Posted by on Apr 3, 2012 in Digital | 15 Comments

Got back yesterday from the 2012 Gem City Comic Con, a great Dayton-area show run by a terrific and energetic young Nate Corddry lookalike named Jesse Noble. I endorse it unreservedly. Amazing show, lots of money drummed up for the Hero Initiative, well worth the trip for me.
And only one very tense moment.

On the way out–literally, in the parking lot after the show– I was approached by a man named Dennis Barger, who manages Wonderworld Comics in Michigan. He wanted to confront me about my stance on digital and I could tell he was ready for a fight…but what could in years past have fast turned into a contentious and angry argument instead turned into an enlightening and civil conversation for us both. I don’t know how that happened, but let’s humor me and assume that I must finally be growing up. Anyway.

Dennis very patiently let me explain that, while I absolutely valueand support the comics shops across the nation that currently sell my wares, it’s not financially feasible for me to go print-first and self-publish my comics. I’ll go over the numbers in detail tomorrow, but the short version of my argument was (and is) that even if I’m able to self-publish a monthly color comic that clocks in close to what my BOOM! series IRREDEEMABLE sells–and that’s a big “if”– it’s gonna cost me almost a dollar a copy just to print the damn thing, and that’s on top of what I have to pay a good artist, colorist and letterer for their work. In a nutshell–and you’ll hear me say this a LOT in the coming weeks–I would LOVE to keep producing comics retailers can sell, but unless those projects are financed by an established company and thus not fully creator-owned, I can’t afford to. It’s simple math. Some comics writers can buck the system because they’re (deservedly) millionaires. I am not.

Dennis countered by pointing out that while he gets that and he doesn’t begrudge me launching my own original material in digital form, he worries when he sees me designing and creating digital work for Marvel. He fears that by throwing my market weight (whatever it may be) behind a digital-only Marvel project that (as he sees it) cuts the retailer out of the distribution chain, I’m helping to cannibalize the existing superhero-reader market. And I had to admit, he had a point. I said I wasn’t sure I agreed with him, but I saw and respected his point of view, and he gave me something to think about.

But the most important takeaway from our exchange was that Dennis is hosting a hospitality suite for retailers during C2E2–and when I offered to stop by for an impromptu summit or two, he generously offered to make that happen. More details to follow as we hammer them out, but I love the fact that we can have a civil dialogue about this where I can explain that it’s not digital v. print–it’s digital AND print. We’ll podcast the results provided I don’t float away face-down in a pool of blood.

Tomorrow: Math.

15 Comments

  1. Bill Cunningham
    April 3, 2012

    “He fears that by throwing my market weight (whatever it may be) behind a digital-only Marvel project that (as he sees it) cuts the retailer out of the distribution chain, I’m helping to cannibalize the existing superhero-reader market.”

    And yet his fears are not necessarily reality. I would make the points that a digital-only OR digital-first offering to the marketplace would:

    – help stimulate a larger readership, especially if these digital comics can be distributed via XBox, etc… and used to get video gamers back into the comics fold.

    – in many cases, digital is going to be the only way some of these lower selling superhero characters are ever going to see publication. As you point out – it costs money to go to print.

    – and, in some cases digital comics offer the opportunity for genres other than superheroes to flourish. This is something the market needs desperately.

    – Eventually, many of these digital comics will be collected in a print form offering him the opportunity to sell. In the case of Nova he could ensure that he has back stock to sell to new e-readers who come in looking for more Nova related product. Gee, imagine if we were able to slice off some more of the videogamer audience and bring them into the stores. I would say many comics readers are also videogamers, but not all videogamers read comics. Convenient digital delivery offers the opportunity for that turnaround.

    A larger comics readership, even if it’s digital-only, is better for the industry as a whole.

    Reply
  2. Brian Hibbs
    April 3, 2012

    Not to get to ahead of whatever you’re going to write tomorrow, but I wonder strongly about two premises you appear to be starting from.

    The first, I think I might phrase as “SHOULD self-financing a creative work and bringing it to market be a simple or trivial matter?”

    While we have a relative tradition in comics (thanks, entirely, to the direct market) of self-publishing, clearly this is the exception in the arts — in other fields, self-pubbing is called “vanity press” and, usually for very very good reasons. Until relatively recently, it was virtually impossible to get music distributed if you self-published it, and, CLERKS notwithstanding, the barriers in film and TV are even higher.

    I haven’t spent a ton of time really thinking through a firm position on this, but it strikes me that have some sort of barrier-to-entry to the market, at the very least, serves the function of weeding out the less-serious; and the barriers in comics are, really, extraordinarily trivial compared to other media to get national distribution.

    The second premise that I think may be suspect is that of “color” — I can say with a certain amount of authority as a retailer that the difference that a self-published book will sell in color versus black-and-white is essentially meaningless. For this hypothetical “Mark Waid comic that sells as well as IRREDEEMABLE”, I’d estimate it as the difference between 8k (color) and probably 6k (B&W) — the overwhelming majority of stores probably aren’t going to stock the self-pubbed book in the first place, so the ones that DO, the difference in sales between color and b&w are tremendously small.

    My primary example might be the difference between Robert Kirkman’s INVINCIBLE and WALKING DEAD — the first sells about 14k, the latter sold (pre-TV show, to keep it realistic) about 23k — despite INVINCIBLE being just as critically acclaimed, and full-discount, and of the “one true genre”, it has pretty much always been beaten by the B&W horror comic.

    I’d further argue that the majority of comics sold outside of the DM in the last two decades are B&W — be it manga, or comic strips, or, yeah, WALKING DEAD.

    MAUS has no problem with B&W nor does PERSEPOLIS or BLANKETS or or FUN HOME or FROM HELL or LOVE & ROCKETS or.. well, I could go on typing for 15 minutes before I hit a clunker, so there’s clearly no general market bias against b&w material.

    My immediate response to any statement beginning with “I can’t afford to do a color book” is “Uh, why do color?”

    -B

    Reply
  3. Kurt Christenson
    April 3, 2012

    I don’t envy your battle but I do admire your tenacity and ever looking forward mentality.

    As a professional you’re going to catch a lot more flack for “abandoning” print than I, but honestly with the numbers that print is pulling in, the rise in technology and therefore the new distribution system, shouldn’t we, as creators who truly love the medium of sequential storytelling, do everything, try anything, to find the new audience? Or at least build upon it.

    I think the conflict comes from retailers who have of course struggled and carried a hurting industry for the past twenty years, they want their recognition and not feel like they’re being dumped by corporate selling out, even though in reality this is as close as we’ve come to a true original creator’s market outside the big two. But that means money for those of us making the product, and less for them.

    I see a day when comic stores really become more about community, cafe-like, bar-like, a lounge where you can buy something in print that you were really digging digitally. Since DC Comics went same day/date and I needed to finally get myself an iPad to show off my digital comic, well I haven’t looked back once. I love comic books but even I, in NYC, didn’t want or have time to get to a comic store.

    Let’s take the dying record stores, bookstores, and comic stores, make them awesome combo hangout spots where we can all just sit down and geek out over print AND digital comics.

    Reply
  4. Will Parish
    April 3, 2012

    Mr. Waid,

    With the “relative” affordability of “print on demand” technology are you thinking of using digital as the entry point for a new comic title that would then be made available in print as the customer demand dictates? I think I personally would be more inclined to taste test digital comics and then buy the trade.

    Reply
  5. Bryan Dempsen
    April 3, 2012

    I am very excited to see the new infinite comic tomorrow.

    Reply
  6. Henry Kuo
    April 3, 2012

    When it comes down to it, the most important thing that matters is what benefits the artists. Distribution systems will change and there’s no question that everything trends towards digital, but it won’t come without a fight from people protecting current models that benefit them. It’s no different in any other industry, and we’ve all seen it before with music and video, and even comedians like Louis CK and Aziz Ansari have begun selling direct to fans. I wholly endorse this, systems that allow artists to take home more of what they actually deserve. Not everyone can do what they’ve done, and of course a new digital system must come to light and I can’t wait to see what you’re working on!

    Reply
  7. Kyle Latino
    April 3, 2012

    It always strikes me as odd when comic companies, comic creators, or comic retailers antagonize people who wish to embrace the digital future of comics. It’s not my or your job to help the direct market thrive, it is literally the retailer’s job. It’s not my job to find out about cool indie books, it the creator’s job to market it to me.

    It does sound like Dennis’s concern is different though. But to expect the Big Two not to pursue digital projects seems a little weird too. Still, he may have a point.

    Reply
  8. Adam Geen
    April 3, 2012

    I’ve been struggling with the same thing myself.

    It always boils down to money. I want to create, I want to get my books out there but I am not made of money. Even if I do the whole thing myself we’re still looking at thousands of dollars to print and ship physical issues of a series.

    But with digital I can create said book and have it available for sale and read the next day.

    I WANT physical issues but at the end of the day, I want to be READ.

    Reply
  9. Typing_Monkey
    April 3, 2012

    Hibbs, as an arts worker, I’d respectfully say that you’re wrong on the “Self-publishing” bit.

    Many bands self-publish by pressing their own cd’s while gigging around to get themselves heard and airplay on community radio or the like. In theatre (I’m an ex-actor) I would produce my own work and cast and crew would get a profit-share from the production, with hopefully more work to follow, and I know many film-makers who self-finance their work to get started.

    This is from an Australian perspective, but I think you’re confusing “self-publishing” with mainstream pop culture. Self-publishing comics to me is much more analogous with entry points in many other art forms.

    Reply
  10. Brian Hibbs
    April 3, 2012

    “Typing Monkey”,

    “I think you’re confusing “self-publishing” with mainstream pop culture.”

    I’m comparing national distribution with national distribution. None of your examples would seem to fit that description?

    -B

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

    Reply
  11. Apollo9000
    April 3, 2012

    The biggest hurdle for comics currently is availiablity. I grew up on comic book characters in multiple formats. It was only a couple years back that I really started collecting. Yet, despite finding a recap comic of Civil War ( the Iron Spider costume caught my eye) which lead to me seeking out some paperbacks at Barnes and Nobles ( Bendis New Avengers with non traditional characters on the cover), it was the wealth of comics info on the Internet that made me a Wednesday Warrior. From the net, I was able to find out about the present day norms of the industry. I learned a bit about the past and how much of it informs the industry today.

    With more of comic companies going same day release of print and digitial, it means that for the 1st time in a long time, more comic books are available ( there goes that word again) to a wide audience.

    Most of the direct market focuses on supplying Superhero comics to a demanding consumer base of ever aging Superhero comic readers. Not everyone wants to read the latest adventure of Batman. If they did, which one would they choose? Perhaps they’re if a supernatural/ horror fan. Swamp Thing might be a title they might like but it can get washed out by the sea of Dark Knight titles. This is to say that a perspective buyer even sets foot in a comic shop, not to mention if they can find one near them.

    Retailers shouldn’t look at creators using digitial platforms to tell their stories as spouses committing some type of adultary. Consider them as wingmen, a friend trying to play match maker. Find you a find, catch you a catch.

    Reply
  12. Cameron
    April 3, 2012

    I don’t think everyone realizes that many of the digital comics of of the future will not transfer to print. Take Mark’s Luther. It’s meant to be read in a slideshow fashion so certain elements of the comic can appear as the reader pages through.

    Check out today’s Infinite Comic and think about how well that’d transfer to print.

    Reply
    • John Rogers
      April 4, 2012

      @Cameron

      I don’t know about Marvel’s plans with the infinite Comic, but part fo the development for Mark’s titles include restructuring for print. FWIW, we experimented with several resolutions and ratios to come up with the smoothest transfer workflow. More on that later.

      Reply
  13. Typing_Monkey
    April 4, 2012

    Hibbs, fair enough, but you didn’t mention “national distribution” until the very end of para 5 of your post.

    I’d still argue that you’re comparing a massive market (what, 300 million population in the US) with a smaller market, and it’s apples and oranges. As Mark points out in the math post, it costs money to self-publish in the 5-6K range…much as it does to tour and promote a debut album for an unsigned band.

    They’re all ways and means in the arts to earning a living: by being noticed by those that do make a profit and being hired by those people.

    Reply
  14. Jesse
    April 30, 2012

    I had to google Nate Corddry. He is actually younger than I. So… I’ll take that as a compliment!

    Thanks for your kind words and compliments for the show and the fans in Dayton!

    Jess

    Reply

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