The Year 2003 Can Be the Turning Point for Comics

Last week, I introduced you to the revolutionary new educational program, created by the staff of CrossGen Comics, designed to utilize their graphic novels to teach reading in public schools. As I stated in that column, I consider this new program to have tremendous potential to bring new readers into the world of comics. I believe that developing new readers will be critical if comics and graphic storytelling are to survive as a commercially viable form of artistic expression in this new century.

For those of you who believe that I might be overstating the case of the current peril facing the new comics industry, I need only point to the statistics presented in COMICS AND GAMES RETAILER, a sister publication to COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE. C&GR editor John Jackson Miller does an excellent job each month of compiling information that he obtains from Diamond Comic Distributors, and then inserting that new data into graphs that chart the progress of the comics industry during the past few years. On the surface things look OK, as the graphs show that the dollar volume of product shipped during the past few years has been holding fairly steady, which is an enormous relief after the catastrophic declines from 1993-1999. It was during that dreadful seven year period that we lost approximately 7,000 of the 10,000 comics retailers active in the business in 1992 to bankruptcy, or to voluntary liquidation.

What the graphs do not clearly show, however, is the continuing steady erosion in unit sales of comics. It is fairly self evident, however, that if cover prices are rising steadily, yet overall sales are not increasing, then unit sales must be going down. Making matters even worse in my opinion is the fact that comics retailers keep closing up shop. Just last week I heard a rumor that the last Direct Market comics store in Santa Fe, NM was closing. Santa Fe is not a large or populous market area, but there has been a comics shop in that town for over 20 years. What is wrong with this picture?

I don't present this grim news to depress you, but rather as a wake-up call. Publishers, in particular, need to start thinking in terms of taking risks again. Frankly, 2002 was a dreadfully boring year in the world of comics. The year started out with great optimism, as the DARK KNIGHT RETURNS series showed enormous promise. When its shipping schedule was dreadfully delayed, however, it became just another project that lost its positive momentum due to the inability of a top creator to get his work in on time. Frankly, I think that Jack Kirby would have been appalled at the lack of personal responsibility shown by many of today's leading creators. How can we expect fans to be loyal to comics when they can't even have a reasonable expectation of when a highly anticipated project will be on the shelves?

The middle of this past year was just about completely devoid of marquis projects. Many comics were published which were fun to read, but nothing I can remember created any great measure of fan enthusiasm. It wasn't until the Batman: Hush storyline began by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee that we really started seeing some excitement. Fans have quickly made BATMAN tops in unit sales since those two fantastic creators took over the book, which is wonderful for a title which has been languishing near number twenty on the sales charts for several years. What I find interesting is that we're seeing the entire DC line selling better in the Mile High Comics retail stores since BATMAN #608 was released. Let's see, you link a pair of top creators with a key character, and sales explode. What a novel concept! Then your entire line starts selling well because fans really like at least one title that you're publishing... Golly, if every publisher could pull this off, we could be back where we were in 1985, all over again! Don't laugh, because 1985 was when the comics industry exploded in popularity. Getting back to the potential of 1985 would be a great accomplishment.

Where I'm leading to with all this is that I think that 2003 is a year that has the potential to be a turning point in the history of comics publishing. With the tremendous marketing power of the Internet now manifesting its full abilities, I believe that the door is open for comics to return to the exhilarating levels of popularity we saw in 1992. Already, we're seeing large numbers of past readers of comics returning to the fold. To keep them, however, we need publishers to generate some excitement in their upcoming publishing schedules, creators to get their work done on time, and retailers to adapt themselves to the new click-n-mortar marketing reality. The potential for reviving the comics world right now is fantastic! But we all need to have the resolve and the energy to take advantage of the opportunities that the new cyber-world has given us. More than anything, we all need to get the passion flowing again! Stop sitting there moaning about what's wrong with comics, and get out and actually do something constructive and positive. There are going to be some big winners in the upcoming comics market revival, but I will guarantee you that it won't be those who sit on their butts. I encourage everyone to start 2003 with a determination to make a positive difference. Working together, I think we can do great things to get the comics world back on solid ground!

Please send your e-mails to chuck@milehighcomics.com, and your letters to:

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221



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