As I write these words, I have been in the business of retailing comics for 26 years. Unless things change dramatically, I do not know if I can make it to the end of my current lease two years from now. Every week or two brings a cancellation from my subscription rolls. Every week, customers are reducing the number of titles on their reserve lists. The economic downturn has hit me hard, even though I am in one of the most affluent counties in northern
Marvel and DC have done everything possible over the years to reduce the number of customers walking into our stores. They have raised prices far too much far too often; I have heard some recent scuttlebutt that they are currently considering raising all their regular books to the $3.99 price point their annuals and specials -- and doing this during a terrible time for consumers across the board. I cannot imagine a scenario where mass numbers of people don’t stop buying new, monthly comics if Marvel does this and DC (as they always do) follows suit.
From an editorial perspective, how many more customers would we have if Marvel published a discrete universe of titles? If Marvel wants to publish 80 titles a month, or 100, or 120, fine. But they should all be different. Instead, we have a publishing plan wherein 33% or more of current monthly output are spin-offs (limited or otherwise) of existing characters/books. This is great for some, though not all, of a particular character’s fans, but it is horrible for the marketplace as a whole. If someone isn’t interested in any of Marvel’s or DC’s current characters, he has no reason to go to the store. Introducing minor characters (Ambush Bug, El Diablo, Sub-Mariner, Vixen, Patsy Walker etc. in limited series) doesn’t help. There should be monthly books for second tier characters like Captain Marvel and Dr. Strange.
The reason these characters sell in low numbers now is because they appear rarely in limited series. And if a Spider-Man or Fantastic Four fan feels compelled to buy all the multiple titles from those series each month, they will have nothing left over to support an entire, diverse line of superhero comics. When I was growing up, Marvel published about 20 comics a month and each week, I would go to the local store and buy my 4-6 unique titles. And let’s not forget that the books were always on time and that I could budget my meager allowance to afford everything. This diversity is essential, now more than ever, as well as not price raises for at least 5 years, until there might be an economic dynamic in this country that will support a higher price for comic books. Add advertising, do whatever you need to do, but do not raise the prices of the books.
This is the reality of the current marketplace for most retailers and their customers. In this reality, quality, interesting creator owned comics do not stand a chance. If anyone is less cynical than I am at this point, go to the Fat Moose Comics Website and write me, or give me a call… I’m ready to sell and get out for a price so low even thinking about it makes me sick. But the industry as it exists today makes me even sicker.
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.