The Whole Movie Thing Didn’t Work. And I’m Okay With That.

Way back in 2000, we were all reeling from a terrible, terrible Star Wars movie. But at the same time, we were seeing a sort of renaissance in comics. Marvel Knights was making great books, and a guy named Warren Ellis was showing us comics like we’d never seen them. Then this Bendis guy came along, and impressed the hell out of us.

X-Men hit, and it was the first really good comic book movie we’d seen in quite a while. It said, “we can take this material, and make something that’s very good, and also very profitable.” Comic book folks thought this might be the time. Exposure like this could bring comic books back to the forefront. You’ll have to remember that we were all crawling out of the hole left by the comic book industry bust. But X-Men? That was something. That will do it. It will bring credibility! Remember 1989, when Batman was a huge movie, and it preceded the great comic boom (and bust) of the 90’s? I could happen again!

Other movies followed, and things were looking up. Spider-Man and its sequel set records for making an absurd amount of money, as well as being pretty good movies. Then Batman Begins was another home run. These will bring people back to the comic shops, and finally show the world how great our favorite storytelling medium is.

Just look at the movie lineup for this summer! Hellboy II! The Dark Knight! Iron Man! The Incredible Hulk!

Every year, they plan Free Comic Book Day around a big release, and the DVD releases include some comics, and as much as it saddens me, I’m not seeing the effect at the comic shops.

Sure, comics are selling higher numbers than they have in a while, and it’s not a horrible time to be in comics, but the top selling books are still maxing out at 300,000, tops. But millions of people saw every one of those films, and it’s a little disheartening that such an infinitesimal percentage of those movie goers ever deigned to step into a comic shop and actually buy something.

Worldwide, people were willing to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to watch Ron Perlman as Hellboy. Those tickets cost about $10. A Hellboy trade paperback costs in the neighborhood of $15, so if all the people who loved the movie wanted more, and went out to buy the beautiful art of Mike Mignola in book form, Dark Horse would clear more money than they’d ever imagined. But it didn’t happen. I’m sure Mignola’s not hurting, but there’s something sad that the movies can garner so much interest, while the comic books they are spawned from stay largely ignored.

Did anyone end up buying comics because of those movies? Surely some did, yes. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t that much of a blip on the radar. If anything, I suspect that the films got more people who had stopped reading, to come back to comics, than they did bring new people in. I say this knowing full well that we all know people who read comics now who didn’t before the year 2000, because they liked a movie they saw. But millions of people didn’t walk out of the theater and run towards comic shops, or even the comic section at Borders. They saw the movie, and for the large majority, that was enough. Geek culture is a stronger driving force than ever before, but that doesn’t convert to comic book sales.

I don’t mean to be negative, because the movies are great. They’re fun for us, the fans. They let us know that the stories we’ve loved all along are valid to a larger audience, and there is some small vindication in that. At a monetary level, it’s great that guys like Mike Mignola can make a chunk of change, and Greg Rucka can cash in on a Whiteout adaptation, and all sorts of guys can live off film options, allowing them to make more comics.

Yet in some cases, that means that in many cases, comics aren’t living off their own quality, but rather as a farm league for Hollywood, and there’s something about that I don’t like. It reminds me of tech businesses who start up solely with the intention of being bought by Google. There are creators out there who are just pitching comics as a way to get a movie sold. Comics are an interim step. Even if the book doesn’t do that well, if it gets optioned, that’s seen as a success, and more comics are published because of Hollywood’s validation. It would be great if, instead of the movie getting made, the real mark of success for a comic book was that a lot of people read and loved it.

The good news is that the comics which are doing really well today are doing so because of their own merits. Robert Kirkman’s phenomenal success with The Walking Dead is due solely to the fact that it’s a good comic book. Terry Moore and Jeff Smith are successful because they make great comic books. Captain America and Justice Society of America are top sellers because they’re consistently very good. That’s awesome, but they’re not selling a million copies, or even a half a million.

I’m resigned to the idea, however, that there will never be a lot of people reading comic books. I can’t imagine our population is growing, and eventually the old guys will stop reading, and there won’t be enough young people to replace them. We’re a specialized boutique industry, which is why we pay $3 a book, and most people in the rest of the world don’t have a clue about what comic books really are today.

The real trick is to be OK with that. The term mainstream comics is ridiculous. Are there really mainstream comics when the whole art form itself, at least in America, is totally a niche? The best selling comic book gets a smaller audience than a TV show would need to keep on the air on a crappy cable station. Me, I’m OK with that. I like that me and you know about something so great that most people don’t even know what they’re missing. I certainly wish that more people could discover the joys of some of the best fiction storytellers alive today, but as long as there are enough to keep things in print, I’ll be OK with our niche.

Hollywood knows it. San Diego is the new Sundance Film Festival. Where once they picked up kids like Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, now they’re finding Mark Millar and Brian K. Vaughan.

In the meantime, I’ll probably lay off attempting to prove comic book legitimacy through box office success. Instead, if I’m talking to a non-reader about comics, I’ll sell them on the merits of the actual books themselves, because those great comics are the only way to get people to buy more comics. So it’s your job and my job to show people great comics. The good news is that there’s no shortage of them. But we don’t need the movies to prove that it’s a viable and vibrant art form. The books do that on their own, so go out there and do everything you can to make sure people know about them whenever possible.



  1. Skillfully argued, sir!

    This is all further complicated, as far as I’m concerned, by my suspicion that no one (outside the companies themselves, I mean) actually has any idea how well comics are actually selling. We all look over these Diamond sales charts like they’re box scores on the sports page, but then the worst-selling books on those lists (the Marvel Adventures line, for example) turn out to "secretly" be the runaway blockbusters of the line.

    Still, you’re right; after Iron Man came out, I didn’t suddenly have to elbow my way past a bunch of new faces at the shop the following Wednesday. But there may just be a fundamental obstacle in human behavior: does enjoying something in one medium inspire you to take up a whole new, previously uninteresting medium? What I mean is, The Da Vinci Code movie didn’t make a bunch of people flock to Barnes & Noble to see about these "books"; either you like reading or you don’t. The best baseball movie ever made would not get me to start sitting through baseball games.

    Then again, maybe the reason people weren’t reading comics wasn’t the medium; it was that they thought the content was beneath them. In that case, the movies should indeed be showing them they’re missing something. Never mind X-Men; what about Ghost World, or American Splendor? Those are the ones that I’d expect to make a difference, the ones that demonstrate how much more the art form has to offer.

    I know X-Men is a big part of why I’m here right now, but like you said, I was coming back. I wasn’t a new reader.

  2. I don’t think the translation from comuic book movie watcher to comic book movie reader is not nearly as great as marvel or dc would like, and I think it’s mostly their fault. I think they assume that people will immediately rush to the comics shops and find the books based on these characters.


    I wonder why I don’t see adds on TV or on websites about new books coming out. And by websites, I mean sites that don’t normally inolve people like us.

    I think that no matter what the translation on screen, having your book turned into a movie is something that most writers would enjoy. I’m not for this "purity" that books need to be introduced to people based soley on their own merit. Like you said, Josh, comics, even Marvel and DC, aren’truly mainstream. So if it takes a movie for people to even think about looking in the direction of a book store, then I’m for it.

  3. Warren Ellis used to be on a kick about the problem with comics is that one has to go into a specialty store and buy single issues.  He was of the opinion that the key was getting books with spines into bookstores.  However, comics are still intimidating in that form.  Imagine someone knowing nothing about comics walking into a Borders and seeing a shelf of "Essentials." or a whole fleet of 12 Ultimate Spiderman trades.  That kind of thing can seem intimidating.  You get the same effect when someone wants to pick up a book and realizes they’re on issue 243 of Volume 2.

    And then, of course, they’re shunted into some dark corner of the store, next to the roleplaying games and the bookmarks with kittens on them.  Nobody wants to be seen in that section.  The trades are a good start, but I think we need editions with more eye-grabbing "bookstore" covers and then to have those covers face out instead of just the spine out.

    Or maybe there is no getting massive readership.

  4. People don’t buy comics because they’re intimidated by the comic shops especially the people who run them.  Most shop owners are rude, snicker at what you buy and get mad if you ask for help.  For example I started reading again in May and I had trouble finding something my first visit to a shop  so I asked for help and the guy acted like he did’nt have the time of day.  He smugly replied it was in the new comics section and I told him still could’nt find what I was looking for so he rolled his eyes and directed me to a dark corner of the store with no sign indicating they were new comics.  When I was done I went to the counter with my purchase of  Final Crisis he scoffed at my choice telling me Secret Invasion was infinitely better than Final Crisis and looked at me like I had something on my face when I asked if they sold books like Jonah Hex and other independent books you guys got me interested in.  Needless to say I never returned there and I found a new shop and heard from guys there that the guy mentioned above gets mad if anybody buys anything other than Marvel.  So if comics are going  to get new readers they need to find other venues to sell their books and not rely on snotty, creepy comic book guys in Hawaiian shirts and who have ponytails.

  5. Sure, there are numerous reasons why people don’t buy comics. You guys (above) cited "Comic Book Guy" mentality and there’s also the fault of the publisher who puts out insular comics that pander to the hardcore fanboy. In recent years, we’ve seen lots of events that really are designed for the FAN, not for the casual book store browser. But can we blame them completely? For several years before that (as Josh notes), the publisher pushed HARD to make comics for reader-friendly and good for bookstores.

    That said, we can argue those ’til we’re blue in the face, and we’ll all still (hopefully) come to the same conclusion that Josh has come to.  

    Me, I’m OK with it.


    Side note: you know, in all the talk about how to get people to buy comics, read comics, etc., I have to wonder… does anyone compare comic books to NOVEL sales in bookstores? I’m honestly asking — I don’t have the research. What does a standard novel sell? Not just the BESTSELLERS or Harry Potter novels, but your typical New-Release-Destined-for-Oprah’s-Book-Club type literary novel. How many of those books are sold? That would be a curious comparison.

  6. I think part of the problem with the movies translating to comic sales is oftentimes the comics don’t mirror the status the characters in the movie are in b/c the movies are taking place in the published character’s past so when they pick up a copy of the book the characters are nine times out of ten totally different.  Take X-men, when that movie came out the book did not resemble anything that the movie offered. 

  7. Well put, Josh.  Would it be too much to ask for the comic book publishers to pay movie theaters to set up spinner racks full of comics in the lobby?  This would kill!  The littluns that are dragged by their parents to see these movies would beg and beg for their parents to buy copies of Marvel Adventures!

    Another important reason why comics will have a hard time breaking out of their niche market is that they’re too damn inaccessable.  (And yes, I know this point has been argued ad nauseum.)  I’ve been reading comics for two years, and half the time I don’t know what the hell is going on in the books I’m reading (due to confusing continuity, books I haven’t read and obviously needed to, etc.).  Even if some of the folks who see "The Dark Knight" make their way to a comic store, what are they going to pick up…Batman R.I.P.?  Good luck!  And if the shop owner is anything like @Kory mentioned above, there’s no way in hell they’ll get an appropriate book! 

     The point I really want to focus on, though, is this:

    I like that me and you know about something so great that most people don’t even know what they’re missing. I certainly wish that more people could discover the joys of some of the best fiction storytellers alive today, but as long as there are enough to keep things in print, I’ll be OK with our niche.

    I too love being one of the only people I know that loves comics.  It’s the same for me with music.  None of my friends listen to Ryan Adams or M. Ward, and to be honest, it’s almost better that way.  I like being a part of a small (albeit almost completely virtual) community who appreciates indie music.  But the failings of comic book publishers and record companies to push their artists in the right ways has innumerable times lead to the cancellation of damn good titles and the breakup of damn good bands because the artists still need to pay the bills.

    It’s easy to say, "If the work of art is truly good, then people will find it."  But dammit, in this age of information, where I can’t even keep track of all the cool bands and comics and websites I’m into, artists are often forced to push their material themselves.  For the tech/promotional savvy artist, this can work out well; for me, I just wish artists could focus on creating great art, and having that art recognized by the widest audience possible.  Maybe 300,000 readers of the the best-selling comic title is the widest audience (which I think is Josh’s point).  I just have had  higher hopes for the potential of comic book movies. 

  8. Characters like Superman, Spiderman, or Batman are so imbedded in our culture, in that every couple of years there is some incarnation presented in film, or cartoons, I think a lot of non readers think they already know about the characters.

    It’s sort of like…a lot of people could tell you about the bible, but how many of them have actually read the thing? People know the bullet points, and that’s good enough. But what about all the tales that have been referenced for ages in art and literature? A very influential piece, still why would you read the bible if you’re not religious, right? And Comics, influential in their’ own right, not so much as the bible,  but comics are for [insert stereotype here], right? Wrong, but there are a lot of preconceptions about the books.

    I’ve had comics around me my whole life, my Father was a big reader, and he got me into them, but my older brother was never a fan. Still, being surrounded by mounds of action figures, stacks of comics, cartoons, and movies, he couldn’t avoid some level of respect for the greats. His knowlege is based more on film, and television, but he could always tell you about Bruce Wayne, or Clark Kent’s back story. He’s in his thirties now, and just recently he asked to borrow some Superman stories. Imagine my suprise, and glee. It took seven seasons of Smallville, and a lifetime of mythos to do this though. I know he’s just one example, but man, new readers are tought to gain.

  9. Excellent article. I was actually thinking about writing you guys an email about this. It really seems that there’s little correlation at all between successful comics movies and comic sales.

    From the late ’80s to the early ’90s the Keaton-starring Bat-movies were all the rage. But did they lead to a huge surge in Bat-comics sales? Not really. One would think that doing films of an already famous comics franchise like Batman would have shot the Bat-titles to the top of the sales rankings. But what really happened? It was the X-titles that were dominating, long before they had any movies and even in the years before the cartoon series. I’m not saying the ’89 and ’92 Batman films didn’t help sell some comics, but the impact seems small. 

    X-Men sales actually starting going DOWN when the cartoon started in ’92! Any correlation? No! It all has to do with the comics themselves, and the downward spiral started after Claremont and Lee’s departures.

    But through the end of the ’90s the X-titles did remain the premier franchise in comics. Somebody should take a time-machine, go back to ’95 or ’97 or whenever, and ask comics pundits what they think the impact of three highly successful and overall good X-Men films in 2000, 2002 and 2006 would have on X-title sales. I guarantee all of them would assume that those films would have assured X-title dominance through 2010 and probably a surge in sales. But that hasn’t happened at all. For years and years fans always wanted X-Men films. Then they got them but saw the franchise lose its top spot in comicdom to… the Avengers?! Huh??

    I think the films are good publicity for the comics, but they don’t translate to sales much at all. And I would wager that 90% of whatever marginal sales increase the Iron Man or Hulk titles might have gotten has all been from people who ALREADY read comics, who thought to pick up the titles along with their other regular comics purchases. So, with all that said, I definitely think it’s a good thing that DC isn’t forcing Grant Morrison and Paul Dini to alter their Bat-comics this summer just to make sure that people coming out of the movie theater would understand them. Because those people walking out of the movie theater simply AREN’T going to the comics shop anyway. And the few who do will be the sort of people who’ll buy comics for the comics medium, and who will be willing to figure the stories out anyway. Just like so many of the 700,000+ readers that Claremont drew to the X-titles in the ’80s were willing to figure out complicated continuity. I think great and intriguing comics are what draw comics readers, not Hollywood movies. Maybe there are so few comics readers than filmgoers simply because comics aren’t as passive a medium as film, and most people in the world are lazy. That’s my pessimistic conclusion.

  10. great article josh

    I too have taken to getting non-readers into reading comics or at least seeing it eith an open mind. (so far i have gotten my girlfriend and 2 of my co-workers into getting their own pull list of books for them to read), I have have said it many times that their is a comic for everyone as long as you know what they like.

    Also their are alot of obstacles that get in the way of new readers, A friend of mine told me that he wanted to start reading iron man after seeing the movie so he went to a LCBS and was lost as to what to get and the store owner was no help, so he left empty-handedand a bit dissappointed. I was able to take him to my shop, properly introduce him to my shop owner (who i’ve know for years) and we were able to get him interested in several titles.

    My goal is to have as many people as i can enjoying comics the same way or even more than I do.

  11. Most people don’t read anymore. I think that’s the main issue. People expect to be entertained with as much passivity on their part as possible.

    Another issue I think is the community.  When watching movies you are around groups of people and interact with each other.  The same can be said with online video games. Reading is a "loner" activity and needs to be enhanced through other people like this website. Just like a book club.

    Will we ever see the Walking Dead in Oprah’s book club?

  12. I wonder if most people even know that comics were still being put out. My girlfriend, for example, was amazed that comics still existed when we started dating and she saw my long boxes in my room.

    Maybe the comic companies should put brief ads before their movies for related trades. For example, in front of Iron Man, just flash some covers at the beginning and show some artwork for specific trades that they would recommend to people who enjoyed Iron Man. And direct them to Borders or Barnes & Nobles or something. Especially since Marvel is producing their own movies. Maybe this is cost prohibitive, I don’t know. But it might help to get kids excited about it. Plus, maybe it would mean only 13 ads for Coca-Cola for Pete’s sake.

  13. I think there’s also the idea that just because you see a movie adaptation doesn’t quite necessitate a need to check out the thing it’s adapted from.  Despite James Bond having possibly the most successful movie franchise ever, I can’t imagine a very high number of people then ran out and bought the novels.  I do believe comics would benefit greatly from being in supermarkets again. Comics need to come to the people if they want to be big again, not the other way around.  I do know my local Save-Mart is stocking Mighty Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man, so maybe there’s hope yet.

  14. @Tork- I hear you on that and my local Stop n’ Shop has a newstand style rack full of books but it’s ironically held in the small and cluttered DVD section away from the last minute buy lanes.

  15. This is slighly off subject, but….

    I think the real solution is to get OGN, TPB, Omnis, and Oversized editions placed in the fiction section of bookstores rather than in the "comic section".  Non-comic reading consumers will never take comic books seriously until they can see trades and such next to "real" books. Sure comics are becoming more acceptable as critics give them high praise, but what really matters is sales and you can’t sell books if the regular consumers can’t find them. 

     There aren’t too many 50 year old women seeking out comics, but if they should see the Starman Omni next to Steinbeck, who knows what might happen?  

  16. I’m curious about the percentage of North Americans that actually have access to a comic shop?  I don’t have one anywhere near me and I’m sure most other people in a small town don’t either.  Since comics aren’t found in drugstores like they were when I was a kid, I’m willing to guess a LOT of people don’t have easy access to comics.  I also doubt a person who just wants to pick up a few issues after seeing *Insert comic book movie here* is going to bother getting his books from an online subscrption service. 

    I had a friend who wanted to start reading Blade, funny enough, after the Blade movie, and he had to ask me where the hell he could find a comic book.  So I’m not saying the lack of places to actually buy comics is a major reason but I’m sure it is one of the reasons.

  17. Couldn’t agree more. It’s time to stop looking to Hollywood for legitimacy, arguably sequential art has existed longer than films anyway.

    Two different media…should be treated as such.

  18. Great article Josh. I have to agree with most of the points you made. I havent been in comics too long ( only a couple years ) but ive learned that comics are sorely underated. And i agree with the fact that it feels great knowing a lot about something so great that hardly anyone knows about. Comic book fans are some of the most intense, dedicated and opinionated fans out there and they demand greatness out of what they read. Thats what will move this industry forward. We may not have the millions of fans like music or movies but we dont settle for mediocrity.

  19. Iron Man was the tipping point that converted me into an every Wednesday comic reader.  Previous to that, I would go once every couple of months, if that.

  20. @YoSoyJu– Yeah, I came back to comics full time after Spider-Man came out or so. But I think the idea is that a very small percent of those watching the movies then grab the books.

  21. There are many factors at play here aren’t there? I’ll point out a few that have been overlooked.

    Franchising: Comic shops are independently owned. Not franchised like Chapters or Borders. If they were franchised there would be more uniformity of look and service. People could go in knowing what to expect. Making the experience much less initimidating. Not saying it’s the way to go, just an observation. That’s branding.

    PR: How many times have you gone to a premiere of a comic-based movie and seen a Marvel or DC rep or a LCS rep there to hand out free comics and promo materials? This is just common sense. If I owned a comic shop I would grab me a big ol’ stack of comics and some promo materials and business cards and stand at the door as people walk in and out of the theatre and give ’em free stuff that relates to the movie they are evidently interested in. This sort of marketing drive and motivation sells product. Free comic book day is great but you’re basically telling people to go to you. Go to them! Shove the product in their face. It’s basic sales and marketing 101. Get a clue folks!

    Fads: A double-edged sword. Comic book nerd-dom is not "cool" in the marketing snese. If via some clever branding and marketing moves it becomes massively cool to be a comic book nerd (as cool as skate boarding or something like that), comics will sell huge again. If the "cool hunters" decide comics are the next "it" thing, look out! I see that scenario being likely myself. But that will saturate the market with crappy comics. Same with anything.

    My 2 cents.

  22. Honestly, I just don’t think most people enjoy reading.

  23. I agree with s1lentslayer that most people these days simply don’t read for entertainment that much, whether it be novels or comics. But…they sure as hell like going to the mall cinema to see cool explosions and kick-ass superhero fights. Trying to get Joe Sixpack to read "Demon In a Bottle" or Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man after seeing Iron Man is a LOT to ask of the general moviegoing public. I agree that the big two can be doing more at the actual theaters to promote their comics, though. In fact, I distinctly remember going to see Iron Man on opening weekend, looking around at the packed theater, and being shocked that there was absolutely ZERO promotion for any kind of comics, both on screen or in the lobby. JumpingJupiter’s ideas about reps or LCS owners handing out free comics at theaters is a good one.

    When it comes down to it, there’s just too many people that still think comics are only for kids.

  24. reading comics has its own innate vocabulary we as comic readers take for granted I think too.  I’ve tried to get a lot of people into comics and to my surprise I’ve had some come back and say they didn’t understand how the panel flow worked out, where their eyes should be moving, etc.  It sounds ridiculous but that is a common complaint I’ve heard from people who did not grow up reading comics. 

  25. Well I’m one of the happy few who got into comics because of the superhero movies and tv shows.  Growing up I loved watching the Batman animated series, the Superman series,  X-men, and Spiderman.  The superhero movies rekindled my love for superheroes and along with ifanboy got me into comics.

  26. Yeah, I had that problem when I was reading Utimate Spider-Man back in the day when Bagley would do a two page spread where the panels stretch through both pages and it’d be kind of cofusing on where to follow.

  27. I’ve noticed the age issue too.  I started to read comics two years ago when I was sixteen and since then I have been the youngest person to go into my comic shop.  I’ve gotten people to read trades since then but never to go out and by a single issue.

  28. Great article, I’d say that Batman Begins contributed greatly to my comic book love.

  29. @daccampo  That’s an excellent point, re: ‘regular’ booksales versus comics.  A quick google search gives me a 2004 article saying:  A typical midlist novel will ship 25-40,000 paperbacks to bookstores. . . A solid midlist novel would reap on the order of 3,500-7,000 hardcover sales and 10,000-25,000 paperbacks in the US, plus quite possibly the same again in other world markets.  I’m not sure how good those statistics are (and they’re at least 4 years old, so god knows what’s changed).  Also, remember that comics are sold outright to retailers, while most regular books are sold on consignment.

    Somebody who’s better at crunching business numbers than I am can draw some conclusions from this, but it’s interesting that we tend to compare the success of comics to movies and TV rather than to fiction.  

  30. It is a shame that non readers who enjoy comic book films don’t see what they are missing. Here in England they are trying to find out why we are underachieving in sport and they are putting it down to kids having Playstations and X boxes and I think we might be able to use this same argument to say why comics aren’t attracting younger readers.

    What they should do to attract new readers is go for the kind of people who buy box sets of Tv series as they already show an interest in long story arcs and character development. If you buy any Sopranos from Amazon buy a Bendis Daredevil at the same time and maybe their "people who bought this also bought this" thing might work. Saying that, that never works with me.

     People know what they like and they don’t want to change and thats just the way it is and deep down that is probably a good thing.


  31. Access and pricepoints factor in as well. I live far away from a LCS and order from one on iFanboy’s sponsors. When i started reading comics they were every where: grocery stores/ 7-11s/Drugstores…now i only see a few comics in a Borders/Barnes & Noble. Most kids also would prob. also rather spend their parents hard-earned cash on video games and the like, instead of actually READING. Although at my daughters school book fair there were a few manga titles and a few Spiderman Adventures-type trades for sale.

    Put comics in Wal-Mart and Target (although Target does have a few books in their magazine section) and make the price-point less steep: $5.00 bucks won’t fly, but $1.99 – $2.50 maybe. OR we need a "chain" pr branding of LCS so that they become a destination unto themselves, perhaps like an isotope (at least i hear it’s pretty cool.)

    My two cents for what it’s worth…

  32. Great article, Josh. Well argued.

    It is the painful circle of life that comes with art that must also be a commodity. I don’t want people making something soley so that it will be optioned, nor do I think it is necessary to make a movie of any and every great, good or mediocre story. No matter the director, cast or special effects, it will never match the vision in my head as I read it. But I understand capitalism enough to know that it’s going to enable the artists to continue producing. 

    So I may get mad at a movie that waters down a great story. I may sigh when I hear a great song as the backup to some lame commercial. Or cringe when I see that awesome art has been turned into a series of t-shirts at the Gap.  But I try to remain confident that the story, song or art, will outlast whatever fleeting gimmick is being used to sell it to a mass audience. 

  33. Your premise is 100% confirmed by the big companies. At HeroesCon Didio talked about this to some extent, saying taht the movies’ success rarely resulted in any long term benefit or strengthening of the book. Some of the bigger movies offered short spikes in sales that lasted one to two months, but never longer.

  34. Great Article Josh.

    I agree that comics are a niche and that’s the way it will be. It will continue to be be exploited by other mediums and see no returns of it’s own. I heard recently that as early as 1939 when Superman first came the about, audiences generated by the comic strip and radio program dwarfed the comic book sales.


  35. I just posted an essay along the same lines… and I completely agree.

    The conclusion that I’ve come to is that the comics industry will never entice an audience who doesn’t embrace the classic art forms.  Millions of people go to the movies, but the book industry is slowing shrinking.  And you read comics, you don’t view them.  The majority of people just don’t read. 

    So, we need to be content to have a small piece (comics) of an already small market (books) because we’ll never get mass-audiences (movies).

  36. This podcast has really turned up the heat on my comic book love.  Since I got back in, I’ve made a resolution to only buy comics for my friends and family for gifts. I’ve turned a few of them on to them, but it’s slow going.

  37. i have turned a few friends but a few will only read certain characters. i’ve tried broadening their horizons and the movies have helped some what. only two of my friends have turned into hardcore readers like me and i’ve suggested this site and podcast to all of them.

  38. Josh, why should I evangilize for comics?  I don’t like romance novels, and I don’t appreciate those that read them trying to get me to read one.  When I hear the podcasts for the Holidays where you 3 suggest comics as gifts, I shake my head.  My sister doesn’t want Watchmen.  She wants a sweater.  And I  think comics survive fine without pushing them on people.  Does anyone really know a non-reader who was converted into a comic fanboy by giving them Criminal?

    I also think people who blame the comic shop are ridiculous.  Here’s my take: some of just seem to love the combination of art and words.  I don’t know why.  My wife likes DVDs and watches all the time (yes, you did netflix to her thru me, btw!), me, a few movies a year is enough for me.  Some people like dance.  Some people like bluegrass.

    You can’t both "be ok with that" and feel like it’s AND I QUOTE "it’s your job and my job to show people great comics." 

    Sorry man, ain’t my job.

  39. I like the idea of making comic shops more destination spots. Give people more of a culture. Sell coffee or whatever. Invite musicians to play. I dunno, be creative in your marketing. My LCS doesn’t even have a comic book club. *scratches head*

    It doesn’t mean that comics will go mainstream if that is done but it will create loyal customers and attract new ones. As the late great Marshall McLuhan said: "People no longer want goals, they want roles".

  40. A movie is a standalone, self-contained experience that needs no interleaved synergy with outside media. That’s the beauty of motion picture art. To expect people to "continue" with the experience cross-media is folly, and I think I came to that conclusion shortly after Burton’s "Batman" was released in 1989. To paraphrase Mr. Kilpatrick, "it’s all on the screen."

  41. i agree and I don’t. Movie characters go to TVwhich is essentially a comic on the ol’boob tube.

  42. Comics survive in a shrinking market.

     It may not be your ‘job’ to ‘evangelize’ for comics, but if you want the medium to continue to grow and b healthy you should re-evaluate your opinion. Evangelizing is a islly term. Recommending is a better way to put it. And, as to Christmas, I say – why wait once a year? Give your friends gifts yeaar ’round. If something blows your mind and you can spare the cash, give a little something to your buddy. I’m probably the biggest comic reader of my social group. None of them read comics before me. Honestly, none of them are hardcore readers now… but they all support the industry in small ways here and there because I showed them works that were both classy and fun.

  43. The thing is, to most people who don’t read comics, they think comics are for kids & geeks only. Even if the stories & characters told in them are "valid" enough in thier eyes to go watch them in movies, the actual comic book format is not — they think it’s like a picture book for kids, and if grown men are into that kinda thing, they are not "normal".

    You should see the looks I get from librarians when ever I borrow trades — they look down thier nose at me like I am borrowing a Dr Seuss book. I think this is how the general non-comic reading population views comics, as something strictly for kids, that we need to grow out of.

    Of course, we all know this is bullshit & sometimes feel like punching people in the face for thier narrow minded views (or is that just me?) but I have no idea what we can do about it.

    But, if people wanna be like that, to me it’s like any other form of prejudice — it’s thier loss. 

  44. The first Hellboy movie did kick up Hellboy trade sales at bookshops.  Sales spiked then fell back down but higher than they were.

  45. @Tad I think most new readers that went to Hellboy after the movie were probably people who read comics but just not Hellboy. Whereas any new reader Batman Begins brings in is probably a new fan. At least, I would think so. I think a fairly significant portion of comic readers have read Batman or X-Men before, but (unfortunately) the same can’t be said for Hellboy.

     I’ve got to say. This was an awesome article but I’m even more impressed by the level of intelligent response it created.

  46. Can someone enlighten as to what caused the early 90s comic boom? I wasn’t into comics then and never really looked into it. Links to articles would be great. Or better yet, why not make it the subject of an iFanboy show?

  47. This was a fantastic article, yet a tricky subject.

    I’d argue that, despite being a huge fan of superhero movies as a kid and a reader of Batman, it was probably the speight of comic movies since 2000 that got me back into reading properly. But I was intimidated… How do you just jump back in? Where to start? I’d have been to nervous to walk straight into a comic store, among people who’d been reading for 20-odd years and say to the store guy "I would like a Batman book please?".

    So I started the low-key way; checking out websites and ordering trades from Amazon (which I still do, I love Amazon, but back then at least an ordering service wouldn’t laugh at me for what I bought). Then I found iFanboy, and started buying stuff that seemed more my cup of tea. It’s only in the last year or so I’ve made the switch from trades to monthly issues, and I love it, and feel totally comfortable chatting away to folks in a comic store.

    But my point is, as someone who wanted to read comics, it took a good couple of years to get a confidence level to walk in there and ask for something. Which is a shame, as a kid who’s just loved seeing Iron Man or Dark Knight should be able to walk in and be welcomed into it. I’d like to mention at this point that iFanboy is now my main influence on what I buy and wish I’d found it earlier, and also that my main store (Mega City in Camden, baby!) is the friendliest and most helpful store I’ve ever found.

    But as others have mentioned, just not that many people read anything nowadays. Movies are easy, you sit there and forget your cares for a couple of hours while all the work is done for you. I may be wrong, and I sincerely hope I am, but that just seems the case.

    Wow, sorry about such a lengthy post. All I know is if my sister’s kids ask about comic books after seeing a movie I’ll now have the knowledge to point them in the right direction. Or at least at iFanboy. 

  48. If the movie companies were smart, after the movies had launched in theaters, they would be put up commercials saying, "You’ve seen the movie, now see _______________ in his/her monthly book.  Find a local retailer today (with a website posted)."  With Warner owning both the movie studio that makes DC movies and DC and Marvel now owning it’s own movie studio, it would be a minimal production cost that might invite new readers to shops.  

    I think others have made valid points about making comics more accessible to non readers, so I won’t beat that to death.

    I will finish with this:  I don’t want comics to become mainstream.  I enjoy that it’s this niche thing, and it’s always fun that there’s this sense of mystery about it to people when they find out you read comics.  It’s a great conversation starter, and it really intrigues people.  In a way, it’s kind of fun. 

  49. @daccampo & ohcaroline– I work for Hachette Book Group and up until last month we distributed for DC Comics actually.  We would distribute the graphic novels to major booksellers like B&N, Borders, mom and pop bookstores, and comic book shops.  The graphic novels were sold on consignment to everybody but I understand that the single issues are hadled differently and the shops have to buy a certain number outright and hope they sell them.  The DC stuff would usually go through a printing in a couple months about 5,000 to 10,000 worth and then be reprinted when out of stock immediately.  I saw books like ‘The Long Halloween’ being reprinted constantly with minimal returns.  But a James Patterson book or a Stephanie Meyer book will literally pre-sell in the millions.

  50. And that’s the difference.  There are NO comics which sell in the millions anymore.  There are breakout books, but no breakout comic books in that sense.

  51. @JumpingJupiter: The ’90s boom was predicated on speculator value of comics as artifacts — people who were not fans snapped them up as appreciable species, and the comics companies obliged that mentality (naturally). After people realized there was no aftermarket value on par with baseball cards, they pulled out and the speculator bubble was thus burst.

  52. @kimbo  So it’s fair to say that even the highest-selling comic is comparable only to a midlist book? 

  53. Marketing plan for comic movies, with Hellboy as example:

    Put the books where the moviegoers are. Movie theatres. You should be able to walk out of Hellboy II on friday, amble over to the concession stand, and buy Seed of Destruction or Weird Tales RIGHT THERE. And the DVDs of Hellboy I and the animated movies as well. (All could be shrink wrapped so as to not get all spooged up by Golden Flavoring and Coke syrup, if you’re concerned about that).

    Further, there should also be stacks and stacks of those $0.25 printings of The Corpse available FOR FREE, with discount coupons on the back for other Hellboy merch. Perhaps with flyers from the LCS tucked inside. "Like this? Much more like it at Joe’s Comics, 123 Main Street! Bring this in for 20% your next purchase!"

    Finally, the big cardboard standup of  Ron Perlman could have a sign attached pointing all this great swag out to the exiting patron. Nice word ballon: "Support the B.P.R.D.! Buy our books!"

    just some ideas, that’s all.

  54. ALmost any collectible goes through that cycle, be it baseball cards, stamps, comics, Beanie Babies, Pokemon cards, etc. THe 90s were great in that comics were everywhere! You could buy them in Walmart along with polybags and the latest "Collector’s Item." Once the bubble burst, they were gone and we are where we are today. Comics will continue to be a niche market, one that the movies will continue to tap into, just as Hollywood taps into books, television, etc.

    I’m OK with that. I will try to get my kids into comics, but i will be interested to see how it "takes". I personally am more worried about the "next generation" of readers. I find it fascinating how so many iFanboy members took up comics at a later age: teens, adulthood, etc. Good for the medium , i just hope it makes for a healthy comic industry long term. Without younger/newer readers, over time, our hobby (?) will eventually die out. How many stamp and matchbbook or bottlecap collectors do you know?

  55. @ohcaroline– I’d say thats a very fair comparison, and with the graphic novels versus the books it seems like the novels peak huge at first and steadily decline thereafter while the graphic novels keep a pretty steady pace throughout, and if they’re essential reading like Watchman or DKR have become, the numbers begin to really compete over a longer period of time.

  56. Great article! Here’s my two cents worth – I’ve read comics from grade school and I’m into my 40’s now. I’ve been excited to see a lot of the characters I’ve read crossover from the comics page to the screen. I’m worn out by seeing all the different incarnations of Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. I like the Hellboy movies, but I would never pick up a Hellboy comic – where do you start with a character like that? – I’d have no idea where. I started reading Ultimate Spider-Man from the beginning and I’m glad. After 120+ issues, I’m glad that I’ve seen all the characters and situations progress over time. The Batman movies didn’t inspire me to go read any of the main Batman titles. But, after the two Keaton films, when the Animated Series was on, I followed the comic beginning to end. I tried some of the others, but they just didn’t hold up. I’m very surprised by the Marvel Adventures line. I read the Fantastic Four, and I think it’s better than any other version. I only picked it up because I didn’t think it would last more than a few issues. 30+ issues later, I’m still reading it and enjoying it. I liked the X-Men movies more than I’ve enjoyed reading the comics. But that’s just me. Everybody’s different…   


  57. How about this — isn’t DC doing a tremendous disservice to the dilettante reader by dropping the insrutable "Batman RIP" on the weekly market just as "Dark Knight" is set to crush the summer B.O.? Isn’t this the kind of decision-making that got Bob Harras fired in 1999?

  58. @William: Absolutely! Not to mention that to the initiate, this will look like they are killing Batman just when he’s interested in buying Batman comics. A turn off on many levels.

  59. The Batman RIP thing is what got me thinking about this.  In retrospect, no, DC isn’t making a mistake, because movie success doesn’t translate to issue sales.  If anything, expectant readers can go find classic Batman stories in collections, but Marvel didn’t see the readership for Amazing Spider-Man change all that much with their huge huge movies, so why bother?  Is Invincible Iron Man selling all that much?

  60. I understand your point. Still, to completely ignore potential new readers… ???

  61. Even if they are not attracting new readers, what of current comics fans who have not read Batman comics but are now more interested in the character due to the movie? I dunno, I guess that’s why they have that job and not me. Because I totally don’t get why Marvel did this (with two fresh Iron Man title launches at least) and not DC. I’m buying Invincible Iron Man because of the movie.

    Incidentally, according to Paul O’brien:

    "05/08  Invincible Iron Man #1 - 105,864

    The new ongoing title, launched to coincide with the movie. There are multiple variant covers on this thing, but it’s still a good number – the last relaunch, with Warren Ellis in 2005, only debuted with 69K.
    Intriguingly, as we’ll see below, the existing IRON MAN title received almost no boost from the movie (at least in the direct market), and the two tie-in miniseries haven’t done especially well either. That makes the strong performance of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN all the more striking."
  62. I can tell you 5 Batman stories right now any retailer worth their salt could recommend to a curious passerby.  You can try your damnedest to get people to subscribe to new monthly comics, but it’s not a smart play. 

    (Incidentally, for more on those Batman stories, watch out for next week’s show)

    I really don’t think there’s any point in trying to get the movie fans on the monthly series.  It has never worked, and it’s time to stop hoping it will.  Instead, market the incredible back catalog of Batman stories as collections and trades for those people.

  63. Fair enough, but what of current comics fans picking up Batman due to the movie? A cross polination. What’s your take on that?

  64. Entertainment Weekly, in last week’s ish, spotlighted "Killing Joke," "Dark Knight," "Long Halloween," "Year One," and "Killing Joke" as four-color tie-ins… which is pretty much what any of us would do if pressed. I guess that pretty much all they need to sell to claim a successful media crossover.

  65. Yeah, I don’t think many people who start reading comics from scratch go straight to monthly issues.  I mean, I didn’t even seek out an LCS until I twigged that Borders got the issues a week later — and that the 12 titles they carried were not the entire universe of comics.  But I’d been reading trades for a while before I started looking at the issues at all.  I feel like this is pretty common, and with the trade market like it is, why wouldn’t it be?  It’s a stretch to suggest that there aren’t any batman books to sell just because the current ongoing title is confusing.

  66. Over the past few years, that’s what has helped more than anything else… not the movies, but the mainstream press treating comics with respect… being referenced as "cool" entertainment by EW, USA Today, GQ, even Time Magazine.  It’s that mainstream mindset that is currently being changed thanks to these media outlets.

  67. @JumpingJupiter No one getting into a regular weekly comic could jump onto Batman and expect to understand the continuity. If anything Batman RIP is setting up comicshops to say "heres a trade to hold you over, but there will be a brand new Batman with no advanced knowledge required if you wait a couple of months."

  68. Invincible Iron Man hit 105k?  SWEET!

  69. Bendis made an interesting point about comics movies at the Chicago Wizard con this year. He said there just aren’t that many readers in the world. Someone might see and love batman begins, but if you try to recommend Batman the Killing Joke as something else they might like, they are going to shrug it away. People swho like to read are in the minority.

    The number of competing medium, the price of comics, and their availability are all issues too, as others have pointed out. I think it’s good enough to enjoy the success of the movies on their own without worrying about the positive/negative affects on the comics industry. Personally, I’m a little surprised that LCSs are still around at all. Maybe the trick would be to turn some LCSs into multi-media sales points rather than trying to get spinner racks into movie theaters and DVD chains, take the competition directly to them. 

  70. There are a lot less LCS’s than there were before the boom.  Many closed.

  71. @Josh: "The Batman RIP thing is what got me thinking about this.  In retrospect, no, DC isn’t making a mistake, because movie success doesn’t translate to issue sales. … "

    Completely agree! I was kind of shocked when I heard you sort of argue the opposite viewpoint on the podcast. Monthly, new comics shouldn’t pander to the Hollywood masses! It’s the creativity and freedom of comics which is the lifeblood of the industry. Imagine if there were some sort of rule at Marvel and DC that whenever one of their characters was in a movie, the accompanying monthly series must feature the villains of the movie and present the storyline in a way so simple that the most passive moviegoer could relate. That would be an insult to regular readers–and it wouldn’t really attract that many new ones anyway. On the other hand, having Batman and Joker collections right around this time is obviously something every Borders (and every comic shop) should be doing.

    P.S. Just to add my voice to the many, I think the worst thing to ever happen to the industry was when I stopped seeing an array of titles at most supermarkets and drug stores. I don’t know all the in’s and out’s of why that happen–I sort of know it had to do with the publishers (not?) paying for unsold issues–but I think that’s just awful. For several decades at least, that’s basically how every little kid got hooked on comics, by seeing them in familiar locations. Now monthly comics have much, much, much less public visability.

    P.P.S. Just another fact: I’d say around 80% of my (male) friends in the mid-’90s watched the X-Men cartoon. But only like 10% of us actually read the comics too. And that was when titles were selling well over half a million copies a month. At the same time, of those friends I’d say around 40% collected some of the Marvel trading cards, still way more significant than the percentage who read the comics.

  72. I agree with your argument but resent the implication that simple = uninteresting for some reason. Simplicity is under-rated. I digress, I know what you meant.

  73. Not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but most people I know spend hours in front of the TV. If you put a book in their hands, they might not know what to do with it. Comics are amazing in their ability to be both graphic and literature. However, they still require more work from the reader than a half hour sitcom or a 2 hour movie. The film adaptations of books fill in the space between the panels for the viewer, whereas the reader invents those moments.

  74. If nothing else though the movies have made it viable to talk to people about comics and not immediately be ridiculed.

    Most of my friends have known I read comics for a while but now they actually ask me questions about them and I do my best to fill them in in an accessible way.  It doesn’t always work but sometimes I can hand people a graphic novel and they’ll actually read it.  I’ve had friends say this stuff is like "Literature". Granted that book was Watchmen, which is like capitol C comics but at least they read it!

    Still though I can’t get them to read singel issues, seems they worry about damaging them and making me angry.  To which I say "Don’t worry about it, it’s just a comic book, I’d rather you read it." Doesn’t seem to work though.


  75. Excellent article and brilliant responses. What nobody seems to have mentioned is what happens when the films are no good, I can imagine that the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen film will have actually stopped some potential comic book newbies from going to the shop. This was exactly the sort of thing we have to guard against, I spent ages saying "No really ignore the film, try the book" and this was a book with some real literary appeal. The other real problem with expecting film to bring in comic book readers is that it says we think of our medium as a poor relation to film. Maybe the approach I should have taken with League was "Look you can’t make a film of this because the comics are inherently better."

    I think the other real barrier to new people picking up comic books for the first time is that they (and us) equate comics to Super Heroes and the appeal of Super Heroes for more than an hour or two is pretty limited. While the medium is saturated with capes then we will never really have a status equal to novels which is where we deserve to be.

    "The best selling comic book gets a smaller audience than a TV show would need to keep on the air on a crappy cable station. Me, I’m OK with that."

    I can’t make up my mind if I think this is great or just awful. On one hand it is is elitist surely the best thing for this medium is more people and more diversity on the other I also quite like the idea of not being in the mainstream, of being just a little bit under ground.

    Still, excellent article lets have many more like it. Roll on iFanBoy

  76. @pompster  I can’t speak for everyone, but, as someone who was a non-comics reader when the "League" movie came out — I actually picked up the book, and some other Moore, because of the movie.  The movie wasn’t good, but the premise was interesting, and I think you can generally give people enough credit that they know some adaptations of good stories don’t work as movies.  The movie raised its name recognition, which isn’t a small thing as far as getting books onto shelves, and getting consumers to pay attention in a crowded market. 

  77. As someone who got into comics through the movies (X-Men: The Last Stand, to be precise), I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you say that what comic book readers need to do is share the merits of comics with non-readers (though not in a creepy proselytizing kind of way).  I walked out of X-3 sure that a good comic book story (or stories) must have existed with that basic plot, but if I hadn’t had a group of friends to tell me what those books were, and what other stories were worth reading, I wouldn’t have had a clue about what to buy, where to buy it, or how to understand it.  But I did have those friends, and within a month I was buying a few series in monthly issues. 

    It’s possible that I’m just an exception to a rule, but I imagine the example can be more broadly applied.  The movies can bring people in, but only if there’s something there to point them in the right direction.  And if the companies aren’t providing that, the fans have to pick up the slack.

  78. Actually, quitea few people said they started reaing comics because of movies in this thread alone. Sorry Josh, I’m not convinced can’t help sell more comics. I think it might be weak marketing that is at fault here not the movies themselves.

  79. @ohcaroline, glad to be proven wrong. The league is one of my all time favourites and I was quite wound up by the film but if you picke the book up due to it then it can’t have been all bad.

  80. My wife and I have been discussing this. She raises  a good point. Up until now, have superhero/comic book movies been of a high enough quality to impel someone to overcome their prejudice and read a comic? I’m thinking the hype is so intense on Dark Knight that it could boost sales on Batman comics but the experiment is tainted due to R.I.P being an alienating reading experience. Invincible Iron Man #1 started very strong and my hunch is that the movie had something to do with that. And admittedly Iron Man was critically acclaimed and was a crowd pleaser.

    Wasn’t there a precedent with Tim Burton’s Batman boosting sales?

  81. I don’t think anyone out there is going to say that X-Men in 2000 or Spider-Man (biggest movie ever at that time, with rave reviews) in 2003 weren’t good enough.  Or Batman Begins for that matter.

  82. @JumpingJupiter _ I don’t think anyone (in any kind of meaningful number) came in off the street because of IRON MAN and bought INVINCIBLE IRON MAN.  I think that its sales are from existing comic readers that weren’t reading Iron Man books before.

    Readership spiked tremendously on Batman books after Tim Burton’s BATMAN, but back then comics cost $0.75 and were available for purchase at newstands and in supermarkets.

  83. I see what you mean. I do wonder if there is a way to measure influx of new readers vs. existing readers buying more…

  84. I the point my wife is making is this: If Heath Ledger wins an award for his performance, will that be enough to change public perception. The movies are only just now being considered more seriously as opposed to before (with Spider-Man for instance) superheros were still viewed as "for kids" even if the movies were successful. I dunno, I’m not convinced either way quite yet. We’ll what the next 5 years bring.

  85. I don’t know… I don’t think so.  The movies and the comics still seem to be viewed as seperate entities and should Heath Ledger win any awards for his performance it would be viewed as being about Heath and his performance and not a reflection on the viability of comic books for adults.

  86. True that.