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Thursday, April 23, 2020 

The AV Club wonders how the industry can be saved. But did they ever reserve criticism for those who led to its downfall before?

Two writers at the AV Club had a debate asking how to save a troubled industry with such archaic ideas for distribution they still stubbornly cling to. And as they talk about monetization for webcomics, the following comes up, most fascinatingly enough:
A lot of that flexibility isn’t available to traditional print publishers, even with creator-owned content and graphic novels. Do you think there are any webcomic strategies or concepts that print publishers or creators could adopt to help mitigate future risks? Do you think times like these might push more people toward online self-publishing?

OS: To answer your first question: It’s already happening. AWA Studios, the new endeavor from former Marvel publisher Bill Jemas and editor-in-chief Axel Alonso, launched on March 18, two weeks before Diamond Comics froze distribution. The next week, AWA announced it would be releasing its books online in a vertical scrolling format à la Webtoon and Tapas, and it has since released digital “episodes” on both of those platforms as well as on the AWA website.

It’s a savvy move in response to the halt on print comics, and the quickness of the execution makes me wonder if this wasn’t a plan for AWA Studios all along. Maybe they had already scoped out Webtoon and Tapas as distribution avenues to publish web-optimized versions of comics after their print issues had already gone on sale, essentially turning these existing platforms into their version of Marvel Unlimited or DC Universe. I don’t know if the company had that foresight or if this was truly a quick response tactic, but it’s one that I could see gaining traction with other publishers. Oni and First Second have serialized comics digitally before releasing printed collections, and we might see others follow suit, especially as printed single issues become less profitable.
Well isn't this telling something about where Jemas is going. He probably realizes his reputation still hasn't improved with comicdom 15 years after he left Marvel, so he could be trying a gimmick to at least encourage people to check out their products digitally, with one query being how much'll require payment, and how much'll be free. But, this being Jemas and Alonso, to say nothing of J. Michael Straczynski, that's why I'd rather pass on their offerings, and suggest others do the same.
I think a lot of people are going to be forced toward online self-publishing when publishers tighten their belts, and I’m curious to see what emerges when creators take distribution into their own hands. We have one example in Panel Syndicate, created in 2013 by artist Marcos Martín and writer Brian K. Vaughan as a way to distribute new titles with DRM-free digital comics purchased at a price dictated by the customer. Other creators have also released books on Panel Syndicate, and last week, it blessed us all with the surprise-drop of a new series by Martín and seven-time Eisner Award-winning writer Ed Brubaker: Friday.
We also have here an example of leftists brought up for citation. How come no rightists? I'd rather pass on Vaughan and Brubaker too; they're not great examples either.
These are alternative distribution models to get content to readers, but what can be done to create a better distribution system for retailers? Diamond has a monopoly on U.S. comics distribution, and without competition, it hasn’t had any pressure to evolve with the times. What would you like to see them do differently as the industry recovers?

CR: This is really the big question for me. I love a lot of what Panel Syndicate has done—and as you said, it’s proven to be a sustainable plan in the long run. But the problem of Diamond’s tight hold on print distribution for monthly issues is one of several big elephants in the room that have shaped the industry into one that screeches to a halt very quickly. It wasn’t always this way—for decades there were more than a handful of distributors that ferried comics from publishers to comic shops and readers. Diamond has been promising technology updates to better serve everyone for a long time, but they’ve been slow to come (if they arrive at all), and yesterday we learned that one of their directors has bailed on the company to enter the healthcare industry, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

A quick glance at comics Twitter will show you a slew of folks rightfully saying that this is a prime opportunity to overhaul the distribution of comics. There’s even some folks who think this may bring the end of the direct market entirely, but I’m not so sure that’s likely or even wise. There’s a lot to be said about having the ability to consume stories in monthly chunks, and the structure of having a friendly neighborhood comic shop to help people find a next new favorite comic is something I honestly want for everyone.
I think this was published on April 21, so they've missed out on Alterna's announcements they'll be taking some challenging directions for different, direct distribution. This does reveal though, what kind of slapdash business Diamond was running, making promises they couldn't keep. And certainly those calling for an overhaul to the approach have a legitimate argument to make, but if they insist on continuing serial fiction in its current incarnation, they're not improving. Then, the following comes up:
Right now comic shops are flooded with dozens of titles from the biggest publishers, many of which don’t sell very well. Because publishers don’t have to worry about books getting returned from shops and costing them money, strategically it makes sense to overprint and offer variant covers to shops in exchange for larger orders that may not completely sell. Getting a better handle on what books do well in what markets and making the relationship between publishers and shops a more consistent partnership is a recipe for success for both groups, and Diamond is very much standing in the way of that.
Sometimes it's not enough to acknowledge a lot of these titles don't sell well. Sometimes it does a lot more to acknowledge the artistic quality is abysmal at worst, like if we're talking about the writing of the Slotts, Ruckas, Bendises, and Aarons out there, who market their shoddy scripting in books that gather dust on the shelves, while any of the better written/drawn indies are all but kicked to the curb. If overall merit doesn't factor in, along with the bad writers and editors responsible for causing such a mess, they won't answer why a lot of these titles don't sell well. Marketing, advertising and promotion also count. Instead of focusing on lack of talent, they sugarcoat it:
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the industry and larger organizations, and not as much about the individual people that make comics so incredible. Do you think there will be any creator- or reader-driven changes coming out of this time period?

OS: We’re definitely seeing an outpouring of support from both creators and readers for those impacted by the crisis. #CreatorsForComics launched last week, a social media initiative where creators auction books, scripts, art, chats, and other prizes to benefit the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (BINC), which provides emergency relief to comic shops and bookstores. Before that, DC publisher and chief creative officer Jim Lee started his own charity auction for BINC on eBay, featuring pieces from himself as well as other superstar artists like Arthur Adams and Bryan Hitch. (DC Comics also donated $250,000 to BINC.) It’s refreshing to see the community rally like this, but fundraising is a short-term solution for retailers that are facing a struggle with no clear endpoint.

A couple weeks ago, creators started talking about a new Marvel/DC crossover when this is all over as a way to accelerate sales, and I’m very curious to see if the wall built between these two companies over the past 20 years will start to crack. It feels very much like a long shot, but maybe the sense of community spreading across the industry will inspire editors to bury the hatchet. It’s also worth noting that this crisis comes at a time when young readers exposed to comics during the ’10s graphic novel boom are entering adulthood, so publishers would be wise to cater to this large population, ideally by putting out work by creators actually in that age range.
Some of the people behind that initiative include establishment figures like Bendis, Tom King, Donny Cates, G. Willow Wilson, Jason Aaron, and Lee just recently retweeted one of the most notorious novelists to infiltrate comicdom - Brad Meltzer, who, as it turns out, is making contributions of his own to their little initiative, as seen in the screencap, and Lee's been chummy with for some time. So Lee's not willing to disassociate from the man who's never apologized for Identity Crisis and its offensive treatment of women, and I'm honestly wondering why he's even bothering to take the steps he is if he's going to recruit the phoniest "fans" for the job.

And considering the writers recommended for writing a DC/Marvel crossover include some of the worst this modern industry has to offer, that's one more reason why it wouldn't be worth looking forward to any more than the universe-spanning crossovers crowding out the Big Two. Of course it's a long shot, very expensive to boot, and above all, artistic merit clearly isn't in the cards, despite what they'd want you to think.

All that aside, let's not forget a little something of importance here: where were these people when industry interlopers like Jemas, Quesada and DiDio were micromanaging the major publishers, for example, while simultaneously performing nepotism? Even smaller publishers have to be held accountable. If they had nothing clear to say about the individuals responsible responsible for bringing down comicdom, it's hard to grasp why they suddenly care now. Not firmly confronting the individuals at the center of a problem is exactly why they got away with it all these years. If they don't have what it takes, then as I've said a million times before, these news commentators aren't qualified for their jobs.

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