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Superhero movies are taking over the box office receipts again this year. The movie industry has found a cash cow that’s easy to melt because there is a built-in audience and story platform that has proven itself. They’ve been milking the works of novelists for several generations and now find the sequential art medium ripe for the picking.
Are comic books actually getting good press from all this? Are the sales of comic books once again rising to a level where the medium can feel assured of its survival? Since the 50s, comic book publications have steadily gone down in readership while the price of the product has continually risen; due to everything from the cost of paper to the cost of living.
The numbers aren’t really showing positive signs of even a return to the Renaissance of the 80s when rampant speculation drove the numbers through the roof. I doubt that anyone wants to go back to the artificially inflated numbers of the 1980s where a mediocre comic book can debut with the million sales. The industry leaders and no longer posting numbers that can be tracked back to their profits.
I hate math outside of the basic addition, subtraction, division and multiplication, but I’m old enough to remember when comics were $.10 and selling well. Not every title can make a profit, and in this day and age of the Internet, it’s only getting harder to sell a printed copy of anything. For example my new book Mute Elation – A Street Wolf Graphic Novel is out in print and on Kindle at Amazon.
Most of the leading comic companies have jumped on the Internet bandwagon and now produce web versions of their printed books for the kids with their iPads and Kindles. The problem is that your average 12-year-old is still not buying comic books in any form. Since comics used to be the gateway drug for literacy, how are we going to keep the “tween” geeks happy?
When comics are selling for four dollars on average in an economy where jobs are poor or pathetic, it’s going to be extremely difficult to sustain profits from a shrinking market base. Without new blood to keep the consumer base going, comic books might end up the same boat as cigarettes.
Can digital comics save the industry?
Let’s go back to the idea of comics on the web for a moment. There are several models currently running side-by-side in vying for the attention of targeted viewers. Free web comics are available all over the Internet. The quality and content varies from exceptionally good story and art to crap. Of course, entertainment taste is subjective, so one person’s crap is someone else’s amazing stories. This democratic distribution of content is beneficial for the market but not necessarily for the producers.
Companies such as DC Comics and Marvel Comics, as well as Image comics and others distribute stories for varying prices. You can purchase some books for $.99 while others have the same price as the printed copy. The idea behind this model is to transfer the content to a different platform (digital download) while offering a few loss leaders to sweeten the deal. The plan might be working, but it is still too early to tell.
More comic creators are using the free web comic model to launch their properties. Once they have a decent fan base, they either let merchandising or print compilations pay for the effort. With the growing number of comic book Kickstarter projects meeting their goals perhaps this is a third business model that may secure the future comics. The structure starts with a free web comic series with a definite starting and ending point. Once the book reaches its conclusion and the publishers have developed a fan base, the work is spun off into a crowdfunding campaign to create the printed version and graphic novel TPB format. The important aspect of this plan is to develop a fan base that can support a significant portion of the crowdfunding pledge.
As a comic book writer and artist, I applaud the varied efforts to sustain and grow the comic book market. Whether we apply print on demand or web comics to keep the medium going, it’s vital for comics to thrive, not just survive. It is not enough to let other countries borrow this unique American medium and run with it, the US must reclaim it for ourselves and take pride in its invention.
Blockbuster movies can save the comic book medium. The movie industry truly doesn’t give a twit where they get their ideas as long as an executive can pass him or herself on the back for increasing profits. So far, many extremely smart entrepreneurs are putting out brilliant ideas, but they won’t save comics unless we are able to bring in young eyeballs that can grow up with stories, new heroes and icons to pass on to future generations.
For more reviews, news and interviews go to my website http://www.graphic-novels.com. My books can be purchases in print and in Kindle format at Amazon.com. My latest work is Mute Elation – A Street Wolf Graphic Novel.
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