Monday, June 09, 2008


Much ruffling of feathers and a lot of sort of 'sour" news about the comics biz in recent weeks including the down-sizing of Tokyopop, the big tent-pole manga publisher and the slack-luster Wizard cons and what seems to be in a sense, a general slowness and malaze in the business of comics. The summer seems hot, hot, hot, but I just gather comics are not as hot. Despite there being at least 3 big superhero movies this summer I doubt that will swing up sales in the average comic shop in any big or long lasting way. And people still seem surprised by that as well. The only people who stand to benefit are the companies through their licensing---if the movie has legs. Otherwise it will be like Fantastic Four II, the cosmic energy sucked away fast, leaving lots of shitty toys and stuff nobody wants, including another sequel.

I am not surprised to read that Tokyopop was cutting back in such a big way, basically 50% of it's output and almost half of it's employees. It's always bad when people are let go, that's never a good thing, but I guess I am not surprised. At the local bargain book store near me, you know the kind, the type of store that springs up quick in a empty retail space in a strip mall like those Halloween stores, there were huge dumps of cheap manga across the back of the store.

All Tokyopop and Viz, etc. When I saw that, I knew there must be a lot of bleeding going on, and on top of that the manga section in my local Borders has shrunk, no longer having the two large isles plus the tables covered with the latest releases.

I have been saying to a lot of my comic peeps that there is just way too much stuff, we are so over saturated in media and entertainment that there has to be some eventual contraction. I think because we have so much of everything, nothing is special. I think most of us are just a bit jaded, and how can you really blame us. If you have been around as long as I have, well, you've seen so much that it takes a bit more for something to be 'special". I also thinks this even applies to the younger set, and in their case they have always been over saturated, the girls reading stuff in Borders, well, you get used to reading stuff for free because you always have been able to do it.

One of the things I have not seen anyone talking about ( maybe they have and I haven't seen it) is the return factor. With 2-3 years of huge growth into the book chains by trades, be it manag or superjock mean that there was always a big chance down the road that there could be big returns. I think most comic people are optimists. It's natural, that's why this material appeals to us. We all want 'happy days are here again." We want there to be some area where the medium is growing. But maybe we have to face the fact that we just can't keep growing in the same way, especially in light of how the younger generation goes about obtaining a huge amount of their entertainment--for free. Just look at the record industry. I know most of my students get their music for free as well as their comics and videos on website or places akin to a Limewire. they don't have a romance to the format that I do, that is clear.

One of the things I think the retailers and biz people in comics really miss is the perspective at times from outside the bubble of the social network they are in and as a working artist.

It's clear that teens to late 20 somethings don't buy entertainment in the way I did when I was that age. I had to buy things because there was no internet, heck even I use limewire myself, though I still buy a lot of magazines, books and music legit.

The last several years the big word in comics has been Manga! Manga this, manga that, animae this, animae that, and the fact, it's really become mainstream. manga is what comics were for people of my generation when we were kids. Most of my students who read comics, read manga. That demographic is clearly displayed in cons like Wizard Philly. That con is a babyman fest, alllll about the old superheroes and nada about what is really mainstream, which is manga. The population is mostly older white guys and guys down into their late 20's. In contrast, the last NYCC was a huge mix that included lots of teenage girls and lots on animae and manga stuff,a refection of my average class make-up.

There has always been to my mind a stubborn denial by most in the direct market that the direct market has become what I called The Walled City of Babymania. A literally walled off sub-sub culture of fetish collectors, out of the general publics view and taste. In the same decade that the and superhero comics disappeared from the 7-11's and the easy impulse buyer, and the spec-collector, manga has grown and grown because it's on TV and easily available where most people go.

I remember in the 80's when a few hardcore fans started bringing things over and the animae fandom started. I even dated a gal briefly who was into all that captain harlock stuff. I think people in comics are so desperate to see a ship on the horizon, some hopeful news because comics as biz has been suck for the last 15 years since the speculator boom–burst, yet they still deny the evidence in their face. So they go to shows like Wizard, where everybody is selling the same shit, the same fucking Wolverine issues, same dolls and toys to the same aging crowd, year after year and that crowd shrinks year after year. And then they bitch that the business sucks. Duh!


Jamie said...

Hey Mike,
what do you think about the whole indie and self publishing market of comics? I know mainsteam titles have not been doing well these past years, but I have notice a great deal of artists who are animators, storyboard artists etc putting out their own stuff and even coming together and putting out collaboration books like flight and afterworks. Do you think artists are going to start focusing on just putting out their own stuff like sketchbooks and graphic novels instead of trying to get on mainstream or already established titles?

Thibaud de Rochebrune said...

Strange to read this on your blog, about the situation in the US, when I feel the exact same way about the situation of the comics book market here in Europe, and in France particularly. Same old forty and thirty something guys in conventions and stores. Almost no teenagers, almost no kids, or just coming for daddy...

Well, maybe we will all have to start our own little business on the web. To bad. I liked to spend all my time on my work, not really caring of the way it will be sold after... I might need a little training there.

And if it goes that way, I'm not sure there will be room for all of us...

Mike Manley said...

Jamie, I think that all the animators and small press books are great. I mean look at my buddy Alberto, he's a big success with his self publishing. I am sorry I wasn't able to go to MoCCa this year as I love seeing all the cool stuff at that show.

As to what artists will do, well that is a questions that has as many answers as there are artists. Some will do the web thing, some print, some stay working in teb mainstream with the occassional dip of the toe into the self publishing waters.

I think anything that directly involves the direct market is problematic at best as the retailers won't support anything that is not the superhero mainstream--with the rare exception. I think we are at the beginning of what might be a revolution is some respects in reguard to delivering content to the readers.

Mike Manley said...

TB, you know I've heard what you have said from a few sources before. I think what it is really is a global shift. the fact is new kids have so much choice for entertainment and print everywhere is suffering as it is loosing to all the gadgets, the web, and games. Even TV is suffereing.

I think you have to hook kids young with reading for them to be able to develope the love, appreciation and concentraion TO read. Most find it boring because they are spoon feed media now that is so hyper, like games, etc. I think France is no different than the US here. And world culture, pop culture is all blending together more than ever. When I was in China last year, all the kids were reading all the same manga as we read here in the states, only it was bootlegged.

Take a 17 year old kid from NYC, Beijing or Paris, they all look kinda' the same.

It's up to us to figure out how to stop trying to run a race on a bad road and find the new road everyone else is on.

Unknown said...

Once does need to wonder on the "why" of the comics industry not selling as much as it did during and pre-spectator boom days. The argument has been presented on several occasions in that the publishing companies ned to do more advertising, promotion and marketing in a similar fashion to how the movie studios market their films. A job that has been left to the local comicbook shop that, especially now, is and always had a tough time promoting a book, imagine trying to promote several.

So, being that I'm no business guru or with a BA in Marketing, I'll just throw down the obvious and see what people think.

The local movie theater. They'll only promote the biggest moneymaker that is coming out, and in most cases they rarely do. They'll just prop up the promo material and posters and that's it. Yet people find out about the new movie of the week or the latest oscar contender not at the movie theater but though magazines, tv, radio, newspaper, etc.

Ok, now why are comics especially the big event ones that just came out (i.e., Secret Invasion) not promoted in similar fashion? Is it cost? Is it because everyone thinks that no one will pay attention? I've always heard two phrases that ring true in any situation. "One has to spend money to make money" and "Any publicity is good publicity".

In regards to the new generation of kids getting free access to entertainment is a very hard puzzle to solve, how do you get their interest as well as their disposable income? 10 years ago that was easy, nowadays as some of the posts have stated, if they want something they can limewire or torrent it and voila!

However, even then we can swerve back to the movie theater/movie studio situation, although these kids can download the latest hollywood movie, the movies (if they are good enough general public wise) tend to do very well box office wise. Iron Man, No Country for Old Men, etc..

Again why aren't comicbooks marketed in the same fashion?

Thibaud de Rochebrune said...

Right. And this question goes not only about reeders, or media. It goes also about form, and narration, for the internet and cell phones révolution is also the opportunity to revolutionize the way to tell stories.

Drawing will go on, that's for sure. But will comics as we know? probably not.

We still have time to figure out a way to continu to tell our stories, and make a living of it, but it's getting more worrying each year.

... and i'm still cowardly going on with my good old 46 color pages comics. "everything ok so far, and it pays the rent... everything's ok so far and it pays the rent... etc etc"


Unknown said...

At least since the 1950s, comics has always been a brutal business for most of the creators, and even some of the publishers.

But we do seem to be entering a new era of fundamental change -- our entire environment is changing just as at the beginning of an ice age, and just as living creatures then had to adapt or die, so we will have to do the same.

The Crooked Man said...

So they go to shows like Wizard, where everybody is selling the same shit, the same fucking Wolverine issues, same dolls and toys to the same aging crowd, year after year and that crowd shrinks year after year. And then they bitch that the business sucks. Duh!

I'll be attending the Heroes Con June 20-22nd

The Invincible Irony Man.

The Secret Sun said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Time Waster said...

I'm still reading about John Romita and all that Jazz :) when there was a actual atmosphere about the comics.
Unlike the videogame market now dominates where comics seemed to have vanished since Online RPGs like WOW and age of Conan make comics look trivial even though they are not.

It's just more entertaiment for the buck while sitting on yur posterior.

I only buy comics material if they sound promising good writer artist combos but currently I just find spending
even 25.00 a month on floppies a waste of money it isn't worth it.

Still mad Spawn Godslayer was canceled :)

Jason said...

Well, I would imagine the current state of the U.S. economy is a major factor here, as it's not just Tokyopop that's being hit hard these days. Besides, Tokyopop expanded very quickly, and from 2002 onward it saw pretty brisk growth, and when any company grows that fast, it's inevitable that it's going to level off or contract.

There's also the issue that, while a lot of new readers were brought in to manga, it was clear that not everyone was going to stick with it. Any entertainment phenomenon is like that; you have the people who get in to it and will love it for the rest of their lives, and those who will only be there for a few years. I would think that by now the people who were just in to it as a fad are dropping off, leaving the more dedicated readers, and the companies will contract thusly, as things level out and they come to see how big their market is and how they should approach it from here on out.

Another factor, thought I've heard this cited more in regards to anime than manga, is the amount of things left to import. The current anime being released in Japan consists of genres that have not proven as popular here, and most classic stuff is already out or companies do not think it would sell in large enough numbers to risk bringing it out. Since Manga has not been a big player as long as anime, it might not reach this situation for a while, but it is possible that it will.

In retrospect, perhaps it should have been obvious that this sort of fast growth would lead to a mild downturn, with only the most popular titles such as Naruto and other Shonen material able to remain competitive in the entertainment market in general.

Toren said...

Just a quick note to say that the comics biz in Japan is down about 30% in the last decade and still sliding (albeit more slowly). It is indeed a worldwide phenomena, driven by an excess of entertainment choices.

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