I actually wrote this on March 19th, 2019, but I didn’t post it. I care passionately about comics and the industry, but figured I was just some bottom rung voice in the matter… but along came a pandemic and has upended the industry. So many of my friends are out of work, closing up their shops and many are not going to re-open. With the news on March 24th, 2020 of Diamond Comic Distribution closing up (for now?) the news is just getting worse and worse for comics. And it highlights how many industries, and this little cottage industry were already hanging on by a thread. It’s good to see people rallying together and putting the big brains in comics together to try to find a solution… or maybe even re-invent the system. So here’s my post, and my plea to SAVE COMICS.
I’m writing this out fast because we don’t have much time left… No frills, no graphics, but here’s the deal…
For years the “direct market” comic book industry has been in major decline.
Over in the business & commerce side, Comic shops everywhere are struggling to keep their doors open. Major print publishers like Marvel and DC Comics are struggling behind the scenes to keep their print publications relevant, and dodging the ROI bullets from up high on the corporate ladder regularly. With slipping sales and shrinking audience, the “comics” have just become more of a “novelty” or idea engine to feed the Film/TV/Game side of the IP world.
What about the Comic Creators?
They are still way underpaid, if even at all. No benefits or special deals unless you’re a real mover or shaker. For the most part, getting a “job” as a comic artist or writer might as well be like getting a front row seat on the deck of the Titanic.
Every now and then a hit maker will come along, but the measure of “success” seems to always be did you sell a show? But for every Kirkman, McFarlane, Bendis, _insert name here__ there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of stories of people losing their homes, their families, their livelihoods, and their health… even sadly sometimes their own lives. It’s a super bummer, so here’s a reminder to help the HERO INITIATIVE group who helps creators in need.
Meanwhile, “comic” conventions, Hollywood film and TV have been booming…
“Comic Creator” guests are usually second class citizens at most “comic” shows these days, (ask Larry Hama how he feels about it!), as Actors, Youtubers and Cosplayers take the main stage.
And what about the Fans? The Readers? The Consumers?
This is maybe the GREATEST time to be a fan of comics EVER. I mean, if I have to explain that to you you’re probably living on another planet.
Doom and Gloom? It doesn’t have to be that way. But, in order to SAVE COMICS, comics will need to get out of its own way.
There are more comic readers than EVER…
It’s true. There are more readers of comics in 2019 than there have ever been in the history of all mankind… they’re just not reading print comics. Will they? Sure, occasionally. So, what are they reading? Drumroll…
I prefer to call them WEBCOMICS. Maybe because I’m an OG Webcomics creator, I was one of a group of a few cartoonists who started posting “free” comics online in the late 90’s when it totally was NOT cool to do that. In fact, other colleagues of mine in Webcomics faced a lot of backlash from the gate-kept industries like newspaper syndicated comics and the mainstream comic book publishers. Those are stories for another time…
These days a whole slew of creators and fans call them WEBTOONS…
Thanks mostly in part to the South Korean market and big corporations like LINE seeing the value of this content. The Webtoons.com website and app is the best example to show here, but it’s definitely not the ONLY example like this. This market likes to try to take credit for the “scroll down” format, but we all know Scott McCloud was yammering about “infinite canvas” webcomics long before sites like Webtoons or others were even possible. Either way, they are both pretty right.
It’s not about the “Scroll down” thing, or infinite canvas. Or any bells and whistles .
It’s about WHAT people are reading comics on… smart phones. Mobile devices. iPads. Tablets.
It’s about access. No matter who you are, or where you are, you can now read comics anywhere, any time and engage with the creators and other fans instantly.
A typical “popular” weekly comic feature on Webtoon can have thousands of subscribers and millions of views:
The userbase of Line Webtoon grew rapidly after the service was released globally, with 10 million people using the website or app each day. In Asia, several webtoons receive 5 million views per week. In 2016, 42% of the webtoon creators on Line Webtoon were female, as were 50% of its 6 million active daily readers.
Some known creators and publishers have experimented and partnered with Webtoon, but it’s still not really caught fire with the “comic industry” or North American crowd, even after having a big presence the past couple years at major comicons. Even though it’s made good headway, it still is not “American Comics” and that’s why it’s just not resonating as well in that market space. There is even some backlash internally that “Webtoons” should be Korean comics and NOT American creators, which is just a super weird thing to fight over, but it happens often.
When Tom Akel was let go from Webtoon in 2018 as it’s EIC, some comments from webtoon purists were criticizing Tom for not having enough new Korean talent onboard or bringing too many big names or American looking comics, when he was actually hired to make the service more appealing to the North American market. I think Tom did an amazing job recruiting some pretty big names (Stan Fucking Lee??) and pushing this platform in the American market, but in the end the Webtoon App still kinda feels like the “strange obscure manga section of your local comic shop” that they keep trying to force into the Mainstream sections, and the fans on both sides just don’t want to really cross over in either direction. This is sad, but true.
SO WHAT’S THE GAME PLAN??? HOW DO WE FUCKING SAVE COMICS???
Marvel, DC, Image, IDW… WHOEVER, please use or consider the following plan. I don’t need any credit. Of course I’d LOVE to work within the following model, or consult, but you all have way more $$$ and resources.
Rule #1, Don’t overthink it.
You don’t have to spend ages developing your own App or Webtoons. (although I’m sure Marvel/DC could afford it and do it quickly) — But also, cut out the idea that you have to partner with ATT or some other big “mobile” company. JUST START MOVING… YES, in the future it would be ideal if each company had it’s own “webtoons” like site.
Daily Comics WILL Save The Comics…. once again.
I won’t go into how daily adventure comics used to FUEL the newspaper industry back in the day. And readers flocked to features like Terry and the Pirates and even treated the creator, Milton Caniff like a friggin movie star. (Creators dressed way better back in those days) – And a daily webcomic is NOT a “loss leader” or gateway to Comixology or some other product. In fact the very simple model would be something like this, and there is data to back this up that it WOULD work because it’s working like gangbusters on Patreon and direct memberships:
#1 Launch a regular FREE Daily WebComic, with some top talent onboard.
Let’s just say it’s a “Captain America” Daily Comic by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee as an example here. (Sorry, I just love that team, it could be anything, but let’s use that as an example!) Make it fit the web format and completely abandon “print”. Hell even think to draw it in the “portrait panel” size of the new Instagram. (Since writing this we actually started 7x7comics.com which are using the 1080X1350 panel size.) Don’t know what I mean? Check out my example at SECRET FORCES on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/secretforcescomic/ Funny thing is, the 1080×1350 pixel panel size is the same ratio of some classic adventure strips from newspapers. And that’s what
#2 While that main comic is free, readers can choose to subscribe for cool extras and to support the creative team.
For 1.99, 3.99, or different “reward” levels much like on Patreon.com/comics (PLUG!) Within those tiers you can offer some fun exclusive content. Behind the scenes creator blogs, sketches. And do fun promotions of members only backstories or origins exclusive to members.
#3 Sit back and watch the profits role in.
Not only would you not have to worry about a printing or distribution costs, you could pay your creative teams about the same for doing a full comic book, and essentially when you break it down they are producing LESS and making more from it. I mean, I can break that down way further, but people who know budgets, finance, ROI know exactly what the heck I mean. Run some numbers… it’s true.
#4 Grow and Scale your audiences systematically.
Marvel and DC would have the resources to offer several titles like this. Maybe you’re in the Captain America Fan Club but not the Spider-man one. Maybe there is a group member thing where you get access to all the Marvel ongoing stories….who cares. The idea is the main comic is FREE for ALL and the bonus contents and generate regular fan excitement and excitement around the ART & WRITING OF COMICS.
#5 Is print dead?
Hell no, it’s just super duper SPECIAL again. Companies like Marvel and DC would make so much MORE from a system like this that they could easily offer up exclusive stories in print that tie in to the overall universe. Possibly collect the strips… MAYBE. There would no need to put everything in print, but perhaps a very special story that’s nowhere else but print, super sized. Hardcover. SPECIAL. Or maybe you go micro? Maybe readers get cool “mini-comics” exclusives in the mail. Even better, maybe they weren’t even expecting it and they came home to find a surprise mini comic from the Captain America comic strip team? Wouldn’t you feel awesome experiencing that connection? This is the way.
#6 Do comic stores suffer?—Yeah, I mean kinda...
But not really and not any less than the boat is ALREADY sinking. (or has sunk) If anything, and if everyone got creative enough, this could actually ENGAGE and reinvigorate MORE FANS to get their asses to local events and shops to buy and support other types of merch around that fandom. Drop ship the exclusive member items to comic shops as fan hubs. It’s way past time to think out of the box on that side. Or you know, you can keep growing your FUNKO Pop walls or movie tie-ins to try to pay your rent and keep the doors open. Good luck with that. This article isn’t about how to save comic stores. But that’s a great follow up as I think there are many ways shops could evolve to be very special places in the fandom and local communities. Let’s face facts, the direct market system has been broken for years. For a new distribution model to work, it will take retailers and publishers working together, and yes, maybe one central hub to connect them.
The clock is ticking… it’s time to take action. IT’S TIME TO SAVE COMICS.
Who the fuck am I? I’m just an indie comics guy who loves the craft of “comics” and I don’t want to see that part die off or be at the will of corporate executives or gate-kept monopolies. You can read my comic for free online AND in the local paper. I also founded 7×7 Comics in 2019. What do I know about making money with webcomics? In the past, just as a guy alone in my living room I was able to make $4000 – $6000 a month producing my own webcomic, shipping my own product and building a tiny readership. It was a FUCK TON of work, but really fun too. I know if I could do that, imagine what a bigger company could do if they get creative. And yeah, I’m open to chat about this topic or consult with larger companies… firstname.lastname@example.org
Sure, we have plenty of indie comic publishers who will always be making comics…. but in my opinion, the COMICS themselves should be the real star of the show and not second fiddle to Movies and Video Games. We can do better! And the times are calling us…
Feel free to leave a comment to continue the conversation…