It’s a joke as old as time:
How do you make a small fortune in comics publishing?
Start with a large fortune.
However, as Rob Salkowitz explains in a prescient piece at ICv2, people are just lining up to put their money into comics. In addition to the recent Chinese investment in Dark Horse, there’s DMG and Valiant, Amazon, Tapas, Webtoons, Humanoids’ new ramp up, and even Lion Forge, owner of this very website, emerging as a new major player in the field.
Despite all this money flowing into comics, let’s face it, hitting it big in the funny pages isn’t exactly a daily, weekly or even monthly occurrence. Individual creators like Mark Millar, Raina Telgemeier, and Robert Kirkman may have made individual fortunes, but they all did it different ways, and comics publishing and retailing remain relatively small margin businesses.
And yet, as Valiant’s Fred Pierce reminded us the other day, “the entertainment industry revolves around comics”, or might as well.
So is that why all the money is flowing into coffers – and supporting a surprising number of creators along the way? Yes, but there’s also the fact that so many rich folks just have piles of money lying around, Salkowitz writes.
Other people’s money. One reason all this is happening is because corporations have gigantic piles of cash they’ve accumulated from a decade of increasingly extractive, rent-seeking business practices. Some companies like Amazon have an almost pathological need to reinvest in new businesses. Others, like Apple, let the billions pile up as a way to scare competitors out of the market. And the new tax laws have just opened the spigot to the trough even wider.
There’s only so much they can do with that cash. Interest rates are low, foreign markets are risky (or, to foreign investors, America looks safe), and Wall Street punishes companies who raise the wages of ordinary workers. Companies have bought back so much of their own stock that valuations are at record levels. But the money has to go somewhere. So let’s make comics and turn them into TV shows, because that sounds like fun.
Indeed, comics are “fun”, compared to areas with bigger budgets, bigger egos and many more mouoths and/or stockholders to feed.
When will the money spout end? Salkowitz makes no predictions and I won’t either. Every time I think the comics/media connection has peaked a Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool or The End of the F***ing World comes along to show me there are let more corners to be mined and mined. For the moment, we’ve reached a fairly high water mark for employment in comics, and while these are ramen budgets not artisanal fennel pollen flatbread rates, let’s just enjoy the money flow while it’s in our favor.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.