Stopping the great comic book crash of 2020

Stopping the great comic book crash of 2020

I had two blogs ready to go once I was done with CCI about how we could stop the impending comic book crash…I think it may already be too late, but I’m going to post them anyway.

I explained why the crash is coming HERE, and you should at least skim through it. It’s really as simple as this, if you have not seen growth during a period when comic books have been the unquestioned king of popculture…when the hell will you? And if  X amount people are paying attention to comic books during that time, you can expect that number to drop dramatically when it stops.

Thriving or even surviving in any industry usually requires the ability to adapt…and in order to adapt you have to pay attention to what is going on around you…

I said I already did a blog listing why I think the cash is coming, just a month ago. I could do a whole blog now on why it’s right on our doorstep.

-A whole blog on no one giving a damn about Jessica Jones season2 and Luke Cage season 2.  These were two shows that were all the rage in their first seasons. Luke Cage season 1 actually crashed Netflix.

-A whole blog on the continued absurd lack of competition/quality/success from the DC movies, and the big fat yawn that DC’s sneak previews got at Comic-Con International.

-A whole blog on the dropping interest in The Walking Dead t.v. show, and it losing several stars.

-A whole blog on Disney owning DC and Marvel…and how the entire genre going forward or stopping is now in the hands of one decision by one company.

-A whole blog on Han Solo’s solo movie bombing leading to Disney halting/reassessing future Star Wars movies.

-A whole blog on Disney taking all of it’s properties off of other streaming services and making their own, and the likely practical reaction by fans and the competing streaming services (who’s best chance at competing will be to erode the popularity of super heroes, by any means necessary).

-A whole blog on the extraordinarily bad idea of having two top guys at DC comics come out recently and talk about the shrinking comic book sales.

As soon as these shows and movies start making less money, Hollywood (Disney) will fold them up and move onto other concepts besides comic book properties.  and when that happens, you can kiss hundreds of thousands of casual readers and buyers ( that have been filling the void left by the law of diminishing returns) and billions of dollars of free advertising goodby.  And Hollywood WILL move on.

It’s possible I’m wrong. It’s possible everything keeps chugging ahead with one movie after the next breaking records and with the general public not losing any enthusiasm or getting worn out for another ten years.  Yep…entirely possible that in 2028 everybody will still be on board the super hero train.  It’s possible…but I think we have less than two years.  Either way it’s time for the comic book industry to start attacking and learning how to grow like  there is no tomorrow.

It needs to understand what comics have in the tool box to get new readers and keep old ones.  There are two main things.  I’ll explain the first one today, and that is focusing on WHO is making the comics….

“cult favorite” and “internet famous” are valuable currencies


The Paradigm shift.

paradigm shift – a fundamental change in the basic concepts and practices of a discipline.

Look ahead at what the landscape will be in the next 5 years. Baby boomers will be dying and entering old age homes. Gen X will have had an assfull of 90s nostalgia and will have read tens of thousands of pages of super hero comics…your ability to get new people interested in comics from either of those generations will be laughable. And keeping the ones around who already were will be difficult.   You will have Gen Z and the millennial’s left with which to survive on.  What they want, how they hear about, how they buy it, why they buy it will become the norm, and be taken on by the other generations.  So far the comic book industry has fallen flat in trying to keep up with this paradigm shift.

For the comic book industry it boils down to this, which it NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND- The creative team on a project, how word is spread about the project, and what the project is are now ALL THE SAME THING.  They are not separable. They are one.

Are you a comic books store?  Go look at your shelf and find a comic that is wildly under performing in sales, open it up, look at the names of the creative team…find them on social media ( if you can) and I’ll bet you they didn’t do jack squat to promote it.  Do the same thing you publishers with a title that is bombing.

When you are hiring a creative team, or ordering a comic for your store, if you don’t first look at the reach those people have on social media and how adept they are at getting the word out, then you are pissing in the wind.

You pros out there…guess what? This is part of your job now. Don’t want to make the time/effort? Then get the f*ck out of here.  The rest of us are tying to build something.  Facebook, Instagram, twitter, reddit, youtube, bitchute, gab, discord, steemit, minds…this is where people are finding things to spend money on.  If any of those sound unfamiliar to you, if you are not using several of them …you are in the rear view mirror of the culture, and it is going 60 mph away from you.

and I’ll tell you this, If I was a store and I was looking through previews at a comic and that comic books creative team wasn’t pushing it online…I’d give it the finger.  If I was a publisher and the creative team wasn’t pushing it, I’d get a new creative team.  Why order a book or hire a team with no internet presence, when you can get one that can do the same job, or close to it, that can reach 20,000 people on the projects behalf?!?!  Not only are pros who don’t mention a project not pragmatic, but in the language/culture defined by this paradigm shift, not mentioning a project amounts to saying you have no confidence in it/aren’t proud of it.  That is the message whether they or you  realize it or not.

Other entertainment industries have already figured this out. You may have heard that Jay Z turned out to have several million less followers than he claimed.  You know why that is? Because he paid a service to boost his numbers. You know what that is? Not to boost his ego, or that he gives a f*ck if he has 15 million followers or 10 million.  it was to boost the priority his tweets get on Twitters algorithm.   Sony and Disney ( multi billion dollar companies) sends swag and movie premier tickets to youtubers and podcasters (people who yak into usb microphones in their basement).  Why?  Because it realizes that in 2018 they have tremendous value.  Their internet presence  can make or break a movie.  There’s all sorts of tactics being used all over the place and the bulk of the comic book industry isn’t even bothering to make sure it’s talent makes regular posts.  It is living in 2005.

It’s best if I give you examples of the right and wrong way of trying to grow going forward.

Dinesh Shamdasani brought Valiant comics and it’s long forgotten stable of characters from the dustheap of the 90’s boom back to life, more relevant than they ever were.  He raised their popularity to the point that the whole shooting match got bought by a movie studio.  Did this happen because Gen Z heard tales of the great X-O manowar stories from the 90’s? No. I happened because Dinesh hired top notch talent, many of whole had large internet presences. and HE himself had a large internet presence.  He was all over the internet interacting with fans, posting pics, giving people the inside scoop and the trials and tribulations of what he was trying to accomplish. F*ck, I think I even saw a funko pop figure of HIM.  It could have been a fan photo-shopped thing…but even if that’s the case….you get the idea.  Keep his example in mind later on in this blog, because it was not JUST that he was active on the internet, but HOW he was active on the internet.

Ethan Van Shiver is a top notch illustrator who’s done work on major titles.  He has also been all over the internet for 10 years shooting his mouth off.  I’ve seen him raise hell, get backlash, I’ve seen comic books readers spew bile at him…but you know what? for all the times they disagree with the guy, they feel like they know him. They know he works hard, they know he tries hard, they know if he puts his name on something it’s going to get his best effort, they know he means what he says.  THIS, not just his work on major books, not just his considerable skill,  is why when he recently started a self funded comic, Cyberfrog, he raised nearly TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS in like a week .   He’s going to clear more profit than most of the books done by the big two. It’s the paradigm shift, stupid..and he knows how to function in it. You think any other illustrator for DC and Marvel could pull this off?…no…if they all had his presence this industry would be making money hand over fist.

But it’s not…because there are too many examples out there of people who don’t yet get it.

I’m going to point out the sales figures of a recent attempt at relaunching a comic book that had a beloved, household, name character.  A character that has had three different t.v. shows and a successful cartoon series. That is as good a head start as you could ask for.  BUT…Here’s how the paradigm shift affected sales because it was not taken into account.

The publisher put zero effort into promoting it on it’s website, put next to no effort into promoting it online on any social media platforms.  It put out one tweet, didn’t change it’s banner or profile pic on FB, didn’t modify it’s webpage to showcase it, didn’t post on Instagram, and had no footprint on any other social media.  It failed to even mention it in their mass email.  It released no sneak previews, it didn’t post anything about the process behind putting it all together. Members of the “creative team” also put no effort into promoting it through these avenues or methods. All this seems inexplicable to people living in 2018.  The explanation is as simple as they thought the book being a “brand name” would carry the day…because that’s how things used to work.  The illustrator, not being a Luddite did not have the same assumption and  plugged it non stop for a month on social media, on his website, in interviews on comic book websites and podcasts, mass emails, ect.  The illustrator has a respectable internet presence, built up over many years in which he posts often and interacts with readers on several different social media platforms regularly

The first issue sold just under 10,000 copies.  After the illustrator left the next issue sold 5100, the third sold 4500, the fourth (and I’ll assume the final issue) sold 3700.

There are reasons, beyond skill of illustration alone, that factored in between going from selling 10,000 to only 3700 and are why the illustrator leaving mattered so much.  1-the online reach (how many people the person is followed by online) and 2-the quality of that online reach (how compelling the person is to the people following)

Let’s start with no.1.  Did the majority of those 10,000 readers buy the comic because the illustrator was going to be working on it?  Of course not, it was a beloved character with decades of name recognition. BUT did the majority of those 10,000 readers find out about it because of the illustrator? Oh yeah. No one else but the illustrator has the internet infrastructure and presence to give such effort relevant reach.  You could be publishing winning lottery numbers for next week, but if no one knows you are publishing them, no one is going to buy them.  and “presence” means something more now  than just being there, it is HOW you are there (remember Dinesh?)…that brings us to…

Reason no.2 .  This illustrator has a track record of ten years of shooting off his mouth on the internet, and entertaining people with that big mouth and that has considerable value.  Routine sneak previews, blogs,explaining why and how he does things,  and general clowning around with fans on multiple platforms for a decade has become valuable equity in 2018. Not every comic book pro has figured that out, and not every comic book pro has a personality and presence to keep people paying attention.  The ones that DO, those are the one’s that can give the industry a level of growth that it hasn’t seen in decades.  Because the ones that do have been building a crowd from ALL WALKS OF LIFE (not just comic book readers) for YEARS.

Even IF the publisher had started plugging the book online, it might not have amounted to much, because the publisher has no real previous online “presence” (that is in quotations so you remember that in this brave new world it has a different meaning than it used to). The cool thing about the internet and social media USED to be that you could interact with, keep tabs on creators and pros.  That USED to be cool the cool thing about it. NOW IT IS REQUIRED.  To put out a book, not having brought people along for the ride with making it, struggling with this or that, and even being able to be followed when no project is going on is like trying to sell a DVD with no bonus features, directors commentary, or interviews. IT DOES NOT WORK.  THE PEOPLE MAKING THE PRODUCT ARE THE PRODUCT, AND BY BEING THE PRODUCT ARE A CONSTANT ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE PRODUCT…AND CONSTANTLY ACCRUING ADVERTISING VALUE TO FUTURE PRODUCTS.

Here’s another aspect of the paradigm shift and the pro and the work being essentially the same thing.  The writer is best known for some name brand characters for larger companies, the illustrator is best know for his own cult favorite type books.   Let’s say both of these people are on brandX social media site and they both have 10,000 followers.  The illustrator’s 10,000 followers are all specifically there for him and his book.  The writer’s 10,000 followers…some are there for him while others are there because they are fans of the brand name books he worked on. Let’s say one of them is “Cape-man”…if they are following him because they are fans of Cape-man there is not much reason to believe they will pick up a book about some other character just because the writer is on the project. While fans of the illustrator will be very inclined to follow his work on other projects because they are there as fans of his work, not a character owned by someone else.

The point here being that “CULT FAVORITE” HAS FAR MORE WEIGHT TO IT NOW THAN IT DID TEN YEARS AGO.   “Cult favorite”…that means a small percentage of people interested in the medium know about it/him/her but they are all hard core fans.  A small percentage made up of hard core fans couldn’t spread the word much years ago, but in 2018 they can inform the entire rest of the earth if they are so inclined.

We are talking about growth vs the law of diminishing returns.  Everyone who could be interested in Thor, knows who Thor is…and the law of diminishing returns will chip away at that and very very few fans of Thor feel obligated or empowered to tell anyone else about him.  This makes it somewhat difficult for a well known brand to generate momentum that will result in growth.   A cult favorite book or pro on the other hand…has a fan base that has purpose and is actively seeking to spread the word to others.

Momentum is valuable currency.  and  fans of “cult favorite” material can generate momentum at will

I’ll say it again, the creative team IS the product.   Along with the quality of the finished work,  generations in this era appreciate and want to see the blood sweat and tears that go into something. The trials and tribulations. And they want to know about it.  If someone isn’t willing to put that out there, it is in a sense a snub an insult.  You are perceived as just wanting to open the door, take their money, and close the door again.

“Presence” refers not to you simply being online but in what way you are entertaining or interesting on top of just the work you are plugging. If this is understood, you’ll be effective and if not understood anything you do will amount to you shouting into an empty room. Things that used to work, things that were good enough, things that peaked interest, are all but worthless now as far as raising hell among a fan base.  If you want growth you have to fight for it, and you’d better know how, or have people who do.

Pay attention now because this is not an internet presence in 2018 (name and pics blurred because beating up on someone is not the point here)

That is someone who likely paid some service to raise his follower count to 20,000, or perhaps acquired 20,000 by getting in the door first…but had no idea how to keep them coming back.  He doesn’t have 20,00o actually following him.  You should be getting 5-10% interaction on an Instagram page if your followers are real.   This guy’s averaging 20 likes per post from his “20,000” followers.  This is a fraud.  5-10% interaction can actually equal a hell of a lot of views as only a small percentage of people interact.  I’d go into all the equations but that’s off the point.  This guy only has about 200 people who actually see any of his posts.  Each social media platform has different algorithms and different ratios of interaction and views per interaction.  Why do I know this? BECAUSE IT’S 2018 AND IT IS PART OF THE JOB.

I can hear in my head, stores and publishers saying ” So you expect me to pay attention to all this crap?”

I don’t know, do you want to sell comic books?

People have to know you are selling them in order to buy them from you. So you can either give a portion of your attention to the online reach a pro has…or just hope for the best.  Aside from LEGENDARY names like Frank Miller where word of mouth will spread on it’s own, hoping for the best is what you are doing if you don’t place considerable weight on someone’s online presence.  Paying attention to this can pay off big time.  Some pro’s know how to raise hell on FB, some one Instargam or twitter, some on sites you’ve never heard of. And some don’t know how to raise a stir anywhere because they simply aren’t that interesting or don’t know how.  That’s no sin, but it doesn’t sell a lot of books.

I blurred out this guys pictures, but trust me…he’s really good. But no one gives a F*ck.  He reached MAYBE 200 people…is that the kind of reach that is going to sell some books for you? no…it is not.  He is not going to sell any books for you despite doing beautiful work. Go look at the .50 bin at any store.  It will be filled with beautiful books that no one gave a f8ck about.  Let’s say there are two illustrators, semi equal in talent.  One has not much of an online presence and one has a large online presence.  If you don’t know which is which you have a 50% chance of losing your ass and a 50% chance of moving a ton of comics out the door.  There is no two ways around this in 2018.  No one giving a f*ck online, means no one giving a f*ck PERIOD.

People who know how to, or have learned how to, or just organically by instinct or luck, get people to pay attention, who are worth paying attention to, have great big personalities, who are having fun and bringing people along for the ride as they practice thier craft…that is what will grow the general public’s interest in comic books.

Exiting the use of vague pronouns for a moment…I, in particular, am well suited to for the shift going on because of my acerbic personality, open book of a clusterf*ck life, ability to write and draw, and just in general be an entertaining trainwreck.  In short, I am entertaining and so am worth keeping track of online.  I have been for some time now, the paradigm shifted into my lane, not the other way around.  BUT for 97% of the projects out there, I’m NOT the guy you want.  Let’s be honest, no one (myself included) wants to see me write or draw Wonder Woman. But I’m also not the only one who is worth following online, and I am not the only one who has figured out that the final product that you are making isn’t the whole product anymore.  That there has to be more to it. that you have to give more than that.  You have to find people who understand this and understand how to thrive under those expectations.

Ten, twenty years ago someone working on your book who was really good and brand name was enough. But it’s f8cking 2018 and every single person who is really good is on the SAME LEVEL PLAYING FIELD and some of us are fighting it out with axes and chainsaws…and guys like the fella up there are holding fencing swords, taking methodical lunges with their left hand gracefully poised behind their back.  You are fighting for survival, or soon will be.

You need your back up to be this-

not this-

Publishers and stores that start understanding this can get some massive growth.  You can have a book that is backed by advertising while it is in previews, or one that is backed by non stop online antics across several social media platforms.

This shift has given some of us a huge advantage…which gives the comic book industry a huge advantage.  being a comic book pro, inherently, gives you considerable reach online…and yet not so much reach that fans feel disconnected…like if say you were a movie star.  A movie star, can get a big genuine following, but simply cannot interact with a worthwhile percentage of his/her followers nor be very relatable, nor be able to show much of the project.  A comic book pro can…he/she can post a single panel, show a few lines of dialogue, complain about their back aching, or just interact about whatever while taking a break. What they do is far easier for people to relate to, be educated on, get their heads around. The comic book industry has HUGE ADVANTAGE online it just needs to start using it.  many publishers bristle at the idea of allowing pros to reveal anything.  That attitude flies in the face of what people in 2018 want and what gets people interested in 2018.  Half of the fun for many people is trying to figure out the end of the story and then seeing if they were correct. The more you reveal the more they think about it and concoct theories and become invested in seeing the final project.

The amount of grass roots support a comic book pro can stir up is considerable and valuable.  Imagine now, there is a book in which the writer, illustrator, colorist, ALL have a big online presence, know how to be entertaining, have people who genuinely find them compelling…and they ALL raise hell about the book at once.  Now imagine many books like that.

The whole industry would have much rosier prospects if it put it’s focus on creative teams who were as much a spectacle and form of entertainment as the books the were making.  Because every day something would be going on comic book related that was worth paying attention to…even without the billions being spent by movie studios.  You would be getting people interested who previously didn’t give a damn about comic books…they’d see all the hub bub online come along for the ride, and then pick up the comics…because how could you resist seeing how it finally turned out?  It would be like skipping the end of a movie.  and no one’s doing that.

Next time-The medium can save you…it’s a medium not a genre


Come see us next month at Cincinnati Comic Expo!


When Douglas is not complaining, he and his work can be found here

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