• Longform 

    Moving Forward: Why the Future of Comics Isn’t Found in the Past

    By | November 10th, 2014
    Posted in Longform | 30 Comments

    Good news everyone: October’s sales resulted in the biggest orders of the Diamond Comic Distributors era, a record that was only three months old. Coming on the heels of a first quarter that had many – not myself, but many – wondering whether or not the industry was going to finally regress from its three-year boom, this is nothing but fantastic news, and news that is great for everyone involved with the industry.

    This boom period has drawn out a hefty amount of skeptics all along, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but most indicators show an industry that is performing both at a high level and an arguably sustainable one. But why is that?

    In the past, boom times often coincided with traditional drivers of comic sales. In the past, that meant big Marvel and DC events finding retailers up their orders so their readers can stay in the know on what’s next and what’s new for their favorite heroes. When I was a kid, for example, you couldn’t have told me that there was another comic running during the X-Men event “Age of Apocalypse”, and the charts have a hard time disagreeing with that.

    Even more recently, you would find “House of M” #1 and “Infinite Crisis” #1 opening in 2005 to sales levels that are rarely met in today’s industry, with both surpassing 230,000 copies ordered. Comics were top heavy, and when those books didn’t have explosive debuts – like 2010’s “Siege” #1 – the industry as a whole would suffer.

    In 2014, the story has changed.

    Sure, events still do fairly well, but they’re an element of an overall whole rather than the barometer by which you judge the industry’s health by. Possibly more than ever, we’re seeing retailers and consumers embrace not just the tried and true, but what’s new. There’s a greater balance, and a rising lower to middle class that creates that sustainability I spoke of earlier, thanks to a vastly improved sales floor and ceiling.

    But there are indicators everywhere that say that things could be better, if a certain pair of publishers would rethink their approach a little bit. Let’s take a look and see what’s driving that overall growth, and explore the weaknesses that are still keeping the comic industry at suboptimal levels.

    The Old Guard

    Before we get into the bad, let’s look at the good. Marvel and DC continue to be the backbone of the industry. In October, the pair combined to account for over 67% of units shipped by Diamond, and they are and will continue to be the 800-pound gorillas that comics are mostly known for. Some often wish they would just go away, but they aren’t just necessary, they’re the absolute foundation of the livelihood of comics. With them gone, it would likely be difficult to impossible for the books you love to succeed or even exist.

    What do I mean by that? Well, it’s pretty simple. In an industry that’s worth $50 million on average, DC and Marvel account for two thirds of that revenue. Without them, comic shops would have a hard time making enough money to survive. Without Marvel and DC, print comics would likely die just like the doomsayers are always saying they’re about to. In that way, Marvel and DC’s success is tantamount to the health of the industry, and we’ve seen them reach enormous heights in recent years.

    But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be better.

    Death of Wolverine #4
    When you look at how Marvel and DC reached the levels they did in October, you see a bevy of books that could be labeled as “event comics”. As I said before, they have long been a staple of comics, and something used with increasing regularity to goose the revenues and orders at Marvel and DC. In the top 11 alone for October, nine titles could be classified as an event, relaunch or gimmick of some variety, depending on where you stand on the Marijuana infused “Harley Quinn Annual” #1 and the “Edge of Spider-Verse” bolstered “Amazing Spider-Man”. A tenth book – Image’s “The Walking Dead” #132 – placed where it did thanks to a significant sales boost by being included in October Loot Crates. That’s not even mentioning the double or triple shipping some of these books saw in the month. Only “Batman” #35 (which kicked off the book’s latest arc) really was something I’d label an ordinary version of the comic.

    Continued below

    In short, event comics are a pretty big deal when it comes to the industry reaching the heights they have.

    But while they undoubtedly were industry leaders for performance, here’s where I let you into a dark secret: event fatigue is a very real thing, and these books have been an increasingly reduced factor in the industry’s turnaround and growth.

    Why do I say that? Well, as I said, the industry is in a boom time, as sales have skyrocketed compared to years past, particularly taking a leap since September 2011 when DC relaunched its entire line with the New 52. For much of that time, comics have seen steady growth in revenues, while event comics and weeklies have went opposite direction, with orders continuing to reduce for both from likely some combination of retailer and consumer disinterest.

    Marvel's Event Sales

    This chart above shows the past ten years or so of Marvel event sales, with a trendline layered in to show the direction they’ve been headed (all sales numbers taken from Comichron). In short, they’re headed downwards. Even compared to recent events, “Axis” #1 was an underperformer, only surpassing “Fear Itself” #1 and “Siege” #1 in first issue sales. When you compare it to shooting stars like “Civil War” and “Secret Invasion”, it’s not even in the same ballpark. And that’s just for the first issue of each.

    Axis #1
    When you expand our look at “Axis”, which released three issues in its first month, things are even worse, as issues #2 and #3 had nearly 40% lower orders than #1. A drop off is typical from #1 to #2, but that’s a massive decrease for a book that launched in the same month. And the sad thing is, Marvel’s own tactics in trying to game the ordering system with books like that are likely a big part of where the drop off comes from.

    Before I explain that, here’s a quick primer. Diamond’s ordering process requires initial orders from a retailer for a comic to be put in three months ahead of time, with retailers being able to alter that order up or down one last time on final order cutoff (FOC), which is typically three weeks to a month before release.

    With the way Marvel released the first three issues of “Axis”, retailers weren’t able to see how the first issue performed before they had to have orders for later issues in, meaning that they were basically ordering on a wing and a prayer. They had no data to say how consumers would respond to the book, which – as we can see in the numbers – resulted in retailers nationwide hedging their bets and ordering low. I imagine future issues will continue to see a relatively steep decline.

    Retailer Brian Hibbs of Comix Experience in San Francisco spoke of the difficulties in ordering this book in his recent “Tilting at Windmills” column at CBR:

    “’AXIS’ is a nine-issue series, with each issue being $5. These nine issues of ‘AXIS’ come out in just a three-month period. Retailer initial orders for the ninth and final issue of the series are due less than two weeks after the release of issue #1, basically making it impossible to order this series on anything other than a speculative basis.”

    In that piece, he spoke of how not only was ordering difficult, but sell-through to customers was as well, sharing that the regular issue of “Uncanny Avengers” (which “Axis” spins out of) performed better than “Axis” #1, which can have deadly ramifications for retailers who bet big on the performance of books like that one.

    DC Event Sales

    It’s not just Marvel, though.

    DC has seen a significant dip in performance over the years, with last year’s “Forever Evil” #1 selling a bit more than half of what “Infinite Crisis” #1 did 8 years before it. Granted, it was way higher than the putrid sales of “Flashpoint”, but I don’t think that’s something to hang DC’s hat on. DC, for one, has been smart about it, as they aren’t pummeling with us events like Marvel does. They’ve kept things to a minimum, only running five true events in the last 10 years.

    Continued below

    DC Weekly Sales, Futures End based off second issue

    But they sure do love their weeklies (or bi-weeklies, in the case of “Brightest Day”), and with three running right now, DC is seeing lower and lower sales on their debuts with each passing launch. The latest, “Earth 2: World’s End”, opened at a mediocre #57 with about 55% lower sales than “Batman Eternal” started with earlier this year. Anecdotal evidence from retailers have indicated that these books have sold less and less as their runs have went along, and it’s quite likely that DC’s huge bet on weeklies isn’t hitting the levels they were aiming for.

    We know that their yearly events in September, like the recent Futures End month, sell well to retailers, but regular readers like you or me? Not so much, as I discovered when talking to an array of retailers for a recent piece.

    What does this all mean? There are a few different things you could derive from that information, but my biggest takeaway is this: just doing the same old thing isn’t going to work forever, or at least not in the same way. It might pay off for these old dogs to learn some new tricks.

    The Rise of the New

    If Marvel and DC’s biggest guns aren’t firing on all cylinders like they used to and the comic industry continues to grow, what’s triggering that growth? Well, it’s not all them, but…

    Image’s market share growth

    The chart you see above is Image’s growth in both unit share and in dollar share of the marketplace over the past five years. Between January 2009 and October 2014, Image’s unit share in the marketplace has more than quadrupled. And that’s not even an apples to apples comparison, as industry revenues have skyrocketed during that time, moving from $31.31 million in January 2009 to $56.09 million this month. That means Image is taking a bigger slice of a much bigger pie.

    Now, this month their 12.28% number is a bit inorganically boosted – as I said before, “The Walking Dead” #132 was featured in October’s Loot Crate, and issue #133 (also in October) sold nearly 80% less without the Loot Crate bump – but that’s still a very impressive number that speaks to how effectively they’ve grown. It’s not even how big they’ve gotten that impresses me the most, though. It’s their Terminator like relentlessness in growing their market share. This wasn’t an overnight thing, but a steady progression.

    Wytches #1
    It helps that a book like “The Walking Dead” has become a regular top 20 seller thanks to its popularity as a TV show translating to the comics, but it’s not just Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s sensation fueling this growth. Look at Scott Snyder and Jock’s “Wytches” #1 and its sensational start, selling over 80,000 copies in its first printing and landing at #18 in the Diamond charts. Look at “Saga” and the fact that its orders have grown 76% between its first issue and its 24th one in October (which never happens).

    There are so many other examples of books at Image that are succeeding when they might not have in the past, and that’s helping build that higher sales floor I spoke of earlier. Books like “The Fade Out” and “Birthright” and “The Wicked + The Divine” and “Sex Criminals” and “Low” and “Southern Bastards” and “Rasputin” aren’t just performing well for Image. They’re performing well for any comic.

    Readers and retailers aren’t just looking for the same old thing. They’re looking for something new in their comic reading experience, not a rehash of something they’ve read before. And sure, we’ve read stories about zombies and space operas and witches and all of those things before, but not in this way, not in this medium, and not this well, and it’s creating excitement in readers.

    It’s not just at Image, though. Other publishers have emulated and adapted Image’s creator-owned direction and seen significant successes because of it. Boom! Studios in particular has found three hit comics in the last year in Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson and Brooke Allen’s “Lumberjanes”, James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan’s “Memetic” and Tynion and Michael Dialynas’ “The Woods”. Dark Horse continues to embrace that direction as well, and books like “B.P.R.D.” and “MIND MGMT” succeed both as monthlies and in trades.

    Continued below

    As John Jackson Miller of Comichron has said many a time before:

    “The middle-to-lower tier titles are simply stronger relative to times past, and there are more of them.”

    That’s a hugely underrated part of where the industry’s growth has come from, and it’s only getting more prominent. In that same link above, he shares my favorite stat of all to show where the growth in comics has come from, but I’m going to adjust it for more current numbers.

    In September of 2004, the 300th ranked title sold 1,681 copies.

    In September of 2014, the 300th ranked title sold 6,306.

    That’s a 375% growth in 10 years. That, my friends, is unbelievable. But that speaks to the depth the comic industry has these days, and it shows exactly how we’ve seen so much growth despite Marvel and DC’s event and weekly comics performing in an increasingly underwhelming fashion. Like with most art forms, comics have become increasingly niche oriented, and readers have moved past just relying on what Marvel and DC gives them and calling it good, instead looking to other publishers and places to find something new and different that speaks to them.

    Ms. Marvel, Volume One

    And sometimes, those types of things can even come at Marvel or DC themselves. Look at the successes of the new “Ms. Marvel” book, which topped the October sales charts for graphic novels and trade paperbacks. The monthly book has seen steady and solid numbers since its launch, and is likely now reaching new readers via its first collection. It’s a great comic, and it is proof that if Marvel tries something different – like a comic starring a Muslim girl who isn’t constantly fighting villains – then it might just find an audience, and a potentially sizable one at that.

    DC found the same thing in the enormous response the new “Batgirl” creative team and direction brought, as the hype behind it was met with an equal increase in sales. Based off Comichron, the first issue from Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr nearly doubled the sales of the last issue of Gail Simone’s run, which is incredible. That’s not to speak poorly of Simone’s well-loved run, but it shows there was an audience who was desperate for something new, and they found it in issue #35.

    It just goes to show you that what’s new can take on many different forms, but quite often, if publishers take a chance, they might just find something people will get excited about.

    The Past Guiding the Future

    Based off of everything I’ve seen, we’re looking at an industry where consumer and retailer behavior is dictating that the old tricks don’t work as well as they once did, and that readers are strongly responding to the fresh and new.

    That’s not to say with absolute certainty that if someone releases something completely random – like a comic about a superpowered dude with a ghost cow head working for NASA to stop astronaut farmers – that it will find success (although in that case, Ryan Browne’s “God Hates Astronauts” has done well). Nor am I trying to say that by releasing events and weeklies, Marvel and DC is going to continue to see diminishing returns. There are all kinds of variables that could impact the success of a project beyond what we’re looking at here.

    But the face of today’s comic reader is changing, and we all need to change with it. It’s not all 35+ men who read in print, but 18-year-old women who read comics digitally. It’s young girls reading Raina Telgemeier and young boys reading Kazu Kibuishi, or vice versa. It’s people of all varieties reading web comics and digital comics and Kickstarter comics. More than it has been in a long time, the audience of comic books is a moving target, and being agile in trying to find what those readers want is paramount to building readership today. It’s a lesson publishers needs to pay attention to, but as I said before, not everyone is learning from it.

    Look at Marvel and DC’s 2015 plans, for example.

    Continued below

    Secret Wars

    Marvel for one is running the idea of “Secret Wars” and Battleworld back again, with old events like “House of M” and “Civil War” and more being a part of it. Sure, it’s Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic, so it will probably be really interesting, but from our comments and those from Twitter and beyond I can say that the initial response is apathetic. And why wouldn’t it be, as almost every aspect of it is something we’ve seen before.

    It’s the same with DC’s “Convergence”, which is a two-month event where DC looks to bring back old favorites like pre New 52 continuity, “Superman: Red Son”, the Wildstorm universe and Tangent (because everyone loved Tangent). It’s going to replace all of their books for that span with 40 new two-issue runs that likely will tackle those different universes and how they’re impacted by this Convergence.


    Not only are Marvel and DC building their 2015 fortunes around massive events, but they’re creating something new that is just as obsessed with their past as they are and they hope readers are. Both will likely do well, but not as well as events in the past, especially considering the increase in retailer trepidation when it comes to events clearly built around gaming the system to bolster orders.

    Meanwhile, other publishers are embracing change more than ever. Boom! and Dynamite are putting together effective impersonations of Image’s creator-owned direction. Dark Horse is launching a bevy of awesome looking new titles from creators like Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, Mike Mignola, and more. Archie has, against all odds, become a bastion of innovative and forward thinking storytelling. Valiant is attempting to bridge the gap between Marvel and DC’s universe building and Image’s creator friendly nature.

    Image itself has another of its patented Image Expos arriving in January, and the guests include luminaries who already have books at Image like Lemire, Scott Snyder and Brian K. Vaughan, while also bringing in Image neophytes like Marjorie Liu. They have already announced other books for the year from people like Rick Remender, Sean Murphy, Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and more. The list of writers, artists, colorists, designers and more working at Image is as impressive as the publisher’s growth, proving that not only are readers and retailers enjoying the push to the new and the original, but creators are as well.

    It’s things like that which give me hope that these new heights the industry has reached will continue to be sustainable. With more quality titles that feel fresh and exciting, it feels like we’re just reaching the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the future of publishers like Image, Boom! and Dark Horse.

    Moving Forward, Looking Forward

    There’s always the possibility that readers and retailers may get burned out in relation to those publishers as well. At Multiversity, we’ve seen readers complain about the volume of titles Image is releasing, and they did have 72 comics ship in October (which is only 22 less than Marvel did). But if these publishers continue to churn out comics of value, there’s a good chance they’ll find an audience with the way everything is trending. After all, there are worse things in the world than new comics that are also good.

    Gotham Academy #1
    And at Marvel and DC, good comics continue to be made as well. While I’m not much of a DC reader these days, “Gotham Academy” is one of the most enjoyable books around. Marvel’s loaded with titles I dig, like “Hawkeye”, “Ms. Marvel”, “She Hulk” and “Superior Foes of Spider-Man” (three of which are ending, but who’s counting?). But the commonality between the books that I – and many other readers – really, truly enjoy at those houses is that they’re the ones that don’t exist in service to what came before them.

    The good news about all of this is from all of the data I’ve looked at, something we’ve always impressed on readers is actually happening, in that when you’re buying comics, you’re voting with your dollars. By supporting comics that just aren’t very good, like “Axis” or DC’s “Futures End” month books, you’re telling publishers you want more of that. By supporting something great like “Saga” or “Gotham Academy”, you’re doing the same about those books. Sure, we still have massive events on the horizon, but we also have more “Batgirl”, Lemire and Ramon Perez on “Hawkeye”, and an array of fantastic looking books from smaller publishers. Image’s growth is a perfect example of that, as they are able to publish so many titles because you, the readers, are buying them. It’s working imperfectly, overall, but it’s still working on some level. Or at least it feels like it is.

    Continued below

    When I think of Marvel and DC and where they currently are, my mind goes to what happened to Motorola in the telecommunications industry. Once upon a time, Motorola was the biggest name in telecom, basically printing money with its old flip phone model, the RAZR. Within the old world order of telecom, they were an innovator and an immense success, making billions and billions of dollars in the process. But with the advent of smart phones that were more multi-purpose than strict communications device, Motorola continued to rely upon their tried and true formula until they were so far in the hole they first split into two independent companies, before the mobile device company was sold off to Google and then Lenovo. In the span of four years, Motorola went from the biggest name in the game to yet another cautionary tale because they refused to adapt when market indicators suggested that’s exactly what they needed to do.

    Is that going to happen to Marvel or DC? Definitely not. Telecommunications has a lot more room for innovation than comics, and the comic industry’s formula would have to change in an unrealistically radical way for Marvel and DC to falter like Motorola did.

    There are still lessons to be learned, though. If Marvel and DC really want to continue to be major parts of the zeitgeist in tomorrow’s comic industry and not just companies subsisting off of what came before, they’ll need to find a way to look to the future without holding on so desperately to the past. For everyone and for themselves, I hope they find a way to do that.

    Note: numbers discussed in this piece are for the direct market only, and specifically are in reference to sales from Diamond to retailers, not sell-through to actual readers.

    //TAGS | Multiversity 101

    David Harper

    David 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).


    • Old Man Brian

      Great and interesting article. Also great for Image Comics, it’s much deserved for them and the creators with the quantity and most important, quality of books published now. I hope more people continue trying more of their books. It still baffles me just how much more Saga sells over other books. That isn’t a knock on Saga, I love it too, but the sales difference is huge (not counting TWD).

    • Bob

      So why do you fuss over sales about things you don’t like but aren’t going to mention the sea of certain books like She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, and SSF.

      If we are going to talk about the future of comics shouldn’t we talk about the sales of these comics that are so popular among people who write at comic sites but not necessarily at comic stores?

      • I do mention that mention that those books (not Captain Marvel) were canceled in the article, and talk about how the system is still imperfect but it’s getting better. That comes up within the piece.

        I don’t really think there’d be much to an article about the phenomenon of comics being more popular with comic sites than they are at comic shops, though. That’d be like a film critic writing about how it’s ridiculous that Lars Von Trier doesn’t dominate the box office and the Transformers movies do. Very rarely do the best reviewed pieces of art also become the most highly grossing ones. That’s a phenomenon that has existed as long as art has.

        • PRM19XX

          And every article about sales in the industry and trends should also come with a huge disclaimer at the top of the article that says sales numbers are from Diamond to retailers, not to customers. That means there is a disconnect between every single “sales chart” and what is actually selling. And that means that trends in the industry are always at least two months behind. I remember ordering axis 3 and 4 at my shop before #1 had even started selling. That Harley Quinn annual may have sold huge quantities to the retail arm of the industry but how many copies are sitting in the back room right now because they didn’t sell through at a retail level?

          • Hey PRM! That’s a great point, and I do try to bring it up as much as possible. In this one, I didn’t explain that, but I have explained it a number of times in the past. I did talk quickly about how sell-through to customers wasn’t going well for AXIS, but I didn’t explain it. Maybe I’ll add an addendum at the end. Thanks!

            • PRM19XX

              I know, it’s a pain to keep reminding people but It’s a very important part of our industry that can greatly shift the profit margin for smaller shops when an event comic suddenly starts selling well or when a book does not sell nearly as well at the retail level as everyone thought it did. I’m thinking of this year’s DC 3D covers specifically. Most of those eventually sold but they weren’t flying of the shelf like last years! But if you look at the number sold to retailers it looked like a big success from those on the outside.

              Oh, and by the way, I am now adding this site to my regular reading list because of the crazy thoroughness of this article!

            • PRM – I think you’d appreciate this article I wrote in October: http://multiversitycomics.com/longform/futures-end-the-dark-side-of-dcs-monster-september-sales/

              I agree with you though. I’m a retail supporter through and through, and I actually would like to join your ranks someday. It’s a very fascinating business, and I know the line you walk is a very tight one. Good luck with everything, and glad you liked the article. I hope we provide more content in the future that’s of interest to you!

    • Odinson

      Great great article. I agree with you. I love comics from DC and Marvel, but I like Marvel more than DC because they release very “indie” comics, with a different style which is great. It’s good to have options. While I like DC, having different books you could access to all public.

    • Patrick Gizinski

      This isn’t exactly about the article per se, but I can’t be the only one enjoying Axis? Am I?

      • So far amongst the Multiversiteers, it’s considered generally awful and amongst the worst events ever. I’ve made it through four issues and I am dropping it now. I’m genuinely curious though. What is it you enjoy so much?

        • Patrick Gizinski

          Well, let me be clear. I am under no illusion, it’s not a great event. I do think it’s Remender’s worst work at Marvel. Yeah the art isn’t the best we’ve gotten from an event either. But…

          It’s fun to me. The first three issues with all the heroes banning together. Nightcrawler saving Iron Man, Scarlet Witch & Dr. Strange working together. Havok and Cyclops broing out. All of them joining together to fight an ultimate evil. Not to mention I feel like Remender is channeling RDJr perfectly when writing Stark (maybe that’s just me). Then when the inversion happens. I feel like they got Mark Millar to ghost write the characters, they’re such assholes. For once it’s nice to have an explanation as to why these characters are such egotistical, wanting to fight each other a-holes.

          Yeah there are issues: art is not the best, some of the characterizations are inaccurate. But it’s been such chaotic simple fun for me. To me it’s what people relate to with Fast & Furious. I can shut my brain off, and enjoy the ride. I wouldn’t put it worse, or as bad as Ultimatum, Fear Itself, or say Avengers vs. X-Men.

          • Luke Forney

            I haven’t read Ultimatum or Fear Itself, so I can’t speak to those, but I very much enjoyed AvX more than Axis. I felt like the first issue of Axis was fun, but that each issue gradually got less engaging. After the first arc, I decided to give it one more issue, and I hated the first Inversion arc issue, so I decided to drop it after four issues, too. I really felt completely unengaged with the action, and the inversion did nothing for me, especially as it wasn’t addressed in the comic at all yet, so it feels like everyone has become assholes for no reason. The logic is broken, common sense with the characters is broken, and overall it failed to entertain me at all after issue #1. After Uncanny Avengers, I was really disappointed.

            • Patrick Gizinski

              Yeah I can understand that. I feel like the inversion explanation is coming. I feel like the reason why the heroes there aren’t questioning their new views is because they probably feel like it’s normal.

              I mean like I said, I’m not under any illusion that it’s a great comic. But yeah – I get why people don’t like it. I would want to call it a guilty pleasure. But I feel like people should just like what they like without feeling bad about it. But that’s a whole other conversation

            • Oh, I don’t think anyone should feel bad about liking Axis. Like I said, I’ve been buying it. I don’t think anyone should feel bad about liking anything, really. This piece really wasn’t meant to be a condemnation of event comics or anything, just a very realistic look at the fact they’re not performing nearly as well as they used to, and maybe that Marvel and DC might need to rethink their strategy.

              I mean, I buy EVERY event comic to start. I’m totally a mark for them. I’d be a total liar if I didn’t admit to that. Hell, I even get the guilty pleasure thing, as I read Ultimatum way after it wrapped, and I enjoyed it for the batshit crazy destructo ray it was. I definitely get it.

            • Patrick Gizinski

              Oh, I agree though. I think the event comic is probably the worst thing about comics now.

              Do I think stories like Fear Itself, Age of Ultron, and Axis could have been better if left to their own devices within their respective originating series and not made an event? I do.

              I think they’re pushing these events out without the care of quality on them, just wanting to make that buck. Not caring fully about the quality of the story, and the weight that it might carry, because the next one is right around the corner. And I think that’s why they’re not selling so well anymore.

              However, I can only blame them so much, because like you David. I eat them up. I buy nearly every single one, because damn they know how to market them and they know what hot names to put on a book to make it sell.

    • Old Man Brian

      I forgot to mention it earlier, but your comparison to Motorola is a great one. It doesn’t seem that long ago that they, and all other companies, were marketing and promoting how small their phones were. Now we’re seeing commercials from Apple and others promoting how big they are now. It’s a funny world we live in.

    • I’ve lapsed from comics back in the post-Civil War/Infinite Crisis days and only got back into them a few years ago and this trend really resonated with my new purchasing habits. The vast majority of comics I get are not from the big two and are usually newer titles that look interesting to me. I still get stuff from Marvel and DC, but it’s more fringe stuff like Hawkeye or Ms. Marvel.

      As for event books, I just can’t get invested in them anymore and its bleed over into some of their mainline titles. I find it hard to follow the Avengers or Iron Man if I know that their status quo could be shaken up in a few months outside the scope of the story. It’s part of the reason I dropped the Loki book even though I loved the first arc.

    • Torsten Adair

      ” In an industry that’s worth $50 million on average, DC and Marvel account for two thirds of that revenue. Without them, comic shops would have a hard time making enough money to survive. Without Marvel and DC, print comics would likely die just like the doomsayers are always saying they’re about to.”

      Um… In 2013, the market was worth $780 Million. The book trade accounted for $245 Million.
      For every $1 of graphic novels sold, comics shops sold $2 of comic books. What percentage of that $2 is Marvel/DC? 66%?


      Comics shops would be hurting without Marvel and DC, but the industry? Go look at the New York Times bestseller lists. There’s a lot of non-DC/Marvel comics being sold, and unlike ongoing superhero titles, they KEEP selling month after month. (See: “weeks on chart” column). The industry is the most vibrant it has been since… ever? There has never been this much interest in traditional publishing about comics. The Big Five, children’s publishers, academic presses… it’s unprecedented.

      • Hey Torsten, I suppose I should have clarified. The piece is primarily referencing the direct market, and that $50 million number is the monthly number for total sales, not annual.

        I’m very aware that it’s not just superheroes, as I reference in the piece extensively. But do you disagree and think the DM would be fine without Marvel or DC? I know that the book market would be fine. I am talking about monthly floppies, a number of which feed into the book market as collections and form the foundation of the book market you are referencing.

        Thanks for the condescending tone, though!

        • PRM19XX

          Hopefully shops are working hard to sell those indie books because with DC and Marvel controlling such a big piece of the pie it would benefit everyone to have a more diversified market. And hopefully if Marvel and DC ever decided to get out of the floppies game they would slowly retract the number of titles they’re printing and not just pull out from one month to the next!
          But who knows!

        • Torsten Adair

          [I did not intend to sound condescending, and I offer my opinions and observations without malice. Feel free to refute and discuss,]

          “Comics shops would be hurting without Marvel and DC,”

          There are many stores which have reduced their dependency on Marvel and DC periodical comics. Many more have diversified their product mix, selling games, toys, books. art supplies. Others have become specialty bookstores, like Bergen Street Comics.

          I know many retailers who would love to be free of the burden of Marvel and DC ordering. (Careful what you wish for…) I would wager that few stores order the full line of Marvel or DC titles.

          As for superhero comics being the foundation for the book trade? No, it’s not, in my opinion. Go to a bookstore. How many of the New 52 volume one trades are on the shelf? Unless it’s done extremely well (Snyder’s Batman, Ultimate Spider-Man), most superhero trades stop selling after three months. If I had to pick one genre or category, it would be kids’ graphic novels. Then “literary” or “adult” comics.
          (Searching Books In Print, for 2013, superhero titles account for 8% of all titles published. It is the second largest subject, but Manga has 14 subjects, and accounts for 47% of all titles. (Yes, inflated due to multiple volumes per series, but the same can be said for superhero series, to a lesser extent.)
          Libraries, which actively track patron demand, also tend to stock fewer superhero titles.

          Superhero comics are soap operas for men. How much of a market is there for old episodes of soap operas? (Even the ones on prime time, like Babylon 5 or The Sopranos?) The superhero backlist are done-in-one volumes like Watchmen, Red Son, The Killing Joke.

          Consider Brian Hibbs’ annual BookScan analysis. There is not a single superhero title in the Top 20.

          Or look at the ICV2 Top 300 Graphic Novel monthly lists, and see what reappears from month-to-month. Yes, that’s the DM, and even there most titles only appear once.

          • [I appreciate the clarification on the tone. The internet is hard to digest without applying your own tone to it, and that’s my bad. Thanks for the comment.]

            I know the book market is dominated by those outside of Marvel and DC, and I wouldn’t try to refute that. This piece is about the monthly marketplace, not the collections and graphic novel one that exists outside of the direct market.

            Bergen Street Comics is an exception to this, and I guarantee you that they’d admit that their model is not one everyone can emulate. I’m not saying that Marvel and DC define the marketplace, but I am saying they make it possible for your average comic shop to exist. My shop in Anchorage, Alaska is HEAVILY oriented towards Marvel and DC, and non Marvel/DC hardly sells. They get left with stacks of most books outside those lots that don’t have a speculator boom behind them. That’s the harsh reality of your average comic shop.

            I’ll ask again though: do you think the direct market would be fine without Marvel and DC? I’m genuinely curious.

            • Torsten Adair

              No, of course not.
              But like the B&W implosion, the speculator bubble, and the Exclusivity War, I think it would, in the long run, be a good thing.
              Perhaps Marvel and DC decide to go digital only, and Print-On-Demand, thereby rewriting royalties and page rates. Some soldier on, but many, even now, would work on their own properties. Gail Simone, for example, just funded a Kickstarter, to be distributed by Dark Horse.
              Yes, many stores would be hurting, but it would cull a lot of mediocre retailers (as happened during the Speculator bubble).
              But, I think a lot of readers would be curious about other titles, especially those written by well-known writers, and would continue buying comics.
              Which comics shop do you run in Anchorage? Or patronize?
              Do stores have any success with Image?
              What of the college students?

            • Torsten Adair

              Here’s the elephant:
              DC and Marvel are publishing VERY FEW comics aimed at elementary- and middle-school readers.
              For the past 20 years, new comics creators have been inspired as kids by comic strips, manga, and now “library comics”. Not by superhero comics, because there aren’t many titles suitable or appealing to them. Where are the Agents of SMASH comics, for example?
              So new creators aren’t going to be as interested in creating superhero comics, which reduces the talent pool, and the innovation. (ESPECIALLY if other publishers offer better contracts.)
              Maybe Marvel and DC revert/retreat to digital publishing, which would be a good thing. Instead of neverending storylines, we’d see more compact, more done-in-one stories, like the recent Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman Beyond digital series. In essence, a return to the newsstand model of the 1950s, when readers were more casual, but sales were higher.

            • I agree with your points, but these points aren’t really salient to the discussion. This article wasn’t about Marvel and DC’s targeting of younger readers or how they deliver their books, but about how what they’re doing now isn’t working, or at least as well as it used to. So yeah, clearly they should make changes and find ways to reach new readers and rebuild relationships with lapsed readers. Both of those things are something every publisher would like to do, though, not just Marvel and DC.

              Not to spoil an article I’m eventually going to write, but one of the most interesting things about comics today is the fact that the book market sees huge success in courting young readers via graphic novels, but the direct market doesn’t see a similar success. There’s something about comic shops that just don’t seem to work for all-ages books, and conversely, Marvel and DC books don’t really play at book stores either as you said. So that creates a situation where Marvel and DC don’t gain financially from releasing all-ages books, and there’s your answer. They’re businesses, and businesses like making money. If a prospective part of their business has proven time and time again to not make money, in their minds, why do it?

              It’s a good question, even though the answer is clearly “because your audience is aging and you need an influx of new readers.” Something has to change, and I don’t think it’s necessarily something Marvel or DC needs to change, but something bigger. A systemic shift in the direct market. But, like I said, that’s a whole other ball of wax.

        • Torsten Adair

          Outside of the Direct Market, the comics industry is already diverse. Roz Chast is just the latest comics creator to be nominated for a literary award.

          Librarians have also lauded graphic novels. Here’s the latest list:


    • Eli

      Just a thought, could the innovation at Marvel and DC be blocked by the fact that creators don’t own the rights of the new characters or ideas they create at those companies? With creators being much more knowledgeable and having seen the ramifications of the previous generations of creators, why would they bother putting their best ideas and creations into the hands of the Big Two? Image and some of these other smaller companies seem to be offering creators actually ownership/control of their creations that the Big Two just won’t or can’t. It seems to me the Big Two have to mine the past because the future isn’t really an option. Just like the article, I’m not saying there is no innovation at the Marvel/DC level but we are seeing more else where because it’s more beneficial for creators to be creative else where. I hope that makes sense.

      • It’s an interesting point, Eli, but the problem is many creators have wanted to go interesting and different directions but been hamstrung by Marvel or DC. Look at JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman wanting to have Kate Kane get married in Batwoman and DC denied it. Before creators can be enabled to tell the interesting stories they can tell, Marvel and DC need to be invested in that decision. As of right now, Marvel and DC act more like caretakers than storytellers, and I think that’s what is holding them back.

    • John Wimmer

      What about digital distribution? How would that affect, say the difference between the sales of Forever Evil and Final Crisis? Or, if you want to talk diversity of titles, what about Comixology’s Submit titles, or web comics in general? You mention digital comics in passing, but then base the rest of the article on Diamond numbers.

      Of course, they don’t release digital sales numbers (that I know of), so I don’t know what if any conclusions you could draw, but to talk about the future of comics and not talk a little more about digital seems a bit off to me.

      [I also wish to not sound condescending or anything. A friend linked to the article on twitter and I was making my points to him so I decided go ahead and make my points on the actual article.]

      • I mentioned this on Twitter, but this piece wasn’t really about about delivery systems in terms of the future, but content. What content users are responding to above others, and what amongst those content types are driving that growth in sales.

        And digital sales numbers are – much to my chagrin – not revealed on any level, so we have no idea what those are. If we had those numbers I can promise you I would be writing posts about those numbers right quick. If I could have anything for Christmas, it might just be digital sales numbers.

        I am the biggest nerd on the planet.