By Brian Hibbs

Long term readers of Tilting at Windmills (a column that has been running since 1991) will recognize that I have been harping on certain themes for the last few decades: primarily that greed will end up destroying the Direct Market, and that the promotion of ethical standards on how we act, and how we treat all tiers of the industry (creator, publisher, distributor, retailer and consumer) determines what our future can be.

I could sit here and make a link-fest of column after column showing these arguments, but instead maybe you should go read through the archives, both here at The Beat, and the collection I’ve put together of pre-Beat columns from Comics Retailer magazine and Newsarama and CBR. This is at least the 272nd attempt to express my dismay at how the business that I love more than any other has been led down the wrong paths.

(And, look, to put today’s attempt to express that dismay into perspective, why don’t you go read this column quoting from a column from nineteen seventy-six by Joe Brancatelli where is he saying the same thing about the second ongoing Spider-Man comic book. God, we’ll never change, will we? [If that link goes dead, here is a worse-formatted one that should be permanent])

I don’t bring this history up to make myself out to be some sort of savant or something – ha, I am far from that! – but to demonstrate that the things that have led us here to 2019 are part of a long-continuum of doing things that has ultimately put our backs to the wall today. And I think we do have our backs to the wall right now, as do many many of my peers.

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First and foremost, the way that publishers (especially Marvel Comics) have deflected criticisms of their publishing methods over the years has been with Retailer Isolation. I have entirely lost count of the number of times I have been told over the decades “Oh, that’s just you saying that”. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve had publishers lie directly to my face (especially specific individuals at Marvel comics) and tell me that I am the sole retailer expressing a concern.

They tried to tell me that no one else cared when I ended up having to sue Marvel over them breaking their own terms of sale… and won a million dollars for my class because I was absolutely right.

It was never “just me” back then, and it ain’t just me now, babe.

Let’s maybe start with the public statement that ComicsPRO (the retailer trade organization) has just released as an after-action report of the 2018 meeting. You can go read it at this link. Especially go and click through to the actual PDF itself (direct link) – that’s the consensus of 160 retailers at the meeting. And while that cover letter is a little bloodless, there was a lot of passion and energy in that contentious room.

The last year has gotten even worse (the 2019 ComicsPRO meeting is in just about two months – still time to register for pubs and stores!) I would say, and more retailers are directly standing up and starting to speak. Really, there aren’t a ton of “name” retailers, stores that might register with an average comic book reader, but I think Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics might be one of them. Chuck posted to Facebook “I fervently believe that the economics of comics publishing simply no longer allow smallish neighborhood comics shops to be successful”

If that wasn’t horrifying enough, Chuck went on in his recent newsletter that Mile High, one of the largest and most successful retailers in the country, was reacting to the new realities of publishing in the DM with this: “If you are a fan who wants to just browse the racks in our stores each week, however, you are most likely going to be sorely disappointed if you do not come in to one of our locations on Wednesday morning. We will definitely still be ordering copies of many new releases for speculative sale on the racks in our retail stores, but in such small quantities that we will be almost certainly sell out by the first weekend”

One of the most successful stores in the world is saying that they’re cutting bait on most new releases because they can’t stock them profitably. Think about that a second.

Chuck isn’t the only retailer I’ve seen making such a statement, but many of them are locked away in private retailer forums and the like. But pretty much everyone recognizes that we’ve got a real problem with the sheer number of not just titles being published (in the Brancetlli piece I complain about six “Spider-Man” comics in ‘92, but now and today the newest catalog from Marvel has ten ongoing “Spider-Man” titles, plus two mini-series – that’s three books every week! There are also four reprint collections that month) but also the sheer number of SKUs that variants bring. Again, the new Marvel catalog leads with a mini-series called “War of the Realms” that has seventeen different covers attached to it. For one single issue worth of release. Even if you try to “ignore variants” they take up catalog and “eye” space, they increase the amount of time it takes to order (let alone find) the comics you want to stock; they also consume distributor resources, ultimately increasing overages, shortages and damages, hurting everyone as a result.

The January 2019 order form features 1106 solicited periodical comic books. Of those, only 454 of those SKUs are new items – the other 652 are variant covers. That means a staggering fifty-nine percent of all solicited comics are actually variants. That’s completely and entirely absurd! It is deluded, it is dangerous, and it actively works against the best interests of the market.

I remember when the number of customers streaming in for new periodical comics each week could be measured in the hundreds – one store I worked for in the 80s ordered solid 300 copy cases of each and every issue of X-Men. Now many stores can measure the periodical readers for any particular book in scores or less.

This is a direct result of publishing strategies that value excess over sustainability – the audience for comics is contracting because publishers are trying to take advantage of the comic buyers.

hobbs2019-1_pq2.pngMy buddy Phil Boyle at Florida’s Coliseum of Comics, a seven-store chain, has been a foil of mine for decades – we used to literally scream at each other over Marvel’s practices in the 90s (he was an enormous fan of Bill Jemas; I was… less so), but here in 2019 Phil has become a believer of virtually all of the things I have been saying (honestly, it’s a straight line from Jemas’ Marvel to today’s Marvel), here’s Phil from an excellent op/ed on ICv2 (itself taken from a private Facebook group post)

“As a quick background, comic retailers are currently buying under a plan that, though tweaked over the years, is essentially the same buying structure that was put on the table by Phil Seulling 46 (FORTY-SIX!) years ago. As one of the supposed “Old Guard” at my august 35 years, even I wasn’t selling comics when this deal was struck. To add fuel to the fire that we’re mired in old policy, Diamond’s monthly printed discount terms are based on sales data from 2006! I don’t see this as a Diamond problem as much as a problem that no publisher wants to be the one to put their foot down and make the changes that need to be made. Fleecing the retailer base is wonderful for the bottom line until everyone can’t pay their bills anymore.

I understand the pressure that publishers have to make sure that the bank account is full at the end of each quarter. I get the whole variants adding to that bottom line and pricing structures are safe for publishers. I understand that Diamond has only the funds that their margin allows so all the wants of the retail side of things simply can’t happen. I also know that Steve Geppi has personally (he owns Diamond outright) buoyed many stores through difficult times. I get how all these moving parts work but I see the plight of retail stores going into 2019 as more than just Amazon and ennui when it comes to actually reading when video and Kindle are so available. Everyone likes to think we’re all partners in bringing comics to the masses. Here’s a truth: Despite the best intentions and love of comic by the folks at Marvel and DC, Disney and Warner Bros./AT&T are not comic fans beyond what it amounts to on the bottom line. But we need a change and not a small incremental thing; we need a complete sea change.”

Phil then goes on to list eight problem areas, what publishers can do about them, and, most importantly how he is responding as a retailer without waiting for the publishers to solve…. Because it doesn’t look like they’re going to. Its really an excellent piece, you should go read it.

Phil references Joe Field’s comments – also in a private retailer group post – and Joe is one of the only other “name” comic book retailers. Owner of Flying Colors (& Other Cool Stuff) in Concord, CA, Joe conceived of the single greatest promotional gift to the Direct Market: Free Comic Book Day. Here’s just a piece of Joe’s comments, used with permission:

“With so many more publishers in the marketplace these days, what we’ve done is widened the market, but we’ve also flattened it. So many more titles selling fewer than 10 copies or even fewer than five copies, yet each one takes the same rack space, each one requires handling, some basic knowledge.

We have publishers taking the specialty market for granted. We are the mature market for comics, so our growth is never going to look very robust. But we are here and we really don’t want to go away. We take abuse from other segments of the specialty market, yet we still stand, we survive and some of us even thrive.

We have major corporations that don’t care to deal with “mom and pops” unless and until we’ve got 900 stores in our chain. Employees & executives for these major corporations are understandably answering to their bosses first, last and always. But I also think they are chiseling at their solid base of business (us) with every vertically integrated, synchronistic, multi-platform announcement. And when they make those announcements, they tell us it’s to get more people interested in comics so they’ll eventually visit us. Yeah, right.”

Joe is one of the most calm, rational and (not an insult in this case) Middle-of-the-road guys I know. Chuck and Phil are like me: bomb-throwers, but Joe is calm and stable and patient and wise. And if even he is starting to freak out enough to make a public (ish) statement. Well, can we please start to take this seriously now?

It doesn’t have to be big, known, retailers making big splashy statements either, here’s retailer Regan Clem, owner of Summit Comics in Lansing, MI. He’s never penned an op/ed, he’s not especially all-industry noticed, but smaller stores are the ones most impacted by the publishing changes the 2010’s brought us, and he said these wise things (again, used with permission) in just a reply to a different private Facebook thread:

“Crossovers have always been good for sales. A big annual crossover works. But then they do them all the time, throw the label on books where it really isn’t crossing over, and it loses the impact to actually have a big, real crossover be effective. The complaints are more against the latter.

#1s works. But then they relaunch every year, ruining the impact. They relaunch for a new creative team which just gives everyone a jumping off point ruining the positive impact a new creative team could have on sales.

They are like heroin addicts chasing the dragon. All that is good becomes abused. And then we complain about the abuse.

I even like variant covers in moderation. When used properly, they work. But again, abuse in the system is causing them to lose their effectiveness too.”

So this is where we are: retailers large and small, public and private, left and right, all recognizing that the system has gone off the rails. That the market is radically over-producing the wrong objects. That we’re literally chasing customers away from the market in order to make just pennies more from the remaining customers. That publishers are actively destroying a system that we spent decades carefully building.

The way the market is structured, it wouldn’t take losing all that many more stores to make the basic math of the Direct Market entirely untenable – I think possibly losing 10% of the storefronts could be enough to cause the whole thing to crash for the remaining 90% because the infrastructure has minimum input needs.

The real problem, in my mind, was that the time to stop this was a decade or more back, because today publishers have transformed the way they even think about publishing, about structuring their P&Ls around these rapacious models. I’m not sure that the folks at, say, Dynamite, would survive six months if they suddenly switched to a series having to be viable solely on its own merit and away from a “every comic has many variants” model. The same might be true for the individual creators at Image, let alone the freight train of Marvel comics who almost certainly has the next two quarters (or more!) of weekly mini-series and dollar-grabbing one shots and variants and relaunches and reboots and tie-ins all white-boarded out. Even if one could stop that production (with a lot of kill-fees and sunk inventory costs), it’s a bit hard for me to see top level executives at Disney having the sensitivity enough to understand why 2-4 quarters of radically reduced revenue might make sense to preserve their publishing business for decades more to come.

And don’t even get me started on AT&T taking over DC – scuttlebutt says the first question DC people were asked is “Wait, why are you still printing anything?”

In this we’re a bit like climate change – we can still fix it, but it now is going to take radical changes, not just incremental ones.

Like my peers, I believe that most people working at publishers are good, sincere people who care about comics – I mean, otherwise, it’s a pretty low-stakes way to make a living – but the companies above them are unlikely to be trusted for protecting the integrity or future of the market that allowed them to get to the point to really exploit in transmedia those “intellectual properties”

hobbs2019-1_pq3.pngLet me be clear: I’m not worried about comics, not the medium itself. It’s fine as a creative endeavor, if only because there are plenty of distribution options for non-periodical formats these days. Ha, in fact, I’ve been slowly moving a significant portion of my purchasing away from Diamond over the last decade as other options because meaningful (and, generally, cheaper) – but most stores aren’t very forward thinking. And most stores really only focus on the Marvel/DC axis of comics, and these stores will not have a good natural pivot because they exist to sell the Marvel and DC fictional universes more than the medium of comics itself.

I’ve been pushing my store for decades into what I think is more sustainable, civilian-focused comics-forward model… and even we’d take a hard, sharp loss if Disney or AT&T decided to pull out.

Most stores don’t have the large resources of a Mile High or a Coliseum of Comics in order to weather the coming storm. They don’t have the profile of a Comix Experience or Flying Colors to allow us to try to figure some other way out of the maze. But a way must be found out: we’re also on a collision course with the relatively soon wave of about-to-retire store owners who don’t necessarily have heirs in place to keep their legacies alive, and even much of Diamond Upper Management Team is getting pretty close to aging out of the game. Does anyone have a viable plan for (god forbid) the day Steve Geppi dies?

2019 is, I fear, a make or break year for the infrastructure of the comics specialty market to rebuild its long-term viability.

It ain’t just me – virtually every Direct Market retailer agrees that the way we’re asked to do business has become fundamentally broken.

So, what are you going to do about it?


Brian Hibbs has owned and operated Comix Experience in San Francisco since 1989, was a founding member of the Board of Directors of ComicsPRO, has sat on the Board of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and has been an Eisner Award judge. Feel free to e-mail him with any comments. You can purchase two collections of the first Tilting at Windmills (originally serialized in Comics Retailer magazine) published by IDW Publishing, as well as find an archive of pre-CBR installments right here. Brian is also available to consult for your publishing or retailing program. You can read his previous columns here.

33 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent summary of what’s going on behind the curtain. What to do about this is the BIG question as our communication with our big two business “partners” is at an all time low.

  2. “The January 2019 order form features 1106 solicited periodical comic books. Of those, only 454 of those SKUs are new items – the other 652 are variant covers.”

    For comparison, January 2018 — which also had five Wednesdays — had 478 new items, exclusive of variants, so a drop in 5% in actual new comics stories. We saw drops of that size and larger through all of 2018: not drops in SKUs offered, but fewer unique comics periodical stories (or interiors, or whatever term you want to use).

    So the double-edged sword: retailers are having to deal with the same or increasing numbers of things to stock, but the number of actual stories being marketed to the audience — even with the development of a second tier of publishers — has declined since the 2017 recession, with DC’s slate nearly 10% smaller through November of last year. Looking at the December new-comics release lists, I suspect that month may be DC’s smallest new-story slate since 1991!

    The number of “unique comics” is important if you believe (as I think the data supports) that the median number of copies bought of any given comic story is 1; all things being equal, an SKU that’s the main or sole version of a comic book is likely have higher sales than an SKU that’s a variant. So the balance matters, for the shelf, for retailer labor, and for potential total units sold.

  3. Not anything I can do. I had to give up comics a few years back because I can’t afford them anymore. I still get Knights of the Dinner Table and that’s it. Marvel has no soul and DC’s rebooting has left the characters I used to love in the grave long ago. Writers rampage through characters with their egos’ on full throttle and their respect for the characters history tossed out the window, with the result that the characters become roadkill. I just can’t work up any enthusiasm or curiosity for a Reed Richards who blows up worlds, a Steve Rogers who took over the country in the name of HYDRA or a Carol Danvers that throws people into prison based on a prophet and gets rewarded for it. I’ve lost track of how many different Birds of Prey there have been and I can’t even fathom Wonder Woman’s current ancestry. And for all this any time I mentioned online or too the writers I was met with scorn and ridicule, basically told to go away (Dan Scott and Wacker flat out told me never to buy their stuff again while I was the cbr boards) and shut up. So I did.
    A lot of the writers have been as big a jerk to the fans as the companies are to the retailers. The result is what we see now and I don’t see it changing. Certainly I can’t do anything.

  4. I’m just trying to remember my experience of breaking into reading superhero comics, and, after Carl Barks ducks books, it was first the Curt Swan Superman, and then B&W reprints of Superman stories from DC Comics Presents; Batman by Marshall Rogers, or of that era; some pre-Crisis WW and JLA, Byrne FF; later, early Hulk. All about the dynamism of the athletic bodies and really cool, cutting edge (to me, back then) done in one stories. At that time, the continuity and more real tones of ASM (in the #200s), and even Uncanny X-Men, did not come to me until later.

    Just saying, the way comics are written are perhaps different (?) to what I liked that first grabbed me. One boy I knew, though, when being asked to pick some people he admired, chose Superman as one. Which source did that come from? I wondered, surprised. I don’t know about sources today for kids, but I still can’t go past the musculature of Swan, Garcia-Lopez and all the copyists of Adams, etc., in those done-in one adventure and gentle sci-fi stories, that radiated decency in big-people adventure and melodrama stories. Want new readers, that’s kind of the main way I see certain boys (like me, I guess) to connect.

    Can’t really judge material for younger readers and what it’s like for them. I do think the six-issue, tpb collection-ready serialising, would still be a turn off (a whole story, like the Infinity Gauntlet, read as a whole issue; but perhaps too complex for me when I was reading reprints issues of Supes). Just my thoughts on new readers based on my experience. Hopefully many more ways to connect than mine, based on new material, that I don’t know about.

  5. Danica and I started our store nearly four years ago because, like you note, all of this has been happening for years, and we saw the curve of the industry… and there needed to be a shop in town that survived somehow. We intend to be that shop.

    That all said, I know we tend to hit a few similar notes in our respective columns, I just… I tend to be less forgiving of retailers who refuse to adjust their model. And admittedly, I’m very frustrated that some of the very folks (not you Brian, you’re always very constructive and thoughtful with your criticism) who said “the kid doesn’t know what he’s talking about” are suddenly cognizant of what’s been happening… forever?

    I also get frustrated at ideas like retailers saying variants are a problem and that they don’t understand why companies rely on them… and then say they won’t stop ordering them because they make them money. Again, this isn’t you, just general “forum” frustrations, seeing folks describe the self same reasoning for ordering variants as the companies do for printing them. Just admit you want the short dollar. Just know it will come at the expense of the long game.

    Though I think “the kid doesn’t know what he’s talking about” mentality is born from my proclivity to say retailers are problematic for enabling bad behaviours. I just think it’s disingenous to point and jeer at publishers for chasing the quick dollar and saying “but when I do it, it’s smart business!” TAKE THE SHORT TERM HIT, KIDS. But again, like you say, it’s too late. Now it’s time for those who have already to weather a storm, and those who don’t to disappear. And hopefully some new blood will come in and do better than the ones who are gone.

  6. Here’s the line I find most interesting: ” the audience for comics is contracting because publishers are trying to take advantage of the comic buyers.” As a comics reader of the last 7 years now, I lament two things 7 years later. The first is that the cost of comics have gone from $3-4 per title per month, to $4-10 per title per month. It’s not enough that the big 2 publishers have edged prices up to $4-5 per issue, but they are increasingly adding second (or 3rd or 4th!) $4 or pricier issues per month. They are literally pricing me out of trying new series with high priced first issues, double shipped first months, weekly ongoing series, and shipping annuals the same month as double shipped issues of the very same title. All practices meant to squeeze more money from subscribers. It makes me gun shy to try new series, or has made me drop ongoing series.

    The second change I lament is the cumulative effect of constantly pushing “new” series. From big to small publishers, I don’t know what to sample or subscribe to anymore. If I like a series, should I jump at the newest shiny series? Surely new series launches are a harbinger of old series being cancelled from the big 2. And so many independent/small press series sound promising but stall out after 1 arc. Or every month there is a new publisher with a new hook or flashy big name creator. And the whole of comics journalism jumps after these untested and unproven publishers with fluff PR pieces. I don’t blame anyone for wanting new and shiny, but I want someone to tell me what comics to actually care about. If the publisher doesn’t care enough to keep quality creators on a title, or to publish a title on a timely schedule, why publish it at all? If my local comic shop retailer doesn’t even bother to promote series to read, why bother to be in retail? I get pages of ads from retailers all the time, but my local comic shop (great people) only sends out emails with the current week’s new release list. How can they expect to grow a business when they rely primarily on publishers and big media companies to sell me on new products?

  7. Speaking as a simple reader/buyer with a pull list, 2019 became my year of “no more.” My shop is about to unfortunately get hit with drastic reductions in the number of books I purchase for myself and my kids. I just can’t do this anymore, and get upset when there are dozens of parallel lines coming out of Marvel. It’s enough. Time to downsize and sock more money away in a bank, maybe re-read more past lines. Too much!!!

  8. You’ve said in many columns before, one of the biggest problems I’ve had: It is so hard (and expensive) to keep up with the A-list books, then why/how could anyone settle for the lower-tier ones?

    At least when I was getting into comics, books shipped on time, and Marvel at least tried not to have two books from the same “family” of titles in the same week. I.e., Web of Spider-Man one week, Amazing another, Spectacular another. West Coast Avengers and Avengers were also evenly spaced. And those books were only $1!

    It’s also ridiculous when a lower-tier book that isn’t selling that well and its ANNUAL ship the same day, expecting someone to spend what, $9 total?

    But it’s also like this: With Uncanny X-Men shipping weekly recently, who has time for Mr. & Ms. X? Or Iceman? Or Domino? Or whatever X-book that will only last 15 issues at most before rebooting again?

    Finally, I am kind of over buying a series only to have a pointless relaunch. I loved that Marvel was publishing Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man. I did NOT need a new Friendly Neighborhood, especially with those incredibly bland cover designs that all look the same with the Stan Lee banners. (Stan deserved better.)

  9. I’ve been buying and reading comic books since 1981. I stopped reading Marvel Comics in the late ’90s. I tried again in 2012 and gave up two years later. I don’t believe I’ll start again unless something substantial changes.

    I dropped DC Comics in 2016. I’m tired of never ending reboots and retcons. From what I’ve read about Heroes in Crisis, I made the right call.

    I stopped buying print comic books and graphic novels in 2011. I went entirely digital. For me, print is dead. After 30 years of buying comic books and graphic novels, I no longer have the physical space to purchase more. I just don’t, especially after moving into a condominium. It took a bit of an adjustment, but I’ve come to love reading comic books and graphic novels on my iPads. It works very well, and they no longer take up space in my home.

    I still buy digital comic books and graphic novels every week, but primarily from Boom!, Dynamite, IDW, and a few others, as well as DC Comics collections from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. I know this isn’t want comic book retailers want to hear, I’m sorry.

    I checked a couple of years ago, and the comic book store I used to go to until 2011 was out of business. It doesn’t appear that any within fifteen miles of my home have opened up to replace it. It’s a pity, but things change.

  10. It’s possible that the marvel and dc people have decided that the era of the casual fan is gone. I walked into Newbury comics today and saw a few titles I might have been curious enough to buy, but if they are part of an on-going storyline/reboot/crossover then what is the point? 3.99 to 4.99 times five to six issues equals twenty five to thirty five dollars. I’ve seen the same thing in sporting games. Tickets to a Bruins hockey game goes from 30.00 to 160.00. Not a lot of people have that sort of disposable cash. But die hard fans and collectors do and I think that the comic book companies have decided that their only course for the future is the collectors. They won’t mind casual fans, but they know collectors will get the crossovers/retcons/variant covers, the casual fans become secondary to them.

  11. As a fan and a guy that worked in a comic shop for several years, I’m fascinated with the responses to new #1’s. I think a new #1 for a new creative team is a great thing, as it gives a new reader a solid start point. Anytime creative teams change, you have the risk of reader drop off, so I’m not sure how a new #1 makes it that much worse. I do hate when the creative team DOESN’T change, but you get a new #1. That’s an easy drop off point in my opinion, and a huge barrier to new readers. Jason Aaron’s Thor run is amazing, but if you start at the 2, 3rd, or 4th #1, you are missing important story elements. There’s also a tendency to lump Marvel’s relaunches, which may not continue right were the previous team left off, but don’t erase any stories, with DC’s reboots, which have partially blanked the slate so many times I’ve lost any interest in their characters. I tried Superman Rebirth, but after an exhaustive crossover slamming 2 continuities together with little rhyme or reason, i was DONE.

  12. I stopped buying new superhero pamphlets in the late ’90s, and have never regretted my decision to drop them. It’s been trades, graphic novels and reprint volumes for the last 20 years. I don’t buy as many as I did a decade ago, but that’s OK, because my public library has a huge graphic novel section.

    And I’m having a ball reading public domain comics from the ’30s to the ’60s online, at Comic Book Plus. (I’d never know that Jack Kirby’s best work was not on superheroes, but on crime, romance and horror comics in the late ’40s and early ’50s, if I hadn’t found this site. Check out the Prize Comics section.)

    Mark and others, there are plenty of comics to read — past and present — even if Marvel and DC’s current offerings don’t appeal to you. If you’re over 40, they’re really not intended for you.

  13. One aspect of this that is not discussed enough to my tastes is the creative side. Long gone is the era where a writer/artist team could tell a full satisfying story in one issue. I gave up on endless events and overpriced books in the mid 90s and from what I read here, there is no way I’m ever coming back.

  14. “It’s possible that the marvel and dc people have decided that the era of the casual fan is gone.”

    Most casual readers went away in the ’80s Comics have been aimed at fans and collectors ever since — the hardcore addicts who will pay whatever is charged.

  15. I have to agree with Mark on a lot of points – trying to make everything an over-the-top epic means no character development and no soul. Most writers seem to be chasing new radical high concept selling points instead of just solid good writing that uses insight over action. The current blitzed out marketing that fills the average copy of Previews with slick “new and improved” titles and issues makes everything feel overloaded and fake.

  16. First time poster, long time lurker here. Been buying comics since 1991. Craig asked how anyone can be expected to follow lower-tier titles when it’s so hard to keep up with the A-level titles. My solution for about 10 years has been to simply NOT try to keep up with the A-level franchises like the main Batman titles, and instead enjoy generally smaller self-contained worlds. Examples: Batman ’66, Astro City, Jonah Hex, G.I. Joe: ARAH, The Terrifics, and recently some of the stuff from Alterna. (They publish on newsprint and the cover price is usually ONLY $1.50!) My spending is pretty modest, but I feel like I’m getting good value and satisfaction. Decompressed story lines turn me off.

  17. “One aspect of this that is not discussed enough to my tastes is the creative side. Long gone is the era where a writer/artist team could tell a full satisfying story in one issue.”

    Not to dismiss anything Hibbs writes, but THIS is the real issue. If these comics could sell to even a fraction of the audience that flocks to see Marvel’s movies, everything Hibbs mentions would be much less common and much less problematic.

    We’ve improved some from the Era of Decompression but comics today are still written and drawn in the most ass way possible. They’re not even comics in the traditional sense. What we get today are illustrated screenplays that frantically try to ape other visual media while deliberately avoiding some of the most powerful elements of linear storytelling.

    How many times have you seen a thought bubble in a post 2000 comic? That’s a storytelling technique available to comics that virtually no other visual media can match. Yet it goes unused. Why? It’s certainly not because the audience en masse decided to stop buying books with thought bubbles in them.

    And no, the return of thought bubbles wouldn’t solve everything. It’s an example of how comic storytelling has actually DEGENERATED because the people in the industry want to pretend their writing books or making movies instead of…you know…creating comics.

    Mike

  18. “George says
    01/16/2019 3:13 PM AT 3:13 PM

    “It’s possible that the marvel and dc people have decided that the era of the casual fan is gone.”

    Most casual readers went away in the ’80s Comics have been aimed at fans and collectors ever since — the hardcore addicts who will pay whatever is charged.”

    Yes but I think that what was a trend at that point was a conscious decision. The people at marvel and then dc decided that it didn’t matter if a story made sense or matched up with past characterization and/or continuity, the stunt that was the thing that would sell. Civil War was a stunt built around a concept and executed terribly, so was Amazon’s Attack but both sold. I think the decision was made at that point in what ever meeting was being held that they could afford to snub the casual fans (or let the writers abuse them online) because they just weren’t going to buy enough anyway and to go only for the hard core fans who’d buy anything. I think it was a coldly cynical move that is slowly eroding the audience and I think it’s only going to get worse.
    I personally have no reason to buy the new Fantastic Four and really have no incentive to go out of my way to go into a comic book store again. The one I can get to, Newbury comics, carries no indy titles at all and I know as I look at the marvel and DC books that they really aren’t worth 3.99 and up. The stories won’t last, this years villain will be next years Avenger and the issues that aren’t crossover mega-events are just set ups for crossover mega events.

  19. “How many times have you seen a thought bubble in a post 2000 comic?”

    You can blame the influence of Watchmen for that. It did without thought balloons, sound effects or scene-setting captions, and other writers began to imitate it.

  20. “I think it was a coldly cynical move that is slowly eroding the audience and I think it’s only going to get worse.”

    I don’t think the people at Marvel or DC are capable of that much planning. My impression is that they stumble and blunder, helplessly, from one crisis to another.

    And please drop the conspiracy theories about comics companies intentionally trying to alienate fans. Just because they’re no longer producing comics that appeal to Mark (or George) doesn’t mean there was a “conscious decision” to produce junk. The fact is that we’ve outgrown superhero floppies, and I suggest you do what I did: expand your horizons and find other interests.

  21. “And please drop the conspiracy theories about comics companies intentionally trying to alienate fans. Just because they’re no longer producing comics that appeal to Mark (or George) doesn’t mean there was a “conscious decision” to produce junk. ”

    Think what you want.

  22. The done in one comic went the way of episodic television. Major Crimes was the last procedural I watched and couldn’t imagine watching another one again. I personally found single issue stories to be too simple and much prefer the current story telling method. Thought bubbles went away because they’re not a seeing narration device. Comics are a visual medium. The less explaining the more you allow the art to tell the story. Giving more space for art has done as much to decompress story telling as the writers have. Pause and admire the pretty pictures every now and then.

    The problem I have as a comic fan is my wallet has a hard time handling double shipping, $4.99 specials every other month, late books, 10 crossover issues for every event, short hooks on good books that haven’t quite found their footing, Dan DiDio, and Image allowing creators to become very complacent with their schedules. The only creators who have any kind of consistency are BK Vaughn and Remender. Marvel needs to let books breathe and it’s ok if there is only one Venom or Black Panther book. DC needs to quit fixing what ain’t broke and have faith in their creators and Image just needs to get creators to get books out at a reasonable pace.

  23. Many of today’s creators at the Big Two grew up reading comics that have classic storylines where characters died. So not only are they trying to write Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns but they think that they have to kill characters to make a story matter. With each death, fans care less because they figure the next writer will bring that character back. It’s even more annoying if it’s an event: After one of the most classic and emotional deaths in the Phoenix Saga, Jean Grey came back in two issues (the Avengers and Fantastic Four). After dying again, so Grant Morrison could get Cyclops together with the White Queen, Marvel puts out a long, drawn-out miniseries. With prices being what they are, that story was certainly not much bang for your buck IMO.

  24. “You can blame the influence of Watchmen for that.”

    WATCHMEN was also one on the most narratively dense comics you’ll ever read. Why didn’t the nine panel grid become as standard as the unofficial ban on thought bubbles?

    Mike

  25. “Pause and admire the pretty pictures every now and then.”

    I want comic books. Not the adult equivalent of the picture books parents read to their pre-literate children.

    People left in comics often have some pretty screwed up ideas about the industry and art form, so let’s try this:

    Imagine if movies essentially banned voice-over narration?

    Imagine if musicians stopped writing songs that have a chorus?

    Imagine if poets insisted every poem rhyme?

    What if TV shows were all “done in one” episodes?

    What if playwrights completely abandoned everything except the three-act format?

    What if prose authors stopped taking us inside the minds of their characters?

    It’s one thing when individual creators make individual decisions to not use thought bubbles in individual comics. An industry and art form almost universally refusing to use a creative technique unique to them is something else.

    Mike

  26. What if all mainstream movies were Westerns and all mainstream TV shows were about lawyers? That’s how it is with mainstream comics (Marvel and DC), which are about superheroes are not much else.

    Why? Because most fans want superheroes and not much else (except for maybe Star Wars).

  27. “Why didn’t the nine panel grid become as standard as the unofficial ban on thought bubbles?”

    Ditko did the nine-panel grid first (and better).

  28. Do any retailers out there (left standing) have any idea about the percentage of sales variant covers are to their total new comic sales? (For the sake of discussion, let’s talk about dollars and not pieces.)

    I have thought for a long time that variant covers and slabbed copies of new variants are basically a confidence game/Ponzi scheme aimed at the “speculators” at all levels of this business. (These are the folks who are not really into reading the books, as much as they are interested in playing with a kind of emotional/nostalgic commodity market and/or penny stocks printed in four colors.)

    As long as the participants in the system have “confidence” that their investments will net them positive returns, they continue to invest/participate in the system. This goes for publishers, distributors, retailers, and consumers. But, at some point, these types of bubbles become untenable and they pop. Supply and demand tend to equalize over time.

    What would happen if the variant bubble popped tomorrow and all of a sudden the “hot” variant books – and the even more expensive slabbed versions of these new books – just stopped selling? What if a fair number of consumers just stopped participating in the variant Ponzi/slabbing/pump and dump scheme and decided to cash out all at once, or at the very least decided that they were not going to play any more? What kind of effect would that have on the average DM retailer? On the market as a whole?

    Would that create a market where people were just interested in reading the books? Maybe forcing publishers to focus on the interior content of the books rather than the covers? Crazy notion, that. Probably just because I am old…

    How many actual customers across the country would it take to stop buying these variants for the market-wide house of cards to come crumbling down? (Given some of the sales numbers I have seen for books recently, is it just down to a few hundred guys? A thousand even?)

    I ask because I remember a time when early Valiant “variants” were actually selling at outrageous prices… propped up by (at least the perception of) more demand than supply. But, I also remember seeing those same books, with $50 price stickers still on their gold and chromium covers, for sale later at other local comic stores for .50 or less… and not even selling at that price. (Sold on after the first retailer who was getting the $50 was long out of business.)

    Who was the last person to invest with Bernie Madoff before it all went to crap? Don’t be that guy.

  29. Jerry asked about the sales of variant covers. I am answering for one store.

    Our sales of variant covers are very small because our orders for them are very small. From DC, we order only the main cover unless a subscriber specifically asks for the variant. (We currently order 6 regular covers and 1 variant for HARLEY QUINN.) It is quite rare for us to order gated variants from Marvel, primarily because our orders do not qualify, but also because we object to the practice. We sometimes order variants from Image, but I wouldn’t say that it makes a huge difference in sales. We have some customers who want specific covers for certain comics, and we accommodate those requests as best we can.

    If there were absolutely no variant covers in the next PREVIEWS, it would affect our sales very little, certainly less than 5%.

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