Comics Podcasters Weigh-In on the Future of Comics After COVID19

 

 

If you’re like me, and you love comics (the medium as well as the industry), then you’re probably as concerned as anyone about what the business is going to look like when we finally get through this coronavirus pandemic. Creators at major publishers have been told to put their “pencils down,” printing companies have shut down their factories, Diamond Comic Distributors has laid off their staff, both Marvel and DC are pausing their output, while DC shuffles existing product to distribute through other means to get out their comics for the next few weeks. Meanwhile, indie comic publishers are making hard decisions, and most comic shops are closed, so there’s no readers buying new comics anywhere but on the secondary market or crowdfunding.

 

There are certainly other ways for comic readers to amuse ourselves, which may even be easier to consume, at least passively, and one of those ways is via a well done podcast. If you’re like me, then you’re an avid podcast listener already and you’re aware of the dozens of of great ones talk about comics and the comics industry. Some are really top shelf, but there are admittedly some others that are, let’s just say “amateur hour”. I don’t want to get into that here, but now that we’ve entered this era of extra time with no new mainstream comics, I believe that podcasts are a great option to fill that hole for those of us who like to listen to something while we work out, do chores, drive, etc.

 

When my local comic shops began shutting down in the wake of the global pandemic, I reached out to some of the podcasters I know to get their insights on what they think this means to the comics industry and its future. I’m thankful to these six guys that took the time to respond with thoughtful and intelligent responses, and I hope you’ll sample their shows. Be sure to mention your favorite podcast recommendations in the comments section.

 

 

 

Collected Comics Library
with Chris Marshall & Andy Tom

Chris Marshall and Andy Tom host the Collected Comics Library podcast, which launched back in 2005, making it one of the longest running and successful comic book podcasts of all time. Chris is also a staff writer and researcher for Back Issue magazine. Their podcast usually features discussion on hardcovers, omnibus editions, and trade collections of comics, but also includes news, comic solicitations, and related topics. Lately they’ve been discussing the comic distribution updates as putting up occasional spotlight episodes that cover creators like Frank Miller or The Punisher MAX series.

I asked the guys what they saw coming for the industry: 

 

“Every day brings new challenges to our health and safety and the economy,” said Chris Marshall. “With things so fluid right now it’s hard to gauge one day to the next. The comic business won’t be the same in the months to come and I can see a loss in readership as discretionary income may change the way we buy things.”

 

Andy Tom sees the need for change at the heart of it, “one of the biggest concerns right now is how the industry can continue to operate on a single distributor model. Right now, Diamond’s decisions and practices affect consumers, retailers, and publishers. If Diamond doesn’t come out of this down-turn healthy, it could negatively impact retailers to the point of closure. Unfortunately, limited opportunities for “point-of-sale” means lower market saturation.”

 

“The comic business won’t be the same in the months to come”

 

Chris added, “we may not weep for Marvel and DC as a whole, but those artists and writers who create the comics we love are not getting paid right now.” He’s referring to the “pencils down” orders that many creators received a little over a week ago, and many additional creators received just a few days ago.

 

“But I think that retailers are suffering the most right now,” says Andy Tom. “Not only do they not have a new product (the bulk of their business), but most aren’t able to sell products from their inventory simply because they’re closed. Unless an LCS has a booming website where a consumer can place an order to be delivered from that store’s inventory, there’s really no way to sustain their business.

 

When asked what they’d like to see change, they had some novel ideas:

 

“I’d like to see the industry start moving toward a more “European style” graphic album rather than the monthly periodical format,” Andy continued, “this would provide creators with more lead time, a more consistent product, and not flood the market each month with a ridiculous amount of titles (which tend to “cannibalize” each other even within the same publishers). Were the publishers working on this model, I don’t think that we’d have had as much concern about the “pencils down” orders. In the end, comics are an art form, and as long as people love to read them and love to create them, there will always be comics in some format.”

 

Chris Marshall agrees that the weekly amount of books is too great. “I’d like to see Marvel and DC cut down on the number of titles i.e. multiple X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman and Superman books. I’d actually like to see more anthology titles like the old Marvel Comics Presents; perhaps 100 pages and on a quarterly basis.”

 

As long as Marvel continues to aggressively own the biggest market share, that’s not likely to happen, but I love both Chris and Andy’s ideas. 

 

 

The Comic Book Page
with John Mayo

 

I next spoke with John Mayo. John launched ComicBookPage.com in 2001 and has been a regular writer for Comic Book Resources for 14 years. After podcasting somewhat irregularly, he officially took his Comic Book Page podcast to a regular weekly schedule on August 27th, 2007 and the podcast covers a variety of comic book related topics. John’s love for the medium began back in the 70’s and now his personal collection has grown to nearly 70,000 comics! He worked at comic book stores in both San Diego, CA and Austin, TX before he even got into podcasting. His CBP podcast covers a myriad of entertainment topics, but mostly focuses on comics including discussion on the sales charts for trades, the sales numbers for monthly floppies, Previews solicits (which are crowdsourced by fans and listeners), and he and his co-host James try to review 3 new comics per week. However, without any new comics available, they’ve been doing back-issue spotlights and occasionally discussing the lockdown.

 

When asked what he thought was going to suffer most, John pointed to the way medium has been constructed is what hurts it the most right now:

 

“Comic book reading is a habit. Readers don’t just get a single comic book issue, they get a sequence of them. This suspension of new comics has left many comic book stories only partially told. Some readers will find themselves out of the comic book reading habit, while others might find themselves confused by stories resuming midstream.”

 

John’s referring to the trend of “decompression” in modern comics, where stories that used to only take a single issue or two to be told are being “decompressed” over a six-story arc, presumably so the longer story can be collected in a trade paperback for added revenue for the publishers:

 

“Long gone are the days of self-contained comic book issues. Multi-issue arcs from the earlier days of comics took the time to get the reader back into the story. Modern comics take it for granted that the reader remembers all of the previous installments of the story. This pause of new material of an indeterminate time could seriously hurt story momentum both for readers and potentially even for creators. The “pencils down” orders from some publishers means some creators might find themselves after the pandemic trying to resume partially told stories that might need to be altered have to reflect changes both to the audience and to the creators themselves that happened during the pandemic. It is fairly certain that will be changed by the pandemic as a society even if the nature of those changes is not immediately obvious. Breaking the creation, ordering, shipping and payment cycles on the business side of comics could also have a serious impact. Any company just barely surviving before the pandemic might not survive this sudden pausing of the industry. The longer this suspension of new comics goes on, more companies are likely to be impacted. The industry and the hobby will almost certainly shrink as a result of the pandemic.”

 

“The industry and the hobby will almost certainly shrink as a result of the pandemic.”

 

In addition to obvious health concerns, John also talked about other industries being affected by this and the chilling effect it will inevitably have across the board.

 

“Everyone is impacted in some way by the shutdown of restaurants, sports, movies, television shows and all of the various other things we took for granted just a few weeks ago. Some readers will or have already found themselves on reduced pay or entirely out of work. Other readers will be able to work from home and dealing with that transition. Readers in the various “essential” industries could find themselves overworked and suffer from various types of job stress.”

“Retailers are clearly getting hit very directly by the suspension of new material every week with an immediate impact to cashflow that is unavoidable. They might also suffer from most likely having a smaller customer base when things spin back up because of customers impacted both directly by the pandemic and the associated economic issues. Publishers are finding themselves without access to the direct market for the first time since they became reliant on it decades ago.”

 

 

“The impact to cashflow and general business momentum will increase the longer the suspension of new comics lasts. Projects connected to movie and television releases will need to be rescheduled. Many creators are finding themselves suddenly “between projects” with sudden cashflow issues as a result. Since the entire industry is impacted, the competition for available work will likely be intense.”

“And some creators might leave the comic book industry if they find other paying work before the comic industry gets restarted. Diamond, the sole distributor of new comics, is at the center of all of this.”

 

“The comic book hobby and industry can get through this, but both will change as a result.

 

As bleak as things seem, John still sees some ‘positives’ in the midst of this crisis. 

 

“We could come out the other side of this with a leaner, more focused industry. My advice is to rethink everything without preconceived notions of what used to be true. This is a chance for people and companies to rethink how they do things and why they do them that way. No doubt we’ll see some changes as a result. Some will be minor but there are opportunities for major changes as well.”

“The industry will bounce back. It just might not look the same when it does. I’ve been concerned about the reliance on incentive covers and other short-term sales gimmicks The standard six issue chapters of an arc writing mindset needs to be dropped in favor of issues which have a better emotional “return on investment” for the readers. By which I mean each issue needs to be satisfying in and of itself. That doesn’t mean shifting to done-in-one stories. It means individual issues need to be more accessible. They need to have a beginning, middle and end, even if they play into a larger story. The key is the focus needs to be on the story in the individual issue, in place of the current focus on the larger story arc of the collected edition.”

“Sales need to be based more on story content than on incentive covers and other gimmicks such as the death and resurrection of characters or “event” storylines. Comic book characters and story concepts are at the height of popularity with the mass market audience. We just need to see comic books leverage that increased popularity from the movies and television shows based on comic books.”

 

 

Geek Brunch Podcast
with Mike Myers

 

Michael Myers has been podcasting since 2006 and is the host of several podcasts such as Geek Brunch, Geek Brunch Retro-cast, Mike M’s Weekly Reads, Mike M’s Collectors Corner, DC Noise, DC Spotlight, and DC Everything Else podcasts. He’s been reading and collecting comics for 45 years continuously and is a lover of all comics. I don’t think I’ve ever known him to give a poor review to any comics, so he is a genuine, bonafide fan all the way and as of this writing, he says he has amassed an impressive comics collection of over 77,000 items!

 

“My biggest concern for the comics market is that it is already small and most of it is not profitable and is just used as IRAD for other forms of media,” Mike said “will definitely have more bean counters looking at how profitable comics are and it will change the industry we love. [I think] there will be a big back log of creation that has already been purchased and less comic properties being “optioned”.

 

“Comic Shops are suffering the most. They were already hurting…”

 

When asked who he thought was suffering the most, Mike knew right away:

 

“Comic Shops are suffering the most. They were already hurting, with the exception of the big stores, so I would say this could reduce the number of shops across the country by 50%. And with the comic shops hurting that will affect the distributor because most stores have “x” amount of weeks to pay bills and a lot of them won’t be able to. When the distributor is affected that will affect payment to the publishers so that entire chain is affected. This will have a large effect on the big two (Marvel and DC) which will affect all of the rest of the market because the big two are what drive the market.”

 

When it comes to comic readers, Mike had fewer concerns.

 

“I think the reader is the least affected of the four items in the chain other than they feed the comic stores, so a lot of people will not be able to pay for their pull lists and the longer the system is down, the more they will realize they are becoming “sober” and breaking the natural habit. When economy gets started again, there will be less consumers for the comic shops. The effects to this supply chain will affect creators as there will be less demand for them. Those that already have multiple jobs will be able to survive in the market and those that rely on the industry as a full time job will be affected the most. Some creators and publishers will thrive as times like this drive innovation. I do believe comics will survive and I will support whatever comes out of it in whatever form they morph into.”

 

Mike is a comics fan first and foremost, and tends to “roll with the changes”, so to speak. He also offered some out-of-the-box ideas for the major publishers and along with some predictions for the industry.

 

“I really think the major players Marvel, DC and Image should be having brainstorm meetings right now and “thinking outside the box” on how to keep the medium alive, because coming up with separate plans will not work. I think the Geppi Family will be looking to sell their distribution market right now. Maybe Disney could buy the distribution and charge everyone else like DC used to do in the past. I think there will be less product going forward which will drive up the demand for back issues. The comic stores with the largest inventory of back issues and other media will survive. The bigger stores and the industry will become more reliant on mail order system like Amazon. The digital market will grow the longer the system is down and subscription services will grow in popularity. Those that just want stories will be converted to digital and collectors will go to the mail order system. As a whole the market will be smaller because the average consumer will have found other means to entertain themselves.”

 

 

“I believe Todd McFarlane said it best “Here’s what I know about addicts. The longer they go sober, the easier it is to stay sober. We don’t want our customers to break that habit. Consumers will be filling their time somehow. Why let a competitor fill that with streaming media or games? We need to fill it.

 

“I will still buy comics in whatever form that comes out of this because I always roll with the changes. I will still love comics as they are the number one form of entertainment for me and always will be. Everything I stated here is just my speculation based on my history with comics. ‘m not an expert in any of this stuff, but just a huge fan of comics. There are a lot of different things and outcomes that could happen and we will have to just wait and see. Right now I am more worried right now about my health and the health of my family and friends than I am worried about entertainment. I hope the market comes out stronger than ever.”

 

Mike definitely has his priorities in order.

 

Comics for Fun & Profit
with Drew & Kyle

 

A comic book reader and collector since the 1980s, Drew Ellinger along with his brother Kyle started the Comics for Fun and Profit podcast in early 2012 right after the launch of DC’s New 52, With nearly 700 episodes so far, C4FaP basically celebrates all things comics. They tend to focus on comic book speculation, which is the art of buying comics to read, enjoy, collect and ultimately sell to someone else – hopefully at a profit!  I first discovered this podcast after hearing Drew co-host with John Mayo on his weekly comic reviews for the Comic Book Page podcast. 

 

I first asked Drew what he thought was the biggest concerns for the industry:

 

“Losing the current print comic fan to other diversions and adversely affect the direct market. A big part of comics is the weekly habit of reading a serialized story and once that habit is broken, my fear is many readers will replace that weekly ritual with something else and never feel the need to come back to comics. Thus further reducing a very small pool of print comic readers of single issues. I really hope I’m wrong about that.”

 

“My heart goes out to the entire comics industry, the struggling shops and publishers, but I have the most concern for all the comic book creators, especially the indie creators. It’s challenging enough to make a living as an artist so to further complicate it with work stoppages and no conventions has got to be frustrating. We’ve been encouraging our listeners to donate to organizations like Hero Initiative and CBLDF that provides support for creators. We also dedicate multiple episodes to discussing ways to support creators directly during this pandemic.”

 

 

Drew then shared what he thought would change about the industry after the pandemic clears.

 

“Depending on how long this lasts, maybe comics publishers can improve distribution of print comics outside the direct market and booksellers. I would love to see the return of the spinner rack in every drugstore, market and grocery. The industry needs an influx of young readers to replace all of us older readers.”

 

Indeed it does, Drew. Let’s hope we can encourage that.

 

 

 

Pipeline Comics
with Augie De Blieck Jr.

 

Augie De Blieck Jr. is officially the first comics podcaster, beginning in January 2005. He only did it for a few years, then it sorted of faded away. However, he recently restarted his podcast in October 2019 and has been putting out bit-sized episodes quite frequently ever since. His Pipeline column has been published in one form or another every week for what will be 22 years in June 2020. It’s also worth mentioning that he’s had no less than 400 letters printed in various comics through the ’90’s and into the early 2000’s. Augie has also written more than 1,100 columns for many of the major comics websites including ComicBookResources.com and ComicBook.com. Currently his podcast focuses Franco-Belgian comics, inspired by his discovery of European Comics in the early 2000s at San Diego Comic-Con, but has been touching on the industry as well as what’s happening in American comics publishing.

 

Augie offered a thoughtful take on what might be the worst case scenario and what happens next for comics:

 

“The biggest problem at this moment is how long people can go without being in business.  How many retailers will have to close down because they can’t afford the rent in the meantime? How many small publishers will cut back drastically, maybe even to zero?  Will smaller publishers have to combine forced to survive? I wouldn’t be surprised to see some companies buying up other companies.Will some readers break their habit and never come back?  Probably, but I don’t think it’s that many.  I think comic readers have proven repeatedly in the past that they’ll come back, even when the deck is stacked against them, or they know it isn’t a great idea.  They put up with an awful lot.”

 

 

“No doubt, it’s the comics retailers who suffer the most.  They’re the smallest businesses operating on the smallest margins with nowhere else to go. The government has closed them down and cut off their supplies of new material to sell.  It’s not their fault.  Any spur of the moment mail order business is never going to make up for the lost ground each week, particularly when there’s no new product coming in.I hope creators take this time to start creating their own works.  I hope we start seeing a lot of new digital comics, creator-owned things, and webcomics in the weeks and months ahead.  Even if business gets back to normal, the material created during this down time could be coming out for months or years to come. I worry about a couple of the smaller publishers, but have no worries for Marvel and DC.  Their corporate overlords will be able to keep them around, though who knows in what form and for how long.”

 

When getting into what the retailers are doing, Augie mentioned a Google document where other retailers had been adding their thoughts and strategy ideas for a retail industry comeback.

 

“Distribution has always been a sore spot in the comics pipeline, so this might be a good time to reconsider how it works from the most fundamental levels.  The retailers are brainstorming as we speak with their list of demands, but some of them go too far and get a little silly. Hopefully, the low hanging fruit — infrastructure things like ease-of-ordering and a more logical set of codes, etc. — can be fixed in relatively short order.  Bigger changes like non-returnability will likely need to be made, if only in the short term, to help spread out the risk while the industry restarts itself. Generally, though, I’m pessimistic.  People will just want things to get back to the way they were, which in large part is what made this situation so dire to begin with.  I chuckle at how many times I’ve seen people make suggestions to “fix” our current problems which just brings everything back to that way things were. You can only chase away customers, raise prices while limiting the material, and restrict your product to 2000 stores for so long before nobody wants to party with you anymore. This is the chance for the entire industry to reconsider some pretty major fundamentals, and make some huge changes that will ensure something like the Direct Market survives in the long term.”

 

“This is the chance for the entire industry to… make some huge changes”

 

I appreciate these guys taking the time to discuss this topic since I respect their opinions on the subject. Thankfully we’re beginning to see some encouraging signs that the most intensive phase of the battle against the novel coronavirus is succeeding. New COVID-19 cases nationally are tapering downward and some studies are showing that far more people were infected but only had mild or no symptoms at all. While it’s nice to see what appears to be some encouraging data, we’re probably still far off from being able to return to “normal.”

 

Meanwhile, the dollars at stake for the comic book industry are substantial. It’s unsettling to see it grind to a halt when in recent years the movie industry has turned so many comic characters into household names. Sales of comics and graphic novels in the U.S. and Canada have been regularly topping $1 billion annually, with printed comic books accounting for more than a third of that figure, according to an analysis by Comichron and ICv2 and digital sales reportedly contributing about $100 million to that. Is digital going to finally be the future of comics? Legendary creators like Jim Steranko insist it’s the outcome of this pandemic, but who knows? While I’m one of those readers that still prefers a physical, floppy comic that I can hold in my hand, or pass along to a friend, perhaps I’m just a dinosaur at this point? Hopefully COVID-19 will not be the “extinction event” that gets rid of dinosaurs like me and the hobby that I love.

 

While we wait on the light at the end of this tunnel to get brighter together, I hope you’ll check out some of these podcasts using the links and get their intriguing perspectives on comics and the comics industry in the form of some really well done infotainment. Use these links below, and be sure to share your own podcast recommendations in the comments section below!

 

Collected Comics Library

The Comic Book Page 

Geek Brunch Podcast

Comics for Fun & Profit

Pipeline Comics

 

Chris Braly

Chris Braly

I'm a collector, a speculator, and one opinionated, based geek. My friends call me Braly, but those who know me within the hobby generally refer to me as Bralinator. I can be heard monthly on the Comic Book Page Previews Spotlight podcast with several other comic book nerds. Follow me on Twitter @ChrisBraly

JUST KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON