The Current State And Future Of Comic Books, Part II

We looked at the current state of the comic book industry, which had been declining in recent years for many reasons ranging from too many products flooding the market to the obsession with variant comics. The industry suffered a brutal blow with the COVID-19 pandemic which forced most stores and industries to close in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This weekend, another annual Free Comic Book Day event would have taken place all over. That is gone, along with highly anticipated conventions, especially the San Diego Comic-Con.  But fear not, we will get our geek fixes at some point in the future.  However, as our society looks ahead and to reopening, many fans are wondering where the comic book industry goes from here or if it can survive.  Let’s look further.

The Coming Contraction

To be blunt, there are too many comic book titles flooding the market. Certain popular characters have multiple monthly titles; numerous crossover event books have overtaken the shelves; and every time a fan turns around a title is canceled, relaunched or rebooted just to produce a new number one issue for collectors. The hard truth is that this cannot continue. Once this crisis passes and the stores reopen, the publishers have to entice readers to buy their products. One thing to keep in mind is that too many buyers are now out of work and cannot easily afford comic books, not with current prices. It is not realistic to expect the average fan to buy all of your products as in the past.

Publishers need to determine what books to create. The obvious answer would be to focus their titles on their most popular and recognizable characters. And they should be limited to two or three titles at most. One thing publishers can do is to increase the amount of pages in a popular title and feature back up stories with lesser heroes. This was the norm back in the Golden Age of Comics and would allow for the publishers to keep employing creators as is currently done.

Look at the Downside

While contracting the amount of books published monthly goes against publishers wanting to put out as much product as possible, there are long-term benefits. Limiting the amount of exposure for a character creates demand. At the same time, the quality of the stories will improve as not every story angle will be quickly used up in a short amount of time by writers and artists pumping out dozens of titles per month.

Another benefit for downsizing comics is that it will be easier to coordinate events and continuity. An all-too-common gripe from readers is how they are pressured to buy every single crossover comic book and keeping up with what is going on. Too often, events are contradictory and repetitive. How many times can someone in the Fantastic Four or the Avengers die and come back? Think of how great it was to read the early Valiant comic books. Back when those comics came out in the early 1990s, only a few titles were published monthly and there was a tight continuity between the titles. They were easy to follow, yet for the most part we were not forced to buy every book. This helped create buzz for those Valiant titles. When an event like Unity occurred it was a big deal. Nowadays it seems as if there is some kind of weekly event. Speaking of events, what is the latest Spider-Verse thing going on now? Or is it Spider-Geddon?

Reduced Prices

There are many ways to cut costs aside from limiting output. The easiest way to entice buyers is through sales: BOGOs, discounts, subscription services, etc. Many of these sales tactics are used right now, which is often seen during the holiday season, Free Comic Book Day, or the release of major superhero films.

Still, these sales will only go so far. To keep people coming back and buying comics on a regular basis, prices must be lowered. Expecting loyal readers to fork out $3.99 per title is unrealistic given the state of the economy. One reason why comic books took off when they were first published was because of low prices. Everyday kids could afford to buy them for 10 cents at the beginning. They were even affordable when the prices eventually went up to a dollar or so. But current prices inhibit children from buying them. Publishers must entice new generations of readers to keep the industry alive; although publishers put out inexpensive comics geared towards young children, they are not adequately attracted to more traditional titles.

OK, so how can publishers lower prices besides limiting the amount of books published? One thing that can be tried is to change the paper stock and if worse comes to worse go back to newspaper print. It was only in the past couple of decades that the paper quality in comics took quantum leaps forward. No longer did collectors have to worry about yellowing pages or crumbling paper. But this came at a literal cost. Perhaps it is time to revisit the traditional newsprint, if only for a while.

Another idea is to use less pages per title. This could mean shorter and more serialized stories. But this should be considered along with the actual size of a comic book.

Most fans know that the Golden Age and Silver Age comic books were actually slightly bigger than current comics. The sizes were reduced eventually to diminish the amount of paper needed and therefore cutting costs. Comic books in the future will probably be smaller and look like those Best of DC comic book digests that came out in the 1970s.

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A Valiant Summer

Fondly remembered for their innovative comic books in the ’90s, Valiant returned to the comic book scene earlier this month with the release of X-O Manowar #1. The comic book about a Visogoth warrior who acquires an alien battlesuit and winds up in modern times quickly sold out its print run of 45,000 copies. The company has announced that there will be a second printing of X-O Manowar #1 for sale on June 20 featuring a new wraparound variant cover by Arturo Lozzi. But the comic book company isn’t resting on its laurels with X-O Manowar.

On June 6, Valiant will release a reboot of Harbinger (about people with psionic powers) followed by Bloodshot on July 11 and finally Archer & Armstrong (a semi-comical buddy book about a naive master assassin and an immortal being) on August 8. The company plans on concentrating their comeback with these four core titles but will eventually bring back its other heroes.

Fans may want to note that there are plans by Sony for a movie about Bloodshot. Given the runaway success of The Avengers and other recent superhero movies, it’s very likely that the movie’s development will be fast tracked. It helps that Bloodshot’s concept is compelling. In the original comic book released back in the ’90s, Bloodshot was originally a mobster called Angelo Mortalli who was in a sense reborn by having his mortally wounded body injected with nanites that gave him superpowers. These nanites, while giving him advanced healing, reflexes, and strength, have erased his memories, thus forcing him to re-discover himself.

In the reboot written by Duane Swierczynski and drawn by Manuel Garcia and Arturo Lozzi, Angelo’s origins are more nebulous as he and readers aren’t even sure of his real name. And the comic book has more of a military angle with Bloodshot partaking in dangerous, suicidal missions. The creators promise that the new Bloodshot will be action packed while evoking compelling military/spy mystery plots.

Bolstered by the success of X-O Manowar, Valiant hopes to complete its comeback with other titles. According to Valiant CEO Jason Kothari, “Valiant has never underestimated the resonance that its characters have with comic fans around the world. X-O Manowar #1 has already taken a lot of people by surprise, and with Harbinger #1, and Bloodshot #1 just around the corner, this is truly going to be a summer of Valiant.”

Lewis T. Grove