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Thursday, November 16, 2023 

The specialty retail business continues to collapse

A store manager wrote a column for ICV2 where he actually offers some better insight into what's destroying comicdom:
Where did it go off the rails? It’s not such a conundrum to anyone with two active brain cells and a list of back issues they need to complete their runs. Comics, first and foremost, have always been entertainment. Sure, collectible entertainment, which justifies the cost-to-entertainment ratio. But along the way, the immediate sale and false bolstering of numbers through variant covers, convoluted events, and incessant reboots left the considerations of the fans behind. Character swapping, gender-bending, and changing sexual orientation of beloved characters fell flat with the Wednesday Warriors who supported the industry for decades. The crowd of new readers the changes were meant to attract didn’t translate to a 1-for-1 swap, leaving a declining customer base.
Now we're getting somewhere in terms of a retailer's viewpoint. Stuff like this is precisely what's destroyed mainstream, along with the continued corporate monopoly on the same. And DC's just as profoundly guilty of this as Marvel; one should never overlook that fact. The writer even lists what he feels is crucial for revitalizing the market:
1. $3.99 comics. I would say $2.99 but we have increased rents, labor, and insurance costs to cover so $3.99. $4.99 and more is a non-starter with too many fans.

2. Fewer covers. I know this will get some pushback from every corner but without a focus, it’s all about the value of the covers and not what’s between them. Max of 2 covers. While you’re at it, give us a hook to sell, not just another convention commission piece with no indication of what’s inside the comic it covers.

3. Editors who are editors. Too many stories are lackluster and agenda-driven, too many covers are con-sketch drivel with no sales point, and too much interior art is amateurish. It’s clear neither Marvel nor DC has a publishing plan beyond the current reboot.

4. The characters are iconic for a reason. The movies never got traction until they leaned into what made the characters decades-long successes. Change is good for story but inevitably, you need to touch base with what brought them. Gender swaps, sexual orientation changes, and outright changes to who’s in the suit are short-term headline grabbers but without long-term sales with very few exceptions.

5. Tell stories without proselytizing. I’ve beat this drum for a decade and more but here we are, chasing away a large portion of our customer base with every new tale as they want entertainment, not a serialized sermon.

6. Limited new characters. Fresh blood is good, but it’s become obvious that characters aren’t organic to stories, they’re shoehorned in for a bump in sales. Dance with who brung you, as the saying goes.
The first of the recommendations given, however, is a very disappointing cliche. I just don't understand why specialty retailers still want to nail themselves on such a now useless format as the pamphlets, and are okay with selling something that costs even 3 dollars for so little as 20 pages or so. What's more, it practically kowtows to the very managements he takes issue with. Why can't these guys recommend abandoning the pamphlet format, for heaven's sake, and switch to a paperback/hardcover direction instead? What is so hard about that? And it wouldn't complicate an artist's ability to draw more portraits - as opposed to variants - based on many of the characters they're already illustrating. How that doesn't occur to them is bewildering.

There is also a good point made about new characters who're aren't introduced organically, but this fails to make clear a lot of those who have been for 2 decades now are Asian/Black/Latino characters who're created solely for the purpose of replacing white superheroes in the same costumes and such. If they're only there to serve as superheroes and not as organic civilian co-stars, then they simply won't work even as superheroes.

Later on, a writer at the Frederick News-Post followed up on this, telling how a local specialty store was impacted by any and all of these problems, but, the columnist won't admit what the other guy recognizes bears accountability:
Now, I can’t say I’m on board with some of his other comments — particularly those that blame overly “woke” “[c]haracter swapping, gender-bending, and changing sexual orientation of beloved characters” in Marvel and DC stories. (Drab writing, subpar art and little emphasis on building a talented stable of storytellers is a much bigger issue.)
This refusal to admit wokeness has demolished comicdom is hugely disappointing, but not unexpected. It's practically why Marvel/DC began to collapse in the early 2000s. Of course the writing is dismal, ditto the art. But the wokeness comprises a large part of that awfulness, because the activist creators are so obsessed with LGBT ideology and anti-conservative leanings, they're willing to sacrifice talented writing and art all for the sake of their petty politics.
Personally, I’ve been hearing a lot of angst in the readership around the price point for individual monthly comics, which is only exacerbated by lackluster stories and art. What was, in the 1950s, a thick, 50-page issue packed with stories that you could pick up at the local newsstand spinner rack for only a dime, is now 24 pages (not counting ads) for a whopping $4.99. If you have a pull list at your local store — that is, regular titles that store staff collect for you to pick up each month — your bill can run a couple hundred dollars. (Digital prices, such as those of the Marvel and DC apps, are slightly more affordable, but I’m focusing here on the bread-and-butter monthly print editions that form the basis for sales that keep comic stores running.)

For a unique industry that relies on an audience of collectors who pride themselves on complete runs, that price point is unsustainable and, ultimately, self-defeating a barrier of entry for new readers.

(As an aside, I stopped buying monthly series years ago, partly because of the cost and partly because I’m a lazy customer who needs to know a run was good before I pick it up. Now I wait for collected editions, or “trade paperbacks.”)

Comics now smack of that luxury-item feel, instead of what they’ve always been: literature for the masses.
Well in that case, why does he seem to be talking out of both sides of his mouth, and not take issue with the whole notion of buying a story almost entirely in pamphlet format? Why not stress why it could pay dividends to buy exclusively in trade format and abandon the monthly pamphlet format altogether?
Two points to make here. 1) Where on Earth is the market diversity? How did the audience reduce so sharply from hundreds and thousands of customers, mostly kids, to a niche base of collectors? And 2) How did comic-book stores become the sole places you could buy monthly comics?
A better query is why must you buy monthly, instead of paperbacks telling a whole story in one? Why is nobody willing to make the case for a huge shift towards paperbacks and hardcovers? It's shameful how these pseudo-pundits keep going on and on emphasizing monthlies, when here, there's a whole golden opportunity to restructure formats for the better. The continued refusal to even suggest a change of format is precisely what'll bring down the whole industry. Sure, some independents obviously specialize in paperbacks. But Marvel/DC's modern artistic atrocities aside, the unwillingness to make a case for them to change just reeks of more apologia. Not that it's surprising a MSM outlet's unwilling to make cases for the better when it comes to them, of course.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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