It’s been a few weeks of up and down. Two weeks ago I was worried that Vince was mortally ill, but realized he would be fine when he started posting memes and browsing the web again. This past week has been extremely productive as we hone in on our “virtual sabbatical.” While we do this, the internet at large wonders what will happen next across a multitude of economic and social axioms. Truly extraordinary and terrifying times we live in!
The need for change and action contrasts sharply with disagreements about what to do and how. On a micro scale this has played out in our little industry of comics. I guess, to be more specific, the direct market comic book sans superhero industry of America.
Caveat emptor, I write these things as 30 minute stream of consciousness babbles so apologies in advance for the roughness around the edges…
Right now, comics are facing an existential threat. The major distributor of comics to the direct market, Diamond Distribution, is dying. They’ve halted distribution and are unable to pay the comic publishers. Retailers have been frozen from buying any new product and the entire industry has coalesced around a facebook group called Plan C that feels a little bit like the Last Alliance. Artists and Publishers and Retailers alike all gathered together to try and plan for the end...
But like all Last Alliances, this one has been rife with petty squabbles and disagreements. Many parties face pressing problems which all seem to stem back to distribution.
The established model of Diamond is to run through a physical catalog and preorders to drive interest and estimate sales to the direct market (comic book stores). That works perfectly well for Marvel and DC, whose properties drive the industry and whose strategic importance is as a creative intellectual property farm rather than as a revenue generator by corporate. Their comic divisions are judged against each other in a bicameral system, and the entire comic industry suffered a major crash in the 90s from which it is still recovering from. All that is to say they have limited interest in growing the industry more than duking it out for the blasted wasteland that’s remained.
Many in comics know that the system is broken. Some artists like ourselves have chosen a more direct to consumer pathway and built fanbases directly online. Nonetheless, this pandemic has hit us all hard. We were the canary in the coalmine in the USA with Emerald City Comic Con convention scene and now we’re facing an existential threat that admittedly covers the spectrum of retailers, including ours.
Small publishers like ourselves have offered to help by offering steep discounts to our product. Because we are independent, we have our own distribution supply chains that we can leverage. And by supply chain I mean we mail the stuff ourselves or work with other small companies to do so.
From a retailer standpoint, they need a fast and reliable way to buy wholesale products with built in curation. They don’t like buying from independents because they are unreliable when it comes to release (guilty) and find indie books in general hard to move. We’ve never had a problem moving our books at retailers, but for us, the margins were too low comparatively and our print volumes too small for us to seriously consider pushing out to retailers in any real way.
A lot of people claim that the industry is going to be just fine when this is all over. It’s not like we’ll just let all of retail up and die, right? Well, I personally think that remains to be seen… there’s a lot of parts to this economic conundrum we find ourselves in right now and anyone who says they know for certain is for certain full of shit. Even if this next recession isn’t the existential threat that many of us fear, there is a sense that should the entire comic industry come together, we might be able to change things for the better.
‘Might’ being the operative word.
It’s hard getting people to agree and interests to align. Even in the face of a great terror from beyond…
That was kind of the plot Game of Thrones, right? It’s a funny thing, fantasy sans mythology. In some ways the plots we weave in these genres are the purest expression of wish fulfillment and many associate that desire to juvenile naivete. But then we see the metaphorical play itself out over and over again in real life as we wrestle with the one life we are given, uniquely enlightened from the past yet with patterns so painfully similar, vibrantly disappointing rhythms of mistakes made and forgotten. In between the rhyme schemes we imagine and hope for a better tomorrow, of change, and the possibility of the endless to be determined.
Gotta love that multiverse.