Hey, That's My Cape! Could Comics Collapse?
There’s a lot going on in the comic book realm these days. There’s more talk about them in the last few years than there was not too long before that and that’s thanks in part to DC’s relaunch and almost every comic company getting their works adapted to the big and small screens the past ten years. But with the rise of digital, lawsuits and lack of public interest looming, how long can that last?
Could the comics industry as we know it collapse?
I’m not trying to be a herald of doom here or anything, I’m actually a very positive person usually and I do have hope that the industry will be here for years to come but I’m also a realist and we are in a severely inclined uphill battle. So I’m here to play devil’s advocate and discuss the possibility of it happening, how it could change and what it could evolve into.
A few things in the news right now are a big part of this possible scenario. The Kirby Estate lawsuit against Marvel may be an open and shut case for some but you never know how it will play out. If the Estate does manage to win their case and take a controlling share of characters like Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, etc., Marvel as we know it could be done. I have no idea what the Estate plans to do with the characters should they win that case but worst case scenario is they don’t allow the publishing company use of them anymore at all and countless flagship titles cease to exist (of course, this isn't very likely, as they are not a publishing company themselves, and would probably be more keen to just license the characters). Not to mention we’ll only be seeing Spider-Man films for the foreseeable future. Again, another exaggeration but you get the point.
DC’s relaunch is another big part of the equation. The company is making a huge bet that they hope will pay off. If it doesn’t, DC might also collapse as a publishing house. A lot of people keep saying this is just another reboot and things will return to normal once DC sees the huge mistake they made but what if that’s not the case? What if this is it? The old way of doing things wasn’t working for them, that’s why they made this bold decision. Why would they go back to a formula that was leading nowhere? Where else is there to go?
Digital is the next big outlet of course but graphic novels could also play a big part. For people who aren’t reading comics now (or who aren’t reading superhero comics now) it’s a lot of work getting yourself up to speed on stories or characters with 70 plus years of continuity behind them and let’s face it, people these days have less patience than ever. They want everything quick and they want it to be easy. So are stories that are done-in-one the answer?
The Newsarama Staff talked briefly about some of these things in our recent article, Dear DC: Our Unsolicited Advice for THE NEW 52 but let me expand on some of it. DC’s relaunch is supposed to make things accessible to new readers but what if you took that further? What if there were constant reboots? Every story would be it’s own tale, like last year’s Superman: Earth One. Could a publisher sustain itself with products that only catered to the newbie? The longer a story goes on, the more difficult it is for a new reader to catch up so creating stories that stand alone may be the only way to entice them. I’m not saying every story needs to be an origin tale, most people know Batman’s parents were murdered, Spider-Man was bit by a radioactive spider etc., but going in without referencing this crisis or that event may be the way to go.
Look at it this way, we had Batman in the 1940s serials, then the 1960s Batman television series and film. Twenty years later Tim Burton brought us his version in 1989’s Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns, the Schumacker films in 95 and 97 and Nolan’s trilogy beginning seven years later with Batman Begins. Since Nolan has said The Dark Knight Rises is his last Batman film, we’ll see a new take before long. Varying degrees of success aside, people enjoyed all of these and the ones that came next weren’t beholden to what came before them at all. The basic Batman story was there but it was fresh take each time, people were able to enjoy them separately. Perhaps this is exactly the formula comic books need to follow.
The Big Two hold the majority of the market and if they collapse, so do a lot of other people (no pressure!). The most obvious losers after the companies themselves are the retailers. Without Marvel and DC, they will be forced to close their doors and thousands of people lose their livelihoods. The comic news media would need to beef up their coverage of other forms of media or shut down completely. Independent publishers will most likely see a surge of sales and actually benefit if they can market themselves without comic shops.
So say this terrible scenario actually does happen. Say comics as we know it are finished. What then? As most people have surmised, digital is the most likely scenario but what if the trend of people reading less continues? That people just don’t want to sit and actually read something and that there simply is no longer a market big enough to support creating the material for a profit. The most likely outlet would be that these stories transition entirely to film and television or perhaps motion comics. There’s still an interest in these characters after all, even if people don’t want to read about them, they want to experience them.
Is the middle ground DC’s relaunch? Will the titles be marketed well enough that people notice and accessible enough that they keep reading? We’ll have to wait and see on that one but I still feel most comic companies aren’t doing enough to bring in not just new readers but younger readers. DC’s relaunch is aimed at 18-34 year old males. Even if they manage to secure a majority of that market right now it only buys them a few more years of breathing room really. Children’s comics are of the utmost importance and not just children’s comics but the youth stuck in-between those demographics, or tweens if you’ll pardon the term. They’re the ones who will say Tiny Titans is for babies but whose parents forbid them to read Detective Comics. If you lose kids in those ever-important years you’re making life more difficult for yourself trying to sell to them when they become old enough to drink.
Is there any single answer that will fix the comic industries woes? Absolutely not. It’s not an overnight fix. Do I have the perfect solutions? No. This is just how I view the industry as a consumer and as a journalist who has discussed these very same issues with others in the industry over and over. The main problem is we care too much and the general public couldn’t care less. How do we get them to care?Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!