Prominent comics blogger Tom Spurgeon had a series of pertinent questions about the industry over the weekend. All deserve continued contemplation, but we’ll take a crack at a few.

Why Don’t Alternative Comic Books Sell Better In Comics Shops?

Fifteen years ago it was conventional wisdom and strongly supported in anecdotal fashion that comic books ranging in popularity from Eightball to Artbabe sold the vast majority of their issues in a tiny, tiny handful of stores. Since then we seem to have seen a significant proliferation of stores like those stores. Why hasn’t there been a corresponding surge in alternative comics sales?


Perhaps the reason is that nobody publishes alternative comic books any more. Everybody publishes alternative graphic novels, and the odd issue of TALES DESIGNED TO THRIZZLE or PALOOKAVILLE slips out once every 12-18 months, but periodical publishing is no longer the engine at the front of the train. Plus, indie audiences are trained to look for the CD, not the single.

The question 4. Why Have Sales Gone Up On The Lower Part Of The Top 300?actually seems to contradict question #1.

The comics at the bottom of the sales estimates have apparently gone up even as the top of the charts remains locked into a successful top ten to twenty followed by a slightly steep slide into the second-rung performers paradigm. I’ve seen plenty of people note the bottom-chart success, and some stick their chest out about it, but I have yet to see a convincing explanation for it. If you’re going to ask me to believe that it just means that market is healthier than previous thought, I want to know why it is right now in that specific way when it wasn’t before.


Maybe….it is because there are more stores, as surmised in question #1?

That answer may seem flip, but it would take a small number of new stores to boost the levels of those that order non-Marvel and DC comics. We’d guess that more people are buying more kinds of comics, to some extent as well. The bottom 100 includes comics from Archie, Bongo, IDW, Image, Dark Horse, Red 5, Avatar, Dabel Brothers, Dynamic Forces and Zenescope, among many others. It’s not a complete epic poem of genre diversity, but there are kids’ comics, horror, humor, SF, fantasy, Westerns, war comics, and so on…different stuff. Perhaps the ginormous PR campaign undertaken by comics in the last five years or so, as well as the victory of nerd literacy simply means…more people read comics. Not on the order of MILLIONS of people, mind you, but hundreds.

We’d agree, though, this is a ripe topic for exploration, especially with ruin facing the world’s economy.

1 COMMENT

  1. You wrote “nobody publishes alternative comic books any more. Everybody publishes alternative graphic novels . . . .” I would agree that fewer people are publishing alternative comic books, but also point to the rise of webcomics as a reason for that. The alternative comic book creators of fifteen years ago are the webcomic creators of today.

  2. “Alternative” is code for not crap.

    Who says I don’t like the smell of gasoline?

    You know, Dirk divides his comics links into “Art Comics, ” Pop Comics” and “Manga”…which somehow assumes that manga doesn’t also fall into the divisions of art and pop. But anyway…

  3. “I would agree that fewer people are publishing alternative comic books, but also point to the rise of webcomics as a reason for that. The alternative comic book creators of fifteen years ago are the webcomic creators of today.”

    That may be true, but IMO the reason for that is that many of the cartoonists and creators who WOULD have published single issue comics have had it with being shut out of most comic shops and most specifically Diamond.

    They’ve quit “banging their heads against the wall” and have chucked the archaic concept of single issues and have gone straight thru to that of GN’s and the web.

    Leaving the bulk of shops that didn’t want them in the first place to stock nearly nothing but mainstream comics.

  4. They’re all rough designations. I imagine that unless someone is spoiling for a fight they accept that people use rough designations all the time and don’t feel the desire to pick at the edges. The general intent tends to be pretty clear.

    I don’t know of anyone that uses alternative as code for “not crap,” although I guess a really staunch advocate for those kinds of comics or the publishers affiliated with them might. I’ve read plenty of crappy alternative comic books. I’ve read plenty of great mainstream comic books.

    I imagine most people follow Dirk’s categories not by accepting he’s right with every designation but by accepting he’s mostly right and that sometimes that’s just about impossible. I’m sure he know that some comics news subjects are difficult to categorize.

    In my experience, the appellations “art comics” and “alternative comics” both tend to indicate comics that don’t fit easily into pulp adventure and fantasy genres, while alternative comics are sometimes further defined by the way they provide an alternative to dominant modes of North American comic books.

    Both have serve as a contrast to the designation “independent” which was used by a lot of people to indicate comics that explore pulp adventure and fantasy genres but in a way and by people not aligned with the American mainstream. So Spider-Man = mainstream, Casanova = independent, Tales Designed To Thrizzle = alternative. I don’t think it’s an uncomfortable or unenlightening way to approach those designations.

  5. I think it’s just because marvel and DC publish nowadays more comics than they did the years before, and due to licensed properties at Dynamite, Dark Horse and IDW, that’s probably the only reason why the sales have gone up in the lower top 300 ranks.

  6. “Indie comic” has also referred to self-published comics such as Bone, Strangers in Paradise, Finder, etc. We still publish print issues of “Supernatural Law” (the latest, #45, published in July featured Troma’s Toxic Avenger and Lloyd Kaufman), although issues are becoming farther apart, because of all the reasons everyone’s already cited. The series now has a pretty good following online at http://www.supernaturallaw.com , where Batton has done both revised versions of older stories and brand-new stuff. Right now there’s a new story unfolding, having to do with werewolf rights. I’m wondering of “Supernatural Law” is now the longest-running self-published print comic book series . . .

    More info on the history of the series at http://www.exhibitapress.com

  7. I am shocked, yes, SHOCKED, that Spurgeon’s third question didn’t rate a mention in the Beat. Too close for comfort, perhaps.

  8. I’m almost completely unable to sell books from Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, D&J, First Second, etc, despite stocking a variety of them. It’s a rare day when I sell a copy of Love & Rockets! It’s an area thing. Locally, Isotope and Comic Relief have a very different reader base that my store, and that’s where those books are likely to sell. It’s like asking why more Blockbusters don’t rent/sell more small art-house films. It’s just not the target audience for that type of material.

  9. Image doesn’t publish alternative comics? What about “True Story Swear to God”?

    True, small press is going one of two ways: webcomics or trade publishing. Usually, the webcomic will progress until it reaches critical mass, and then a trade collection will be issued. Or somebody notices the webcomic, and hires the creator for something else.

    Regarding the bottom of the Top 300, it took sales of 4,230 or more copies to make the list last month. How many Diamond accounts are there?

    Also, there’s a new demographic of consumer, thanks in part to Free Comic Book Day and Hollywood. A few months ago, while shopping at Midtown Comics Times Square, I noticed a mother reminiscing over some old Harvey comics. So I mentioned the new trade collections, and tried to show her an example, but they were out. (Midtown, it should be noted, has two bays of all-ages trades located at the beginning of their GN shelves, and offers an incredible selection of every type of comic.)

    Retailers are less likely to order in a copy of an alternative title if that copy can not be returned for credit. Trades are much easier to merchandise, and will usually get better press and notice.

  10. Well over twenty years ago at a Christmas party at Mike Gold’s house, in the midst of a conversation quite similar to the above thread; Max Allan Collins said something to me that I will never, ever forget.

    “We are independent because we have no alternative.”

    ‘Nuff said true believers!

  11. I consider the Deposit Man to be an alternative comic book.

    An alternative to the usual DC or Marvel tripe that no one can no longer afford (not including Jonah Hex or The Brave & The Bold).

    Marvel Comics selling their junk @ $ 3.99 a pop – WITH ADs for a lousy ten to fifteen minute block of entertainment. I do a 32 page comic book with barely a advertisement in sight from cover to cover for a mere $2.50 that can last for at least a half hour. What the bloody hell has the world come to??

    Massage parlors that offer a thirty minute session with a happy ending included for no additional charge has a better long lasting entertainment value than a 32 page Marvel comic.

    ~

    Coat

  12. “Massage parlors that offer a thirty minute session with a happy ending included for no additional charge has a better long lasting entertainment value than a 32 page Marvel comic.”

    Insert fan wanking joke here.