The Whines of Change: Birthday Thoughts on the State of the Comic Book Industry

$18.90. That was the butcher's bill for my comics this past Sunday.  Which, to be quite honest, is both great and a bit scary, since I had a similar bill a few weeks ago.

Part of me is celebrating, a bit. I am glad that my hobby, a hobby that I often complain about costing me too much money, is relaxing a bit. The voice that rants about comics costing more than lunch quiets some, thinking about other things to complain about.  The other part of me is a bit worried–even with checking out a book or two that I normally haven't read, I found it basically impossible to spend more than $20 at the shop (on new books) because there simply just wasn't anything interesting on the shelves, at least, to my weary gaze.


Thanks to Jason's excellent work (last week's article ties in nicely to this piece), I have been aware on intellectual level that comic sales are down, but this was the first time that I have seen actual empty racks in the "New Comics" section of my store. Two of them. If there weren't seven different covers for Spawn #200, I bet there would have been another!  I guess perhaps things are slow but based on a variety of conversations, the consensus is that this is definitely an odd time for the industry. But based on a few of my recent comic book shops visit, "alarming" might be a more appropriate word.  


Of course, we all tend to shrug our shoulders and say stuff like, "Well, what did you expect? Things are cyclical in this industry, things have gotta give at some point," but I wonder, honestly, if that's where we are at.  We've talked about this before, the changes that are happening with all forms of media.  Music was the first industry to completely implode, and we are seeing movies and TV try to figure out all kinds of ways to avoid that fate as everything gets boiled down to digital bits. Comics and books are facing the same thing, as we know. We keep hearing that this is ultimately best for the consumer–more choice, easier delivery, no dead trees, no getting out of the house, but it obviously comes at the heavy expense of many retailers shutting down.


Whenever I used to go to a new city, the first store I would visit was a record shop. In addition to getting the chance to buy some cool records, it was also a great way to find out where the best clubs were, where the cool parts of town were, what was happening that night–it was more than a retail experience, you know?  Bookstores and comic book shops offer a similar kind of experience–you have this shared interest and out of that shared interest, relevant activities and gatherings can be discovered and shared. I fear that if we continue to see the market erode, we'll see more and more shops have to close and that experience, too, will be unavailable.


But back to the comics. Like, I look at the ads and it is clear, at least in the Marvel books, that we are going to see a lot of Thor reprints, X-Men events, and Captain America books. Okay, fine. Movies are coming out, I get it.  But we keep on this path and it begins to feel a little like the whole Transformers/G.I. Joe thing, where the toys and the cartoons are just this seemingly endless parade of merchandise, squeezing cooler shows off the dial (in San Francisco we used to watch old school Japanese giant robot shows like Ultraman and Spectraman–once Transformers and G.I. Joe came on, we never saw those shows again, it was a total bummer). 


I guess that my big worry is that we'll see more are more books that make sense on a commercial level, that make sense in a marketing presentation, and I'll find myself squeezed out of comics because I just simply won't find anything I want to read. And since I'm not necessarily the primary intended audience for these kinds of books, the big publishers won't really care about losing me as a reader since they have already squeezed at least ten years' of money out of my pockets in the first place. And it's not like I wasn't buying a Thor book, you know? I was just buying the wrong one, apparently (the better one).

I guess these thoughts come to mind because today is my birthday, so it makes sense to reflect a bit on what's new and what's constant in one's life, to notice the cycles and see how one fits in.  Over the past few months, I've been feeling that I am less and less relevant to advertisers and content creators. This is fine, actually–I really am okay with it, I find most of what is going on more than a bit irritating anyway–I'm just not altogether sure that the market that these marketing folks imagine grabbing with all of these commercially relevant titles will actually go into stores and buy these commercially relevant comic books! Even the events that I am seeing ads for…like didn't we just kill Ultimate Spider-Man in that Cataclysm event thingamabob? Like, seriously–that just happened, right?  He was dead for a bit, J. Jonah Jameson was all sad and had a huge change of heart and blah blah blah? And now it's the death of Spider-Man again, right when the book has been really quite good? Okay, fine, I hear from people in the know that it's not selling as well since Mark Bagley left, but honesty, what the hell is going on?  It just rings hollow to me, the whole affair. An excuse for yet another event with Spider-Man…unless, of course, it's your first event with Spider-Man, then all is well. Complaining about having been there before, old man? Go home, make some tea and read Asterios Polyp again.


We are definitely in a strange time. We're really seeing books change a lot, I think.  I mean, when's the last "one and done" you've read? How about a series of them?  Like, remember when Dini was on Detective Comics, how masterful it was to see successive single issue stories?  Just amazing.  But everything else, it seems, is being written in these longer, trade-friendly arcs. Well, if everything's being written in trade-friendly arcs then why aren't we primarily a trade– we're not there yet, I guess.  We still don't how the publishers are going to handle digital/tablet comics, even though we all know they need to start dealing with them quickly!  I just don't necessarily see kids seeing the Thor movie and rushing to their local comic book shop to get Thor comics. I might be wrong–I could very well be wrong–but I just see them gravitating more toward a Thor cartoon or digital comics…I hate to sound like Ol' Man Romo Down By The River, but, like, do kids really read anything anymore?


As I look back on a decade of being in comics (and two-and-a-half years of writing on iFanboy), I have to wonder if 2010 (maybe 2009?) was the end of an era.  That's not a bad thing, to be sure–we've seen great new artists, new writers, great takes on characters, a real renaissance in comics, the most vibrant time in comics that I've ever lived through, absolutely.  It's just an odd feeling, though, to feel, to really feel, things changing, that my relationship with comics is changing. I can't put my finger on it, but I do know that for the first time ever, I saw completely empty shelves in the "New Comics" section this past weekend, and though it might have been an aberration in scheduling, I can't help but feel it was a sign of things to come.


Mike Romo is an actor in LA who is usually irritatingly optimistic about things.  Email/Twitter.


  1. Happy birthday

    I don’t think the industry can afford losing any of us. I actually think a good deal of their marketing and habits keep us in mind (and not in a good way).

    No, these Marvel movies will not “save” the industry.

    I’d much rather have 20 great books a month than 40 average to great books a month.

    I’m not sure even self-contained single issue stories will change people’s buying habits for the better as much as I’d like to read more Detective, Jonah type stories.

    Actually, I think it would kill the industry sooner.

  2. Happy Birthday Mike!

  3. I went through the same thing in 1992. I left comics all together because I didn’t feel like keeping up with the grind of reading comics that weren’t really entertaining to me anymore. Now I know that I lost out on almost a decade of fantastic indie books like Love & Rockets simply because I didn’t know about them.
    As I sit here in 2011, twenty years later and going through the same thing, I’m very happy to have podcasts, blogs, twitter etc to help me keep my interest.
    I know I can drop any title at any time and there are probably 10 more deserving books out there being published I should be reading. If you don’t like the X-verse or JLA, drop them. But don’t leave the hobby. Go read The 6th Gun or 28 Days Later or Pluto or Sweet Tooth or finally sit down and read all the awesome Alan Moore stuff you missed in the 90s like From Hell. You’ll thank yourself.

  4. It’s funny, I turn 34 in a month and just went back to college last semester, I graduate In May. Being my age and seeing thousands of teenagers, I realize that a lot has changed but a lot hasn’t. Comics however definitely have. I was remenissing with a professor about spinner racks. God I miss those. I’ve also recently got an iPad and after quite awhile of dissing digital comics, I’ve really been impressed with the limited access I’ve had with them so far. I just really want this lifelong hobby i’ve had to prosper and be around forever.

  5. Good feature.  This decade will bring massive changes that we are already starting to feel.

  6. Happy Birthday!

  7. I think the only way I would consider leaving the industry entirely is if Vertigo folded.  Nevermind the fact they publish over a third of the titles I read on a monthly basis – for the most successful mature/alternative imprint to go under would send a pretty strong message that we have entered the era of movie and toy booklets. 

  8. Happy B-Day Mike,

    When I went to my local comic shop this past week, it was strange to see some of previous weeks books in the new release section. I asked, why, and the owner simply said, there were not many new titles, but apparently there are a bunch of books shipping at the end of the month,…. I hope it is true. If not this could be a sign of things to come, which I agree would be sad. 

  9. Happy Birthday Sir! 

    I had been having some of the same feelings over the last few weeks.  Though this week my pull has taken a slight upswing.

  10. Strange indeed… 2012 will release the Avengers, the The Dark Knight Rises, a movie based on Frazetta’s work John Carter of Mars, Superman, and a bunch more comic related movies. Then just when comics have a chance of becoming a more popular medium, we all die…

  11. I was with you until “(the better one).”  If anything, because it leaves you building your subsequent point on sand.  

    Panel for panel, there is nothing more mainstream, advertiser friendly, or easy to digest about Fraction’s Thor than Thor: The Mighty Avenger.

  12. “If, for any reason,” rather.

    This is what I get for taking a thesis break at three AM and posting on the damn internet.

  13. @AMuldowney I agree. That potshot he took at the other Thor books felt really out of place in an otherwise well thought out article. You can like Thor: The Mighty Avenger (i love it!) without demeaning the other Thor books to make your point. Fraction’s, especially, is of a just as high, if different, quality.

  14. @AMuldowney  Speaking to the comic book market, as Mike was, THOR: THE MIGHT AVENGER was not mainsteam in the least. Which is why it failed. “Mainstream” in comics and “mainstream” in the rest of the world are two different things.

  15. @Conor 

    I didn’t say that T:MA was mainstream, I said Fraction’s book wasn’t, despite its status as the official ongoing Thor title.  I have read every issue of Fraction’s run and every issue of T:MA, I loved the crap out of them both.  As far as broad appeal, if you quantify the disparate story elements, the art, dialogue, the books themselves are a wash.

    Where T:MA was penetrable, Thor is not.  Where T:MA was broadly funny, Thor required specific attention; it’s like reading John Barth, sometimes a gag would pay off two pages later, but you’d miss it if you weren’t careful.  (This is not to say that T:MA wasn’t wickedly subtle itself, it just manifested differently).

    Their differences are all on measurable axes that, upon deeper inspection, reveal a rather remarkable inverse relationship, which, I’d say, is one of the reasons the books have had a subtle polarizing effect, e.g. Mike’s snarky comment. 

    Which leads me into my actual point, the one that’s wasn’t addressed because you were too busy telling me I just didn’t get the context:

    Because of Mike’s comment, and because of the emotional attachment fans of both books have picked up (like a snowball through a pile of leaves), it destabilized his subsequent remarks.

    What followed was a fairly insightful look at the new reader v. older reader’s perspective on major events, the confusion, the excitement, the cynicism, the burnout.  Except he yanked his credibility with the initial parentheses, and the modified anacoenosic merism that concluded the paragraph didn’t quite buy it back, highlighting it as a device.

    (Stuff like that is the other half of my job).

    On a personal note, iFanboy and its staff are some of the friendliest on the ‘net, and you’ve all made this a welcoming place.  However, your positions are not unassailable, nor is anyone that disagrees with you simply missing the point.  You, in particular Conor, seem to have been forgetting that a lot lately.  And I understand that doing this full time can wear you out, especially with some of the more, we’ll say spirited members, but we are not all them.  

    Please try to remember that.

  16. @AMuldowney  So… we can’t disagree and have a discussion, then? Because that’s what I thought we were doing. That’s what this is for.

    I still disagree that Mike undermined his point. He made it stronger. His point was that he feels the market passing him by and the cancelation of the Thor book he actually liked, the one he thought was the better one, reinforces his opinion.

  17. Let’s talk is not “you don’t get it.”  You didn’t engage in a discussion, you told me I was wrong and left it at that.  I’m happy to have an actual discussion, though.

    His point: it would have worked if he’d created a rhythm with the parentheses early on by stabilizing their tone from the start of the piece.  Their (parenthetical clauses) use throughout the piece up to the Thor remark has them standing outside the main body, a more direct address to the reader.  Use like that can create a sort of “these are my honest feelings” typographical climate for a reader.  The Thor remark– which isn’t actually a big deal, but now we’re talking about it, so I keep going back– was jarring for me and, at least, one other reader. 

    His point was only made stronger if you already agree with him.  I’m standing in the middle, bummed that T:MA was cancelled, still enjoying Fraction’s book so, for me, it pulled me out of the article and made the conclusion seem bitchy and meandering.


  18. @AMuldowney  Well, my reaction to your initial comment is that you’re not getting his point. I’m still not convinced you do. You seem really caught up in the structure and not focusing on the point of what he’s saying.

    So I guess your point is really that you like Fraction’s THOR and you’re annoyed that Mike took a swipe at it?

  19. @conor  

    My point is probably that I was up too late working last night and I’ve been grading way too many comp/rhet entrance exams lately.  

  20. Remind me where you shop, Mike?