Sponsored by Battle Quest Comics

By Brian Hibbs

Maybe you’ve seen the Doctor Manhattan meme floating around recently? Jon is on Mars, contemplating that it’s the mid 1950s, and comic books are dying. It’s the mid 1970s, and comic books are dying. It’s the mid 1990’s and comic books are dying. It’s the early 2020s, and comic books are dying.

Ha. Ha. Everyone laugh. Roll Credits.

watchmen meme comics are dying

But, like all good jokes, there’s a kernel of truth in there somewhere. In the 1950s, the creative output of comics was largely infantilized by the creation of the comics code in the wake of the senate hearings. In the 1970s, the renaissance of the Underground comics movement was largely swept away by the unreliability of the “head shop” market, while the newsstands began a freefall for “mainstream” comics due to the erasure of “mom and pop” pharmacies. In the 1990s Greed Was Good, until it wasn’t, and thousands of accounts stopped buying comics and distribution narrowed down to a single distributor in the wake of Marvel’s Revlon-forced bankruptcy. And here in the 2020s, well, I don’t hardly know a single small business that is actually thriving, while entertainment businesses of all sorts, on all ends of the spectrum, struggle.

You also should probably go and read Heidi’s latest overview on things, which you can find here – a lot of things I was planning on linking to are already laid out there.

Before we go much deeper, let’s get the culture war stuff out of the way: anyone, anywhere who wants to suggest the market’s problems have to do with comics being too “woke” is a total screwball. Full stop. The market always determines what it wants, and things that are not engaging to the audience always go away in favor of things that do engage. Comics will never ever be exactly what you remember from your childhood, nor should they be, because both you and they change (or die). Absolutely anyone trying to push that “ComicsGate” agenda is a bad actor who simply doesn’t understand how either the markets or the creative process works; and such people should be shunned and ignored.

No, I believe that most of our current problems come down to the loss of institutional knowledge, and short-term thinking on the publishing end; not what color or gender or sexuality a fictional character might be. Trust a person whose ability to literally feed and house his family is solely dependent upon being able to sell comic books: “culture war” issues aren’t even a top twenty problem for the comics industry.

One other up-front note here: most of this column, and indeed, much of the “issues” with the Direct Market, are discussing issues with serialized comics. Graphic novels have their own set of issues, but most of those are very different from the current challenges to periodicals. When I say “comics”, I mean periodicals, in the context of this conversation.

Now, there are absolutely problems that relate to the content – but they’re emphatically not the “Culture War” charges! And there are acute problems with the value-proposition of comics, as well. The content problems, I think, started brewing when “deconstructed” storytelling became the rule over making sure that each individual comic was, as Heidi is wont to say: “a satisfying chunk”.

I want to be very clear here: almost every single person working at a comics publisher is someone who loves the medium very much, and in no way do I believe that anyone is deliberately setting out to make “mediocre comics”. I think, rather, that the incentives and corporate expectations of the two largest corporations (Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery) are very much misaligned with what the audience actually wants. Periodical comics are very distinct from other kinds of consumer products in that buying into the Marvel and DC universes are a fundamentally intrinsic part of comics’ appeal. Or to put it another way, if there are twenty different Batman t-shirts, the fact that you only like or can only afford four of them is an entirely different proposition than that same level of desire/interest in four-of-twenty entries in the ongoing and seemingly “in-continuity” adventures of your favorite fictional character.

The voracious corporate need is to make more profit this quarter than they did that quarter, but this invariably seems to lead to over-expansion of content. Last week’s shipment had six different comics where Batman was the named lead character; this week’s has five different Spider-Man comics!. It also leads to over-expansion of SKUs in terms for variant covers, etc, or stunt publishing like starting a new first issue one (or more!) time a year, or all of these other things that ultimately lead to the market depending upon selling more and more product to fewer and fewer customers, rather than expanding the reading audience for periodical comics.

This is the paradigm we have to reverse – we have to sell fewer, better comics to more people – if we want to change the market trajectory.

Because, albeit anecdotal, I am hearing more and more and more retailers saying “our current trajectory of sales has me thinking that Q1 is going to be truly brutal, and I might have to [close, downsize, move] to still have a store by the summer”. Two of the nine current comic book stores in San Francisco have already made very very public pleas, and I think the rest of us here are wondering if we need to do the same. Stores that I know are well run, and run by people who are genuinely passionate about the thing the sell, and who stock a wide variety of stock – and all over the country – are talking about how brutal the last two months have been… and this is right when our Holiday sales should be clicking into overdrive.

Hell, I run a diversely-stocked store that is as untethered from corporate IP as I could humanly steer it for decades, that has a very strong method of cultivating new “civilian” readers, and especially kid readers, in a long-term subscription model (our “Graphic Novel of the Month” clubs), and I’m telling you sales are way off what they were in pre-pandemic 2019 and that I’m not really positive that I see how I am going to make it to summer with what I see being released, and the audience’s reactions to this work. I’ll go so far to say that the last order I submitted (NOV23 codes for [mostly] January ’24 shipping) was the lowest order we’ve submitted since the pandemic closed us down, and the first draft of the DEC23 (for Feb ’24) that my manager has started was even lower than that.

This makes me wonder, in the post-COVID absence of public sales charts: how are comics selling now? If you look at non-stunt comics, on issue #2 or after, and if you take variant covers out of the factor, are any comics selling over 100,000 any longer? I have my doubts. And when I asked a large number of publishers about current circulations, I received a whole lot of radio silence. And publishers are usually the first ones to trumpet their successes! And so, I wonder how low is it, really? Below 75K? Below 60k? 50k? And, let’s face it, even 100k isn’t that great of a number – with ~2500 comic book stores, that comes out to only forty copies per venue on average. Which is “fine” when you have a half-dozen or more titles selling that well, but that absolutely doesn’t seem to be the situation today.

(And, seriously, before some wit comes along and starts saying something like “that’s why we should wholeheartedly move to book format first”, please remember that something like two-thirds of graphic novels do not even sell one thousand copies annual, per BookScan – which includes all Amazon sales)

In one of the private retailer message boards I am on, someone asked “Well, how do we change this narrative of doom”? And my one word answer was “Success”. Which is me being less flip than you maybe think: periodical comics always rise and fall on books that have a creative buzz and the market’s ability to trailblaze those titles. This was true 35 years ago when I got into the game, and Sandman led to hundreds of brand new customers rushing in, lifting all of the boats around it. This was true a decade back when Saga did the same. This was true with “New 52” and House of X/Powers of X and Walking Dead and so many other series through the decades brought so many excited new faces clamoring to be right at the door when each Wednesday rolled around.

So, I think we’re just “one success away” from a change in narrative, a change in fortune. But I think my gravest fear is that even if that success does get discovered (because “buzz” books can almost never be manufactured, but must be creatively-driven), they’ll end up getting stifled by the corporate directives from above them. Disney and Discovery are both deeply in debt right now, so it’s hard to see them avoiding “what worked before” in SKU count and rapid title expansion in the need to maximize short term cash flow in order to encourage and build that rising tide.

But there is one other that absolutely has to happen in addition to raising the creative bar, and that’s that the underlying “rules” and economic fairness for the working retailer has to be readdressed. The minute DC left Diamond, and tried to upjump the two largest retailers into “distributors” DC forced the entire market away from a system of rules and expectations that we collectively took decades to build so they were aimed at being as fair as possible to all comers, into something absolutely resembling the Wild West, where anything goes and all of the benefits turn away from the retailer. All that work, from street dates, to timing of solicitations, to centralized data, to discount expectations was upended with no central authority to enforce anything any longer.

I know a lot of folks were very much against the very notion of Diamond, viewing them solely as a “monopoly”, but DC’s move made things worse for everyone, because instead of having a single “monopoly” to navigate, we now have three monopolies in the form of Lunar and Penguin Random House. There is no choice where we buy our comics – at least not properly viable ones for the largest publishers. Because of the very high-touch nature of how comics are ordered, with a weekly order cycle on non-returnable goods, all we’ve done is near-triple the expense and back-end of running a store. And how much were sales improved by that? Literally none, because no consumer is making their purchases based on our business backend!

We went from having a firm regular Wednesday release schedule, to a world where stores put comics on sale whenever the heck they want – I see stores releasing books the day they get them, sometimes as much as a week ahead of official release date. We went from having a dependable week of sales data before “Final Order Cutoff” orders were placed, to the raw chaos the last two months have been: just this week we just had to lock down our orders for something not coming until the middle of freaking February, nine weeks away.

Data has gotten sloppier and sloppier and sloppier – fields missing, series codes bobbled, and so on. This makes it harder to sell comics to customers. ComicsPRO is likely just weeks away to concluding its major work on universal data standards that, should, knock wood, start to minimize some of these issues, if publishers comply. Then there are problems like more and more books being solicited without artwork on all of those variants than only the publisher can solve.

These kinds of backend shenanigans just have to be addressed, because it increases the amount of work that retailers have to put into what is ultimately a low-margin business, thus making comics harder and harder with which to actually make a profit.

This is why you hear so many voices today asking out loud about the health of the market – we are suffering a creative problem right now where audiences aren’t responding to much of what is being published, while at the same time retailers are finding their workload and effort and costs going up while sales are declining. This is a bad potential recipe, and when you hear that stores are closing, or are in danger of closing, you should take this new seriously right now. If, god forbid, the two stores in San Francisco talking publicly about their struggling business fail in the new year, I have 35 years of history that shows me when a store closes, most of that customer base just vanishes rather than spreading around.

And, at some point, and it’s a point that might not be very far, losing a certain critical mass of stores will cause the entire direct market side of things to fold like a house of cards.

My next column will almost certainly be the annual look at BookScan, and we’ll know a lot more about that side of the market’s current stability very soon.


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 a collection 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.

Sponsored by Battle Quest Comic




  1. Truly disapointing that you are trying to make this about Waid, “Jorgejam” — he’s not mentioned here whatsoever.

    Having said that, I don’t know if there’s a single thing that Waid has said about the market in the last (umpty) years that I disagree with.

    (And I certainly have way way WAY more subscribers and paying customers for various Waid titles than I do for Millar.)


  2. In regard to: “almost every single person working at a comics publisher is someone who loves the medium very much…”

    What is the relevance of this apparent passion, outside of an understandable need in your column to stress that you’re not intending to imply otherwise about the comics industry as a collective whole? They love the medium very much- and? What did that preserve? What does that guarantee? Do we doubt that someone like Tom Brevoort doesn’t or didn’t “love the medium very much” at least at some point in his life?

    So, what does that love for the medium ensure? Does it mean he hasn’t compromised, rationalized, gone against his instincts in order to tow the company line or not offend the people that sign his check?

    Having a passion for comic books ensures as little as it entitles. This is a business, and its woes are largely self-inflicted, a significant component of this ongoing discussion that is, amazingly, seldom brought up if at all. Comic books are not accessible, they are not cheap. They aren’t affordable. And there’s no quick fix- any publisher almost needs to come up with a three-year plan, a campaign of sorts, and be expected to take a loss. Someone will have to be charitable for the sake of overall growth- and again, this is a business, so why would they?

    I’m reminded of the scene in Citizen Kane where someone points out to Kane that his labor-of-love newspaper is losing a specific amount of money every month. Kane replies, “Good. At that rate, I can afford to keep publishing it for the next 40 years” or whatever the quote is.

    The comics industry suffered from a widespread and pathological sense of insecurity on the part of fans and a significant portion of professionals. Comics were ashamed of being comics and catered to the “mainstream” perception of them and then catered to that audience. All due to the collective insecurity of dorks. Therefore, Joe Quesada began to court non-comic writers. It did get some headlines. I remember when the guy that produced “House Party” was the first. Quesada literally described him as a “hollywood heavyweight!”- I liked House Party when I was 10, but. Then Kevin Smith, a big “get” to fandom. Smith was late. When pressed on this, Quesada gave- and this is a quote- “he’s got a day job, folks.” There was no sense that Smith was being let into the kingdom; the sense was that he was doing comics a FAVOR.

    It continued with “seasons” and “directors cuts” of comic books. Laughable. Then, building upon what fandom had begun in the early Seventies and magnified with the Shamus family’s horrific WIZARD culture, the Superstar creator. The Superstar creator reigned supreme. We’d always had superstars, but now…? Titles are cancelled and rebooted with endless #1s to cater to that superstar’s run. It’s dismissive- as one of those dinosaur retailers correctly pointed out, the collector is a completist and seeing a series with nine hundred first issues all the time isn’t that accessible. Or fun.

    There are so many self-inflicted cuts that it would be refreshing if the comics industry could look at them and admit to them. Waiting for things to change and looking for silver linings is insanity. Change needs to happen if people indeed want periodicals to be saved. Passion and love for the medium and the industry means nothing. Embrace that fact, because the sad truth is that retailers are not partners with the publishers. They are at the whims of publishers. They are beholden to what they are given. Retailers thinking, they should be treated better because they’re “ambassadors”- I mean, I don’t disagree, but- it’s just a bad business plan. Collectively, enough people need to stop supporting the practices of Marvel and DC. Until they do, it’ll be the definition of insanity.

  3. Great read, and I particularly agree with needing to limit the amount of books, not increase them. Personally, I’ve always suspected the industry got to where it is due to the collected editions sales boom from a while back (has it been 20 years already?). “Writing for the trade” and “decompressed story telling” were a cynical Faustian bargain, and there was always going to be a price to pay.

    Sure, the creative folks loved it, as it cut their work load massively. Same pay, 1/3 the work. The content that previously covered one issue now covered several. Artists were turned loose and allowed multiple single and double page spreads per issue. Once the quality dipped, consumers started walking away. As prices per issue got higher, more walked away. No one is paying $4 or $5 for an issue you’re finished “reading” in 5 minutes.

    Finger-pointing aside, given the massive social and economic shifts since the 90s, the industry probably should have changed way more than it has. It’s a testament to the stubborn nature of all us “comic book people” that it has not! If there is a miracle for the future, I’m convinced it won’t come from Marvel or DC. If the superhero movie craze of the past 15 years wasn’t enough to drive sales, nothing will. I suspect we’ll see the industry continue to shrink, and coalesce into smaller companies that directly service the various niche markets. I hope I’m wrong, but that seems to be the way things go. Look at the DVD/Blu-Ray market for examples of this.

    Good grief. Pardon my rambling. Happy New Year, everyone!

  4. @ “Four Color Sinners”

    “What is the relevance of this apparent passion, outside of an understandable need in your column to stress that you’re not intending to imply otherwise about the comics industry as a collective whole?”

    Well, that’s it, innit? I’ve got to work with these people. I still have to open my store tomorrow and order comics and serve my customers. I still have a few year’s on my mortgage, and I’d actually like to get it paid off, and maybe have something for retirement, and in the meantime have a happy staff that gets paid the best I possibly can. There is almost “no one” in comics for “the money” (since only the tiniest few earn enough to consider that question) , and so passion becomes the only metric by while a career measured in decades can be counted against? The direct market exists BECAUSE of passion, if you ask me, and continues to exist for the same. Does everyone USE that passion for active good? Almost certainly not, because we are humans and not saints, but there’s a reason the column is titled “Tilting At Windmills”, you know? I’m under no illusions about what kind of a world we actually live in.

    “There are so many self-inflicted cuts that it would be refreshing if the comics industry could look at them and admit to them. Waiting for things to change and looking for silver linings is insanity. Change needs to happen if people indeed want periodicals to be saved. Passion and love for the medium and the industry means nothing. Embrace that fact, because the sad truth is that retailers are not partners with the publishers. They are at the whims of publishers. They are beholden to what they are given. Retailers thinking, they should be treated better because they’re “ambassadors”- I mean, I don’t disagree, but- it’s just a bad business plan. Collectively, enough people need to stop supporting the practices of Marvel and DC. Until they do, it’ll be the definition of insanity.”

    But, in actual practicality, there’s really only so much a retailer can directly do with the nature of the product and (and this is important) the actual number of people walking in the actual door who are actually spending money. I’d think my history with this column is sage enough to see a pretty long arc of advocating for both creator rights as well as less corporate control of publishing — and I have been very consistent with walking that walk in terms of how and why we rack and promote. We do as much “civilian” outreach as we can. We have a damn kid’s GN-of-the-month subscription program which regularly sells 2% and more of print runs, and is bigger than our adult GN to boot. And yet, absurdly, Marvel was *still* 42% of our store sales in 2023, and DC was 36%.

    I don’t think it’s me or my staff. I don’t think it’s the marketing messages we put out. I know it’s not our customer base — ours is diverse, and a wide variety of ages. It isn’t our racking: something like 80% is spine out graphic novels and the percentage of *those* which is superheroes at Comix Experience is like 12%. I think its super easy to *say* “Yeah, I only want to sell art which comports to the highest possible ethical standards” (or whatever, I’m shorthanding so I don’t write a novel), but you can’t pay rent in San Francisco and have a staff, and pay yourself too (which several of my compatriots are not currently doing) and not “support” Marvel and DC.

    “Someone will have to be charitable for the sake of overall growth- and again, this is a business, so why would they? ”

    Because if they don’t, there are many signs that this is going to lead to lower overall sales, if that already hasn’t started to kick in with how anti-retailer (and anti-TASTE MAKER store) much of the mechanics and economics are now stacked against us. (This is why I miss the damn sales charts! One used to be able to build legitimate arguments when we had reported data to call upon, and all I have is professional assessment of anecdote for three years now)


  5. The comics medium will endure and grow but I am sure DM is dead. Nothing will recitate it to its former heights. Based on the history of distribution for comics the DM is about 20 years past its distribution replacement.

    I am confident the large publishers know this and suspect fiscal analysts at Disney and WBD have already examined these business units and gave some type of wind down strategies based on the changes we have seen in the last decade. COVID just accelerated the DM demise.

    I want comics to live on but the way we buy them has to change to match how media is being consumed by the current market culture, including format and cost.

    I believe in the value of the physical object but comics are likely going to be super niche as a physical object in the next decade.

    I hope enough comic retailers can pivot to be these specilty market stores for the extreme hobbyist as mass audiences are not coming back to shops sans an unexpected event to kill digital as a whole. I will still show up and support my LCS but seriously doubt multiple bona-fide hits are going to fix the underlying issue of technology advancing past print and late stage capitalism driving the two largest publishers business plans. I would happy to be proven wrong.

  6. @Jason A lot of stores already have pivoted away from periodicals in one way or another. The “~2500 comic book stores” estimate is off the mark.

    My own napkin math estimate is around 1,000 “comicbook stores” if you define “comicbook store” as a store that could reasonably be expected to rack and sell an appreciable number of new books in a given month. I based this math on my own experiences as a lifelong nerd in San Antonio, Texas. Diamond states they have 2,500 accounts and I’ll tell you from experience that I’ve seen plenty of Diamond boxes in pure game stores. The stores will maintain Diamond accounts due to good prices on geek tchotchkes and smaller tabletop games. Diamond also acts as a way to bypass Wizards Play Network order restrictions.

    After accounting for the game stores, I built criteria to disqualify comicbook stores that 1 car accident away from collapse. I used hours of operation as a metric to estimate whether or not the shop has employees.

    My formula for the total estimate was ((number of “real comicbook stores”)/(estimated number of Diamond accounts in San Antonio))*2500. Real napkin math stuff but good enough for my purposes. I never finished doing the math because it became clear that I was beating a dead horse into highway lasagna.

    I did the math because I needed to decide between making a graphic novel or a visual novel. That decision is meat for a different comment regarding the Big 2’s position as employer of last resort for artists and authors but I’ve already written enough for one sitting.

  7. @Drew – I’m a little confused regarding your opinion that Marvel and DC are “employers of last resort”. The harsh reality is that Marvel and DC remain the primary path to gaining enough eyeballs and interest to move creator-owned comics. I’m not defending the business practices of the Big 2 and how they treat creators, but it appears undeniable that creators seeking to make creator-owned comics their primary source of income, have come to the same conclusion I have. It is much easier to launch a successful new creator-owned comics if you have a built-in fanbase from writing Spider-Man or Batman than it is to be “Creator X” and launching a new concept into the market.

  8. For me, I think a couple items stand out for 2023 behind the struggles of the overall industry.

    1. Marvel is absolutely in the dumps and I have no faith that their Editorial is capable of pulling them out of it. Maybe Hickman brings them some juice with Ultimate Spider-Man, but across their editorial lines it is hard to find many reasons to be optimistic. Not only are too many books being put out (common across both DC and Marvel), but what “major franchise” at Marvel is in good shape right now? Zeb Wells Spider-Man run has hardly generated excitement. Jason Aaron’s lengthy run killed excitement in the Avengers. The X-books are winding down Krakoa, but only after excitement in the franchise faded. They have some minor hits in the 2nd and 3rd tier franchises (Doctor Strange, Moon Knight, etc.), but those franchises don’t move books or get butts in stores.

    2. DC’s idiotic choice to run Knight Terrors completely killed the momentum many of the “Dawn of DC” titles had. Generally, even though I think they put out too many Batman books, I think DC’s quality is pretty decent these days. But they have done no favors for themselves by undercutting books like Green Lantern and Titans with crossovers.

    3. Substack. I maintain that creators chasing the Venture Capital dollars Substack was offering has hurt the industry. Is anyone reading Hickman’s M3MW stuff? I don’t mean to place blame on creators. They have to make hard economic decisions and in an industry that offers them no benefits or stability, it is hard to turn down big grants from a Tech company, but the Substack books appear to have mostly flopped. It would seem that fans are less interested in buying the compilations of James Tynion’s Substack work than they are buying “original” content he puts out from Boom! or Image.

  9. @Mike W: The issue is that comics aren’t the only show in town for an artist. If someone wants to draw for a living, they have plenty of options outside of the comicbook industry and most of those options pay better.

    The videogame industry in particular pays 2D contract artists a multiple of what they could make at the Big 2 for equivalent work. Remember how I said I needed to decide between creating a graphic novel or a visual novel? I’m one of those guys who are paying an artist a multiple of what the Big 2 are currently paying their artists for equivalent work.

    The artist I contracted for my visual novel is an established artist with a decent sized following. Nothing major but he does make a living doing contract art. His rates when translated to the work involved in drawing a book would result in a page rate of about $400-500 a page, and he would not be interested in working for less than that when he is already making his money as a game artist. He’ll never work for the Big 2 because he’s not willing to take a pay cut and there are plenty of artists who feel the same way.

    I know plenty of artists that would absolutely kill it working on a Big 2 book but the Big 2 doesn’t pay enough. The Big 2 are missing out on a generation of artists. I understand making sacrifices for the art but nobody should be making sacrifices for multi-billion dollar multinationals. Especially not when random dudes with day jobs are paying better.

    Substack aren’t the only ones stealing creators. The videogame industry is stealing them right out of the crib.

    To address your other post: Leadership and editorial at the Big 2 haven’t been fit for purpose for a long time. All of those dudes need to go.

    Marvel: Outside of Miles Morales, Marvel hasn’t been able to get a new character to go over since the late 80’s/early 90’s.

    DC: Yep, Knight Terrors butchered their momentum. Whoever greenlit that needs to go. To DC’s credit, they understand how brittle their Batman dependence has made them, but they just can’t figure out how to fix it.

  10. Sorry, you may know more than I do, but I do know what I see. You are very much like a news anchor with charts and graphs telling me that the economy is getting better while I’m looking at 5.00$ a box Captain Crunch.

  11. The denial on the part of those closest to the problems never ceases to amaze me: publishers have staffed their ranks entirely with activitists who’re writing their books for approximately 3% of the population, and then when some complain, they scream insults and tell them to go away. “Shun and ignore”, I believe is how this author puts it. So the audience they had, they didn’t want, and chased away. The one they wanted, wasn’t there to be had. So now they sit atop their mountains of unsold comics and scream at all of us they told to leave — and they’re STILL denying it.

    Simply astonishing.

  12. The other site can’t stand the guy so he’s posting on this one. Lol.

    My advice…. There no money in this medium, none. The industry does not even care about piracy. It’s on YouTube(the people that reads it for you) or scans site.

    The new comics (floppies) are atrocious to read. The target audience (who are they?!) pirate new stuff because they can’t afford a 5$ book.

  13. @Marc – You got any metrics to backup your assertion that pirating is such a massive deal? There will always be individuals who pirate, but I think folks like you really overstate how much is is being done.

    I’m not defending the price of modern monthlies, but I suspect the people who choose to pirate are mostly the same folks who weren’t all that likely to step foot into a comic book shop to start with.

    @Figgy McGee How many books on the stands from Marvel or DC do you think are actively being written for activists? There are certainly books that touch on social topics – something that has been commonplace in the medium for generations – but just how many books are being written and drawn to “insult” (I assume) conservative fans?

    Here is the hard truth. If Chuck Dixon still moved comics, he would be writing for Marvel or DC. If folks were lining up to buy Dan Fraga or Art Thiebert books, they would be employed by Marvel or DC.

    The blunt truth is the folks you likely back continue to pitch this idea that the social content of the books is the issue, are the same people who benefit economically from repeating this idea to their fans.

  14. The industry is in decline. There are several mitigating factors comics are far too expensive, constant cross-overs are off-putting to the casual reader and the interrupt creative runs, the direct market was a huge mistake it made it harder for new younger readers to get into comics because they were no longer available on newsstands, Marvel and DC don’t offer the kind of financial incentives that would be needed for most creators to offer their best original concepts for new characters to the publishers because of this we get endless spin offs from popular characters. All these things have been weakening Marvel and DC for decades now.

    “The market always determines what it wants, and things that are not engaging to the audience always go away in favor of things that do engage.” I couldn’t agree more but the issue is that Marvel and DC comics that readers consider to be woke just don’t sell well. The market is telling the publishers what it wants but they are constantly failing to listen.

  15. Brian, love reading TAWs, if for no other reason than the fact that these columns inspire a lot of entertaining comments. Actually, most of Heidi’s Comic Beat columns don’t get any comments. (which is too bad!).

    There is one thing I’m wondering about, you state that right after DC stopped using Diamond as a distributor, that Marvel also left. Are you insinuating a cause and effect relationship between the two events? If Marvel was happy with the service that Diamond was giving, I’m not sure that DC’s leaving (because their contract was up) would have been enough to inspire Marvel to do the same. I understand the competitive relationship between the two companies, but that only seemed to occur with publishing events, and not business events.

  16. As a retailer, I’m surprised that the focus often remains exclusively on single-issue comics with a passing mention of trades. Singles only constitute only 3% of our revenue. The real game-changer for us has been the more deluxe collected editions, which are selling remarkably well. Every new hardcover release generates significant excitement among our customers. Marvel Omnibuses, despite their hefty price tags of $125-$150, offer great opportunities. Yes, they have rarely sold in the traditional “mum&pup” comic stores, but they can, IF the retailer is interested in selling them! Especially customers worried about condition can “see before they buy”, and the high RRP allows even smaller stores to offer a decent discount while still making good profit. It also helps both publisher and retailer, to not have to keep in print resp. stocked x volumes of a series. This format is also especially appealing in an era of frequent reboots, renumberings, and crossovers, as it guarantees a cohesive story segment. Newcomers (and yes, they are growing in number, often drawn in by movie adaptations), are willing to spend a bit more for a comprehensive reading experience.
    While I personally find bulky books less enjoyable to read, there’s no denying that the omnibus format is one of the most successful innovations from the major comic publishers in recent years (DC seems to opt for the more affordable TP compendium). This trend is even influencing U.S. manga, as seen in the success of high-quality editions like the Berserk hardcovers. It’s evident that “big books” are set to play a significant role in the future of the industry. And all publishers (maybe except Marvel’s) have still a lot of untapped potential in their catalogs.

  17. I really miss the emailed notifications that there are new comments. There’s been a lot of crazy stuff said here since I last checked in. No way am I going to go message by message, so some highlights:

    @Jason “…seriously doubt multiple bona-fide hits are going to fix the underlying issue of technology advancing past print …”

    Digital only sells the teeniest tiniest fraction of print — in virtually all cases it’s a single digit percentage is what publishers tell me. Even Amazon killed their digital comics platform, which you know they would not have done had there been any money in it at all. And most “native” digital platforms (eg webtoons) mean that the overwhelming majority of comics makers work for free.

    @ Drew “My own napkin math estimate…. ”

    Well, your “napkin math” is crazy wrong, is all I can say. Not only do we have the leaked Marvel doc that showed ~3500 store fronts internationally, but we can see from Lunar’s system, which numbers invoices sequentially, that they’re issuing roughly 2700 invoices a week

    Also, if you have to “decide” between a graphic novel and a “visual novel”, then you wouldn’t have success with a GN anyway. Successful comics are ones that MUST be comics.

    @Mike W: Yup, your pretty much on base. But understand with a substack for Tynion, he’s probably making a TON of money selling variant covers directly to completionists, such that the actual circs of those books matter far less. Tynion is the best example of a writer making 2023 work for him… though, generally, there are only the smallest handful of people who can work a similar vein at once.

    @Marc: “The other site can’t stand the guy so he’s posting on this one. ”

    Erm, the “other site” has offered, multiple times, to publish my column any time, so… whut??? Being at the Beat is an absolute choice.

    @ Roger Melly: ” the direct market was a huge mistake it made it harder for new younger readers to get into comics because they were no longer available on newsstands”

    Man, the ignorance here…. THE NEWSTANDS LEFT THE PUBLISHERS, not the other way around. DC and Marvel had *no other choice* but to find a new market, because the newstand was (and very much still is) UNVIABLE. We’ve also gone through at least four generations of kids since the birth of the DM

    “but the issue is that Marvel and DC comics that readers consider to be woke just don’t sell well.”

    Like what, exactly? Because what I see is that virtually all of the comics you might be talking about were already cancelled multiple quarters ago.

    @Rick Hood: “you state that right after DC stopped using Diamond as a distributor, that Marvel also left. Are you insinuating a cause and effect relationship between the two events?”

    Yeah; I think that DC leaving gave Marvel the “cover” they needed — and an easy way to increase their own margins. After the Heroes World debacle, I am fairly certain that Marvel would never had made such a move as the First Mover.

    @ retailer_x (Dude, sign your name if you want to be taken seriously as a counter-retailer POV!) This column is about single issues because this is the largest pain point facing the direct market right now. And, when it comes to Marvel and DC comics the ABILITY to generate book material is thoroughly dependent upon amortizing costs through serialization. This is one of the reasons that Marvel is starting to issue trade paperbacks that cost as much (or *even more*!!!!) than the serializations.

    I myself specifically run a book store with a singular focus on comics-material — almost 70% of our sales are graphic novels, and the demand for hundred-dollar+ omnibii, for us at least, can be measured in numbers below single-digit percentages of demand. When we still had sales charts (that again!) we could see that the order numbers were generally in the low low low four-digits, and when we look at BookScan the single best-selling one in 2022 was sub-3k (that’s WITH Amazon’s massive discounts, too!), with the vast majority of them selling under 1k.

    (I am glad you are succeeding with that niche, though)

    @Google_group_spam_sites: I can’t believe that works to increase sales, especially with five posts within an hour

    Happy New Year, everyone.


  18. Brian – I really appreciate your views on most things – but you do live in a bubble city. It is not just the comics that are being published by the big 2 that put off people with diverse political views, but it is also the ones that aren’t being published out of fear of triggering a NYT-style staff meltdown (I mean – do you really think there is no audience for a Frank Castle Punisher book).

  19. @Brad “I mean – do you really think there is no audience for a Frank Castle Punisher book”

    I genuinely don’t think anyone at Marvel comics is slightly worried about their own staff “melting down” over Frank Castle comics (because that seems super hyper unlikely to happen?) and I think they mostly care about money over there! But what I can say that is in March 2020, the last time pre-COVID proper sales chart had a Frank Castle comic running (PUNISHER: SOVIET by Garth Ennis, one of the most popular writers of the character) it sold under 20k copies nationwide; following that they had solicited a PUNISHER VS BARRACUDA mini-series that they never ended up publishing — that one was supposed to FOC on 3/16/2020, so right before the hard Diamond shutdown, but it never did, presumably because the initial orders were poor? And the next series was the Jason Aaron, “Well, we’re killing him” comic, in March of 22 and while the estimate for #1 was 38k (which had nine covers), by issue #2 it dropped to 16k (with three covers)… (and that was the last sales chart ever made)… so, yeah, I’m thinking that maybe there’s no significant audience for a Frank Castle comic in the modern market?

    Here’s a thing I will add: I’m in “a bubble city”, as you say, and yet we’ve sold less than half the number of copies of not-Castle PUNISHER #2 (the latest one released) than we did of any issue of the whole Jason Aaron final mini-series. If there was some sort of “liberal bias” against the character, you’d think that would be reversed… right? But as it is at my next FOC chance, I’m likely to be making the new series without Castle subs-only, which is not something that has ever happened in the history of my store. So, *shrug emoji*?


  20. Eh, no one wants to buy $5 comics in any meaningful quantity anymore. Maybe 2 or 3 titles but c’mon, having to pick between a regular full pull list and a weeks worth of groceries?

  21. @Brian: I forgot all about the Baracuda vs Punisher mini-series. I was ready to buy every issue and the trade for that one. Baracuda was a fun Punisher villain. Then the whole world lost its mind and we all had bigger problems. 2020 and 2021 felt like decades.

    I’m curious, what does that one success look like to you? My immediate thought is something that can pull in the tabletop crowd and get them to cross to the other side of the store. All the stores in my region are doing well with tabletop, it’s a major traffic driver for them and where they’re picking up new customers. Which is also why they all continue to reduce their shelf count for new periodicals. Doubling down on the thing that works.

    I know you run a very different store, what does your one success look like? What sort of demographic do you think it should target?

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