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Wednesday, June 25, 2008 

Movies might save comics, but the content and current approaches won't

The New Jersey Star-Ledger writes a business article about the current state of comics, and if there's anything they do admit, it's that the industry has largely abandoned children as an audience. But beyond that, I think they're slipping again:
Live-action movies about comic book characters -- "Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "The Dark Knight" ("Batman") and "Hellboy II," to name a few -- are among the biggest this summer, and comic book stores are enjoying a bit of box-office blowback. It's welcome news for publishers and store owners who are banking on the movie characters to overcome a slump this year.

"My sales are up 5 to 10 percent, and the movies are the only thing I can imagine that would be influencing this," Joe Viapiana, owner of Vector Books in Bayonne. "The movies seem to have legitimized the comic books."

Once dismissed as a kid's time-waster, comic books have matured into an adult medium sold in bookstores and taken seriously by librarians and academics -- and they've left the children behind.

For at least the past 20 years, publishers have been aiming comic books at adults, "and they have almost completely eliminated the younger reader," artist Joe Kubert said.

"The writing is complex, the illustrations are intricate and beautiful -- I never dreamed when I started in this business that a comic book would look like National Geographic," he said. "Most comic books are written for adults, not children. They are a little too dark, too adult, too violent, too sexual -- a lot of stuff which just astounds me."
Okay, so the part about abandoning the children's crowd is correct, and they even have a famous veteran like Kubert to attest to that. But again, how long does it last? The following store owner is avoiding that question here:
Steve Conte, owner of Funnybooks in Lake Hiawatha, said demand for comics is driven by the allure of the books themselves, not the movie spinoffs.

"Comics are doing well because they are awesome: well-written and well-drawn, with great characters," he said. "And of course, the movies help."
It doesn't surprise me that a store owner could sugarcoat the situation.
Retail sales of comic books and book-length graphic novels hit $700 million in the United States and Canada last year, up from $640 million in 2006, according to ICV2.com, a website that tracks the business of popular culture. Comic book sales are down this year, "but 2007 was a tremendous year, and comics are a hit-driven business," explained Tom Flinn, vice president of content at ICV2. In May 2007, 15 comic book titles sold more than 100,000 copies, while in May 2008, only seven hit the 100,000-copy mark.

"But it's still early, and it's tough to say how the year will end up," ICV2 publisher Milton Griepp said.
I'm afraid so. There are some good reasons, in fact, why this year may see some sad but serious decline, caused in no small part by how money-consuming crossovers, bad writing included, have been taking over. The current decline reminds of how sales on SUVs, which peaked in January, have since taken a very steep drop in automobile sales. As for an increase is sales, I think they're confusing things - it's more likely that graphic novels/trade paperbacks are what increased in sales, but the monthly pamphlets? It doesn't look like it.
Dan Veltre, owner of Dewey's Comic City in Madison, isn't all that optimistic about the rest of the year, either.

"I don't feel the movies are having an impact on sales," he said. "Good comics sell comics, but movies don't sell comics."
I'm glad this store manager is willing to admit the reality that I've also been aware of, how increased sales have been short-lived. And if the buyers realize that the writing quality of current offerings has more negatives than positives, that's why they might not stay around for long.


About me

  • 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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