AmericanvirgincoverA few disparate threads which, taken together, stick a thermometer straight up the rectum of the comics industry. Sales are good, but is the patient really healthy?

Over at Newsarama the cancellation of AMERICAN VIRGIN is announced. With TESTAMENT already cancelled, and sales on EXTERMINATORS at about the same level, every recent Vertigo launch except DMZ and JACK OF FABLES lingering at very low levels on the sales chart, you have to wonder what you have to do to sell a new book these days. Vertigo’s recent monthly launches are a diverse and interesting group of titles with proven creators, and compare favorably with any period in recent Vertigo history. But they just can’t catch a break. AMERICAN VIRGIN writer Steven Seagle examines why the book failed in his piece, which covers all the bases:

Doing A Good Book Is Not Enough – You can see what the reaction is from people who actually read American Virgin. And yeah, before the naysayers pop up to post “Well, I hated it,” as they inevitably feel compelled to do – let me just say I didn’t really cherry pick too much here. What you read above is what is out there for the most part. And while I’ve known some creators who ask people to “pimp their rides,” to the best of my knowledge I don’t personally know any of the kind reviewers above – who I thank for their support. They just seemed to really like the book we were doing. But that wasn’t enough.

A Great Launch is Not Enough – Our first issue not only sold relatively well, but it actually sold out a four thousand copy overprint. American Virgin #1 clocked in at around 24,000 units (you never get that from these charts everyone analyzes month in and month out). Our second issue sold out too, and while I thought something would be made of the sell-outs, nothing was. Our bad – a lost opportunity to get some extra juice. And very quickly – despite really great reviews and buzz – and I mean very quickly, we were down to half that amount, and falling. I didn’t worry, because there was a lot of great press about the book and I thought, much like some other launches of the time, we’d get our rebound from the reviews and the release of the collections. But the reviews dwindled off and the second collection never seemed to come out until the writing was on the wall.

What is enough? Who knows.

Simondarkthap2Or are the books REALLY good enough? Over at The Savage Critic(s), Douglas Wolk touches on the difficulty in launching new characters in a review of the first issue of SIMON DARK:

More to the point, this qualifies as Awful, because there is nothing in the story that makes me want to read #2. {snip]

Now. Think about the first issue of TRANSMETROPOLITAN, with Spider Jerusalem coming down from the mountain. Think about the first issue of ALIAS, with Jessica Jones showing us exactly how her self-loathing works and what it’s driven her to (but, crucially, not where it came from). Think about the first issue of BONE, with its swan-dive into a world of whimsical invention. SIMON DARK has just as much space as any of them, but Niles’ script doesn’t have any kind of hook that’s going to lead the story forward thematically–the closest it’s got is the mystery of what’s up with Simon’s “straps” and who Geo-Populus are, and it doesn’t give us any reason to care about either.

In the comments section, readers wonder about the most recent launch of a totally new character that lasted more than two years, and the only ones anyone can come up with are RUNAWAYS and ALIAS. That’s outside of imprints like Wildstorm, Icon and Vertigo, of course, but it’s a pretty dismal track record when the only book of new characters that has lasted more than two years was published more than five years ago.

Civil-WarBut it’s not just the imprints that are flailing. Up at the top of the charts, where crossover madness reigns, there’s some burnout too. Greame alerted us to this thread at Millarworld: The state of the industry! in which Mark Millar himself quizzes readers on what they are buying:

As someone who literally waited on a phonecall from my editor on Superman Adventures every month to hear if my one and only gig was getting canned due to low sales it’s something of a preoccupation of mine. So I always like to do these little checks. Obviously, I’ve been insanely lucky for the last few years and always sell around the 100K mark. But these sales have been edging up on more recent projects last year and the trade numbers are increasing all the time. The retailers I know are all very happy and the companies themselves seem to be doing better and better business. But I still hear concerns and talking to some people on the fiscal side of the industry I’ve heard that under-performance from some of the majors has meant that, although Marvel sales are very good, overall industry sales are slightly disappointing over the past 12 months. They’re still good, but not where they should be. And so I’m curious about your own buying habits.

While Millar’s own buying level is up thanks to increased purchase of indies, many readers note they are dropping books, although for what exactly, it’s not entirely sure.

Tarzan5ADDED: Tom independently grabs the same thermometer:

Without as many kids or adults entering into the market to replace any readers that might bleed off — or eventually die — superhero comics have to sustain their audiences for a much longer time. At some point in all the relaunches and re-calibrations and re-packagings it seems logical that you really do start to run out of fresh, original stories to tell. This would also likely be the case for similarly archetypal, popular characters like Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan if they had less of a canon supplemented by a bunch of satellite works, and instead had as their core identity a giant, ongoing and relentless canon of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of stories. Even Charles Schulz, whose 50-year core artistic effort lies at the heart of an even more widely cast popular experience with multiple entry points, shifted perspectives and emphases within Peanuts and had the luxury of only incremental narrative progression on a day to day, year-to-year basis.

We need new characters. And where are they appearing? The web, the web, the web. Adapt or die.


  1. “A few disparate threads which, taken together, stick a thermometer straight up the rectum of the comics industry.”

    I’m not smart enough to know the answer to the modern comics industry’s ills, but I *do* know that the world needs more rectal thermometer jokes, so thanks for that, at least…

  2. Simon Dark is a mainline DC title, isn’t it? That’s what makes it seem totally out of left field–at Vertigo, new properties have at least had a fighting chance, but new titles featuring new characters at either of the “shared universe” lines are even less successful. And then you get into issues of work for hire and creators’ unwillingness to hand over new characters to Marvel and DC. Meanwhile, independent titles like Mouseguard and Casanova have had successful launches (though nowhere near 24,000 shipped, I don’t think). And I’m sure Jeff Smith’s new title will do quite nicely as well.

    As far as those blurbs, a lot of them seem to be excerpted from reviews of the title from some point well into its run. I don’t read the vast majority of these sites, but the reviews I did read for the early issues were generally pretty negative. Could it be that the people still talking about American Virgin 1+ years after launch were devoted readers?

  3. Could the answer lie in doing original GN’s that go directly, or indirectly, to the book market of Barnes&Nobel/Borders? It seems that the established characters are set while new things seem to thrive as orginal pieces in these markets. Mouseguard being the example that I’m thinking of. Pride of Bagdad being another example.

  4. Ugh. Every one of those Vertigo titles you mention is so “mediocre mainstream” it hurts. Not oneo f them has any genuine spark or the creative vision a title needs to get a toehold in the market.

  5. American Virgin was awesome. I actually passed on it originally but picked it up after reading a an article about it in…*blushes* Penthouse. Calling it and DMZ mediocre mainstream is pretty harsh. At least it doesn’t make me want to cry in my cereal every morning like a lot of the “popular” indie stuff.

    Plus is anything in comics really mainstream? Such a tiny fraction of the population reads comics, even for characters everyone knows like Superman/Spiderman.

  6. I’m with Marc D. here in I wondering if the problem is in serialization. If Vertigo had decided to forgo issues and sold American Virgin as a graphic novel, would it have worked out better? But that’s the model. The model is to create something and keep it going until it can’t go any longer. Sometimes, if it works out, you can keep it going for sixty years or more.

    That’s why I find the “We need more characters” comment so interesting. Whereas Heidi recently focused on “story” (sorry to bring it up!) now it is “character.” Characters are important in “mainstream” comics because the model is to create a character and then to keep on making up stories about that character for as long as possible. But are the new titles from Vertigo, their quality aside, suited to that model?

    The ongoing adventures of a single character has a great pedigree (I love Sherlock Holmes, m’self) and is still widely popular (ahem, Naruto) but if comics are going to break out of the niche they’re in, should that be the model we aspire for? Maybe we shouldn’t be asking how we can make floppies sell better but whether floppies are a supportable format.

    We’ve already pretty much given up on series at SLG. They can’t support themselves in the direct market. Aside from the Disney licensed comics, Rex Libris is the only regularly scheduled print series we have left. Interesting that the declining sales of floppies might be extending into DC and Marvel sales now.

  7. Conventional wisdom has always been that the sale of floppies underwrite the trades. Even sales of 10,000 copies, say, would help defray the creative costs — page rates, production — and make the trades more profitable.

    I guess, in the case of SLG, that floppy sales of around — I’m guessing but let’s say 1-2K — are NOT enough to defray the costs of producing and soliciting this format.

  8. I can’t comment on the current Vertigo titles as I read VERY little as of late due to $$, but my other question is there anything that has been created since, say 2000, that has lasted more than 5 years?
    I think Invincible and Walking Dead are getting there and there’s no sign of a decline for them.
    Can it also be said that this business is ALWAYS changing?

  9. Back in the early ’90s, I used to buy a healthy number of Vertigo books — SANDMAN, HELLBLAZER, SHADE THE CHANGING MAN, ANIMAL MAN, DOOM PATROL, KID ETERNITY, SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATER, BOOKS OF MAGIC, and so on. These days, however, the only Vertigo books I’m buying is HELLBLAZER and trade collections of the aforementioned series whenever they appear.

    Nothing from Vertigo has really appealed to me since THE INVISIBLES ended. I almost picked up THE VINYL UNDERGROUND until I flipped through it at my friendly neighborhood comic store and saw how mediocre it looked. If EX MACHINA, DOKTOR SLEEPLESS, BLACK SUMMER or DESOLATION JONES had been Vertigo titles, I would have gladly bought them from Vertigo instead of WildStorm or Avatar, but Vertigo doesn’t seem interested in these types of concepts anymore. Their loss is someone else’s gain, I suppose.

    And if nothing else, Vertigo’s decline apparently allowed Animal Man to return to the main DC Universe, so that’s another plus right there.

  10. I would be really excited to see good comics move out of the realm of serialization. I think there’s still a place for serial works, but as more of a cheap fix rather than for the development of a great story. Kinda like television versus movies (though I realize there are occasional television shows that buck this theory of medium).

    Even though serialization may defer the cost of collection, I think a lot narrative-driven books suffer from being forced to have chapters of fixed length. And a constant complaint in the comics community is against the nothing-happens middle chapters in story arcs.

    I loved that the bulk of Sparks (an SLG book) was published at once and outside of serialization. Blankets would have been pretty tiresome if chapters were released monthly or bi-monthly. Something like Bone would have greatly benefited, I think, had it not been serialized, and would have been a better product than the already amazing work that it is.

    I’ve personally dropped out of the floppy-purchasing market, waiting for collections. I simply cannot justify spending my income on floppies anymore. Unfortunately, it feels like companies extend or discontinue series based on the performance of their serializations – which makes me feel like my need to wait-for-collection of good series is actively contributing to the cancellation of worthy series (Hard Time, I’m looking at you).

    Further, I often even wait for two or three collections to be released before buying the first trade of a series – because I fear involving myself in an interesting story only to have it fold untold (Paradigm I’m looking at you). And when I find a book has been collected, I breathe a sigh of relief, if I have no real reason to expect its collection (Troy Little’s Chiaroscuro, I’m looking at you).

  11. I have to agree with Jennifer – the floppy format is really just on its last legs. That Marvel and DC are still experiencing (limited/debatable) success with this format is mostly due to the fact that they are pulling some easy triggers with Civil War, World War Hulk, Final Crisis, etc..

    AFTER the dust settles on those *events* just how well will the peripheral books still be selling? I think one only has to look at the books that are not associated with said events to get a notion of what the future has in store for the floppy market.

    The future of graphic literature is indeed on the web, but in what format, I’m not sure. I champion Digital Comics and distribute them for free on my (SLG has a great collection of such comics at too) – feel free to check them out!

    – Jim

  12. Wasn’t there a big news story recently about how few books people read today? Something like 4 out of 5 people dont read any books and the one out of five that does read, reads an average of 3-4 books per year. (thats from memory)

    That’s book books. Like words and no pictures. Why do we debate over and over (for decades) that the end is near? We know the end is near. When I grew up comics were much less expensive than the 3 dollar average today. Make them affordable and they will be more marketable. Less dollars per issue but they would make up the revenue in quantity.

    And a general related question, why hasn’t Marvel or DC launched a reading initiative with public schools to get kids reading comics? A one hour presentation about comics followed by a few freebies given away followed by a stack of the next issue for sale at the school store. They need to start increasing awareness and building the market before the comic companies really do see some tough times.

  13. hmm.. could this not be a temporary thing? The pool of floppy readers is only so deep and Marvel & DC are doing a really good job of getting them to buy the event books and all their tie ins, leaving every other title with less readers to go around.

    It will be curious to see what happens when the floppy readers get tired of the events and stop buying them. Will they spend that money on other books? And if they do, will it be in floppy or trade format?

    Personally I think it’s just non-superhero readers prefer to read in trade format and what we’re seeing is more of the same, it’s just now that the remaining non-superhero floppy readers are getting so low they can’t support a floppy title anymore – with a few exceptions remaining.

  14. I’d also say that there is actually more visible, quality, adult work in print right now that is widely available than there has ever been before and people’s reading habits aren’t as limited to simply what is available as new work.
    This might sound like a strange side-point, but I suspect that this does have more impact than anyone would really think. Personal example – I know I would have unquestionably bought 100 Bullets and Loveless diligently every month 10-12 years ago, but can’t even finish library copies of them in todays market. 10-12 years ago those titles would have stood out of the pack in a big, big way. The genres being worked in and the level of competence they are done with would have been enough for me to keep up with them. I loved comics and I loved anything that felt ‘new’ or ‘different’ or was at least striving to do more/better/etc. Now? There is a strong enough diversity of product that I can comfortably say that I freakin’ HATE Azzarello as a writer, that I won’t read his books, and there are still 20-30 other books out there that are just as adult, pulpy, sophisticated, etc. for me to enjoy.
    I know that I would not have stuck with Bone, Strangers In Paradise, or Love and Rockets as long as I did if they were being published in today’s market. Those are all titles that I kept reading because their distinct voice and passion made them stand out above everything else I saw in the market at the time, and there was so little else available that was even trying for the levels they were trying for that I was able to overlook elements that bugged me about them. Bone I might have stuck with, because there wasn’t much that bugged me. I just wasn’t very invested up until the Cow Race. Love and Rockets and SiP though? Man do those have some clunky, awful bits in their first couple dozen issues. Stuff that there is no way I’d put up with anymore. Why pay for a book that shows potential when there are any number of masterpieces that I haven’t read on the shelf competing for those dollars?
    I don’t think that Preacher would be as big a hit in today’s market.
    I don’t think that Transmetropolitan would.
    Even if they would, Vertigo would probably not be publishing them.
    Vertigo’s emphasis seems to be veering more literary and less pulpy right now and I doubt that either of those titles would fly.
    The combination of having more works in print to compete with, more publishers dealing with the type of material they are known for and the fact that their new books have less immediate/high concept appeal than their past hits seems to me to be what is leaving Vertigo screwed right now. In their heyday they were the only game in town for color, high-production-value, widely circulated, adult comics. They would have been the only place creators like Brubaker, Ellis, The Dabel Brothers, Fraction, Bendis, Ennis, Johnathan Hickman, or Gerard Way could have taken their self-created/creator owned work and gotten anything approaching the wide release and production values they all get today with publishers OTHER than Vertigo.
    Scalped is fantastic. American Virgin is great. DMZ is really, really good.
    But, there are a lot more titles out there competing for their readers than there were not that long ago. Including the titles that us longtime readers see as old or finished. New readers that haven’t read Y or Fables or Sandman or Watchmen or Transmet or Preacher yet are probably going to get directed towards those and burn through those books long before they even think of picking up a monthly issue of something new.

  15. I’ve been hearing that the comic industry is dying for 10+ years. It’s still chugging along and the sales seem to be up over all. I’m tired of the naysayers and the negativety. Comics are a wonderful subculture that IS growing compared to years past.

    It is so easy to declare what is wrong with something (think of fellow employees at whatever job you work at), how about praising /celebrating what’s right? C’mon folks, take the high road. :)

  16. I think that Vertigo’s upcoming slate of new projects is very telling in relation to the failures of its recent launches. After Brian Wood’s Northlanders, there does not seem to be much of a push for original concepts. The Unknown Soldier, House of Mystery, Madame Xanadu (even the recently launched Un-Men series): all of these are pre-existing DC properties, much like those that Vertigo began with. I get a strong sense that Vertigo is going back to square one in the hopes that what worked 15 years ago will work again.

    On the state of serialization and Vertigo, Crossing Midnight is another series that isn’t doing very well, and I thought that the first issue had more than enough hooks to attract readers. However, in retrospect, I think this series missed its best possible target audience by being published in serial form. Instead, this should have been either the cornerstone of the Minx line as a series of $10 small trades or the beginning of a bookstore manga initiative by Vertigo in the same format as the Minx books.

  17. Although many people had recommended Sandman, I did not buy it because I thought it horror. Then Sandman month happened, I read the Special, and spent a lot of money buying the three trades and then the back issues.
    DC’s backlist sells nicely at my B&N. Transmet, Doom Patrol, Preacher, Invisibles… I handsell the good stuff, which includes some superheroes, and the rest sorts itself out in the weekly sales reports.
    Teen and adult titles will be produced online, with the costs paid by ads and/or subscriptions. Reader and reviewer reactions will determine paper editions.
    I suspect that Final Crisis will return the DCU to the Silver Age paradigm of standalone stories, which will encourage newsstand sales and casual readers. This would allow for more flexible scheduling and production, since almost every story would be like an inventory story. Creators could take their time producing good work, since deadlines would be more flexible. The floppy could even be a big newsprint magazine, like >>>

  18. >>>The floppy could even be a big newsprint magazine like Shonen Jump, featuring six to ten stories in black and white. Special goodies like stickers or color pinups would encourage sales. Graphic novel reprint collections of those stories would feature better paper and color.

  19. It is next to impossible to launch a totally new character in the D.C.U…but you get a much better shot at it in the vertigo line or with wildstorm. With THE MONOLITH, the sales by issue 12 were low, but the offer to bring it over to the vertigo line was turned down, even though the numbers were higher than a lot of their other titles. I can understand that since the book was started elsewhere by the same company.

    personally…I would launch new characters in the back of d.c.’s top selling books each month…maybe 8 page stories, and charge a bit more for the books. It was the first offer we made for the monolith back then…back ups to appear in superman and batman, reaching a wide audience first, which is most important.

    I support companies like Dynamic,fantagraphics, Image, I.D.W., Boom and so on because i like variety.

    The sad truth, i see, is that most people want the same old thing over and over …I dont care if they claim otherwise. fans speak with their $$$.

    I know when I launch any creator owned i cannot depend on a company to push it…i have to go out and sell it each and every day online, in podcasts, retailer forums and push it at cons. its the nature of what we do.

    lol…I am in new zealand right now pushing my work this very weekend.

    It never stops.

    JIMMY Palmiotti

  20. This makes me so sad that I just want to go home. Great job bringing this out, though.
    I can’t help but think that a part of the problem is an overemphasis on the floppies. I understand that they generate ad revenue and all, but I feel like a lot of the titles must lose money, too.
    How many of us want to wait for the trade, right? I can’t help but think that if they just went straight to trades
    lowered the average cover price of trades [See, “elasticity of demand”]
    invested more in general public advertising/pr, it might make a difference for titles in the AMERICAN VIRGIN variety.

    Frankly, I could give a damn about new super characters. We don’t need them. There are plenty (and I loooooove superheroes) that haven’t been nearly well enough explored.

    Or… we’re just doomed.

    Thanks, Beat, I’m all sniffly here.

  21. For what it’s worth, I was in no way looking at this stuff in order to suggest “more characters” or “fewer characters” or “more story” or “more monkeys on covers” or “no more serialization” or “much more serialization” or “more tentacle sex covers” or “more constipated Batman noises” or whatever. Backseat driving of comics industry discussions confuse and depress me.

    I am interested in the notion of exhausted genres, and I know that the notion as presented in comics is linked to a certain general view of how the market works, but I’m way too ignorant of how the business works to make a prescriptive point out of those broad observations. Sorry!

  22. I have to say that on many points i agree with Jimmy P. It’s a talk that i’ve had with professionals and fans on my threads and other sites. Stuff is constantly regurgitated and recreated, but not invented or innovative. I look at shows like American Inventor to see what others have to offer to the marketplace and the world at large to see what people are thinking about that they want to bring to the forefront that’s going to cement it’s ideals into people’s thinking and their way of life.
    But for the most part, you have to get through the hat that has a “spinning propeller” with shining lights that can crank the juice in your dead car battery and the scented garbage bags to get to the true innovative, inventive works that will truly wake us up.

    You keep vomiting the same material and don’t bolster the smaller great material with the same luster as you would a higher tier project and you will become stale and you will lose the interest of the new people wanting something more out of their books. Tights and capes and scantly clad pointy boobed girls with bad attitudes and a gun and silly poses aren’t doing it anymore.

    People want substance. And the zombies that keep buying into just the same work that’s just okay, isn’t going to make the industry flourish. So like Millar said, “What are you buying?”

    The fans can control this and make the other big companies work a little harder at putting out innovative and inventive material that will create fresh thought and ideas. The comic industry may have had success in the movie industry, but the comics industry is NOT the movie industry. And should always be the innovator of an inventive house of ideas.

    WE can make the movie industry a deep well of storytelling and never run out. WE shouldn’t let the lure of “the property” shape how we do the storytelling or govern the depth of how we tell it. We should be the battery to the motion picture market and not vice versa.

    So… you keep eating and regurgitating and eating it again, and you’ll make yourselves sick.

    Time for a new diet.

  23. Eddie Campbell once said something like, “To make art, one must have something to say.” I think that’s the problem here, beyond anything else, as far as Vertigo goes at lest. Something can be well written, but if it has nothing to say, no one will stay interested for long. People we buy something of lesser quality over something of high quality, if they can truly and deeply relate to it. When Vertigo first became an imprint, I could relate, but they dropped those titles which I loved, and then spit in my face with Preacher. From there it all went down the tubes, slowly but surly. If we are going to move on, and stay alive, we must ask ourselves this. Do we just want to be comic book artist/writers to hob nob with our idols, or do we really have something to say? If we don’t, people will see that and move on. Having something to say is the staying power of Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Alan Moore, Anne Rice, Jack Kirby, and so many others who have paved the way for us to do what we do (and no, I’m not just talking comics) but they have all had their day. If we’re going to step up and hold the people’s hearts and minds with our inky pens, we must do it with sincerity and passion. Nothing else will do, no matter how we print the books.

    If this sounds at all like anyone else’s post, sorry. I didn’t have time to read them all.

  24. The floppy serial is a strange model that seems to be still in use only because “that’s how it’s always been done”. From my experience in trying to coax friends to read comics, it’s not an attractive format for new comic readers. They’d rather buy the collection at a mainstream bookstore or from Amazon than venture into the dank recesses of a comic shop to get the floppies. There are a few titles that I’ll pick up in floppies to support because they’re independent and less likely to be collected, but most popular established titles are _guaranteed_ to be collected, so why should I spend the money twice?

    The format does no favours for storytelling either. The comparison to serial television isn’t quite apt since with comics you get 15 minute chunks of a story separated by gaps of a month, or months or even a year. With some of the floppies I do buy I don’t read them right away but instead I save them until I can read several of them at once. Otherwise I end up having to re-read the earlier books anyway because I’ve lost track of what was going on.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing narratives bogged down by chapter page counts either.

    If I can wait a year and more between episodes of Harry Potter, I can wait that long between collections.

    The best function of the floppy is as an inexpensive sample to get the reader hooked on a story. So why not put a 31 page preview of a graphic novel online for 99 cents or free?

  25. Practically everything I buy these days is in collected editions… but I have to get my “floppy” fix of 2000 AD to keep the thrillsuckers at bay. Then again, much (darn near everything) of what appears in 2000 AD these days is designed with the collected edition in mind!

  26. ChrisCross Said: “You keep vomiting the same material and don’t bolster the smaller great material with the same luster as you would a higher tier project and you will become stale and you will lose the interest of the new people wanting something more out of their books. Tights and capes and scantly clad pointy boobed girls with bad attitudes and a gun and silly poses aren’t doing it anymore.”

    I feel like some of you folks are missing The Beat’s point, here. I could be wrong, but I interpreted this post as saying: >

    That’s the thing. I think a lot of the good stuff is camouflaged by either:
    1) Tights’ stigma.
    2) Serialization suckiness
    3) The comic shop ghetto
    4) Comics-audience-only marketing

    There is good work getting done, but it isn’t finding an audience and it’s getting cancelled and in order to survive the big companies are playing it safe to the loyal but dwindling base of the faithful.

    Suckers like me who love World War Hulk. So sue me.

  27. Has anyone stopped to think that maybe by using the term “floppy” to refer to a COMIC BOOK, they are setting a negative connotation with it? And that, in turn, isn’t doing a lick of good in helping sales of said comic books?

    I don’t see a reason why they and trades/graphic novels can’t co-exist as they’ve been doing. You don’t like reading comic books, don’t read ’em and “wait for the trade”. But c’mon – calling ’em “floppies” just reeks of elitism and certainly isn’t helping the problem.

  28. “in order to survive the big companies are playing it safe to the loyal but dwindling base of the faithful.”

    Chuck Austen was run right out of comics, because he had new ideas about how to write old titles, so that they would appeal to outside readers. They were good ideas, too. I found myself getting excited about books that I never cared about before. Unfortunately, because he went so far afield from what the loyal base (fanboys) thought the stories should be, he was labeled a hack and run out of comics. I’ve also seen first hand that new readers can also be run out of comics by the fans. I’d even go so far as to predict that someone on this board will try and railroad me know, for thinking that Austen is good. How the F*?#! do you fight against that?

  29. My two cents on single-issue comics: They’re still an important and viable format for DC and Marvel, but not so much for other publishers. There’s no reason they should go away — sales on them are actually up recently through the direct market. And a skillful writer can make some kinds of stories (not all) work in 22-page chunks.

    The arguments for the abolition of this format, or for radical changes in its content, always seem to boil down to one of three things:

    – They don’t work anymore for most indy publishers. Which is fine. I agree it makes very little sense for Slave Labor to publish singles anymore; that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea for DC.

    – Writers don’t write to the 22-page format anymore; they’re working toward the trade. Which always seems to be a problem for people on the net, but some of the bestselling single-issue comics are clearly written that way (ULTIMATES and JLA come to mind). My theory — and obviously there’s no evidence on this one way or another — is that there’s a newer generation of readers who don’t mind waiting a month for the next, small chunk of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. It’s a format and a storytelling pace that they’re used to by now.

    – I don’t like waiting a year for the trade, so I want the books published in that format to begin with. Unfortunately, given DC’s and Marvel’s page rates to creators, it just makes economic sense for them to publish in two formats. You may not like waiting a year to watch THE SHIELD because you don’t have cable TV, but if all those ads on FX weren’t paying Michael Chiklis’s salary, you’d never get the show at all.

    I’m also leery of the assumption that — as Tom S puts it — “Without as many kids or adults entering into the market to replace any readers that might bleed off — or eventually die — superhero comics have to sustain their audiences for a much longer time.” I think the sheer numbers show that there MUST be new readers entering the market, all the time. They may not be as adventurous or open to new projects as Jimmy or Cross or I would like. But given that people do “age out” of comics, I can’t believe that COUNTDOWN and WORLD WAR HULK and CIVIL WAR have so energized the ones remaining that they’ve tripled the number of titles they’re buying. (No resemblance to any real math, living or dead, is intended or should be inferred.)

  30. “calling ‘em “floppies” just reeks of elitism and certainly isn’t helping the problem.”

    …and another thing. I got into comics by reading floppies that I picked up on road trips with my family. Mom, dad, or grandpa where all willing to shell out, for about $5 worth of comics. With video games, DVDs, and movies all competing for kids money these days, there is no way they’re going to cough up $15 to $25 bucks to just start getting into comics on their little boy and girlhood whims. I’ve got a 12 year old student who can’t get enough of Archie digest… $2. Another brought in some floppies (a while back) that were $2.95 each. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another comic come through the studio other then those two, but damn those kids know their cartoons, and movies. Oh, and their manga, too… $10, but that’s pushing it, and you get a lot for that money. Number of trades to come through in my three years as a teacher. Zero. Zilch. Nada. None. Not a one. Zippity do. We need kids to read comics, or there will be no one left to care in about five to ten years.

  31. Comics, for me, are a style preference. While I prefer the ‘floppies’, I know that some stories work better as trades or whatnot.

    I think some people (creators and publishers) need to recognize the function of each and be flexible with the format. Not all creators can do the floppy, not all can do the trade. It’s all about figuring out which one suits the story better.

  32. Another thought, for those who think supperheros are past their day. How many kids do you think will grow up to be avid book readers, because of Harry Potter and Liminy (SP?) Snicket? We need flashy colorful fun stuff that kids can get into. If adults want to enjoy that same childhood type fun, then more power to them. It’s fin. It’s healthy, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Fluff (and even fluff with some depth) exists in every avenue of entertainment for all to enjoy, but that doesn’t stop classics and masterpieces from being born, does it?

  33. Over here (in Flemish speaking Belgium) the tradition is with 44page or 30 page done in one albums for (guestimated to the American peso) for $8-$12. These books are all done in one, have no “continuity” other than the same characters and relations and come out between 3 and 4 times a year. They have a spine and are slighty larger and wider than US comics

    there must be a bastard format between manga and comics that can work and provide a satisfying chunk

  34. Stuart, I’m with you on not understanding why people want to throw a profitable format under the bus, but you’re making too specific a point out of my broad generalization. I bet there are readers coming into comics all the time, too, but I’ve had enough people say “we don’t think like that anymore” to my face in terms of the classic principle that the readership turns over every five years that I’m happy to talk about serving a more sustained readership as if it’s conventional wisdom.

    I know there have always been perennial readers, but it seems as if at one time that was Roy Thomas and eight dudes he was mailing with and now it seems like a lot, lot more. Doesn’t it?

    The answer as to where increased readership or DM comics comes from, well, there’s a huge amount of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is 1) from readers of other DM comics, and 2) former readers of DM comics enticed back into a buying pattern in addition to new readers. Plus you’re not exactly talking sell-through, so god knows what’s really going on.

  35. Agreed, agreed. I was responding more to an assumption I see all the time — yours was just a convenient statement of it, and I apologize if I misconstrued your meaning — that the audience for superhero/single-issue/DC/Marvel comics is shrinking all the time and not being renewed. I think there is an invisible renewal going on; there must be. From sales figures, it’s not as adventurous a readership as the young audience for, say, manga. But it can’t be just perennials driving the sales of WORLD WAR HULK up.

    I think this assumption comes up a lot — not, I will stress, in your writing — because the commentator himself/herself is disillusioned with DC’s and Marvel’s comics, and HOPES the audience for them is dying out — so the companies will be forced to change course or die (and serves them right). That leads to arguments constructed to support an emotional conclusion.

    There’s another side-point to this: It used to be taken for granted in this field that if you didn’t start reading comics as a kid, you never would. I don’t think that’s remotely true anymore — comics, by which I mean comic books and graphic novels, are a much more common part of the culture. Which means it is possible for a 35-year-old, at the recommendation of a friend, to pick up his first comic, whether that’s PERSEPOLIS or SANDMAN or CIVIL WAR. That probably didn’t happen even ten years ago.

    Regarding sell-through: Point taken, but I have to think that’s a self-correcting problem over time. Otherwise you’d have a lot more shops in serious financial trouble than, well, even than you do.

  36. Has there been any interest in those 10 cent comic books? BATMAN the 10 CENT ADVENTURE ad the Spider-Man newspaper supplements?

    Yes, the Spidey books were designed to build interest for the movies … but the Lee/Ditko stories no longer resemble anything happening in the monthly titles …

    But … when newspapers distribute those comics … there’s gotta be SOME interest that spills over.

    Maybe it’s time to try and work out a deal with a syndicate and distribute a comic section in newspapers once again. Perhaps instead of pulling readers into the niche market, publishers need to break into the mainstream.

  37. I was impressed by the IDEA of the free weekly Spider-man comic in newspapers – but unimpressed by the execution of it. Nothing but the earliest of reprints, chopped up into 8-page blocks. Every other cover was a Ditko reproduction, while the rest were contemporary-styled. Not a single page of current-day material, and nothing to entice kids into comic shops. A missed opportunity for Marvel and the industry.
    The freebie Spidey disappeared from my local paper months ago. Is it still being inserted in other papers?

  38. I have too much to do today to read ALL of the comments, but as far as “floppies” vs graphic novels* goes…

    Close to 60% of my comics sales are in the form of graphic novels. There have only been 2 months in the 10 that my store has been open that the monthlies (weeklies, quarterlies, you know what I mean) beat out the books, and World War Hulk and X-Men: Endangered Species accounted for a good chunk of that for one of them. Some of the monthly splits have actually been closer to a 70% graphic novels/ 30% monthlies.

    A great book to illustrate this with is Fables. I have X subscribers to Fables, and I generally sell X+1 copies a month. I sell close to 2X Fables graphic novels a month, averaged. Other series that sell with similar ratios are Invincible, Y the Last Man, Runaways, and Walking Dead.

    In my store, at least, the “OGN as the primary delivery method for printed comics” model appears as if it would be successful. One thing this format would NEED is better promotion, especially early in an OGN series, to compensate for the lack of “buzz” that can be generated by a monthly comic book series.

    * I am using the term “graphic novels” to represent OGNs, trade paperback and hardcover reprints, manga, and any other “comics” in book form.

  39. I’m a 43 year old professional who’s been reading comics since I was a kid. I’ve also written for industry trades. You ask what’s going on…well, how about some plain old good story telling? Most of what I read now comes from Indies…why? Well, as I don’t read every title, Countdown means NOTHING to me. Wonder Woman – finally getting a woman to write her – no one’s done a good job with this property since George Perez! The majors think they can repackage old material and just pass it off – I’m not fond of movie re-makes either. Be original! That’s why the indies are selling, they don’t HAVE to stay within restrictive guidelines. Tell a linear story and tell it well with good art. Period.

  40. If floppies were much cheaper to buy than an ad-free trade, I wouldn’t wait for the collection for something I’m eager to read. To that end, increasing the number of ad pages wouldn’t bother me. Then if the story is a keeper or one I’d like to pass around or give as a gift, I wouldn’t might also buying an ad-free trade.

    I think the floppy’s fate is tied to the comic store’s fate. I’d much rather go spend time at a comics shop once a week than order trades from Amazon a few times a year. For me, that’s a big part of the comics experience. I’d suggest part of the success of manga is the community aspect that goes with it.

  41. “I’d suggest part of the success of manga is the community aspect that goes with it.”

    Good observation.

    “Some of the monthly splits have actually been closer to a 70% graphic novels/ 30% monthlies.”

    Hmm, let me ask this, then: What percent of graphic novel sales are to kids under the age of say 8? 13? 16? 18? 19 to 28? This may over all, be very important information.

  42. Most people will try and fool themselves into believing that the people who buy superhero comics and the people who buy Vertigo comics are different but that is an illusion. The audience is one and the same.

    From the inception of Vertigo, with Sandman, Swamp Thing and others, the audience they captured were from the super hero readers. Yes, the company managed to draw in people from outside the niche but not enough to sustain the brand on its own.

    The people who buy comics today are adults, mostly intelligent ones at that (hence the very irate audience constantly complaining about the quality, most of which is an insult to anyone’s intelligence) so you have companies trying squeezing every penny and dollar out of the consumer’s pocket with all these 75 different absurd, turd Countdown tie ins but publishers forget that consumers do not have an unlimited budget.

    Something’s got to give and when they have to choose, consumers are almost always going to go for the books with the guys in spandex.

    When there are an overabundance of those to purchase, that doesn’t leave much room in the budget to experiment on something untried in the Vertigo line.

    So the reason for the sad sales of Vertigo rests completely on the publishers who have been canabalizing themselves for quite a while and now its catching up to them. And the last to go will watch all the others die before her…

    Also, whether this is true or not, the fact remains, DC as a company has re-earned themselves a reputation for publishing comics that ‘stink’ (thank you Dan Didio). They hire unreliable creators, publish stories out of order, turn off the reliable ones such as Alan Moore, Scott Dunbier doesn’t provide consumers much incentive or confidence to try something new from one of their other brands (Vertigo), especially when the majority (not all) of the material published from the larger two (Wildstorm and DC) have been absymal, disappointing failures for quite awhile now.

  43. Comic product not selling?
    Try marketing through different channels.
    Try expanding the existing market by making the product appeal to a larger audience.
    Try working with other companies in the same industry to raise demand for the product.
    Try uh.. oh, lowering price.
    Or raising the appeal of the product versus other similar competitive products in the “entertainment or hobby” section of the typical person’s budget.

  44. I think the readers also got renewed through

    a) the X-men cartoon show
    b) the Batman cartoon show

    These aired at crucial times for the “kids comics free generation” and at least kept the characters familiar.

    I agree that “Floppy” and “Pamphlet” are derogatory terms, and yet they sure have caught on! (even among supporters — like “otaku”.) What are the alternatives? “Comics” is too broad. “Periodical comics” is too long. “Monthly” is inaccurate and so on. It’s an interesting etymological case.

  45. I’ve only started using the term “floppy” recently because “comic book” is now too broad a term. Some people assume “comic book” to mean the traditional “serial pamphlet” (also awkward) and some insist on calling “graphic novels” “comic books” because they find the term “graphic novel” to be elitist. People sometimes call the collections “trade paper backs” but I’ve also heard “trade paper back” applied to floppies which are also, techinically, paperbacks published by the trade. They’re also technically “soft cover”, but they _are_ softer, dare we say _floppier_ than the graphic novel/soft cover/trade paper back.

    So: “floppy”. You know what I’m referring to. In fact it’s so easily and broadly understood that I fail to see how it’s elitist. It’s not jargon comprehended by a select few.

    If someone wants to coin a better, clearer, less “elitist” term then get coining.

  46. Rich,

    Pulling people in from the mainstream audience has always been the target ideal for publishers. However, to reel that audience in publishers need to understand the psychology, buying habits and tolerance of the mainstream audience.

    The mainstream audience, or average joe’s as their called, do not have the same tolerance as the niche comic buyers. The niche comic buyers patronize the shops regularly every week and some are patient meaning, they’ll wait for that new issue even if it takes a couple of months but publishers are trying the patience of that audience as well.

    Mainstream buyers do not have that same dedication or necessity. If a publisher advertises a serialized story, they ship the first issue and the next doesn’t come out for another 6 months, publishers are fooling themselves if they believe that mainstream buyer is going to wait 6 months to a year for the next issue. It’s not that important to them so if its not there when the publisher says its going to be there, they’ve lost that new customer.

    Publishers did a great job achieving mainstream press on books like Civil War, All Star Batman and Infinite Crisis. For a while, some of those average joes probably did buy into the hype. Then, one of two things happened:

    1) The quality wasn’t high enough to retain the mainstream audience (Civil War — Yes, Mark Millar likes to think himself a superstar, a big fish in the small pond that is the comics audience but newsflash, to everyone else outside the pon, the story was just a complete wash out) or…

    2) The next issue never showed up because the creator didn’t deliver and the publisher lost all those potential new readers reeled in from the mainstream press. All Star Batman and Robin. Did publishers really believe all those new readers were going to be hanging around the shops like flies waiting a whole year for the next issue? This would be because Jim Lee didn’t learn that simple lesson from the last time he reeled in new readers with Wildcats from Image Comics, you remember, when he solicited issues and didn’t deliver the either.

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result.” – Einstein.

    So yes, the key is hooking in mainstream readers. But before they do that, the industry needs to up the quality to keep those readers and deliver timely so the new readers know when to come back for the next installment. Of course, this is something the industry is sorely in need of fixing.

  47. I just want to make it clear that I don’t think advocating throwing serialized comics “under the bus” is a industry-wide solution or even probable situation. Like TheDane, I am more interested in the differences in storytelling style that the two formats necessitate and how some stories simply are not best suited for serialization, whether it be due to the formal aspects of the story itself or the preferences of those drawn to that particular part of the story. There are certainly comics still very popular as individual issues not only because their audience continues to purchase that format but also because the kind of stories told are suited to it.

    However, I’m not fooling myself when I observe that my fantasy-and-science fiction prose-fiction-reading friends enjoy Fables and Y: The Last Man but do not read DC Universe comics. Sure, it’s anecdotal evidence and not very broad at that, but I believe that it is not isolated. These people don’t even seem to think of these comics in terms of issues. They read the trades. There’s that old “waiting for the trade” debate, and I used to get upset when people did that because it meant that individual issues didn’t sell well, but it makes so much more sense to observe a consumer preference as to format and adjust how you do things. (We’re not talking content here; just format.) Vertigo probably still makes money off of their floppies (like maija, I use this term because “comic book” has become too broad a term; also, I use it the way classical musicians might call their violin a “fiddle”)–especially since the issues have ads in them, but I am wondering how long that model will last now that there is a growing, broader audience that does not go to comic book stores.

    I like to speculate. Prose novels moved out of the serialized form in the early 20th century, and it was then that works like Ulysses and To the Lighthouse appeared. I think we’ve already begun to see what kind of innovations in comics can take place when constraints of format are removed.

  48. I don’t think that floppy is elitist either. At least I don’t use it with any animosity. Most usage I’ve noticed simply uses it to refer to the thirty-or-so page periodical comics (monthlies, quarterlies, occasionals, and one-shots) without any derogatory sense at all.

    To Brett:
    “Most people will try and fool themselves into believing that the people who buy superhero comics and the people who buy Vertigo comics are different but that is an illusion.”

    I’m not sure how much of it really is an illusion. I’m sure there’s reader cross-over between the superhero market and the Vertigo market, but that’s definitely not always the case. With the exception of Daredevil and Ultimate Spider-Man (whenever they get collected into nice hardcover form), I have completely stopped reading superheroes. It’s just too hard to keep up. Instead, I buy every Fables trade that comes out, every Y: The Last Man, every 100 Bullets, Usagi Yojimbo, Naruto, Courtney Crumrin, Yotsuba&!, BPRD, and Queen & Country. Plus, piles of OGNs.

    My wife will read Daredevil volumes when I get them, but doesn’t have interest in other superhero stuff, preferring Vertigo and SLG and Oni Press and Top Shelf contributions to the medium.

    My friends read a smattering of other stuff as well, but the closest they’ve come to superhero comics is 300 (though they’ve also expressed interest in Watchmen, knowing that the movie is coming out).

    So yeah, it may be an illusion, but I suspect its not as much an illusion as you make it sound.

  49. Hi Dane,

    Yes, but as you clearly stated, you used to be of the mainstream superhero market but then stopped because you couldn’t keep up. Now you buy alternates.

    That’s what I meant. Publishers are canabalizing from the same audience, a comic buying audience that’s already dwindling and the switch that readers are making is not large enough to keep the Vertigo brand afloat.

    Things to remember:

    1) The comics audience and mainstream guys associate most ‘comics’ with guys in spandex. It’s the appeal and draw for most. This is an audience already dwindling due to the level of quality from the publishers. When these publishers print 75 tie in event specials to this audience who already has a limited budget, there’s not much money left for them to try anything from Vertigo, Wildstorm and others.

    2) Creators like Alan Moore and Neal Gaiman were the ticketed draw for lines like Vertigo and Wildstorm. They were the lure for readers. Once readers bought material from them, they were open to sampling material from other authors on the brand. DC Comics does their best to anger and pissed off quite a few creators… Alan Moore, and for whatever the reason, Neal Gaiman no longer writes new material for the brand. Other reputable editors like Scott Dunbier were also removed by DC. When you cease publishing NEW material from your high ticket sellers, you lose most of the audience as well.

    3) I cannot stress the importance of timely delivery as the integral component to success. The audience doesn’t care that the author wants you to be patient and wait 6 months for a new issue. With all the other entertainment out there as alternative options, authors and artists need to get off their ego high horses and deliver because if they think people outside the niche comic audience is just going to sit around and wait for your next star studded issue, you’ve got another thing coming.

    4) Once again, DC is the umbrella for all these smaller brands. If the umbrella has a reputation of leaving their readers all wet, it’s not going to give readers much confidence to try anything else from beneath that umbrella without the reader feeling they’re going to get wet there too.

  50. I don’t want to come off as argumentative or anything, but I pretty much disagree with everything in that last post.

    1. “This is an audience already dwindling due to the level of quality from the publishers.” Whether or not you like the level of quality from the publishers, the sales figures don’t show much dwindling. And there’s really no evidence for the mass disillusionment of former fans, one way or the other. It’s all anecdotal, and the web has a way of making a few people’s opinions look like major trends.

    2. Vertigo has had its hiccups (I’ve edited a few of them). But the imprint is doing pretty well right now with books like Y, FABLES, and DMZ. Yes, Vertigo sells fewer copies of single issues than it did back in the PREACHER days, but its trade paperback sales — on some titles, not all — are way up.

    3. Timely delivery is important as a business matter for comic shops, but the numbers simply don’t bear it out as a major factor for fans. Just look at ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN and ULTIMATES 2. Hot books sell, whether they’re on time or not; cold books don’t.

    4. Ah, you can have 4! It’s so theoretical that I can’t really argue with it.

  51. >”the key is hooking in mainstream readers.” (brett tolino)

    The Beat’s recently mention of Dark Hunger by Christine Feehan was sobering in that regard. Mainstream readers (if romance readers can be called that) with standing orders for anything by their favorite author were outraged to discover the latest release was a “comic book.” Most of the anger was due to Amazon neglecting to mention it was a graphic novel, but still. Having a book in your hands by your favorite author and refusing to read it because it was a comic? Ouch. The stigma remains.

    Part of the outrage was also the “high” price: $8 for 208 pages (!). Comics readers are used to paying a lot for what they love. The mainstream is not. We live in two different price-point worlds.

  52. Stuart,

    Of course you’re going to disagree.

    You’re ‘in’ the industry and you people rarely admit wrong doing or danger. That would mean you guys would have to admit you aren’t as great as you like to think you are.

    And you’ll always use those handy dandy sales numbers to keep yourselves feeling safe and warm.

    Of course, if sales are so wonderful and the Vertigo imprint is doing pretty well, that makes this whole ‘State of The Industry Alert’ post pretty much, a false alarm.

    So everyone, Stuart Moore says everything’s great!

    Heidi, you can remove your post. The industry is doing fine. Vertigo is doing great, sales haven’t been better for DC and everything is wonderful.

    I stand corrected.

  53. BTW Stu,

    I don’t mean to come off argumentative either. When I mentioned timely delivery as an essential component for success, you may want to go back and reread that I was referring to the branching out and hooking mainstream audiences, who are different from the niche comic book readers who will wait because they patronize the shop weekly anyway.

    It’s those readers you lose by making them wait. And go back to the sales numbers. There was a bit of a drop from issue number one and two (when the publicity first hit due to press coverage in EW) and when the next issue arrived almost a year later.

    Wonder where all those readers went. Ah, who cares, right? No one needs them. Sales were fine anyway.

  54. I stand corrected again.

    It wasn’t a year wait between issues on All Star Batman and Robin. It was almost 3 months. Still, as Stuart says, sales on blockbuster books like ASBR are wonderful. Yes, there was 261,000 readers who bought into the #1, who I’m probably wrongly attributing to press coverage in Entertainment Weekly. By issue #4, 100,000 readers had fled the coup.

    07/2005: All Star Batman #1 — 261,046 [306,976]

    09/2005: All Star Batman #2 — 178,592 [184,962]

    12/2005: All Star Batman #3 — 162,993 [166,218]

    05/2006: All Star Batman #4 — 160,401

    100,000 is quite a large number of readers. Of course, I’m just speaking out of my @$$. What do I know. The people in the industry know much more than we readers do and if they’re fine with a 100,000 drop off, no one should care.

    Sales are still wonderful!

  55. Hey Brett, while you’re right that I am a crossover customer who began with superheroes (well I actually started with Flash Gordon, Uncle Scrooge, and Tintin and then crossed over to superheroes around fifth grade or so), only one of my friends ever read superhero books.

    So out of maybe ten people in my immediate circle of friends, there are maybe ten people who read comics and only two of us ever read superhero stuff. The other eight were introduced to comics via either Titntin, Bone, Maus, Persepolis, or Blankets. These are people who are in the range between twenty-five and fifty and are now avidly interested in good comics. A number of them were surprised that most American comics were in colour – since everything they had read up until that point was B&W.

    So again, while there is probably cannibalization going on as you mention, eighty percent of the people I know who read comics don’t fit that picture.

  56. Oh, there’s plenty wrong with the industry — a lot of it is discussed in this thread. It just isn’t what you think it is. You’re bringing in theories from left field and applying them selectively to a field you’re personally dissatisfied with. It’s exactly what I was talking about in my second reply to Tom, above.

    There are definite structural problems with the industry…as there are with virtually every field of entertainment right now. I’ve said this before, but you wouldn’t want to be betting on the future of network TV in 2007. Or, to take another example: In comics, the slightest hiccup in the market makes everyone run around crying doom. In (trade) book publishing, everyone just sits quietly in their cubicles and hopes they’re not the ones laid off. So comics always looks like a dying field, and book publishing looks stable…while comics sales rise and trade book sales continue to drop.

    I hope that’s negative enough. Yes, I’d love a world where creator-owned properties were easier to publish profitably, where comic shops had better margins, etc., etc. But I just can’t take overarching doom-scenarios seriously at a time when this industry is growing by every metric I can find.

  57. >The Beat’s recently mention of Dark Hunger by Christine Feehan was sobering in that regard. Mainstream readers (if romance readers can be called that) with standing orders for anything by their favorite author were outraged to discover the latest release was a “comic book.” Most of the anger was due to Amazon neglecting to mention it was a graphic novel, but still. Having a book in your hands by your favorite author and refusing to read it because it was a comic? Ouch. The stigma remains.

    Out of curiousity I dug that blog entry up as well as the Amazon page. The reader reviews are a hoot. It’s also funny that the book has gotten terrible reviews and yet it continues to heat up the GN bestseller chart. The book doesn’t look like it’s all that great either. I would like to imagine that this is the marketing plan of an evil genius. It certainly was an evil genius who wrote the book description: “Now she and Berkley take her “out-of-the-ordinary” (Booklist) in a thrilling new direction–and this time it’s more graphic than ever.”

    While there may be a stigma attached to comics, I don’t think we should be using unsuspecting vampire romance fans who’ve had crappy manga sprung on them to make a measure of it.

  58. Well then, as I said, everything in the industry is fine (coming of course from one ‘in’ the industry) and this whole thread about the State Of The Industry alert is completely a false alarm.

    BTW, its always the readers who are wrong and the people inside the industry who are right. It’s also those very people inside the industry who always claim readers don’t know what they’re talking about, ‘everything is fine and wonderful’.

    Do you know why they say everything is fine and wonderful? Because in their eyes, it has to be. To admit everything isn’t fine, would also mean you guys have to admit that a) we’re not doing our jobs properly, which means then, you lose that job and b) we’re not as great as we make ourselves out to be.

  59. Look, I really think you need to calm down. If you come in making grand sweeping statements like “to everyone else outside the pond, [CIVIL WAR] was just a complete wash out,” you have to expect people who know something about, say, CIVIL WAR to argue with you. There’s nothing personal going on here.

  60. >So again, while there is probably cannibalization going on as you mention, eighty percent of the people I know who read comics don’t fit that picture.

    Yeah, I started reading comics just four years ago. The only stereotypical superhero books I’ve read are The Dark Knight Returns, Secret Identity and The Watchmen. I buy nothing from the main DC or Marvel imprints. I do read Y: The Last Man (in the collections) and I’ve tried to get into Fables so I do read some Vertigo.

  61. Besides the brilliant comic series, SCALPED, Vertigo has done a great job of mixing up their recent line up the last few years by adding cool new concepts with books like THE EXTERMINATORS, DMZ, and ARMY @LOVE. I haven’t read FABLES yet but I hear good things and I’m sorry to see Y – THE LAST MEN end but them’s the breaks. Plus, with memoir graphic novels like SENTENCES, what’s not to like? So, as far as good stories go and characters to consider, Vertigo is expanding their catalogue and trying new things for which I applaud them.

    Will the “floppy” exist in 5-years? I don’t think so. The webcomix model will go through growing pains and a serious trial but I believe serialized comix will need to join the iPod/iPhone/iMother Box [thank you Jack Kirby] in order to compete with TV and Beer. And, even though we’re entering the Digital Age of Comix, what matters most is good stories and interesting characters which we have an abundance of.

  62. Well, it’s all rather simple. Wait for the trade and destroy the monthly comic.

    It is no surprise that some of these books got cancelled. Low monthly sales leads to cancellation.

  63. Stu,

    I’m not excited. But, you win anyway because you do know better, as one inside the industry.

    As you said, everything is fine up sales wise which you’re clear to point out at Vertigo and DC, so this entire news bulletin about the State of The Industry Alert really is just a false alarm.

    I stand humbly corrected.

  64. This is the part of the movie where Stuart extends his hand and then gets aced while his partner is to far away to do anything but scream NOOOOO in slow motion.

  65. I’ve skimmed some of these comments, so I apologize if I’m being redundant, though we’ve been having this conversation for some time I don’t know if it’s really possible to cover new turf.

    I realized that I’ve been somewhat spoiled by big city comic shops, where a wide assortment of comics get more or less equal facing by a staff that’s broadly versed in books new and classic. I realized this because at present I have to usually settle for an outer suburb hole in the wall where they believe, and I am not exaggerating, that Image and DH are “indies.” (Perhaps in 1992.) Roughly 2/3 of the store is Marvel and DC mainstream, many of which get multiple facings; they don’t even order a full assortment of Vertigo. The smattering of smaller press, most of which are probably leftover from shot in the dark orders from five years ago, are stuck in a corner near the bathroom; the manga is hidden in a non-descript bookcase in the opposite corner. They lament about sales and wanted to expand, but when I talk about anything that doesn’t involve spandex their eyes immediately gloss over. (A glimmer of hope I saw today was when one clerk stated in wild-eyed astonishment that he’s HEARD that there are many cute girls at indie cons, even GASP! behind the tables! Never underestimate the selling power of a remote possibility of sex.)

    The culture is the industry; the industry is the culture. They’re both fucked up and if not for the fact that they’re hogging more worthy real estate I’d say let them keep eating their own shit as long as there’s a peanut or kernel of corn to sustain them. Honestly, anyone who wants to make even a remotely mature comic nowadays is likely best served by forgoing anything resembling the industry model. The loss-leader concept is flawed at its core. Either the books work in that format alone or they don’t; if you chop a cat into pieces you don’t have a cat anymore, you have cat meat: a decent filler in certain restaurants but it won’t purr when you pet it. If it’s important that a potential audience be exposed to the material as time allows you to create it, put it online and let it be its own best advertising. If the material is strong enough, put the whole book out cold and let the market decide. But the floppies are stultifying every aspect, creatively and economically, and I think we’re just about ready to drop that vestigial tail.

    BTW, I love Dean’s idea: I will buy an iPod when it resembles a Mother Box. If it comes with a dock that resembles Metron’s chair, I will knife my way to the front of the line.

  66. Brett Tolino, I agree with ALMOST everything you said.

    Using DC as an example, here are my suggestions/ideas on how to save the comic book industry (or at the very least, Marvel and DC).

    1. ALL interconected ongoing and limited series DCU superhero,sci-fi,and horror comics should be both aimed at and suitable for kids/all ages. So no on panel graphic and bloody violent scenes,no cuss words (bitch, bastard,ass,or goddamn),and no strong sexual innuendos. This imprint would also be the home of licensed and creator own material aimed at and suitable for kids/all ages. And for the record, when I say “suitable for all ages”, I mean comics that don’t talk down to the readers and that can still deal with mature subject matter in a tasteful and subtle manner (like PAD’s HULK run,SPIDER-GIRL,and Larry Hama’s G.I. JOE and WOLVERINE runs).

    2. Wildstorm will be home to creator owned,company owned,and license product aimed at teens and adults. This imprint will be able to get away with all of the things that I listed in the DCU imprint in terms language,sex, and violence.

    3. Vertigo will be the same way as it is today, and would include company owned,creator owned,and licensed property aimed at adults.

    4. All monthly ongoing and limited series will be combined and published as a line of over sized monthly magazines. For example all Batman related titles will be featured in a monthly BATMAN magazine.

  67. A friend e-mailed me this link after he read my post on my blog today. It’s nice to know that others wonder about this as well.

    I’ve lived in Mississippi all of my life and there are only about 7 comic stores in the state. 3 of those are within 30 miles of each other in the central part of the state. 3 more are spread in the southern and eastern parts of the of the state, and at least one may not even be open now. That is to service nearly 3 million citizens in the state, not all of which are comic readers of course. There are several chainbookstores that carry comics, but overall there are only a few more of them than there are comic stores. Also the conditions and selection at these chain stores are horrible and it is not uncommon for employees to damage the books while restocking or checking you out. So part of my concern is that there is a definate lack of interest in getting comics to the people. Are there even ANY other distributors besides Diamond?

    Price drops may help, but that would mean a drop in paper and printing quality (I think). Unfortunatly, I think that “the market” is perceived as wanting the high quality paper and variant covers. Some people just want the story.

    I don’t think that the traditional comic is going to disappear, but it may morph into a new form. Magazine size with more ads? Manga size with more story? Who knows. I think that the concern over the issue insures that it will be worked on before it is to late.

  68. “And a general related question, why hasn’t Marvel or DC launched a reading initiative with public schools to get kids reading comics?”

    Because they are stupid. That’s the only answer I can come up with.

    There is still a lot of resistance in schools and libraries, but not as much as a lot of people think. Elementary school teachers especially are already used to books that use art and words to tell stories. The problem is usually getting them to understand that comics can be as elegant and literary as picture books, not that art doesn’t ever belong in kids books.

    Scholastic and Tokyopop have already done a lot of the persuading of teachers and librarians for Marvel and DC. So they don’t even need to do that, they just need to bother to put the damn books on the shelves in bookstores. And yet, while the kids’ manga/comics section at the BN I work at now takes up a bay in half (the section itself is barely a year old) there are a grand total of four titles in the entire section by DC and Marvel combined. One copy each.

    The kid’s graphic novel section at the library I work at is practically empty most days because the books are almost always checked out. And there aren’t any DC or Marvel titles there.

    “Another thought, for those who think supperheros are past their day. How many kids do you think will grow up to be avid book readers, because of Harry Potter and Liminy (SP?) Snicket? ”

    No, Superheroes they aren’t past their day. Superheros are really popular among kids. Heroes and magic and gadgets and special powers always have been, and always will be. (What is Harry Potter but a superhero in another guise?) Marvel and DC superheroes are still very popular among kids – they want to play at being Spiderman or Batman all the time. They even want to read about them all the time. We sell tons of kids books about DC and Marvel characters. They just aren’t comics/graphic novels. They aren’t even the kind of high quality picture book/easy reader that one could say is practically a one panel a page graphic novel -like Mo Willems easy readers. The pics are always there to give the kids something to look at while the parent reads, they almost never help tell the story.

    Marvel and DC’s problem is that it’s already out there, they just aren’t the ones making it. Bone, Babymouse, Artemis Fowl, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Kat and Mouse, Phonics Comics, Amelia Rules, Amelia (different amelia) and ten kabillion cinemanga of everything from Spongebob to High School Musical. I even now have parents coming in asking for Bone for their kids.

    Granted, not all of these comics are superhero comics, and a lot of the superheros ones aren’t “traditional” superheros. But, well, there’s a reason why Captain Underpants is insanely popular, and it’s only partly because Dav Pilkey is a comic genius.

    Oh, and it’s Lemony. As in lemons. :)

    And re: serialization, the best audience for serialization is kids. The younger, the more they want series. Kids just learning to read books with chapters practically refuse to read anything but series. Reading is still hard and kinda scary, they are often afraid of failing or being disappointed, so they want something they know they can handle and will like. Plus, little kids crave routine and repetition. Part of the trick, though, is that the younger the kid, the more definite an ending each chapter and book needs. It takes a lot of work to get through just a few pages, so they need constant payoffs. Plus, easy reader graphic novels need to have to easy to read sequential art, not just easy to read words. I suspect a lot of comic book publishers don’t get that, and so mistakenly think little kids don’t like comics. They do.

    And re: Dark Hunger. Yes the stigma remains, but it’s shrinking. A lot. People who didn’t know what they were getting may have been pissed off, but I mentioned it to several people when I was ringing up other Feehan and paranormal romances and they at least sounded interested. Which explains the actual sales.

    Gabaldon’s fans are super excited about her forthcoming comic (myself included). And it should very much not suck, since she used to write Donald Duck comics for Disney, so she has some experience with the medium.

  69. So, somewhere, way up above my comment, somebody remarked something about sales on Vertigo/indie monthly/serial/floppy titles possibly being affected by the readership for those titles waiting for trades.

    Just felt that it might be of very minimal value to state that, as a 15% superhero reader (that is, approx. 15% of my comics purchased are Marvel/DCU), I certainly wait for the trade. Every time. Haven’t followed a monthly series since… 2001, I think. Perhaps 2000.

    Does this mean I’ve contributed to the cancellation of American Virgin? Perhaps. I did read the first two trades, thought them decent enough, but probably wasn’t going to get vol. 3. Decent enough isn’t really sufficient to justify indefinite purchases.

    (I’m not really a fan of reading comics on the web. I find they’re often not formatted properly for a screen, loading the next page often slogs down the reading (even with cable), and frankly, I just like the tactile experience of holding the book. FYI, for those espousing that format. Then again, I’m in the techno-dark age. Why do I need a phone that can go online?!)

    As far as the whole issue of launching new characters, etc. in the marketplace… it’s far too complicated for me to get into, and probably for me to understand.
    Purely from a personal perspective, there are dozens of factors that play into my choices. AMERICAN VIRGIN got a trade because the subject matter seemed interesting, and the writer and artist were both creators whose work I usually find decent, and occasionally exceptional. This book I found decent. SIMON DARK (doesn’t have a trade out, which I noted earlier eliminates it from consideration anyway) has a writer I’ve never really enjoyed, has received very little to no positive word of mouth that I’ve heard, and honestly, has to compete with the rest of the DCU line for my attention. For me, there’s definitely a limit to how much I’d prefer to spend on Marvel or DCU properties. They’re a hell of a lot of fun in their place, but it’s not necessarily my bag. I hated HATED SuperFriends when I was six, after all.

    So there you go — my purely anecdotal, completely personal validation of the “non-superhero readers” don’t read floppies/monthly/serials argument, with a dash of “where are the readers for new stuff” rambling thrown in.

  70. Picking up Journalista’s thought of observation and suppositions:

    – As a reader of both floppies and trades, In general I find floppies to be too expensive for what I get. I will read a first issue, possibly two then wait for the trade because comics at $2.99 a pop doesn’t make sense to my budget-minded brain.

    – If I were a new reader I would want the floppies to be cheap and plentiful so I could spread my money around buy a lot of different experiences. That’s why I’ve supported FELL and CASANOVA (beyond the terrific tales within).

    – By observation, I don’t see the industry encouraging new readers through either format or content. I read a couple of issues of 100 BULLETS and thought it was great – I would wait for the trade. Then I saw the price of the trade and yet again, my budget-mindedbrain said, “no.” 100 BULLETS is the perfect example of a book that should come out in the ESSENTIAL / PHONE BOOK format. Imagine a row of those sized books in the mystery-thriller section of the bookstore. Priced reasonably and always in print.

    Mystery-thriller readers would flock to these books — THEN get the more costly color versions if they so chose. But when a series goes to trade and that trade is more expensive than the combined cost of the floppies…

    It gets stupid.

    I realize that you can’t do thissort of thing for every book, but there’s far better ways to encourage bigger and more diverse readership than the plan they have going. There are fans that would love a B/W MASTER OF KUNG FU ESSENTIAL with the work of Gulacy and Day, et al. It’s also a genre that pushes out past the superhero reader, and has press potential to sell books.

    I realize I’m stating the obvious here, but if it’s so obvious then why hasn’t it been done? What part of the comics business model am I missing where you don’t grow your customer base with afordable products of value?