Brainiac On Banjo #079: The Future of Comics?

In these disease-ridden times, it is quite natural for us to be preoccupied with matters of life, health, and continuity. But it is equally logical to assume that someday this will pass, and most all of us will be around the celebrate.

Well, I hate to be a buzzkill, but on that much anticipated day… that’s when we step into deep pile of fresh economic bat-dung. Lots of people are going to be hurting bad for money – I’m writing this on Sunday, so I can’t check out my retirement fund, and that is a relief. I suspect almost as many are going to be hurting for jobs.

This hurts all of us, but it likely will be devastating to Mom ’n’ Pop stores, cockroach capitalists, and to self-employed folks of all stripes. In other words, I’m talking about the network of maybe a couple thousand (on a good day) comic book stores. Therefore, I’m also talking about the future of the “smaller” comics publishers, their staffs, writers, artists, and the related backroom activities like distributors necessary to keep everything moving.

Only a very few publishers are owned by massive mega-corporations such as AT&T, Amazon, and Disney. The rest are owned by very hard working Mom ’n’ Pop cockroach capitalists who depend upon these shops – as well as whatever chain bookstore revenue and digital sales they can gather. Every retailer in every marketplace has only a vague idea of the post-Covid environment, but many know that their wares are dearly needed by humanity.

Comic book stores … well, not so much. For decades these folks stare at the monthly order forms and literally bet the rent on their choices. It is quite likely that they’ll be swimming in the River of Shit if not for help and consideration from publishers but, as I said a paragraph back, only a few have the resources to do that.

The so-called majors have started doing that. For a long time, I’ve felt that the mega-corporations will wake up one day and realize they can produce movies and streaming shows and license toys and chachkas without having to go to the bother of producing much, if any, new comics stories. They’ll still make and license comic book property-based movies and streaming shows and toys and chachkas. In fact, I am convinced most of these heady money magnates know that. The fact is, Disney and AT&T cannot lose or make enough coin from comics publishing to be worthy of anything more than an adjective in their annual reports.

Steve Geppi

O.K. Get down off that window ledge. Shelter in place, remember?

Slowly but surely, digital publishing has been making inroads. More people are buying tablets, and books are damn easy to read even on smartphones. Digital is coming close to saving the journalism racket, and while there’s still room for innovation many newspapers are beginning to clear a few bucks from their zeroes and ones. In the comic book world, this should provide incentive to publishers large and small.

They’ve been swimming in the digital pool for almost a decade now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the smarter outfits eventually figure out ways to make this a go-to thing. However, the medium would likely go the way of buggy whips if we – publishers, readers, talent, and distributors – don’t start hauling ass to save the comic book shops. Digital has not grown fast enough to abandon retail paper sales, the way publishers abandoned the rapidly dying independent magazine distribution system about 30 years ago.

A great many publishers in addition to Marvel (Disney) and DC (AT&T) already have been coming up with interesting innovations, and they are being joined by talent and distributors in devising new ways to offer assistance that they can afford. Writers and artists have been pledging to do signings when the Covid terror has passed, retailers are doing community participation promotions to get the word out, Steve Geppi and Diamond Distribution have started taking an even more active role in offering support.

Will that be enough?

I hope so. I know there’s enough knowledge and talent out there to do the job, although I question if we can survive another Great Depression – you know, like the one that put comics in business some 85 years ago. Everybody with the skill to reason is hoping that doesn’t happen, but if it does, that’s an apocalyptic event that cannot be held off by superhero publishers, or even superheroes.

Short of that… we’ve all got our work cut out for us. When Earth heals, support your friendly neighborhood comic book shops to the best of your abilities.

Otherwise, what the hell am I going to bitch about here at Pop Culture Squad?

The author would like to offer a tip-of-the-hat to the 1914 International Socialist Review, and add a mammoth shout-out to Franz Kafka.