The Real Reason

They’re ruining my favorite character!

This re-numbering is terrible!

They’re being disrespectful to Steve Rogers!

They hate the fans!

They’re canceling my favorite book!

They’re just in this for the money!

See that last one? That last one there is completely correct. When it comes to mainstream comics, they’re totally in it for the money. That’s the underlying reason for everything that happens. There are all sorts of great and mutually beneficial things that can happen because of that, but really, when it’s all said and done, it’s just money. Somewhere, at the end of the line, is a man with a thumb, and that thumb will go up or down, based ultimately on one single factor: The Bottom Line, and that’s the simple fact.

I took a bunch of film classes in my 3rd and 4th years in college, because I had free electives. Since most of them were entry level, they were filled with a lot of freshmen students, new to film school, and full of artistic optimism. As I was a bit older and had picked up a few things, it became one of my favorite hobbies to bring up the point that, for the most part, all movies are made solely because someone hopes that, ultimately, they will make that person money. From the smallest indie film, to all of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpieces, to Michael Bay’s blockbusters, they all exist for the same reason: profit. It’s almost unbelieveable now, but Kubrick’s films made huge profits. Well, except Barry Lyndon, but they were hoping it would. The genesis of an artistic idea might be idealistic and altruistic in nature, but when all is said and done, anyone ponying up the cash for a professional production is expecting a return on their investment. Now that return might not be as clear cut as a big box office return. Maybe it’s the hope of awards, that bring revenue later. Maybe it’s the hope of bring in more talented artists under the umbrella by establishing a reputation. But it’s always about making money back in some way, direct or indirect. The young students thought I was annoying and cynical, but I had more than one professor give me a nod and a wink for knocking some sense into the little yahoos.

I was a bit more harsh in those days. I’ll cop to it.

The thing is, when it comes to mainstream comics (and I would argue most indie comics when it really comes down to it), it’s about selling books. Plus, more and more, it’s about selling intellectual property, which could eventually yield profit from movies, toys, t-shirts and video games. Respect and tradition and love of story might come into the conversation, but it’s never the deciding factor. That’s just not how business works.

The role of a comic book publisher is to sell as many copies of their comic books as possible, and to make as much money and prestige (ie: the promise of future money) as possible.

If they happen to raise the level of the craft in the pursuit of doing that, so much the better, but it’s not the end goal. Does anyone remember a few years back when Marvel employed Ron Zimmerman from the Howard Stern Show, and we were subjected to some terrible comics, such as Rawhide Kid? Do you think the people behind those comics didn’t know they were bad? Of course they were bad. But they did the math and decided that the notoriety of Zimmerman outweighed the critical hit they would take by putting those comics out. Ultimately, it seemed that they miscalculated, and Zimmerman’s books were neither good, nor profitable, and he’s not making comics anymore.

Why are all of Kevin Smith’s comics historically late? Because they can’t pay him enough to make them a priority, and as much as he might love the medium of comics, it didn’t make him get those books out any faster. It’s the same deal with Damon Lindelof or Allan Heinberg. You might bring up Brian K. Vaughan, who’s still putting out Ex Machina. Now ask yourself why? He might love doing the book, sure but it might also be important to keep a backup income handy through trade royalties, not to mention the value of keeping the IP alive, and keeping his stock high in both comics and Hollywood. I’m not faulting a single one of these people for doing what they have to do, but economics are the reason behind everything, and that’s because real people, grown-up people have bills and responsibilities.

It’s not just Marvel and DC that do this math either. I’ve heard first hand from many creators and even publishers themselves, that the most important deciding factor in whether to publish a creator owned book these days is whether it can be sold on to TV or film for many companies. That’s because, in all but the most extreme and rare circumstances (read: Robert Kirkman), comics don’t make money. Not real money anyway. Take a look at the publishers you know and sort out which ones have films attached to their properties. That allows them to sell more of the books that don’t get made into films, for one thing. There are exceptions of course, as with anything, but the predominant trend is the road to Hollywood.

But even small publishers of arthouse fare, a reductive but useful term, like Drawn and Quarterly and Adhouse Books need to sell books to keep making them. They have stars and prestige projects, and they’re all hoping to get a write-up in Time Magazine or the New York Times when that time of year comes, so it will float them through the next year. There’s no shame in trying to make profitable books, to be sure. In fact, the opposite would be antithetical to their purpose.

So the next time, you wonder why the editors did something in your favorite comics you don’t like, remember it’s about sales, either now or later. It’s a business first and foremost, and it would do a lot of fans a lot of good to keep that in mind. The good news is that it’s smart business to make good books. That’s a loaded term however, since to some (most it would seem), Jeph Loeb’s action packed Red Hulk is “good” and to others, Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain & MI13 was “good”. But the numbers win out every time, and there’s no one to blame for that. The audience wants what it wants, and if you’re part of the audience who likes books that not as many people like, you’d better get in line with the people who liked Deadenders and Wildcats 3.0 and Manhunter and Spider-Girl. Maybe that last one was a bad example, but you get my point.

There is no conspiracy and no great secret. Sell books, sell movies, and sell product, and you’ve got a comic book, and do whatever it takes to do so. Creators know this, or they don’t last very long, and publishers know this. Readers should know it too.

Comments

  1. It was pointed out in an earlier post on this site that because Marvel puts out books that are crap but sell well, like Red Hulk, they’re able to but out smaller books that have better stories yet sell in smaller numbers. The point being that crappy best selling books are a necessary evil.

     I’m kind of on the fence about that theory, and the cancellation of Captain Britain is the reason why. I mean the praise from fans was high, so I can’t imagine the numbers sold being THAT DISMAL that the series warrented a quick cancellation. If the above theory was correct, we’d probably still be reading the book past issue 15.

    Then again, I could be overstating the mass appeal of Cap. Britain.

  2. All true of course, except that the unspoken benefit that now comes with $2.99 and $3.99 comics is the option for all readers to get online and complain as much as they want. It may be all business for the companies, but that doesn’t change our right to rant.

  3. This applies to newspapers/CNN, too.  Many of my students seem to think that news organizations exist to provide information.  That is incorrect.  They exist for the same reason everything else does: to maximize profit.

    I fully expect us to reach a point were comic books will have an issue 1, then an issue 50, then 100, then 200, etc.  They will just skip the numbers in between.  They will also be written by Famous Guy Johnson, not Geoff Johns, as previously assumed.

  4. Word. Josh is dropping science.

  5. There’s an upside to this. If you don’t like something, don’t buy it. If it fails, they will stop.

    A great example of this is $3.99 comics. I’m thinking long and hard about buying any $3.99 comics, and as a result my weekly pull list doesn’t include many of them. If enough of us do that, we will see fewer titles above $2.99. If most of us just buy them regardless of the price, more titles will be moved up to that price point. 

  6. As someone who worked in publishing for about 5 years, I totally understand this point and agree. Still, it hurts to think about the loss of Deadenders. I loved that book so much.

  7. Yeah, taking a few film classes and art classes myself, I know the people who were always "Down with the big company" or hated working for "the man". Those people have gone on to take other classes because they couldn’t quite make it because they didn’t realize that it is in fact a business. It may hurt, but damn it, that’s what the truth does, hurt. 

  8. I just read it and nod all the way down.

    Why did Marvel let Loeb destroy Ultimate Universe as we know? Because sales were going down and it needed a boost. It’s Sad, but it’s true and once you know it, you have it alot easier to drop the book and let the Company know that it was a BAD comic. Thats the only way they will listen, drop it from your pull list and if alot of people give that signal, they will hear it and hopefully listen. (i dropped Hulk after issue 3, still going, so its not always a straight truth 🙂 )

  9. As a business major, Josh is absolutely right. Very few comics are made because people love the medium now. The only one that immediately jumps to mind is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which is still being published) but Peter Laird does it all out of pocket and doesn’t make any money off the issues, but at the same time he did co-write the most successful indie comic ever.

    But there has been a switch in the business world from the goal of a business is to enhance shareholder value to improve the standard of living. Money is a means to an end, not the end itself.

  10. Thank you, Josh. If I could slow clap over the internet, I’d definitely be doing it right now. I was just having this conversation with some friends at the International Thespian Festival in Nebraska. Obviously, it pretained to theatre instead of comics, but as you pointed out, this rings true in any medium.

  11. Loeb’s ‘Hulk’ isn’t good. It’s awesome 🙂

  12. Once Bendis, Millar, Ellis, & Loeb start their Ultimate books, there is just 1 I won’t buy: Loeb’s.  No matter how beautiful the artwork will definitely be, by Frank Cho.  Just, no.

  13. @ comicBOOKchris- Don’t believe in Josh’s theory?  Look at TV shows, great shows with high praise get cancelled all the time.  Freaks and Geeks. Studio 60 on Sunset Strip, Sports Night, and many others.  Praise does not equal money.  If it did, then America’s Got Talent would not be on the air!

     

  14. Not everything exists solely for profit.

    I understand capitalism, but I also understand artists and the artistic impulse.

    Irregardless of the medium, not all artists create to purely make money.

    I’d be shocked if say Spielgelman said that he created Maus for fame and money and awards.

    I also understand humanity, and storytelling is a primal impulse.  We tell stories in attempt to make sense of our world, pass on traditions, entertain and a number of other reasons that may or may not have anything to do with money.

    Just a little balance.

  15. I put no value judgement on Red Hulk. Just that it’s different than Cornell’s work, and it sells where others don’t.

  16. @ScorpionMasada – I didn’t say the artists were all in it for the money.  I said books are published because of money. No one would keep Spiegleman in print if the books didn’t make money. 

    Art is real, and has intrinsic value.  It is dispersed to the masses because of profit motives.

  17. well said sir

  18. You could probably republish this every year or so. Just cut and paste in new examples. Great piece with a message needs repeating.

  19. Good article and so true. Though, you really should place a value judgment on Red Hulk. 😉

    I also notice this is one of those comments sections where everyone will be tossing out their credentials… 

    However, as ScorpionMasada points out, not everything is made for profit, even in our society. YouTube is evidence of that. Perhaps people are banking on fame? Sure. But look at someone like JustSomeRandomGuy he creates brilliant stuff and got tossed a bone of doing ads for NYCC. But he still puts out his stuff for free on YouTube once a month or so, not really banking on being famous or making money.

  20. @Josh – You positively nailed the counterpoint to ScorpionMasada’s point (you beat me to it, damn you).  If Maus wasn’t about profit (at some level, perhaps not Spiegleman’s), then it would be free.  Also, Spiegleman drew Garbage Pail Kids to keep himself alive while working on Maus.  Profit isn’t always refered to directly as profit.

  21. @Leprechaun: I wasn’t saying that praise equals money, you’d have to be a fool to think that. I was refering to an earlier post saying that because those bad books rake in cash, Marvel is able to produce the critic-darlings that make less money. That’s what I disagree with. The critic-darlings need to make they’re own money by themselves.

  22. @ScorpionMasada

    It is true that not everything exists solely for profit, BUT every BUSINESS does exist solely for profit (except for non-profit businesses, but those are really charities). 

    While you bring up good points about art and its creation, Josh’s article is about businesses or the business of comics. 

  23. @PraxJarvin – I assume there is some personal benefit to posting on Youtube (or anything else), or we wouldn’t do it.  I don’t presume to know JustSomeRandomGuy’s motivation (free marketing?, joy of positive feedback?, cure for boredom?).  However, I know that I post videos of my kids to Youtube in an attempt to keep my parents from visiting my house.  Again, profit isn’t always called profit.  The profit may be of a less obvious form, but it is there.

  24. Critical darlings serve a purpose in that they bring presitge to the company.  The upside to that is bringing in better talent, and winning awards.  All of which attract attention, and therefore the hope of sales. Like I said, it’s not always a direct line.

    Movie studios will produce small films they hope to win awards with for the same reason.

  25. I think the key difference in this argument is making art because you feel passionately about it versus making a livelihood out of art.

    Publishers are a business, so they only care about the latter. And each creator has to find his or her own balance between the two.

  26. There is a place for this practical truth. Great article Josh.

  27. I’m glad you posted this article, Josh. I feel like it’s an argument I’ve had time and time again. It always comes down to this very simple idea of Supply and Demand. Publishers supply to the audience’s demand.

    Everyone seems to love to come up with a conspiracy theory, but the bottom line is, well… the bottom line. 😉 Publishers maintain their business by turning a profit. They have to go by What You Want. But "you" isn’t me or even 500 commenters on a website. "You" is everyone who buys the books. They’ve got to go by the overall majority of buyers, and these numbers are ONLY indicated by SALES. That’s it. Not awards, not internet reviews, not message boards.

    I often see people suggesting that somehow Marvel wants you to buy one thing or another. That they’re somehow forcing something on us, unwilling. This is completely backwards logic. Transformers didn’t make an ass-load of money at the box office because the studio decided that they wanted to make a crappy robot movie. They made a crappy robot movie because WE demonstrated that we will PAY for said crappy robot movie.

    Same logic applies to comic books. The numbers on Captain Britain were dropping below sustainable means. meanwhile, a Deadpool book is doing well in sales. What does that demonstrate to Marvel? The only thing it demonstrates is that there’s a large enough demand for Deadpool, and there is not a large enough demand for Captain Britain. Now Marvel is trying a second Deadpool series to see if that demand is large enough to sell two titles. If it’s not, the book will be canceled. And Marvel will try something else. But if the numbers on the 2nd title do well, then that demonstrates that people are willing to pay for it. And thus Marvel can only conclude that this is What You Want.

    On occasion, a publisher will keep a title afloat a little longer than economically feasible (this may be a factor that gives way to conspiracy theories). They will champion a title because they believe in it, because they believe that it can grow legs if it’s given enough press and enough time. But these are special cases. Think of it as comic book welfare — these comics are getting financial aid to stay alive while they get on their feet.   But I think these are rare cases.

  28. *feels terrible shame for buying and enjoying the first two Red Hulk HCs*

  29. Obviously, movie studios, comic book companies and all businesses need to make money and don’t spend money on things that they think will turn a loss (unless they see long term profit somewhere else).

    But Josh’s article wavers on the verge of overgeneralization and does indeed seem to be tossing creators in with producers and business people in one big profit motivated entity.

    I’m simply pointing out that while I recognize that is the reality and norm for most aspects of commercial enterprises, it is not true for a great deal of artists in movies, music, books . . .

  30. Artists with absolutely no regard for commercial sensibilities don’t last that long unless they’re either enormously talented or lucky.  If they don’t want to make their living from their art, then yes, go for it, but the people working in art who also understand the business side of things tend to do better.

    There are always exceptions, of course.

  31. Great article Josh. I do agree that if a book doesn’t make a profit, a publisher won’t continue to sell it. That’s obvious.

    What I thought most when reading this article, however, is that it’s a perfect argument in favor of digital comics. When production and distrobution costs are next to nothing, a creator would have a better chance of selling a book that doesn’t sell as well as a hit title, and even sell it at lower prices to entice more readers to buy.

  32. @daccampo – Wouldn’t you love to see the actual cost per book on some of these marginal books?  I would love to know just how many more issues some of these books would have had to sell to break even.  We may be able to synthesize an approximation (using some fancy statistical analysis) if we get Longbox as an option.  Then we would have two sales figures for the same book (and potentially a cancellation in one form, but not the other).  Sorry, data gets me excited.

  33. There are definitely artsists out there who do their work for almost entirely personal reasons. They write to understand their lives or to quell the pain… whatever it is. But more often than not, they ALSO have a goal of making a living as an artist. It’s not necessarily an either/or situation. These two goals ("creating art as a form of expression" and "making a living through your art") can work in tandem. But I’d say that the vast majority of artists strive for both. And, as someone above said, this article is about the business aspects.

  34. @stuclach – Yeah, it’s funny, I’ve been a comics fan for so long that I’ve sort of inadvertantly become an "industry watcher." The business of comics publishing fascinates me now. And I’d love to see hard data on the margins.

    I think I also often think of that because I see a lot of people posting opinions about comic book sales that are based more on feelings or generalized ideas than actual data. And that becomes problematic.

  35. Commercial doesn’t have to be a bad concept.  I understand I want to do books that have commercial appeal.  To me, that is an entertaining story that readers connect with in some way, either through humor or characters or whatever. 

  36. @stuclach-Good idea.  I would also like to see what the ‘real’ numbers are.  What I mean is that to the best of my knowledge all the numbers that are reported are sales figures from the publishing companies, while we have no knowledge about the actual number of books getting in hands of readers.  Now I have no idea how to get numbers relating to the consumer purchasers, other than interviewing actual retailers or going to conventions and seeing how many of the big selling titles are sitting in discount boxes.  So, I guess that, practically speaking, we are just going to live with publisher’s numbers.

  37. Realistically, publishers have no reason to share that information. Why would we need it?

  38. Because we like to armchair quarterback the industry. 😉

  39. But seriously: I just find it fascinating. I like the business. I like to see how it works. no different than trying to understand how anything else works.

  40. Sometimes I think the worst thing to ever happen to the movie business is how everyone tracks box office and budgets.

  41. Cool article. As an aspiring writer, one of the questions I frequently ask myself is "Would this sell?" and if not, then "How can I change this to make it sell?" Because, realistically, I have a wife and some pets to feed and support, and if I want to write comics for a living, I need to make comics that will actually make some money! And why would anyone publish my comic if it weren’t going to make money from them? Why would stores order it from Diamond if they didn’t think it would sell?  Makes perfect sense to me. 

    There’s also that whole "writing comics to be turned into movies" deal that gets pretty heated sometimes.  Why would you not want your ideas turned in to a movie?  While it’s not the goal when I write, I definitely think about it and would never turn down a deal if it happened. 

    I know from being a failed musician that if you don’t make your craft marketable, it’s not going to get you on the market in the first place, and you have no chance.  Even indie bands make their music marketable to the indie crowds, whether they’d admit that or not. At least until you make a name for yourself, you have to play by the marketability rules.

  42. Enh, doesn’t bother me. Well, you lived in LA. You know EVERYONE does it here. It doesn’t make a difference on anything. People just have an added insight into how the studios make their decisions… and they talk about it. Aside from some annoying conversations with LA-types who read too much of THR and Variety, I don’t see it as a good/bad thing.

  43. @Josh – We need that information so our bitch sessions on iFanboy can be properly informed.

    Realistically, they can provide that information (readership rates) for the same reason movie and television studios do: to draw in investors and advertisers.

    Actually, I would like to have the information so that if a book I really like is really, really borderline I can start pimping it like hell to try to push it over the margin (I have a captive audience of 200+ students every semester to brainwash [and they see me in my iFanboy t-shirt at least once a month {you’re welcome}]).  I need to know where the border is to know which books to push.

     

  44. I personally have no interest in tracking either movie or comic returns, but I get why people are interested in doing so. To me it seems like an extension of the entire experience. I know there are probably non-industry people who read Hollywood Reporter and Variety, etc and are psyched to be in the know…an extension of the hobby. As long as people remember the KEY word here "hobby".

  45. Doesn’t make a difference?  Movies that would be otherwise respected and profitable but need time and word of mouth lose all marketing support and are abandoned after a bad opening weekend.  The focus is on NOW, and never what’s next. 

    I worked on documentary about the phenomenon and how it’s changed the way films are selected, made, and marketed.  It makes a big difference.

  46. I 100% agree that the wrost thing that ever happened to the movie business was turning the box office into a horse race. Everything is focused on the opening weekend now that just about every media outlet reports the box office on Sunday/Monday.

    But this is trending way off topic.

  47. When I got my MBA, one of the most popular majors was "entertainment business" A lotta people had every intention of bringing their MBAs out to hollywood and making movies. I understood it, (it’s called show BUSINESS after all…) but still found it depressing. Course my major was financial management…but that’s another story.

  48. Well said Josh.  I think that you are correct in your conclusion regarding the end goal lying in profitable film and television, though I would hardly agree with comics as being the minor leagues of those mediums, not that you were making that point to begin with.  I would argue that perhaps when talking about the comics "industry" you must seperate the corporations and the creators.  The difference being that the creator’s responsibility only to themselves, they may want to sacrifice personal gain for artistic integrity.  The Publishers must worry about stock holders who are mainly concerned with quarterly profits, market share and numbers.  That is the reason there are a million Wolverine titles per week, that is the reason that Captain America was killed, why Hal Jordan returned as the Green Lantern and the unfortunate Energy Superman.  I think we as fans need to get over possesive nature, support the books that you like and then enjoy. 

    PS: It still saddens me when I read Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain & MI13 was "good"

  49. Hey!  I really liked Rawhide Kid!  But then again I guess I’m the target audience there. 

    I have no problems with a company doing what it needs to do to make money, but I do bristle when they go the cheap and easy route and quality and/or integrity suffers.  How many Obama variant covers do we need?  How many TV executives saw $$$ as soon as the Michael Jackson news broke?  Taking advantage of a trend is one thing and milking every penny out of something until it gets nauseating is something else.

  50. But that’s what they do.  It’s why they exist.  Maximize shareholder value and so on, etc.

    Quality and integrity only enter into it in how it affects their ability to make money, ultimately.

  51. I couldn’t agree more.  But I don’t have to like it.  I have given up on TV almost completely but comics have me by the short hairs – I can’t say no!  Thanks for giving us a place to vent!

  52. We do what we can!

    Luckily, it is in their interests, for the most part, to make pretty good comics.  We should reward them when they do, by buying and instructing others to do so as well.

  53. @Josh — OK, fair point. Maybe I see that as a daily reality, and so I’m thinking more about the reaction *within* the industry rather than the entire system of "Industry publishes statistical information and then reacts to the public’s reaction based on what they think it means to the general public."  All of that still seems like an industry gone haywire rather than an actual measure of what the "statistics" mean to the general public at large.

    Bottom line, going back to my original point (and steering back on topic): it just doesn’t bother me. I accept it as the way Hollywood works, and it’s a fascinating little ecosystem. My interest in the business of comic books is similar, although I feel more invested in that industry, as I’ve gone to conventions for years, followed the news, worked in comics shops, and even looked into self-publishing. So… do I technically *need* numbers about this industry? Not at this moment, no. But I’d like to know and understand. And I’ll just leave it at that, and someone else can decide if releasing such statistics would turn my favorite little industry into another Hollywood.

  54. If turning it into another Hollywood means we get 4X as many books, many of them still of a very high quality (which is what has happened in Hollywood over the last 50 years), then I have no problem with it.  Part of the reason movies get made is because every potential investor can see how they (the movies and the talent) perform and have performed.  The level of investment in that industry may well be due (in part) to its inherent transparency.  If comics become more transparent in their methodology then perhaps potential investors would respond as they did in the movie industry.

    @conor – I am sorry if this is off topic.  I thought our line of discussion was pretty on topic with Josh’s article, but I don’t want to hijack the thread, so I will back off a bit.

  55. This is totally, totally off-topic, but I’m all in favor of internet discussions organically moving off-topic, as long as they continue to be intelligent and civil. 😀

  56. I think comics would have to turn a much bigger profit in order for that to matter.  There is no notion of "celebrity" in comics, which is what I think is the main selling point for films, as much as we don’t like to think so.

  57. @josh As intangible as they are, would you consider the characters themselves?  I would have to say that the characters of a book are the main selling points for many fans.

  58. *consider the characters themselves "celebrities"?

  59. Very cool article, but it seems that we should at some point move past simply noting “monetary needs often dictate artistic product”; in a capitalistic economy this is basically a tautology and, after awhile, like all basic truths it’s not that interesting.   Michelangelo wrote on commission.  So did Michael Bay.  Mozart did it for the money.  So did “Rock me Amadeus” Falcon.  What is worth examining is how these disparate artists manipulated the market to produce their own particular vision.

     

    Art survives and thrives under set limitations, and to me the market forces imposed by editors and companies are just another example of such imposed limits.  Like composing music in a certain key, or writing within a certain genre, or painting a certain object in a certain style, putting market barriers around an artist, more often than not, sparks creativity; great artists turn these imposed gray walls into canvases for their infinitely colored visions.  Perhaps most famously, Tom Wolfe wrote O Lost, a rambling, impenetrable and thus unsellable novel, which his editor Max Perkins turned into Look Homeward Angel, one of the classics of the 20th century.  Remember the final lesson of Mike Leigh’s Topsy Turvy, Gilbert and Sullivan tried to do art for arts sake, and it was dreadful.

     

    Though I, along with everyone else, mourn the loss of great poorly selling titles, I am not eager to see a world of comics freed from the restrictions of the market.  Editorial deadlines and standards push our creators to produce and produce well.   Freed from such incentives I ‘d guess we’d be awash in a sewer full of solipsistic crap  and unfinished masterpieces—kind of like hanging out at Alan Moore’s house these days.  That said, we must, both through purchasing power and the collective and glorious internet whine, continue to support those who fight to get noticed in the face of these market forces, because that very struggle is the soul of the best art being produced today.

  60. @ato220 – I was considering the same idea — but I think I decided it’s not quite accurate. Hollywood has, as various "draws": the property (X-men, Batman, Transformers, Aliens, Predator), the celebrity (actors), and to a lesser extent the creative forces (mostly the director).

    Comics have the property and the creators, and looking at sales, the property is certainly the closest thing to attaining "celebrity" status, but I’d still say it’s a closer match the draw of the "property" in a film.

  61. What Dave said.

  62. You know, I don’t want to derail this whole thing, but this also brings into focus why its important that people go to the store and buy comics whenever they can.  By supporting the business/creators, fans are ditacting what gets made, what continues, and what gets cancelled.  

    This was a great article Josh and an excellent example of sanity on the Internet.  Bravo sir! 

  63. I mostly agree with you. Except the indie creator part. I doubt most of them are in it for the money. Yes they don’t do it for free, but they can make a lot of it by doing something else rather than wait for the trade sales to pass the threshold mark so that they can feed their wee children. Also, have tried writing professionally, for anything. You’re quite good. Stop trying to do a print comic, if you have an artist, do a web comic. I’ll read it.

     

    @ScorpionMasada

    Irregardless isn’t a word damn you!

     

    No, your point is still valid, butI hate that word like it owes me money.

  64. Business first.  Money drives everything.  Sounds pessimistic, but is more realistic.  It’s always been funny to me how people get all bent out of shape over their books.  Even I’ve been guilty of it from time to time, but its all about what sells, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Thanks for covering the brutal realities of the industry Josh.  You’ve had some pretty thought provoking articles of late.  Keep it up man!

  65. @bedhead

    Editorial mandates and deadlines has nothing to do with the quality of work.A lot of the time they ruin the work, as they did with JLA. It also depends on writer. People like Geoff Johns and Brian Bendis churn out books like machines, where as people like Alan Moore work slower and at their own pace. Since we are talking Bendis, the fact that his best work doesn’t haver a deadline(Powers) and his 2nd best work(Ultimate Spidey) does, has never missed one, illustrates my point. Some of his Avengers work is horrible, and that was on a deadline. Of course, I’m not a huge fan of the monthly format, but that’s a whole other topic.

    Also, did you even read LOEG: Century?

  66. Really well-argued — I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I absolutely agree that there’s nothing wrong with a profit-motive in entertainment, and I’d never argue that a company should keep putting something out that they can’t make money on just because I want to read or see it.  I’ve often expressed the opinion that something I liked was being misunderstood or mismanaged in ways that kept it from finding a wider audience — but I also accept that a lot of times it’s just that not everybody likes the same stuff I do.

    On the other hand, to say that "economics are the reason behind everything" oversimplifies a bit.  Economics are *a* reason behind everything, and a very valid one, but for most people involved in creative fields, there are easier ways to make money.  Reducing everything to the bottom line can be an excuse for lazy decision making and short-term thinking that hurts the market in the long run (think of a lot of things that happened in comics in the 90s. . .)

    I’m not saying that any of Josh’s points are wrong, I just wonder about the emphasis. 

     

  67.  What I like here is definitely what Josh has been saying throughout the comments: the GOOD in this is that as long as we demand quality, they will supply quality.

    Marvel didn’t make a giant turnaround at the end of the 90’s and early 2000’s because of some great marketing campaign. They did it because Quesada started grabbing top-notch writers and making sure they focused on the characters. And we responded. There are still people out there who thought that good comic books stopped in the 80’s. Or the 60’s. But enough of us said "hey, this is pretty freakin’ good!" and it sent the right message to Marvel. 

    Same thing as when DC began producing Vertigo books. They learned that they could make money from letting creators go wild on books they owned or had a stake in. And WE made that possible, by responding to books like Sandman and then Preacher and so on.

    We also got rid of that nasty tasting New Coke they tried to foist on us in the 80’s. Remember that? 

    Ah, now I’m feeling totally empowered. Typing slower now, as I have one fist raised in the air.

  68. Caroline — I agree… many creative types can make money in advertising, etc. But they choose to do, say, comics because they love the medium. But at the end of the day, I think most people still strive to make their LIVING doing the thing they love. So it’s not about making money hand over fist, it’s about making enough so that you wake up, write stories all day, and then go to sleep feeling very fulfilled. So, yes, you’re right in the sense that the economic goal is only one. Doing something you’re passionate about is another.

    But all of that is on an indvidual level. Marvel Comics, as an entity, definitely exists to make a profit. That’s simply what it does. But within that umbrella, Marvel hires creative professionals, and they have the passion for art. I look at it this way: Marvel (or DC), the company, has no objective opinion as to quality of artistic expression. However, it’s driven by creatives who have to sell the idea that THEIR version of art is one that will sell. And then the audience, in turn, either responds to this or does not. The company thrives under a positive response. And if there’s no response, it’ll make changes until it gets the response it wants.

  69. @daccampo  I was at a panel at Heroes Con last year where an audience member asked, essentially, "What was it like to quit your day job?"  It elicited absolutely the best response I’ve ever heard on a writers’ panel, as every single member (a mix of writers and artists) talked about walking away from a secure source of income to work in comics because it was a thing they *needed* to do.  And I definitely realize that there’s a divide between those people and the companies as entities.  I know that there are plenty of decision makers in any creative industry who are essentially popcorn salesmen (or whatever the comic book equivalent is).  But I feel like a lot of, if not the majority of, the people in the industry fall somewhere in between those extremes, and there’s an interplay between them.  But I think you could just as well say that business-savvy creative types are using the market to get their vision out there.  It may not be a ‘pure’ vision, but it’s a lively one and better for that. 

    The title of Nick Hornby’s latest book review collection is, "Shakespeare Wrote for Money" and I think there’s as much optimism as cynicism in that. 

  70. I lost a sentence in there somewhere: "You can say companies use art to make a buck, but I think you could just as well say that business-savvy creative types are using the market to get their vision out there."

  71. The thing is, that person who quit their day job to make comics was happy, but he couldn’t do it without having some ability to pay his bills.  So, on some level, he had to make enough money for that at least, keeping his commercial appeal in mind.  Again, that artist is happy, but if no one was willing to buy or publish his books, he’d have to go back to his day job, so he needs to think at least somewhat commercially.

    As I said, these notions are not mutually exclusive.  I understand the conundrum better than most I think.

  72. Just to clarify.  Economics is the study of decision making in the presence of scarcity.  Essentially, it is a study of incentives.  When I wrote above that profit isn’t always traditional profit what I meant was that you can benefit in ways other than income.  The benefit may be in the creative outlet, it may be in the lifestyle, or it may be in the money.  Moving into comics (or any other creative feild) might not increase your income, but can still be a profitable move for you.  However, for the industry to exist for an individual to take part in it, it must be profitable (in the traditional sense) hence the point of Josh’s thought provoking article.

    THIS NEXT PORTION IS WAY OFF TOPIC.  I APOLOGIZE.
    @ohcaroline – Don’t shortchange economics.  You will make me cry.  I study education outcomes (graduation rates, college attendance, etc) and adolescent risky behavior [drugs, gambling, prostitution, etc], so I never have to deal with a traditional profit function, but I’m still performing economic research.  At this point economics is basically Sociology with serious statistical analysis (and bigger pay checks).  From that viewpoint everything actually is economics, because we won’t let it escape our grasp.

  73. @stuclach  It’s funny and I’m not making this up — on the way home I was thinking, "You know, if economics is really the science of choices, then the guy making the decision to quit his day job IS participating in an economic act, just like the writer or editor who convinces the publisher to commit to long-term quality over short term cash flow is."

    So, Josh, I think my initial reaction read your post too narrowly by taking "economics" to mean "everyone is always acting rationally in order to maximize their profits" (which I don’t believe and I don’t think anyone here does either; I was probably scarred by annoyingly narrowminded econ 101 profs in college, so I apologize!)  

  74. True yes. But the publishers are still all about dat cheddah, yo!

  75. @ohcaroline and Josh — Yeah, I don’t really disagree with anything you guys are saying. I was trying to view both sides — I see the corporate entity itself as a vessel to navigate the waters of the market. However, this vessels is steered by a wide-ranging collection of professionals, not the least of whom are artists who are banking on the fact that THEIR navigation will get everyone where they want to go.

    Sorry for the lame metaphor, but that’s kinda how I visualize it. 

    @stuclach – dude, I love ya for bringing it with the economics. So not my territory, but I love it.

  76. @josh  Oh, yeah, I agree with that basic point; I just mean to say that within that framework there’s a lot of give and take with how decisions get made, and by whom.  

  77. i honestly wish i had the time to read this thread. maybe later. Quite the hornet’s nest, josh

  78. I liked Barry Lyndon.

  79. Even if it’s all about money and making a profit. But I still feel bad how Loeb’s Hulk will still outsell most of what the industry puts out. It feels like as a community and a a group of critics it’s like we aren’t doing enough to sway people into reading other things. If people want to read Hulk, I’m fine with that, but they should at least know other options and not just pick up one or two things.

    Shame that as long as the money is flowing, then the companies wont focus on the smaller guys. Why would they? Hulk is Marvel’s highest selling comic right now, so they could just end all their other comics and just like Loeb do his ‘magic’.

  80. I didn’t say anything about whether it was good or not.  It just cost a lot, and lost money.

  81. @ohcaroline – I am actually annoyingly narrowminded in person.  I apologize for all those narrowminded Econ 101 profs.  They give us a (admittedly deserved in some cases) bad rap.  Dismal science and all.

    @daccampo – I love bringing the econ (to the best of my ability).

    If either of you are interested in a more modern take on how econ relates to "nonbusiness" behavior there at least two interesting books you might like: Freakonomics by Dubner and Levitt and Armchair Economist by Landsburg.  Both with tons of real world applications.

  82. Good article…but do people really need this reminder about what’s really going on? Maybe some do. But that doesn’t mean that the creators aren’t trying to be *creative* in addition to making money. Money is the BIG reason, but it isn’t the only reason that dictates everything. If they really wanted to sell Captain Britain NO MATTER WHAT then they would have just put Wolverine in every issue and plastered "Dark Reign" across the top of the covers. Money is the guiding factor but it’s far from the only factor.

  83. @flapjaxx – You mean how they plastered "Secret Invasion" all over the first arc?

  84. Awesome article Josh…one of your best!

  85. It’s funny that the opposite of what you are describing is starting to happen – TV shows that became financially unreasonable in their medium moved over to comics to complete the artistic vision for the creator while selling more books for publisher. Buffy and Pushing Daisies and god knows how many other shows are becoming comics in a roundabout way to achieve an artistic goal.

  86. @FluffNFluff – I’m not sure I’d call it the opposite, but … it is definitely a logical economical extension for creators. That’s a good point. It costs a LOT less to produce a comic book than a TV show. Thus, a comic book based on a TV show could make a profit on just a fraction of the TV audience. Buffy is doing well, but will Pushing Daisies? I’m not sure. Publishers seem to be willing to try this out right now, but I think the limitation will come from the comics industry itself. Can publishers turn a profit from just any TV show? I don’t think viewers of, say, Desperate Housewives will flock to their local comic shop to pick up the next season as a comic book. But Whedon banked on the fact that Buffy and Angel are properties that appealed to the existing comics readers AND the fact that his die-hard fans would follow him into another genre. But I think there’s a lot of overlap between those two constituencies. 

    However, if comics COULD attach itself to the Television industry, pulling in a portion of that audience, that could be a nice fit. I mean, both TV and comics work very well in serialization. But I think that leads us to the whole Direct Market Limitations/Public Perception of Comic Books argument, which is a separate beast, probably best left for a different article. 😀

  87. sorry, that was *"…fans would follow him into another MEDIUM."

  88. TRUTH hurts, Josh.  And you just hurt me. 

  89. Main Entry:irregardless
    Pronunciation:*ir-i-*g*rd-l*s
    Function:adverb
    Etymology:probably blend of irrespective and regardless
    Date:circa 1912

     nonstandard   : REGARDLESS
    usage Irregardless originated in dialectal American speech in the early 20th century. Its fairly widespread use in speech called it to the attention of usage commentators as early as 1927. The most frequently repeated remark about it is that *there is no such word.* There is such a word, however. It is still used primarily in speech, although it can be found from time to time in edited prose. Its reputation has not risen over the years, and it is still a long way from general acceptance. Use regardless instead. Merriam-Webster

    Sure is a word. A word that began as many others have . . . human-made.

    Maybe not the best word, I’ll give you that, but I’m not much for "rules" when it comes to linguistics.

  90. @dccampo- Don’t give Quesada all the credit when it comes to Marvel’s turnaround. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of quality at Marvel is because the people with the money (Ron Perelman, Carl Icahn) didn’t care about the product. When Avi Arad and Toy Biz took over in ’98, attention was paid to the IP and the comics so that they could turn them into movies and ancillaries. That’s the other side of the money issue- if you don’t care about what you’re selling, it won’t sell. Comics as business is fine, but if it’s not married to love of the art, you get nothing but crap.

  91. By the way I just want to say that I love that Josh always brings up Wildcats 3.0. That book was awesome and unlike anything else I have ever seen in the comics industry.

    I also want to say I am getting tired of all the Red Hulk bashing that goes on the web. I feel it’s very kneejerk and bet that a lot of the people who bash it haven’t even read it. Just assume because it’s Loeb (who has written some good comics people, daredevil yellow anyone?) that it is bad. I will never say anything bad about it because I have not read one issue of it. I wish more people would follow that ideal.

  92. @BC1 – I give credit for Marvel’s turnaround to Bill Jemas, as controversial as he was.

  93. Well said, Josh.

    And the bottom line is, if comics publishers didn’t operate this way, there would be no comics publishers. Whether its comics or movies or music or novels or basketweaving, doing something purely for the love of the craft is an unsustainable business model. If these publishers didn’t keep a constant eye on the bottom line, they would not continue to exist. So, it’s profit-driven publishers, or it’s nothing. Easy choice.

  94. @ultimatehoratio- Jemas had a great deal of hands-on effect at Marvel Publishing, yes.  However, it is unlikely that he would have been given the chance to do what he did had Toy Biz not bought Marvel, as Jemas had worked for Ike Perlmutter and earned his trust.  Thus, both changes had to take place for Marvel to turn around. 

    @ohcaroline- if you want to see a good example of the reality of "leaving your day job," check out some of Scott Kurtz’s blog posts at pvpcomics.com from 1999 and the early 2000’s when he was making the transition to full-time cartoonist.  It has paid off for him in the end, but man did he have some serious anxiety in the beginning.  It’s a massive leap of faith, and many people go splat rather than fly.

  95. Deadenders! Where was the letter-writing campaign for that book?

    Well, I basically agree. But I think it’s push/pull between quality and cost. The publishers I work for love to save all the money they can. That means they’d love to stop making all these changes before books go to print. But they also want error-free books, or else complaints go up and sales go down. So it’s push/pull. Creative people who make quality art are necessary or the product goes to shit and the consumer walks away.

  96. @BC1 and ultimatehoratio – I was oversimplifying my Quesada remark for the sake of the argument. But the fact is that Marvel was bankrupt and Quesada’s Marvel Knights stuff was one of those desperate moves that actually started bringing in sales. If Quesada was brought in because of moves made by Arad and Toy Biz, then that’s cool, I’m not arguing with that. The result was still the same: Quesada’s artistic vision for the books sparked life back into Marvel publishing. And THEN Jemas came on board, and elevated Quesada to the EiC role (if memory serves, you guys can correct me if I’m wrong). The two then became a team, Quesada’s initial vision elevated by Jemas’ own — and that combination led to a very interesting time at Marvel. It certainly had its faults, but it also saw definitive results. Fair?

  97. Yay Capitalism!!! That’s right you Commie bastards!  Money is what makes the world go around it’s true for comics and all entertainment mediums.  It has it’s downsides but ultimately works. Even if…

    They’re ruining my favorite character!
    This re-numbering is terrible!
    They’re being disrepectful to Steve Rogers!
    They hate the fans!
    They’re canceling my favorite book!

  98. People have this belief that something can not be artistic and commercial at the same time. it is not a mutually exclusive thing. I actually have the perfect example for this, using film, as it has been brought up several times in this thread:

    Today, Alfred Hitchcock is considered one of the finest directors who ever lived. People constantly praise his artistry behind the camera. It is obvious to any fan of film that Hitchcock was one of film’s major artists. However, every single movie he ever made was made with the belief it would be a blockbuster hit. None of his films were made thinking they would be "art" films to bring prestige to a studio. They were all designed to be hit movies. But that didn’t stop them from art. 

  99. …Whaaaaa?