Comics Industry and Today’s Transitions

A column article, Mission: Professional by: Steven Savage

Many of us have speculated on working on or in comics at some point in our geeky lives - we may not want to admit it since some people may regard it as childish (even as superhero films rack up tons of money and comics move to cutting edge tech). I think that's normal for comics fans, because the industry and the art have an intimate feel, a feel of shared history and interest, and working in it is a natural speculation. We've all wondered ...

But comics as an industry and a medium have also changed a lot the last few years, and so have the career opportunities available to us. Change is normal in comics - we all know (or are) old-school geeks who can go on in detail about publishers that have come and gone, about black and white indies and holographic covers, and everything else. Comics seems to have mutated and morphed a lot the last few decades.

So with the new year upon us, and with our career ambitions at least occasionally touching on comics (even if we won't admit them), I wanted to take a look at just where comics as an industry and medium are for career speculation.

(I should note my background is not in comics, but in technology, ranging from banking to video games. My observations come from my own research, and I hope my approach provides some useful insights.)

Comics properties are more and more in people's minds. From well-received video games (Arkham Asylum), to successful films, to legions of animated series, comic characters seem to be in a kind of heyday. This translates to better public awareness - and of course, more interest.

What's not necessarily in a heyday is the original medium (though more on that later). Comics characters and business are multimedia businesses, licensed property businesses, and frankly far beyond the classic panels-and-prose of the medium that launched all of these characters. The heyday is a heyday of the stories and characters.

"Comics" is more multimedia than ever. In an age of increasing technology for consuming media, of cross-licensing, and global opportunities, this will only increase. The characters and plots we know are leaping off of pages and into other media.

Takeaways: There are more ways to work "with" comics properties, and those are accepted and profitable methods. It's just not "comics proper"

eComics are still evolving, but what I've seen so far is very promising at least on a technical level. As for a successful business model for eComic publishers and comics companies themselves - I'm still not sure. Still with the technical foundations in place, there is hope of success - the problem is everything but the technology involved.

The amount of headaches and unsurety in eComics is almost disheartening. What is the best method for distributing - company-specific or a central publisher? What are the right prices? What are the best promotions? It doesn't seem to have stopped companies and individuals from pursing the medium and the technology, but the best business models . . . not so sure.

Where will it go? Well I think eComics will succeed, but I'm not sure how success will look ...

Takeaways: Authors and artists need to be more aware of eComics and their reach (and perhaps consider how they deliver their work). There will be more technical people involved in comics delivery. People involved in pricing research, legal issues, and demographics will have new challenges. 

We live in a time where people talk about the global economy, but not enough of the global cultural that's slowly evolving. We're in a time where people in America discuss Bollywood films and Doctor Who, Canadians discuss Japanese anime, and video game companies engage in amazing localization efforts. The global economy is part of the larger global culture.

Comics are no different - they're going global. From the J Manga Portal efforts, to Disney comics in Europe, comics are leaping cultures and countries. Comics are as globalized as anything else - in all their forms and all their manifestation.

Want to be in comics? Welcome to the international arena. Welcome to finding your biggest demographic competitor is in Europe, you've got to localize your comic in French to reach europe and parts of Canada, and your eComics software is being developed in Korea.

This doesn't surprise me - comics are a near-universal language and an instinctive way to tell stories.

Takeaways: Your attention has to be global when it comes to your potential comics career. Whether it's who you work for or compete with, you have to think global. The world is going to only get smaller. Language skills may be more and more demand in the broader comics industry.

How fast could someone get back issues of a comic out and available to customers? Between good archiving, Print On Demand, and eComics the answer is probably "pretty damn fast."

With today's technology, with increasing interest in comic properties, and a larger global market, the sheer out-of-print backlog companies and property owners have available is stunning. It can be put out fast and effectively with today's technology, and pending potential legal issues and reimbursement, there's nothing stopping companies from churning out long-unseen works fast. The technology to get it out is there, so why not?

Backlogs could soon be competing with new works - or complimenting them.

Then there's the potential revivals of properties that haven't been published in some times. Merely look at the Crossgen revival at Marvel (and here's a few other properties that may be available to them.).

What effect would that have? I state firmly that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. But there's a lot of content in vaults and files and folders that could suddenly become a new way to profit - or competition for new works. Revived properties could steal your marketshare - or let you find a new way to channel your career.

Takeaways: Monitor the situation in backlog reuse in the broader comics industry. Also look for opportunities to become part of this.

People may say social media has changed everything. I'd say it's actually changed very little. Social Media are tools that let humans use the social skills and inclinations they've always had. What social media has changed is how fast that happens and how connected it is. We're in a high-speed social situation all the time.

Social Media means new marketing opportunities and new ways for people to discuss what's beens created up. It's a way to cultivate readers and advisors, and a way for your competitors to outdo you. You can meet new people, and completely make a fool of yourself with a few posts.

Social Media is changing everything business-wise, but in comics it's even more important. Comics culture is its own culture, even as it expands and becomes more and more prominent in public awareness. Social Media plays a role in that, enhancing the cultural connections that were already there.

Takeaways: Being aware of social media is important. Comics, with a firm culture of its own, makes it even more important.

So there you have it, a short, and doubtlessly incomplete roundup of how comics as an industry has changed and what major trends are. If you're working in comics, one way or another, it's something to keep in mind.

What do you see?

Community Discussion