to user experience and what they need their machine to do, without forcing their customers to be programmers. These facts are what leads their customers to be seen as a cult since they appreciate their experience and often tell their friends about it. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone brag about their love of Windows XP.

  4. Comic Visionaries? Hmm, that is a very good question.

    Nope, no one comes immediately to mind. Maybe someone else will drop a name that will give me the “aha” moment, but the first people who come to mind are the usual Spokespersons.That is, the top guns of established companies who are slick, glib, and able to finesse the PR coverage around their company’s latest Big Multi-Team Event.

    Perhaps the lack of a visionary relates to the ownership of the comic companies. If they are owned by shareholders of media conglomerates, won’t that in itself limit their ability to promote visionary behavior? Will the Board endorse their actions?

    I would see entrepreneurial and inspiring behavior to come from a small group made up of innovative and driven creators and sales people who work together, who concentrate more on love of the finished product than market share, fame and PR.

    That stuff (market share, fame and PR) comes as a result of vision, it doesn’t precede it.

  5. Seems like that list is missing the guy who was the Steve Jobs of comics before Steve Jobs was the Steve Jobs of computers: Stan Lee.

    “…such a person would have to share Jobs’ equal business acumen, draw a legion of supporters and evangelists, be continually spearhead breakthroughs in the comic book industry, have a magnetic and inspiring personality, be a creative individual with the willingness to change and contest the rules. That person must be someone whose products are constantly copied by competitors.”

    Sounds like Stan’s efforts at Marvel in the ’60s, doesn’t it?

    (And, no, I’m not minimizing the efforts of his creative partners in any way by suggesting this.)

  6. If that’s the list that he came up with, then no, there’s not a Steve Jobs in the comics industry. And, no offense, but what is the founder of Viper Comics doing on this list?

  7. Paul Storrie gets my vote for best analogizer of the day! Stan Lee it is! Because Franklin Harris (above) is dead wrong: Steve Jobs understands that you need style to SELL the substance, but you need both for a great product. And that’s exactly where Stan Lee excelled, by making a great product and selling it as the cool thing that you’ve got to have if you’re cool, too.

    The parallel also fits in that Marvel, despite being the company everyone talked about in the 60’s, was actually a pretty small upstart for years even though they were the “cool” company. Stan’s sheer force of will, and his willingness to let creators do more and more cool new things, propelled Marvel to the front much in the way Apple is doing it today.

    So now what we need today is another Stan Lee. Not in writing style – but in vision and sales genius. I wonder if that’s even possible?

  8. Let me second (3rd? 4th?) for Paul Storrie’s nomination of Stan Lee. The reason this makes sense is because comic books are an older ‘technology’ than personal computers. About 40 years difference.

    If one were to really go into the roots, Will Eisner also fits the description. Keep in mind, Apple got into personal computers as they went from hobby to industry. So did Will, and he was an early creative and business innovator. He brought comic books, a spinoff of newspaper comic strips, back into newspapers with his inserts. He also had a real auteur influence on his creations in a way corporate owned characters didn’t.

    About 30 years into the history of personal desktop computers, it’s worth asking at what equivalent point in comics history they’re at. For instance, the desktop format is being overtaken by mobile tech like notebooks and telephones (!). Is this like comics in the early 50s, just before Wertham and the Comics Code strike? Will growing attempts by Communist China to force spyware onto all their domestic (only?) computers stifle the biggest new swath of market? Will personal computers become a curiousity, with smart phones and docking stations making it redundant and inconvenient? Will the US industry disappear in the next decade while foreign creators thrive (Acer, Asus, etc)?

    I’m not actually pessimistic about computer companies going the way of comics companies. It’s comic companies that suffer in this comparison. As everyone knows, they’ve repeatedly dropped the ball. Thankfully todays comic companies have learned from history and won’t repeat the same mistakes.

  9. And that’s exactly where Stan Lee excelled, by making a great product and selling it as the cool thing that you’ve got to have if you’re cool, too.

    I thought this was a discussion about someone who could help comics in the future, not a discussion of stuff that happened nearly 50 years ago.

    (And where are the Kirby partisans to claim Lee was all hype while Jack was the real genius when I need them?)

  10. I’m also a bit mixed on the balance of past 30+ years of accomplishments versus a visionary futurist.

    That said… I can’t see ANY visionary person leading such a fractured, diverse and sporadic market / industry. Today’s “rules” are all over the place compared to the computer industry… hell, even compared to our own industry just 10 or 20 years ago. So, in my opinion, it’s not a matter of “who” but of “when” will the industry come together to nominate a Steve Jobs-esque spokesperson.

    As noted in this very comment thread… there is ZERO consensus on who and what the qualifications would be for the position. Even for the products of a single publisher.

  11. Franklin, we have to look to the past sometimes for ideas of what will work in the future. It seems that none of the people on the list are as “Jobs-like” as Stan was, and perhaps if we have one talent/personality in the future to lead comics somewhere new, he’ll be more like Stan than any of the folks mentioned.

  12. Franklin: Since the list includes Jim Shooter, I doubt that it’s actually a discussion of who could help comics into the future. Taking nothing away from Shooter’s accomplishments in the past, I seriously doubt he’s in any position to lead us into the future.

    I’m not surprised to see Chris Ryall/IDW on there, considering that IDW has managed to nudge past Image (and Dark Horse?) in market share. I also think Ross Richie of Boom Studios is a guy to watch. Boom has been building some major momentum this past year.

  13. the only reason IDW “nudged” past Image is because they toss out a bunch of licensed books. Also, as was stated in the article, IDW is part of a larger entity.

  14. IDW and BOOM! are blazing the trail, using licensed product, digital distribution, and creative liberty to widen the public’s appetite for comics.

    Here are some (not all, discuss) areas that publishers need to exploit:
    Digital distribution. You hear about something, most likely you’ll research it on the Internet. You want a sample, or perhaps the entire thing. Digital files are the easiest and cheapest means of distribution, and can lead to sales in other formats.
    Licensed properties. The general public does not care about blue or orange or mauve power rings. Some may read that story, but if you can hook the reader with something they are familiar with (a biography, an adaptation, an eighth season), they’ll be more curious about the title.
    Bookstore distribution. The general public doesn’t know or care about comicbook stores. They do know about libraries, and they do know about bookstores. They’ll read an article about a Japanese comicbook about wine, and call the local bookstore, or search online. Libraries have the extra cachet of selection criteria. Most books are acquired because they are popular or notable.
    Robust websites. This is the clubhouse, the newsletter, the info desk. Some are better than others.

    Of course, the comics industry is littered with innovation. Eclipse, CrossGen, First… and so it goes.

  15. @Franklin Harris

    “What comics needs is a Thomas Edison — level-headed, practical, and, more to the point, profitable.”

    With all due respect… and I don’t mean this as an attack, but I think a Thomas Edison is the last thing comics needs. And in fact, I think we’ve already had a few Thomas Edisons too many.

    Please forgive, but it is well documented that Thomas Edison used violence and strong arm tactics to steal patents, physically accost competitors and buy illegitimate legislation in his favor.

    Edison ran a sweat shop where all his workers ideas were contractually turned over to him. He hired thugs to destroy movie studios who were using Italian film equipment instead of his own, plagiarized, technology (this, by the way, is where the phrase “independent film” comes from, it’s original meaning pertains to filmmakers not using Edison equipment).

    And the “Cool but broke” Tesla you mentioned earlier, made several valid claims that Edison stole some of his work. It is also well documented, even in the papers of the time, that he was a cruel and angry man who lashed out verbally and physically against anyone who contradicted him or threatened to expose his intellectual thievery.

    There are a few excellent, well-researched books on the real Thomas Edison, including, “Movie Made America”, which chronicles Edison’s gangster-like behavior and theft of several film tech. patents, allowing him to spread the, now well-established lie, that he invented cinema. And a slew of well-tagged info online.

    No, no more Edisons for comics, thank you. That’s turn of the century business, not a way into the future.

    Sorry to go off-topic.

  16. Matt, are you joking when you imply IDW has “cheated” by putting out licensed books to pass Image? Last I checked if people are buying the books it counts as a sale. Image has every right to pursue licensing if they want. In fact, Top Cow has published Tomb Raider comics which, in case you don’t know, is a licensed property. Top Cow has also licensed Marvel characters to use in their own comics. Image Central is also publishing “Dead Space” which is a licensed video game property.

  17. Not in the future, but Stan Lee is clearly one of comics’ visionaries.

    His latest projects have not gone down well, but his presence in the history of American superhero comics, movies, tv and interactive projects have been spearheaded by him as well. Maybe down the road, his presence there will prove what he’s tried to do over the years as well.

  18. @Joshua Dysart

    Yes, this is a bit off topic, and not this is not really about Edison and Tesla, except by very loose analogy.

    I could, actually, make the argument that Stan Lee was more of an Edison figure than a Steve Jobs figure. Both relied on others to do a lot of the heavy listing. Both got their ideas from others. And both ran very efficient in-house shops.

    None of these analogies is perfect, but they never are.

    Another thing that makes the Steve Jobs comparison seem irrelevant to comics — as least as far as the discussion so far has gone — is that Jobs has made his biggest impact of late in delivering content, not in producing it. Meanwhile, we’re talking about a “Steve Jobs” of comics who is still going to be delivering comics the same old way — on dead trees. Now, maybe if comics finds itself a Steve Jobs who revolutionizes how people get their comics, that’s a Steve Jobs worth having. But of the names floated, that’s not really what we’re getting at.

  19. Hey Frank,

    I’m glad you made a typo. I regularly slaughter the English language and I’d hate to be alone. : )

    Honestly, I think the whole exorcise is a bit silly. These sorts of comparisons often are. Comics is a beast completely unlike the industry that Jobs has achieved in, to whatever degree you feel he has achieved.

    We can be influenced by certain models of digital distribution, we can take inspiration in unique modes of thought, but I think this exact sort of exorcise, this identification game, actually compartmentalizes the conversation and deters us from thinking about the unique needs of comics and how we should move forward.

    I mean it’s fun to contrast and compare, to shuffle our high-profile movers and shakers around like figures on sports cards or something, but ultimately, I think we would do better to have a contextual debate about action as opposed to identifying some kind of Jobs analogous visionary.

  20. If you watch the awesome special “Triumph of the Nerds” you’ll understand what Steve’s about (small clip linked to below). Steve’s not a programer or an engineer… he made the connections and understood how it all fit together. Given that, all the creators suggested here are out…

    I personally would argue Chris Staros has the most potential to be the comics industry’s Steve…. but more inclusive and less mercurial.


    Also, that is a cool picture of Jim. So ominous!! :)

  21. Only in the comics biz will people insist on looking backwards when being asked to dream forward.

    But if one is looking at the past in order to ponder the future–to me the question always is–Who will have the intuition and vision to be the next Phil Seuling and Sol Harrison and create a new playing field like they did when they created the non-returnable direct sales market?

    As already noted Apple doesn’t create content. Apple offers superior platforms for the delivery of content. So the question is one of distribution of stories not the creation of stories.

    Comics has had two economic sales models so far.

    The first was the returnable newsstand distribution business.
    It lasted about 40 years.

    The second has been the non-returnable comic shop direct sales distribution model.
    So far it has lasted 30 years.

    What next?

    Beats me.
    But someone will come up with something.
    It may already be on the edges of our collective perception.
    There certainly are contenders out there shouting for attention.

  22. I know the Steve Job is a guy and we are looking for a comparaison but what strike me the most so far is that no women were mentionned. Does the leader of the comic book book industy has to be a man?

  23. Larry:

    It’s not so much looking backward when asked to look forward, so much as suggesting we’ve *already* had our Steve Jobs, so the analogy isn’t apt.

    Besides, given that Jim Shooter on the list as written, I’m not the only one who could be accused of looking back.