Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Comics Variety

The quote below is from CBGXtra.com CBG is the Comic Buyer's Guide, a comic book industry watch dog for something like 30 or 40 years, I think. It was the voice that retailers listened to when I worked in a comic store in 1989-94 or whatever it was. I am really interested in the Black and White Glut and I was looking it up online. I found this post. The most interesting thing about it is that the one thing the CBG people were ignoring was expanding the actual readership of comics. At first they acknowledge it as a cause but then ignore as the cause in the end. Instead, the article blames publishers for putting out too much work. They had their finger on the pulse of mainstream and adventure comics but there is no real mention of what has since been proven, if you expand the available variety of comics to include a million different traditions of storytelling, you bring in the audience for these stories. It is there but it is ignored, or at least I think it is. Read on:

"The editorial of [CBG] issue #1031 provided a warning to publishers of the market’s precarious position. Don and Maggie Thompson wrote that 762 titles were solicited by Capital City Distribution for July, costing anybody ordering one of everything $1928.69, then an all-time high. Warning of what happened during the black-and-white glut, they wrote:

There are more stores, more comic-book purchasers (there is a question of whether there are more readers). But the audience has not grown enough to support this much material.

And do you know what? Some comic books last heard of during the black-and-white glut are back, adding to this new, larger glut.

After every glut comes a collapse and, with every collapse, there are casualties, including a lot of good titles and a lot of good publishers.

So, if you’re thinking about getting into comic-book publishing, our advice remains:


Don’t do it.

Not now.

Good advice, preceding a seven-year recession that took down many retailers, publishers, and distributors before ending in 2000.

But whenever the market actually peaked, it wasn't entirely clear to many until January 1994, when, faced with the potential of staying open into another tax year, at least 1,000 shops shut their doors."

From my perspective the truth is exactly the opposite of this conventional logic. The limited amount of publisher (of all shapes and sizes) is what contributed to the crash. There were a handful of alternatives to mainstream fantasy comics. Not that they are bad, but that their ruling hand is what kept comics crashing over and over again. A dying audience that eventually learned that they weren't into what was being done. The more different comic books that exist, the more there is for people to read.


Hisham said...

Good point. I seem to recall around that time there were a bunch of launches or relaunches of superhero lines of comics including Dark Horse's Comics Greatest World, Valiant/Acclaim, Malibu's Ultraverse, Image, and later on there was Crossgen.

What all these lines had in common was they essentially produced comics very similar to what was already being made by DC and Marvel and with many of the same creators.

At the same time it seemed like the big two were producing new comics that would only accomplish the cannibalization of their existing titles, a practice that I fear is continuing to this day.

dylan sparkplug said...

I totally agree. It seems obvious to me that we are going through a similar thing in superhero comics again. And again there are a number of smaller publishers who are rushing to cash in on variant superhero market. Luckily, there is a much wider audience for comics than there was in the early 1990s or mid 1980s. Stores have other kinds of comics that may maintain or increase interest if the superhero market crashes. Another difference is that the "audience" for the early 90s comics was actually made up of a ton of speculators as well as readers. I remember people bringing their whole family into the comic store to buy one copy each of the new event book.

In the middle of the 90s crash, comics like Sandman and Grant Morrison's books were taking hold, as was the world of alternative comics being born. Variety, that is the key.

dylan sparkplug said...

The 1000 stores that went away after that crash, many of them were speculator stores and I feel like that fact never gets brought up. Those store were so different than the newer stores like Floating World or Guapo which are based on the owners interest in reading comic books. It was so easy for the investor speculator stores to close because they didn't really want to try other kinds of comics or base their business on their own comic reading habits.

Hisham said...

It is interesting that many of the major/minor companies that survived the 90s (Dark Horse, Image, Fantagraphics, etc.) were ones that have focused on a diverse selection of titles.

Austin English said...

Or that the stores that survived that did engage in speculator stuff were ALSO into stuff like fanta.

Rob Clough said...

In seeing the difference between good and bad stores, a few things pop to mind:

1. Do what you're good at, and do it well. A lot of amateurish shops fail because they have some comics, some games, some toys, some folks sitting around playing games, etc...it's more like a playroom than a business. Pick what you're passionate about, and then be professional about it.

2. Diversify. Give different kinds of people reasons to come into your shop, especially women and children. If there's a potential customer base you don't know much about (like kids), do research and find out what they'll actually like (as opposed to what you liked as a kid).

3. Visual appeal. Most people can order comics on-line. Give people a reason to come INTO your shop, with an aesthetically pleasing and interesting space. Give people things to look at, as well as buy (art shows are a big plus at comics stores!) Make an effort to sell things that are hard to find (like mini-comics).

4. Long haul. If you're going to open up a shop, it needs to be part of a long-term commitment, not just an attempt to cash in on a fad. This is where a diverse knowledge base regarding comics helps, because your passion and expertise will draw in customers and then keep them.

5. Super-heroes last. My experience with the best shops is that they sell plenty of super-hero comics--but they downplay them. The superhero, needs-a-fix-on-Wednesday fan will be happy to come into your shop and find his books in the back. All they need to know is that you exist, and they will find you--you don't need to convince them to come in.

6. Speculation. Nothing wrong with selling a hot comic or toy (if you sell toys or other related items)--just don't make it the emphasis of your store's selling strategy.

7. Web presence. Have a great website and update it with events calendars, sales announcements, etc. Use twitter, facebook, etc.

8. Expertise. If you have a particular knowledge base about an area of comics, use it. Golden-age expert? Push those books. A mini-comics expert can help guide a customer quite well (which made Austin's minis aisle at FP so amazing).