Thursday, February 26, 2009

If Comics Don't Change, They "Could Be Dead In 18 Months"

Devin Faraci from the website CHUD has written a article that I find particularly shattering. Granted -- he is really "a movie guy," not "a comic guy," so some may find his opinions a case of "the outside looking in." But as a former comic collector, and especially as an outside observer, I think Faraci's apocalyptic prognosis for traditional comics bears a look.

Faraci basically believes that "the new depression may be the best thing that ever happened to comics." He predicts the death of the "superhero," and gladly welcomes it. He accuses the mainstream comic companies of catering too much to the hardcore fans -- especially by pushing said superhero genre -- and not doing enough to encourage readers outside the "clique." And he feels that the 22-page floppy format, with its relatively hefty $4.00 price tag, is too much for people to pay for in this economy.

He ends the piece with this stark prediction for the future of the medium and the business:

"When Marvel and DC fall (and for me it's when, not if. I guarantee to you that ten years from now the idea of going to a comic shop to buy part 17 of a universe-spanning crossover event will seem as bizarre to readers as it would be for readers today to go to a grocery store to pick up Night Nurse), the world of comic books is going to be in serious disarray. Local shops that haven't already branched out into geek interests beyond comics will be destroyed almost overnight; hybrid stores that offer everything from video games to baseball cards and maybe have a social element - coffee shop for instance - will be left standing, but barely. Spider-Man will go on to star in five more movies, and there will be some sort of comic tie-in for them, but that'll be tertiary marketing. The Big Two will still be publishing something, but it won't be monthly pamphlets in the way we know them today - maybe we'll get endless reprint trades and occasional new graphic novels.

The comic world will seem like a wasteland for a while, but those independent mammals will have positioned themselves perfectly for the next phase. I don't think these books will become suddenly profitable overnight; I know that many creators struggle to make ends meet while producing their books. That won't change. People will still have day jobs and will write and draw on the side. But suddenly, without the superhero choking everything, these books will find the opportunity to grow. The artistic drive that makes people want to tell stories will continue, and a new economic model for these books will be created - hell, it's already being created. And I don't think that this means comic books will suddenly become an endless series of stories about being abused by your dad or about having no luck with girls; there will be adventure and science fiction and horror and romance. Getting into writing and drawing mainstream comics today is like being in a cover band - you want to do your version of Aquaman. When the superhero dies, it's going to be like being in a garage band. You do it because you love it, because you have songs to sing. And maybe somebody will take notice and you'll make some bucks off it."

Finally, Faraci says that if the mainstream comic book industry doesn't radically change its focus and methodology, they "could be dead in 18 months."

What do you think? Is he full of it? Or is he on to something?

Hat tip to Vactor


  1. You say you want a comic book with bright, vivid artwork and a story pace to excite the senses?? Dragon Frog is the one you want. It's the story of an adolescent tree frog who overcame a crippling disability by learning how to leap over tall buildings and dodge bullets. Wally Wallas then puts on a wetsuit and goggles and leaps into the world as the crimefighter he always dreamt of being.

    For more go to or visit the Dragon Blog at


  2. Anonymous11:05 PM

    I love Devin. I violently disagree with a quarter of the stuff he says, but the rest of the time he's spot-on, thoughtful, and entertaining as hell.

    In this case, he speaks as one who clearly hasn't read many or any superhero comics in recent memory. Or if he has, he hasn't read the excellent minority that prove that the genre still has vibrant life and possibilities left in it, no matter how much crap there is out there (and there is a LOT of crap).

    I, for one, welcome superhero comics losing their stranglehold on comics in general, and long for the day when comics are as rich and varied a field as film. Even the indie comic scene isn't nearly as rich and expansive as it should be right now. EVERYTHING should get bigger, with more variety and more talent. Including superheroes.

    And that said, I think there always WILL and SHOULD be superheroes. In the right hands, they can create wonderful and unique stories that can run the entire gamut of the human condition, suitable for readers of all ages.

    In the meantime, such stories DO exist. There may not be a ton of them, but there are enough to prove haters like Devin wrong that the genre itself is somehow wrong.

  3. At least I'll have an excuse to buy more trades and collections.

  4. Anonymous12:08 AM

    People want to write Aquaman? Really? He must be an Entourage fan.

    I agree that comics have become extremely difficult to just start reading and I think the Marvel and DC might be limiting the amount of new readers with the endless stream of events. I have a friend who wanted to start reading more DC comics, so I sat down to try and figure-out what I should loan her and what order she should read them. I then realized that for a full appreciation of the current stories she should probably start with Identity Crisis and GL Rebirth. At least to me, it feels like that's where the current stories began for DC.

    Beyond that, the post seems pretty off-base. If Marvel & DC start having troubles with sales, they can just print Barak Obama on a few more covers.

  5. Wait... they are still alive?

    BLUE BEETLE: That's a car!

    WONDER WOMAN: Whats the story about? can I pick it up and go? How far back do I need to go if not?

    YOUNGBLOOD: They had some kind of spawn connection right? I liked Spawn tell he started ridding chittychittybangbang.

    SAVAGE DRAGON: That just looks silly.

    Avengers: That is kinda cool but I only know them from the Ultimate story's. How would a noob go about getting into the comics? Looks like to much work to me.

    INCREDIBLE HERCULES: What no Incredible Xena? No thanks.

    She-Hulk: is that some kinda cheap Hulk knockoff but for girls?

    X-FORCE: I know off X-FORCE and it looks kinda cool...but how do you get into it and is it worth the cash...also I thought Wolverine was in the X-men?

    ...yah and I consider myself a comic fan. If only they wanted my money they would probably have it already.

  6. How many times has someone heralded (cue the music) "the death of comics" do I think the industry will change, sure. Do I think it could be dead in 18 months? I doubt it.

    Of course I could be dead wrong....

  7. LOL, hilarious article. It is pretty clear the guy is speaking in many areas way way outside his scope of experience (business, comics, publishing, etc).

    Will DC and Marvel go under anytime soon much less 18 months? No. If the end was that close we would already be seeing signs of it for one.

    The real question he would have asked, if he had any sense and knowledge, is can DC, Marvel, etc survive under the current "floppy" model?

    That answer is no and eventually circumstances will force their hand to embrace online distribution in a way that fans are demanding and they are ignoring (ie "DRM" free files in a CBR-like format).

  8. It's a very intriguing hypothesis that he poses. I would think that the sooner monthlies reach four dollars an issue across the board, all companies will be in a bind.

    I look at the manga I buy and borrow from my local library, and there are a lot of genres out there. I do believe Shonen and Shojo series do the best here, and in Japan, but there are still many different stories being told through the medium. It would be great if American comic books rivaled the diversity of manga in terms of genres and stories, and certainly a crash might bring about that sort of change; superheroes no longer the bulk of comic book offerings.

  9. It doesn't seem like such a horrible thing to me.

    I'm a huge sequential art fan. I've got just under 600 trades from over the years. But I hate single issues. I don't even like prestige format books, but get them when there is no other way to get a great story (some elseworlds).

    I'd love to see more focus on trades, more focus on adequately collecting PAST storylines, many of which are almost impossible to find, and only can be found for insanely inflated prices (try finding a copy of Prodigal, batfan).

    I know that's not what a lot of fans want, those already acquainted with the back story of the main characters - but I'm willing to bet trades are a lot better for getting into a character than the monthlies have been lately. I haven't been able to pick up a marvel book and not be confused to hell for years. DC did the same to me with the whole latest crisis.

    You need extensive crazy online guides just to figure out which book is the one to START reading, then have to go back and do calculus to find the next. It's just not the kind of reading experience most people are willing to put the time into.

    Compare that to handing my girlfriend a fables trade and watching her devour the whole series - well, I gotta say, big crossover superhero mythos isn't looking as good.

    I doubt the characters could ever really go away though. There is such an amazingly rich amount of story already created, I'm sure it will always be mined for future stories. If they're released online monthly then collected into trades, that's fine with me. I might actually read them month to month.

    I just wish DC and Marvel would hire historians to put a trade reading order on their sites.

  10. My own for-what-it's-worth two pennies:

    Superheroes aren't going anywhere. At least, the big-name well-known superheroes won't be leaving us any time soon, whether in the cinema or in the comic store. The brand names are too powerful -- Batman, Spider-Man, Superman and the other big names are still going to be around for a good while yet.

    The B-list and lower superheroes... well, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a culling there. But the superhero as a character and an idea's been around for a good while yet, and I think there's still life in them.

    I do, however, agree that a greater generic diversity is needed in comics as a whole, and the monthly pamphlet publishing model doesn't have much longer left. This, though, may be just the shot in the arm not only comics as a whole need, but superheroes themselves. Individual, stand-alone stories instead of never-ending run-on series might make it easier for people to rediscover these characters individually instead of having to jump in at some point during an ongoing monthly publication.

  11. I think Diamond would go under before Marvel and DC would fold. And that alone would end the super hero stranglehold. And not too long ago, I would have disagreed with his 18 month timeline, but in light of today's economy, I could see, in a worst case scenario, the end of the floppy in 18 months. But in such a scenario, Marvel and DC wouldn't be reduced to printing "endless reprint trades and occasional new graphic novels" as he suggests. I see them shifting their monthly titles to trades collecting the equivalent of a story arc (or two) worth of material. A series of bookshelf worth comics instead of a series of single issues. Think Ian Fleming's Bond series of books, except, you know, these would be comics. Or graphic novels, if you prefer. They'd also probably accelerate their digital comic plans, whatever they may be.


  12. Anonymous5:52 AM

    He has a few good points - there should be a greater variety of genres available, though time and tide would tell if it would be accepted. The Crossovers and multiple covers which plagued the market in the Nineties killed my interest in comics for years - and now I only read them digitally. Maybe the big companies need to shift from the paper medium?

  13. Anonymous6:47 AM

    One tought that occurs to me is that while we have probably heard this kind of doomsaying for the last decade, have we heard any indication that the Big Two are anywhere near running in red? Sure comics will change, but 18 months? Yeah right...
    Meanwhile I'll just take another stab at trying to figure out what Final Crisis is really about...

  14. Anonymous8:27 AM

    If you want to hear Devin talk about this some more check out the episode of the /filmcast podcast he was on.

  15. Maybe its just because I want to keep reading comics or something, but I doubt it. Analysts say all kinds of crap. It makes some sense, but if comics could survive that mess in the 90's they should be ok in our recession.

    Why does everyone discount the hardcore comics fans. Clearly there are enough to keep things going at least on some level. Casual fans would probably be more fickle, and if they made up the major portion of the readership these doom scenarios would be more likely to come to pass.

  16. I think Faraci is very wrong. Comics, like the $10 movie, of which sales have gone up, are just another form of entertainment and escapism that people need right now.

    The article sounds like what was a Doomsday scenario in the 90s. Comics aren't going anywhere.

    I have a ton to say, so I'll shamelessly link my blog.

  17. Here's the problem, I heard this in 1984 during the Black and White Boom and again during the 1993 crash. I heard it again when sales started to pick up in 2001.
    If Marvel and DC fail, we all fail in this country. Most retailers can keep their doors open selling their product as it is, the American comics industry doesn't support independent comics. Superhero comics keep this industry going. You may hate that idea but unfortunately it's true.

  18. Anonymous11:52 AM

    Superhero comics were born and thrived in a
    depression. To think the a current depression is going to kill them is, frankly, ignorant, and not taking history into account.

    Now, like someone above said, the industry will change, but I think it will have more to do with delivery and less to do with content.

    BTW, has this guy ever picked up a book from 1st-Second publishing or even bothered to look at the "indy" racks? There are MANY writers and artists using the comics medium in a "garage-band" style. As someone who has played in many a garage band (AND who really likes the comic by the same name) I kinda feel this guy is pretty disconnected from the "filthy masses" he seems to be talking down to.

  19. "When Marvel and DC fall"...

    Right, stop right there, this guy is dumb as a sack of bricks. When Marvel, making money hand over fist from its movies, and DC, part of media colossus Time Warner, fall? Yeah, okay then. Pretty sure Time Warner and Marvel are in good financial shape, so expecting the companies to fall is ludicrous. Worst comes to worst, they'll treat the comics as loss leaders, an intellectual property farm that's churning out new ideas for the next movie that's gonna make a billion dollars.

    This guy shows no work and has no facts, just a bunch of poorly concieved "what if"s.

  20. Seems a little doom and gloom, but who knows? What's weird to me, and what I didn't think of until just now, is that this would signal the end of the back issue. I don't mean as in "they're not gonna make any more comics so there won't be any NEW back issues"; I mean, if you collect back issues, or want to find an old issue of a book you're reading to keep your collection up to date, where are you going? eBay and Craigslist I suppose, but those are scooped up in lots. That's really sad to me.

  21. Floppies will dissipate when an alternative arrives which pays for the cost of production. Otherwise, GN publishers will have to adopt the trade model of paid advances. (I think First Second already does this.)

    Stores, well, some will morph into specialty bookstores, like mystery bookstores. Others will stay as they are, a comics shop will sidelines, a hobby shop with a specific clientele. Others (the model I would follow) might become pop-culture, alt-culture stores, selling cool stuff to the Gammas, the punks, the marginals.

    Episodic comics won't disappear. Episodic comicstrips haven't disappeared, why should comicbooks? Superheroic fiction as a genre won't disappear. When you can walk into a Barnes & Noble, and find a "graphic novel" subcategory in Mystery, or Science Fiction, or Romance, that's when you'll know that the format/medium is robust and diverse.

    Meanwhile, I'll keep reading the good stuff, no matter what the genre.

  22. Gotta say, the guy seems to be talking right out of his, er...fundament, as Terry Pratchett once put it. He's got no sales data to back him up (and admits he hasn't even read comics in a decade or so), and the fundamental basis of his argument seems to pretty much be, "Superhero comics are Stoopid and for kids, and once everyone else gets to be as smart as me and realizes that, then they'll go away and we'll get decent comics for grown-ups in the stores!"

    Which is a rant that I've heard every year since 1985, and I probably would have heard it before that if I wasn't too young to notice. :)

    Not to mention, it's based on a fundamentally false premise; if all the people who don't like super-hero comics have walked away because they're sick of being spoon-fed kiddie stuff, then what remains is a dedicated core audience willing to pay even more for super-hero comics. The more people like him refuse to read comics because they're kiddified, the more the companies will churn out super-hero comics. Because the super-hero audience is the one that's still there and still paying money. You go after the paying audience, not the one that doesn't even walk into comics stores because they're too adult for that now.

  23. I guarantee to you that ten years from now the idea of going to a comic shop to buy part 17 of a universe-spanning crossover event will seem as bizarre to readers as it would be for readers today to go to a grocery store to pick up Night Nurse

    I already think it's bizarre, especially since such stories usually get undone within a year, hence whatever payoff they have is moot. Which renders them generally unreadable to me.

    But I seriously doubt superhero comics are going away anytime soon, certainly not within 18 months. They may change formats and distribution methods-- digital, the manga-style "phonebook" (as I've already suggested) or something unforseen-- but they'll still be around. And Marvel and DC will, as well.

    Although we have seen companies we thought would be around forever recently vanish almost as if they'd never existed. That's why I hate to make predictions, and generally scoff at others' predictions as well.

    Also, I'm like a lot of the other commenters here-- I would love to see this turn into a time of more diversity in genres, similar to what we have here in Japan. Some comics pundit was (perhaps facetiously) knocking Japanese comics for "being about anything," citing Prince of Tennis as an example.

    That did happen, right? I'm not dreaming this am I?

    But I see that as a positive. More stories, more choices, more readers. And there's still more than enough room for capes and tights and reality-punching in that scenario. But the form these stories takes remains to be seen!

  24. I think what is actually going to happen will be a transition to digital comic delivery.
    I had a post on this topic last month on my blog:

  25. More hot air from Devin, who wishes the rest of the world liked to hear him talk as much as he does.

    In all honesty, you know what will eventually kill comic books? Old age. Even as characters and concepts from comics are reaching larger audiences than ever before, the actual new readers coming to comics continues to drop. I'm 37 right now and I was probably, what, 19, 20 years old when the video game industry just exploded. There'll be scragglers and hanger-ons, I don't doubt, but I think I'm really the second-to-the-last-generation to fully embrace the comic, superhero or otherwise, as an element of my childhood.