The State of the (Comic) Union

This year I went to Emerald City Comicon, not as a fan or cosplayer, but as a writer for bleedingcool.com. Going in this way, made me see things in a much different, and unfortunate, light.

Usually when I go, I’m trying to support my artist friends, cosplayers or just witness what new books are out, but, a lot has changed in a year. I was down to reading about 10 titles a month, then lower, then down to one. When that title ended, I was done. Not done with reading comics, thanks to DC reviving Wild Dog for Cave Carson Has A Cybernetic Eye, but I have really decreased my time in reading monthly books, because of work, other projects and money, I just couldn’t fit them into a slice of my life, which I will admit, feels very, very odd. Now, most of the comics I read are in graphic novel form or collected, as it wasn’t worth it to me to pick up a $3.99 book I could read in 4 minutes.

That said, as I wandered around ECCC, I noticed something different.

The slow demise of single issue, monthly comics.

Many tables had books by artists who had collected their stories. Those booths that didn’t had boxes and boxes of single comics. I mean….BOXES. All at 50%-80% off. With the exception of course to the guy who’s still (not) selling his 30 copies of Star Wars #1 at $80.00 a piece. I know this, because I saw him pack all of them back away. “It’s only worth what people are willing to pay.” I whispered to myself as I walked by.

The demographic I saw for those digging and fingering their way through the dusty boxes were mainly males, from about 25 years and up. More women then last year, but they weren’t looking at DC or Marvel. They were picking through the Anime and Indy stuff.

Sadly, most single issues stayed in the boxes. Taped up in their slowly disintegrating bags, only to wait until the next Con to be sold at a much lower price.

Why is this happening? In my opinion, it’s because comics are not only expensive, but they just aren’t needed anymore.

Now before you slam your crayon to paper and write me a hugely worded, badly spelled hate letter, let me explain as I understand, you have skin in this game. It’s why your reading it. You care about comics still, and that’s great!

But you aren’t the majority of the public and you aren’t buying them all to help.

While comic movies make BILLIONS of dollars, not a single movie studio has really set aside some money or time to develop a comic book commercial in front of the movie that brought people to the seats in the first place. Think about it. There would be no Avengers movie without the Avengers comic, but when is the last time you saw a tv commercial about making people go read the Avengers monthly?

That’s why people don’t have to buy them either. Because most “fans” don’t need to know the history of Doctor Strange or Deadpool. They simply need to sit in front of a movie screen and have it fed to them in 2 hours. Also, nowadays, most people just don’t care.

Gone are the days of comic book store arguments about how many colors of Kryptonite there are, or how many Robins have been killed. When is the last time you were in a verbal argument, not over the internet because a monkey with a typewriter could fight over the internet, no I mean, verbally arguing over Wolverines correct origin story?

Congrats if you have, but I’m going to guarantee you were the only one in a million mile radius to do so.

Being “outside the box” at ECCC, I saw that the “norms” or the ones who were there to see the costumes, games, celebrities and panels about costumes, games and celebrities, don’t care that much.

When I was growing up, that’s all that mattered. Your knowledge of comics. All the knowledge you accrued through hours and hours of reading.

Now that knowledge is a Google search away and takes seconds.

As a guy who worked at a comic shop for about 20 years and an AM radio station for 8, let me tell you, I can see when things are being phased out, and single issue comics are going the way of the record store.

Speaking of which, while in Seattle, I visited a dimly lit record store in Pike Street Market. There were 4 people in there. One owner, one customer talking to the owner like they were friends and two girls, who didn’t even own a record player. They just wanted to see what records looked like.

That’s where I see single issues at.

Don’t believe me?

Go buy a brand new comic off the rack. Put it in a cardboard backer and bag. Now, wait one week and try to get all of your money back on eBay or Amazon.

Unless its the only copy in the World or signed by Stan Lee who happened to be at the store when you bought it, you’ll be lucky to get half your money back.

Gone are the days of “This’ll put my kid through college” books. Also, at $3.99 a book, gone are the days kids buying comics because they would rather buy a $3.00 App that will take up 4x the amount of time to finish it. Who can blame them? They can play most of these with their friends. There’s SO much entertainment out there and as a kid, its important to play what your friends are playing so you can talk about it. That’s what comics were, but with a thousand other things to do, read and play, its hard to get into reading a short story when your friends aren’t.

I take no joy in saying this, but I think it’s time to let go. It’s time to admit defeat. Single issues are bought as Xmas stocking fillers. As something a father buys his kid when they’re in the hospital, only because he doesn’t know what else to buy. Or as “I remember this” memory purchases, only to be put down 2 minutes after you bought it because things have changed so drastically, you have no idea whats going on.

Also, don’t get me started on hard to find titles, comic shops not ordering them or so many crossovers, you’d have to spend half your paycheck to keep up.

I’m not saying all single issues are bad. There’s some really great stories and art out there right now. I personally witnessed some outstanding and fun stories, some of the best since Dark Knight re-started the comic world, but let’s say I buy a #1 from someone at a Con. Then I go to the local comic store and ask, “Can you order this?” If the answer is yes, I might stay with it, but I’ve seen too many times, the comic was only fun in the purchasing, doesn’t live up to its promise and is left behind for the comic store owner to be stuck with…OR….the comic store owner won’t take the chance and order it.

The hard truth is, no one cares about monthly story lines anymore, and the ones that do, are a dying breed. For every new person to pick up a comic, two more leave for collected novels or not return at all, whether its because of money, lifestyle or just bored of them.

Unfortunately, comics did it to themselves. DC had balls to change all their books to the new DC52. They saw something drastic needed to be done and pulled the trigger, hoping to get new readers for new #1’s, but it turned off so many people, not even some of the most hardened DC fans came back for “Rebirth”. DC shouldn’t take all the blame though. I was working in a comic shop at the time and saw the downfall before then. Stories, crossovers and price were making people leave by the dozens and by the time the comic world decided something should be done, it was too late.

Marvel movies are spectacular and not miss events, but the last time a Marvel comic got any press, it was because Captain America may have been a Hydra agent all along and people who hadn’t picked up the book in decades, suddenly took to the internet to defend a character they hadn’t read since Bucky was still his sidekick. The buzz lasted about as long as issue #2. Now a comic only gets buzz for outing gay characters or making men into women (Thor), girls into men (Iron Man) or white into black (Ms. Marvel) and while that’s all well and good, would the changes have been made if the books weren’t failing and the Alt Right crowd weren’t so easily manipulated into false anger against “those liberal PC books”?

Did you know one Marvel movie can make about as much in a month what the entire comic industry can sell in about a year?

So where’s the advertising budget to get more readers into single issues?

Again, I’m not proud of these statements, but I think we need to face the facts. Single issue, monthly comics are the new Album-8 track-cassette-CD-DVD-computer tower of the new World and I mourn for them. We had some good times. Every month I remember rushing in to see if Booster and Beetle were going to get in trouble with Maxwell Lord again or if Batman could figure out Riddlers new crime spree. I’ll miss those days. Much like I still get melancholy over seeing an old Blockbuster building empty and remembering how fun it was to go pick out a movie. I can look at some of my comics and remember the place I bought them and sometimes, what the day was like outside.

But time moves on and we have to adapt. We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! But for now, we mourn the passing of our old dear friends.

Single, monthly comic issues….R.I.P. 1933 – 2017

It was a good run.