Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.

The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to panel@silverbulletcomicbooks.com and we’ll add them to the list…

This week’s question comes from David Gallaher and i as follows:-

“What would be the best thing to happen to the comics industry in the medium to long term, what can you do personally to help bring this about, what can readers do to help bring this about, and what do you think is most likely to actually happen?”

Vince Moore:

The best thing to happen of course is growing the number of readers. Manga is doing this, but only for manga so far; the rest of the American comics scenes needs to grow new readers as well.

What I can do personally is to do my best work on my projects (not something I’ll admit to always doing now; life is about continual improvement after all) and to promote comics to as many others as I can. Building audiences slowly in small ways is probably better than going for big splashes, in my opinion. Current comics readers can do the same thing: promote the books they love to people they know. Love science fiction? Give them Transmetropolitan. Into Lord of the Rings? Shove some Sojourn at them. Don’t just be a passive fan, be an active one.

I think we’ll go through a period where the major American companies will reinforce recognition of their brands/characters, known quantities to the marketplace. Manga will continue to grow and then slide off gradually, as most things treat like fads do. If manga doesn’t burn the bookstores with its downturn, then comics will slowly gain a wider reach outside of comics shops.

Vince Moore is the writer of Platinum Publishing’s upcoming book, Kid Victory & The Funky Hammer.

Alan Grant:

Is this a subtle attempt to winkle out the secrets of the new project I’m working on?

Without giving anything away, and without being immodest (it’s not even my idea):

My new project will be the best thing to happen to comics in the medium to long term. I am personally helping to bring it about as Creative/Editorial Director. Readers can help by enjoying it so much they want to buy more. And though I’m a pessimist by nature, because of the nature of the people involved, I really think it’s going to happen.

Talk about vague, eh?

Alan Grant is maybe most famous for his Batman and Judge Dredd work, and is currently appearing with Judge Anderson and “Half-Life” in the JD Megazine.

Fiona Avery:

The Comics Industry: At the end of the day, readers come to comics in order to care about the characters. This is no different than any other form of fiction and it’s what all stories have in common, whether told in prose, static pictures, or moving pictures. Form follows function. In order to make the readers care about the material, the story and characters must always come first, before merchandising requests, character designs, movie option rights, etc etc. Too many times the cart comes before the horse. Merchandising wants to sell action figures before the story or the character design has even commenced. Executives ponder the option proposals for motion pictures before the character has taken her first breath on the page. We forget that we are here to tell stories, good stories, and at the heart of those stories are the main characters. It is the hardest thing to write from a place of honesty. But it is honesty that creates the best stories and the best loved characters of all time; honesty transcends cliche and stereotype. Honesty is our friend. And yeah, honesty’s a bitch to get on the page. That’s the hard part of our job that makes it worthwhile in the end. But honesty keeps fiction alive and fresh.

Readers: Just read and come back for more when you find what you enjoy. You can tell your friends if they’re the sort who’d be interested. But that’s all. We’re doing this for you; you shouldn’t have to do anything for us.

Fiona Avery plays in the Marvel Universe, with Wildstorm at DC, and is the creator of No Honor at Top Cow.

Stephen Holland:

A vital question if ever I heard one, and, for me, the most easily answered so far: the best things that could happen to the comics industry would be for a fresh new breed of retailer to open their doors.

The creators are already at full throttle – and have been for years – producing works of incredible power and beauty in almost every genre imaginable to suit every possible taste, from fiction, crime and adult fantasy to humour, autobiography and what I can only describe as “weird”. There are, I believe, even a few of those so-called “superhero” comics available, if that lights your candle.

The publishers are already producing these en masse, and keeping the best in print as trade paperback collections, so that the Real Mainstream can pick them up whenever they like.

The distributors (after a lot of badgering, let me tell you) are finally keeping these as permanently in stock as they can, so that retailers can themselves maintain a full line.

Everyone is already doing exactly what is required… apart from the retailers. They who should be the bridge between the customer and comic, but have instead become the wall. The majority stock only superheroes, which appeal to but a minuscule proportion of the overall population, and their stores are run like pig sties in the year old MacDonald had a heart attack and died.

It’s not as if it’s a difficult job, making money from other people’s hard work and creativity.

If Craig will allow me this one indulgence to prevent me from repeating myself, I offered a much more expansive answer to this self-same question in my first column for Comics International, which itself was a reprint of the guest editorial commissioned by Antony Johnston at http://www.ninthart.com which I believe is immediately accessible by typing in http://www.ninthart.com/display.php?article=571 (sorry if I’m wrong).

As to what will happen, I don’t know, but I like to think I’m playing my part.

Stephen Holland runs Page 45 – a comic shop in Nottingham – with Mark Simpson and Tom Rosin. He can also be found, monthly, in Comics International.

Rob Williams:

The best thing would be more sales and more readers – a bit obvious but true. Also, bringing in younger readers would be something to aspire to. Every time I’m in a shop or a con it’s slightly unnerving to see that many 30-year-olds and above in one place. The world of comics has become like Logan’s Run but in reverse – it’s a society almost entirely made up of people over the age of 30.

As for what I could do to help this? For a start, write better. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman have pushed their work into mainstream bookshops and broken the insular boundaries of the direct market, the rest of us should be desperately trying to do the same. And, as for bringing in younger readers, we could be more aware of our intended market and more adaptable. ‘Intended for Mature readers’ shouldn’t be an aspiration for every project. Maybe more of us should occasionally be thinking “you know… for kids.”

What will actually happen? Who knows. Death, taxes and Tony Blair’s insincerity are the only certainties.

Rob Williams is the writer of Cla$$war for Com.X, Family for the Judge Dredd Megazine, a bunch of stuff for 2000AD, including the upcoming Low Life, and Star Wars Tales for Dark Horse.

Jason Brice:

The absolute best thing that could happen to the comics industry is for it to return to its roots as a mass medium.

Readers can help to bring this about by talking about comics all the time… at the water cooler at work, at the bowling alley, while playing BINGO with grandma, while doing the dinner dishes. Just talk about comics all the time as if it were sports or last night’s episode of CSI: MIAMI.

We should encourage publishers to produce large print-runs of affordably priced comics to distribute in supermarkets, cafes, bookshops, car wash joints, and dentist waiting rooms. Literally print millions of ’em. Spend truckloads of money getting the smartest brains in advertising and marketing to push comics as a high value/low cost cultural product.

What’s most likely to happen is that we’ll remain shy and fearful of our peers finding out about our hobby or occupation, and that the comics market will remain small and oriented towards a small niche of readers.

Jason Brice, aka The Big Kahuna, is the publisher and editor-in-chief at SBC


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