Earlier this year, Mattyloves posted an article about the sales of comic books in 2016 compared to the previous 20 years. At that point in time, there were no signs of sales slowing down. The stories that the major publications (Marvel, DC, and Image) produced in 2016 into 2017 raised interest in new readers. The Hollywood numbers are proof that new eyes find comic books that fit their attention spans, but something happened in a short period of time.
Last week, fascinating developments mentioning the future of the comic book industry came to light following San Diego Comic-Con 2017. Dan DiDio, Co-Publisher at DC Comics, informed an audience that DC continues to work on providing affordable material to “keep comics from becoming a dying business.” From this statement, comic book fans began to ask, is the comic book industry dying?
Todd Allen, a writer for The Beat, shed light on what he thinks DiDio meant to say when discussing DC’s publications through 2017. Allen states in his article, “People are starting to admit there is a problem,” regarding the massive amount of incentive variant covers and other gimmicks retailers purchase monthly.
DC Comics prepares to integrate a new line of comics within their universe. This isn’t another relaunch which changes all the characters and worlds’ status quo, per se. A new line of comics presents something for the DC to build upon if the Dark Universe is a hit. Scaling back the prices and variant covers will surely help, but new artists aren’t going to save them. The 1990’s brought more focus on the artists rather than the writers, but today’s comic book reader wants the best of both creative worlds. The Dark Universe isn’t a gamble so much as a way for the rest of DC to piggyback off a new line’s success. Better that than make a veiled attempt to copy what their competitors scored. Both DC and Marvel suffered from previous mistakes.
The numbers don’t lie in 2017. The comic book “boom” in the early 90’s led to the second real collapse of the industry. The best way to describe it would be to say there were—for the purpose of this description—200 comics, then seemingly overnight, there were 2,000 all new books with new characters and creators; all of which are interesting and engaging in their own respects. The 200 comics that were there originally now suffer to keep the titles fresh. Unless a publisher catches lightning in a bottle, the industry struggles to keep its footing. That was the comic book industry from 1997 until roughly the time Marvel sold off their characters and the movies began popping up every summer. While Marvel’s sales increased, DC continued to squander.
Enter: The New 52. Suddenly, by completely wiping the slate clean, DC Comics had a fresh canvas to recreate their universe. It sold well enough, but couldn’t keep interest with their readers. Marvel attempted the same thing post-Secret Wars 2015. The “All-New, All-Different” comics were hot, but only for a minute. Constant relaunches and rebranding can only work so many times before it just becomes a “thing.” That’s not how comic books should be. The beauty of comic books shows within the ongoing sagas produced through years of storytelling. Relaunches fail to enrich comic books, but rather, prolong the enrichment.
Perhaps DC has the right idea scaling things back. Sure, they’re adding a whole new line of comics. However, this will mean the imminent demise of titles currently selling low. It’s not a bad thing. DC Comics does a good job of incorporating characters from failed titles into new books that will, at least in the beginning, sell well enough.
The verdict is out in regards to where the comic book industry will be in June of 2018. Marvel comics also have their own answers to the problems the Direct Market faces with the gimmicks and incentive covers. It’s not a question of whether which major publication will come out on top. Comic book fans should hope that both companies are equally as successful. If that happens to be the case, the fans will win in the end.