I thought Tom Spurgeon’s latest article deserved a response:
1. The ownership of the biggest two comics publishers by gigantic entertainment corporations comes with the constant possibility for sweeping changes based on factors that have little to do with the comics themselves.
… Marvel Comics cut staff in the same year that they had three $150 million movies in cineplexes…
… No one would be that surprised to wake up one morning to find either big company announcing some drastic, new approach to how they’re doing business — No more freelancers! We’re shutting down New York! We’re ending page rates!
This assumes that sweeping changes by the two biggest comics publishers has a sweeping impact on the art form, and this is becoming less and less true. The biggest sweeping change to comics was the advent of digital, and the disintegration of Diamond Distributors will be the next biggest sweeping change. The art form itself has had little to do with whatever mega event DC and Marvel are offering this summer for several years. As for why Marvel cut staff, I work for Disney. Disney cut a series of marketing executives they considered redundant to their own marketing division, and they dissolved the distribution side because they have their own method of distribution. They also took back the Boom licenses because they intend to publish their own children’s comics magazines.
And speaking as someone who has been freelancing for a print and digital comics model for the past year, they have their own way of doing business, and will continue to do what gets their product to the market regardless of how Marvel and DC decide to do their business.
2. The Direct Market of hobby and comics shops continues to gray while suffering from infrastructure difficulties and general neglect.
… For instance, I would argue that the comics shops moved past any real, collective desire to even try to sell alternative and independent comics long before the publishers of those comics by necessity switched some of their focus to the book trade. Others disagree…
… It seems stores continue to close at least as much as I personally hear about them opening…
… As much as I love comics shops, I don’t think traditional comics retail is everything. I’ll continue to support publishers and creators making work available through every platform available to them without protecting that content for any on market segment. Still, I think the Direct Market has proven value that’s under-appreciated and under-utilized even — especially! — by those folks that see the greatest benefit from what they do…
This is only relevant for comics creators who benefited from the direct market, primarily Marvel and DC. Anyone who argues with the notion that comic shop retailers aren’t trying to sell independent and alternative comics and are focused on trade would have to be completely blind. Going back to that chart I posted a few weeks ago, this is what comic book store layouts feel like, let’s not fool ourselves here. Those of us who are not DC or Marvel are tasked with getting around the lack of support from the direct market and now have more opportunities than ever to do so.
3. The editorial cartooning field has yet to reach its bottom in terms of sustainable staff positions.
If this point hadn’t been included I would have begun to think this article wasn’t about the field of comics at all, it was about comic books. Editorial cartooning is definitely struggling because of the decline of newspapers, but editorial cartooning has been an elite, cutthroat field to get into for so long it’s hard to have ever really regarded it as an industry full of staff positions. The editorial cartoonists that exist today do not know how to make the transition to digital news sources that’s true. As interesting to watch how this plays out as it will be, editorial cartoons in the papers have gotten so elitist and angry that I never seek them out, and there are plenty of available webcomics that have a better handle on humor, fairness and relevancy.
4. Whatever on-line market emerges will likely work in drastically different ways from the high-profit-per-piece paper market on which the current industry players depend.
All of the comics industries have played a remarkably effective delaying game in terms of not settling on a model or three for digital comics and letting those new businesses develop into a status quo. In fact, you can almost name as many models that have yet to be tried than as have been put into play. For instance, it seems like some sort of subscription access model on a grander scale might work…
… A guaranteed core may no longer be there for comics — both in terms of people supporting each and every title and in terms of folks following a specific property across a variety of expensive formatting choices.
NO. The subscription access model DOES NOT WORK. Do not show how out-of-touch you are with digital sales by bringing it up. No one should expect a guaranteed following willing to buy things they don’t want to get things they do; just as with the music industry, consumers will select and pay for quality a la carte products they want to access.
There is already a digital market, not a market yet to emerge. That it will work drastically differently than the current models is not a matter of concern for most of us, it’s a relief.
5. We sort of expect people to be broke now, and this is a relatively flush period. What happens when it’s not?
… We have young people out there that are devoting years of their lives and some a massive investment into educational opportunities with a potential end result being their making the kind of mini-comics and self-published work that will never sell more than few dozen copies…
More young people should be made aware of the realities of freelance. Artists that sustain themselves have to be open to all types of projects in all types of media. They need business savvy and marketing skills. I feel for the professionals that are having to think differently this late in their careers, but that happens with every industry transitional period. As some opportunities shrink, others expand if you have the skills and flexibility to take advantage.