It Wasn’t Diversity That Killed Comic Sales, It Was These Archaic Publishing Methods
I want to read more comic books. I want to be a regular reader of a series and follow a character through a larger arc, then be intrigued by another character and go down the rabbit hole of their story. But the way that comics are released just doesn’t work for me anymore.
I’ve tried. I’ll wait months for a title to be available in trade if it means I can read it when I want to read it—on my schedule and terms. Asher Elbein’s new piece in The Atlantic explains why many of my favorites are cancelled or in peril by the time I buy their trades, and that just drives me more and more to the indie presses, or even away from comics at all. It is no coincidence that the more so-called “diverse,” i.e. not default white male, titles are the ones that interest me (Alex Brown says a lot of how I feel whenever “diversity” is blamed for poor sales.). If you haven’t kept up with the billionth Spiderman or which Robin is actually Robin since before you were born, it seems like there’s no place for you.
If someone does suggest a series, diverse or default or not, I’m much more likely to buy the trade and risk it on a story with a beginning, middle and end, rather than dip a toe into one issue and then have to remind myself to try it again in a month. It just isn’t in my DNA anymore. It stopped being a priority no matter how much I’d like it to be. Even if I could enter a comic book store on a regular basis, which is nearly impossible with two kids under four, I find it very difficult to browse online the way I can in person. I depend on my friends and Twitter to suggest new titles.
I say it isn’t in my DNA anymore because I should be an avid comics spender. Every Sunday growing up, my Dad gave me my allowance and we went to the comic book store. I agonized over my purchase; this decision could color the rest of my week. The Tick? Wonder Woman? Duck Tales? The latest, highly anticipated Betty & Veronica or splurge on a Double Digest? For my first airplane trip when I was nine, my sister bought some Sweet Valley Twin books and I got ten (ten!) separate comics to read in the sky. I anticipated reading them even more than the trip we were taking to Disney World.
Comics were my treasures.
In junior high, I still read my favorites, but the trip to the store became less enjoyable. I noticed the snickers at my preference for Archie and the leers every time I dared to glance at Superman, or open the latest issue of Wonder Woman to see if I could possibly start the story in the middle. I got interested in darker stories in high school, but still wouldn’t dare enter Newbury Comics without a male friend, or face harassment. A teen girl who wanted the latest Evil Ernie, Purgatori or Chastity?
Say what you want about taste: I eagerly anticipated release dates and spent my hard-earned cash on them. I still lingered over by the superheroes sometimes but never knew where to start. Any Wonder Woman I picked up just made me feel more distant from a character who I once loved so much that I dressed up like her and bounced around my living room. So every week I would go to the spot where I knew my comics were, buy those, and leave before I could endure any humiliation for daring to be female in a comic book store.
My love of comics fell. I still got a tingle of excitement whenever I passed a store, and wanted to enter. But what would I buy?
Fast forward and I’m a work at home mother with a young child. I had to go to the mall for some inane reason, and we pass a comic book store. It’s pretty empty, so I feel bold. I want to catch up on Thor and I still haven’t bought The Black Panther. A few weeks earlier, I had ordered Thor #1 because I was psyched for a female Thor, Ms Marvel because she was so unique and I wanted to support their decision to publish her, then took a shot at a She-Hulk trade that Amazon suggested to me.
So here I am, in the store, wanting to buy more issues. I don’t mind buying them online, but I love walking out of a comic shop with new reading material burning a hole in my bag. I miss it. I want to support the shops. I like to read them right away. I do have a budget, but I can happily stretch it in order to rekindle this happy ritual.
Stroller leading the way, I go straight for Black Panther. I grab issue #1, then … no #2. They have #3-5 available, but I don’t want to get all those without the second part. I could just order it online, but I literally want to sit and read Black Panther for as long as my toddler will nap today. I want to get immersed into that world and have to research its history. I’d pored over every announcement, every think piece, watched all of Marvel’s “Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet” on YouTube—I wanted this world and I wanted as much of it as I could. I asked if they had #2 in the back somewhere, but knew they didn’t. They offered to order it for me. Then I felt horrible as I listened to their voicemail two weeks later, because my life had moved on to other things and I had moved on to other books. Not only did I miss the window of opportunity for wanting to read it, I had also missed the window in my budget.
That day, they did have more Thor, but not in trade, so I got a couple more issues and haven’t picked it up since. I realized that reading the story in short spurts (one issue at a time) doesn’t jive with my reading tastes anymore. I did buy the highly recommended Saga and Lumberjanes though, because—guess what—they had the trades. Not only could I read more on my budget, but I could read them all in one or two sittings. Call this the Netflix effect because it’s considered “binge-reading” if you want, but no matter the reason, it’s how I prefer the experience.
There are certain stories that don’t lend themselves to binging; When I read The Sandman, for instance, I force myself to stop because the writing is so intense that I need a break. But Thor? She-Hulk? They beg to be binged. I would think that the comics industry, seemingly so interested in attracting new readers, would make an effort to meet their audiences where and how they like to read. They’re doing a great job with streaming platforms for TV programs; Luke Cage (a “diverse” title, BTW) is even blamed for crashing Netflix on the day it premiered. Why not experiment with how they market these new titles? If you really want to reach a new audience, you need to actually invite them.
For instance, I left the movie theater after Guardians of the Galaxy absolutely craving to read the old comics. I had no interest in comics based on the movie, although I see that appeal. If there had been someone peddling back issues of the Guardians (those in the movie or not) as I left, I would have bought them.
Free Comic Book Day is great in theory, and I have attended it every year since my first child was born. But I love it because it’s an event that feels special to my toddler (this year he dressed up like Buzz Lightyear because I told him we were getting superhero stories). I take risks on titles to see what he enjoys; he picked out DC Superhero Girls and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last month. I purposefully buy others for me so the store might at least break even on the free ones. Every year I think that this is the year I will use this day to jumpstart reading comics regularly again, and this year was the first that I admitted it just isn’t meant to be. I still bought the trades.
I doubt the ritual of going to a comic book store will ever really be part of my DNA again. I even tried multiple times to get onto mailing lists as reminders, but newsletters don’t fit into my sales flow very well. If there is an option to be notified only when a trade is available for pre-order, sign me up. I have made numerous efforts to integrate comics back into my life. I’ve tried and tried purchasing and reading one issue at a time, and it doesn’t work for me. The industry left me behind, stuck in a business model that caters only to the people who pushed me out of their stores with their jeers. So great for you, you can keep them, but then don’t complain that I don’t buy your “diverse” titles fast enough.
(image: Shutterstock/Grzegorz Czapski)
Cindy is a Storyteller & Outreach Nerd from Los Angeles, currently a Write-at-Home-Mom in Orlando for cool reasons that require multiple NDAs to explain. She reviews fairy and myth re-tellings at DwarfandGiant.com and is currently investigating why theaters dumb down TYA for The Clyde Fitch Report. She is Creative Producer of @SeeItorSkipItLA , presenting coverage of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Cindy divides her personality into twitter accounts such as @CindyMarieJ and @FairyFolkMyth.
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