Robot 6

Comics A.M. | ‘Digital doesn’t cannibalize the industry’; geezer noir

Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture

Digital comics | Rob Salkowitz, who’s making the rounds to promote his new book Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture, has the best summary yet of the digital comics phenomenon: “Digital doesn’t cannibalize the industry; it grows it by encouraging fandom.” (Robot 6 contributor J. Caleb Mozzocco reviewed Salkowitz’s book this week.) [Flip the Media]

Creators | Christos Gage may have created a new genre, “geezer noir,” with his graphic novel Sunset, the tale of an old soldier and former hitman who sets off after his old boss when he fears his ex-wife and child are in peril: “‘He’s got this craggy face and you see his life written in the lines of his face, and black and white makes that so much more powerful,’ the writer says. He credits artist Jorge Lucas for giving him all the facial expressions that stand in for a lot of talking: ‘He was never going to have interior monologues. I don’t think he overanalyzes what he does all that much.’” [USA Today]

My Friend Dahmer

Creators | Cartoonist John “Derf” Backderf talks about punk rock, his alternative-newspaper strip The City, and the long gestation of My Friend Dahmer: “I started it … in 1991, just a few weeks after Dahmer’s crimes came to light. I began jotting down notes and drawings in a sketchbook. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, since I wasn’t even considering long-form comics at that point, but I recognized right away what an amazing story I had.” [Reglar Wiglar]

Creators | Ed Piskor discusses the genesis of Wizzywig — listening to podcasts about phone hackers while drawing Harvey Pekar’s Macedonia — and the real phone phreaks behind his story. [IFC]

Creators | Morrie Turner, creator of the syndicated comic strip Wee Pals, will be a guest this weekend at Stockton-Con this weekend in Stockton, California. Turner talks about his service in World War II, and how getting caught sleeping on the job ultimately led to his career as a cartoonist; almost 70 years later, he is still turning out the strips: “I love it. That’s what I live for. At 88, I think if I lost that, I wouldn’t want to get up in the morning. Sometimes I have ideas I get when I’m in bed, and I can’t wait to get up and see how it looks.” [Recordnet.com]

Comics | Former Robot 6 contributor Sean T. Collins names 15 essential Batman graphic novels and collections, from Gotham Central: Jokers and Madmen and Arkham Asylum to The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight Returns. [Rolling Stone]

Review | Just as only Nixon could go to China, Glen Weldon says, only Jaime Hernandez could create God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls, which “gleefully grafts a gee-whiz superhuman sensibility onto a set of nuanced, all-too-human relationships.” [NPR]

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14 Comments

DeleteMyComment

August 3, 2012 at 8:44 am

“Digital doesn’t cannibalize print”

I keep hearing this, but I’ve yet to hear a logical explanation/reason why not

Are there supposed to be these hidden comic book fans out there that suddenly know to navigate to Comixology and know that they sell comic books

I’ve also heard the “people who don’t have a comic shop nearby”. As if there is no such thing as eBay, Mile High Comics, Westfield Comics.com, so on

If anything, big book stores like Barnes and Noble are probably the biggest gateway for people discovering and being exposed to comics who otherwise wouldn’t – but those have not translated to an influx of new readers into our hobby

I read that Ti-Girls piece, and while it was a nice angle on the book, I am really tired of that kind of news story about comic books. I think I live in a rarified community where fans read indie books and super hero stuff both, and no one bats an eyelash.

News that sets up a divide between the many parts of the art/craft of the comic medium (lets be clear, there’s way more than 2 genres alright) really just seem to be working very hard to convince the non-reading public that there is something worthwhile in it, and it’s ‘this here B&W artsy stuff’. Weldon pays lip service to fact that there’s good work across the spectrum, but inadvertently pieces like his always feel like they’re stepping on capes ‘n tights to make comics look more personable and suave.
Maybe it’s just my bias as a reader who has actually moved [mostly] away from auto-bio and indie books as I got older?

@Delete: “Are there supposed to be these hidden comic book fans out there that suddenly know to navigate to Comixology and know that they sell comic books”

More like people who own iPads and can be enticed to try out a comic or two.

There’s also the nontrivial point that it’s a distribution platform for people who don’t have a print publisher/distributor.

@JRC: “I read that Ti-Girls piece, and while it was a nice angle on the book, I am really tired of that kind of news story about comic books. I think I live in a rarified community where fans read indie books and super hero stuff both, and no one bats an eyelash.”

I’d say there are a whole lot of people who are happy to read both superhero and non-superhero books, but there’s still a pretty big divide. On the one hand you’ve got people who dismiss any superhero book short of Watchmen as juvenile fantasy; on the other you’ve got the ComicsAlliance comments section howling in rage if someone so much as mentions Chris Roberson’s name because he dared to criticize DC.

If Ti-Girls convinces some L&R readers to give superheroes another look, or gets superhero readers to pick up more L&R books, that’s awesome. I don’t expect I’ll be buying it since I’ve already got the original version of the story, but I loved it when I read it then and thought it was a WAY damn better-realized Big Superhero Event than anything DC or Marvel was doing.

DeleteMyComment

August 3, 2012 at 10:24 am

@Thad – I hear you. But I guess my point is, people who seek out digital comics on Comixology are probably already comic readers, and not some nebulous group of comic-wanters who have otherwise been unable to find comics. So, in that respect, digital is indeed pulling print customers, ie cannibalizing

Brigid Alverson

August 3, 2012 at 10:38 am

@DeleteMyComment From the anecdotal evidence I have heard, it’s drawing in lapsed readers. With lower prices than print (for older comics, anyway) and a big back catalog, that makes a lot of sense.

I would guess that the newcomers would be reading graphic novels on iBooks or Amazon, because that’s where they find them.

And for manga readers, the manga apps are making it easier to get the older volumes they can’t find at B&N.

Just because digital readers are new or lapsed readers, it doesn’t mean they’re not getting there with the help of current readers.

In addition to that, people who don’t go into a comic store every Wednesday still know who Marvel and DC are, and can see when their branded apps are being featured in the app store, and find them just as easily as they find Angry Birds. One app leads to another and it’s not long before they find the main comiXology app. comiXology is (or at least was for many many weeks in a row, if not still) the top grossing app every Wednesday. That means it’s all over the Top Apps lists all the time. That’s how people find apps without seeking them out, as you say.

No matter how people are finding it, the simple fact is print sales are up while digital sales are booming. It couldn’t be a clearer case of digital not cannibalizing print sales.

@Delete, you should check out the forums on he-man.org… With the Masters of the Universe comics that are currently coming out, there are a large number of people on there who have bought neither print nor digital comics in years if ever that are now bought one or the other or both. Many of them wouldn’t have sought out the print version but the convenience of digital got them hooked, and a fair number mentioned also buying other titles because of the experience.

As for myself, I am a long-time print reader, but I buy a number of things in digital as well. I buy a lot of back issues from pre-2000, and just a few things current, but things that I wouldn’t have picked up in print because I can try an issue in digital and if I like it, I don’t have to worry about whether my LCS ordered the next issue or not. If it’s something I am on the fence about, I don’t want to a) commit to it ahead of time so he orders the first 3 issues, b) drop it after 1 issue to leave him stuck with issue 2 and 3, and/or c) buy 2 issues of something of which I didn’t like the first issue. Keep in mind, I typically only use this approach for items I know he’s going to either order in very limited quantity or not order at all unless I speak up about it, and only for unproven creative teams… If I know at least half the creative team is a winner, I’ll still go with print over digital, typically.

Oh, and just to REALLY throw your theory for a loop… I actually sometimes do both print AND digital on a book: something I can read and then pass on to garner interest, and something I can carry with me and/or share with my family on their electronic devices and avoid the “who’s going to read it first” discussion.

DeleteMyComment

August 3, 2012 at 11:54 am

@Micheal – good to know (about He-Man). Thanks for the info

Speaking for myself, and from most of the comments I have seen in forums – people seem to be switching from print to digital (and often bragging about it). But as you and others have pointed out – the availability of the Marvel and DC apps might be bringing in lapsed readers at least

Perhaps it is a new avenue for garnering new interest in comics. But I don’t think it is the modern equivalent of spinner racks as some have alleged

Digital doesn’t “cannibalize” the industry because of price fixing to protect the direct market. If they sold new issues for 99 cents and bundled entire series into something like 100 books for $10 then print would be done in the space of a few months to a year except as maybe an even more expensive luxury item.

And they could easily do those cheap prices since printing and distribution costs would no longer factor into the book’s price.

Red Comet paraphrased what Rob Salkowitz said in his Comic-Con book — which is an excellent read, by the way: digital will not be allowed to reach its full potential of bringing cover prices down and establishing a new pricing paradigm by eliminating costs associated with physical printing without major effect to the direct market in the process.

Although it’s less price-fixing than simply keeping the status quo. The whole controversy with digital day-and-date was solved last year by every major publisher pulling the trigger at the same time. Up until then it was a thinly-veiled threat by retailers that if publishers did digital same day releases, they’d be punished by retailers refusing to carry copies. It came and went and we didn’t lose half the retail outlets . . . but that might be just because digital comics cost the same as their physical counterparts and that is less a perceived value by readers.

Many readers don’t care for bothering to make a trip every week to a LCS to buy individual issues, they don’t mind waiting it out and ordering the trade from Amazon (often saving a little cash from purchasing the ‘singles’). If day and date digital went cheaper across the board, you’d immediately see the impact in the shops. As it stands much of the value in digital comics comes from either being able to offer free issues as a promotional enticement to hook new readers, or it’s back issues at a very steep discount, which doesn’t impact LCS all that much, since few of them would be able to hold a meaningful sale on particular issues because they wouldn’t have the backstock on hand.

So we’re stuck in a holding pattern: we could adopt lower price points with digital to drive sales and the convience of everything always being in stock 24/7, or we keep clinging to the mom-and-pop physical retail model and creators / publishers have to hope either the fans will actually go out and pre-order the book or retailers will be able to forecast what will sell and actually order enough copies to meet demand — and hope that customer that gets turned away by an empty slot in the rack where the book they wanted to buy should be will actually come back weeks later when a re-order or second printing comes in.

Trades do well but some people aren’t going to want to buy several issues’ worth of a comic they’re not all that sure they’ll want to sit through more than one issue of in the first place, and you’re asking a consumer to remember to buy something months later after the initial buzz — plenty of time to change their mind, just plain forget they wanted it in the first place, or spend that disposable income somewhere else. Not belittling physical retail, that’s a tough gig, but there’s no way around the dilemmas beyond a crystal ball to predict exactly how many fans will come through the door looking for a certain comic. Digital fixes or at least mitigates a lot of those problems.

Rob’s got some excellent, well thought out ideas in his book of where things may be headed in the next few years, and it’s not the usual doom-and-gloom apocalyptic scenarios, either, no “either this happens or it’s scorched earth and rioting in the streets.” There is a strong arguement to make that digital would cannibalize print, but there’s also an arguement to make that digital can reach a fan base that isn’t stepping foot in a LCS, either. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, not every publisher has the material that will appeal to a more casual fan, either — this isn’t the hypothetical fan who’s going to start buying six different X-Men comics a month to keep up, even if they are just 99 cents. Marvel and DC as a whole really aren’t going to benefit from digital as much as the independents and smaller press will — especially if they’re being underrepresented on the physical shelves.

” the best summary yet of the digital comics phenomenon: “Digital doesn’t cannibalize the industry; it grows it by encouraging fandom.” ”

More like “the most simplistic summary yet”.

Or “the most pie-in-the-sky summary yet”.

Or “the most ignorantly optimistic summary yet”.

Digitalizing things can only cheapen the product in the eyes of consumers. This is just a fact. Sure there will be some new readers via legal digital. But it’s nothing compared to the hordes of new readers who, generation after generation, would just naturally want to read comics they saw in stores.

We don’t have that anymore. We also don’t have generations who want to read much, period. They’ll only read something like Harry Potter or Twilight if there’s a massive multi-billion-dollar propaganda trend behind it. Natural reading is almost finished. Why? Because people are spellbound by digital media that they can consume passively (i.e., movies, video games). Reading takes an active effort on people’s parts now. Trying to sell kids digital comics is like trying to sell them mp3s of opera music: “Look, it’s on mp3s! You guys like mp3s, right? So you should like opera now… because we got it on mp3s for ya!”

DeleteMyComment

August 4, 2012 at 8:33 am

@Ashby

I agree completely about the hypnotic nature of digital media. I even saw a learned author who says he now has a hard time paying attention to something if it takes more than 15 seconds or so to read it – because our culture has become used to getting things in quick bursts and it is training our brains to work that way

The singer Joe Walsh, when promoting his new album Analog Man, also made an interesting point. He said we now spend so much of our lives sitting in our chairs, our brains memorized by some digital screen or another, while our bodies sit there and wait for our brains to comic back

@Delete — I’m one of those incremental digital readers for sure (and a “lapsed” reader, I guess you can say). Before I got an iPad I had pretty much quit single issues entirely except for a few Image titles and the occasional superhero one-shot. The cost/benefit ratio was too out of scale. I still went to the comic shop for trades and mini comics.

Now, let’s see, I’ve got 45 monthly titles on my iPad that I regularly keep up with for now (some may drop after a few issues, like all comics). This includes series I never knew about before like Atomic Robo (which is weird that no LCS ever told me about it since I sample EVERY all ages series) and digital only things like Power Play that are just awesome. I just checked again and there are only three titles on there that I used to buy in print and two of those I actually buy twice. So, it looks like digital, in my case, brought in incremental sales for 44 series and Butcher Baker is the one that got cannibalized. Now that I write that down, I think I’ll go back to print on that one, too.

@Ashby — B&N sales were up 5% last fiscal, 400,000 people are reading the New Yorker, and kids love comics, so don’t worry. Reading is doing just fine!

To stick with your opera analogy, people like what they like, and introducing new forms of media won’t suddenly turn avid readers into video game obsessives just because it’s something that lights up.

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