Comic Store in Your Future: The Comic Industry, Full of Roadblocks

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

After seven years in business, I still enjoy comics. I still sell comics. I see roadblocks that are unnecessary. Greed often times saps the comic market. What do I see as the roadblocks for the comic industry and what can be done to help more comics?

Too many comics currently. Less is more. It is something I have stated before. The comic market has more titles than it can support.

Image Comics is pumping out way too many titles. In my mind, their mentality is they will publish anything — who cares about standards?! Anything might be the next Saga or Walking Dead; we just have to approve every comic project to find the next hot thing.

Marvel has people excited here in store with Wolverine's return. Last year in Marvel's Legacy one-shot, Wolverine returned. The young Jean Grey discovered that the adamantium shell that he was encased in was broken and that Wolverine was gone. Logan even had brief appearances throughout the Marvel Universe. Not all of them made sense, such as Logan trying to visit Jane Foster, aka Thor, at the time of his visit. Young Jean Grey apparently did not tell anyone what she discovered.

On the other hand, various writers and editors either did not know or forgot about the one-shot even though it's less than a year old. Just over a month ago, the X-Men fought to protect the adamantium shell from Pierce and his gang of looters. The shell was not broken and the X-Men were surprised to find out that Wolverine's body was missing. This led to readers who were interested after reading last year's one shot being confused. That excitement for Wolverine's return is being bled dry with all the current Hunt for Wolverine limited series. In August, Hunt for Wolverine: Dead Ends #1 comes out. That is a lot of hunting for Wolverine.

Comic Store in Your Future: The Comic Industry, Full of Roadblocks

Marvel likes to take something that will sell and then overdo it. Hunt for Wolverine started strong, butwith so many titles involved people started losing interest. Hunt for Wolverine: Weapon Lost, Hunt for Wolverine: Adamantium Agenda, Hunt for Wolverine: Claws of a Killer, Hunt for Wolverine that launched all these titles, and Hunt for Wolverine: Mystery in Madripoor. Just to follow those titles without getting into the variants would be over $60. People have started to figure that out. What would I have done? Just have one title featuring the return of Wolverine.

For me, it is far easier to order and promote Wolverine's return in one title. I do not have to guess how far readership will drop on four different titles either that will compete among themselves for sales as people decide which ones to keep reading and which ones to drop. Keep it simple for the customers. Also bringing back Wolverine with the new power of super-hot claws seems weird.

Almost the same story with Infinity Countdown. Infinity Countdown is leading up to Infinity War. Marvel wants it to get some of the people that have seen the Infinity War movie to check out comics. Granted, the Infinity War movie has already come out, but better late than never, I guess.

Never mind the fact that Marvel has tried making its comics more like the movies over the years and has little to no crossover traffic from the movies to show for it. As a fan, I like Darkhawk — I am a sucker for third string characters. I like underdogs. As a retailer, I need something to show a title with Darkhawk will sell. Stamping Infinity Countdown onto Darkhawk just weakens people's interest in Infinity Countdown.

As a kid, I enjoyed Carol as Ms. Marvel. Over the years as a fan, I have lost interest. I am not even a fan of her calling herself Captain Marvel. I was the one fan of Monica Rambeau being Captain Marvel. I enjoyed her character when she was an Avenger (Masters of Evil taking over the Avengers Mansion still ranks as a favorite storyline of mine). Marvel tried forcing the current Captain Marvel (Carol) character into being popular. I did not even know she knew who War Machine was. The issue where he dies in the weird fight with Thanos I learned that he had a romantic relationship with Captain Marvel. I was busy thinking, "I didn't even know they had met before." Her fight with Tony Stark that left him in a coma made me like her even less as a character.

As a retailer, I feel Captain Marvel is as toxic sales wise as Inhumans was. Stamping Infinity Countdown on a limited series feature her still does not change anything. Give the fans a chance to actually miss her. I know a movie is coming out featuring her, but with so many failed series featuring the character having been launched over the years she is now seen as a failure by some. Same thing with the Inhumans. The Death of the Inhumans limited series makes me feel guilty. I used to like the Inhumans as supporting characters. They had plenty of chances to sell over the years. Heck, Black Bolt and Karnak even had their own series. All New Inhumans, Uncanny Inhumans, Royals, and more Inhuman titles were failures. They became toxic to sell. When something is cancelled due to low sales, the answer should not be to just relaunch it next month.

The previous Black Panther #1 sold over 250,000 copies. Black Panther #18 from the previous series cleared 27,000 copies. Of course, now there is a new first issue of Black Panther. What also hurt Black Panther sales was the spin-off series that were quickly cancelled. Marvel keeps acting like there is crossover from their movies to comics, but there is not. Part of the lack of crossover traffic is from the lack of support from Disney to their comics. Some movie came out this year with Black Panther in it and millions of people saw it.

From what I've read and seen in interviews, Marvel's Kevin Feige has not mentioned much about of the comics themselves that the movies are based on. I do not get the sense that Kevin is a fan of comics — just a fan of the money the comic-based movies make. He could easily help comic sales by bringing up the source material, such as the movie Infinity War being based on the limited series written by Jim Starlin with art by George Perez and Ron Lim.

Publish books that are popular. Not just popular online — popular as in a lot of people buy the books. The Unstoppable Wasp and Iceman titles are coming back as monthlies I read. Why are they returning? Just to see how many stores can have unsold copies left on their shelves of the titles for the second time? The previous Iceman series lasted 11 issues and ended less than a year ago. Why not just have these be six issue-limited series and if there is demand then have a monthly series? Leave people wanting more might be a good idea. That is not the Marvel way.

I know Marvel claimed non-Star Wars limited series do not sell, but Marvel makes almost all of their non-Star Wars line limited series. Thanos was strongly stressed as a monthly series and not a limited series when it was first launched. Now Thanos has ended with issue 18. Eighteen issues is a long run for a non-Star Wars title by Marvel. Eighteen is still sad — months after a movie featuring him was out in the movie theaters. Marvel has cancelled how many comics over the last decade?

Comic reading is a hobby. Often a collector's mentality is a habit. It is a habit I encourage, of course. Having customers come back monthly or more is great. How to get them out of that habit? Cancel the comics they are reading. Cancel so many comics and have the collectors become hesitant to get into a new title because new ones seem not to last long.

2018 is starting to look like another lost year for Marvel. Why oust Axel Alonso as Editor-in-Chief and replace him just to bring back cancelled books from when he was in charge? Is Marvel going to follow up with their Iceman announcement with the news of previous cancelled books coming back with similar creative teams? Are low-selling former titles such as Mockingbird, Nighthawk, Solo, Foolkiller, and more titles that could not last coming back?

In the movie The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne learns that his company is no longer donating money to an orphanage. He goes to Lucius Fox and asks why that is. Fox tells Bruce that in order to donate money, they have to make a profit. They invested in an energy project that was very costly. They used up too much money.

Without profit, a business is not able to do much.

I lost money on Iceman's previous run thanks to the lenticular cover stunt. I will bare-bones order these upcoming Wasp and Iceman new titles to make sure I do not lose money on them. Remember these are non-returnable.

If Marvel wants me to take risks and order more of their material, I need titles from them that make money. Sales from Wasp and Iceman will not even cover our paper towel costs. We will make more money selling soda. Want me to order heavy on a comic? Then have customers asking me for it. Have people wanting to purchase what you are publishing.

Often Marvel makes their characters unlikable. At times, Marvel seems to want their heroes to be villains. They fight among themselves so often it is amazing the villains have not taken over the world while they are busy fighting one another. Reed Richards was just revealed as programming Dr. Doom to think he was dead. Reed did not bother to let his best friend the Thing or brother-in-law the Human Torch know he is alive. His wife Sue went along with all this? With friends and family like this, who needs enemies?

Editors do what nowadays? What is needed are editors that can guide and help actually push writers to be better. Creative freedom sounds great, but if less than 30,000 people are reading a comic nationwide, there is room for improvement. Instead of crying creative freedom, how about better comics?

DC threw me for a loop with the announcement of Geoff Johns no longer being the DC Entertainment President. He had served as the Chief Creative Officer since 2010 and as President in 2016. I wish him luck with his Mad House Productions, though I wish he still were in a leadership role with DC. His Rebirth helped sales a lot. I hope that he will write more titles. Having Johns's name on a book means sales. He does indeed move the sales needle. His involvement with the TV and movies side of the business meant little to me since I sell comics, and no matter how many people see a comic related movie or TV show, it does little for comic sales.

Jim Lee promoted to CCO actually worries me. He is a great artist — one that seems to suffer from not being able to get artwork done on time, though still a great artist. Jim Lee on Immortal Men was filled with setbacks. It was delayed, and even with the delays, he did not seem to have that much artwork on the actual title.

Immortal Men was part of DC's New Age of Heroes. I lost money on DC's New Age of Heroes. The line fizzled quickly for me. Geoff Johns seemed to have nothing to do with the New Age of Heroes. Dan DiDio hyped and promoted it and it bombed. New Age of Heroes billed the artists over the writers even though the artists did not seem to want much to do with the titles. Now the rumor is the New Age of Heroes line might not even be able to hit the 12 mark. Yet, Lee and DiDio are going to stay on with DC? That worries me. That may be blunt, but if DC and Marvel do not put out titles that sell, there will be more comic stores closing or more dropping selling comics and putting their resources into other products.

Yes, I know comics sale were up in the last Diamond report. Amazing Spider-Man #800 at $9.99 was the biggest-selling title of the month. The issue is Diamond does not report or know what comic stores actually sold of what they ordered. From what I am being by told by customers here in central Iowa, copies are plentiful, and friends that live out of state say there are plenty of them available at stores. Granted, I do not have a friend in each state reporting to me every store's stock levels.

Currently, we are doing all right here in store. I just keep thinking in the next Previews I read that there will be some great news — some news that will excite the fans and me as a retailer. Marvel and DC are surprising me currently; just not in good ways.

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

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