Comic Books: Bad Medicine-My DiagnosisA column article, Busted Knuckles by: Beau Smith
Do you read comic books? If so, you're under a lot of pressure. Pressure to buy every comic book that is being published. That pressure is coming from the way almost all publishers market their books. It's wrong.
During the Golden Age of comics, there were far more comics being published than today; for that matter, there were a vast amount of different genres being published as well. Comic books had a cover price of 10¢. Even with the value of a dollar changing from then to now, that was still a very cheap form of entertainment, disposable entertainment. You read them and you either traded them or tossed them. Simple times.
The Silver Age wasn't much different except for the fact that Fandom was truly born. Readers also became collectors. Comic book price guides were being published. Old comics were becoming valuable. The birth of television made more people slaves to pop culture and that meant folks didn't want to give up the pop culture passions of their youth. Comics in the Silver Age were still pretty cheap to buy, with cover prices at 12 and 25¢. But then comics weren't being tossed away or traded. They were kept, sealed and put away in various cardboard containers for safe keeping until they could be sold for a small fortune at some undetermined future date.
The Bronze Age of comics was when we first started to feel the aches of the way comic books were marketed. The old system was still in effect and sales dropped. The spinner racks and newsstand sales were fading away as more and more pop culture distractions were becoming available to the public. Comic books were being written more and more for an older audience. "Comics for kids" were becoming extinct like the dinosaurs that once ruled the Earth. As we all know, or should know, if you don't have a younger consumer base to grow from, the rest of your market will never be replenished. It's a slow grind, but it does eventually happen and we've been in that crop-less field for a while now.
The Modern Age of comics brought us the direct market. The Modern Age was a paradise where there were comic book stores that focused just on comics. This spawned a wonderfully creative time in comics where new things were born with a mature leaning. Like anything else, this is good, but only with moderation. The problem was where it was fueling the demand of a generation of comic book reader/collectors; it was starving many generations of young readers that would never have the chance to be nurtured by age-appropriate comic books that would lead them into the more mature tastes that they would one day develop. There was no circle being maintained, only a dead end street.
The direct market would've truly remained strong if we had just continued to fortify the younger market as well as made an earlier push to appeal to the female consumer base. It was a case of "The road goes on forever and the party never ends." At least that's what most of us believed at one point. Even after it became apparent that the party was dying out, we continued to lie to ourselves, prop up some weary bodies and wear the lampshade just a little longer than we should. We are now paying the price for that.
You as a comic book reader are paying that price and being asked to pay even more.
Publishers today, most, not all, still market their comic books as if you were still a reader/collector. They still try and sell comic books as if you will live forever and be interested in buying the same story line over and over. They continue to market their books as if they were cheap forms of entertainment, which at a $3.99 cover price, they are not. The publishers continue to almost totally ignore the younger consumer base, the female readership on all age levels.
In all my years of marketing, I have never seen an industry so out of touch with their consumers. This isolation has been built and continued because there is that former fan-turned-pro mentality that secretly thumbs their nose at the readers they used to be. They are on the other side of the convention table now and the last thing they want you to do is be on that side with them. They want your money and your applause, but after five minutes at the table or online, they want you to go away so they'll have more time to snicker and poke fun of you with their peers that share their side of the convention table. Trust me, there are very few comic book creators and folks on the publishing side that even read comics today. They immerse themselves in their own work and maybe check out their work of their friends, but other than looking to steal an artist, they don't read comics for the most part. Hard to take, but trust me, it's true.
Unless this broken system of comic book marketing is adjusted, comics as you know them are going to fade away. It will be the slowest death you can imagine. Many say that comics will never die, but they will in the aspect you won't see the end until it's too late. Think about it, you aren't getting any younger either.
You've already seen how comic book marketing has adjusted to the digital form and distribution of comics, too slowly and possibly too late to truly reap benefits of growing profits and healthy, long term consumer growth. The broken system of marketing comics has damaged the direct market retailers that needed a more clear and future based plan from publishers on how to better sell their products to a new audience and use the hyper-speed changing of technology to the fullest.
As a reader today, most of you, like me, cannot afford to buy stacks and stacks of new comics every week. To be honest, you shouldn't anyway, if you're like me, you know that there are very few comic books being published that are worth the $3.99 average cover price. Not in reading time, content and art. I don't mean to sound all gloom and doom, but I am telling you the cold hard facts. I can say it out loud, others will deny it and only admit it in the solitude of their own brains. Most (not all) current mainstream comics and a load of independent comic books not only will fail the test of time, they aren't worth the five minute read they give you now.
Since the late 1980s, more than two decades of readers have grown up on, and only know the gruel they have been force-fed from the publishers. I know this; I worked for my share of publishers that served up mush. I was a part of the distributor exclusivity wars of the 1990s that plunged us deeper into the direct market hole. I admit my part of the blame; I don't deny my fingerprints are on the decaying corpse of the comic book direct market.
I say this here in Busted Knuckles because I feel you should know the truth. I say this to part with some of my own guilt in making the matter worse when I could've done more to make it right. I say it because as a writer, a marketing person and a comic book reader, I care about what you read and buy. If I can shine a little light on how things really are, maybe you can help change things or stop from walking down that same path. Comic books are a wonderful art form and a means of entertainment. It could be better and it could live a healthier life. I don't like seeing it sick. I want comics to be healthy and to grow. I hope you want the same thing.
Busted Knuckles Manly Cover Of The Week: Action Comics #176
In these modern times, mainstream super-heroes tend to wear their shiny armor with a bit more patina and tarnish. They act the "realistic" way they do because publishers and writers think we as readers want everything to read like the millionth viewing of Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. After all, if you're 40 years old or younger, you think everything should be like the first "cool" movie you ever saw. Like a dog with a rawhide bone, you never let go of it.
Well, back in the 1950's, writers of Superman and sometimes Batman, were allowed to make Superman out to be a pecker head anytime they wanted with no apologies. They called them imaginary stories or had Superman twist up everyone's mind at the end of the story, so they could get away with making the Man of Steel into the Pecker Head of Steel. It worked and as a kid that discovered these stories many years later, I loved them. They were never politically correct and they were so insane they were fun. Action Comics #176 is a fine example of what I'm talking about it. The story inside was called "Muscles For Money" and was a scream. I hope that you take the time to hunt down some of these Superman stories for your own twisted entertainment.
Busted Knuckles Babe Of The Week: Manuela Arbelaez
In my never humble opinion, I believe that model and actress Manuela Arbelaez is one of the most stunning women in world. Call it personal taste, my hillbilly hormones, or my appreciation for all things beautiful, but Manuela is a bombshell. The 24 year old stunner was born in Columbia has appeared in music videos, film and of course daily on The Price Is Right as one of the models for the show. He's hoping we'll see her in more TV and film roles soon.
Other than books, regular office stuff and my famous Charles M. Russell framed prints, I don't have a lot of pop culture stuff in my office here at the ranch. I do have a small wooden shelf that I display a handful of "toys" and Chicago Bears memorabilia. Three action figures stand guard on that shelf, my original Captain Action (Ideal Toys) from the 1960s in the rare blue and purple costume, my original G.I. Joe Adventure Team with life-like blond hair and beard – not to mention shoulder holster and pistol - and from the 1990s, my Action Man driller figure that has to be one of most testosterone filled action figures ever.
Granted, I have a lot of old G.I. Joes and more Action Man figures that are pretty neat, but these three are a great representation of top notch 12-inch action figures that have been made during my many years on this planet. The Captain Action means a lot to me because I played out so many adventures with him as a kid and the fact that I've been lucky enough to be one of the Classic Captain Action comic book writers. That has been a dream come true for me. If you would've told me as a 5th grade school kid that one day I would get to write Captain Action busting heads and ignoring names, my head would've exploded. My greatest honor was getting to do those two stories with Eduardo Barreto doing the art.
Now if only I could get the chance to write some G.I. Joe Adventure Team stories, well, my head may blow up yet. I thought I'd share these 3 photos with you. Maybe they'll haul up some great childhood memories for you as well.
Your amigo with Kung Fu Grip,
The Flying Fist Ranch