Writer Wars Round 3: The Future of Comics… by Shane T. Griffin
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Most of you have already seen Avengers Endgame by now so you know there is quite a lot of time travel and talk of alternate timelines in the film. It has always been the nature of humanity to ponder about the what-if’s and the what-could-be’s. That is why a lot of our favorite films and storylines extrapolate on these very ideas. I mean look at what a pop cultural phenomenon Back to the Future is, even if time travel doesn’t work that way. As comic book fanatics, you have probably even spent a considerable amount of time contemplating or debating the future of comics yourself.
Don’t worry I’m not here to talk to you about any so called comic book bubble bursting or the recurrence of an event such as The Great Comic Crash of the 90s. I honestly don’t foresee that happening. I am here to talk to you about our real future. The future that Whitney and every middle school chorus since has sung about: our children. That’s right; as cliche as that sounds, the children are our future. Just hang with me, put a pin in that thought, and we’ll come back to that in a minute.
Now, I must admit I am not a comic book Nostradamus and I don’t have a crystal ball or any magical powers, however; like most collectors, investors, and/or speculators I keep an ear to the ground and keep an eye on trends. The biggest trends in comics today are the decline of print media (especially graphic novels), the rise of digital platforms, the growth of Kickstarter, and the explosion of titles geared toward kids and young adults.
According to data from Chomichron, comic book and graphic novel sales fell 6.5% in 2017. That is a $70 million decrease from sales in 2016. In addition to that, is the fact that $90 million of the actual sales that year were on digital platforms. I’m not just talking about Comixology or other such sites where you can read online, publishers have now taken it upon themselves to launch their own streaming services. I’m sure you’re all familiar with DC Universe and the soon to be Disney+, among others.
The days of consuming comic content issue by issue is slowly dwindling away and now binging entire runs of comics seems to be the new trend. A new publisher,TKO Studios has even based their business plan on that very idea. I’ve recently heard this phenomenon called the “Netflix Effect”. While I am sure Netflix loves the free publicity, historically they can’t lay claim to it. Just as humanity yearns for captivating and engaging stories, since the dawn of time humans have yearned to get what we want faster. We want what we want and we want it right now. We make things happen instead of complaining all the time. Although, some among us still just want to talk to the manager.
With that said, I’m surely not the only one who can see the comparison between comic collectors and hunter-gatherers. I mean we do call it comic hunting and have trophy rooms to display our “slabs” and Instagram Stories to show off our latest catch. Historically speaking, the time of hunter-gatherers soon gave way to agrarian societies and with the advent of technology, we went full steam ahead into an industrialized world.
Just as the time of newsstand outlets soon gave way to comic shops, with the advent of technology, it seems we are destined to go fully digital in the not so distant future. If it sounds far fetched; just remember the future usually does. I am still waiting on the flying cars; George Jetson. However; it really wasn’t that long ago that you could walk to the corner store and buy a comic off of a spinner rack. Many reading this were around when the first comic shops opened and have now lived long enough to see the beginning of the digital revolution. All in one lifetime.
At the same time as declining sales by the big publishers and the rise of digital platforms another venue of publishing has quickly gained traction. According to Forbes, Kickstarter raised $15.3 million in 2018, up from around $12 million each of the last three years. There were 1,456 comic based projects that got funded through Kickstarter in 2018. That number surpassed their previous record mark of 1,281 in 2017. People are thirsty for new stories and they’re not afraid to look elsewhere for their wants to be fulfilled. Don’t worry I won’t compare comic collectors to the state of marriage in the world. I’m not that insane or that keen to use more similes. People are hungering for stories that represent their worldview and interests. Don’t worry I won’t go in to equality and representation in comics here either, but that does matter.
What I will delve into is the biggest trend so far in all of literature, the explosion of titles geared towards kids and young adults. According to Pew Research Center the Millennial generation, those born from 1981 to 1996, will soon surpass the Baby Boomers as America’s largest demographic. According to Nielsen there has been a 40% increase in the juvenile book market over the previous decade which is the opposite of what is happening in the adult market. More young adult books are being consumed by adults then by teenagers. Teenagers and kids are also more likely to consume content aimed at young adults.
I’m not going to debate the Millennial generation here to which, in full disclosure, I belong. I won’t debate if YA content is popular because of nostalgia, because of the themes that are contained within YA, the fact that The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50% of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level, or any other factor here. The simple facts are that most Millennials consume digitally, they binge content, they want YA content, and they no longer have to wait for the big publishers to get it.
Now back to that pin, remember, the children are our future. The data also seems to show that the children and their young adult content is the future of media too. It is up to the current reigning generation and Millennials to channel and cultivate that content into a love for comics in print form. The future of comics as we know it depends on it. I can’t imagine a world where I can’t physically hold a comic in my hand, flip through the white, cream, or yellow pages, and smell that comic book smell. I can’t fathom it even though I can still imagine flying cars or actual boards that hover without wheels attached. I’d seriously buy candles of that old comic fragrance if any entrepreneurial types are reading this with Shark Tank dreams
Like many of you, I love comic books because an adult or older sibling did. My love of comics comes from my father. He read them to my twin brother and me, he put us to sleep doing the different character voices, he taught us to read with them, he taught us to love them. As we got older we loved the cartoons, the action figures, the collectibles, the TV shows, and then there were the movies.
Oh man, the movies! I still remember my first movie was Robocop. I loved it even though I was too young to watch a man get his jewels blown off at the time no matter how bad the guy deserved it. My next film was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and that was more my speed but the comics always came first. In the cinema of today where superheroes rule the roost you would think that would translate to comic sales but that simply isn’t the case. As box office sales increase, even in a digital streaming age, comic sales are decreasing. As I type this, Avengers Endgame has surpassed Titanic and is on the way to unseat Avatar atop the throne. However; soon the snap that’s heard and talked about around the comic world may just be the sound of a padlock on the last comic shop door as it closes one last time.
In conclusion, take a young adult to the movies or down the toy aisle but also take them to your local comic shop. Events like this past weekend on Free Comic Book Day or on a trip to your local con to see the movie stars is a great place to start that love of comic books. Show them what we first loved about comics and they’ll love it too. They’ll love comics in print even when the next big thing arrives just as we did. Don’t gate keep, hold the door open. That way even if the future is right around the corner, there will also be a comic shop right around the corner too. The children may be our future….but the future of comics is now.
– Shane T. Griffin