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Wednesday, July 07, 2010 

Jeffrey Klaehn's next book will be called "Comic Books Are Dead"

Cultural writer Jeffrey Klaehn has published an interview with Chuck Dixon that'll be part of a new book he's publishing called Comic Books Are Dead, which I expect will talk about what's gone wrong with the industry. Indeed, as this exchange tells:
Jeffery Klaehn: In what ways has the industry changed since you first began working within it?

Chuck Dixon: It’s a less happy place for mainstream periodical comics. Sales are down and the publishers seem determined to turn comics into a kind of sub-culture in-joke for aging comics hobbyists. The main superhero titles are, for the most part, gloomy and dispiriting. On the brighter side, bookstores and library sales are high, driven primarily by manga sales. But some publishers are catching up and comics are again reaching the mainstream audience of casual readers that’s vital if the medium is going to be around ten years from now.
But not the Big Two, right? They've kept hinting that they're going to keep on with pamphlet comics, instead of trying to make the jump to a format like trade paperbacks, which could provide a much longer life span. I wonder if the following gives a hint why the insistence on still more pamphlets:
Jeffery Klaehn: What are your thoughts on the direct market and on Diamond’s monopoly on the distribution of comic books?

Chuck Dixon: The direct market was a good idea when it started. A hobby shop for comics enthusiasts that helped create a vital fan base. It was attractive to comics companies who no longer had to deal solely with the risks and returns from the magazine distributors. The profit margins were higher in direct. The problems started when the tail began to wag the dog. Many vocal comic retailers mistakenly believed that they were in competition with newsstands and spinner racks. They didn’t realize that these were the gateways into comics that would eventually lead dedicated comics fans into their stores. Either that that or they were that short-sighted and wanted all of the comic book dollars for themselves even if it hurt the industry. To appease them and to conserve risk, the Big Two retreated from the newsstand and that hurt sales overall. It also killed titles that traditionally did well on the newsstand but poorly in direct. Worst of all, it lost the casual comics reader and, even more disastrously, severely cut down on new readers who might have discovered comics at the corner drugstore or 7-11.
That makes for an important point on how the industry took such a blow. Greed, to say nothing of a loss of interest the Big Two developed in reaching out to newer readers, and getting them appreciate even the older material. I don't suppose it's ever occurred to them that, since many comic book stores sell trades and graphic novels by now, it wouldn't make much of a difference if they switched to trades, because the specialty stores already sell them, and could even make better business off of them if they refrained from acting greedy this time around!

I hope that when the book this'll be part of is done, it'll talk in depth about some of the cases in this past decade - 2000-2010 - that helped to bring down comics even further, like the crossovers and forced character deaths for publicity's sake. If it does, it could help to learn what went wrong and how to solve the problem.

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Chuck Dixon's commments are exactly right on! I'm pretty sure he and I are about the same ago, so he probably remembers the days before the direct market as well as I do. I agree with him about how the direct market was a good thing at the beginning; I started getting Micronauts via the direct market when Marvel stopped selling it on newsstands.
I'm sure comics "professionals" and fanboy zombies alike will say Dixon's just bitter and that his comments are unfounded, but I'm sure there are a lot of us who agree with the man 100 percent.

Trade paperbacks?! Please tell me you remember what effect "decompression" had on pacing and length of a story?

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