Let’s Talk About Comic Books

portraitoftheoddity:

If you follow me, odds are you have either some peripheral interest in comics, or in the media adapted from them, cause that’s about 90% of my blog. And comics are a pretty remarkable medium; they’re part of a tradition of pictorial storytelling that goes back to the dawn of human civilization. They contain stories and characters that transfer from storyteller to storyteller, outliving their creators and developing a legacy that spans generations, evolving and yet remaining timeless in many instances. Superhero comics in particular are the closest thing we have to a modern tradition of mythology. 

There’s a lot of amazing shit happening in comics right now. The quality of art and storytelling is some of the best it’s ever been. More and more diverse creators have broken into the industry, and are telling a broader range of stories for everyone, leading to fresh perspectives and narratives and styles. There are incredible, beautiful, powerful stories being told right now.

And if that interests you, it’s really important to support them.

Despite the multi-million-dollar blockbusters being adapted from their properties, the actual print studios of the big two (DC & Marvel) have been struggling. A lot of this is the product of their own failure to adapt to the 21st century or to effectively capitalize on the marketing opportunity the films provide and actually making comics accessible to new readers. And unfortunately, it’s also because of the crappy way they tabulate sales. 

Now, there’s three basic ways to get your comics: 

  • Floppy single issue comics (~20-30 pages, released more or less monthly. Usually between $2.99 and $4.99, though this can vary by publisher)
  • Digital single issues (same as above, often cheaper due to being a digital file with no print cost with frequent $1 sales. Comixology is the biggest digital seller of comics)
  • Trades (glossy-covered volumes that compile several individual issues into a complete story-arc. Usually around $20)

Trades are nice and durable and easier to store & share, and a lot of people prefer them for a lot of reasons. Digital comics are easy to get right away and read on a tablet or device, and don’t take up room in your home. But print single issue figures are the sales metric that books live and die by. And since a lot of readers either don’t have the time to go to a brick and mortar comic book store, or don’t have one nearby, or don’t feel comfortable in one (particularly common with female readers and readers of color who are made to feel less welcome in a lot of geek culture institutions), they aren’t counted.

So let’s say instead of getting the trade at a bookstore or downloading the new issue online, you walk into your local comic shop (LCS) and buy a comic off the ‘new releases’ rack. Great! That counts toward sales, right?

Well… No. What gets counted by the published isn’t actually what leaves the shelves, but what’s ordered by the retailer to put on them. And that means pre-orders. 

Unlike in traditional publishing, comics sold to retailers through the direct market can’t be returned for a refund. So retailers have to preorder comics months in advance, knowing that if they order too many, they’ll be stuck with the overstock. Marvel and DC largely judge sales based on these preorders, and a low number of initial preorders can lead a publisher to cancel a series before a customer ever gets a chance to buy the first issue… Due to the preorder system, books that might reach out to new audiences—such as those starring minority characters—are at an immense disadvantage right out of the gate. (x)

“But how do I know what to pre-order?” you ask. If you’re a regular in your LCS, you’re probably handed a newsletter of “solicits” with descriptions of upcoming books that you can check out and decide you want added to your pull list. (A pull list is basically the list of titles you’re subscribed to. Your LCS will order that inventory for you specifically and keep it in a folder set aside for when you come in. Most stores only ask that you come in once a month to pick up whatever titles you’re pulling – you can ask for a book to be taken off your list at any time.) 

If you’re a new comic reader however, you probably don’t know this, and the comics industry’s weirdo idiosyncrasies are not well-explained or well-known to the general public. A lot of new readers who are purchasing online (because that seems like the economic, sensible thing to do) or who don’t know to pre-order and don’t have a competent enough staff at their LCS to explain the value of a pull list end up not being counted. And good books with a lot of readership get canceled on account of that readership not being accurately tabulated in the company’s data. 

SO.

If you see a title you are interested in supporting, go to your local comic shop and ask them to put it on a pull-list for you. 

If there’s a character you like and you don’t know what title they might be in, poking around the internet a bit or talking to a helpful LCS employee can fill you in on their most recent appearances, and any catching up you need to do to know what’s happening in the current arc they’re in.

Subscription of print issues is the best way to communicate to publishers that yes, this title is selling, and yes, it’s worth keeping. And that’s the best way to support the creators you enjoy and ensure stories keep getting told about the characters you love. 

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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