An editor at the LA Times has a pretty Debbie Downer take on the current comics scene:

What’s strange about this grim reprieve for the industry is that it is so hard to see in the popular culture. While half-century-old superheroes continue to dominate the dying medium of motion pictures, and manga and graphic novels have provided a transfusion for the dying medium of books, there’s precious little anecdotal evidence that comics are anything but moribund. If you take your kids to a comic shop (as I foolishly did a few weeks back), the cloying, creepy, did-I-accidentally-enter-a-porn-shop vibe will underscore just how empty and depressed the place is. Visit a full-service newsstand and the lone, ragged Green Lantern title brings home the grim news that there’s nothing left for the guardians of Oa to guard.


Hm, green Lantern reference. Always a calling card.

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1 COMMENT

  1. So, according to this writer, both books and movies are dying mediums? Really? I mean, I’d like to see his take on Harry Potter’s sales number come Saturday for that “dying medium”?

    I take my kids to my local comic shop just about every week. They love it, it’s more full of life and enjoyment for them than any toy store in the local area.

  2. Sorry, but he’s spot on. Comics are a shadow of the industry they once were. It takes real effort to find a comics shop, then be willing to be seen going in to the crap shacks.
    If you do take young kids, you expose them to gore, tits, and everything else inside. There’s no avoiding it even if you’re buying them the few kid centric titles (which are usually bland and poorly made).
    The American comics industry is squarely aimed at the kids who started collecting in about ’80-’85 and are now aging with the medium.
    The numbers may look good for movies and comics, but they are nothing compared to what they’ve been in the past.
    /sat on rose colored glasses

  3. There are a lot of great comic book stores out there (Atomic Comics, Golden Apple, Brave New World) but it seems that people only want to see the ones that suck, because it suits their need to be a smart ass. There really should be a panel at comic con about how a good store should look though. God know that there are still plenty of comic shops that do fit what LA Times man is talking about. That bull shit needs to come to an end.

  4. “Sorry, but he’s spot on. Comics are a shadow of the industry they once were. ”
    That is not what he said, he called it a dying medium which anyone with basic math skills can see is not true at all.

    Are comic sales lower than during the peak of the 90’s : Yes

    Are comics sales higher than they were after the “crash” : Yes

    Is the comics industry dying : No

  5. This writer is apparently a notorious complainer whose previous targets have included bloggers. But you have to cut him a little slack. I sure wouldn’t want to be working at the L.A. Times right now — it’s been plagued with controversies, staff changes, layoffs, and conflicts of interest for the past few years. A few details can be found here.

  6. Living or dying, it really sucks that they aren’t on newstands or spinner racks in grocery stores anymore. There is no comic book shop in my hometown of Pittsburg, Kansas, where I became a ravenous fan with strong opinions about which local grocery store had the best selection of new comics.

    How’s a baby nerd supposed to find them now?

  7. The root of the problem is distribution: comic shop owners who only buy what’s hyped, and comic shop owners who are content to play up the “cave full of sweaty geeks” angle. And Diamond certainly doesn’t help anything. I want comics in my supermarket, drugstore, convenience store, etc. You used to be able to follow a series regularly simply by visiting Circle K.

    Henrik: compare the numbers with something farther back, like 20 or 30 years ago. Low sellers even in the 70s were bringing in todays top selling numbers. 200K used to be the cancellation horizon, today it’s a top 5.

  8. Online?

    Seriously, there are a half-dozen really good online comic shops off the top of my head. Or if they feel like stealing, they can download them. Really, it’s not as hard to find comics if you’re looking for them. So concern for the “baby nerds” can be pretty much downplayed. One would assume a “baby nerd” knows how to work the Internet.

    If you’re asking about where new customers are coming from, this was pretty much answered by the time the ’90s ended. The big concern then was that no kids were reading comics, and so no new customers were entering the medium. Let me tell you, that isn’t true. New customers come to this medium every day. I’ve seen them at my shop. They’re sometimes teenagers, or in their twenties, and have never read comics before, but something drew them in. They liked the comic book movies and heard about the death of Captain America and that made them interested. They’re huge Buffy fans and so they came in for Buffy. Or Stephen King fans who came in for Dark Tower. Or they’ve heard good buzz on Y The Last Man, or Fables, or they want to see the graphic novel of 300.

    Comics ain’t dying, and the L.A. Times piece is shoddily researched, especially when you take into account how good some of the shops in the L.A. area are. As Christopher Moonlight said, the “porn shop comics shop” that people love to reference when they’re making their assertions that the industry are dying are as much a cliche as the smelly lives-in-his-basement fanboy.

    Do they exist? Surely. Are they the norm? I’m not so sure anymore. I can tell you that a good chunk of customers in my shop are indeed families with kids, and that they have no trouble with our clean, well-lit store with a big old section of kids comics available right up front. New comics from Marvel, DC, Archie and several other smaller publishers to boot, plus digest sized all ages comics that sell gangbusters for us.

    Look, we’re a niche, that’s true. But the direct market comic niche is relatively stable, especially compared to where it was in the ’90s, and it has been in a growth pattern. And even better, there’s a whole other side of the niche being developed in the bookstores, and those two aspects are feeding each other.

  9. Oh, for crying out loud, the reason there’s nothing to guard on Oa is because the Green Lantern Corps is in the middle of a cosmic war! An old fashioned, exciting, over-the-top superhero/supervillain conflict! There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s good clean fun, and Green Lantern fans are having a great time right now! Leave us and our happy little niche alone!

  10. I bought my first comics at a grocery store, and then bookstores. (my local shopping center had three bookstores with spinner racks.) Then I made the pilgrimage to The Dragon’s Lair in Omaha, and that fed my lust for eight years, as I graduated to independents like Concrete and Tales Of The Beanworld.
    Barnes & Noble and Borders sell comiccooks. Groceries and convenience stores less so. Marvel.com offers free previews online, and your friendly neighborhood librarian will be happy to show you where to find all sorts of good stuff!

  11. Henrik: From the second paragraph of the article: So it comes as quite a surprise to find that sales of comic books have been increasing steadily for the last five years

    Joe: From the first paragraph of the article: To find a sadder tale, you’d have to look to the never-ending death of the American newspaper.

    Goodness, folks. Read the article the post links to to avoid limp “zingers.” He acknowledges both of these points. (Not that there’s any rhetorical value in pointing out that newspapers are a dying medium.)

    The article is about dying media. And perhaps “dying” is a poor choice of words, but the fact is that to most people, comic books don’t matter one whit. The big graphic novel media adoration thing means nothing to them. I am hard-pressed to make people I meet and even my family understand what it is I do. (Typical family conversation — My brother: “I know the guy who owns Marvel Comics.” He pronounces it Marvelle. Me: “Marvel Comics is publicly owned.” Him: “Oh… well… uh…”) And what to us are big-name comic book creators? Go to the mall some time and ask if people know who Alan Moore or Warren Ellis or even Neil Gaiman are.

    We who work in the industry and are fans of the medium think about comics a lot and are around other people who do the same, so we have this insular perception that comic books matter. But in the broader popular culture — no, they don’t. Those works that have gotten wider attention — Maus, Persepolis, Fun House — did so because of the content of the work, not because of the medium. Content is what makes people pay attention. The dominant titles in the industry have been about the same damned thing for how long now? No wonder no one cares.

  12. Jennifer said: The dominant titles in the industry have been about the same damned thing for how long now? No wonder no one cares.

    You know, I’ve often accepted the idea that the reason the market has lost readers over the years was because of the Direct Sales shops and over reliance on Superheroes, but I’m not sure about that now.

    30 years ago, your Indy Market was what…Vampirella and Fabulous Freak Brothers?

    Now look at it. The Indy market is a huge sprawling beast with all sorts of different genres to pick from.

    But it doesn’t really seemed to have help comics gain traction in the *Real World* if people like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman are unknowns to Mom and Pop America.

    And people seem to eat up the Superhero movies don’t they? I mean there are 3 freaking Blade movies for pete’s sake?

    I’m really thinking it’s just a matter of people picking a passive entertainment medium over one that takes work (reading.)

    I’d like to see a chart with book sales over the last 20 years. I bet Book sales and Book chains have been on the decline as well. (Anybody know where I can find such a chart?)

  13. It would be interesting to see those numbers, Jim. Both Borders and Barnes and Noble are publicly traded companies, I believe, so they probably have quarterly reports. Someone with access to Bookscan could probably get those numbers, too.

    Here’s an article by the National Endowment for the Arts about a survey they did in 2004 that determined that fewer than half of adults read literature: http://www.nea.gov/news/news04/ReadingAtRisk.html (It defines “literature” as novels, short stories, plays or poetry.)

    The problem is that independent comics are not reaching those people left who *do* read as well as they should. SLG had some of its titles in Hot Topic stores fore a while, but they’ve stopped carrying comics. The graphic novel sections — outside of the manga section — in bookstores are usually tiny and unorganized. I am not sure if the graphic novel sections look like this because graphic novels sell badly or if the chains just aren’t trying to sell anything besides manga. It’s the same problem as in the direct market, only with superhero titles replaced by manga.

  14. Interesting discussion. The thing no one’s mentioned is that there’s just a tremendous amount more entertainment around than there was thirty years ago.* This means that — except for a breakout hit, which can still happen — EVERYTHING is “niche” now. Network TV viewerships are a fraction of what they used to be. A midlist category fiction novel sells less. That’s because there’s so much more to choose from.

    You can have a Harry Potter or a Lost, but that doesn’t make fantasy novels or network TV any less niche. And it doesn’t mean those categories are dying, either…just that they have to make changes to adapt to the increased competition.

    Jennifer, with regard to indy comics in bookstores: I’ve suspected for a while that eventually, those comics are going to settle into the pattern of sales for literary fiction — and that some people aren’t going to be too happy about it. Lit fiction is the biggest gamble in trade publishing. You can hit it big and have a bestseller; or you can have the lowest sales of any type of fiction, because you don’t have sf fans or mystery fans or what-have-you to fall back on. I don’t expect PERSEPOLIS to raise all the boats any more than THE CORRECTIONS helped any low-profile first novels. But on the bright side…you CAN hit it big. And one hit has been known to keep small book publishers in business for years.

    *And I know. Because if there’d been anything else on TV back then, I wouldn’t have been watching SPACE: 1999!

  15. Man, where do you poeple live?
    Every place I’ve lived there has been a friendly, bright, clean comic shop somewhere in town. Usually several. If you think all comic shops are dingy cavernous places with that guy from the Simpsons behind the counter, you need to keep looking.
    Most Indy Record shops are way worse.

    ps – BradyDale, There are great shops in Tulsa or Joplin.

  16. What? Man, Tim Cavanaugh can go suck a bag of dicks.

    This is just cynical dipshit doom & gloom wankery. All media are dying! Books, movies, comics, newspapers, the popular music industry! All moribund! Literacy is on the way out! So is the spoken word! People don’t have real conversations the way they used to back in WWII! Please.

    I mean, I’m a pop culture hater myself, but there’s a point you just have to step back and realize you’re not being critical, you’re just being a joyless cunt. This guy is just some message board lurker dickbag who happens to write for a Major American Newspaper.

  17. Jennifer de Guzman Says:
    “We … have this insular perception that comic books matter. But in the broader popular culture — no, they don’t. Those works that have gotten wider attention … did so because of the content of the work, not because of the medium. Content is what makes people pay attention. The dominant titles in the industry have been about the same damned thing for how long now? No wonder no one cares.”

    I understand this fully. Alas, I’ve been collecting pulp magazines for 25 years — and publishing pulp reprints for 15 — and that’s pretty much the perception. PULP magazines really helped shape pop culture, but they’re importance is usually ignored. Mention authors like Dashiell Hammett, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Max Brand, and Ray Bradbury, and the usual response (if people know their names) is, “Oh, well, they were MORE than just pulp authors.” And “Rear Window,” Cornell Woolrich’s masterpiece, is attributed to Alfred Hitchcock for the film by most people.

    At least the pulps published novels and short stories. Comics use the words/pictures format, and thus are more easily dismissed as “kid stuff” — usually by the people that eagerly await each new episode of “America’s Got Talent.”

  18. Well, I think part of this guy’s commentary on comics is right. Comics aren’t selling to kids, and I don’t think they care to try. Manga sells to all ages, but there are only so many people who are into the Japanese style and cultural POV.