Ultraist Studios Blog Journal thoughts, musings and other rambling…

June 22, 2007

Ripped From The Comics Journal

Filed under: Ramblings — M Kitchen @ 2:48 pm

Ultraist friend Stanley Lieber pointed out this article a few posts back. While reading it, I jotted down my thoughts and posted it on The Comics Journal message boards. It appears below in it’s entirety for your reading pleasure.

The statement “the direct market network of mostly superhero-oriented comic book stores is headed for extinction” is a gross exaggeration in my opinion. I understand the sentiment, however looking at hard numbers, superheroes (as far as I can tell) still are the lifeblood of the north American comic book industry. “Extinction” is a big word. Superman is an icon. Spider-man is an icon. Batman is an icon. They aren’t going away. Not in our lifetime. My hunch is that the comic book stores that peddle these icon’s comic book adventures are going to stick around for a good while longer. Which is a good thing for the medium. Yes, there has been a swell of reprints and imports of newspaper strips and manga, as well as “art” comics that have been penetrating the mainstream. THAT more than anything at the moment seems to be where the balance of power is shifting, which is ALSO a very good thing for the medium.

The point about “excludes new readers and embraces only an existing “fan base,”” is a good one. The comics that are generally available to children these days don’t seem good enough to catch their attention. The comics I see aren’t accessible. The ones you can find on racks in convenience stores and magazine racks and in toy stores just aren’t good enough. They don’t capture the imagination. They don’t tell a complete story. They aren’t worth a child’s 3 dollars. That money would be better spent on a pack of cards, or a little plastic vending machine figure, or candy. They’ve already seen the movie and played the video game, and most of the comics on the shelves just don’t compete. They don’t add anything of value. They don’t mesmerize their audience. If the big two companies (not to mention the little ones) hope to attract new fans, this is one of the big areas they need to focus their attention on. Not company wide cross-over events (which are great at milking the current middle age fan base wallets) but rather getting appealing books into the hands of the kids who would love them. Amazing Spider-man #232 is the comic that hooked me. It came in a MARVEL MULTI-MAGS pack if I remember correctly. I don’t see comics on the shelves these days that have that same effect on kids. The ones that should unfortunately don’t. For the most part. As far as I can tell.

In regards to the question of, “will the truly full-service comic book stores that point the way to the future serve as an example to the majority of stores currently dependent on Diamond’s weekly shipments of superhero titles? Or will the backward, pro-superhero (but ultimately anti-comics) policies of such stores destroy the direct market before a transition can be made to a viable graphic novel-dominant marketplace that serves all comics readers?“…

This is the way I see the market evolving from my niche perspective: The elite of the current comic book stores will remain the pillars of the comic book community for the foreseeable future. Each with their own unique specialty interest and focus. I picture these stores as hobby shops, like stores that sell model trains etc. The comic book stores who are not part of the elite are the ones I see as facing potential extinction, as their size and lack of focus and failure to adapt will be the primary reasons for their potential demise. Online comics and digital media I see as being the new fanzine. The place where the fans and new artists can hone their skills and shape the future of the industry. Big bookstores I see as being the new newsstand. Only instead of pamphlets, they are selling books (graphic novels and reprint collections). The closest thing I see as being the new 1970s direct market are the new stores popping up like Stuart Ng and The Labyrinth (book dealers that sell sketchbooks, and rare art books). The modern equivalent to Elfquest, Cerebus and Love and Rockets are most likely going to appear in these shops.

I see Diamond as being fought on two fronts in the next distribution war. The bookstores on the mainstream front, and these new indy bookstores on the indy front. Who’s side are you on? Will Diamond tear itself apart trying to compete in both markets? Will it implode as it gets squeezed from both sides? Or will it hold it’s strategic position as a service stuck somewhere in between those two extremes?

Meanwhile corporate superhero comics have marginalized themselves through editor-driven, continuity-dependent, poorly-crafted “events”” While this is true to a certain extent, the fact that they still dominate the direct comic book market is still saying something… saying a lot actually.

The prime reason people were buying comics before the ‘90s collapse had more to do with issues of collectability and “investment.”” True. It’s what they call a correction in the stock and housing market.

a comic book is worth nothing if it doesn’t contain a story that is well-written and well-drawn, and more importantly draws the reader into its world. And a comic that is worth nothing ultimately will drive its buyers away, however gratifying its short-term thrill of mere possession might be. ” Very true.

I think it’s clear that the only comic shops that are sustainable and viable in the long term are those that cater to readers of all ages, genders and interests.” I disagree. I think the only comic shops that are sustainable and viable in the long term are those with a unique specialty interest and focus. If that unique specialty interest and focus happens to be an “all-ages bookstore” then the above would hold true. If that unique specialty interest and focus is “male power fantasy superstore” then trying to attract females would be counter productive. Like a goth store trying to attract Christian seniors… counter productive. Each of the comic book stores that I consider to be the BEST, each has it’s own unique flavour. Something that sets it apart from all the others, even the BEST ones. That more than anything makes the store viable.

Interesting points regarding the Top 300 (which I always heard rumblings about, and had a hunch the rumblings were true). “It pays little to no attention to the wider market for comics in mainstream bookstores and other outlets” makes me think that there is an opening available to someone who wants to get their foot in to some REAL comics journalism to tackle this exact topic. I would pay for an analysis that DOES pay attention to the wider market for comics in mainstream bookstores and other outlets. I’m guessing others would too. Does this exist somewhere?

And if the lifelong comic book reader in me has learned to tolerate such deficiencies, getting married and raising two children has educated me mightily in what is or isn’t a welcoming retail environment. In my 20s, I may have been amused by my wife’s distaste for entering the average comic book store. Here in my early 40s, I not only understand it, I share it.” Ditto that here, in my early 30s, married with children. Interesting that you mention Mary Jane Loves Spider-Man, Teen Titans Go, Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts because those are the exact comics I gravitated to with my own children. Why aren’t these books made more accessible? There is a market for this. Anyone who wants to nurture the next generation of comic readers should be pushing this sort of material. Especially to the young audience. And the push needs to be made in an appropriate venue. I don’t take my children into comic book stores, due to the amount of inappropriate material. So these books should be made available in places like supermarkets, toy stores, book stores, schools, libraries, and other appropriate venues.

I also take issue with “the readership’s clear preference for comics with a spine and a complete story” as I clearly enjoy single issues over collected trades.

Before this Ideal comic shop could really thrive in the United States,
Diamond would have to evolve in it’s attitudes about what they are willing
to make available, and how they report the numbers.

Either that, or the rest of the market would need to find a way to circumvent it.


  1. Um…so…
    when I go to self-publish my comic should I be putting in more boobies, or less?

    **is confused**

    Comment by E. Ann Bardawill — June 26, 2007 @ 9:10 pm

  2. Generally speaking, if you are trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator, you can’t go wrong with boobies. It’s a mammal thing…

    If you’ve got something intelligent that you’re trying to communicate, I’d limit the boobies. Mammals find them distracting.

    Comment by M Kitchen — June 27, 2007 @ 8:28 am

  3. I think Monty Python had a great idea with one of their sketches. A very pretty, scantily clad girl on a bed but her voice was John Cleese discussing foreign policy.

    Taking a very serious ideas and transposing it over boobies is kinda like that spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go done.

    I might just try it and see if it works.

    I’ll think I’ll call it ‘consTITution’.


    Comment by E. Ann Bardawill — June 27, 2007 @ 11:27 am

  4. er…
    ‘go down’.
    I mean to say ‘go down’
    and not in the biblical sense.

    Comment by E. Ann Bardawill — June 27, 2007 @ 11:28 am

  5. There’s a good chance that half of the human (mammal) population might not be interested in boobs.

    Comment by Stanley Lieber — July 5, 2007 @ 10:17 pm

  6. I remember seeing a brain scan study (which I can’t find now) that indicated women are just as interested in their anatomy as men. If I find the article again, I’ll link to it.

    And hey – it was a woman that started the whole discussion about boobies in the first place!  I was talking about comics!

    Comment by M Kitchen — July 6, 2007 @ 8:11 am

  7. I still think it’s hilarious that our culture has no problem with letting kids watch people’s heads getting chewed/Shot off or beaten to a pulp mess on (pardon the pun) the boob tube in Prime time, but OMG!! Janet Jackson’s boobie is the end of civilisation as we know it when it’s flashed on TV? The hell?

    Ditto Comics.
    Graphic violence in comics won’t warp little Johnny, but an illustrated breast will? What you they do when they take Little Johnny to the Museum to absorb culture and OMG!! Titian painted that Goddess practically buck naked?? Won’tsomebodythinkofthechildren?!?!?!?!


    Comment by E. Ann Bardawill — July 8, 2007 @ 8:14 pm

  8. Stanley, even if you leave boobies out of the comics equation, the majority of buyers still tends to be male. Is that not correct?

    Anyone have stats on that?

    Comment by E. Ann Bardawill — July 8, 2007 @ 8:17 pm

  9. Well I certainly have to agree with you on the Janet Jackson thing. I was living in California at the time, and I really didn’t see what the big deal was. It was a goofy publicity stunt that was meant to be shocking. And a bad one at that. Big deal.

    However at the same time, my daughters were watching The Disney Channel, which was full of underage pubescent bimbos gyrating to the latest music videos. On THE DISNEY CHANNEL! Needless to say, that channel became banned in our house, and my children got their cartoon fix from The Cartoon Network.

    On the issue of boobies vs. violence: I think it all comes down to an issue of intent. I mean, stories are normally about conflict, and nothing shows conflict better than a little bit of violence. At a young age, boys are already learning the art of combat with sticks and finger guns. That is a part of our nature. At the same time, human anatomy is natural and (in and of itself) nothing to be getting all worked up about.

    The problem I see comes down to intent. Once sex and violence get reduced to glorified fodder to seduce an audience, it strays from being just an accurate view on reality to something far more destructive. And that destructive representation is one that our society could use less of.

    As for male to female comic reading ratio: Though I don’t have actual stats, 10 to 1 would be my best guess (from comic shops and comic conventions). I’d also be curious to see some real stats.

    One thing I found: Of the comics I’ve made, females are most drawn to the SPY GUY: Minis cover. Interesting.

    Comment by M Kitchen — July 9, 2007 @ 9:02 am

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