Evan Dorkin (evandorkin) wrote,
Evan Dorkin

Man the buckets

I've been long worried that the comics industry is headed towards another disaster, much as it alwways does when it smells money and doesn't exhibit common sense or caution. I'm talking post-Turtles black and white boom and bust, variant covers/bagged books/gimmick covers boom and bust, erotic comics boom and bust (no pun intended), pog mania, small press direct market action figure frenzy, bad girl goofiness. Following trends and acting stupidly isn't restricted only to the comics biz, but unlike stock market collapses, noteworthy comic industry collapses seem to occur somewhat often -- and as an industry we learn nothing from these events. Nada. Zip. The goof retailers and publishers and creators and con organizers and distributor(s) who managed to survive the post-Turtles "buy 'em all" bloodbath heartily opted in for the Image era of horseshit speculation, the pogs, the variant covers, the bagged books -- always losing sight of the fact that each trend burnt off more of our readership, that gambling on orders never actually pays off enough to justify the game playing, that riding trends at full gallop to make quick money now bites you in the ass later when the horse you didn't get off of inevitably hits a wall. During these crazes the only people who really benefit are certain creators and publishers, all at the expense of the market and readership. No one can relax, no one can calm down and think things through -- even worse, few seem to be able to resist strip mining the field knowing full-well that it will cause serious damage in the long run. If there's a quick, short-term buck to be made everyone dives in like piglets at their mother's teats, drying the old sow out until there ain't no more, and then everyone goes hungry.

Which brings us to the possibility of another disaster on the horizon, namely, the book store graphic novel trade. A wonderful thing, no? Getting comics into "real" book stores, with public bathrooms and cappucino and everything. Allowing the general public to see and buy comics in a non-threatening environment. Giving comics some sorely-needed visibility and credibility and dear god in heaven. sales. And apparently sales ain't that bad, sales of manga, especially, are supposedly terrific. Yes, it's a good thing. A beautiful thing. Watch us ruin it.

Watch us do what we did after the Dark Knight/Maus and Watchmen trades sold well in bookstores in the mid '80's, when we were getting mainstream press and Hollywood started eyeing comics as a good, cheap petrie dish for properties (sound familiar?). Watch us flood the market with too many titles, too many collections, too many reprints, too many original graphic novels, too many translated titles. Watch the small press pump out as many books as they can finish, watch the bigger publishers do the same, as well as slap any four crappy issues of any crappy title into a book whether or not the material warrants being collected . Watch everyone follow Maus and Dark Knight and Watchmen with the Death of Jean DeWolff and countless other quickies to maintain rack presence, title counts and supposed profits. Watch us kill the goose that might one day lay a few bronze eggs, if not golden.

Now, I'm not saying this will happen. I'm a pessimist by nature, and I'm wrong about most things. I certainly don't want this to happen, believe you me. But from what I'm seeing and from what I've been hearing and what I've seen of this industry from behind a retail counter, behind a con table and behind a drawing table -- well, I'm just worried, is all. I'm worried that even level-headed publishers will find it impossible to not pump books out to keep their place amongst the other publsihers, and to (hopefully) keep their profits up. I'm worried that everyone will confuse selling with sell-through. I'm worried that without proper marketing of the comics medium first and foremost, there won't be an audience for all these books (Manga will very likely continue to do well despite any setbacks -- manga and anime have slowly but steadily made serious inroads on american pop culture over the last few decades, and whether your average comics fan, retailer or fanzine likes it or not, manga is selling, manga has a support base and the comics shops aren't taking in the majority of manga sales). I'm worried about a severe trade paperback glut swamping the small publishers and crippling the big publishers and sending this stupid, immature, ailing industry into yet another cardiac arrest.

Maybe I'm just a worry-wart. Fine, please, let me be wrong. let me be very wrong. Let the book store trade take off and pump readers, accolades and money into the heart or comics. Let us all be happy and let everything sell well. Let good comics sell, let bad comics sell, let manga readers discover home-grown books, let fans discover manga, let some kids discover comics, any comics, just as long as its comics. The book stores can help. They can't "save" comics, but I don't think anything could other than perhaps George W and Britney Spears proclaiming comics to be "the bomb" (and even then...). I just don't want this opportunity turned into a wasted opportunity. Or worse, a self-made disaster -- another boom and bust everyone can blame one another for afterwards, all the while limping in the dark and reaching desperately for the next band-aid to slap across the industry's slit throat.

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