Rob Salkowitz at Forbes tells how there’s creator-owned projects that are doing better in some ways than the more recognizable corporate-owned superhero comics of the mainstream, and brings up the collapse of specialty stores, along with the Big Two themselves:
According to the industry site ICv2 (disclosure: I am a contributor), “Comic stores are getting hammered from two directions. First, sales of the graphic novel categories that comic stores are best at are shrinking across channels. Neither Marvel nor DC have been putting out comics that are capturing the public imagination for the past couple of years. Collecting them into graphic novels isn’t making the content any more appealing. As a result, sales of superhero graphic novels are plummeting.”
If the stories aren’t appealing to begin with when they first debut in pamphlets, it should be no surprise people wouldn’t find them any different in paperbacks and hardcovers. And if a business perspective matters, why must each and every story be published in two ways, rather than just go straight to graphic novel format and save some money? One answer I can suggest is because it would take away their ability to seriously flood the market with company wide crossovers and events. That’s another key cause of modern failure from an artistic viewpoint. It only wrecks organic storytelling and leads to more forms of corruption.
Milton Griepp, ICv2 publisher and a longtime industry analyst, further adds that comic stores, which draw most of their customers from adult superhero fans, are missing out on the biggest trend in comics over the last few years: graphic novels for kids, teens and young readers. Griepp observes that Dav Pilkey’s kid-oriented Dog Man series has sold over half a million copies in the book channel in a single month last year. But most comic shop owners – unless they have young kids themselves – have never heard of it, or don’t consider it “comics” in ways that would appeal to their existing customers.
Oh, I fully agree there. If anything, comics aimed more at children have been obscured and marginalized for the sake of just so much adult mishmash laced with jarring violence. Even Brian Bendis’ work on Superman isn’t something I’d consider suitable for children, and it’d certainly bore them silly, that’s for sure.
And what’s doing better in its own way? The indies, some of which are crowdfunded:
To make matters worse, one comic publisher that had a blockbuster year in 2018 doesn’t distribute to comic stores at all. That would be Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform that enables creators to raise funds to publish their work independently and sell it directly to supporters.
Kickstarter has been a godsend to independent comic creators and small presses for years, but according to UK-based industry analyst Thomas Bidaux of ICO Partners, successful comic-based Kickstarters raised $15.3 million in 2018, up from around $12M each of the last three years and by far the highest amount since platform metrics became available in 2011. That’s a 25% jump in a key metric year-over-year, numbers that any other publisher in the space would kill for.
That revenue was generated by 1456 comic based projects that got funded through the site (up from 1281, itself a high-water mark, in 2017). Comic projects got funded at a nearly 70% success rate, indicating that creators are doing a better job than ever finding their audience and mobilizing fans to support crowdfunded work.
While creators often overprint Kickstarter projects and sell extra copies on the open market after supporters have received theirs, there is no easy, well-established method to get Kickstarted projects listed in Previews, the catalog issued by Diamond that retailers use as the basis for their non-refundable preorders. Even Kickstarter titles that get listed in Previews tend to get lost in the voluminous back pages of the guide, where retailers have to have sharp eyes and a keen sense of their customer base before they roll the dice on a self-published title. That goes double for expensive, deluxe graphic novel projects that do well on Kickstarter, and triple for those kinds of projects with subject matter that falls outside the superhero-centric interests of comic store shoppers.
The only complaint I have about how these creator-owned projects are handled is if they actually do it as monthly/weekly pamphlets, rather than paperback/hardcover formats. That aside, it’s clear somebody’s having success, far more than the mainstreamers are, and while Salkowitz may not have the guts to acknowledge it, these projects could include Comicsgate supporters. Because some of them certainly did take in quite a bit (Richard Meyer and Ethan Van Sciver, for example), and not just on Kickstarter, but on other platforms as well, like Indiegogo and Patreon; the market for these crowdfunding sites is pretty wide.
It’s obviously too late to save the Big Two from the collapse that’s bound to come sooner or later, mainly because Joe Quesada and Dan DiDio still cling to them like leeches. But the independent scene is where comics of the future are bound to maintain significance, unless somebody with more common sense is willing to buy out the Big Two’s publishing arms and make improvements, both artistically and business-wise.