Word of The Walking Dead coming to an end started circulating last Monday, because of course it did. Despite regularly complaining about how big comic companies spoil big story plots on Sunday nights, word leaked the minute copies of issue 193 get into the hands of retailers and their various minions. Robert Kirkman penned a letter denoting the end of the long series after an oversized last hurrah. The future issues that were solicited were a smoke screen. The print comic series as we knew it, had come to an end.

As Kirkman explains in his letter after the story concludes, the whole idea of this ending was meant to be a surprise. He’s been working at content creation so long, he misses the days where he can feel the thrill of surprise, and he wants to provide that experience for the people who have been reading the series. A sudden stop, one that neatly fits into all of the various formats the story has been collected in without causing anyone to nab one last volume in a different format. It is the picture of perfection in the balance of art and commerce, a series that had generated millions upon millions of dollars for the industry, going out on its own terms, keeping an eye on formatting for future sales. What’s more: as a reward, the final installment still runs at the regular $3.99 price point, despite the extra content. The release thanks the readers who stuck things through this far and didn’t cut them on the way out, in any way, shape or form.

In my opinion, it was a perfect landing. Of course, few retailers seem to feel the same way I do.

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The Retailer’s View // Revenge of the Walking Dead
By Brandon Schatz — with edits and contributions by Danica LeBlanc

The hand-wringing was immediate. As folks were frantically attempting to unpack their shipments to confirm the news with their own eyes, many were at their keyboards, demanding confirmation from Image Comics. The sudden news did need to be digested – especially for a series with The Walking Dead’s numbers – and the first step was getting a hold of something concrete. No one at Image was being forthcoming online, probably due to the fact that Kirkman was aiming to surprise, and when you run your own branch of Image, you can pretty much do what you want and the company will fall in line with your wishes.

Something important to note is this release comes hot on the heels of another big event for The Walking Dead, in the death of Rick Grimes in issue #192. Many retailers were given the “head’s up” about that particular happening, with one of the caveats being they don’t share that information with anyone – just use it to inform your orders.

That clearly didn’t happen.

Nothing bad ever happens to the Kennedys!

The news of Mr. Grimes’ demise was spread well in advance of issue #192 arriving on the stands. Shops bumped up their orders and managed to get a nice cash infusion, but managed to fill that cash gun with a bullet and shoot themselves in the foot by blabbing to (gestures wildly) the internet. This is one of the reasons why I have absolutely no empathy for retailers who are upset that they weren’t given a similar “head’s up” about the series’ conclusion.

The reasons retailers are upset are varied, but fall along the lines of a few general complaints. The first comes from a sense of FOMO – or “Fear Of Missing Out” – that both retailers and readers have in regards the the ending. On the readers end, demand for the issue is quite high – and on the retailer’s end, the supply of the comic is quite low. After spending on issue #192, many (myself included) remembered the bevy of low selling aftermath issues that followed any seismic event, and cut our order back down to where they’d normally be, with a little extra sprinkled on top for good measure. This “little extra” was helped by the fact that Image was offering full returnability for issue #193 with no qualifications – meaning retailers were afforded the opportunity to order whatever they wanted with no consequence to capitalize on the post-Rick buzz.

Many of us lost out on a solid chunk of change by not placing a bet on something that historically seemed like a shaky bet. As a result, issues have been going for upwards to $30 online – something that probably wouldn’t have happened if Image had let retailers know. Unfortunately, when you’re aiming to surprise, you can’t trust the group of people who just shot themselves in the foot mere weeks before with sensitive info – and even though it sucks that everybody has to suffer for the sins of what might a small few, the simple fact of the matter is, as an industry, we’ve done nothing to police this kind of behaviour in any efficient and acceptable way, and often encourage the bad behaviour by supporting and sharing info with unscrupulous rumour sites. (Here’s a test – let’s see if the site-monger I’m referring to still shows up in the comment section or puts a post on his site to strop about like the vanity searching low-rent Beetlejuice he is when he’s not mentioned specifically.)

Running along the lines of FOMO, there’s more than a few retailers out there bemoaning the loss of the series for monetary reasons – some going so far as to state that they will be losing their customers who only buy The Walking Dead, and nothing else. Which… look, when a series like this is running for such a long period of time, the fact that there are people out there still only buying The Walking Dead seems like a problem that could have been solved at some point – if not by the proprietor themselves, then the industry itself. I am of the personal opinion that the industry itself has done a remarkable job of populating itself with content. In fact, many retailers and readers complain that there are too many comics on the shelves these days. This might be my opinion, but I can point to several series that can fill a reader’s dour zom-dram hole in their heart, depending on what areas of The Walking Dead appealed to them most. I’m relatively certain that readers of this site could do so as well, and I encourage the brave among you to do so in the comment section in and around those who will surely show up to tell me how we’ll be out of business within the year. (We get that claim regularly, and recently had a hugely successful sale built around the anniversary of one such claim. Say it again! That sales day was particularly awesome.)

Some of the weirder folks upset about the sudden stoppage of the series are taking umbrage with Image soliciting further issues of the series that they had no intention of publishing – which I find interesting for several reasons. One: they seem to be directing their ire to Image specific reps, while The Walking Dead is very much under the Skybound fiefdom – a small but important distinction as I’d wager the buck stops more with that company than Image as a whole, which allows folks decide whether or not they’ll publish single issues or not on their own volition – even going so far as to allow issues of money-losing titles to continue if the creators are willing to make up the difference. Two: there’s an idea floating around that folks shouldn’t be trusting Image at their word now, because of this. As though the circumstances weren’t wholly unique and – more to the point – that the series itself hadn’t been responsible for feeling a good chunk of the industry for the past decade plus.

The idea that Image should be punished in any way, shape or form by the conclusion of The Walking Dead is farcical. Even putting aside the fact that Kirkman can do what he damn well pleases – especially when he’s put so much money into this industry and gave retailers a whole print run’s worth of the first issue of Die! Die! Die! for zero dollars within the last year or so. Did you know there were also retailers complaining that the oversized issue was only $3.99, because they could have sold it for more money? That’s probably the part that baffles me the most. Here’s Kirkman, offering his loyal readers a treat and a surprise, and for an incredibly great prize. Then there’s this batch of people not only complaining about the whole ordeal, but riding on the idea that the readers could have been bilked for more money at the same time.

One of my biggest problems with this industry is the fact that many retailers and publishers (and the main distributor) are so focused on the “today” of it all, that they seem to discount “tomorrow”. Usually everyone is pretty good about remembering “yesterday” and often want to move the industry back in that direction despite the technological advances in getting content into eyeballs, but conveniently, folks are forgetting about all the good that Kirkman and The Walking Dead have done. I’ve heard on many occasions (though have yet to be able to confirm for myself) the idea that the sales of The Walking Dead trades saved Diamond Comics from bankruptcy at one point in time. While that might not be true, at the very least, it definitely paid for some renovations as Image doesn’t deal their books outside of Diamond’s distribution unlike many others. We’re going to dog pile on Kirkman because he wanted to do a cool thing, and give the folks a good deal while he did it? If you’re so unhappy that you’re “losing money”, go ahead an try and sell it for more. You know you can, you just want someone else to be the bad guy while your needs are served.

Congrats. You’re what’s wrong with this industry.

In conclusion, I know that even with the way The Walking Dead has dropped down the sales charts lately, it was still one of Image’s top books, and that many are still suffering the temporary loss of Saga. That said, these titles don’t last forever, and I will never understand retailers who refuse to hustle to get other titles into people’s hands. The loss of these books don’t sink a ship – the lack of foresight to build up other titles does. And while many point to publishers for not doing the work, that goes back to the point where you’re trying to get someone else to be the bad guy instead of taking the blame yourself. Yes, monster hits are helpful, but they are alchemy, and can’t be counted on. The real stability comes with building hits with your own hands – connecting people with stories that they’re going to enjoy. You do that by doing the legwork yourself and reading everything you possibly can, and getting to know your customers as personally as you can through their personalities and purchasing habits. This isn’t rocket science – it is basic retail. No one is going to do it for you.

Get to work.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Started reading your article, and damn, spoilers, guys, put spoilers. This is 2019, we shouldn’t have to mention this, it goes without saying. I am many issues back in TWD, and the death of a certain character was revealed to me without any indications. Not cool, guys, really, really not cool.

  2. Nothing like a guy who hasn’t even been in business five years lecturing the rest of an industry on how things should be done.

    Mike

  3. @MBunge – Not that it matters, but I’ve been doing comics retail for 13 years at this point and writing retail pieces here for longer than five but you know, y’all do you. Feel free to submit a constructive counterpoint if you have one.

  4. Walking Dead brought “real people” into comic shops, as opposed to the usual superhero fanboys. I’m sure that some retailers will suffer with TWD gone.

  5. THIS! Seeing so many retailers in various forums and Facebook groups complain that they felt cheated out of essentially being able to bilk their customers out of more money has been an insane thing to watch these seven days.

  6. @mrbunge

    As one of “the guy’s” loyal customers, and a reader of comics for 33 years, let me tell you I’ve rarely met anyone as informed and forward thinking as Brandon. He’d have to be in order to pull off successfully building a loyal and diverse client base through the equal promotion of “mainstream” and “alternative” (terrible descriptors, I must say) stories in a market and political climate like Edmonton Alberta Canada where “alternative” is a four letter word.

    You don’t have to be in the industry for a long time to understand how it needs to change. All you need to do is be willing to ask ‘why’. Which he does. Alot.

  7. Your points are very well taken, but sheesh, I wish y’all would’ve put a SPOILER WARNING on the link and at the top of the article. I clicked something that I assumed was about retailers, not future STORY SPOILERS!!! Heidi, please correct this ASAP so others won’t get SPOILED this way, violating Kirkman’s intent and hosing your unsuspecting readers.

  8. Yeah, the genius showing us all the way forward for the comics industry didn’t know to put a spoiler warning in his piece.

    And as someone who has been reading comics for more than 33 years, no one has to tell me about how poorly run the whole blessed industry has been for even longer than that. But apparently I do need to point out the ridiculousness of someone who hasn’t even been running his own shop long enough to have experienced a recession telling everyone else, including people who’ve been in the business since this guy was probably in grade school, how they’re all doing it wrong.

    This is like a guy who’s worked at one McDonald’s for 13 years lecturing every franchise owner in the world over how they run their stores. He’s not necessarily wrong but the unmitigated arrogance is not a tremendously positive indicator.

    Mike

  9. And folks wonder why people think the comic industry is full of gate keepers.

    Still looking for anything resembling constructive here. While you might not agree, I’ve listed out my points, and bolstered them with facts. You came in, managed to get all the details of my history in this business wrong, and doubled down on saying I don’t have the right to my opinion because… I’m younger than you? Point well made, I guess.

  10. Folks complaining about spoilers…have you not read any media website in the past month or two? It’s been covered everywhere, on it’s own and as part of the larger story of the book ending. There’s kind of a statute of limitations on being able to complain about spoilers from major media events…if somebody spoils for me first day or week? Sure. A month or two after release? I accept that I might see some stuff or I just work to avoid anything that mentions the thing in case. But even then, you get a sense of what might have happened as people post character tributes or quotes or whatever. All this to say: purely as a reader, I agree with the article and appreciated the whole experience…the value for the length, the surprise, and most importantly the story itself, which was a nice, touching ending. As a longtime reader, I’m sad to see it go, but it ended on a good note.

  11. Shawn, so far, I had managed to avoid any and all spoilers of that magnitude from everything that I read. Yup, that’s possible if you’re very careful enough not to read most written pieces and discussions on social media talking about the content of the series.
    In this particular case, like Solmaker said it very clearly above, “I clicked something that I assumed was about retailers, not future STORY SPOILERS!!!”, hence our complaints. Plus would it have hurt to add a “spoiler alert” before revealing that character’s death? Nooope. It’d have taken at most five seconds to do so.

    And sure I might accept to see some stuff revealed to me ‘at any stage’ whether it be the first day or ten years after its release, but you can’t honestly argue that in 2019 – in 2019, for Pete’s sake – someone can’t add a simple “spoiler alert” mention before writing such a reveal.
    On a side note, I don’t see the pertinence of a mention of this character’s death in this article – although, to be fair, I stopped reading this article after I got spoiled, so I can’t fully account to its pertinence. However, as far as the title of the article is concerned, it’s clear that it wasn’t pertinent.

    And last but not least, there’s not statute of limitation with regards to spoilers, this is ridiculous to make such a remark. Would you spoil the big reveal in Empire Strikes Back to a kid watching it for the first time today? Of course not (unless if you bend towards the dark side of the Force,) so please refrain from making such one-sided remarks just for the sheer pleasure of being on the other side where hip people are in the know of the series ending and express a urging need for telling the whole world “hey, I knew that, screw the guys who didn’t.”

    Obviously, I recognize that the kid from my example not having gotten spoiled that particular reveal until then would be a feat of Jedi proportions. ;-)

  12. Retailers forget that The Walking Dead can easily be a perennial seller for them along the lines of The Sandman – one that has 32 volumes to sell. If retailers (especially the ones who moan all the time) can’t make money out of it going forward then there’s definitely something wrong with their business model.

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