This morning Image Publisher Eric Stephenson gave a speech at ComicsPro, the annual comic retailer meeting, that should be required reading for anyone interested in strengthen the foundation of the industry.
The Beat has text of the entire speech, but I wanted to dig in and pull out some interesting bits.
Stephenson told the retailers they should see a growing graphic novel section at Barnes & Nobles and increasing sales on Amazon as an opportunity.
And it’s our job – yours, mine, all of ours – to figure out how to reach that growing audience and drive them to the Direct Market, because as bookstores continue to close and chains continue to disappear, the best place to get comics in the future will continue to be the best place to get comics now:
He encouraged the retailers to not see the industry as being about the “big two” or “big three” and instead to focus on the only thing that really matters: “good comics and bad comics.”
Are $4.99 and $7.99 comics going to help our industry in the long run?
No, but they sure help the bottom line at the end of the year.
Same with gimmick covers and insane incentives to qualify for variants that will only have a limited appeal for a limited amount of time.
Of course, Image publishes variant covers, but Stephenson said that’s only because retailers keep ordering them. He said variants and other gimmicks are detrimental to the long-term health of the industry.
Constantly re-launching, re-numbering, and re-booting series after series, staging contrived events designed to appeal to a demographic destined only to a slow march toward attrition, and pretending that endless waves of nostalgia for old movies, old toys, old cartoons, and old video games somehow equals ideas or innovation will not make us stronger.
One of the most important parts of his speech was pushing the retailers to look beyond superheroes and to accept that there are new demographics coming into comics. He notes that one of the most important demographics is women.
There is a vast and growing readership out there that is excited about discovering comic books, but as long as we continue to present comics to the world in the Biff Bang Pow! context of Marvel and DC, with shop windows full of pictures of Spider-Man and Superman, we will fail to reach it.
The biggest problem with comic books is that even now, even after all the amazing progress we’ve made as an industry over the last 20 years, the vast majority of people have no idea whatsoever about how much the comics medium has to offer.
TRANSFORMERS comics will never be the real thing.
GI JOE comics will never be the real thing.
STAR WARS comics will never be the real thing.
Those comics are for fans that love the real thing so much, they want more – but there’s the important thing to understand:
They don’t want more comics – they just want more of the thing they love.
I personally don’t agree with this assessment as it’s disingenuous to the writers and illustrators who invested ink and sleepless nights into expanding those Universes. Larry Hama’s GI Joe comics, not superheroes, were my gateway drug. There is a place for such content if you’re truly trying to build a strong foundation. I do understand the greater point he’s trying to make that the comic book industry should strive to be a new idea factory and not build it’s foundation solely on what Hollywood and toy companies churn out.
There’s much more to the speech than the quotes I pulled out. If your LCS wasn’t at ComicsPRO it might not hurt to print a copy out and leave it on their counter.