Monday, December 21, 2015

Will 2016 Be The Worst Year for Comics Ever?

I once predicted that 2015 would be the year the paper comic industry collapsed. 
I was quite wrong about that.
And while there were a number of factors that contributed to my faulty prediction, there are also some signs that I may be more right than it seems.

One of the many things I didn't think about was that digital would help comic sales more than it cannibalized them. I don't believe anyone saw that coming so I don't feel too bad. It is interesting as this boost has not been seen in the traditional publishing world. I suspect it's because comic fans are more inclined to want a physical object than just regular book readers. (Romance fans, who make up a large portion of the traditional book market have migrated to digital in huge numbers.)

Also, I didn't foresee the dramatic influx of fans that cosplay has brought in. 

That's been a great thing to see. In talking with Noelle Stevenson this weekend at Punk Monkey comics, we both agreed that the vibe at conventions is definitely a more open environment than it was 10 or 20 years ago. That openness has brought in an audience for books like Lumberjanes, Princeless and Batgirl.  Where Castle Waiting struggled to find a sustainable readership 10 years ago, I suspect now such a book would be quite successful

Also, while the movies and shows may not have a  one to one effect on sales, (excluding Walking Dead) they have definitely raised the cool cachet of comics that any nerd factor sales barriers have been virtually erased. I bet that has helped first time walk in sales at local comic shops a lot.

With that said what will the next year bring? 
Well despite all the things I've just mentioned, I think the big two are actually in for a rocky year.

DC has already seen one new sales initiative fail (and fast) with no exciting plan B in the wings. Attempts to duplicate Batgirl's success didn't take hold (mostly I believe because duplicating such things is always difficult - how many Harry Potter clones failed?)

And Marvel's All New All Different sales relaunch after Secret Wars isn't looking too good. And I hear a lot of fans saying the core titles have the narrative weight of a Marvel coloring book as the stories don't seem connected to a shared continuity. 

And just last week, two articles that laid suggested this latest initiative has been a bit of a failure:

We've already seen one big sales dip this year. Was that a fluke or the real base of sales when there's no Secret Wars or Marvel Now 3.0  raising sales? How much will Dark Knight III and Civil War 2 really help both companies?

In discussing this topic with friend Trey Causey, we sort of agreed that part of the problem is the industry is chasing the ghost of a marketplace that may not exist anymore. That is to say that when you look at independent comics from Image, the success threshold is much lower. Image comics are allowed more time to try to find an audience. Conversely, DC seemed to throw in the towel on their DC You initiative too quickly. It was only due to a good bit of fan outcry that this latest version of Omega Men didn't get cancelled.
Trey suggested that small creative industry solutions to DC's and Marvel's woes (like lowering expectations ) are stymied by the fact they are both owned by big corporations who (perhaps unrealistically) expect certain levels of performance. If so, then both companies are sort of trapped in a death spiral.

I'm looking forward to seeing how 2016 plays out.


MattComix said...

I'm definitely not looking forward to a year of listening to people go on about who should beat who in Batman v. Superman. It also wouldn't shock me if DC engineered some conflict between the two in the comics. Cannot begin to express how sick I am of hero vs. hero and so much of next year seems to be focused on that. DK III? Civil War II? Secret Wars II? Could we find another way to convey the idea of a shared universe that didn't involve the heroes hitting each other instead of the villains?

Caine said...

You'd think DC would know better. Wildstorm was essentially handed over to a tiny creative team who became responsible for all of its flag ship titles after a long term dip in sales. It didn't solve the problem at WS and it's not working at DC. The funny thing is: All DC has to do is simply reverse everything they've done since the New52 and they will likely see an uptick in core readership - but that seems to be the one thing they absolutely refuse to do.

MattComix said...

@Caine. I think while a return to pre-N52 continuity might be welcome I doubt anyone would want that handled by the current regime which ran that version of DC into the mud (not to mention previous versions of the multiverse) long before they even started N52.

Jim Shelley said...

@MattComix - Is there really going to be a Secret Wars II?
Regardless, I think more Hero vs Hero stuff is definitely going to be on the slate. It wouldn't surprise me if DC doesn't make some sort of Batman Family vs Superman Family type of event next year. As far as why Villain vs Hero stories don't happen anymore, I think that's because this generation of writers (and readers) aren't really interested in reading them. Hm...thinking about it, the answer may have more layers than that. I may have to do a post on that.

@Caine - I'd be curious just how many of the current fan base are pre-N52 fans. Or among those fans, who remembers what that continuity was even like. (For Batman and Green Lantern, did things even change?) I think largely, the differences are illusionary, as (with the exception of Morrison's Superman) I don't think the types of stories told really changed that much between the two continuities. Wonder Woman was a departure, but how different is the book now? Flash, Aquaman and Justice League spun up new versions of old villains, but that could have just have easily been done in the old continuity.

Phil said...

While I appreciate the new fans they don't appear to be buying comic books.

Jim Shelley said...

@Phil - it's hard to say because a lot of the new fans are digital customers. As of today, one of the top selling (number 1!) digital comics for the weeks is the new Hellcat comic from Marvel. That's a comic that's definitely seems like it would appeal to the Batgirl market. Someone must be buying it to keep it so high on the comixology list.

As more of the traditional comics market falls off, this new group of fans may be all that's left. That actually would follow the European comics model in many respects where books like Asterix and Obelix are top sellers.


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