Are Comic Books in Crisis? 5 Publishers That Are Working for a Brighter, Nerdier Future.

 

As I start this article, let me first provide a very quick back story on how the retail side of the comic book industry has operated for the past 30-40 years.  For a more in-depth look, Dan Gearino has an awesome book about the history of the comic shop as we know it today and you should definitely check it out.

Comic Shop: The Retail Mavericks Who Gave Us a New Geek Culture

Pre- Direct Market

Prior to the 70’s, if you wanted to purchase comic books, you rode your bike to the closest drug store or news stand and bought whatever they might have in stock in the spinner rack.  You might find that next issue of Fantastic Four, or they might all be gone, or didn’t even come in; it was really a luck of the draw.

The drugs stores and news stands would then “return” covers or proof showing that the comics did not sell and would then receive credit from the publishers.  Just like with all things, some people are unscrupulous and were essentially robbing the publishers by selling the “unsold” copies under the table and getting the credit on top.

Birth of the “Direct Market”

The advent of the specialty comic shop came right along with the direct market.  Basically, a distributor would become the middle man and these burgeoning shops would now buy their comics from said distributor on a non-returnable basis.  This, obviously, seemed like the best route for publishers because now, once the product has been purchased by the comic shop, the shop is now the one responsible for the loss if it doesn’t sell.

And things have continued like this for many moons…but today, there seems to be a shift occurring.

Are we in a Sales Crisis??

There are those like Brian Hibbs from Comix Experience, Chuck Rozanksi of Mile High Comics, and Phil Boyle of Coliseum Comics in Florida that would all scream, YES!  These are not young’uns that recently opened shops.  These are guys that have been in this industry for nearly a CENTURY of combined experience.

We can also see the national organization for retailers, ComicsPRO, speaking out that something is not right in this industry.

There are practices that are being performed in the market today that are detrimental to the well being and long lasting health of the industry.  Publishers are slamming the customer with variant after variant and major cross-over after major cross-over (just to be retconned in a year or so).  The idea of more is better is far from the reality of what many shops are dealing with.

In the January catalogue of new products, over half of the new releases were actually just variant covers.  Let that sink in.

Shops are being placed between a rock and a hard place because publishers are making the reader / collector feel that they must have it all.  The customer is being milked like an ATM.

I’ve had customers in my shop tell me, “I don’t even want to get (insert issue that has a tie in to the current history-changing, cross-over event) but I guess I have to so I can get the whole story.”  I told that customer, “No, you don’t.  Get what you WANT to read, and leave the rest.”

So, is it all DOOM and GLOOM?

Not at all.

I will not dive into the practices the biggest publishers use.  There is plenty of negativity out there on the subject.  This is a celebration of the publishers that are making progress!

These are 5 companies who care about, not only, the longevity of the industry, but the customer as well.

BOOM! Studios

If you’ve followed us on social media for any length of time, you will see my unabashed love of BOOM! Studios, and there’s lots to love.

This company gets it.  Their plans and actions for 2019 include the following:

  1. increasing returnability of their comics AND graphic novels
  2. Highly curating their offerings to decrease fatigue.  Quality over quantity
  3. Decreasing variants
  4. Sending FREE issues to retailers to sell or give away.

There’s a reason that BOOM! was chosen by ComicsPRO as their retailer of the year!

Alterna Comics

Alterna Comics has absolutely exploded in growth.  Why?

  1. Price.  At $1.50 for most of their single issues, you can literally buy every title they release in a week and spend less than $7.
  2. Retailer ordering.  I can order directly from their company (no middle man), get free shipping, and a steeper discount than if I order via the sole comic distributor (Diamond Comics.)
  3. Buy back programs.  It didn’t sell, they’ll buy it back or offer trade credit.

Do not let the price make you think that this is bargain basement stuff.  These are quality comics at a sane price.  The reason they can get buy with lower prices is that they use old-school news print for the interior pages!

Do comics really need to cost $7.99 and up for a single issue???  Using the inflation calculator, a 12 cent comic from 1965 would cost 97 cents today.

AFTERSHOCK Comics

This Spring, AFTERSHOCK has doubled down on their commitment to retailers by enacting several initiatives including:

  1. Offering returnability on new titles
  2. Increasing store visits to help promote
  3. Aftershock Army to become a resource for retailers across the country

AFTERSHOCK offers something for everyone.  The publisher offers self-contained stories that have a WIDE variety of genres from fantasy to the coming end of the world.

Valiant Entertainment

If you lean more toward the superhero genre, but are suffering from cross-over fatigue or the status quo that the genre seems to hold dear, you need to look into Valiant.

Like, the previously mentioned, publishers, Valiant has expanded into offering returnability on products that have not sold.  They have a very curated selection.  They know what they do well and focus on that.

Image Comics 

Image is probably the most well-known of these publishers and, in terms of sales, are sitting at 3rd behind Marvel and DC.  So to see a premier publisher make strides to support the retailer and customer is SUPER exciting.

  1. No-risk number 1’s.  New titles will be available for return if not sold.
  2. Curation.  While some companies are trying their dang-est to take over the market share (Dynamite): Image is like “We only want to put out great products and stories.”
  3. Double down discounts on issues after the series premier.  Hey, let’s not just focus on selling issue 1, let’s see if we can keep selling at issue 3, 5 or so on.
  4. Increased discounts on graphic novels.  Graphic novels are becoming a more popular source for comics than single issues.  Image is at the forefront of that wave.

I can totally see Image replacing one of the kings of the mountain very soon if they keep this up.  Total Game of Thrones style, but with less sibling love.

This is the beginning.

It seems that every month since January, more and more publishers are taking the state of the comic industry seriously and are offering plans to keep us all healthy.

As you can see, most of these initiatives revolve around returnability.

What does mean for you, the reader?  It means that I can offer YOU the ability to exchange the comic.  If you’ve been following us the past month or so, you’ve seen us feature books that are exchangeable.  If the publisher believes in the book and when I know, as a retailer, I can return it to them if copies go unsold, it gives me confidence to promote it!  Nothing is better than easing a customer’s fears and helping them see that there is no risk on their end.

It means that you’ll see us promoting the companies more and more.  They have great stories they support the retailer and the customer.  They deserve your patronage because they are earning it.  They are working their butts off to publish the best stories and are willing to humble themselves and woo you.

Your money is a vote.  You work hard for it.  Am I saying to stop reading your favorite titles from Marvel and DC?  Not at all.  You read what you want, remember?  All I am asking that you give a bit more attention to some of these publishers that value the customer and the retailer and show it by their actions.

matt

 

Keep Kids OFF Comics!! 4 Reasons that Comics Can Ruin Your Child

We are the Villains Against Comics League.

Our goal is to promote non-reading and illiteracy, primarily focusing on the plague that is COMIC BOOKS.

Let’s look at the facts:

  1. Comic books have been shown time and time again to increase a child’s desire to read.  As their desire to read increases, so does their vocabulary and their confidence in literacy.  As their literacy increases (especially by grade 3), the child is at greater risk for becoming a NON FELON and staying out of the prison system.  This is intolerable.
  2. Comic books can be a GATEWAY into the “enlightening” world of ART.  Children that read comics can be in danger of falling into a creative lifestyle of paint, sketching, color, and who knows what else.  Being an artist leaves little room for developing evil plans as a criminal mastermind. Creative arts aren’t nearly as lucrative as ransoming the Earth’s population for trillions of dollars at the threat of erupting every volcano simultaneously.  Can a starving artist really pay for your nursing home care?
  3. Comic books can teach empathy, compassion, differing views, and a whole host of noble qualities.  What parent wants to raise a child that sees sacrifice for the greater good and standing up for the little guy as characteristics to strive for??
  4. Lastly, and most hurtful; comic books have villainized an entire people group… Villains.  We villains are tired of being foiled and having our misfortune publicized for all to see.  Not only do we have to suffer the bitterness of defeat on a constant basis, but our lowest points are published on a regular basis for all ages to see. Every Wednesday new comics arrive at comics shops across the country and, every week, we are harassed and embarrassed.  It’s like getting punched in the face by Batman over and over.

 

So, fellow villains and vile parents, let us take a stand here and now and say a loud NO to the comic industry!  We will not stand by any longer and allow our bad names to be made public for all to see.  We will not stand by and let YOUR kids become literate and upstanding citizens.  We will not allow the comic giants to shove their propaganda in the face of our youth any longer.

-Villains Against Comics League

#stopcomicsnow #keepkidsoffcomics #vacl

New To Comics?? Start HERE! 5 Ways to Become a Comic Loving NERD!

So, maybe you just went and saw the new VENOM movie staring everyone’s favorite alien costume. Or, perhaps, you’ve been watching The Big Bang Theory and you have thought to yourself, “You know, I wanna jump into this whole comics thing, but I just don’t know where to start.”

245341-the-big-bang-theory-saison-7-diapo-2
The Big Bang Theory CBS

Comic books have reached a really interesting point where they are influencing blockbuster movies, top-rated TV shows, and best selling video games, but, for someone jumping into the medium, it can be a rather daunting task and it can really lead to many people giving up trying.

I want to take some time and help you get a feel for some GREAT stories and see if we can’t turn you into a raving fan of a truly American medium.

When taking polls and doing research, it seems that there are a few main reasons that people have a hard time jumping into comic books:

  1. Comic shops seem like an impenetrable and intimidating point of entry.
  2. There are TOO many stories and characters to keep up with.
  3. There is so much history and way TOO many issues to try and catch up.
  4. I want to try comics, but I really don’t care much for superheroes.
  5. I just don’t know where to start.

Do any of these sound like you?  Let’s talk and see if we can’t ease some of the anxiety of jumping into comic books.

There are a couple of ways that people tend to enjoy comics, single issues and trade paper-backs / graphic novels.

For those that are new to this world of comic books, I’m going to let you in on the best bit of information in retail; every Wednesday is NEW COMIC BOOK DAY!  That’s right, every week we receive a new shipment of comics that are fresh from the publishers.  We get boxes full of new stories every week!!  Most single issue comics are released from publishers on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, much like a magazine.  So every week we get a new rotation of books to enjoy.

Trade paper-backs consist of individual issues that have been collected into volumes based on story arcs.  They allow you to get an entire story or, at least, a chapter of a larger story in one book.

Graphic novels are basically books that are written and published in comic form.  The material has never been released as a single issue format and then collected, but only as a stand alone work.  Raina Telgemier’s “Smile” and Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” are both great examples of “original” graphic novels.

With this information in mind, we have a few different options when it comes to jumping into comics.

1. Start with the all-time greats.

At our shop we have a wall section that features some of the all-time best sellers.  These are books that have influenced the industry even decades after their initial release.  For anyone looking to jump in, this is a great starting point.

Titles you’ll find include:

  1. Watchmen
  2. The Dark Knight Returns
  3. Bone
  4. Maus
  5. Marvel Superheroes: Secret Wars
  6. DC Crisis on Infinite Earths
  7. Sandman Preludes and Nocturnes
  8. Daredevil Born Again
  9. X-Men God Loves, Man Kills
  10. X-Men Dark Phoenix Saga
  11. Infinity Gauntlet

These are all titles that we keep on hand and most are award-winning stories.  The sales numbers and accolades don’t lie; if you want to start, but aren’t sure where to begin, this is your best bet because these storylines will help you start a relationship with many great authors and characters that you can then begin to explore and collect.

2. Try out our “Dollar Value Menu”

First, let me say that this idea is not my original creation, but I got it from Ron Killingsworth from Collected Comics and Games out of the DFW area.

We stock a slew of $1 reprints of the first issue of a series.  This allows you to get a taste of the series for very little initial investment.  If you hate it, it was only a buck and, most likely, you spent more on coffee earlier that day.

But, it you like it, bring us the reprint wave it in our face and we give you $1 OFF of volume 1!  How cool is that?  The comic becomes a coupon, and you get to keep it.  This is a great way to start and catch up on titles that you’ve been reluctant to try.

3. Start with new series launches and reboots.

This way is a little more of a trick, but we have new stories starting every week!  Every Wednesday is NEW COMIC BOOK DAY!!  It is the best day of the week because we get a whole slew of new books and many of them are series that are just starting or, possibly, a reboot of a current character.

Come by on a Wednesday and we can point out great jumping in points on first issues!

4. Grab some $1 back-issue comics.  

What’s a “back-issue”?  Basically, it is an issue that was released previously and has been out for anywhere from a month to years.  This is a great and affordable way to stock up on a variety of different stories that might interest you.

Once you find something that piques your interest, then you can start your own journey of collecting other issues to complete the story or track down the corresponding trade paper back editions.

Lastly,

5. Visit a local shop and talk to the staff and owners.

We get it.  You probably think of the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons when you think of interacting with the people at a comic shop.

While this may be true in some shops, it is our mission at The HIVE to NOT be that guy.  We at The HIVE really try to make all people feel welcome when they come in to our shop.  I, personally, love to see families come in to see what comics are all about.  We will not make you feel inadequate because you are a “noob” and we won’t look down on you because you aren’t familiar with some particular character or creator.  We will not yell at you because you referenced a scene in a movie that was not really part of the comic book cannon.

Just saw Venom and want to read some stories that feature Eddie Brock and his alien symbiote?  We can point them out for you!

My job is to help people find stories that they will love for years and years.  That’s it.  Who better to ask about comics than people who loved the medium so much, they opened a shop to promote it.

When you are ready to jump into the amazing, fun, emotional, moving, beautiful, and engaging world of comic bookdom, The HIVE is here for you.

-matt

 

Should You Collect Comics?? 3 Ways to Rethink our Favorite Hobby.

This might seem like a really odd choice of topic, especially since I own a shop that  SELLS comic books, but bear with me as I try and explore 3 different approaches to collecting that can help you get much more enjoyment out of our favorite hobby.

Before you get too up in arms about the collectability of comics, I am not here to bash collectors or those that look to turn a profit on the books they purchased.  It is a part of our market and as a comic retailer, I sell some books for more than cover price as well.  I simply want to offer a different view point and mindset that can help the new-comer or the fan that is getting fatigued from the relaunches, crossovers, and fighting to find issues to stories.

Stay with me and I hope you will see that I have both the fan’s and the industry’s best interests in mind.

Did you know that at one point comic books weren’t considered collectible items?  Way back in the “golden age” of comics (1930-1958), they were considered throw-away entertainment.  You could purchase them for 10 cents from the drug store, roll ’em up and stuff ‘ em in your back pocket as you hopped on your bike and rode to your friend’s house.  Your mom would then inevitably be cleaning out your messy room, come across your stack of funny books and then throw them in the trash.  Many comics were recycled during WWII to use the paper for bonds.action comics

Comics didn’t actually start to become seen as collectible until the early infancy of the specialty comic shop in the mid-late 60’s and early 70’s.  It was at this time that a few store owners realized that since customers were missing books in their collection, that they could RAISE the cost of the book due to demand.  This is the advent of the back-issue market.

  • Back issues are essentially issues that have already released and been available on the market for a given period of time.  Maybe 1 week, maybe 10 years.

Fast forward to the 90’s.  The nineties were a time of boom and bust in the comic industry.  The idea of “collectability” was at it’s most insane peak.  People were lining up around the block to buy the newest Image release or the new X-MEN #1 in hopes that they could soon retire on their purchase, because hey, that Amazing Fantasy #15 is worth a pretty penny so every comic must be worth something, right?? People were buying new books (especially #1’s) in the hundreds and the publishers were taking full advantage of the market by releasing different covers and generating as much hype as they could.

x-men 1
X-Men #1 (1 of 5 different covers available)

Unfortunately, the industry forgot a very basic law of business: supply and demand.  Yes,  that Action Comics #1 is valuable because most were destroyed, recycled, and used for baby wipes (true story…it hurts my heart).  Therefore, the demand is high, but the supply is limited which automatically creates the opportunity for an increased value.  X-MEN #1 from the 90’s sold 7 MILLION copies.  Anytime there is that number of something floating around, it greatly affects the supply and demand relationship.

Now days, most comics are not printed in near the quantity of the 90’s, but that still doesn’t mean that it will automatically become a valuable issue.  Some publishers still like to play the collectability game by manufacturing perceived value with variant covers (limited edition or different covers, same story inside) or constantly putting out #1 issues.  All this can lead to short term increases in value, but for the most part, it can leave many fans and people wanting to get into comics feeling run ragged and burnt out.

Did you know that Diamond Comics Distributors, the sole distributor for pretty much all comic books, makes it clear to retailers that they do not sell “collectibles.”  They sell periodical magazines, essentially.  Entertainment.

Now, let that sink in.  Entertainment.

I would argue that comic books are one of the only types of entertainment in which you can purchase a product, take it home, read it, and in a few years decide to resell.  You can’t do that with a movie ticket.  I can’t go to the theatre, pay for a ticket, watch the movie, and then come back in a few years and ask for a percentage of my ticket back.  Or, better yet, ask for more than what I originally paid.  Comics offer that, and it can be a great benefit of the hobby, but I would like to challenge you to stop thinking of comics solely in terms of collectability and I would like to offer 3 ways to maybe let you enjoy comic books with a breath of fresh air and less fatigue.

  1. Start collecting stories.

Comic books are just that: stories.  They have characters, plot lines, twists and turns.  Stories.

Find a story you like then ask yourself “what do I like about this story?”  Is it the character development, the emotional pulls, the little, hidden treasures that you find through out?

Once you can narrow down what it is about the story that pulls you in, then you can start to branch out and find NEW stories that are similar.  Get recommendations from a trusted source (we at The HIVE love to point out things that you can try)  and this can open you up to entire worlds of awesome stories that you might not have ever thought of.

The freeing part is that when you start to “collect” stories instead of comics, the worry about potential future monetary value is replaced with personal value as you dive head first into tales that move you.  Getting into this mindset also opens up the possibility of collecting the Trade Paper-Back editions (comics collected into volumes for one story) which allows you to get entire chunks of story in one setting for less cost than tracking down single issues.  For more on graphic novels and trade paper backs, check out our blog here :

Getting Graphic

All comic stories have something in common.  They have a writer and an artist, which leads me to the next idea.

2. Don’t just collect titles or characters, collect creators.

What I mean is, those good stories you like, they were created by someone or a team of “someones”.  Find out who those people are!  Chances are that if you liked this particular story from them, then you will probably like their other work as well.

This is my particular method of collecting.  I have my stable of creators that I follow and gradually add new ones to the mix.  I don’t necessarily collect Spidey comics, but if a writer or artist that I like is working on a run of Amazing Spider-Man, then I will read those issues.

For example, I’m not a huge fan of the character of Thanos.  But, when I found out that one of my favorite writers, Donny Cates, was doing several stories with the character, I had to get them.  Cates brought a new and fresh take on the Mad Titan and I’m super glad that he is currently killing it over at Marvel.  thanos wins

Some of my favorite creators are Brian K. Vaugh, Donny Cates, Scott Snyder, Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer, Gail Simone, Cecil Castelluci, Fiona Staples, Raina Telgemier, and Geoff Shaw.

I collect creators and the stories they tell.  If they bounce around from publisher to publisher, I follow.  If they start writing a certain character, I will most likely pick it up.

Just remember, the characters are only as good as the people behind the story and art.

3. Let kids read YOUR comics.

This is possibly the most terrifying bit of advice that I can give, but, I feel that it will drastically change your feelings towards the “collectability” of comics.

Kids have such unabashed joy with comics and when a child gets one, they have no concern about if it will be worth anything in the future.  They simply love the pictures and stories.

Wouldn’t it be great to share your passion and hobby with your kids: to see your favorite characters and stories through their fresh and unjaded eyes?  Kids aren’t snobbish, biased, and have little concern for market trends.

Obviously, keep the books you share with the kids in your life “age-appropriate.” Please don’t go sharing Saga or anything written by Garth Ennis with your 6 year old!

Out of the 3 ideas I’ve proposed here, this one might be the most important one you can do.

Our culture needs kids getting into comics and reading.  The industry needs more kids getting into stories and developing a love for the sequential storytelling medium.  It is VITAL for the continuation of our hobby and the creators that are out there.

Try it today.

Go home, bust open your long box, take that copy of X-Men #1 out of the plastic sleeve and lay down in the floor with your child and let them enjoy it.  Better yet, grab a stack of YOUR faves and leave them in your kids’ room next to their bed.

You’ll feel liberated and I can almost guarantee that we’ll see a new generation of readers and fans emerging.

So, in conclusion.

Do I think that all comics are worthless and not meant to be collected?  Absolutely not.  But, maybe we can try and implement some new thought processes when it comes to seeking out comics and the stories they offer.  Maybe we can breathe a little bit and find ourselves actually enjoying what we are buying rather than banking on a return.  Maybe, instead of seeing comics solely as collectibles, but rather as stories worth reading and sharing, we can have a much healthier and more robust comic industry.

-matt