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Tumblr Mailbag: Direct Market, Schmirect Schmarket

January 23rd, 2013 by |

Tumblr questions! I take questions on tumblr because I get bored real easy, they’re easy to knock out between paying work, and I like when people want to know what I think about things. I got this question from stavner the other day:

Would it be better for the health of American comics if Marvel and/or DC got out of the comics business and just focused on licensing?

My reply was short, but I think pretty okay: “That would literally destroy the direct market almost immediately, so definitely not.”

I got a follow-up question from an anonymous dude and I wrote a half-thought out book on it. I don’t think I’m too off base, though. I’m sure y’all will let me know if I am. I wrote this in… ten minutes? Sorry if this is rough. I lightly edited this after posting it on tumblr to make it more readable. And by “lightly edited” I mean “put in some words that I forgot to put in and cut a paragraph because it didn’t turn out like I wanted.” Onward:


Re: you answer to the question of whether it would be good or not for Marvel and DC to get out of comics and just focus on licensing, you said it would destroy the Direct Market. Putting aside the jobs that would be lost – would that be such a bad thing 4 the art form? (Presumably the original questioner means that, with Marvel and DC out of the picture there’d be less capes & corps) And isn’t the death – or at the very least decimation – of the direct market as it currently exists inevitable?

Nothing’s inevitable, and anything that happens occurs because we tolerate it. You’ve got a lot of things going here, so I’m gonna throw out points instead of a straight answer.

“Putting aside the jobs that would be lost – would that be such a bad thing 4 the art form?”
-You can’t put aside the jobs. Putting them aside makes your hypothetical situation a lie. “Putting aside all the deaths, wasn’t invading ____ a good idea?” No, it wasn’t. You have to account for those deaths, and if you delete Marvel and DC, you have to account for the fact that they have upwards of 60% of the market share. Losing 60-some percent of your business is catastrophic. When that business is the main draw for your store — Marvel and DC have specifically cultivated an audience of people who hit shops like clockwork for a hit in a way that I don’t think most other publishers have managed — it’s apocalyptic.

You lose the curious foot traffic that comes in for X-Men comics but kinda likes that Brian Wood guy’s other stuff, or that digs Wonder Woman and realizes that Empowered is awesome. That counts for a lot, and smart comic shops know this. “Oh, you like Uncanny X-Men? This guy also writes Casanova and it’s crrrrrazy!” “Dazzler fan, huh? Tried Phonogram?” You lose the regular and reliable pay check that comes from selling Big Two comix. You have fewer options for events and materials, on account of Marvel and DC not opening up their wallets.

And screw the art form if the jobs don’t count for anything. People come first, every single time. Do right by the people and the business side of the art form will improve, which will help improve the art form itself. Human beings over everything.

“And isn’t the death – or at the very least decimation – of the direct market as it currently exists inevitable?”

-Inevitability is a fake idea. The direct market doesn’t have to die, and if we’re being real, it probably shouldn’t. It’s a dependable delivery system for a specific type of book to a specific type of person. It serves a purpose that could easily be expanded and fixed.

The problems with the direct market — an apparently unbelievably conservative population of retailers, gaming the system, backstock, ordering, timely deliveries, awful customer service, etc — are ALL fixable. Every single one! It would take work and effort, and yeah a lot of squares would get upset, but it’s fixable, and nobody cares what they think anyway. The rise of Vaughan & Staples’s Saga is a fantastic sign, as-is the continued success of The Walking Dead. Empowered has had a gang of printings and is at the deluxe hardcover stage of things. People are interested in new things — we just have to get those things in front of them so they know to get them. Comic shops, especially ones with personable, intelligent staff, are the best way to do that. If somebody can answer two questions — “What do you like?” and “What do you like about it?” — then you can find something to sell them that they’ve never seen before and will probably enjoy a whole lot. I did it back when I worked (non-comics) retail, and my friends who are still in retail all know that that’s how things work.

So no, the DM doesn’t have to go away, especially not when the alternative is to make it a leaner and meaner murder machine.

“Putting aside the jobs that would be lost – would that be such a bad thing 4 the art form? (Presumably the original questioner means that, with Marvel and DC out of the picture there’d be less capes & corps)”

-It’s not about the art form. It was never about the art form. The art form is what it is. Ed Benes’s atrociously ugly comics deserve to sit alongside the Blankets dude’s sad sack comics as much as anything else. They both serve a different purpose and are aimed at a different audience, and each of them are just as valid as artistic pursuits as the other. Yeah, I think one of them is trash, but that’s just me.

Capes aren’t bad. Corporations aren’t bad. Corporate comics aren’t bad, either. What’s bad is the behavior that people get up to, whether that means screwing talent, running games on your audience, stiffing your retailers, and using predatory tactics to flood the market and then blaming readers for books flopping. Corporations and creator-owned dudes both run scams on people.

It’s not a corporate problem. It’s a people problem. Marvel and DC aren’t holding comics back from being an art form. They’re already an art form, and Marvel and DC have definitely produced books that are genuine classics of the art form. They aren’t the problem with comics. They’re problems in other areas, but erasing them? That won’t fix comics or make comics palatable to whoever.

It’s a real baby/bathwater proposition you’re talking about here, when the more reasonable answer is just “do better.”

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42 comments to “Tumblr Mailbag: Direct Market, Schmirect Schmarket”

  1. Nice job. I had a question, though. The DM for the longest time has looked to me like a lifeboat from the collapse of the newsstand system that is trying to act like a cruise ship. (This is probably not the best analogy, but it’s the best I have at the moment.) It’s small, cramped, insular and a general pain to get anything done in it.

    While I definitely agree that it would be possible to fix these problems, wouldn’t it be easier to just build bigger/better boats? I know this is something of a chicken/egg problem, unless the publishers want to get into it, making, I don’t know, the Marvel/DC/Image/etc Store or something. Still, it seems that the biggest problem with the DM is the DM system. It’s like this weird Just In Time system only minus the ability to get more product when needed, and the method of getting the product in the first place is as byzantine as possible.

    I have little to no training in economics or business, so I won’t pretend to know the answers, but one doesn’t have to be able to lay an egg to tell when one is rotten, and man, the DM has a stink to it. There’s a lot of good shops out there that are successful in spite of it, but I keep wondering how much more successful they would be if they didn’t have to deal with it at all.

    Thanks for the great analysis, and all the best,

    steven sanders


  2. The direct market is literally the worst way to experience any medium that has ever been developed.

    It can definitely die. I hope in my lifetime. You’ve been in a lot of good comic shops. Where apparently they actually stock a book like Blankets. I couldn’t even get Multiple Warheads at the last comic shop I went to. A shop that I also had to deal with being patronized because I’m a girl, and had a table of nerds using rape as their primary verb with me like five feet away. Fuck all of that.

    There’s what…maybe 50 great comic book shops in the entire country? They can still fill their shelves with dope content without having to run this silly order x amount of issues of shitty book A to get variant cover of shitty book b. On a product that depreciates every day after it’s launch I might add.

    It’s not like these great shops are booming with the direct market. They are dying off in a slow and painful way, because the direct market has segregated the medium from the world. Look at those demographics from the DC new 52 readership. It’s the same demos of the republican party. Aging straight white dudes.

    The direct market and Marvel/DC’s behavior using it are at the root of the cancer that is eating at these shops and the medium as a whole in America.

    I hope it dies in my lifetime. Right along with fanboy culture. The direct market isn’t really putting on comics that I believe in, and it’s really just servicing a group of people that are at best abhorrent. I bought my last 5 books from the internet and the amount of bullshit I had to go through to get them: nill.


  3. @Steven Sanders: Nah, I like that analogy a lot, and I think it makes sense with what I know of the evolution of the DM.

    My thinking — and I’m just some dude with a lot of opinions, too — is that building bigger and better boats isn’t necessarily feasible. The thing about the DM is that it has a lot of inertia, right? People go to comic shops to buy serial comics. If you want them anywhere else, you gotta go to a convention or maybe hope B&N put out the new comics or whatever. If you want serial comics that aren’t by Marvel/DC/Robert Kirkman, you’re probably SOL at that point.

    Building a bigger and better boat would have to provide a better and more efficient experience than comic shops do. We’re talking replacement, right? Jettisoning Diamond in favor of (sorry) Platinum? Better is easier than efficient, I think. Most of the comic shops I really dig are coming from a place of “We don’t want to be that guy and also we don’t want to scare away girls by being jerks.”

    But more efficient? You’d have to build new inroads with the bookstores since you don’t have access to Diamond (though there are a few other comics distro options, Diamond is basically king here in terms of backlist/library/etc), you’d have to educate people as to what this new store is about, convince publishers to give you a try, and I’m sure some other things more experienced people deal with all the time. Diamond has made those inroads, and my thinking was that it’d be more efficient to force Diamond into 2013 than reinventing their wheel. Take advantage of their pros while you take a hammer to their cons, basically.

    But yeah, I’m with you on Diamond. I think it’s atrocious that it’s as bad as it is. I subscribed to 2000 AD around this time last year, I think it was, and stuck around for about eight months, and I only ever got to read two consecutive issues in a row like… six times? They would ship the issues out of order, they wouldn’t ship the issues at all, and they would say they shipped the issues but you ended up with a box of rocks and a death threat instead. It’s silly. It’s insane.

    If I was King Diamond and had the funds and bullets to get it done, the first order of business would be asking why they make it hard to do basic things like “get a comic book where it goes on-time in a country that is covered in airports.”

    I think digital is the closest thing we have to a bigger and better boat, and I’m definitely at the point where I prefer digital over print. But I think it also doesn’t serve the audience who isn’t like me, which is a gap that should be filled, if only because the print side makes so much more money than the digital side.

    I’m working from a position of “We’re stuck with this big fat ugly poop of a company,” I guess. But I’d be all about a bigger and better boat if somebody has a good one. Thanks for making me think this through a little more.


  4. “You can’t put aside the jobs.”

    You really, really can. It strikes me as completely bogus to say “your question about the medium is invalid because of something that has literally nothing to do with the medium”.

    PS: Fucking PREACH, Sarah.


  5. @Pat: How do comic shops have nothing to do with the medium when they’re the primary delivery service for that medium? And setting that aside, the writers and artists would have to be taken into consideration. Comics don’t go without people, either as an art form or commercial enterprise, so no, even in a hypothetical about a fake situation, you can’t discount the jobs and expect to have a conversation that has any type of bearing on real life.

    @sarah horrocks: You’re exaggerating, surely? The people who hit comic shops are abhorrent at best?


  6. If it wasn’t for my local comic shop I would have never paid for comics. My shop is clean, well lit, and small, and the guys there are willing to talk about what I’m interested in and how that can lead me to other books. While they don’t order in Multiple Warheads without a pre-order request into this particular shop, they will try to find it for me if I ask.

    Off and on they have women employees behind the counter, I’ve never been talked down to due to my gender, and they are willing to have some pretty hot debates with me about what’s pervasive sexism and what’s fan service and how everyone can get what they want out of the market.

    It doesn’t do any gaming, as it’s a pretty small shop, but I have heard other shop owners say that the gaming brings in a different, less pleasant crowd. I couldn’t say. But I can say that if it wasn’t for the personal contact I got in my LCS – which is also responsible en toto for putting together Emerald City Comicon – I’d have kept reading scans for awhile and then lost interest in comics. So you can blame ‘em for me still being a pest, I guess!


  7. @Amy K. I think it’s less that gaming brings in a less pleasant crowd, and more that if a store isn’t really careful the competitive nature of games makes people start to act like assholes for the sake of being really good and winning all the time instead of just having fun moving little plastic dudes around or pretending to cast spells with cardboard or whatever.


  8. @David

    I think the idea that the issue HAS to be looked at holistically is pretty nonsensical.

    Comics exist as a medium with or without the direct market.
    Comics exist as a medium whether or not anyone makes a living off of making or selling them.

    The business and art sides of the question can absolutely be dealt with independently, as they are completely independent from one another.


  9. @jeff Probably true.


  10. @Pat: Okay, sure, but the question was specifically about the direct market and its effect on comics, so I don’t even know which argument it is that you’re trying to have here.

    If you think business and art are completely independent… I don’t even know, dude. That’s an absurd position to hold.


  11. I have the experience as Amy with my (formerly) local shop and when I drive back down there, it’s always a highlight of my trip. Clean, well lit store with employees I usually talk sports or comics with who hooked me up with some great reads and steered me away from some stinkers.

    Brian Hibbs has written some great defenses of the Direct Market (his Tilting at Windmills column). I think he’s a tad forgiving of Diamond but he’s an intelligent shop owner and I think his core belief that the direct market is the most lucrative way of business is correct. There is no good reason for Marvel or DC to abandon it, the way it currently works give them a tremendous amount of power.


  12. @David,

    My point is that if those two statements are true, and it seems we both agree they are, then you absolutely can ask “Putting aside the jobs that would be lost – would that be such a bad thing 4 the art form?” without getting into any of the economic issues that you bring up.

    I really, really think this is an important question to be asking, and didn’t think the dismissal of it was fair at all.


  13. I’ve never posted a comment here before, but I read David’s stuff from time to time, and I felt the need to reply to Pat because it hits on a pet peeve of mine:

    @Pat

    It’s impossible to separate economic questions from art. Any attempt to do so in a kind of what-if scenario will result in something that has no bearing on reality. Art doesn’t appear, unblemished, out of the ether of the creativity of the person who makes it. Any great artist (comics or otherwise) you can think of would not have done what they did if their job situation had been different and, to take it a step further, if the economic conditions to create that job didn’t exist.

    Not only is it easier to create when you have a steady income and the security that affords, but the nature of the employment directly affects the kind of work being done. Kirby comics, for instance, would not have the same frantic qualities that they do if the man himself had not been working in the old assembly line method of making comics since he was a teenager; at the same time, the assembly line method wouldn’t exist if not for the nature of the demand for comics at the time.


  14. @Frank

    “Any great artist (comics or otherwise) you can think of would not have done what they did if their job situation had been different and, to take it a step further, if the economic conditions to create that job didn’t exist.”

    Prove it.


  15. Seriously…

    “Kirby comics, for instance, would not have the same frantic qualities that they do if the man himself had not been working in the old assembly line method of making comics since he was a teenager; at the same time, the assembly line method wouldn’t exist if not for the nature of the demand for comics at the time”

    could also just say

    “Kirby comics have a frantic quality”

    Boom. Just talked about art without mentioning economics.


  16. @Pat

    Because people are the product of their environments. There’s no holy, untouchable part of the human brain where art comes from. Art isn’t beamed into the world from some outside dimension, untouched by material concerns.


  17. @Pat

    “Boom. Just talked about art without mentioning economics.”

    Yes, but you wouldn’t be getting the whole story.


  18. @Frank

    1. That doesn’t actually prove it.

    2. How does one decide that economics is the one area of an artist’s “environment” that MUST be discussed? Couldn’t I just say that

    “Kirby comics, for instance, would not have the same frantic qualities that they do if the man himself had not been working in the old assembly line method of making comics since he was a teenager; at the same time, the assembly line method wouldn’t exist if not for the nature of the demand for comics at the time.”

    is invalid because you didn’t also talk about where his parents were born? I’m sure he couldn’t have made the same were the people who raised him from an entirely different country than they actually were.

    Does a movie review need to discuss the film’s craft service budget to be legit?


  19. @Pat

    1. What are you asking me to prove? That the circumstances under which work is done affect the work itself? That Kirby or any other artist, being human beings, are affected by their environment? I feel like this is close enough to being self-evident that I don’t need to go find a psychology or social science textbook to back me up. To get really specific, are you asking me to prove that if Jack Kirby hadn’t worked in commercial comics for thirty-plus years at that point, he never would have made OMAC exactly like he did?

    2. Economics is an artist’s (or anybody’s) environment. It determines more than anything else what options are available to them. The example you use of where someone is born factors into that; a person’s relationship to their hometown and whether they move away or not largely has to do with how much money their parents, and later they themselves, have, which has to do with the job market, cost of living, etc. in that time and place. I don’t mean that economic factors are the single determining factor in a person’s life, just that they are the overriding one in almost every situation and that exceptions to the rule are exactly that.

    “Does a movie review need to discuss the film’s craft service budget to be legit?”

    No, of course not. But a filmmaker has to consider a craft services budget in order to make a film, and any consideration of how that film was made after the fact has to consider, if not the craft services budget in particular, then at least the overall budget as well as how that budget was procured. Films don’t get made without budgets, and the content of the film and the nature of the budget have a two-way relationship. A typical movie reviewer will not consider the budget unless it’s atypically small or large; they won’t consider the making of the film at all unless there’s something markedly unusual about it, (every review of a Werner Herzog movie for example.) The reason they don’t consider these things is either because they don’t care (which is a shame) or because they only have enough time and space to tell the reader whether or not they liked the movie and to focus on a few surface elements. But any examination of a work of art or entertainment that doesn’t include its making is by its nature incomplete; if you don’t ask why and how something came into being, you won’t be able to completely describe what that thing is. Not everything needs to be examined this deeply; we don’t need to talk about the conditions that made Otomo get into the manga business to appreciate the panel structure in Akira for example. But if we want to profess understanding, then it’s something we need to think about.


  20. “…we don’t need to talk about the conditions that made Otomo get into the manga business to appreciate the panel structure in Akira for example”

    Bingo. When your aim to is to evaluate a part of a whole, you don’t necessarily need to evaluate the whole. My point exactly.

    Comics, as an artform, would benefit greatly from Marvel and DC becoming strictly licensing entities.


  21. But this is a situation where the whole can’t be separated from the part. Of course Marvel and DC make bad comics, their fans are terrible, their labor practices are awful, but there’s no indication that if they went away, the people who read those comics would switch to reading comics that don’t have Batman or the Avengers in them; those folks are more in love with the property than the medium. David’s point is that these Marvel and DC fans are, largely, propping up the direct market system, and that if they go then the direct market goes, and that there’s no sign that another distribution system will come along to replace it. Without an effective distribution system in place, it will be harder for comic artists to make money. If comic artists can’t make money on what they’re doing (or at least make less money,) they will either have to devote less time to making comics or stop making comics entirely, which is a loss to everyone. I don’t think there are any great comics that aren’t being made because of the big two and the direct market, but David’s saying it’s feasible that there could be great comics that wouldn’t be made without them, even if it’s not under their aegis. Of course the big two need to change, but as for disappearing outright, I think David’s right that right now the effect would be disastrous.


  22. I owned a comics shop before working on the publishing side of comics. I bought into it when I was 19. About 10 years ago I moved on because I couldn’t see competing with the likes of Amazon. The shop is still going strong. The fact is–in the last couple of years especially–Marvel and DC (and really all of the front-of-the-catalog publishers) have doubled-down on the Direct Market. Digital comics are growing, our movies now make billions–but when the going gets tough, Publishing goes for relaunches, variant covers, and order incentives; increasing output by shipping multiple issues of a title in a month is a strategy designed for the direct market. Like everything in the world, that dependence is both good and bad–you can debate the sides. But it’s not going to change. The grind of monthly production to Diamond to DM retailer is too ingrained. There wouldn’t be withdrawal and recovery–you’d just get a spasmodic death. “Doing better” is the only real option.

    If you waved your magic wand and eliminated the DM, M/DC wouldn’t change–they’d just stop. Moreover, the Wednesday Marvel Zombie wouldn’t start picking up Blankets because he can’t get the new Vol 5, #1 X-Men. And unfortunately it wouldn’t make ogres in dark basements nicer to female clientele. You don’t have to put the DM out of its misery: 1) it’s probably less miserable and more robust than you think; 2) it’s not standing in the way of new channels. Digital comics is happening, and not because it was launched by M/DC.


  23. @Frank: This is the weird disconnect that seems to be happening bewteen us; you’re still saying that you can’t seperate the artform from the economics, but then you list a bunch of things where the artform would benefit and the economics would suffer. Were they that interdependable, I doubt that would be the case.

    “Marvel and DC make bad comics, their fans are terrible, their labor practices are awful”

    Artform wins if they leave, economics loses.

    “but there’s no indication that if they went away the people who read those comics would switch to reading comics that don’t have Batman or the Avengers in them; those folks are more in love with the property than the medium”

    Good. Artform wins if those people go away, economics loses.

    “and that if they go then the direct market goes, and that there’s no sign that another distribution system will come along to replace it.”

    Good. Artform wins when exposure and feasibility isn’t monopolized by a single gatekeeper, economics loses (at least temporarily).

    “Without an effective distribution system in place, it will be harder for comic artists to make money.”

    SOME. It would be harder for SOME artists to make money. Shitty, but again, only in the economic sense. The vast, vast majority of creators I’d argue are doing truly worthwhile, inspired, quality work right now are basically completely divorced from the DM already.

    “If comic artists can’t make money on what they’re doing (or at least make less money,) they will either have to devote less time to making comics or stop making comics entirely, which is a loss to everyone.”

    Completely disagree. I’d absolutely argue the artform would benefit from a move away from profitability. I honestly find it surprising that someone would argue that a system where “art+money” is the concern would lead to better art than a system where “art” was the concern.


  24. INTERDEPENDENT not “interdependable”

    dammit, that was too many words for me


  25. @Pat: “‘If comic artists can’t make money on what they’re doing (or at least make less money,) they will either have to devote less time to making comics or stop making comics entirely, which is a loss to everyone.’

    Completely disagree. I’d absolutely argue the artform would benefit from a move away from profitability. I honestly find it surprising that someone would argue that a system where “art+money” is the concern would lead to better art than a system where “art” was the concern.”

    I think you’ve missed the point of this statement. The very basics of life, food and shelter, cost money. Comic book artists, regardless of their devotion to art, need money to live. If they can’t make money making comics, they will need to do something else to make money. This something else very well could leave them without the time and inclination to make comics for their own satisfaction. It’s really as simple as that.

    Art for art’s sake sounds great, but people have to eat. The paintings in art galleries are for sale (if not the originals, then prints). People who think only about art and not money tend to die young and poor, then somebody else makes money on their art. Do you really think we’d have the width and breadth of comic art you’d like to see if it could only be a hobby and not a profession?


  26. It’s a testament to how much the direct market has messed up the medium that we even have this conversation. The general populace when they want say the latest Taylor Swift album can buy it from the internet, download it from itunes or amazons or wherever, or go to any number of stores that sell music.

    And yet somehow we’ve decided that specialty shops is the best way to go with the comic medium? It’s a bit bonkers. The direct market is absolutely hurting comics because it is absolutely the worst way to get any kind of art that there is currently in existence. And there’s this built in BS about how DC and Marvel and store owners basically get to by design collude together to choose what titles get to be on shelves and what titles don’t–you can’t say the market decides whether these books should sell or not, because the market is massively controlled and slanted to the two largest companies.

    I mean you go to a movie store and see if it is stocking it’s content by whether something came out from MGM or Sony Pictures? Is MGM even still around? Who knows really?

    But we have to stick with this broken terrible model because it supposedly would cost jobs to move away from it?

    I think it would create more jobs in other sectors if comics were available in more places to more people.

    2. I think people’s experience in comic shops is hugely dictated by geography. The good comic shops I’ve been to have been on the coasts. The horrific ones have been in the middle of the country. Going to a comic shop SHOULD be a lot of fun for someone who is a geek for comics. Sadly I’ve rarely gotten to enjoy that experience. A better model for me right now seems to be buying books digitally and then buying the trades when they come out online.


  27. @gaijin:
    What makes you think that the direct market maximizes profits for comic artists? Is it a broke ass Gary Freiderich? Superman creators living as paupers? Tony Salmons losing his house?

    The direct market limits creators rights because access to the market is so overly controlled by two companies who mostly just hire the same people back and forth between themselves. So it’s very easy for them to set the industry standards regarding treatment of creators and compensation very low.

    Plus because it’s just those two companies, what artists can do is very limited to being within one genre–which stunts artistic growth, and eventually rots these artists out.

    The direct market is bad for creators. It’s bad for readers. And it doesn’t seem to be doing that great for retailers either judging by how many shops have moved out of being mostly comics to being somewhat comics. So why is it so great again?


  28. Sorry to jump off on a tangent but how is the manga market doing? I’m curious because Shonen Jump just went weekly; is it a marketing attempt to gain more readers?


  29. This conversation is drifting away from the point rapidly, so I’m going to try and restate what I’m talking about here.

    (An aside, because it keeps coming up — I reject this idea that Marvel and DC don’t produce worthy art and that their fans are mouth-breathing morons. That’s a stupid and incredibly closed-minded opinion to have, and it’s indefensible, near as I can tell. So let’s table that until the heat death of the universe and never talk about it again.)

    Yes, you can talk about art without talking about commerce. That much is obvious. But, in terms of this question that I answered, you can’t talk about Marvel and DC leaving and bettering the art form without talking about commerce, simply because the influence they have on the comics industry — which is indelibly connected to the art form — is tremendous. They have their fingers in the creative side, the Hollywood side, and the distro side. I remember reading somewhere that if things go seriously south, DC Comics has an option to buy Diamond or take control — something like that. They’re ingrained in the industry.

    So yeah, you can talk about art without commerce, but when the question is “Wouldn’t these two giant companies leaving and focusing on licensing be good for the comics art form?” you have to take into account more than just the quality of the art, which is incredibly subjective.

    Art and commerce is a twisted conversation, but here is one thing that is objectively true: commerce matters and it is impossible to create art without taking that into account. You have to pay rent, buy food, clothe yourself, support your people, and so on. So in this conversation, yeah, you absolutely do have to talk about what would happen to people if two of the biggest moneymakers in the biz dipped out.

    Should art be considered regardless of its profitability? Of course! Even Marvel and DC do this to an extent — there’s no reason why Joe Casey & Nick Dragotta’s Vengeance, aka Joe Casey’s Greatest Hits, should exist. But it does, and it’s nuts. But on a macro level? Money counts and money talks. The Big Two focusing on licensing puts a lot of creators out of work and would have repercussions beyond that fact that would be harmful to comics as an art form.

    That’s my entire point, really. If you put aside the jobs, you’re not working with reality any more. You’re doing half a hypothetical. It’s “Setting aside the flavor of the price, what do you think of this slice of pizza?” or “Setting aside the drugs thing, what do you think of Ollie North?” You aren’t getting the full picture, and in this case, the full picture requires you to look at art and commerce.

    It’s different than talking about Kirby’s ancestry. You don’t have to mention his background as a New York Jew to talk about his art, but if you were talking about morality, oppression, freedom, and independence in his work? You really should at least mention that background, right? It matters.

    I mean, you can talk about art without ever mentioning artists. It happens all the time. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way to talk about art. It’s just a way to talk about art that may or may not fit a certain situation.

    I also don’t get how the dozens (hundreds?) of people creating comics for Marvel & DC being put out of work would be a good thing for the art form. There’s nothing intrinsically bad or unartistic about either company. I figure they make more bad comics than most other companies, but they also make more comics than most other companies. I’m a little curious about the proportion of good to bad, but that’s so subjective that there can’t possibly be a firm answer without a lot of caveats.

    @sarah horrocks: How are comic shops different from indie bookstores or vinyl shops? I don’t understand why it’s the worst delivery system ever, not at all. You can buy comics at stores, online… I go to a comic shop like every two months at best. You aren’t locked into the direct market and you never have been.

    You can’t possibly defend that collusion point. That’s extreme hyperbole.

    The market is slanted, yes, but the market is slanted in every industry. That’s why we have Apple/Motorola/Nokia/Sony/HTC phones being super popular and not MetroPCS or whoever. That’s why we have three (IIRC) record labels who still control the music industry and then a lot of baby indies who celebrate when they move 50k units. Slant happens, but taking away that slant doesn’t mean that suddenly the hundred thousand people who read the garbage crossover of the month are going to start buying good comics. People buy what they like, and in the DM, what people like is overwhelmingly tights and fights. Outside of the DM, it varies.

    Comics are everywhere! Every comic isn’t everywhere, that’s obvious, but if you want a comic book, they aren’t hard to find. Even my countrified hometown had a couple different comic shops while I was growing up, and now I can go to the local bookstore or library or computer and find comics to read.

    FYE or whoever doesn’t sort movies by publisher or distributor because those distributors don’t have voices in the same way that Marvel and DC and Image and etc do. People have grown to expect a certain thing from DC (Gods) and from Marvel (feet of clay) and so on. So it makes sense to sort comics like that. Precious few people are like “oh, that new Lionsgate/Universal movie/album!” but a whole lot of people like “Marvel comics.” That’s the difference.

    @Clarence Boyce: Viz wants more readers, yeah, and they also want to demonstrate to people who pirate their books that they can get the real thing for a low price.

    Manga went bust pretty hard, but it’s crawling its way back. It’s nowhere near as robust as it used to be, to my understanding, and a lot of the sales numbers are unbelievably frustrating.

    So I guess “surviving and evolving” is the best answer there.


  30. @Pat

    I’m equally puzzled by your attitude. I think when you say the comics art form “wins” you mean that because fewer bad comics would be put out by the big two, the average quality of comics in general would get better? I think that’s a strange way to think about it. Should the median quality of comics, however that could be measured, matter more than how many good comics are coming out regardless of how many bad comics are coming out at the same time? In time the bad comics will be forgotten about like always while the good ones will be remembered; so, it makes more sense to me to rate the “health” of comics as an art form (a bewildering task itself) more by how many good books there are rather than by how many bad books. The existence of bad books doesn’t make good books worse.

    If the big two stopped making comics, the number of bad books would drop overall but the number of good books wouldn’t necessarily go up. The suggestion is that some good books not put out by the big two might even disappear without them. You seem to think that the people who’d be weeded out by dissolving the DM don’t deserve to keep making comics because they don’t pass some kind of purity test, either because working in the DM constitutes some kind of selling out or because they want money for their work. As for selling out, I’d need to have that explained to me. As for wanting money for their work, I’ll have to agree with Gaijin D and say that money, rather than being just some luxury that’s only chased after by soulless posers (though they do chase it,) is the deciding factor between being able to work and develop your art at the pace that you like or getting in intermittent hours at the drawing board when you can. Surely you can agree that the former situation is better for comics as an art form; it leads to more successfully completed projects and more practiced and thought out work.

    The big two’s practices are terrible; the direct market is a mess, but David’s right that at this moment in time their demise, while probably warranted, at the very least wouldn’t help things. In the future, when digital or some other feasible method of distribution is stronger that could change.


  31. @david brothers: Sorry I got off topic. *rides off in a tiny car*


  32. @Frank: naw, it’s cool. That was more for me, to try and fence off what I was talking about so I could focus on it. Y’all do your thing.


  33. Isn’t it funny how many of the people who complain loudy and sanctimoniously about how badly comics companies treat creatives seem to have no problem with demanding that the same creatives should be starving in garrets and working for nothing more than the love of the medium whenever to do otherwise would offend their deliate artistic sensibilities/require them to get off their arses in any way?

    No wait – What’s that thing that’s like “funny”, only in fact it’s exactly the opposite?

    Pretty easy to ‘set jobs aside’ when none of the jobs in question are yours, isn’t it?


  34. @everybody minus sarah

    A LOT of the talk here about how making comics HAS to be able to be someone’s sole source of income along with the idea that without the direct market artists would be dying in the streets really does just bolster my belief that the end of the DM would be a long-term net gain for comics as an art form. There are so, so many creators right now that I know don’t count on comics as their sole source of income and whose works are essentially completely removed from the DM. This sort of narrowing of the concept of what “comics” means to so many people is exactly the kind of damage that I don’t think will ever be undone as long as Marvel and DC and the DM are still kicking.

    (that probably could have clearer, but i think i should wrap it up and stop de-railing david’s thread)

    PS: Not that I don’t see where people are coming from, I wouldn’t be stoked to see anybody lose their jobs, honestly.


  35. @Pat

    Nobody was saying any of that. This is the point: the more money an artist and/or writer makes from doing comics, the more time they can spend making the comics. The more time they can spend making comics, the better and more consistently scheduled those comics are likely to be. Also, there are a lot of people making comics who don’t even have the DM on their radar, but I think most of them wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to sell through Diamond if they were given the chance.


  36. @davidbrothers
    The main way that comic shops are different from indie bookstores and vinyl shops is that you can still get the latest record of your favorite band elsewhere if you choose as a consumer. You are not beholden to whether or not the person who runs the record store has the same music taste as you. If the indie bookstore isn’t stocking the book I want, I can go get it someplace that does have it, or order it online. You can’t really do that without a lot of hassle in comics in the monthly issue format. I can’t effectively just go onto amazon and get the latest 2000AD or Multiple Warheads if I want it.

    Let’s use the movie Looper as an example. I can get Looper digitally from multiple competing sources at sometimes different price points. I can also get a physical copy at that movie at an indie movie store place, target, amazon.com–pretty much any place where things are sold. I’m sure I could probably buy copies of it at some gas stations. Yet if I wanted to get Spider-man #700 my options are only 1/10th of that, and limited only to places that sell only comics.

    I’m amazed that you are defending this system just as a consumer. Forgetting everything else–can you honestly say that as a consumer of comics that the direct market is servicing your needs in a way that at all measures up to how you might purchase any other thing you’re interested in? Maybe you just have a better set up than I do. I don’t know. I know that for me, getting the comics I want in physical form is a pain in the neck.

    And let’s not even get into the way these digital comic stores are being run. I’m paying these companies for access to a book that I don’t actually own–and when their company goes out of business I will lose all of the comics I bought through them. But the comic industry is of course so stable–so I’m sure that will never ever happen :)

    Only in the comic industry can they basically sell you netflix and and have you pay like it’s itunes.

    As for the collusion remark. I think I was just clumsy in describing what I’m talking about–because collusion obviously infers a consciousness on the parts of all of the parties involved–which I think they’ve passed the need to do that. The direct market is a self-perpetuating system designed to most benefit DC and Marvel, and by it’s current design intentional or not, conspires against the rest of the industry. It is a closed system.

    And yes markets in all industries are slanted–but not so completely to just two companies. You listed five different phone companies–there is much more competition going on there than there is in comics. But let’s slide back over to the entertainment industry. Because that’s what we’re talking about. You mentioned the music industry–the music industry used to be like the comic industry in that the labels were controlling the airwaves and dictating what was and wasn’t getting through. That doesn’t happen anymore. No one even thinks about the labels on their music anymore. Companies like Atlantic, Columbia, Sun Records–that shit is meaningless now. Labels in general are irrelevant. Music has been democratized and the market is much more open now than it ever has been. People can listen to whatever they want.

    And yeah maybe an indie record only sells 10k now–but 20 years ago, that number would be close to zero. And really now it’s almost more about listens and fame than it is sales. I don’t know how many records Lil B has sold in his career–but that anyone knows him is due to a more open market.

    And then as for people buying overwhelmingly tights–overwhelmingly is a bit of hyperbole. Compared to the newstand era pre-direct market, comics aren’t selling for shit. No one reads comics anymore. The bulk of the readership has been warped by so many decades of two company rule–that what you’re looking at is people buying nostalgia more than a particular genre taste–which you can’t bring in new readers with nostalgia. Like I said in my first post–check those New 52 demos. The industry that DC and Marvel have created is propped up on an aging and very narrow demographic that is not going to be the majority in this country very much longer.

    For comics to survive as an industry they need to be reaching as diverse an audience as every other medium out there. American comics have made the medium into a genre–which is possibly the dumbest thing that has ever been done.

    It’s like if the music industry was run by two companies and they decided that their demo only liked Black Metal. Yeah the black metal fans are super committed and they’re going to support everything you put out. But 99 percent of people out there will be unsatisfied with access to only that one kind of music–so they will go elsewhere to spend their time.

    “FYE or whoever doesn’t sort movies by publisher or distributor because those distributors don’t have voices in the same way that Marvel and DC and Image and etc do. People have grown to expect a certain thing from DC (Gods) and from Marvel (feet of clay) and so on. So it makes sense to sort comics like that. Precious few people are like “oh, that new Lionsgate/Universal movie/album!” but a whole lot of people like “Marvel comics.” That’s the difference.”

    And you don’t see that as a huuuuge problem?

    I mean I respect what you’re trying to say, but everything you’re selling me in your point is stuff that I have no interest in, and is a big reason why I think the direct market/DC/Marvel have been a destructive force on the medium, and as both a medium and industry neither of the three have created a climate that is conducive to anyone who makes comics being better off than they’ve been at any other time. Those three have done nothing but continued to perpetuate a climate that is at it’s core anti-creator and pro-corporate brand.

    The direct market as a system could be fixed if it were operating on it’s own–but it is so polluted at this point by the corporate interests of Disney and Warner that I don’t see how it can be saved or made to work in a way that results in a better environment for comics to thrive in.

    Oh and as for fanboy culture not being abhorrent. Obviously yeah, that’s a massive overreaching hyperbolic generalization. I’d feel more apologetic about it if it’s two latest products hadn’t been “predatory fake geek girls” and “Alan Moore should shut his stupid face”.


  37. @sarah horrocks: The music industry is an interesting example, actually. After all, what happened there wasn’t that labels suddenly went away; they’re still kicking and screaming and trying to protect their business model, last I checked. Instead, competition drove the market away from them. Getting music off the internet got so big, if you aren’t selling music in a convenient and attractive way, somebody else will come along who does and eat your lunch.

    Would you agree, then, that the real way to kill the direct market is for something better to come along? Even if we could magically take the current system out back and put a bullet in it, wouldn’t that just leave chaos in its wake, sinking a lot of good artists and companies who would be left behind in the wreckage without a new paradigm in place to move to? I certainly don’t think anyone’s arguing that everything’s fine and nothing should change. Just that a bloody revolution isn’t the way to go.


  38. [...] Comics | David Brothers pens a passionate but thoughtful response to a reader who wonders whether comics wouldn’t be better off without the Big Two and the direct market, pointing out that the problems with both are fixable: “Capes aren’t bad. Corporations aren’t bad. Corporate comics aren’t bad, either. What’s bad is the behavior that people get up to, whether that means screwing talent, running games on your audience, stiffing your retailers, and using predatory tactics to flood the market and then blaming readers for books flopping. Corporations and creator-owned dudes both run scams on people.” [4thLetter] [...]


  39. @sarah horrocks
    I pretty much agree with everything you said. However, what would replace the direct market? Target and Walmart don’t care about comics. Way too much of a burden for pretty much any business with little upside. At best, general retail stores would stock eight Marvel books, Batman, Superman, and maybe Walking Dead and Saga. I don’t think digital stores like Comixology can sustain a significant level of output like that either. It’s a shitty situation for those with no comic store competition around them, but without the DM, how would 90% of these books even exist in print?


  40. People don’t change their beliefs in the face of attack.


  41. David–excellent post and follow-up comments. There is also something to be said for the loss of economy of scale already hurting the market (more expensive to produce things that will sell in smaller numbers) and the loss of craft (developing storytelling chops/experience for writers and artists working in big 2 comics) that seem like the likely products of such a change.

    Perhaps comics are more like television–if the big 3 networks had pulled the plug in, say 1985, leaving PBS and a few nascent cable channels, would that have improved the medium? Many years of competition have decreased reliance on networks and increased quality of cable until they are in some ways indistinguishable, and many outlets provide quality programming (still with some ‘brand name’ recognition, as when HBO dvd sets are always sold together). I could imagine growth of non-big 2 comics giving us a direct market with greater variety but that is still a long road ahead.


  42. Well, to me, it’s a capitalism problem. But part of the nature of that problem is that talking about knocking out TW and Disney is just so much talk, talk about counterfactuals where the workers would be who gets screwed, so I think I more or less agree with you.