The idea that there’s a comic industry sometimes makes me laugh, and not for traditional snarky “Oh, they couldn’t industry themselves out of a paper bag” reasons (Feel free to fill in your own blanks here as to why the industry sucks). No, I’ve become increasingly convinced that the idea fails because there’s more than one comic industry. Yes, there’s the direct market, the bookstore market, the digital market, sure, but even within the traditional American direct market, there’s this other three tier system that goes (in order of size) Marvel and DC, everyone else, self-publishing. It’s simplistic, sure, but look at the market share for the DM and tell me that you don’t see the massive discrepancy between Marvel/DC and everything else (or Marvel and DC, for that matter, but still); it’s as if they’re in a different business altogether.
And, in many ways, it’s a business that’s closer to the comic industry that people always say that they’d prefer: One not as dominated by superheroes, and with more of a spread of genres. One where new creators find it easier to break in, and work on stories (if not always characters) of their own creation, without having to hew to an overarching greater continuity or tying into the next big crossover. But it’s also one where publishers don’t inherently have the history or name recognition of a Spider-Man, Batman or Superman, and so go to outside sources to rent them in the form of licensed comics, and one where budgets and sales are lower, and it’s harder to get people to talk about what you’re putting out there, despite the quality. This non-Marvel/DC world of “legit” publishers, trying to find out what works and will make money and keep people in business can be even more heartbreaking than the Big Two whose tricks and foibles we’ve since become used to being cynical about (Who doesn’t have an “Why isn’t [Book X] selling more?” story?), but more rewarding, as well. So why does it feel like such an afterthought when people talk about comics on this here internet?
In a long, meandering way, that’s what this column is about – The non-Marvel or DC American print industry. The weird economics of it (For example: Am I the only one who finds it odd — in a good way, but still — that Dark Horse’s comics are cheaper than Marvel’s? How did that happen?), the trends (and the bandwagon jumping — Hello, amazing number of Obama comics following The Amazing Spider-Man last year), the freedom and pressure of being “independent,” the whole thing. It may be as nonsensical as this introduction — it’ll mix reviews, interviews and random thoughts depending on what’s in my brain that week — but I kind of like that variety; it’s makes sense to me that you won’t always get what you expect (and, that you sometimes won’t like what you get, for that matter), considering the subject matter. I promise to try and be as entertaining as something published by Image, if not as beautiful as something published by AdHouse or gratuitous as anything published by Broadsword.
Well, okay. Maybe not that last part.
Image from Joel Priddy’s awesome The Preposterous Voyages of IronHide Tom.
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