As I'm prepping to leave for the comics heaven on earth that is the Angoulême Festival, a lot of interesting industry tidbits have been popping up.
This piece on Comicsbeat, Are We Seeing the Twilight of the Big Two?, is a real eye opener. According to the article, sales of traditional floppies from the Big Two are flat-lining, despite their much hyped relaunches and, in the case of Marvel, the big boost from its Star Wars line, which accounts for nearly half of the Top 10 bestselling floppies these days.
However, the sales of graphic novels is up a staggering 38%!! I've brought up this topic before and have been shouted down by certain parties, but the numbers are backing up what I've suspected was happening in the biz. The traditional superdude floppy is in decline. It's audience of middle-aged men is fiercely loyal, God bless them, but it's not a sustainable readership. The explosion of comics readers and buyers, particularly women and girls who are coming into comics in unprecedented numbers, is taking place almost entirely outside Marvel and DC.
The numbers here mirror what I've been observing on the ground at fests and cons for the past few years. The comix fests I attend are packed with people I never see in mainstream comic shops. The floppy is fading
Frankly, I don't think the parent companies of the Big Two really care about their comic book lines anymore. That's pretty obvious. I just watched an hour-long commercial on the CW, with Kevin Smith (Man!... has that dude lost a lot of weight!) for its new line of superdude shows and films and they've got a shitload of both rolling out. DC was just forcibly moved from NYC to LA and it's obvious the movie execs are now calling the shots. Oh, and DC just announced it was scrapping its much-hyped "New 52" line of comics for yet another reboot, one that will bring the comics in line with movies and tv (not the other way around, which is a major shift). Marvel is obviously doing the same. I just read a write-up of a big strategy retreat at a posh resort where all future storylines were hammered out, all to lead into the film releases.
Comic books are small potatoes to these gargantuan entertainment conglomerates. A mediocre superdude film makes more money in a weekend than an entire line of comic books makes in a year. Up until 2016, the Big Two were flooding the stands just to keep other publishers, particularly Image, which IS doing new and interesting books. That's why Marvel and DC keep publishing books that barely sell 10,000 copies, and put out dozens of variant covers for their more popular offerings. Flood the stands and drown the competition. Their corporate ally Diamond happily plays along, monopoly that it is.
It seems like even using comic books as a development laboratory is on the wane. All the A-list writers are being pulled into tv and movies. Warner and Disney have plenty of old characters left to pull from, and I'm sure those execs have noticed that nothing new has come out of their comic book houses in 25 years, thanks to their work-for-hire policies. I think this will backfire of Disney and Warner, neither of which is exactly known for innovation or creativity. All the superdude characters and concepts they're currently milking were dreamed up by comics folk working on their own with the freedom to experiment. That won't fly at corporate HQ. What does fly is predictable, derivative crapola. My wife and daughter are fans of a couple of the DC shows, Flash and Arrow. I'm struck by how these shows target a female audience. Both are total soapers, with lots of relationship stuff and prettyboy actors. In other words, the audience is directly opposite of what the comic books shoot for! Obviously, since they're hit shows, the tv execs picked the right target.
For comic books, as an industry and as an artform, the diminishment of the Big Two as publishing entities is a good thing, but there will be victims. The comic book shop for one. They're barely hanging on as it is. And they're stuck with the dictates from Diamond that virtually insures they'll never attract that growing female audience. Their stores are full of macho superdude fare. New readers aren't into that continuity shit either, which is almost fetish stuff now. They want a great book that they can pick up and read right now, without studying a 50-year-long back story. Another factor is the Big Two have been long been abusing their loyal readers with countless relaunches and shitty cross-title events that encompass the entire line but peter out after a couple months, even the most loyal superdude are starting to cut back on purchases. We've all been brainwashed to accept mediocre product for the sake of nostalgia