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.”