The Comics Market: A Beer Analogy

This column acknowledges beer as a beverage consumed by humans for enjoyment. 

For those of you that don’t follow my other internet venture, the weekly podcast Science… sort of, this column may come out of left field, but for those in the know this should be no great shock. Every week on my show myself and my co-hosts let the listeners know what’s filling our glasses. More often than not this is a beer of some kind. I’ve been a beer snob almost as long as I’ve been a comics snob, yet I’ve never really spent much time thinking about the similarities between the two, until today that is.

The similarity I’m referring to actually has little to do with the product itself, rather the market within which each type of product is sold. And since the beer market is a bit older than the comics market I thought maybe it would be informative to look at the former to enlighten us about the latter. And just to be clear, I’m really sticking within the USA for both geography and timescale for both products.

For all the commonalities I’m about to expose, the origin story of beer is very different than that of comics. While both originated in the states as the potentially lucrative hobbies of immigrants, comics, in book not strip form, really took off in New York and were distributed from there, whereas beer during it’s early days in the 1800s was mostly a local thing. Shipping paper was relatively cheap and easy, whereas shipping beer wasn’t possible. Refrigeration didn’t exist, at least not in mobile form, and water (the main ingredient of beer) is much heavier per unit volume than paper, making it cost more fuel to get form point A to point B.

So each area had their own local brew, and each publisher had their own Superman knockoff. Then, disaster. For comics it was Seduction of the Innocent, but for beer it was Prohibition. Since beer isn’t needed for communion, most breweries were boarded up. Brewers that did stay in business were only allowed to make beer with minimal alcohol and flavor, thus yield a generation of beer drinkers unaccustomed to the rich variety of possible brews. In comics, there were a variety of genres doing very well until Wertham, after which Superheroes have reigned supreme.

After Prohibition several macrobreweries have dominated the beer market. Originally they were the big three, but now Miller and Coors have merged making it a big two for convenient analogy. Most beer purchased in the US is made by Anheiser-Bush (e.g. Budweiser) or Miller-Coors. Seem familiar? The difference between this and comics is that those two companies don’t recruit young exciting microbrewers to come brew new things for them. They just churn out the exact same beers every single day. The less variation the better. So while I see a similarity to comics, the comics market at least attempts to inject new blood into the major companies. But at the end of the day you still have a very few companies producing most of the product, and many smaller companies making off-beat things that are largely ignored.

But I may be getting ahead of myself. For a time after Prohibition craft beer wasn’t even a thing. Craft beer really got it’s start in the mid-1960s with Anchor Steam, and has grown steadily until ballooning in the past decade to a sizable and still growing force in the industry. Comics had their own indie movement in the 1970s but outside of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles there have been few continuing runaway success in the indie comics world. Which leads me to a few main modern similarities and a few differences.

Similarity 1) Specialty Shops

You can maybe still find Archie at the grocery store, but probably not much else. And the same goes for beer. If you want good stuff you want to go to specialty shop. You want to talk to someone that knows and appreciates the product. I spend as much time, if not more, geeking out at the liquor store as I do at the comic shop. I think a lot of this has to do with the way certain comic shops are run. There are plenty of crummy liquor stores out there, but the sheer volume of available places to shop for craft beer dwarfs the two comic shops I have in my major metropolitan area.

Similarity 2) Underdog of their field

As comics are the consistent whipping boy of entertainment media, beer is to the rest of the drinking world. Wine and cocktails are classy, beer is for the unwashed masses. This perception is changing, hopefully for the better for both comics and beer, but it’s an uphill battle and both cultures have their own internal hurdles to jump.

Difference 1) Distribution and Availability

Even with modern refrigeration beer still has a shelf life. Generally speaking, the fresher the better, so it can be hard for a guy in Maine to get a hold of beers from Tennessee. Most microbreweries are still fairly localized, which creates incentives to travel around, find local haunts, and really explore the world.

Comics, on the other hand, have one single distributor that tailors to the big dogs and makes it increasing difficult to get smaller books into the hands of the consumer. But comics can be easily distributed on the internet, which is a huge advantage, but maybe not one that’s always exploited in the right way. That just takes time, trial and error, and thus, evolution.

Difference 2) Zero-sum vs. non-zero sum

Most people who start drinking craft beer don’t go back to Budweiser. The discovery of microbrews leads to the abandonment of the big 2. I can only have so many beers a day, for a variety of reasons, so why waste the money/calories/time on a beer I won’t enjoy as much? Love of really good beer makes you less tolerant of the macros.

Whereas in comics, people who find indie books tend to stick with the big books too. Buy a comic and you can read it again and again, it’s non-consumable like that. Plus the big 2 for comics still put out amazing product every week, so it’d be silly to abandon one company for another. And there are as many crappy indie comics as there are crappy comics from the big two. However, by and large it’s an embarrassment of riches for quality in comics. You really can have your cake and eat it too in comics. If you’re not in a mood to read something right when it comes out, you can throw it on your stack and come back later, no harm no foul.


So what am I really trying to say with this column? Mostly I was trying to articulate my own thoughts from this whacky idea that the beer market is similar to the comics market. I’ve actually become less convinced of that while writing, but that’s good right?  For all the complaining about Diamond and the way comics are distributed, imagine if only certain comics were available in certain states with no option to order online or go digital? That’d be awful. My simple hope is that the world of indie comics sees and similar explosion in popularity, diversifingy the medium we love and bringing loads of new folks into the fold. Wouldn’t that be something? Until then, to paraphrase Ron’s outro from Taste of Comics: Read well, drink well!


Ryan Haupt drank whiskey while writing this column last night. Oops. Maybe he’ll enjoy a beer in audio form on the podcast Science… sort of.


  1. Very cool article, Ryan! Craft beer and comics are two of my favorite things in the world. Your comparison of Seduction of the Innocent to prohibition is very apt, and kind of brilliant.

  2. well thought out. nice

  3. I don’t drink alcohol, so I’ll just replace all those references with fancy coffee. After I drink Jamaican Blue Mountain, there’s no way I could ever drink Folgers.

  4. Just added you as a friend on untappd – always glad to meet a fellow beer snob!

  5. The problem with this analogy is that American comics tend to be the best in the world and American beers tend to be some of the most flavourless.

    • Are you English?

    • That is the exact opposite of true.

    • Yeah… NO.

      The comparison of Marvel and DC to InBev & Miller/Coors is pretty apt. They’re just staying the course in product (light American Lager) and trying to grab as much market share as possible. American Indie comics “may” be the best in the world. In my opinion they are, but I don’t dig on manga, and there isn’t enough translated European comics to judge.

      Anyway, my real point is that American craft beers offer the widest selection and variety of flavor IN THE WORLD. By far. No contest. I’m not saying they’re the best, because there are brewers in Europe that have been turning out amazing beers for hundreds of years, and they’re damn good at it. But to say that American beers are flavorless is ignorant. I can only guess by your spelling that you aren’t in a place that offers some of the brews here that are really pushing the envelope.

    • All I know is, when I was in Ireland and the UK, there were a lot of people drinking Budweiser. It was weird. “You have Guinness!” but they kept drinking Bud.

    • Yeah, I live in Boston and know LOTS of fresh of the boat Irish immigrants and they all drink Bud Light. Odd.

    • I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer something that doesn’t taste like mop water. Life is too short to drink Bud.

    • That certainly used to be the case and when talking about the big two then Oscar Wilde said it best when he said.

      “I find American beer a bit like having sex in a canoe. It’s fucking close to water.”
      ~ Oscar Wilde on American Beer

      However like most industries the best stuff is being made by the smaller companies on the fringes. That is the stuff that pushes the boundaries and challenges the status quo.

      This is also true in the comics industry.

      p.s Interesting article about American Craft Beers invading over here.

    • That might be because Guinness and Bud have the same percentage of alcohol. Guinness is tasty but there are a bunch of different stouts that are as tasty or tastier that contain more alcohol to offset the heaviness of the drink.

      Climate should also play a role in the beers you drink.

      I love beer in general.

      My consistent favorites are Boddingtons, Blue Moon (of almost any type), Pacifico, Yeti (Indian from India beer) and Tatatonka Stout from the food/brewery chain B.J’s.

      All very different beers but equally good depending on the moment.

      Fuck, I’ll drink Coors, Miller or Bud when the time is right.

    • @ScorpionMasada: We need to have a few pints. Boddingtons, Blue Moon, and Pacifico are some of my favorites. I find it odd that Bue Moon is a Coors beer – it’s delightful. I have not had the Tatatonka at B.J.’s yet, but I like their wheat beer a lot.

      One of my other faves is Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse. Although it’s hard to find around here.

    • You got good taste in brew.

  6. does that mean Sam Adams is Image? 🙂

    great piece, Ryan!

  7. this article is making me thirsty

  8. BTW a fantastic docu about the beer industry called Beer Wars is a must watch if you’re interested in this stuff. It will amaze you how close the beer and comics industry are in business practice and distribution.

  9. I got a problem with the analogy.

    Bud (and I believe Coors/Miller) distributes “mirco”brewery beer within their business operation. The extent of the relationship might even be more than just simple distribution.

    I believe Bud has Red Hook or did have Red Hook under their control.

    That is some Icon/Vertigo type beer relationships.

  10. Great article, and a topic near my heart. I would just tweak one thing – your point early on about hiring talent at the big guys. The big brewers do indeed hire some of the best, most talented young brewers in the world, just like Marvel and DC. Unfortunately, they just force them to brew the same thing that they’ve always been making.

    Still, I think the comparison holds. When Marvel and DC hire talented and exciting new guys, it’s not for them to create new properties (Icon and Vertigo aside). It’s to put them on the characters that have been around as long as Budweiser.

  11. Forget about jetpacks, now I want my beer distributed digitally. Oh the joy of being able to instantly access a six of Spotted Cow or Leinie’s 1888 Bock…

    As far as the comparison, it works for me. I worked for a couple of the mid-major breweries (Stroh’s and Schmidt) years ago, they were kind of like the Gold Key and Charlton of the industry. Both had a lot of licensed properties (Stroh’s brewed everything from Old Milw to Schlitz) and were aimed at cheap, mass consumption.

    While my fridge may be stocked with Summit and Point Dark, when I’m drinking for volume I enjoy a few gallons of Miller Lite. I just plain like beer, similar to how I just like comics. The good, the bad, and the wheat (which is bad).

  12. For those above who may have strong opinions about the supposed blandness of American beer: