So, as happens frequently in America, we treat History like a Cassandra, reading and studying, but choosing not to believe or remember the lessons it teaches us. I know Cassandra’s fate, and thus the dangers of saying “I told you so”. So instead, I’ll quote Gene Wilder in ” Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”:
Oh, you should never ever doubt what nobody is sure about.
So, what can we expect in 2011?
First, lots of movies. There are three superhero tentpoles this summer, starting with Thor, and continuing with Green Lantern and Captain America: First Avenger. Surprisingly, X-Men: First Class would, in any previous year, be considered a major release, but it remains in the publicity shadow of Thor and Cap, screening between the two, and just two weeks before Green Lantern. The tentpoles have enormous buzz, and have avoided controversy, although there was some grumbling when the Green Lantern trailer was first shown.
The year starts with The Green Hornet, which was delayed from last year to be converted into 3-D. The scuttlebutt is that this will be a “January” movie, exiled to the cinematic attic where studios push movies best forgotten. The most recent trailer suggests a comedy, and one which doesn’t seem too awful. Of note: Dynamite has been flooding the market with GH comics so that there will be graphic novels available as tie-ins. Will Dynamite score the success Dark Horse had with winter hits 300 and Sin City, or will it be more like Kitchen Sink and The Crow: City of Angels?
Cowboys and Aliens appears to follow in the footsteps of Men In Black: a little-known comicbook with a stellar (sorry, couldn’t resist) cast. Will it enjoy similar success? Or will it be more like Wild Wild West? The Tempation of Ziel and The Burma Conspiracy are two more little-known graphic novel films scheduled this year. The former might be released this year (IMDB is a bit vague, and Google says it’s available to stream online), the latter is based on the Belgian series Largo Winch, and is a sequel to the 2008 movie.
Largo Winch is just one of THREE Belgian comics movies being released this year. While cartoon-to-CGI movies tend to be critically panned, they enjoy decent box office success. So expect The Smurfs, scheduled for August, to pull in a decent box office before hitting the shelves in time for Christmas. If nothing else, it has allowed Papercutz to reprint the original comics (yes, it was a comic before it was a cartoon) from Belgium.
Much more anticipated, almost more anticipated than Thor or Green Lantern, is The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson, this movie is scheduled to be the first of three. Will Spielberg’s first digital and animated feature overcome the stigma of motion-capture and CGI-comics films? Perhaps Andy Serkis will serve as a good luck charm…
IMDB lists lots (losts?) of comics movies in development or production, so there might be more. Gigantor and the Furry Freak Brothers (“Grass Roots”) are the most interesting, but nothing is certain until there’s a panel at San Diego.
Oh, yes, I suppose we should talk about the actual comics…
Well, digital comics and tablets continue to gain popularity. The Consumer Electronics Show, held every January in Vegas, previews the latest in high-tech gadgetry. Numerous non-Apple tablets were unveiled, some might make it to market, and millions will be sold. Most will blur the line between smart phone and netbooks, and almost nobody will care what the device is or how it works, as long as it runs the latest version of Angry Birds or streams Hulu.
Google recently entered the e-bookstore market, joining a marketplace dominated by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and, to a lesser extent, Apple. However, there remain few actual graphic novel e-books. Most comics exist as digital apps, and sold as single issues, not as collected editions. Comics thus seem to be stuck in the digital newsstand of the 1980s, not the digital bookstores of the 2000s. Most likely, it will be the mainstream publishers such as Random House and Macmillan who pioneer and exploit this market. Random House might encourage their client publishers such as DC and Archie to market e-books, and we might even see creator-owned webcomics available as well.
What about regular printed-on-dead-plants comics? Well, over in the multiverse of superhero comics, a reduction in cover price might encourage readers to buy more issues. Or, given that this will take place during the winter doldrums of lower comics sales, the diaspora of comics fans burned by the recent price hike might migrate to other sources or pursuits, never to return. Digital comics might entice some of those disaffected readers, as well as encourage new or lapsed readers. DC’s day-and-date release of Batman Beyond of both digital and print editions is interesting, as DC hopes to tap into the fanbase of the cartoon.
Might we see the formation of a “digital direct market”, replicating Marvel’s 1982 decision to move Ka-Zar, Micronauts, and Moon Knight to a Direct Market/Subscription-only model? Will the print Direct Market of comicbook shops participate in this new digital market?
There is some speculation that many comics shops are on the fargile margin between profit and loss. 2011 might see the beginning of a “comics contraction”, as comics shops, which are part hobby shop, part specialty bookstore, follow the trail of tears trod by music retailers and independent bookstores. Just as 2010 saw major metropolitan cities without a general bookstore, 2011 might see major cities serviced by one or no comics shops.
Of course, as comics shops go, so goes Diamond Comics. Dave Bowen, Director of Digital Distribution at Diamond, participated in the ICv2 Comics & Digital Conference held during the New York Comic Con, and there are rumors that Diamond will unveil a digital service for comics shops. However, many store websites are the equivalent of a cigar-box-as-cash-register store. They publicize the store, perhaps offer a blog, but few have an actual e-commerce presence. If there is no online store, no storefront online, then where will a store be able to sell digital comics online? Perhaps Diamond will offer that service as well, which would benefit Diamond as well as the store, as Diamond would act as the “Amazon” for comics shops, maintaining the electronic storefront, shipping titles directly from their warehouse in Mississippi and processing digital downloads, while charging a small processing fee to the comics shop.
The other concern about Diamond? More clients moving trade distribution to other companies. Both Image and Dark Horse, home to successful media properties such as Walking Dead and Hellboy, are attractive candidates. I hope this doesn’t happen, as Diamond Book Distributors allows many small press comics publishers access to the library and bookstore markets. No one wants to see another meltdown similar to the LPC/CDS situation of 2002, which required many publishers to hold ordering telethons to generate cash flow.
One interesting development begins this year: Diamond will start shipping comics a day early, allowing shops to process orders more efficiently and with less stress. Might we see more midnight sales, like Marvel promoted with the first issue of Stehen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born?
The proliferation of webcomics, the expansion of fans online, and students fostered by the numerous art schools will create more variety among comics. Some will be successful, some will treat it as a sideline. The number of comics creators will fuel a “comics craft” subculture, as seen last year at the The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival. That show was curated, but there are numerous small shows scheduled across the country. Will these shows become as numerous as craft fairs? Will we see more cross-polinization, as comics participate in arts and crafts festivals, and print artists exhibit at comics fests? Anime and science fiction conventions already have a strong “hand made” component, and that do-it-yourself philosophy will continue to drive the small press market, which evolved from the mimeographed APA movement and photocopied mini-comics.
Well, that’s enough prognostication. Anyone else care to gaze into the crystal ball of comics conjecture? Feel free to comment below!