A peek into the grim future…
The densest people on the internet are the ones who say sci fi and fantasy are getting too political. Why can’t we go back to the good old days of The Twilight Zone, with its various episodes about mob mentality and the danger of mass paranoia that totally weren’t about the Red Scare. Or Star Wars and its genocidal empire of racially homogeneous Aryan men. Or Dune with its religious tribal peoples who live in a desert that contains the galaxy’s most valuable resource and the wars with the foreign colonizers, that was purely from Frank Herbert’s imagination. Can you imagine how much Star Trek would suck if it was packed to the brim with ham-fisted allegories of every societal issue of the 20th century. Not like all this modern ultra-political stuff, like a woman hero.
Reminder of where comics got their start
More to Come’s Kate Fitzsimons interviews novelist C.S. Pacat, author of The Captive Prince fantasy trilogy and internet-famous fan artist Johanna the Mad @johannathemadshop about Fence, their new comic which has just come out from Boom @boomstudios. A comic with its own real life fight choreographer, Fence is a sports and LGBT romance comic in the vein of Yuri on Ice and Check Please.
They discuss the experience of creating Fence – which is their first comic; their separate origins as self-publishing creator-entrepreneurs coming from the online fan art and fanfiction community; C.S. Pacat’s own return to fencing; the influence of the manga Hikaru-no-Go; and the future of the comic.
Kate also interviews Cannon Busters and Children of Ether creator LeSean Thomas live at AnimeNYC. Thomas is an animation producer, writer and artist who has worked on such acclaimed animated series as Black Dynamite, The Boondocks and Legend of Korra. Born in the South Bronx, Thomas has worked in animation for years in South Korea and now Japan. They discuss Cannon Busters, crowd-funding, and what it’s like to work in the animation industry overseas.
So the industry came upon a brilliant idea: get all the stores that specialized in selling comics, lock them into a single closed distribution system, and refuse to accept returns for unsold comics anymore. Now, Marvel didn’t need to make comics that people want to read in order to get paid. All they have to do is convince retailers to buy the comics, and that can be accomplished with all that hype and gimmickry we talked about before. And that’s exactly what happened, so that by the turn of the century, specialty shops (or occasionally a single, isolated shelf in Barnes and Noble) were the only places where anyone could purchase comics.
This was great for companies like Marvel. They could print smaller runs, sell 100% of the stock to shops, and call it a day. There’s no risk at all for Marvel in this model. Even with the lowest selling comics, they’re not losing money, especially at the rates they pay their creative staff. Books get canceled because they aren’t making enough profit.
There’s just one problem with this model, though it doesn’t seem to be one Marvel really cares about: it offers absolutely no pathway to bring in new comics readers. 99% of the time, the only reason a person would ever enter a comic book shop is if they’re already a comic book reader. As opposed to say, a person who eats bananas, who might find comics in the grocery store, or a person who drinks coffee, who might see one at a news stand, the overwhelming majority of potential comic book buyers for a specialty shop that sells only comics are the existing customers who are, as you have likely correctly surmised, people who already read comics. And on the off chance some unlucky soul wanders into that shop because they heard about Ms. Marvel on a TV show or something like that, they’re met with prohibitively expensive books, incomprehensible numbering systems, wishy-washy continuity, invasive crossover events, and maybe even some dickhead with a neckbeard telling them they aren’t a real fan.
Today, the very best selling regular monthly comic book sells around 100,000 copies. Occasionally, a variant cover bonanza, super-mega-crossover event, line-wide reboot, or Loot Crate giveaway might spike sales higher than that for a short time, but I’m very skeptical that even in that case more than the usual 100,000 people are actually reading those comics, and a quick glance through the back issue stock at any retailer will provide plenty of evidence for that assumption. And 100,000 is for the best of the best, your Batman or your Spider-Man. Once you’re out of the top 50 comics, you’re in the 40,000 copy territory, and outside the top 100 you’re in the 20,000 copy territory, and the sales only get lower from there. And once again, I’ll remind you that none of this guarantees an actual human being is reading these comics; all the Diamond sales numbers mean is that a retailer bought them, and is now desperately trying to pawn them off on their existing customers lest they go out of business, all while Marvel assumes absolutely zero risk and reaps the majority of the profit.
For smaller publishers, the ones who operate inside the superhero industrial complex set up by Marvel, DC, and Diamond, 20,000 can be a great number, but for Marvel and DC, that’s near cancellation territory. And that brings us back to the original point of all this, which is the idea that it’s your job, as a reader, to save comics from cancellation. That if you don’t buy a Previews catalog, research all of the comics coming out two months from now, and then tell your retailer you want to buy one so that your retailer can purchase an extra copy from Marvel that month and Marvel can brag about it in a press release, it’s your fault when the comic is canceled.
I propose a different hypothesis: it’s Marvel’s fucking fault when Marvel doesn’t sell enough comics. It’s Marvel’s fault they didn’t promote Nighthawk well enough to get retailers to buy enough copies of it. It’s Marvel’s fucking fault specialty shops are the only stores that buy Nighthawk comics in the first place. It’s Marvel’s fucking fault that instead of millions of people reading comics, there are less than 100,000. All of this is Marvel’s fault, not yours or mine, and the propensity of comic book creators to guilt trip fans about preordering has to be classified as some kind of weird version of Stockholm syndrome.
So the next time some Uncle Fester looking blowhard motherfucker deeply entrenched in the comics establishment lectures you on Twitter about how it’s your responsibility to keep the comics you love afloat, politely let him know that it is, in fact, Marvel’s job to sell comics, not yours, and for the past twenty years, they’ve been doing an absolutely awful job at it, regardless of their increasing profit margin.
a very salty, cathartic read that i def recommend
Okay, Retrofuture, you win this round.
Colin was burning up twitter yesterday.
I read a lot of comic books as I was growing up, & I think that might have influenced me just as much.
Comic books are Jewish-American culture
And never forget that one of the reasons so many Jewish-Americans contributed to comics is because of the antisemitism in much of the creative sector in 20th century America. Many of these highly skilled and creative people ended up in comics because they couldn’t find work in more prestigious and lucrative fields.
also the same reason so many of them worked in the motion picture industry when it first began; working in film wasnt a respected line of work, so it kinda became a jewish culture, and when film unexpectedly caught on, upper-middle class white christians were quick to erase the jewish influence that the film industry had.
also similar to the reason why so many jews in the past millennium worked in finance- in the 1100s it was considered sinful in the christian church to handle large amounts of money, so banking in western Europe was kind of the only profession in which Jews were guaranteed a secure income. because banking was a Jewish thing because it was sinful, when it became a respected profession, the upper-middle class and elites were quick to smear the Jewish involvement in banking as an evil conspiracy to control the world
nice addition thank u^👌🏼👌🏼👌🏼✡️