In Circles

March 12th, 2009 by | Tags:

The most common question asked during a Con is, “How do I get into the comics industry?”  The most common answer is an extremely weary sigh, followed by, “Have a few comics published already.”


You can bet your life on hearing that conversation at least once per Con. 


When you’ve gotten a few Cons under your belt, you’ll hear the same circular exchange again and again, spiraling up through wannabe writers and artists, through independent publishers, all the way to established companies.  You’ll hear it cut across creative panels, marketing discussions, and technological analysis.  Everywhere, it seems, what you most need to succeed is success.


At WonderCon, I went to a panel of independent comics publishers.  A fan got up and asked why more of them didn’t move to an e-comic format, offering downloads for small fees and bypassing the printing and shipping costs.




First, the publishers said, offering comics online is the equivalent of getting down on your knees and begging for people to put them on torrent sites.  But even if that weren’t the case, they couldn’t simply offer the comics as snapshots.  They needed a reader for them.  More critically, they needed a consistent reader; one that could be used for all kinds of comics, one that could be used for years.  This proved nearly impossible.  By the time the publishers acquired the technology, the staff and the skills to convert all their comics to an online format, a new version of the reader they’d chosen had come out.  Or, worse yet, their reader remained the same, and was quickly replaced by a new kind of reader entirely.  To launch e-comics, you need a well-established reader.  To get a well-established reader, you need a few well-established e-comics businesses using that reader.  And around in the same circle we go.


At the panel of a more mainstream comics publisher, a fan asked about other media; video games, straight-to-DVD movies, webisodes and such.




The things that get companies interested in creating a video game are successful movies and widespread name-recognition.  But investing in a movie means a lot of money and a lot of time.  Perhaps if there were a popular video game to create and maintain a loyal fan base, a movie would be possible.  And again, we go around.


What about good, old-fashioned comics distribution?  Surely there are more venues that could make comics available to the general public.




Grocery and drug stores are free to offer comics in their stores, but aren’t likely to do so, since no one goes to the grocery store to buy comics anymore.  If there were comics available on a regular basis in supermarkets, then more people might buy them, if only to keep their kids quiet in line.  But in order for that to become an entrenched tradition . . . it would have to be an entrenched tradition.






Young children might find comics less intimidating than books, and having a huge amount of school children reading would boost circulation and bring in money.  Unfortunately, the only way to sell to schools would be to cut out advertising in comics, since a school handing out a text with ads in it might be seen as an endorsement for the products that are advertised.  That would be a big gamble for an uncertain outcome.


Licensed publishing for the educational market?




Kids will read books with popular characters.  But the way to make those characters popular is to have them being read, already, by a lot of kids.


And so, again, we go around. 


While no one is precisely averse to new innovations, novelty is always a gamble.  An individual, a company, even an industry, can only gamble so much.  I suppose if the solution were easy, someone would already have thought of it, but sometimes it’s a wonder that anyone succeeds in a business venture at all.

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5 comments to “In Circles”

  1. *sigh*

    sounds like the buisness is getting back into the buisness of killing itself.

  2. @A.o.D.: All it takes is one break-through, though.

  3. Sounds as though the direct market has shot the future in the foot (though for all I know it helped save comics at some point).

  4. It’s an interesting observation but I think you’re wrong. Maybe I’ve misinterpreted what you’ve said here, but I think you’re saying that the nature of the product prevents people in the industry from finding new ways to sell it. While I do think that is what is happening, it’s going to kill the industry. Or worse, result in people who don’t understand comics running the comic industry.

  5. @Chickenbone Robinson: I take the opposite view, actually. After all, all it takes is one thing that catches on. There’s a resurgence in comics as trade paperbacks in bookstores, and daily webcomics are incredibly popular. Comics, and how they’re sold, have changed a lot over their history. I think it will take a while for the right marketing, the right medium, the right audience, and the right character to find each other, but it’ll happen eventually.