The State Of the Union
#comicbooks #comicindustry #moderncomics #literature #art #comicbookhistory #diamonddistribution #manga #comics
Is, DC and Marvel Comics cutting ties with Diamond Distribution good for Comics Industry?
April 16th 2021 © Carey Kelley, Red Handed Studios
Usually when you see ‘state of the union’ you immediately think politics, and in these crazy times that’s pretty easy to understand. Fortunately for anyone reading this, that’s not the state nor the union we’re going to be discussing today!
Comic books as an industry has had some tumultuous times to put it lightly. The industry has survived near eradication at the hands of a pitchfork wielding mob driven by the writing of a questionable psychiatrist, the speculator crisis of the 90s, the bankruptcy and resurgence of Marvel, and several seismic shifts in distribution that have caused a ripple effect throughout the supply chain, most notably at the retail end of that chain. Even before COVID we were seeing more and more direct market shops dry up and close their doors as they simply could not sustain their businesses based on the product they’ve been supplied with and the waning interest of fans who increasingly go elsewhere for their entertainment. Now, with the pandemic keeping those fans still interested in hitting that local comic shop away, it’s amazing any stores remain open at all. Welcome to the comic apocalypse. I hope you bought your bags and boards!
In all seriousness, it can look a bit gloom and doom on the frontier, depending on your perspective. For stores that have made themselves into a "go-to" mainstream comics source, the hits just keep coming. DC comics severed ties with Diamond distribution, instantly removing roughly 30% of their catalogue, and leaving stores to pick up the pieces. Rumours out there in the wind say Marvel is also looking to make a move, which will leave the monopoly distributor without product to distribute from the two biggest comic book companies out there. This can’t be good for the industry. Can it?
I will argue that it’s without a doubt good for the industry.
The retailer of the future is an adaptable energetic creature who loves ALL comics (yes, that means Manga!) and can hold forth on why he loves any book in the store, and why his customers will too.
Fans, you’re next. Aren’t you getting tired of the latest crossover event that screws up the story you’ve been trying to enjoy for the last several months? Doesn’t it bug you that a long run on a series by a creative team is barely six issues these days? Don’t you feel just a little bit taken for granted that you’re consistently spoon fed a steady diet of rehashed stories resampled from far better creators from decades gone by? The answer to all these questions should be a resounding YES! They use quaint terms like “event fatigue” in hushed whispers and yet here comes the next super secret invasive war without a shred of credible story to be found. You have the only real power in the comic book kingdom, and that’s your wallets. Start using that power. Demand to be respected as a reader and a fan. Stop buying the same old corporate junk getting rebooted every 18 months and return to being discerning readers that support great creators who make intelligent stories again. Winter is over, the ice is thawing out, and it’s time to go back outside and take a deep breath. The comics are there if you’re willing to look for them.
Creators, don’t think for a second you’re getting off lightly. You, unfortunately, caused at least some of this to happen. Too many creators took the easy route to the quick cash, and we’ve all suffered for it. Sure, the money can be great with the Big Two, and I get it, everyone wants to get paid. With that said, look at what you’re giving away in exchange for that quick dollar. Creative people, no matter their particular creative skill set, leave part of themselves in everything they create. With work for hire, you get nothing but the money in return.
In very few cases will anyone ever know you created the coolest hero on the planet because it’s owned by someone else. You gave it away. The sad part about that is, you gave it away when you didn’t have to. Marvel and DC are companies built on the backs of hundreds of creators because those creators took the only deal they thought they had. Those days are gone. Why can’t you create the next Superman or Spiderman? You can. It’s not the colour of the suit or the character that ultimately keeps readership and builds a fanbase, it’s the story and how it connects with those fans. It’s about resonating. I’m not saying it’s the easy or lucrative path, especially at first, but it’s the path that lets you keep your creations and directly profit from them and your hard work. The resources we have available now mean the sky is quite literally the limit. Print on demand has quality today that is fantastic, and many times looks superior to larger print companies that require huge orders and the corresponding large outlay of cash to go with them. There are hundreds of companies that will make prints, banners, merchandise, shirts, pins, stickers and even action figures for reasonable prices that you can afford! Crowdfunding is another avenue to look at, especially if you have a small following to build on. The options are there for the taking, but you have to reach out and be willing to grab them.
Creators, you have to stop being wallflowers. No one cares if you’re not a salesman anymore, you don’t have a choice. Learn! You can no longer afford to sit behind your convention table and draw while someone else reps your merch and
STEVE GEPPI, CEO, DIAMOND COMICS DISTRIBUTORS
First off, let’s deal with the retail stores. Has it been extremely easy for stores to have a one stop catalogue from which to order from, including one account they have to process, one accounting department to call and bother, one supplier to wrangle? Absolutely. Has it made them lazy and disinclined to deal with smaller distributors and individuals trying to get their product on the store shelves? Without a doubt. Times they are a changing folks, and those who don’t change with them are not long for this brave new world. Retail stores have their survival in their own hands. Previews is no longer the end all be all in comic book distribution. Get over it. They should have been broken up long ago. Now you’ll have several catalogues to choose from and you’ll still be looking for cool content to put on the shelf. Now, with the flow of everything the Big Two can think of to toss against the wall slowing down, there’s room on those shelves again. Indy comics have always been the life’s blood of the comic book industry. So give those creators a try again, would you? Are they haphazard publishing wise? Sure. It happens. Most of them have full time jobs that aren’t creating comics! That doesn’t mean they aren’t turning out some of the most amazing comics we’ve seen in decades! Help them! Retailers, if you don’t start supporting the ground floor comic creators now, before it’s too late, you’ll regret it later, I promise. Also, you’ve got to give fans a reason to walk in your door. Putting a sign that says ‘Comic Books’ is no longer going to be enough. We need to get back to the days of in store events ruling the landscape. Bring in your local creators and make a day of it! You can get (and SELL!) their books, they can meet existing fans and make new ones all while you boost your store traffic. It’s a win all the way around.
Gone are the days of the grouchy old man behind the counter wondering where all the “real” fans are.
sells books. No one on this planet will be as excited about your book as you are. Get out to your local shops and meet the owners you want so desperately to stock your comics. Bug them relentlessly about doing in store signings and events. Get together with a like-minded group of creators and attack in force. A great many comic conventions got started with several creators banding together to do store based events. This is how we win!
The comics industry, like any other industry, will naturally move through ups and downs. It will ebb and flow. What we’re experiencing now is without question a readjustment across the entire industry. Another of those seismic shifts, if you will. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Change like this causes some discomfort, sometimes a bit of pain, but in the end this will improve the industry in a great many ways. How, you ask? I’ll tell you.
The first, and in my opinion the foremost way, is that a far greater variety of comic book properties will begin getting out to an audience that’s starving for them. Sequential storytelling has been around since the first men lived in caves, and it will always be a vital way for us to tell stories and entertain, as well as being a tool to teach those who come after us. Independent comics are a vital source of new talent, new stories, and new life for the industry. Now that the distribution monopoly has begun to die it’s important to fill the product gaps with vibrant interesting stories that reinvigorate the fan base. These new stories have to have substance and get under people’s skins where
they will stay and be remembered. Using the vastly greater diversity of creators, styles, and stories available in the independent comic scene is the engine that will drive everything else.
Next up, this sort of readjustment will force evolution on an industry that has become far too comfortable for its own wellbeing. Comics used to own the lion’s share of children’s entertainment outside of Saturday morning cartoons, but the internet and video games have changed that forever. What used to be “if you build it they will come.” is now “you have to find them and shove it down their throats to make them notice!”. Comics used to be big, bold, and in your face in that insidious, counter culture sort of vibe, and it has to get there again. Store owners have to innovate to get the traffic. Creators have to take chances to keep their fans engaged. Companies have to streamline to keep costs low and product on the move. This is not new news, but things have shifted from ‘this might be a good idea’ to ‘if we don’t we’re dead’. The time is now.
Ladies and gentlemen, the State of the Union is we’re still alive and breathing. We have tough times ahead, there’s no denying that. Uncertainty, anxiety, and fear lurk as we figure this out on the fly. Yes, this will be difficult. We will likely lose more stores, shows, and creators. It will be challenging to navigate the new waters, to steer a course safely to the other side, but it’s doable. It’s possible. And if we do it, we as creators and comics as an art form will be better and stronger for it.
CAREY KELLEY IS THE CREATOR/WRITER OF THE UPCOMING ANTARTIC PRESS/RED HANDED STUDIOS, FALLEN JUSTICE COMIC BOOK SERIES