Post-ComicsPRO Thoughts Part 2 - The Publishers

I wanted to publish this sooner, but some form of cold seemed to hit everyone who went to the meeting in Charlotte this week and today is the first day this week I’ve been able to actually breathe, much less think clearly, but here I am! Today I wanted to talk a little bit about the publishers at ComicsPRO this year. As I mentioned previously, the comic business has been in a bit of turmoil for a while, and how publishers responded at ComicsPRO would be telling.

Marvel Comics
I’ve been chewing on this for a few days now and had a minor realization about Marvel as a comics publisher. In the history of the comic book specialty market, they have never really been an innovator in the business side of comics. To be clear, I’m talking business, NOT creatively. Marvel’s strength has been in owning some of the strongest intellectual property there is and leveraging that to capitalize on trends in the market. I’m not saying that is a bad thing! The results of their ability to capitalize on those trends range from some of the greatest (and most profitable) comics ever published to some that are best forgotten, but at the end of the day, Marvel is going to do their thing, especially now given the size of the company they are a part of and the subsequent expectations. And that is basically what they brought to the meeting this year. While they are always open to input when presented reasonably and politely, at the same time there’s certainly many things they can’t talk about, so as a group, retailers kinda have to manage what they’re given.

DC Comics
DC, on the other hand, has frequently been an innovator on the business side. From new comics formats to practically creating the concept of the graphic novel/collected edition as a market by themselves to generating entire new lines of comics like Vertigo on the momentum of a run of Swamp Thing created a decade prior, DC has frequently pursued ways to come up with new ways to get their characters into people’s hands. I think it is telling that DC managed to successfully relaunch their entire line twice in a span of a little over five years and got plenty of traction both times, while attempts by other publishers to do the same fell flat. Going into this meeting my hopes were highest with DC, but they did not really deliver. To be completely fair, they are still in a transition following their recent reorganization, so I think giving them time is reasonable. They did show us some projects in the works for much later down the line that look exciting, and I believe once things settle down a bit, people will be excited to see what is coming. A New 52 style thunderbolt, though? That was not in the cards this time around.

So, that sounds not all that exciting, right? The good news is that it gets better.

Boom! Studios
Boom absolutely brought their A game this time around, talking about retailer incentives that blow other publishers out of the water, culminating in the announcement of a new book by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora called Once and Future that will feature full returnability and deep discounts making the book impossible to not stock. Boom! continued on past that, though, challenging both retailers and publishers to step up to the plate and find ways to make the marketplace stronger for everyone. Sometimes, being smaller and more nimble is a great strength, and Boom! is showing that off.

IDW, Aftershock, Valiant, Dark Horse, Image, Lion Forge
I’m listing these all together because while they didn’t have quite the big announcement Boom! had, all of these companies came with ideas and solutions to help make the market healthier for everyone. Image announcing their returnability program, Aftershock working on geotargeted online advertising for stores that buy into their comics, Dark Horse and IDW curating their lines in a responsible fashion, Lion Forge making a big change in editorial by bringing Gail Simone on board (and to the meeting to tell us all about it in person), these publishers all showed initiative in aiming to figure out how to improve things.

At the end of the meeting, that turned out to be the “accidental” theme that had myself and others walking away feeling really optimistic. While the two biggest publishers don’t have all the answers for various reasons, everyone else realizes this and seemingly in unison have declared “We’ve got this.” At the end of the day, that is what the comic specialty market is all about, the independent spirit that allows all of us to control our own destiny and make the future as bright as we want it to be each day. I’ll talk more soon about how retailers talked about this in speeches and presentations, but today, I feel good about the fact that a group of publishers all simultaneously came to the table with solutions and ideas and a willingness to work together at the same time. We’re all independent, but we’re also all in this together, and at the end of the day, we’ll all be better when we’re looking in the same direction. I feel confident that is the case today.

See ya next time!

Tim Stoltzfus