Comic Confidential #7- How Can We Save Printed Comics?
In a recent installment of “Comic Confidential,” I talked about the death of the printed comic and the rise of digital sales. I also talked with fellow comic creator Mike Hall about education comics and how that could help create younger comic fans. Free Comic day is the best thing the comic industry ever came up with to attract new readers, but it’s not enough. Now, I’m not saying I’m the messiah of the comic book world and I’m going to bring about a new world order to save it. In fact, you can probably hate every suggestion I have in this article. These are just my opinions, and are not that of Comicbooked.com.
So how would I fix the comic industry? It’s easier said than done. Fans are tired of the reboots, relaunches, publicity stunts to angry Midwestern moms. All of these boost sales, but they are only short-term. Most of the ideas I came up with are things the big publishers should be doing as well as retailers and parents. I’m going to run down a couple of ideas, and I’ll leave it up to you folks to decide if these are good ideas or not.
1-Increase the distribution of comics beyond the comic shops.
Sure we can see graphic novels in book stores and libraries, but when I was a kid, you could pick up a comic at every newsstand, pharmacy, or even gas station in the neighborhood. How is it that Archie digests can be sold at the check out line at grocery store, but there’s no Spider-man digests?
Marvel has the backing of Disney and DC has Warner Brothers. These are multi-billion dollar companies, and if they wanted to, they could ditch Diamond distribution and distribute themselves. Now if you think about it, it would actually be more profitable for them. Think about the possibilities. How about setting up comic shops in Disney Land and Great Adventure. They could even sell them at the Disney and Warner Bros. stores worldwide. Create a Marvel Store that sells only Marvel Merchandise? Toys, video games, clothes, comics. DC Nation Stores could do the same things. They could probably be able to sell their comics in other places outside of the comic shops like Toy stores, Target, CVS and Walgreens. A distribution monopoly is never a good thing. Now I know Marvel tried to set up a distribution company years ago, but again, that was before they had the Disney money…and over 1 billion dollars in movie sales. There’s no better time now to jump ship from Diamond and go off on your own.
Steve Niles recently announced a deal with Epitaph Records to create more diverse and independent means of distribution. He mentioned he wanted to create a way to get comics into the hands of people who don’t go to comic shops. He suggested places like Hot Topic and video game shops. There must be a way we can get comics back into the local groceries and newsstands again.
2. Make it Cheaper.
Even for an adult, comics can get pricey. Some people can drop over 50 dollars a week on comics alone. Sure the paper quality is better than years before and the art is more detailed than ever, but there is another option. I think big publishers like Marvel and DC should print two versions of every popular comic. They should print a newsstand edition and a comic shop edition. The newsstand edition can be printed on a cheaper newsprint paper, kind of like the same thing comics used to be printed on for over 50 plus years! That way they can sell them much cheaper, while the comic shop version can be the high-end quality. Why do I think this is a good idea? It will make the comic shop version all the more collectible. I live in Brooklyn and sure there’s about 6 or 7 comic shops in the whole borough, but they’re all over 20 blocks apart or more. Unless their parents drive them to a comic shop, how are kids exposed to get their comics? I’m sure the ratio of comic shops are even worse in other parts of the US. How about printing a cheap collected digest version of various Marvel Comics available for non- comic shops? These can sell at Target, Pathmark and even Toy r Us.
3- The Grab Bag and Dollar Bin.
This goes out to all the comic shops out there. Some comic shops still do this, and I commend them for it. For those that don’t know about this great marketing ploy, here is how it goes. At one time news-stands and other non-comic shops used to put all their leftover books and packed it into a large brown bag and sold it off for about a buck. You never saw what was inside these brown bags until you bought it. Most of these store owners had no idea what they were doing because they were giving away 10 cent or 24 cent comics thinking these were the real cover prices for these books. I used to go to my local news-stand and grab a ton of these grab bags. Some would feature choice comics, others, not so much. That tradition continues to this day in come comic shops. Unlike those newsstands, most comic shops don’t put a first appearance of Superman in a grab bag… but a lot of the grab bags I’ve seen have damaged comics, or other comics that never were big sellers and are pretty worthless in the collectors market.
The dollar bin was created to get rid of the comics that did not sell well. In fact, a recent shop I went to called Excalibur Comics in Brooklyn has a dollar bin. I saw a kid buy a copy of Demon from the 80’s. Again, you’re not going to get the choice comics, but the fact that it gets into the hands of new readers is the key.
4- Digital can be our friend.
Marvel and DC have an entire backlog of comics for over 50 years. There’s no way a little kid will be able to catch up on the legacy of the Avengers easily. They should release entire volumes of their early comics digitally for free. In the early 2000’s, the only way I even caught up with the Ultimate books was because Marvel used to have the first 6 issues of each Ultimate title FREE to read on their site. It was a great incentive that got be hooked onto those early issues and made me want to buy the next arcs.
How about digital comic gift cards at GameStop? Or hell even a comic section at GameStop, while you’re at it. Think about the cross promotional aspects. Next to Batman: Arkham City video games, place a series of graphic novels that are inspired by the video games. Or even better, include a special downloadable content in the video game where you can read a digital copies of the comics straight on your Xbox.
5- Give Comics as a Gift.
Now you’re a comic geek for life and you make sure you go to a comic store every Wednesday, but not everyone can do that. Give a comic to a friend. Let them borrow it. For Christmas donate your comics to kids in the block or your libraries. I’ve been doing this for years now. There’s nothing more delightful than giving a child a free comic. I do the same every Halloween. Instead of candy, give the kids comics. As parents and comic geeks, its your duty to introduce comics to your kids. Help the next generation of comic fans.
6- Education instead of media spectacle.
All the fuss about gay characters and gay marriages are only short-term stunts to get the media to buy a single comic, but there’s nothing long-term with that. Sure that particular issue will sell like gangbusters, but I bet the next issue after that plummets. The big publishers should work with schools and create a special program to use comics as a tool to teach kids how to read and to educate them about things in the real world. X-men could do an anti-bullying comic, Superman can do a story about handicapped children overcoming their disabilities to save the day, Batman can do a anti-drug story….etc. When I was in high school, I received a Captain America anti-drug comic for free. It was my first exposure to Cap, and to comics. It was one of the catalysts that started my affair in comics. Some schools have an annual book fair, why can’t schools have a comic fair? Teachers you can make learning fun. How about at least once a month you do a comic book report. Marvel and DC should set up special events at the schools to teach kids the importance of reading. Children are the future of this business.
7- Cross promotion.
Live action movies, TV shows, cartoons. All of these things help comics. In most cases, they probably make more money from those things than the actual printed comics. When I was a kid, we had Spider-Man teaching kids on PBS. How about an educational TV show featuring Marvel heroes? Let’s grab the Dora the Explorer crowd. Have the X-Men teach kids about learning about diversity, and Spider-Man teaching kids to spell as well as Captain America teaching kids that exercise is great. Super Hero Squad is great for little boys, but let’s try something to grab all kids.
How about Hunger Games and Harry Potter comics. These are literary books read by millions of non-comic readers. If we can tap into these fans, it would help comics immensely. Make fun comics. A choose your own adventure digital comic for kids, where they decide the outcome of the characters. Digital comic coloring books. How about a Marvel or DC card collecting game. Lets tap into the Yu-gi-oh fans. I’m surprised they never created a card game. They have Hero Clix and that’s about it.
Why does DC nation and Marvel cartoons only appear on cable TV. ABC should show re-runs of Avengers and Spider-Man cartoons on their Saturday morning blocks. Not every family in America can afford every cable channel. They are cutting out a large market of young fans. I got into X-Men because of the X-Men cartoon on Fox. We couldn’t afford Cable when I was a teen. Same thing with the Batman and Superman cartoons. It was because of these shows, I feel in love with those characters. Looking at the regular TV channel line-up in the morning is depressing.
If anyone has any other ideas or have any opinions on this, please leave comments below. Only together can we help the comic industry.