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Tuesday, April 28, 2020 

Direct sales ruined the industry

Here's an article on Russia Today from early April, explaining and confirming that the move to direct sales hurt comicdom in the past 3 decades, and also reveals quite a bit about what the executives in charge really thought of the products in their care, to say nothing of their career:
The problems of the American superhero comics are self-made.

A direct-selling model was adopted in the 1980s. It involved publishers no longer offering refunds on returns of unsold books. Thus corner shops, drugstores and newsagents refused to stock comics. Instead, publishers sold books wholesale to specialist comics stores on a no returns basis. Unfortunately, this allowed publishers to become complacent. No longer were readers the customers, the stores were. Diamond became the de facto sole distributor to retailers.

Detached from the impact of incompetent and unpopular books being returned, publishers began to come under the sway of political activists (interested in pushing identity politics and progressive values) and hired unsuitable writers, chosen because they represented surface-level diversity. The consequent decline in quality of stories (mainly from 2014 onwards) has reduced appetite among readers and became the basis for the consumer-resistance movement called ComicsGate.

An absence of strong titles appealing to children and teenagers has meant that few new readers have been introduced to comic reading. Prominent professionals have antagonised fans, using accusations of bigotry on social media to abuse swathes of consumers. Some executives and editors have evident disdain for the audience, which is (in the USA) predominantly white, middle-aged and male. Exploitative practices of the big two (Marvel and DC) – such as flooding the shelves, overshipping, multiple relaunches and variant covers – have financially hurt stores.
This does corroborate some of my own estimations what went wrong over the past decades. In fact, years ago, when Marvel printed one of their most notorious denigrations of Captain America in 2003, the miniseries titled The Truth: Red White & Black, there were a few news sources who were attacking fans as stupid crybabies because they took offense at soiling Kirby/Simon's famous creation for the sake of a PC agenda, whose biggest irony was that, if it was supposed to be serious, the artwork was definitely not, and relied alarmingly enough on stereotypical illustrations of blacks. So it's pretty obvious what Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada really set out to do at the time.

All that aside, if publishers didn't want to take back unsold stock, what does that suggest? That they weren't doing so well financially, yet the only way they could think of to deal with declining success was to give retailers a long-range problem stuffing up their bargain bins. It also suggests they suffered from selfishness. Now, look where they've wound up during the Corona crisis, part of what the RT article's about. If the typical book publisher takes back unsold stock, then it's only fair a comics publisher do the same. I think a lot of publishers from back in the 80s owe an apology for what they led to. They really turned the whole industry into a distribution joke.

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"A direct-selling model was adopted in the 1980s. It involved publishers no longer offering refunds on returns of unsold books. Thus corner shops, drugstores and newsagents refused to stock comics. Instead, publishers sold books wholesale to specialist comics stores on a no returns basis."

The Rt article has it all wrong. It makes it sound as if the publishers suddenly told the newstands that they could no longer buy on a return basis. That is not what happened. The publishers continued to sell to the general distributors on a returns basis, while selling to the comics shop distributors on a discounted no returns arrangement. If you look at the covers of old comics from back then, some of them had a UPC code in a box in a bottom corner, and others had a little drawing of say, Spider-Man in the place where the box was. The UPC coded ones were sold to newsstands, the others to comic book shops. The shops had the advantage of being able to devote more shelf space to comics and keeping them on the racks longer, so eventually the publishers started selling some titles that appealed more to fans than to the general market to the shops only.

Publishers like Marvel and DC and Archie never sold books wholesale to the stores. They either sold to magazine distributors, or sold to specialty comic book distributors, of which Diamond was one. Some of the small press publishers sold directly to the stores, although they mostly sold through the comic book distribution chain as well.

"if it was supposed to be serious, the artwork was definitely not, and relied alarmingly enough on stereotypical illustrations of blacks."

The Truth mini-series was drawn by a black American cartoonist, Kyle Baker. He leans towards cartoon exaggeration, but his characters were not the stereotypical caricatures of the old racist cartoons; his drawings recognized the wide range of African facial types out there. The stereotype at that time was to draw black people as if they were white people with flat noses and dark skin. Baker's imagery was much more alive than that.

The Truth stories didn't denigrate Captain America, who came off heroically when he appeared in the last issue. They did cast a pall over Professor Reinstein/Erskine, though. Despite some problems, the series did bring attention to some aspects of history that are well-known to historians but not so much the general public. The footnotes in the collected edition are useful that way.

"Some executives and editors have evident disdain for the audience, which is (in the USA) predominantly white, middle-aged and male."

Is this an accurate description of the audience? The audience for the traditional Marvel and DC superheros seems to skew a bit younger, probably in the 18-35 year old range, and would be likely predominantly male. The audience for comic books in general would include a lot more kids and women, probably 50-50 male to female or close to it. And predominantly white? I don't think there is any market research on how many blacks and hispanics and asians read comics compared to people of old-stock european descent; there is nothing to back up the idea that the readers are predominantly white. (Hispanics are a separate category for census purposes, although many people would consider them to fit under the white umbrella.)



That's a fucking lie.

We have decades of attempts of launching comics aimed at black people and hispanics.

They failed partly because the content was terrible, but it was mostly because the audience was not there.


Go to any comic convention in a large diverse coastal metropolitan area in the U.S. and the vast majority of comic readers, the people browsing and buying comics are white men. Hispanics are almost non-existent and the few black people you see stay the fuck away from comics. They're more interested in the media celebrities and are generally disinterested in in anything that has to do with reading and art.

Black people don't read in general. Black women, if they read, ONLY want to read about
themselves. A typical black woman would gag at the idea about reading about an Vietnamese man or woman. She can only relate to other black women.


This idea that interest in reading and art is evenly distributed throughout the population is absurd. Only a wealthy prissy little meterosexual man (our liberal anon) would think it's rational for a business to chase a demographic group that is NOT interested in their patronizing (social justice) and subpar* product.

*(the worst creators at marvel and dc were often assigned to "black" or ethnic comics...the efforts are so half-ass they forget these efforts were made and often act like the 5th volume of Black Panther is like the first one...they pretend as though they are proud of the current volume of Black Panther then,later, they pretend it never happened or it was written and drawn by bigots...or a Coronavirus stopped it from getting a large (like 100k) audience of black readers)

"(the worst creators at marvel and dc were often assigned to "black" or ethnic comics...the efforts are so half-ass they forget these efforts were made"

You mean creators like Alex Toth, Jack Kirby, Rich Buckler, Billy Graham, Joe Quinones, Don McGregor, Gil Kane, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Dan Abnett, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Archie Goodwin, Val Mayerik, Tom Sutton, Steve Gerber, Steve Englehart, Gene Colan, John Romita Jr, Klaus Janson, Brian Steelfreeze, Chris Sprouse, Denny O Neil, Ernie Chan, Mike Mignola, Kurt Busiek, Todd McFarlane, ….?

Somehow, I think Zorro and Spawn did okay for themselves, to name only one Hispanic and one black character.

---Go to any comic convention in a large diverse coastal metropolitan area in the U.S. and the vast majority of comic readers, the people browsing and buying comics are white men.----

I guess you haven't been in attendance at Blerdcon in Arlington. Or the Schomburg Center's Black Comic Book Festival in New York. Or the Texas Latino Comic Con in Dallas, or Sol-Con at Ohio State University, or the Indigenous Comic Con in Albequerque, or the Latino Comics Expo in California, or Nerdtino and ECBACC in Philly.

If you go to the cons that have strong participation from the small press and alternative press and self-publishers and the graphic novels published by the big not-just-comics publishing houses, or the manga side of the other comicons, you will find as many or more women than men. Manga and the American drawn books comics by manga tend to have more women readers than men.

The demographic group with the most emphasis on reading in general is, according to polling, college educated black women:
https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2014/01/most-likely-person-read-book-college-educated-black-woman/357091/
https://www.essence.com/news/why-black-women-read-more-books/

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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