This week at ComicsPRO Eric Stephenson, Image Comics Publisher, gave an address that will hopefully act as a catalyst for many in the industry. You can read the whole speech here. His suggestions to grow the comics industry centered around these three ideas:
1.) Targeting new demographics & getting them into Local Comic Shops:
“ANYONE who isn’t currently buying comics should be our target audience.”
“Right now, the fastest growing demographic for Image Comics, and I’m willing to speculate, for the entire industry, is women.”
2.) Continuing to diversify the types of stories that comics tell
There are only two kinds of comics that matter: good comics and bad comics.
“This is the comic book industry, not the superhero industry, and if we want to stick around for the long haul, we need to recognize that and capitalize on that, because as much as I fond as I am of the superhero comics I read when I was younger, the full scope of what comics are and what comics can be is what will ultimately bring the world into your stores.”
3.) Not buying in to antiquated marketing techniques such as variant covers and gimicky events.
“Constantly re-launching, re-numbering, and re-booting series after series, staging contrived events designed to appeal to a demographic destined only to a slow march toward attrition, and pretending that endless waves of nostalgia for old movies, old toys, old cartoons, and old video games somehow equals ideas or innovation will not make us stronger.”
The overall talk spoke to many of the glaring problems of the comics industry, and I may have verbally cheered once or twice while reading the speech in my home office. However, as a simple reader and occasional reviewer, I immediately wondered what I could do to help with any of these mandates.
I don’t own or work at a comic book store, so beyond suggesting some ideas to the employees at my LCS, there’s nothing more I can do to make it a more inviting place. I actually considering myself lucky for how inviting my current LCS is. When I lived near Toledo, Ohio – every single shop was owned by a 50+ bearded man and most cared more about immediate profits than industry longevity. However, if you are ever near Cleveland, Ohio I recommend visiting Carol and John’s Comic Shop. It’s run by a mother-son duo who are insanely inviting. They also have really cool events, and are welcoming of people from all walks of life.
I could attempt to start a comic book club – it’s a fascinating idea and something I definitely want to look into, but not something that I can accomplish overnight. I’d need to do a bit of planning, find people to join, and then set a list. Now that I think about it, those three steps sound completely accomplish-able and I’ve added it to my 2014 New Year’s Resolutions list. It’s just below “Learn all the words to ‘Wrecking Ball'” and “Learn all the words to ‘Let it Go'” so I think I can get this done before the year is out. If you can’t wait until then, check out the Canvas Course “Social Issues Through Comic Books”. Christina Blanch is back to lead her second SuperMooc on comics, and the reading list is phenomenal.
I don’t write comics, nor do I work for anyone currently in the comics industry, so there’s not a way I can impact the industry in that way. Luckily for us, there are companies like Image Comics, Boom! Studios (*cough* ComiXology is having a Boom! sale right now *cough), and others that are currently innovating the way comics stories are told. In addition to companies, there are great writers such as Brian K. Vaughn, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Robert Kirkman, Jonathan Hickman, and Si Spurrier who continue to innovate superhero and non-superhero comics alike (this list was written based on comics I found laying on my floor – if you really want a definitive list of awesome I will cobble one together later this evening).
What I can control and contribute to comics is money – both the giving and taking of it. I can control whether I buy the silly 3-D Villian’s month covers. I can control whether or not to get hooked into the Infinity Marvel event. I can contribute by refusing to buy variant covers – even though I love Skottie Young‘s covers with all my heart and soul. I can support new types of story-telling by taking chances on new books from smaller publishers. I make sure I support both the authors (Kelly Sue, Kelly Sue and Kelly Sue) that I love and the characters I would like to see more of (Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel).
Since money doesn’t grow on trees, some of this is a balancing act. For me, the ability to support the things I love and to buy things I am not sure I will even like hinges on giving up comics that I mediocrely like, or nostalgically like. In order to do this, I am taking one of Stephenson’s quotes to heart, and giving up comics based on IP:
“TRANSFORMERS comics will never be the real thing.
GI JOE comics will never be the real thing.
STAR WARS comics will never be the real thing.
Those comics are for fans that love the real thing so much, they want more – but there’s the important thing to understand:
They don’t want more comics – they just want more of the thing they love.”
Clearly Stephenson’s point here is not that IP is bad. rather than many comics companies have decided to primarily publish IP’s with already built-in audiences which does nothing to grow the industry as a whole. There are people out there that will buy every single book with Wolverine’s name on it, but that doesn’t help bring in new readers. Nor do cross-overs. Cross-overs are confusing. Also, the worst.
However, it really struck me that some of the comics I am currently reading will never be the real thing, and some of them aren’t even good imitations. Mass Effect Foundation will never come close to the reality of the Mass Effect trilogy, even though it is nice to see character cameos. Ghostbusters will never give me the same feelings I had when I first saw the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow man. And Serenity: Leaves on the Wind will never feel as shiny as my first watch-through of Firefly. So, I’m not buying them anymore.
It may just be three comics off my list, but that gives me an opportunity to try three new comics a month. I may find comics I hate (Miss Fury), I may find comics that I like the idea of but find fault with the application (Mercy Sparx) but I have faith that I will find comics I love (Polarity). Will my single contribution impact the comic industry that much? Perhaps not, but if collectively comic readers across the globe attempt to make similar efforts, then things will continue to get EVEN BETTER.
So, what are you going to do?