Comic Sales: Nobody Knows Anything


Did you ever get so mad you could see your own pulse?

Actual things that happen to me in daily life don’t crank my thermostat up like this. Traffic jams, the irritations and petty b.s. of the workplace… nothin’.

But ohhh, that internet.

Last week, I was reading indie comics and minding my business and saying my prayers — I may also have been petting an adorable kitten under an American flag — when I loaded up iFanboy.com to find one Mr. Robert Kirkman had released his plan to fix comics.

“Thank God,” I said to the screen with $40 of comics in my lap, “someone has finally posted something on the internet about how to fix comics.”

It had, after all, been almost 45 minutes since the last time. Someone online fixes comics thirty times a day, or at least explains the many ways they’re broken. Before Mr. Kirkman’s manifesto, we’d been running behind schedule for the afternoon.

Within about a minute of hitting “play,” I felt the pressure building in my temples. I knew that, unlike the usual blog screed, this one would be sticking around for a while. It was by someone in the business, and it was served up in digestible viral video form. Everywhere I went, I was going to see armchair experts blowing hard about this one for days. It would be inescapable, especially since I have a mental disorder that creates an inverse proportion between how pointless I think a discussion is and how much I can resist refreshing the page. It was virtually guaranteed that, by Saturday, I would penetrate some drywall with my skull. People would start splitting into sects, parsing the text as if it were the Bible:

“Were you even listening to him? You obviously didn’t understand. He says it clearly in minute four, sentence 33.”

“Are you kidding me? That’s not what he meant when he said ‘comic book industry.’ Infidel!”

Thud thud thud crack bleed cry.

(And I’m still @%#&ing talking about it. There’s nothing worse than starting with “this is pointless” and still being in the conversation three days later. Even if you make your point, you’re still the biggest idiot in the room.)

I hate these @#$&ing manifestos. Hate them. The content of Kirkman’s is all but irrelevant; as revolutionary declarations go, Martin Luther doesn’t exactly have to watch his back. Creative people should spend a lot of time creating, instead of working on other people’s creations for a temporary paycheck? Companies should be trying to attract new customers to their product, and be interested in not going out of business? Holy $h*#, cue the yank-the-needle-off-the-record sound effect; I can’t believe my ears. It’s also so generalized that if you try to challenge any part of it, you sound like you’re against Tony Moore being able to feed his children and want to chase off new readers with a paintball gun. Between the rambling, occasionally self-contradictory nature of the video and its virtual lack of content, Mr. Kirkman’s “points” are basically impossible to disagree with unless you really feel Alan Moore has a Gambit story in him that the world needs to see. (I understand that his follow-up interview on Wordballoon does make some salient points about the wetness of water.)

I really don’t care which creators are creating where. Vaya con Dios, mi amigos. No, Mr. Kirkman’s self-appointment as Comic Book Moses was not the thing burrowing deep under my skin to steam my blood this time. It was that preamble. He opened the video by saying he had stopped working for other people, and “the main reason is… I did it to save the entire comic book industry.”

Oh, really?

Never mind the navel-gazing narcissism that lets someone believe that the continued existence of an 80+-year-old industry rests solely on what he and his two dozen peers decide to do with it. Either because he was speaking extemporaneously or because he was trying to angry up the hornets, Mr. Kirkman had reasserted my least favorite assertion that asserters ever assert, namely that the comic book industry needs to be saved. I don’t accept his premise, at least not at face value.

You know how those guys in California came out and said they had a Bigfoot carcass they were keeping in the freezer? (For freshness?) From where I was sitting, the Kirkman Manifesto was like that, but the ensuing discussion consisted of half the people posting, “This noble primitive must be returned to his family!” while the other half replied, “No! The creature must be studied, so that science might harness its powers!” My position was, “Hey… you guys know that’s a Wookie suit in an Igloo cooler, right?” And then everybody looked at me like I was nuts.

Because everybody knows comics as we know them will cease to exist any moment, right? It’s indisputable conventional wisdom; you hear it all the time, and last week you heard it again from Mr. Kirkman. We are going to die, Mr. Kirkman gravely intones into the camera like Heather at the end of Blair Witch, and we’re taking the comic industry with us. The fanbase is aging, and no one is replacing them. No one. Never mind that Marvel has eight different product lines trying to extend their tendrils into any vulnerable corner of the market; kids don’t like those Marvel Adventures. (Sweeeep!) Man the lifeboats! Women and children fir– never mind; there are no women or children.

But what if that’s wrong? Where are we even getting that from, other than one another here in the echo chamber?

I hear you: “I don’t know any kid who ever bought one of those Marvel Adventures.” Me neither, but that’s anecdotal, and if you want to play that game I will gladly match you anecdote for anecdote. I’ll see your “I didn’t see any kids at Free Comic Book Day” and raise you “Since I returned to comics, my shop has physically tripled in size and always has kids in it.”

You say every time you go into your store, all you see are thirty-year-old dudes, many of whom– let’s be frank– ain’t havin’ kids any time soon to pass their books down to? Fine. Every time I go into Borders, the “Manga/Graphic Novels” section has been moved to a bigger row of shelves, and the aisle is full of pesky whippersnappers sitting on the floor reading Fruits Basket and getting in my way even though there’s a perfectly good café full of chairs right over there. (“It’s pretty much a constant expansion,” says the manager of the Borders in question in a source I can totally reference.) These little stories, while a valuable contribution to the oral tradition, prove nothing. Normally, I have to fight the urge to roll my eyes when people mention that I’m from the “Show-Me State,” but after listening to these gloomy prognostications yet again, I demanded Numbers.

Unless seven straight years of growth are a symptom of death, I feel like the patient is probably going to pull through.

 

  • Graphic novel sales were $375 million in North America in 2007, up 12% from 2006 and quintuple 2001’s numbers.*
  • “The number of titles in all genres continues to grow. In 2007 there were 3,391 graphic novels published. The number of manga titles (1,513) was up 25% and American genre comics, encompassing superheroes and other traditional genres (1,268), was up 31%. Fiction and reality–the “comics lit” or literary category–was up 2% (272) and kid’s comics (145) were almost unchanged with a 1% increase. Humor rose 24% (83).”*
  • In 2007, the periodical (“floppies”) market was $330 million, bringing ’07’s sales up to $705 million for North America. Comics rose 10% from $310 million in 2006.**
  • In 2007, manga sales rose to $210 million (+5%) up from 2006’s $200 million.**
  • Library sales of graphic novels remain steady.*
  • Earlier this year, Borders began opening the first of 14 “concept” stores with their own expanded Graphic Novel sections, since “it has proven to be one of their best-selling and fastest growing areas.”***
  • Even with overall sales down slightly for the year so far, the news is considered good by those in the know when you factor in the state of the rest of the economy.****
  • Last year, Watchmen sold 100,000 copies. After the movie trailer hit theaters, it sold 10,000 in a week. It just rose to #29 on USA Today’s bestseller list. As of this writing, it is Amazon’s #10 bestseller, ahead of two Twilight books and Beedle the Bard. DC is printing 900,000 more copies to meet expected demand for the year.*****


My favorite nugget was a report that manga publishers were trying desperately to gain new readers by reaching out to the elusive thirty-year-old dude demographic. I wish I had the source for that, but having officially gone through the looking glass I shut my laptop before I could write it down.

I had Numbers. For a brief, incandescent moment, I felt good.

“Holy cow,” I said to no one in particular, “if this industry dies any more, I’m gonna need to buy some more shelving.”

For once, I was not just blowing hot wind. I had facts, facts with sources, sources that were not my shapely ass. *Sources, **Sources, ***Sources, ****Sources, and oh by the way *****Sources. The numbers don’t lie.

Or do they?

My dad the accountant has a saying: “Torture the numbers long enough, and they’ll confess to anything.” My good mood lasted roughly fifteen seconds before I imagined more of the responses I’d read so many times before.

“These numbers don’t take into account Amazon/bookstores/the direct market/Walgreens/garage sales. They don’t actually say what you think they say. There’s nothing saying old men aren’t just buying five times more books than they were in 2000. This doesn’t prove that comics stores aren’t still dying. The mainstream superhero shared universe mass-market comics west of the Mississippi are still in trouble. By Odin’s Beard, there is a way to make this into bad news!”

Comics cultivate the illusion of expertise. The creators shake our hands and the companies show us everything they’re working on, and we start thinking we’re insiders. But the truth is, we actually have very little information. I think about the monthly Marvel and DC sales charts that Heidi Macdonald publishes each month. I think about the times that I have seen comics professionals on Twitter openly mocking those charts as imaginary and useless. The longer this conversation goes on, the more I’m reminded of the parable of the blind men and the elephant; we’re all in one isolated corner thinking the comics industry looks like a geriatric tusk. Actually, a lot of people talk more like they’re stationed at the elephant’s rear end. Everything is disputed; every picture is incomplete; that silver lining could actually be deadly mercury.

Why is everyone so eager, then, to believe the worst available possibility? Is it that fascination with the apocalypse? Mr. Kirkman mentions the current good times even as he’s saying the industry is going to die with him, and this seems common when faced with that pesky positivity: “Okay okay, so it’s not dying right now. But it will later! Entropy will eventually cause the heat death of the universe, and then it’s goodbye Batman!” It is as if we don’t know how to deal with a world where our stuff isn’t unpopular and on the brink of cancellation. Sunshine is just a prelude to the deluge. I dearly hope there are a lot of comics readers working in Homeland Security.

I don’t know what kind of numbers you get to see when they make you an Image partner. Maybe the writing is on the wall, and I’m just too blinded by wanting to enjoy ten minutes of my @%#$ing life to see the certain doom. I suspect, though, that this is all a whole lot of nothing. Time will tell. In the meantime, cheer up, gloomy malcontents of the internet! You’re probably not killing comics as we know them. You’re probably just killing me. So, win-win.

 


Did Jim Mroczkowski even watch the video?! He can be put in his place at Jimski.com or Twitter; if you keep at it some more, maybe you can get him to jump off of something tall.

 

Comments

  1. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I absolutely love that you are still able to maintain that gloomy sheen of utter crankiness and pessimism even while defending the side of the optimists.  This is the Jimski that we love, capable of the same paradoxical allure as Oscar the Grouch.  

    A really compelling argument, and I hope people take notice.   

  2. And here I thought the Civil War was over but the aftermath remains.  I’m just going to give up and concede defeat Captain America style.

  3. Jimski, nice use of the word "salient." However, I’m pretty sure you used it only because I did in my comments on Kirkman’s post last week.

    Of course, I’m a deluded, self-centered jerk who, among other things, didn’t like Guggenheim’s Kraven story in ASM, which, apparently, everybody else did. Including you. 

    Another great article.  Best line: "Holy cow," I said to no one in particular, "if this industry dies any more, I’m gonna need to buy some more shelving."And as a part-time accounting professor I’m gonna rip off your dad’s line. It’s great too.

  4. There, the nay sayers wanted more proof of why the industry isnt dying, and here it is. Very good article sir!

    Although I work at a smaller Borders, I say that Manga/Graphic Novels is one of the more popular sections in our store. We might get a 1/3rd of what a big book store gets, but we always get the new and great comics so we still get a good target audience. I told you guys that a 14 year old girl bought ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ for herself…If that isnt an example of someone new to the comic scene…I dont know what is.

  5. It is hard to believe that anyone thinks that the comics business has to be saved. I have been reading comic books for the past few decades since my adolescence, and the changes are dramatic (and positive):

     

    1. Comic book quality is better than at any time I can remember. I may hate comic prices, but I love the fact that comics look great (I just got a chance to read Green Lantern: Rebirth, and the colors blew my mind), and that there are too many books on the shelf to catch everything great.

    2. The lines between indie and mainstream comics (whatever those are) have been blurred. I have a hard time believing that the me of 15 years ago would be a regular reader of DC/Vertigo titles, and that these would mean as much or more to me as my beloved Marvel titles.

    3. The increase in comic interest is not only through age variety, but also gender variety. I admit that I will never be able to get my wife hooked on Captain America or X-Men stories, but she just read the first trade of American Virgin, and she is insisting that we get the entire package immediately.

    4. The meaning of comics in the entirety of highbrow literature has only recently been appreciated. Sure, Chris Claremont and Stan Lee were great writers, but I think that it is Bill Willingham, Ed Brubaker, and the like who will be seen as our generation’s finest storytellers.

     

    I think that all of these things contribute to the fact that comics simply aren’t in trouble. An aging population (with money) ensures that more homes in the U.S. have video game consoles than at any previous time. Why won’t that be true for comics? I’ll still be reading Avengers books when I hit retirement, and I expect that we’ll get another Watchmen or two by then.

  6. Monthly issues are doing good right now.  But am I wrong in thinking that one day they will go away in favor of trades and graphic novel?  Somebody tell me if I’m way off in thinking this.

  7. I think all this talk about comics needing to be saved is just an excuse to read more comics. "Honey, I’m not just reading comics, I’m buying the issues AND the absolute because I need to save the Industry!!"

  8. Comics should take up the japanese model.  A Weekly book with all of a companies weekly comics for like 20 or 30 bucks, and then just sell the full series in trades. sort of like what your saying Kory.

    • I hope this doenst come off as very snarky, but the manga field is overloaded with crap. we westerners generally only get to see the creme of the crop, scary as that may sound.
      secondly, can you really imagine penning, writing and coloring a GOOD comic book story weekly? sad to say but again most manga is formulaic gunk with fan service intermixed with very cliched japanese cultural tropes.

  9. I still think Kirkman is re-making Jerry Maguire.

    "Did you know that the human head weights three pounds?" 

  10. @Jimski-" gloomy malcontents of the internet".  I hope you were’nt talking about me. 

  11. Another great article, Jim.  I really look forward to your weekly iFanboy ramblings.

  12. I’ve long waited for the days when we get japanese style ‘phonebooks’ here. I’d rather have all the X men or avengers stories collected in one volume per month. I know everyone says "Well Cross Gen tried it…" True, except Cross Gen’s stories were weak to begin with (sorry Cross gen fans…)

  13. Like I said in a few other places, Kirkman just came across arrogant with that spiel. I 100% agree with your fantastic article!

  14. Yes nothing says ‘saving the industry’ by giving the people a choice of either $3.99 weekly books or $20-30 monthly books…Cant image what the majority would think about that idea.

  15. Great article.  I have nothing else to say on the matter.

  16. Oh crap, are we already accepting the 3.99 price point as a given?! I’m old enough to remember the jump to 75 cents and I thought that was a bummer.

  17. 3.99 is about a year or two away.  better get used to it now.

  18. ugg, you’re probably right. I won’t be able to buy the same amount of books. Might as well start culling the list now I suppose.

  19. I’m already planning what I’m going to cut.  Booster Gold I’m looking at you.

  20. Awesome article. I like how you used facts to back up your points, it was something new for this debate.

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only rolling my eyes at all the hype & people getting excited over one man’s opinion/recruiting drive/advertisment for Image.

    No one knows what the future holds, so I think people need to just take a deep breath, relax & read some comics — just like we do every other week.

  21. @AlexG: Hey I just read an issue from the Howard the Duck Omnibus and guess how much it was?…..60 cents!!…and they say there isnt a recession. 🙂

    Oh and basically everyone read WadeWilson’s post above me….That’s exactely what everyone should be thinking and not panic,

  22. @TheNextChampion – Thank you for telling everyone how to think.  I’d be lost without you.

  23. I enjoyed  this immensly, Very well written, but my favorite part was the placement and utulization of those graphics, especiially Eeyore. Nicely done, Jim

  24. @conor: Sorry I was praising a guy who was exactley stating the right attitude…..Next time I’ll just think in my head cause at least I dont get teased at in my own mind.

  25. @thenextchampion- nobody ever said the sky is falling when it comes to comics.  i’m a not certainly not panicking.  all i’ve ever said is that the industry can’t just sit on their hands.

  26. Does anyone else think that this model would be good for the industry:  Say that Batman, Action Comics, Green Lantern Corps, Green Arrow, Booster Gold, Young Liars, and Trinity are coming out for DC in a given week. Why not compile all those into an anthology and call "Premiere DC Comics Weekly", and sell it for $20 (a slight discount from the 2.99 ea. price point.) Then they can bundle anything else they’re putting out that week as like DC Comics Weekly Anthology. Marvel can do the same thing. Image and DH could do it too, but they could also stick to floppies.
    And if you don’t want to buy weekly books, then you can buy the individual titles as trades.

    I think this model could work well for the industry.

  27. Pwnage!

    *sigh of smug satisfaction*

  28. @jerichobp- That could work.  And help save me some space.

  29. "Torture the numbers long enough, and they’ll confess to anything."

    That right there my friend is CLASSIC!

  30. Jimski.  Nice research.  It is always nice to see solid numbers and exceptionally nice to see someone doing some work to get them.  You are contributing your ass off this week. 

    BUT “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” – Mark Twain.

    I mentioned this in the Kirkman thread.  I think the key issue holding the industry back (and I think it is ready to blow) is Diamond’s distribution monopoly.  I don’t want to repeat myself here (although, I foresee the fiesty arguement from that thread repeating itself here), so let me summarize the arguement by saying:

    I would hate to think that writers are blaming themselves (or are being blamed) for the issues in the industry.  I think the four key problems in the industry are:
    1. A lack of customers-this is a problem in every industry on the planet (unless you are apple).
    2. A lack of new ideas-by ideas I mean characters, styles, story concepts.
    3. A lack of publicity-the movies and podcasts like yours are helping here, but can you name a place (other than a bookstore or comic shop where you saw anything that even resembles a comic book ad).
    4. DIAMOND’s monopoly

    I think if you fix #4 you will also fix 1, 2, and 3 indirectly.  We may never reach a reader base like those of the 1950’s, but there are absolutely hundreds of thousands of potential customers out there just waiting to be enticed. The new ideas are there just waiting for someone to offer to distribute them.  

  31. In Mr. Kirkman’s defense, he never said comics needed to be fixed. He, in fact, said that comics themselves were as good as they have ever been or better. His concern was in growing readership and creating a market for the future.

    You can list all your stats, but the one you gloss over is the most important. Sales this year are down. Sales last year were down. Sales the year before were down. This is a continuing trend year over year. Fewer and fewer people are reading comic books. With fewer and fewer people reading, fewer and fewer people will write or draw them. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of quality titles available to us right now because of the critical mass of people trying to make good things happen. Shrinking the number of people making this magic happens means less magic happens.

     This point of critical mass has been proven time and again in history and science. Its why large cities produce more rock stars, artists and actors. Its why the Renaissance happened once Europe had recovered from the Bubonic plague and wars of the Dark Ages. More people, more ideas, more better. Less people, less ideas, less better. Simple.

  32. @jerichobp Crossgen Comics tried that, with their "Forge" and "Edge" series of trades.  The company folded after about six months of those trades, which is unfortuante.  Brilliant conepts, solid writing and art and a reliance on trades should have been a recipe for success. 

    @Jimski Thank you for the dose of optimism.  Experts have been speculating on the death of the industry as long as there has been one.  The death of Atlas comics, the comics code authority; the increase in the number of specialty shops: every one of those was a herald of the end, for a while.  Yet, here we are, with fans new and oid buying more and more product.  Thanks to the internet, though, the conversation has moved from individual stores to every fan’s living room.  Now, instead of whining with our friends that no one buys comics anymore and how the distribution system sucks, we can wine to thousands and thousands of people who will support our ignorance.

    Remember: If it’s on the internet, it must be true.

  33. @Quinn While it’s true that Crossgen folded, it probably wasn’t because of their model as much as lack of brand recognition. People will buy DC and Marvel no matter what, and that’s why the model would work for them.

  34. Nice numbers crunching. It’s interesting to note that most everyone has focused on the financial aspect of this when there is another side to the "save the industry, the industry is dying" argument. Namely, the quality of the books. But that’s a non-starter, because in a lot of ways (certainly in terms of production quality) we’re getting better books than ever. And although everyone has their own preferences and tastes, I would argue that the art and the writing of comics (overall) is at about the best level it’s been in its history.

    Also, re: "I dearly hope there are a lot of comics readers working in Homeland Security."

    How did you know, Jim? And now I’m going to have to kill you.

  35. @zombox, according to the article he posted, comic/graphic novel sales were up 12% in 2007 compared to 2006. Do you have stats for the current year so far?

    http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/12416.html

  36. Ha ha, great article!

     

    And I couldn’t agree more. Kirkman seems like a cool guy but I think he’s way off here – and when he’s not, he really is just stating the obvious.

  37. Okay, found some articles about the current year 2008:

    Q1 2008 saw a 7% drop compared to last year, the first drop since Q4 2004.
    http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/12434.html

    Q2 2008 saw a 1% drop from the previous year:
    http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/12932.html

  38. @jerichobp – Problem with your plan is, I only want half of those books you mentioned, and I’ll drop them as opposed to paying $20-$30 when I don’t want half of the product.

  39. @s1lentslayer- Are those numbers for trade paperbacks?  Just curious.

  40. @Kory, the main point from those two articles is this after re-reading them:

    1) comics were down 5% for the first half of 2008
    2) graphic novels are up 1% for the first half of 2008

  41. Thanks.  Boy those numbers are rosey, no need to be concerned at all.

  42. The site says periodicals in the direct market.

  43. @jumpingjupiter-I totally agree.

  44. I was very disappointed in this article. Comics are dying yet all you can do is complain! How about coming up with some ideas on how to fix comics?

  45. This thread has now reached it’s irony threshold. Please step away from the computer.

  46. Hey, Kirkman is right.  Theatre is TOTALLY dying!  We have to do something about it before it’s too…

    Wait, what?  COMICS are dying?  Okay, yeah, whatever.  Pssh. 

  47. @McCloud: I dont know man, I saw Johnny Cash on Broadway and it was so fantastic. It made me appreciate the man and the legend……

    Yeah I dont know I thing about theatre…but I do know a thing or two about comics….and I dont think a 8% drop means anything. Wait until Q3 comes up with a lot of SI and FC stuff thrown in, then we’ll see if there is any more drops in sale figures.

  48. Jimski, I really really enjoyed the hell out of that.  Thanks!

  49. *walks in on awkward conversation*

    "Oh… sorry, I’ll… I’ll just…"

    *turns and leaves room* 

  50. Just kidding! Great piece of writing, Jimski.

    ‘The wetness of water’… dude, that line killed me! 🙂 

  51. Good conversation points. 

    About the first half 2008 numbers, with single issues being down 5% from last year,  there were two big events finishing up last year in Q1: 52 and Civil War. Nothing that big going on in Q1 ’08. Second, even without those events you can almost account for the difference between this year and last with one book, Captain America #25. 

  52. "Comics cultivate the illusion of expertise."  

  53. i’d blame it more on the economy, I think everything’s down this year

  54. Jim, you’re my hero, I agree 110%

    (Kirkman has always come off as annoying to me) 

  55. @RaceMcCloud – That’s why the titles would be reprinted in trade form. you could buy the books you wanted like that.

  56. jimski… you are a fantastic writer.  Thanks again for a brilliant column.

  57. "Hey… you guys know that’s a Wookie suit in an igloo cooler, right?"

    Heh. 

  58. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if all comics were trades. I love monthlies as much as the next guy, but trades save cash, have no ads & you get the whole story at once without waiting. If that’s the future of comics, I’m cool with that.

  59. Nice article Jimski. When I was watching Kirkman’s "manifesto", there was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was bugging me the whole time, and you pretty much nailed it.

  60. @Jimski – I think it comes down to this:

    I fucking love you.

    @zombox – Kirkman very much said comics need to be fixed! he said himself he moved to Image to… (warning: don’t have anything in your mouth just now – it will be uncontrollably spat out at this next bit)… he moved to Image to SAVE THE COMIC BOOK INDUSTRY! bwahahaha! then in the word balloon interview after when it is put to him "if it’s not broke, don’t fix it" he insists that it IS broke.

    Also, since you mentioned sales – comic book sales in the last 7 or so years are actually up…

    This is my favourite article in ifanboy 🙂 I mean "comic book Moses" is an instant win.

  61. @deadspace-  No need to rub it in or anything.

  62. @Kory – why not? lol

  63. @deadspace- because i’m tired of arguing about this subject. plus i have a tropical storm bearing down on me right now and my power will probably go out, so i won’t be able to go back and forth on this again.

  64. @Kory – what has my post got to do with how tired you are of arguing about it? I was commenting on Jimski’s article. It had nothing to do with you.

  65. @deadspace- I took it as you gloating.  No harm done.

  66. Excellent article.  My father is an accountant and every year when we sit to do my taxes, he jokes with me and says "It’s just numbers.  We can make them say whatever we want."  To which I reply, "Make them say I’m not going to jail."  And I’m still a free man. 

    As for the death of the industry, I turn to Billy Joel, who has this to say.  "I once believed in causes too/Had my pointless point of view/And life went on no matter who was wrong or right"

    Having now contributed to the problem, I exit, Stage left.

  67. Before this makes its weekly heartbreaking descent off the front page, I should point out that my teasing isn’t actually directed at anyone in particular (other than Mr. Kirkman). I suspect this and the comments under the Kirkman article cover some similar ground, but I stopped reading the Kirkman page about 300 comments ago on the advice of my heart explosion doctor. "Save it for the column," I said to the paper bag I was breathing into. "Channel it into the column."

    @Zombox– admit it: you skipped the bullet points. I can’t say I blame you, but you might want to go back and have a gander.

  68. @Jimski- Now that I have been proven wrong, and indeed the industry is growing.  Am I wrong in thinking that the companies could still do more to sell their product to more people to prevent (remember I said prevent) a collapse?

  69. its pretty much impossible to say what the absolute best strategy is to grow comics to their full potential, but that’s how it is in any business.  My problem with Kirkman is that he outlined a specific plan to "save comics" which is more or less different than what creators are doing now.  Comics’ recent success over the past decade suggests that they should keep doing what they’re doing.

  70. Jimski, your John Cage "4:33" reference should get you promoted to full partner at iFanboy.

  71. And looky what has appeared just in time: July numbers! Both optimist and pessimist alike will find plenty of things to point at and go, "See? SEE??"

    http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/13110.html 

    "The dollar total for comics purchased by comic stores dropped again in July, by 3%, the sixth consecutive month of year over year declines.  It’s getting harder to lay the declines at the feet of tough comparables, with the tail end of Civil War Initiative and Captain America: Fallen Son titles, along with World War Hulk, not providing particularly tough competition for the year over year comparisons.  Certainly general market conditions are having an impact, with store visits and purchases impacted by inflation and other macro-economic issues.  But July 2008 sales were still higher than July 2006, so the longer term trends are positive.

     

    Dollars in the top 100 graphic novel titles went up by some 19%, powered by sales of older titles stimulated by movies (or in the case of Watchmen, by the trailer for a movie)."

  72. @ stuclach: I like the way you think. Distribution is definitely a major factor, arguably the most important. Not only is it interesting to look at Diamond, but just look at some of the hurdles some retailers are facing. LCSs are competing with amazon.com, digital comics, and large franchised bookstores. When faced with choosing between ordering a solid performer like Batman and a new unknown book from Image, it’s easy to see why the big two are capturing most of the market share.

  73. While it’s true that many of Kirkman’s statements– in the manifesto and Word Balloon followup– were so general as to be nearly impossible to agree with, at times he did make more specific statements, which usually were either contradictory, obviously refutable, or just annoying.

    In the "just annoying" category: the notion that, essentially, the creator owned books can tell the adult stories, and Marvel and DC should refocus their books more toward children.  Which sounds an awful lot like an argument that Marvel and DC should turn their lines into variations on Marvel Adventures.  If anything remotely resembling that happened, I for one would no longer be reading any comics– not the garbage then coming out of Marvel and DC, and not even the remaining creator-owned books.  

    Putting aside any effort to engage in numbers-crunching, I would just ask, does it feel like the industry is on the verge of collapse?  To me, no.  The quality of comics today is, to me quite obviously, the highest its ever been.  Obviously, the crossover to maintsream culture (movies and tv) is the highest its ever been.   Yes, I know there are issues– the direct distribution market, the rising prices– and then (to me) glaring need to move to digital distribution– but this doesn’t seem like an industry in its waning moments.

  74. Sorry, typo: I meant "so general as to be nearly impossible to DISagree with."

  75. Thanks for discussing this so thoroughly, and with specifics.

    I think there were some good ideas in Kirkman’s statement — who doesn’t want to see more good comics being made?  I recall that you did a column not that long ago encouraging people to seek out creator-owned work by people whose DC/Marvel stuff they liked; those are good ideas.  

    But saying that gearing books toward the people who want to buy them is bad?  That seems kind of silly.  And then the argument turns around to say that, basically, csuperhero comics should be aimed at kids because the people who are 30 now started reading them as kids.  You might just as easily say that kids could get into the medium through creator-owned titles targeted at their age group, and then graduate to Spider-Man when they’re older.  It doesn’t seem like telling people they’re reading the wrong thing is ever going to be an effective industry-saving strategy.  Find what people are hungry for, and give it to them, in a quality form, and that’s going to breed success.   And, you know, if nobody is reading Spider-Man books in twenty years, because there isn’t the demand for them, is that the end of the world?  

  76. Why so serious?

  77. @Jimski – I knew this article was coming… thought I might avoid it altogether, to be honest. 🙂 But, like Kirkman’s manifesto, you yourself have written a piece that’s hard to disagree with — no matter WHAT one thought of Kirkman’s initial "manifesto."  Because, YES, if you listen to what he’s saying, he’s actually just asking for further conversation on the subject. Which he is now getting. And, YES, you can make the numbers mean anything you want — ON EITHER SIDE. And that includes these "rising sales." There are a number of factors at play, and no one should simply anything in this argument.

    But for me, before everyone gets all up in arms, decrying the death of the industry or calling for Kirkman’s head on a platter, the notion of "intent" must be considered.

    The comics industry HAS changed historically. There was the creation of the direct market. That was a huge shift, and it changed a lot of things. There’s was the speculater boom and bust. That changed things. So, yes, the comics industry has made changes as various economic realities forced people to make different decisions. Many times, the decisions came late and to devastating effect. So: is Kirkman being a "drama queen" by using the words "save the comics industry?" Yeah, probably. Is he RIGHT to call attention to the way people are doing business? HELL YES. 

    If Kirkman had been in a prominent position in 1991, and he said, "my god people, don’t you see that variant covers and pandering to speculators is killing the industry!", would he have been treated the same way? And when the bust came… what then?

    Kirkman does talk about some very important issues. They are WORTHY of discussion. To dismiss him as an annoying crackpot because he voiced his opinions in a manifesto strikes me as throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    The way comics are published and distributed in the US is WORTH serious discusion by publishers, creators, and distributors. And also… the occasional fan. 😉

     

  78. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Dave is a big proponent for saving the baby when throwing out the bathwater.  I think his custom bumper sticker says something to the effect of "Why waste a perfectly good snack?"

  79. yeah, i just went to a comic shop and there were a lot of kids

  80. MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE:

    …here’s a secret about comics that has been hiding in plain view amid all the cinematic hoopla: At Marvel Entertainment (MVL), the industry’s largest player, revenues for its print wares have been growing in double digits for the past three years and profit margins have been running at close to 40%.

    …by most industry estimates, some 60% of comic book sales still take place via one of the most archaic distribution systems in existence: ye olde comic booke shoppe.

    In the quarter ended June 30, publishing accounted for $32 million of Marvel’s $157 million in revenues, and $11.7 million of its $85.2 million in operating profit. (The bulk of the rest came from licensing – which generates even higher margins of more than 80% – since the spoils from "Iron Man" won’t show up until the next couple of quarterly results.) Although its publishing revenue and profits declined in the first half of the year, the company has given guidance that it expects revenue growth in publishing between 3% and 7% for the year, and margins between 37% and 40%.

    -from Fortune magazine today, reminder #411 that the next Kirkman person who says comics are dying can kiss my ass.

  81. Insert mandatory "yes but" rebuttal here _______________

  82. Comics are dying.

  83. All right; pistols at dawn.

  84. *roll eyes*

  85. You okay?

  86. Uhm, yes.

    Thanks for asking?

  87. Can I requets resurrecting the mini just for Jimski & Conor’s duel?

  88. (Request, even).

  89. Cage match! Cage match! Cage match!

  90. That graph needs to go back 20 years further to give a more accurate picture.

  91. Figured you’d say that. I’ll bite.

    The graph does not need to go back twenty years for an accurate picture.

    "You yes, I say no, you say stop, I say go go go!"

  92. I’m not sure the humor of this came through in the new article I was using it in, so instead I’ll put it here.

    USA Today: Comic Sales Are Good, Just Take Our Word For It

  93. That top 10 selling issues list is just depressing…

  94. What’s more depressing is that some editor decided that that article was worthy of publication.

  95. Darfur is a bitch…

  96. ICv2 has a condensed version of the white paper presented at yesterday conference and graphic novels sales were UP in 08, from $375 million in 2007 to $395 in 2008. Sales rose 4% in comics shops and 6% in bookstores.

  97. No surprise for me there.

  98. Finally read this article. Pretty great article. However:

    "I hear you: "I don’t know any kid who ever bought one of those Marvel Adventures." Me neither, but that’s anecdotal, and if you want to play that game I will gladly match you anecdote for anecdote."

    Again, as I mentioned somewhere else, Marvel publishes their actual print-run and sales figures in their books. Sales for Marvel Adventures books are like 15,000 copies a month. Those are facts. So the point is, if there’s going to be a new generation of comics readers, they’re not going to come by means of monthly "floppy" purchases. That’s not a shock.

    I know iFanboy, a year or two ago, mentioned that Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man is "Marvel’s best-selling title". I’ve found no evidence of that. The actual print-run numbers are published once a year in the actual title, and the figures were quite dismal. I remember asking iFanboy to explain themselves and they said they "heard it from someone at Marvel". Fair enough, but either the guy is lying, misinformed, or–more likely–maybe they were factoring in sales from Schoolastic school book-orders or something. The latter scenario would indicate that maybe MA: Spider-Man is repackaged in some form via Schoolastic. Point is, the one thing we know is that MA: Spider-Man is not selling many copies via regular monthly issues, and, again, we know this from the published data within these issues (I think they publish them in the October issues, but I’m not sure; I know I looked at a copy of MA: Spider-Man from like September ’08 or so, and the figures said the print run was like 15,000).

    There are reasons why people who play video games don’t act scared that the video game industry might die. And there are reasons why people who love movies and television aren’t scared that those mediums aren’t going away. I don’t think that the comics industry is going anywhere anytime soon, but when you examine how the demographics of the industry has changed over the last few decades, it’s very short sighted NOT to be concerned (or at least interested) in where the industry is actually going or what is going to happen. Then you combine that legitimate concern with the fact that the format itself seems to be changing (re: floppies v. trades v. digital), and it’s obvious why people worry. It’s not just a chicken little situation.

    So overall I’d say that you’re right and you’re wrong: You’re right because "even in these harsh economic times" the comic industry is still going to be peddling its wears to our demographic. But on the other hand, there are people who are capable of thinking in the very long term: fifty years from now, will there be a comics industry? Will there be any comic shops left then? Will there be monthly comics even fifteen years from now? These are questions that people have a reason to ask, and while it’s almost impossible to answer them, it isn’t as if "Nobody Knows Anything".

    It’s interesting to parallel this article with other financial articles written at about the same time. I remember seeing a lot of articles written last summer, before the sharp stock market decline of Sept and Oct ’08, all saying "Hey, what’s all this doom and gloom?! THE U.S. ECONOMY IS FINE!!!" And they cited modest yearly growth figures, just like this article does. Point is, things can change on a dime. Seven years of steady growth can become irrelevant quicker than you think.

    I’m not a doom-and-gloomer when it comes to the comics industry, though. I think there’s so much obvious creativity in this industry that new readers will continue to find it for decades to come–even if the "new readers" these days are 20-somethings instead of 5-year-olds, as the situation used to be.

    One thing’s for sure, it does no good to just throw your hands up and decry an industry (or "industry" in general) without having many facts. On the other hand, again, I think it’s really short-sighted to not want to think beyond what entertainment is available to our generation, without taking the steps to do the research to find the facts to build the arguments to try to figure out as best we can what the future will hold. Not saying that’s what the author of this article did, but…maybe I just really object to the generalization of "Nobody Knows Anything". It seems like resigning yourself to ignorance–but that’s not even what the author of the article did, even.

    • i agree for the most part, but i feel that video games and comic books are apples to oranges.

      video games are far more in demand and far more accessble.
      while id ont feel comics of SOME kind will always exist, its very plausible that th4y will continue to rise in rpice and lower in quality.
      to me that would be the true death of comics.