By Beau Smith

In the present market of comic books, the collected trade paperbacks are not only (finally) being produced in record numbers, but they are also causing an increased number of comic book readers, both old and new, to wait for the trade paperbacks and skip the monthly comics.

In the 1980s and ’90s trade paperbacks weren’t a “threat” to the sales of monthly comics. This was due to the fact that trade paperbacks were not being published in the great numbers they are today and because the monthly comic books carried cover prices far below those of today. Even comparing past and current economic landscapes of today and twenty years ago, monthly comics were still an inexpensive deal. Today with current monthly cover prices ranging between $3.00 and $4.00, the real deal is shifting to that of the trade paperback. An average trade paperback will run $15.00 to $20.00. That will get the consumer a collected 4 issue to 6 issue mini-series or monthly story arc or in some cases more.

In the case of the Essential Marvel library or the DC Comics Showcase Presents, you will get close to 500 pages of classic comic book stores for a cover price of roughly $17.00. That is and always will a deal in anyone’s book.

Direct market retailers have felt the loss of monthly sales in part because of the popularity of trade paperbacks. A mini-series or current story arc in a monthly comic will come out and readers, who stay informed daily on upcoming comic books via the internet news, will simply avoid buying the monthly knowing that the publisher will generally collect the series/arc within a few months of the monthly comics release. With budgets being watched closely by consumers, this is a smart thing to do from a consumer standpoint, or is it?

By doing this, will we continue to see the erosion of monthly sales other than the Top 20 comics? Will this in turn cause publishers to do less and less mini-series as well as monthly series? Or will they increase it knowing they’ll get small monthly sales and make up for it when the collect it? The possibilities are all there. We’re in the balance of that situation right now. The increase of mass market trade paperback orders in recent years has also inflated the standing of trade paperbacks. The success of Manga books in mass market stores blurred the mass market buyers thoughts that if consumers like this Manga stuff then they will also buy all of these American super hero books. What they didn’t take the time to research is the fact that for the most part, the bulk of Manga readers don’t buy super hero books and vice-versa. Yes, there is some crossover buying by consumers, but nowhere close enough to what mass market store buyers thought. This is a sales fact.

As direct market comic readers get older and they are, there is less and less being done to cultivate newer and younger monthly readers and non- traditional, new readers. The window that publishers are looking through is short term. It’s small and confining. The frustrating part is that they know it. The reason they aren’t being aggressive enough to change it is because, I’m sorry to say, they are sometimes lazy. They don’t want to work hard enough to rebuild the machine. They, like some direct market retailers, not all, just keep wishing things will return to the way they used to be. The publishers hope the day will return when they can just publish more X-Men and Batman books with impunity. The retailers wait for the day when they can take all these X-Men and Batman books and place them on the shelves and they will once again sell themselves so that they can return behind the counter to make sure those calories don’t burn off. Sad but true.

People have to remember that the monthly comics are the fuel for the entire engine. When well thought out and drawn stories are produced without the publisher truly knowing or caring what the consumers really want, then the sales of the trade paperbacks suffer, the graphic novel sales suffer. We will all suffer. This isn’t Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling. This is someone with over twenty years experience of writing comics, marketing comics and selling comics talking. I’ve been “The Man Behind the Curtain” all this time and I know what is said behind closed doors. Some of these things would scare you, anger you and leave you shaking your head in despair. I’ve helped make the policies, the rules and paved the roads of comics. No one is 100% guilty, just as no one is 100% innocent. Everyone has left fingerprints on the scene of the crime. There are some that are trying to wipe theirs off the murder weapon and others that still want to prevent the death of monthly comics from becoming a reality. I’d like to think that I’m one of those folks trying to keep comics alive. I’m looking for redemption. (Call me Ben Linus) I hope that you are too.

It’s true that Marvel Comics Secret Invasion sold great in 2008. It’s true that DC Comics Watchmen trade paperback is still one of the best selling collections. But that’s not enough. That’s the top side of the headlines. The underside is that everything under the top ten comics have pathetic sales numbers in comparison to their potential, if a wider reading audience is sought. Right now, Marvel and DC Comics can afford in the short run to absorb these hits because of the current success of films and licensing merchandise, but again I stress, this is not a short race, it’s a marathon. Without long term, fortified monthly comic sales, the films and the licensing revenues will erode as well. We all know well that it only takes a couple of “supposed” movie franchises to tank for the properties and genres to become radioactive in Hollywood. That could happen at any time.

If you’re taking the time to read this column, then you at least have a passing interest in comic books and what they contribute to pop culture. That means there’s at least a spark in you that cares what happens. I suggest you write some letters, send some emails, post up some thoughts on the internet to publishers and let them know what you’d like to see. In these economically stressed times, producers of entertainment need to know what their budget minded consumers want and what they are willing to pay for. By letting them know, you’ll be making their job easier. Even more important, you’ll be making your job as a smart consumer easier.

The only person you owe anything to is yourself. Don’t you think it’s time you collected on that I.O.U.?

Busted Knuckles Manly Cover of the Week: Peter Cannon?Thunderbolt #59
Sept. 1967
Charlton Comics

As a kid I always loved finding rare non-Marvel and DC Comics in the supermarket, the drug store and sometimes the gas station. Charlton, Tower Comics and even Gold Key were kinda hard to find in my area, so when I did find them I always bought them. Granted, they weren’t always up to Marvel and DC standards, but sometimes they were just so weird and odd that I had to have them.

Peter Cannon?Thunderbolt was one of those comics. Thunderbolt never got the credit he deserved within the business, which is a real shame, he was always getting into fistfights and I knew that had to be good. In some ways Peter Cannon was like a grown up Jonny Quest complete with his own turban-wearing buddy named Tabu. In this particular issue there’s a funny scene where Tabu gets sea sick and pukes over the side of the ship, and they show it. Not bad for 1967.

The cover to this issue was an eye catcher for me back in the day and the issue was loaded with some pretty cool martial arts done in realistic fashion. That didn’t happen often in 1967 either. Try and pick this issue up. It’s got some fun inside jokes from within the comic book industry with then Editor Dick Giordano. It even has an ad for Marvel Super Hero posters in it.

Busted Knuckles Babe of the Week: Leonor Varela

All the way from Santiago, Chile to Hollywood comes this sultry beauty that has earned her way into the Busted Knuckles Babe Hall Of Fame?Leonor Varela.

Recently you may have seen her in an excellent role as a former flame of Christopher Chance on the Fox TV series Human Target. (Let’s hope we see more of her there.) She is also starring in the upcoming TV movie MonsterWolf. She is definitely a new “Beau Favorite.”

The Roundup

Before I sign off for this episode of Busted Knuckles, there are a couple of places I need to send you.

The first site is Home of The Uniques, one of the best “under the radar” comics out there, it was created by my buddies Comfort Love and Adam Withers. Both are extremely talented folks with the right mind set on where comic books need to be in the future of pop culture.

If you enjoy main-stream super hero comics or hipster Indy books then you will love The Uniques. It has fabulous sequential art, compelling stories, and characters that have something to say that’s usually witty. Please take the time to check them out. I don’t recommend just anything to you. This is a special book. Tell “em Beau sent you.

The other place I want to steer you to is Mark McKenna, well known DC and Marvel artist/inker, has created a fantastic children’s book/creation that you need to know about. If you have kids, are related to kids or were a kid once, then you need to have Banana Tail in your hands. This is some wonderful stuff that not only I recommend, but my niece, Ainsley knows by heart and comes with her strongest recommendation.

McKenna is a very talented writer and artist. He is able to capture the kind of characters and stories that kids of all ages enjoy. Mark does a lot of conventions and I hope you take the time to look him up at the next one you attend. Check his site out and become a fan of the man. You can also tell him that I sent you.

That’s about it, amigos. It’s late and I’ve gotta go dig into the latest book I’m reading called Spycraft by Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton. It’s got every real life spy gadget in the world in it. Amazing stuff.

Your amigo,

Beau Smith
The Flying Fist Ranch

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About The Author

Beau Smith

Beau Smith is a writer for Comics Bulletin