Tuesday, December 09, 2008

10 Strategies For The Comic Industry In A Recession

Here are the 10 ways/strategies the comic book industry can use to survive and thrive in a recession/depression:

1. For God's Sake Entertain These People!
In the Great Depression, movie studios thrived, producing entertainment for the masses that made them forget their troubles. A movie ticket is $10+. A comic is less than $4. But you have to entertain these people! You have to create compelling storylines. You can't depend on that same fan base you've been handing lukewarm milk to for the last several years because they're just too blah to change their buying habits. Blah and complacency is out. Your audience: thrill them or lose them.

2. Go Back To The Basics.
Look up Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey. Get down to the basics of what makes a compelling story. Heroes, villains. Protagonists, antagonists. Problem/solution. If you need almost a whole paragraph to explain your story or event, you have screwed up somewhere along the way.

3. They Can't Afford Gigantic Crossovers
They can't. I mean, they did; but now they can't.

4. Lose Your Pride
Whether your pride is not wanting to reach out past your comfort zone in terms of readership, your hatred of digital media, your irrational bias against one thing or another, or whatever -- if it is standing in the way of sales, you are useless. Get over it.

5. Unsure? Make It Digital
If you are unsure about your product -- if you feel it is really iffy -- if you are a small publisher and you are going to risk everything to print just this one fucker -- for God's sake PLEASE put it out digital first. It can be digital with a roll-in hardcopy plan. But make it digital. The direct market won't hate you for it. They hardly got room on their shelves for a lot of that stuff, anyhow.

6. Are You Ballast?
Take a good look at yourself in your job -- especially if you are working for a larger company. Are you expendable? Are there "five" of you? Do you find yourself working on "special projects" that are always put last on the food chain? Do you have no idea on God's green earth why you are at your job, or why they are paying you? Get out on your own terms, and be in a good position to negotiate your next job. Don't just wait for the inevitable. Be proactive.

7. Are Your Comics Ballast?
Take a good look at the comics your company produces. Now, which ones are awesome, and which ones are "filler?" Which ones did you do as a favor for an old buddy which aren't that great but you promised him, and which ones are awesome? I mean, you can do the favor, but make that a one-shot, don't make that a three-issue prestige format. Use your brain. Which comics make you go "wow," and which ones, by your own admission, are "born to die?" You can't afford to put out "born to die" comics. What is it that Obama said? "No more pork barrel." You need to cut your pork.

8. Stop Making Your Heroes Villainous
We don't need heroes that are assholes right now. The assholes are the ones that fucked the audience financially and took away their homes, their jobs, and their X-Mas bonuses. They want real Heroes to help them out of this mess.

9. Have A Hook
If it doesn't have a "hook," don't do it right now.
Examples of hooks:
* awesome artist
* awesome writer
* topical
* controversial
* of superior artistic merit (possible award winner)
* unique

10. Stop Writing These Gloom And Doom Articles About How The Comic Book Industry Is Going To Collapse
You're really scaring the shit out of everyone. I mean, you should write them, it is topical. But it's like feeding this already jumpy nervous ready-to-totally-lose-it climate.

I really don't buy the rumors of the comic book industry's bust, especially in a world right now which is *starving* for escapism. But things need to be thought of strategically.


  1. Excellent on all points. I would add a note to either fully support a creator and his vision or not make RIP & Final Crisis the center of your publication. And for god's sake if you have fifty fill-in artists, you should knock a dollar off the price to make up for it AND get the original artist to finish what you claimed was the Final Crisis.

  2. Amen, especially item #1. For the money a reader has to plunk down, the entertainment and/or escapism quotient has to increase. No more decompressed stories that take six months to resolve because it'll make a pretty trade paperback a month later. How about more than three word balloons on a page or 23 pages that actually take more than 3 minutes to read? What happened to narrative boxes and exposition and riveting prose, and sequential artwork that served the story instead of just being a sequence of static pinups? Get "storytelling" back into comics, and maybe the price tag won't produce as much "sticker shock."

  3. Val...

    As always, right on the money. I've stopped buying comics that are "event" issues just for the "event's" sake. No more FINAL CRISIS and its thousands of worthless crossovers.

    I bought 1 issue of that BATMAN RIP and realized it wasn't for me.

    Instead, I've paired down to McDuffie's JUSTICE LEAGUE, because he's put an emphasis on character interaction (even if it hasn't totally hit its stride yet).

    And I enjoy JSA, although it, too, runs the risk of becoming bloated and top heavy. But, at least it seems to be about something and moving forward.

    I used to buy WONDER WOMAN, GA/BC (my three favorite characters in DC) to just give them support and give the writer's a chance to prove they knew where they were going.

    But after a year of talking gorilla's living in Diana's apartment and every issue of GA/BC ending with a BIG SPLASH PAGE SURPRISE after 15 pages of fighting, I pulled my support.

    All three of these characters are totally mismanaged.

    I'll wait until I've heard they're good and go back and buy the bound issues. I'm really enjoying the earlier JSA adventures Johns wrote years ago.

    That'll keep me plenty busy until this recession is over. Or until DC pulls it's head out of its arse.

    But, frankly, I'd put my money on Obama's team over Dido's any day.


  4. It continues to boggle the mind that they haven't been releasing more digital content. Revolution of the Mask was #4 on Wowio's topic comics yesterday (sadly that has changed to those Grimm Fairy tales books with the almost-but-not porn covers now taking the lead with it).

    People will buy online comics, especially if you put them at a nice cheap price range.

  5. Not only should editors allow writers to go back to the basics (a la Campbell), but they should focus on telling compelling, self-contained stories. Stories that are less about the END OF EVERYTHING WE KNOW and more about how the crimes/adventures affect the heroes.

    My favorite BATMAN stories when I was growing up were about the grittier, smaller crimes. I loved how Batman cared about protecting an elderly lady being mugged as much as the Joker threatening to blow up the city. It made Batman more human and far more interesting.

    And certainly, Green Arrow became a true icon once he stopped flying the Arrow Plane and started trading punches with street level heroin pushers and money grubbing slum lords. He became unique. And that's the best thing a literary character can be.

    I often wish DC would not always make every story about aliens, Darkseid invasions or Sinestro wars.

    I wish they would focus on smaller scale, emotional stories-- like a kidnapping of a child that Batman has to solve. Or Green Arrow busting up a sex slave ring. Stuff that could relate back to the core of who these characters are and what they stand for, and naturally tap into their unique and colorful histories.

    This would also be an organic way for new readers to jump on board. Their backstory and origins would creep into these adventures, allowing for us to understand their motivation and roots. And we all know expanding marketshare is always a major concern for any company.

    Also, I think Val is spot on in promoting web-content as the salvation for comics. I strongly believe across the board that the entertainment industry should (and MUST) embrace the web.

    In my universe, a risky TV pilot can be made much more cheaply on the web than on TV. It's a new and innovative way to build an audience and prove your worth before taking on the expensive of printing for the comic book shops or producing for the TV.

    I recently did that with one of my own shows. Instead of waiting for a network to give our company millions of dollars for development and production, we went out and shot a bunch of episodes for the web at a fraction of the cost.

    Comics could certainly do that-- and SHOULD do that-- especially with reboots like Blue Beetle and Firestorm. With lower overhead, these companies might give these characters more of a chance to find an audience.

    Plus, launching reboots that are directly targeting a younger demographic that is already comfortable viewing material on the web is not just smart, it's cheap, too.

    And that's what we call a "win win."

    But it will take established executives to step out of their established matrix to recognize the potential and have the courage to embark on that new, bold path.


  6. Anonymous2:35 PM

    Yeah! What Val said!

  7. God, thank you. I work in a comic store right now, and honestly, every time I get the store ready for the new releases, I want to be into comics less and less. So much of what I see just looks like the Big Two putting out one-shots/minis trying to push the smaller titles out. At least in the 90s when they did it last time, people weren't feeling like the sky was falling.

    And this whole $4 an issue thing? Honestly, I'd be fine with them going back to newsprint and hand coloring if it meant $2 issues again.

  8. Anonymous3:56 PM

    Back to basics for sure. Read some old Stan Lee filler stories. Strange Tales or Tales to Astonish, those kinds of anthology books. The guy could tell a complete, satisfying story in 8 pages.

  9. You forgot #11: hike up the prices of books to four dollars an issue. If that doesn't get them queueing up to buy the books, I don't know what will.

  10. "Look up Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey."

    Just as long as you don't just use it as an excuse for lazy-ass, underdone writing, ala Lucas.

  11. An iTunes for comic books. That's what I want the most. To be able to purchase and download comic books to my computer, and access them at any time.

  12. Anonymous7:02 PM

    I don't agree with 8, since characters being jerks and ambigious hasn't hurt _other_ series (Battlestar Galactica, Sopranos, Blackadder...), but most of it I'm on board with.

    And the annoying this is that most of it is just standard business sense. "Don't put out 'pork' product", "put out stuff that might sell even if you don't like it" - this is what companies are supposed to do.

  13. Here's a rule of thumb I just thought of:

    One page, on average, should take one minute for a 10-year-old to read.

    Think of a comic book as a half-hour tv show, & write accordingly. If what you're producing is less than that, how cheaply do you think you'd have to sell it to get any new readers to buy it?

  14. Why is everything about superheroes?

  15. Preach on!!!! I liked your 10. They whine, but then raise prices!? I mean, ya, you have it bad. (rolls eyes) I completely agree. I won't be getting a big event in forever. Secret Invasion was fun, but nothing I couldn't have waited and back-issued later. Final Crisis...why're better than that.

    I don't agree with #7...only because that's how we get the good comics. But, ya, they sometimes fade. Only because they wanna make room for the crappy ones. I hear Blue Beetle is excellent, but it's going down the tubes. Shadowpact was fantastic, but they cut the strings. But NOOO!, gotta keep JLA and Supergirl, which has only gotten modestly better (but we'll see), which is making my DC love diminish. Marvel, I've felt that way for a long time. I used to be such a big fan, but everything still feels so jumbled. I believe I may drop Hulk. It's good, but not 4 dollars good.

    It's funny, Marvel seems to be raising prices on all it's successful books. My Ghost Rider, The Eternals, and Twelve are staying the same, but Hulk is going up on issue 10 in Feb. Hulk....pshh. It apparently sold out issue 6 and 7, but I read the tag on the website for Hulk 10 for 3.99 and it says something like, "So good, you should buy two!" and that really pissed me off. Whelp, Jeph Loebs a pretty good writer and Hulks been fun...(leaves).

  16. Anonymous2:18 PM

    $4 bucks an issue in this recession? How about comic book publishers think like real world publishers when it comes to content and get their heads out of their collective asses. When I buy an issue of Time I know I'm going to get a whole article, not something that's been decompressed so that I can read the book version later by the author. Better give me a complete story (you know, with a beginning, middle, and an end) in that issue because at that price I can't afford something that's part of a larger arc. I don't want 6 issues to figure out the characters motives. Forget decompression. I hate decompression.

    It used to be done. Hell, I've just reread Firehair by Joe Kubert and it was 22 pages long and very satisfying and entertaining. An issue of Red Sonja drawn by Frank Thorne was usually only 17 pages and had more story than 3 issues of the latest "hot" comic and it was entertaining.

    Ever wonder why Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai is such a great read? Because it's very satisfying and entertaining. You get your money's worth from every issue.

    Start listening and finding other potential audience than just the fanboys (or Babymen as Mike Manley refers to them) and maybe will get comics in more than just one genre. And how about remembering that comic book stores aren't the only outlet.

    Sorry for the rant but I had to get this off my chest.

  17. Anonymous6:14 PM

    That all said, I'm sure a large number of fans would complain if you started saying "these comics are ballast" and slashed them, since you're undoubtably going to end up cancelling comics seen as "fun"* by their fans or which have non-white-leads, if you go solely on sales. If you spare some on grounds of potential audience or potential licensible character, that's going to involve a lot of analysis of the lower-selling comics, hard questions and a lot of upset staff.

    * In quotation marks as it's subjective.