The Comic Industry Talks the Biggest Changes in the Last Five Years, Where the Industry is Headed

After five years, it’s natural for any industry to change, but in comics, it really feels like things have changed a lot since Multiversity first came around. But what were the biggest changes, and where is the industry headed going forward? That’s a question that we weren’t quite ready to answer, so we reached out to some of our favorite people in comics to get their thoughts.

The results are below, as creators, retailers and industry types share their unique perspective into how comics have changed and are continuing to change. Take a look, and as per usual, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Eric Stephenson (Publisher at Image Comics)

Without a doubt, I think the biggest change to affect comics over the last five years or so is the emergence of digital comics as a viable outlet for the medium. Digital comics went from something everyone kind of hoped would work, but until 2009 or so, that was all still a pretty big question mark. Now, there are people who cite digital as their format of choice, we’re seeing sales on digital comics that, depending on the title, would be healthy print numbers, and instead of fearing digital as some threat to the stability of print comics, we’re seeing that as formats go, it’s a pretty good bedfellow. Print and digital support one another very well, and I think that’s the future we’re heading toward – some combination of print and digital, something kind of analogous to vinyl and digital working together, so that there’s great freedom in terms of how we access our comics. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll eventually get to a point where single issues are digital only and then when a series is collected, there will be a print option for that, and I think that’s exciting. There’s still a lot of ground to cover before we get to that point, and we’ll have a lot of variables, both known and unknown, to grapple with along the way, but digital has had a huge impact on comics over the last five years and I don’t see that changing as we move forward.

Jeff Parker (Writer of “Batman ’66” and “Flash Gordon”)

I think the biggest change is moving into digital distribution, and with that comes a lot of other things that probably always happen when it’s time to meet the wider world as an audience, like getting more diverse in stories and the people who make them. It also seems to have made what we thought of as two distinct camps, print and web comics move towards each other. It’s going to hopefully change the general public’s perception of what comics is- hell, they may reserve pigeonholing stories as superhero stuff to movies only.

Jim Zub (Writer of “Skullkickers”)

It’s been an incredible period of growth and expanded visibility for comics and comic culture. Creator-owned stories returning to the forefront in a way we haven’t seen in over a decade, the explosive surge of comic conventions around the world, and comic-inspired movies galore have all contributed momentum and excitement.

comiXology Previous State
That said, I think reaching the tipping point on digital content has been the most important development of the past five years.

There was a time when almost everyone, myself included, couldn’t imagine buying digital content. It felt fragile and ephemeral, like paying something for nothing, but with each year I can feel a growing need to cut back on the build up of physical objects crowding every corner of my home. I, and millions of other people, have come around to the convenience and flexibility that comes from watching, listening, and reading digital content instead of carting individual objects around. Purchasing a physical book is now a sign of important permanence for me. I buy high quality collections that have special meaning to me and, in turn, it means more to keep the printed version instead of heaping it on a pile with dozens of others.

In that same vein, the quality of online-first content and viability of self publishing online has come into its own. The internet is vast and diverse and the content that pushes through the filters of taste and interest are just as valid as any publisher’s line up, if not more so. In fact, more and more publishers are using online audiences as their barometer for offering publishing deals to content creators. It’s a wild and exciting time because Content is King. If you create quality material you can find an audience where ever you are, whatever your focus is. Having that alongside the increasing excitement for new stories/new ideas/creator-owned is an electric combination.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m hopeful the above trends will continue and expand; More diversity, more opportunities, and more courage to create and promote unique and exciting voices that deserve to stand alongside our current best and brightest.

I’m typing this on an ultrabook while traveling across the country for my third comic event in three weeks. This morning I called my wife, wrote solicit copy, uploaded print files, proofed lettering, approved colors, and promoted my upcoming projects on a machine the size of a thick piece of cardboard while tucked into the corner of my friend’s office sharing his wifi. As long as I have an internet connection I can work pretty much anywhere while finding inspiration on the road. That feels like a fun and creative sci-fi-style future to me. I’m excited about what comes next.

Rachel Deering (Editor of “In the Dark”)

The biggest thing that changed the face of comics for me, and for many others, I’m sure, has been the founding and launch of Kickstarter. The most repeated piece of advice I’ve heard for people wanting to break into comics is “just do the work.” Make something of your own to show editors, publishers, and peers that you were serious about wanting to work in comics, and that you could actually follow through with your ideas. I can’t imagine how people were able to save up their pennies to do something like that before Kickstarter, honestly. Now, a creator can pony up for a few pages, take their concept to Kickstarter, show it to a massive crowd from one centralized location, and get funded right away if their idea is up to snuff. You gotta dig that, man. So fucking rad.

Ales Kot (Writer of “Zero” and “Secret Avengers”)

I don’t really know how to measure the biggest change except for my own, possibly flawed perspective, so I’ll go with that. One: growth of digital comics and the subsequent sale of Comixology to Amazon. Two: success of creator-owned comics, both financial and in attracting readers new to comics. Three: continuing lack of attracting readers new to comics via traditional superhero comics.

Where do I see comic industry headed going forward? I suspect there will be a continued reduction of superhero titles owned by massive corporations and continued resurgence of creator-owned works and companies that are running more efficient, resilient, adaptive publishing houses. I suspect there will be an increased flow of creators leaving corporate comics for creator-owned comics, moviemaking and videogames, possibly also for newly emerging art forms. We live in a world where the economics of our last century no longer apply, and while corporations struggle to deal with the black swan effect of financial and other disruption, entire new industries and new forms of old industries are emerging. I suspect we are headed towards the same thing our entire society is heading towards — some people like to call it decentralization, but I prefer re-centralization. Stronger primary hubs of commerce built around models that are new and therefore not discredited. More resilience and speed through less corporate oversight. Change or die.

Sina Grace (Cartoonist of “Not My Bag” and “Self Obsessed”)

A palpable change I’ve noticed within the comic book industry is that folks- be they editors, retailers, or readers- have become more receptive to trusting creators to do more unique work. If you even look at licensed properties, there are some who have reaped the benefits of allowing creative freedom with their titles: Adventure Time using indie up-and-comers for covers and back-ups, Buffy utilizing its showrunner and writing staff, to name a few solid examples. Even the Big Two have carved out space that is dedicated to making GOOD comics rather than movie fluff. I truly feel like this is not a passing fad, that the model I’ve become accustomed to at Image Comics becomes an industry-wide rule: creative freedom breeds stories that are remarkable, marketable, and most of all (for me), fun.

John Jackson Miller (Founder of Comichron)

I think the story of the past five years is the fact that digital comics sales, which were feared for the longest time, managed to flourish without seemingly harming print sales at all. But maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised: graphic novels added hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the market simply by meeting a need that monthly comics weren’t serving. They supplemented without replacing. And digital, at least so far, seems to have done the same, with the print industry bouncing back from the down cycle that coincided with the recession in the general economy. Most of the signs from the last five years have been positive or neutral, and that’s been a good thing.

As to going forward, Comichron is a site about history, not predictions. It does seem to be the case, however, that the market is in a more stable position now than at other times, when there weren’t the three different revenue streams coming in. The market can still be impacted by outside events, certainly — like what happened to Borders — and the model can still be broken should periodical prices go too high or should story page counts drop too low. But it’s easier to imagine 2019 looking like 2014 than it is to imagine 2019 looking like 1999.

Jimmy Palmiotti (Writer of “Harley Quinn”)

One successful Kickstarter
In one year, things change rapidly. in five years, the landscape of comics and especially producing them has taken a completely new direction with digital comics becoming a huge platform and the introduction of crowd sourcing websites like Kickstarter. The biggest change is how a lot of people that could never afford to produce comics now can and they can even test the waters to see if there is interest with their books. As this expanded the way we work, it also has given a lot more people hope and with this comes the expanding of the field, the growing number of cons and the amazing amount of the work coming to different medias. This change is for the better in my eyes and I think the next few years we will see bigger companies start to change the way they do business because of it.

Jamie S. Rich (Writer of “Madame Frankenstein”)

There has been a huge cultural shift around the world, I think, in terms of how comics are viewed. Thinking back, 2009 was the last time I really did San Diego Comic Con, where I did signings and worked it rather than just being there to hang out. It was the year You Have Killed Me debuted at the show is why I remember, and there was a real feeling that I could actually do something at that show and sold a lot of books. Now, the whole convention has become so much bigger, so much more of a media event, and I think that’s indicative of comics in general. Comics are everywhere. Movie seasons are built around them. There’s the digital side of things. Kickstarter. And while there are some negatives to that, as there are negatives to everything, it’s opened the field creatively. There’s more and more variety every month, more ways to gain access, and a shift away from the “traditional” image of what comic book should be.

Which I believe will continue. To the point where, in the future, there will be hardly anybody anymore who hears “comic books” and translates that as “Marvel and DC.” Comic books will mean everything.

Gina Gagliano (First Second Books)

The biggest change I’ve seen in comics in the past five years has been the audience. With the success of books like Bone, Smile, American Born Chinese, and Persepolis, comics are beginning to reach teachers, librarians, bookstores – and a new generation of readers who are beginning to accept graphic novels as part of the American literary canon.

Comics are always surprising, and that’s one of the great things about them. I definitely think that we’re in for some changes in format, audience, and distribution methods over the next few years, but what will always be true is that great stories and great artwork make great graphic novels.

Patrick Brower (Co-Owner of Challengers Comics + Conversation)

I think one of the biggest changes to comics in the last 5 years is their accessibility. While brick and mortar comic shops will always be my preferred method for getting comics and graphic novels (of course, I own a comic shop so that answer is no surprise), there is no denying the range digital distribution has for reaching people all over the world, 24 hours a day. And anything that grows the readership of comics, no matter the format, is a good thing in my eyes.

Sex Criminals #5
Another wonderful change is the diversity of the field. There are more higher-profile non-superhero books than five years ago, by far. And books like Sex Criminals, The Sixth Gun, or Saga, if they were solicited 5 years ago, I don’t know that the market would have been accepting of them. But today’s comic readers are hungry for more and more original concepts. And that diversity helps bring in new readers.

Lastly I want to point out all the wonderful all-ages works that are out now, with more coming every day. People who say comics aren’t for kids anymore just aren’t looking in the right places. There’s a brand new generation of comic readers hungry for fun and excitement, and today the work is there for them.

Congratulations to Multiversity on 5 years! Your commitment and dedication only seems to grow with each year. Challengers is only one year older than you and we’re proud to be in grade school with you!

Curt Pires (Writer of “Theremin”)

Biggest change has been the recognition that creators are more important than intellectual properties, that stories are more important than licenses/characters etc. The rise of creator owned, the ability of creators now to earn their livings telling these stories, to ascend, is the biggest change of the last five years.

What direction are comics heading? Everywhere. They’re heading everywhere. Comics like Saga, Young Avengers, etc. have shown that we can make comics for everyone not just males 20-50, and that our artform is as big as we want it to be. I see this growing, I see comics transforming. It’s moving in my direction. It’s moving in your direction. It’s moving in every direction. Art is alive and moving everywhere. I see people threatening, lashing out, doing disgusting things to women in comics/minority groups, comics are moving beyond them. The new comics we are building, are going to transcend these people and leave them behind. We are building a new comics, and there is no room for bigots or haters here.

Frank Barbiere (Writer of “Five Ghosts”)

The outpouring of support for new ideas and creator-owned work over the last five years has me very excited. When I was first breaking in a few years back, there were so many genres that were considered “off limited”–publishers simply weren’t willing to try new things, and many places couldn’t even hope to support any creator-owned projects.

Presently, we have so many fantastic publishers and creators contributing new and exciting comics to the marketplace. I feel like this influx of new ideas has sparked an entirely new kind of comics creator–creators who are interested in doing something new and different, creators committed to having their own voices and ideas. I truly love comics–licensed, big two, creator-owned, and everything in between–but I think the market is ready for what’s next and ready to embrace the new generation of ideas and creators coming its way.

Ron Richards (Director of Business Development, Image Comics)

I’ve been excited by the comic industry’s shift over the past 5 years into a place of confidence. For years comics were relegated to the back of the room as a niche product and something for weird hobbyists, but with help of successes in media crossover like THE WALKING DEAD and the various super hero movies and the emergence of a strong convention circuit, it’s never been a better time for comics and comics fans. It’s even better to see this confidence bolstered by the amazing talent of comics creators and recognition of that talent by the fans and the media. The combination of these two things, confidence and appreciation of talent, that I hope will propel comics into the future to even bigger and better successes.

Tom Spurgeon (The Comics Reporter)

I think the biggest change of the last five years is the establishment of an entire generation of comics readers and comics makers that are younger and for that reason and others are mostly divorced from the issues and concerns of the 1980s and 1990s, or define them in a completely different way. This has sparked several fundamental shifts in the way comics perceives itself that will become more of an operating norm over the next two decades. It’s a post industry comics industry now.

I don’t know where any of the comics industries are heading, but it looks like there will continue be fragmentation and a flattening out. There are more ways to make a professional identity for yourself in comics than there were in 1976, but not all of them pay very well. The current ideal outcome that moved from company man to mini-mogul in the 2000s may shift again to the idea of a cartoonist or comics maker as a fundament for a creative career, rather than the entirety of one — the way that people twenty to thirty years ago started in stand-up comedy and then moved into acting or writing, you may see more and more comics-makers start in comics and move into screenwriting or show-running.

My hope is that more attention will be made to making sure creators aren’t exploited as the models and emphases change. While there’s been this surge of money and interest, not all of this has gone to creators — or it doesn’t *regularly* and *systematically* go to creators. Hopefully the rush of creative talent over the last 15 years will spur a rush of non-creatives to match them. This is something comics has rarely enjoyed.

About The AuthorDavid HarperDavid Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).

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About The AuthorMatthew MeylikhovOnce upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."

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User's Comments
  • KidVector

    A fascinating piece over flowing with thoughtful contributions, great stuff.

  • David Dissanayake

    I think Spurgeon is on to something when he mentions this new generation of comics readers divorced from the industry as it was in the 80’s and 90’s. I guess I would count myself in that group, and I do have a very different conception of comics and really do find myself defining them in different ways than older readers I frequently talk with in the shops.

    “Post-industry comics” is a very interesting idea. Hmmm…

  • ZombieCatBacon
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