Wednesday, November 29, 2006

INDUSTRY RANT: Comics activism

CBR links to a rant from Bomb Queen creator, Jimmie Robinson, over on I guess, their blog... HERE

In the post, Jimmie rants about doing more for comics than just reading them, in an attempt to stir things up, and get folks thinking (if they haven't already), about doing more for comics yourself. Spreading the word for the benefit of all. It's an interesting topic, and thre are some really great thoughts in the comments. Most of the replies take things too personally, and miss the point, but still make valid points of their own.

Look, I'm not saying these posters are wrong in there comments, or feelings, or that the article in question was brilliantly conceived, but to openly wail against it seems counterproductive, and perhaps misses the point. Admittedly though, any discusion is a good thing.

Comics, though recently more successful than they were, are still a niche market, and even though things are going great in terms of exposure and acceptance, or even recognition, in the outside market, they're still not reaching new audiences in any big number.

Jimmie's saying, do your part, if you truly care, do something besides just buying what you like. Think about what you buy, offer books to friends, talk about comics outside the comics community. Be an activist, be outspoken, etc.

Sure, it's not the only way comics can reach more people, perhaps it's not even the right way, but at least it's doing something. Anything.
Besides, ya know, reading Civil War, or Mouse Guard, and tucking it away in your closet, and repeating...

and I'm part of the problem.
In the beginning, before I launched Super Real, I was filled with the desire to creatively offer my book, via new channels, and methods, to seek out the widest audience, and help bring a new golden age to comics.
As time moves on, and as I've gotten the book set up in the main (and virtually only) distribution system, Diamond, my focus has moved away from breaking the system, to beating it, or more so, playing along with it.
I tried my hand at some things outside the direct market, to no affect. And sure, maybe those failures, limited in scope as they were, were failures of the book, or my own, but the bottom line is, a couple years into this thing, and I'm only focusing on the direct market, and making Diamond a success. I've become so consumed with just that, I've taken my focus away from other outlets almost completely. Which is a failure on my part, but the reality is I'm only one man, and have x amount of time and energy to spend (to say nothing of finances).
In the back of my mind however, it's been that, I can go back to trying innovation, and finding new markets, once I have a substantial offering, a trade collection. Because, realistically, a monthly format comic is not much to offer outside the direct market, and lord knows my schedule is anything but monthly.

I guess the other reason my passion, and focus, for moving the medium forward, and out of the direct market tar pit it's in (ya know, besides the fact that it is a viable market of it's own if you can crack it), is I've grown to see a light at the end of the tunnel. A change in format. To digital, cheap, accessible content, and books (or new format periodicals). The pamphlet will die, it's inevitable. Once digital media can be viewed more readily, beyond the current generation of formats it is today (monitors, PSP's, Ipod's, eReader's) there will be nothing holding us to print. Coupling the advancements in technology with the utter and complete reduction of costs insures this will happen (to say nothing of the potential for market outreach digital can provide). It's not a question of if, but when. Comics can once again become the cheap entertainment alternative that built the medium, industry, and genres. Because let's face it, they have something to offer, that no other medium can, but concurrently, they have limitations that other medias do not. To get people to read static images, as opposed to viewing live ones with sound, or hey, interactive ones, you have to position yourself as cheaper, or you'll forever be a niche (and well, you'll still be a niche, but potentially a much larger one).

A good example, or parallel, might be radio. Radio was king, in terms of entertainment, until the creation of television. Then it was relegated to a source for music, until TV took that mantle as well, relegating it to only being something chosen in a captive environment, mostly cars. But now, with growing internet prevalence and technology, you're seeing the renaissance of radio, the podcast. That is until the internet can more readily provide video content.

So, similar to radio, comics have a new chance via the digital world/marketplace (but also an advantage over radio in that they offer more).

Until we reach these crossroads however, comics are positioned well enough in the mindset of the mainstream, that we should be able to make some inroads outside the direct market, or that is, take bigger steps in growth. Sure, it's not just the fans or readers who have to bear this out, it's everyone. Creators, publishers, distributors, and retailers as well. I sure as hell wish the industry leaders were blazing the path here...

To Jimmie's point, and countless others before him, or any genuinely caring comics fan who takes the time to truly assess the industry, it is up to us all to do something, anything to help the industry. Because if you love and care for the medium, and you do nothing to help it, you've no one to blame but yourself if it collapses.

Many of the responses seem to suggest that they are doing these things, and believe many more do as well, but whether this is true or not, the numbers don't bear it out. The industry is maintaining, not growing by any large amount.

Let me clarify again, I can see why many have taken offense to his rant, it's offensive in nature, by design, and it's bound to receive knee jerk reactions (especially on the web). Many have brought up his resume, or called into question his current book, and quite a few take offense to a creator suggesting fans do more in support of their books. Irregardless of his work, or his views, the core message is do something for the industry if you really care. If you've already done something, great, the message isn't for you. If you take offense at his work, that's beside the point, at least in terms of the big picture that the core of the piece speaks to. And if you as a reader, and fan of comics, question a creator calling for more help spreading the word of a book, have you yourself published a comic book in today's market? Do you yourself understand what it's like to try and get attention for something new, outside the mainstream, in today's market? Well, then you probably don't know where he's coming from in that regard...

Let me just tell you, as someone who is publishing a new book in today's market, it's not easy, and you can use all the help you can get. It's easy to dismiss that viewpoint, claiming enough isn't spent on marketing, or that the material in question isn't good to begin with are a couple points that easily come to mind, but really understanding it takes a more intimate knowledge. For instance, one could easily spend vast amounts of money to get a book some attention in the market, but they would only see the smallest fraction returned in sales if successful. There are no easy answers. The best I've found is, create the best work you can, and try to inspire those who enjoy it, to help spread the word.

That's all Jimmie's really doing here. To be hypercritical of it is to miss the point, I think. And I plan to keep devoting time and energy to doing what I can to help. If you don't want to, that's fine, but perhaps just talking about it will inspire some, and there's nothing wrong with that.

What do you think?


Jason Berek-Lewis said...

I tried to be a comics activist with Independents' Day, but it didn't work. It didn't work because, while many signed on, few were willing to do much more than that. It came down to resting on the shoulders of 3 or 4 people and eventually just on to one.

I have been politically active, as well as comics active and the sad fact is that most people are just lazy - they don't care.

When I was at University, the students didn't care what the government or the University was doing, if they were raising fees or cutting student support - no one cared.

The same exists in comics. It's easy to slag Rob Liefeld on a message board, or to go to your LCS and buy the latest issue of X-Men, but if you ask most fans to do anything else, well it's just too much.

The sad thing is that I think many fans take this industry for granted. Yet as technology advances and kids get sucked away into newer and 'cooler' methods of entertainment, comics will suffer.

Comics will not die, not for a long while, but we are at an important cross roads. We can continue with a system that just cannibalises itself - ie 10 X titles, 5 Spidey titles, 10 Bat titles ... endless relaunches and crossovers that cater to EXISTING fans, or we can do something that tries to draw in new fans.

And that's why my faith lies in indys - the independent market can draw new fans. The message just has to get out. Maybe Independent's Day was ill-conceived? Maybe it was ahead of its time or perhaps just plain stupid? Yet, something needs to be done to push the barrow of independent comics.

We need activists. I put my hand up every day. I do work for indys for no charge - work that I would charge corporate clients $80 - $120 an hour to do. I write comics for no pay or vague promises of profit shares at som point in the far distant future ... Sure, I have a self interest, I want to eventually get paid to write comics. But, I also do it because I love this medium.

I suf messgae boards pimping everything from Super Real to Onslaught Reborn ... I buy comics for my younger relatives in the hope that they will get bitten by the comics bug and grow into lifelong fans ...

I probably don't do enough, but I do what I can ...

What are you going to do about it?

Jason Martin said...


Good points, but don't get too frustrated. You're doing all you can or more, and that's cool. I do what I can too. That’s all we can do.

I don't have a good pulse for general reader participation in supporting the industry outside their dollars (it feel like there’s not too much), but any up-tick would help, and just talking about it gets people thinking, and perhaps more people doing. In fact talking points like this are perhaps in short supply, to trigger this mindset, or thought process. So much of what you read on general comic sites reports the ever increasing sales, but if you look past the surface, it’s not as great as it’s made to look. Perhaps talking about doing more with your love for the medium would be a good panel to offer for cons, or feature to offer for news sites?

You know, maybe I wouldn't worry so much about the state of the US industry if I didn't see clear signs that things could be markedly better...
The success of manga in bookstores, Shonen Jump – a magazine format periodical with moderate success, the popularity of anime and cartoon network, the success of comic book properties in other media, with the still mostly uninformed general public and their misconceptions of the medium, etc.
Not to mention, as I’m painfully aware, and as you brought up, the current market leaders focus on the current readership well ahead of any other initiatives (both have efforts, Marvel with their adventures line and digest size trades, and DC with CMX and now MINX).

Whenever I get to thinking about the state of the industry, especially as a self publisher, leads to my focusing on how the market leaders and the current system strangle out anything outside mainstream appeal. Sure, plenty of titles from varying genres and companies can and do find success, but the sheer numbers the big two turn out of their big titles, the renewed focus on variants and crossover events, leave the rest scrambling for fewer and fewer crumbs. In the short view, it’s good business for them, but in the long view, they’re taking gains today for smaller returns tomorrow. So, I always think on creative ways to get independents more visibility.

I think Independents day was a great idea, and it’s unfortunate it wasn’t able to keep it’s momentum. I’m partially to blame, as my focus inevitably drifts to my personal responsibilities and goals, and for that I’m truly sorry, but an initiative like that needs a core group that can make it their focus, or someone with no other distractions to lead it. Those are tough things to find. Similar to Free Comic Book Day, where a team of retailers partner with publishers, and Diamond to make it happen. I think the main fault with Independents Day was it focused, or mostly reached, publishers and/or small press/independent/self publishers. Folks with very little time to give, as most are running their publishing in addition to their day to day lives. I’d still love to see it live on again another day, and I would think that if it was taken to proper industry leaders and convinced them to buy in, would be a success for all – publishers, distributors, retailers, and fans.

Outside of independents day, I often get to thinking about an independent publishing catalog alternative to previews, or magazine of that focus. Or, most likely, a website. I really think that not only could a website devoted to independent publishing find an audience, but also serve a huge need in the market.

A site that offers previews from back catalog Diamond publishers, features and news, reviews, spotlights on smaller press too, up and coming artists etc. I could see a well developed site finding ads from publishers, retailers and more to help support it. It would have to be well conceived and run though. Previews would have to be leveraged from as many publishers as possible, partnering with them to both parties benefit, and getting content on a regular schedule, timed with Diamond solicitation and release. Offering an in depth, comprehensive glossary of independent content to help readers try more independent books. A virtual alternative to the unfavorable space in Diamond’s catalog, and lack of retailers ability to stock books for the shelve for readers to sample. In terms of staffing, there’s no shortage of aspiring web columnists and reviewers, but if the editors of the site took their time and were stringent in their selection to assure professional quality, it would go a long way to building the foundation. Conceptualizing, design, networking, staffing, communicating, launching, and then growing readership and ad revenue.

Sort of an indy alternative to Newsarama, but with a more focused structure and scope. It could serve as a good first step, and more feasible one to achieve, that potentially leads to other things, like a print magazine or catalog, or event like Independents Day.

I know similar efforts exist out there, but I can’t think of any that are as all encompassing, focused, timely, or professional as what I envision. Something that serves publishers, readers, and retailers, while also filling a void in the market.

Just some more thoughts, I’ve gone on long enough for now though…

Jason Martin said...

Oh, and something I haven't touched on, that's also a new scary variable in the big publishers arsenal of means in scoring even more share of the direct market dollars...
DC's 52.

I just saw a rundown of like the first 20 issues in terms of sales numbers.
It's still holding at over 100k an issue at this point.
Think about that.
A weekly book selling top 10 numbers.
That's over 400k in books sold per month.

DC's already planning a follow up weekly book, and Marvel scooped up the initial editor from DC to work for them... perhaps on their own weekly, or weekly inspired project.


Jason Martin said...

Oh (look out I'm thinking), and what about Independents Day as a weekly column?

I know Newsarama has Your Indy Weekly, but Ryan mostly focuses on stuff outside distribution, and it seems, on a semi-weekly basis.

Actually, I was thinking at first it could be a weekly feature of one independent, distributed (or not) title, but it could also lend itself to my website idea, where you focus on idependent comics in general on a weekly basis...


Brant W. Fowler said...

That sounds like a good idea...


Jason Martin said...


Ha ha!


... and of course like Indy-Pendent as well!! :D

Guess that idea's not really original... except perhaps to get it on more of the news sites.

So, yeah, Indy-Pendent is a weekly review roundup, Your Indy Weekly is a weekly review of a single book, but something that's not just reveiws but highlights all the releases, links to previews, interviews, etc etc, more robust.

I dunno...

Brant W. Fowler said...

No, I get what you're saying, man. I just had to raz ya over that one. ;)

I've actually talked to JBL a little about that recently and just left a post on his blog about it. It is something that would definitely be beneficial to the indy community.

I also stated to him that I personally think the biggest flaw in our "promotion" of indy comics is that, on purpose or not, we primarily promote them to comic readers. And while that's cool, it doesn't go much beyond that to the many potential readers out there, you know?

Jason Martin said...

It had to be the hiatus... you are still on hiatus righ?


Brant W. Fowler said...

Yeah, til Jan. 7th I think. Whenever the Sunday after New Years is. I should really update my website...