This week in Everything But Imaginary, I’m digging into the newest force in independent comics, Kickstarter. How does it work? How has it worked? Is it worthwhile?
But going back in time, this week’s classic EBI is the final column from 2004, my “2004 Comic Book Industry Progress Report.” A little time capsule that’s kind of pertinent, considering where comics are right now.
Everything But Imaginary #95: The 2004 Comic Book Industry Progress Report
Hello there, all, and welcome to the final Everything But Imaginary for the year 2004. It was a year of ups and downs, highs and lows, smooth and chunky, and when all was said and done, I think it wasnâ€™t too bad a year at that. That said, there are always things that could be done better, and as such, we here at Everything But Imaginary Global Headquarters have compiled the following progress report for the comic book industry, for the retailers, and for you, the fans. So take a look, see where you fall on this hierarchy, and do what it takes to make 2005 a better year for comics than 2004.
For the Comic Companies:
*Keep up trying to attract younger readers. I have to give credit where credit is due, Marvel and DC Comics have both made great strides this year in their effort to reach out to the pre-teen and younger crowd. The new Marvel Age line, offering a mixture of contemporary retellings of old stories and brand-new stories with Marvel’s teenage characters, is a great idea. The Johnny DC imprint, rounding up all of the DC Comics based on cartoon shows, is also a very effective way to brand which of their titles are appropriate for younger readers — plus they get major bonus points in my book for things like activity pages and a letter column (something woefully missing from other DC Comics these days). I want to see both of these lines grow and prosper this year, so fans, try out some of these comics even if you consider yourself too old for them. And if you know any kids who might like a few comics, this is the place to start.
*Conversely, remember to keep your comic book prices reasonable. I love Gemstone Comics for what they’ve done with the Walt Disney properties, but I’m still in a tiff about charging $6.95 an issue for Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. Yeah, clearly they’re gearing this to the collectors. But guys, the collectors will read the books anyway. It’s insane to have the two flagship titles of a Disney line priced too high for a child to buy them! If you must have a title for “collectors,” why not call it Walt Disney Masterpieces or something? Just make the other books affordable.
*Remember: that old adage about the only bad publicity being no publicity is nonsense in the long run. Controversy sells, true, but not for long. Sure, when people rant and rave about how bad a comic book is, other people may pick it up for an issue or two to see what all the fuss is about, then they’ll drop it and join in the ranting and raving. Soon you’ve reached everyone there is buying comics, and the sales will fall. And fast.
*Take advantage of your multi-media properties. Spider-Man 2 was one of the top-grossing films of the year. Smallville is a hit. Kids everywhere are singing that godawful Teen Titans cartoon theme song. There is no reason not to use that to your advantage. Including a mini-comic in the Punisher DVD (a comic by the regular creative team, no less) was a very nice touch. So was handing out the special edition Amazing Spider-Man where Frank made his first appearance at the movie theatres. I saw a lot of people in the theatre reading that comic book before the film started. Push the comics based directly on the films and TV shows and, more so, try to link them. Advertise the Superman: Birthright hardcover book as being the bridge to Smallville that it is. Play up that you’re going to have writers for that show on two of the comics next year (Superman and Superman/Batman). And if the Bryan Singer run on Ultimate X-Men ever finally comes out, God help you if you don’t let the non-comic readers know about it!
For the Retailers:
*Clean up, dammit. This doesn’t go for all retailers, but I’ve seen a lot of comic shops that are an absolute mess. Dusty shelves, 15-year-old posters on the wall, hastily boxed back issues in no order whatsoever and comics dating back to 2000 sitting on the new release shelf. That’s ridiculous. And it’s no way to run a business. Get out the broom, put up some new posters, alphabetize the old comics and you might just get more customers, as opposed to the people who walk by your store, squint in confusion, and then wander off to the pet shop next door, which at least has an excuse to occasionally be filthy.
*Be friendly. The best comic stores — the ones that I go to on a regular basis — are the ones that treat everyone with respect, be they a first-time customer or someone who’s had a pull list for years. Talk to your customers. Help them find what they want. Don’t be patronizing or snooty — not only does it cost you a customer, but it helps perpetuate a stereotype that holds back the whole art form. As I’ve said before, if it’s something the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons would say… don’t say it.
*Take some business classes. Too many retailers are just fans who decided to open their own shops. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but when the proprietor has no idea how to run a business, all the love of comics in the world won’t keep it going. First figure out how to maintain a profitable retail business. Then apply that to running a comic book store. The husks of abandoned comic shops across the country prove how vital that lesson is.
For the Fans:
*Stop buying bad comics, particularly when there are so many great ones you aren’t reading. You would think this was a given, but a lot of people simply don’t grasp the concept. Now I’m not suggesting that you should go out there right now and drop every other title from your list, I’m saying you should be more discriminating. If you’re getting 194,246.7 X-Men related comic books a month, are you doing that because you still actually like all those titles, or because you haven’t missed an issue since 1977 and don’t want a hole to appear in your collection? If it’s the latter, that means it’s time to rethink things.
*If a comic is getting critical acclaim, try to find out why. There are certain comic books that you hear us funky reviewers praising month in and month out. She-Hulk. The Monolith. Fade From Grace. But these books don’t have the gargantuan sales numbers of other books of (arguably) much lower quality. We know you’ve heard the buzz by now. Why not see what all the fuss is about? And nobody is saying you have to like any given comic book. I’m just saying that if everyone keeps talking about how great a comic is, it may be worth your time to try an issue or two and see what all the deal is.
*Be heard. In this day and age, the only thing that can build comics readership (until the companies do something to engender a major societal shift) is your word of mouth. If you have a comic you love that no one is reading, tell them about it. If you’ve got one that you think your non-comic reading cousin would like, lend them a copy. If you’re at a bookstore and see an old lady trying to pick out a comic book as a gift for her grandson, make a suggestion. And be heard by the publishers too. Chat it up on the message boards. Write them letters — even if they don’t publish letters anymore, there’s bound to be someone reading them. It’s true that the best way to vote is with your wallet — buy what you like, don’t spend money on what you don’t like — but it can’t hurt to tell the folks in charge why you like or don’t like the comics you’ve chosen to purchase or chosen to ignore.
FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: December 22, 2004
It was a good week, but not a great week in comics, and the best comes from a rather unlikely source. Space Ghost #2 continues the dark, shadowy origin of a character best known today for hosting a goofy talk show on Cartoon Network. This is the origin of the classic Space Ghost, though, and this is a great issue. Stranded on a distant world, betrayed by the peacekeeping force that he fought for, Thaddeus Bach was left for dead. But now he’s not only alive, he’s mad. It’s hard to believe that the same Joe Kelly who writes the incredibly dull Justice League Elite also writes this comic, and it’s fantastic to see the beautiful artwork of Ariel Olivetti. I’m really starting to anticipate this comic each month.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast and the weekly audio fiction podcast Blake M. Petit’s Evercast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page, and check out his new experiment in serial fiction at Tales of the Curtain.