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

 

What is an Indie Comic??

Many times in comic shops and online you might here terms thrown around like “indie”, or “small press” comics.

What do these mean??

TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles1First
TMNT #1

I think to understand what these terms mean, we first need to understand what it means to not be an “indie” comic.  This requires us to define what a “mainstream” comic might consist of.

When most people think of comic books, they tend to automatically conjure up visions of Superman, Spider-Man, Hulk, etc.  Most of the heroes and characters that we are now seeing come to life on our silver screens and TVs come from 2 companies; Marvel and DC.

Many people refer to these companies as “the BIG Two;” and for good reason.  When one looks at sales in the comic book industry across the country, Marvel and DC take up way over HALF of the market in terms of sales.

Part of this is due to the enormous amount of titles that they put out each month, but also, they each have their own cohesive universes with really well known characters.  Ask a young kid in Europe or Japan about Spider-man and there’s a good chance they know the character.

They have also been around since before pretty much any of you (myself included) were born and they have survived SEVERAL near collapses of the industry (albeit some of which were brought about by their own bad choices).  But, to have survived this long in a game in which consumer tastes change month to month, and even, week to week is no small feat and should be respected in terms of staying power.

That being said, each of these two companies is owned by even larger corporations.  Marvel is owned by Disney and DC (along with parent company Warner Bros.) were just bought by AT&T.

So, when an artist or creator is working for either of these companies, all of their IP (intellectual property) and creative work now belongs to the corporations in charge.  Not only that, but, every decision that an artist or creator wants to make (because you know…they’re creative…) has to be approved by the company and fit within the mold and model of the company.

So, many moons ago, people started realizing that maybe they don’t want to work for a corporate juggernaut like the big two.  Maybe they were even turned down.  Maybe they simply want to create and do their own story without having to fit into a mold and have to answer to tons of shareholders. They wanted to be pirates.

Witness the birth of the “indie” comic movement.

An “Indie comic” is a comic whose creators are not bound by appealing to a larger corporation.  The creators have complete control over their material and are not subject to rules and standards set by higher ups.  The creators are “independent” of the company for the most part.  They might be published by a company, but that company does not step into the creative process and control the end product.  That means that when a creator develops a new story with new characters, all of the ownership usually remains with the creator and not the publisher.

Indie comics are no new thing.  People have been hand stapling and selling their black and white comics that were drawn by hand and copied at Kinko’s basically since the silverage and early bronze age (late 60’s and 70’s).

California (specifically the Bay Area) used to be (and still is) famous for indie comic ‘zines and material that was too edgy for the Big Two.

The advent of the comic retail shop in the early 70’s really helped lead to the birth and growth of the indie scene because now there were dedicated shops that could push these daring and wacky stories to a niche market.

If I had to place the boom of the indie scene on anyone’s shoulders it would be 2 creative teams.  Wendy and Richard Pini and Eastman and Laird (Elf Quest and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles respectively.)

Wendy and Richard Pini believed so much in their story that, despite several rejections, began self printing and distributing their books to dedicated comic shops around the country and people began to eat them up.

Eastman and Laird printed their black and white Ninja Turtles for almost nothing and hand sold the early books to shops in the 80’s.

Both of these titles helped to bring indie comics to the forefront of the comic scene.  To think that people who believed in their art so much that they self printed, sold, and pushed their books into the spotlight is an inspiration.  Copies of TMNT #1 can easily fetch a small fortune now, btw.

When we look at the indie comic scene in our current environment we still see this same attitude of people that refuse to let their creative work be controlled by others.  Companies like BOOM! Studios, Alterna Comics, Image, and many others continue to put out really quality material that offers a breath of fresh air to those that are looking for something different.

Let’s highlight what a few of these companies offer.

Lumberjanes_Cover
Lumberjanes Vol 1 BOOM!

BOOM! Studios offers not only licensed material such as Jim Hensen’s work like Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal, but original and creator owned stories as well.  Many of their titles, such as the award-winning LUMBERJANES and GIANT DAYS offer great stories that are really non-genre.  This means that they tend to be stories more about life and all of the awkwardness that accompanies it.

Image Comics is probably the largest indie company around and is the next in line when it comes to market share after the Big Two.  Image offers a large variety of stories and characters that can vary from the very dark and disturbing to lighthearted and family friendly.  Since indie companies don’t necessarily have their own cohesive universe, you can simply pick one title that you enjoy and read ONLY that one title without fear of missing out on cross-overs and massive events that the Big Two like to through together.  Titles such as East of West, Paper Girls, Seven to Eternity, and Invincible all offer great story telling and have the awards to back up the content.

east of west
East of West Vol 1 IMAGE

Alterna Comics is a small-press company out of California.  This means that while being indie, they also print in smaller companies than say, Image.  What Alterna brings to the table is great story telling with an equally exciting price point.  You know how some comics (they will remain unamed) have been putting out $3.99, $4.99, up to $9.99 single-issues, well most of Alterna’s single issues are priced anywhere from $1 to $1.99.  Alterna prints on newsprint instead of the glossy paper that other publishers use which gives their comics a great old-school quality while also giving an old-school price point.  You can literally grab a copy of every Alterna comic we sell for less than 3 comics from other publishers.  The stories are self contained and easy to pick up on AND they have a great selection of stuff for young readers.  I know that, as a parent, I would much rather spend $1.50 on a comic that my kid might tear up as opposed to $4.99.

Obviously these are just a sampling of the many different publishers out there.  If you are a comic fan and find yourself getting a little bored and frustrated with some of the tactics, prices, and storylines from some of the bigger publishers, I would suggest that you give an indie company a try.

One of the things our shop offers is the Dollar Value Menu.  Basically, we have a dedicated section (that is growing) featuring $1 reprints of various indie titles.  It’s a dollar investment (and we all know that we spend 4x that much for a coffee).  If you like the issue, bring it back and we will give you a DOLLAR OFF of volume 1.  It’s a great way of finding new stories and expanding your reading.

adam wreck
Adam Wreck from ALTERNA Comics

We here at HIVE know the importance of supporting our indie creators and their work.  NO, we don’t hate the Big Two, we love them and need them for a strong comic community.  But, I would argue that supporting our smaller publishers is one of the best ways of keeping our favorite hobby strong.  It is definitely one of the BEST ways to have a sustainable and healthy industry for decades to come, even if that issue you just bought might not let you retire in a few years (more on collectibility next time.)

So, my final thoughts.

Go out and support the little guys.  The guys that bleed their work and have passion behind what they do.  Give that crazy sounding title a try, it just might be what you’ve been looking for.

 

-matt

 

Getting Graphic

Hi, there!

Welcome again to the HIVE blog.

Today we’re discussing the ever-present, somewhat intimidating, but treasured, GRAPHIC NOVEL.

Unsure what one is, click the link below.Batman-The-Killing-Joke-Deluxe-Graphic-Novel-1008696_1024x1024

What is a Graphic Novel??

Graphic novels, or trade paper-backs, have been around for a LONG time, but still seem to be a bit mysterious to a lot of fans of periodical comic books. We tend to think of them as hard to get into or somewhat abstract, like a tome of irrelevant incantations, and to be totally honest, most of us like to collect the periodical floppies that come out every month…or week.

But, as partakers of the sequential story telling medium, I feel that we can be missing out on LOTS of great stories by neglecting the graphic novel.

The graphic novel is a great way to catch up on characters and series that we have been wanting to read but, maybe now, are in the higher numbers of issues and the thought of trying to catch up and figure out what the heck is going on and why is Thor a female seem a bit daunting.

Well, grab a couple of volumes of Jason Aaron’s Mighty Thor run and maybe even throw in The Unworthy Thor Collection and Original Sin and by Odin’s Beardmighty thor, your caught up!!! (and usually for less that what you’d pay to scrounge up all the individual issues.)

One of the best things about graphic novels is that it’s like a binge on Netflix.  You basically can get an entire season, or 25, at once.  you can blaze through Robert Kirkman’s award-winning “Invincible” and get all 144 issues and not have to wait for the next one to come out!! How awesome is that??

Not only are graphic novels great for catching up, but some stories are self-contained pieces of art and literature that stand on their own.

This, is a graphic novel in the truest since.  It’s like taking a stand alone story like, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, but now it has pictures!!

mausThere are numerous examples of this type of graphic novel. Cecil Castellucci’s, “Soupy Leaves Home,” and Art Spiegelman’s “MAUS”, and Alan Moore’s “Batman: the Killing Joke” are just a few examples of myriad of choices available.

So, I challenge you, the comic reader, to step out of your comfort zone of monthly floppies and give the world of graphic novels a chance.  You’ll be seeing more and more classics making their way into the shop and if you are ever unsure of what to jump into, we’ll be here to help!

 

Happy reading!

matt