|Literally, the only image of comics on sale in a non-specialist shop that I could find on Google.|
Except they're on sale in the same place as DVDs, video games, CDs, lifestyle magazines, books, clothing, lottery tickets, Red Bull, iPods, ice cream, coffee, action figures, trampolines, go-karts and board games. Suddenly, the comic book economy meets the non-comic book economy and I defy anyone other than the most ardent comic book junkie to argue that a single issue in the current format is good value when compared to the vast majority of items in those stores. They will not move quickly.
A new reader walks in and sees a shiny new display of comic books. "Wow, I didn't realise they still published Spiderman" (lack of hyphen intended, as I'm sure that guy wouldn't know, bless him). He flicks through it, impressed by the art and intrigued by the characters. He wonders what else Marvel publish. He browses a while and, although many of the books appeal, it's something of a mystery how he's going to know he's picked books that will make sense. This one says 'Part 4 of 7', so it goes back on the shelf. He takes some DC, too. "Hey, look! I know that Green Lantern guy from the movie last year!" (I'm setting this in 2012, because I'm optimistic like that).
All done, he puts eight titles in his cart and continues his shop. When he comes to the checkout, those books account for 20% of his spend.
Obviously, it's a scenario I've dreamed up, but there's nothing to say that couldn't happen. This guy wants to read comics, but a high percentage of a spend in a grocery shop would be significant enough that the customer would have to at least make a conscious decision as to whether that is sustainable. And remember, this is eight books. Not even as many as the Big 2 would hope for each customer to buy.
|My all-time favourite Savage Dragon page(s). Art by Erik Larsen/Dylan McCrae|
Erik Larsen, creator of Savage Dragon and original Image Comics founder, proposed a new way of thinking regarding comic books last year. It works, if you ask me. I'd argue that the featured characters maybe should be split, however, maybe in order of public awareness. If you put Spider-Man as the full-length lead strip, with two more strips behind it (say, Luke Cage & Iron Fist and Silver Surfer, for argument's sake). Price it reasonably, like the $5.95 mentioned above. Not only is that an impulse buy, but there's no reason all three strips couldn't be good enough to a) keep the customer coming back month after month and b) suggest to them that other books, like that Hulk/Black Widow/Punisher one, might be of equal quality. Throw in Green Lantern/The Question/Hawkman and he's got nine stories for under $18. That's value.
For Marvel and DC, it seems to me that if they don't either go down this route, or release individual characters' stories in volumes on an ad hoc basis, the monthly books are doomed.
|Uncanny X-Force. One of the very best of the current superhero books, but is it enough to win new readers? (Art by Mark Brooks/Dean White)|
|Yeah, I wouldn't read it either, but not all books are for me. Why should comics be any different?|
I pray to The Giant Prawn Overlord that publishers are wise enough to publish trashy romance, melodrama, historic fiction, classics, war stories, non-fiction, chick lit, detective stories and the like. The equivalents of all of these are available in novel and DVD form. There is no reason in the world why a divorced lady of forty-seven with no prior experience of comics shouldn't be able to find and purchase a comic book about a struggling musician in a small Alaskan town.
There's no proven market for that kind of thing in comics, true. Maybe in novels? Maybe in TV movies? Some people like those true life 'girl in a well' movies and I bet would buy a similar comic if there wasn't the stigma attached (mostly because of superheroes) and if the writing and art was good. There's no point in doing it half-arsed.
I was fortunate enough to have a few beers with Andy Diggle last week and I got a bit ranty when we started talking about what was wrong with comics, proclaiming that "somebody should make Hamish MacBeth: the Comic".
I was serious, and I think the consensus amongst attendees was that yes, it should be possible, but it's VERY unlikely. But everyone else was drunk, too. Using that logic, I didn't embarrass myself...
Here's the thing: I love comics and I want to see them thrive again, but every time I see a new comic which looks like it might be a bold attempt at something new, then a zombie or a robot or a ghost turns up, I die a little. We should have today's superstar writers and artists working on comics that don't require a nerd degree to find interesting.
I'm going to round this out with a series of links to comic book-related projects which are daring to be different. I humbly submit that these folks are getting it right:
- CLiNT - Mark Millar's baby, published by Titan Magazines. A monthly (now 6-weekly) anthology title for the FHM crowd. Features mature readers' properties in reprint form, mostly, but available in supermarkets and newsagents.
- Witch - from Kickstart Comics. This article explains the reason I chose this better than I could.
- Womanthology - setting some kind of record for the fastest-funded comic book project on Kickstarter, the brainchild of awesome artist Renae De Liz is a mammoth, all-female hardcover comic book to be published by IDW. What's remarkable about this is the astronomical popularity in such a short time. Take note.
- Cinebook - a UK publisher of European reprints. The European system works in a way I think the Direct Market prohibits, but I see this as being a viable alternative. Comics published when completed, in volumes of varying size and with finite stories.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you think you can add something that we should all check out, by all means, please comment.
Note: I searched on Google for the phrase "breaking new ground in comics" and the first hit was a New York Times article from 1992. Yes, 1992.