2017 is almost over. Looking back, what did I think? As a comic store owner in Ankeny, Iowa, here is what 2017 looked like to me.
Marvel, oh, Marvel — what went wrong? A lot. 2017 was the lost year for Marvel. Leadership not leading. Meeting with retailers, having them sign confidentiality agreements, then allowing ICV2 to report on what was talked about made no sense. The meetings made Marvel look bad in multiple different ways. Artists don't move the sales needle? Then find ones that do.
For October, Marvel announced 52 titles for October. Then 53. Marvel Legacy was overhyped — billed as "changing the industry." People were stunned by the announcement for the wrong reasons. Stunned that the announcement was just more variant covers. There were homage covers where the original art from years ago was more popular than the new art used for the cover.
Marvel most likely figured that the number 52 is the number most associated with DC, so they announced that there would be 53 variant covers that would be lenticular covers. This was never confirmed, but it is odd how one title was suddenly added.
Then there was Marvel's weird idea to force stores to over-order on the regular covers just so they could order the lenticular covers caused some stores not to order the lenticular covers. Those that didn't most likely made the right choice.
After forcing most stores to order more of the non-lenticular covers than they could hope to sell, Marvel's lenticular covers weren't even on par with ones done in the past by DC. DC had done lenticular covers before, though they were overall much easier to order. Marvel used a thinner cover stock, even though Marvel capped stores' discount at 50 percent and they were the same price as the non-lenticular covers. However, the Marvel Legacy one-shot did do well sales-wise here in the store. The one-shot's lenticular cover fading to black and white didn't show any quality issues. The following weeks after that issue, though, there was hardly an increase in interest for Marvel. Marvel once again failed to excite readership. Oftentimes their lenticular covers ended up looking like a mess.
Why did the Marvel Legacy one-shot sell out for us and the rest of the Marvel lenticular books didn't? Wolverine's return in the one-shot wasn't followed up on in 2017. It wasn't even mentioned in any other Marvel titles. If it was, it must have been in a book I overlooked, along with our readership. One would think the X-Men would be talking about and wondering where Wolverine was and how he not only returned from the dead, but escaped from his unbreakable statue he was encased in.
An odd fact that I had forgotten about: this wasn't Marvel's first time having a lenticular cover variant. They had done one in the past for Deadpool #34, part of the Original Sin crossover at the time. It was available as one copy for every 52 copies bought — a 3D Brooks variant cover. If my memory holds, I thought it was quite good and actually had three different images.
Amazing Spider-Man sales took a terrible dive, along with a majority of Marvel's titles here in store. Another Marvel event where heroes fight among themselves, Secret Empire. Following up after Civil War II. Secret Empire had one of the most unusual reasoning for people reading it from the beginning to the end: to read how the train wreck ends. Its spinoffs? Dead on arrival for us.
Characters such as Iron Man, Captain Marvel, and Beast have become tainted, causing more problems than many of the super villains they fight. Over-expansion of properties diluted characters that should have been able to sell better — such as Black Panther. Three Black Panther titles at once? Marvel quickly cancelled two of them. Quicker short-term sales grabs with the renumbering of titles jumping ahead to celebrate milestones, such as Venom and Cable jumping from single digits to issue 150. The result? Confused customers.
Character-wise, in Secret Empire #6, this quote summed up Marvel heroes in 2017: "Some of us still knew how to be heroes." Many Marvel characters forgot how to be heroes; how to inspire.
What if the Black Widow was killed by Captain America and no one cared? That also happened in Secret Empire. Readership interest in Marvel has really fallen. What if the Hulk returned back from the dead and no one cared? Once again, Secret Empire tried shocking its readership, but death and characters coming back from the dead had been done so much readership is very numb and indifferent now to these Marvel "events".
Marvel seemed to forget how to entertain people.
The hottest issue Marvel had in store in 2017? X-Men Gold #1, because the artist snuck in anti-Christian and anti-Jewish symbology. Marvel would never reprint the previous artwork due to what the artist did, upping the demand for all the wrong reasons. Currently, the issue is no longer nearly as in demand.
Marvel Now from years ago was used yet again. Marvel showed little creativity in 2017, instead borrowing and recycling ideas. They are so entrenched in their former non-stop-relaunching mentality they seemed clueless as to what to do when it stopped working. This, even though the relaunches showed fewer sales each year overall than the previous ones.
Marvel managed to take over our dollar bin for comics. They flooded it with not-asked-for titles such as Inhumans-related material. This, along with books such as Captain Marvel, Mockingbird, Nighthawk, Solo, Foolkiller, Slapstick, Black Panther and the Crew, the various Secret Empire spinoffs, and more. People simply are not interested in hardly known characters with hardly known creators.
November was the first time in years that Marvel didn't have a month with a first issue coming out. That is how addicted to shortcuts for sales Marvel had become. The first issue well went dry. It didn't surprise many stores or readers, but it sure seemed to surprise Marvel.
For 2018, it looks like Marvel is finally trimming their output. While some of the announced titles aren't big sellers for us, some of the titles sold exactly the same issue to issue for the whole year. That meant I knew how many to order, and they were making the store some money. As I have stated before, as a comic retailer, I believe mainstream titles by Marvel and DC that sell less than 20,000 copies nationwide are just cluttered in the current marketplace. When Marvel puts out titles such as Solo, Slapstick, Mockingbird, Nighthawk, Foolkiller, and more, and people aren't even interested in them for a dollar, that is sad. If these were comics on Free Comic Book Day and I tried giving them away, I have a feeling people still would not want them. For Marvel and DC, they should be able to put out titles that sell over 20,000 copies nationwide. 20,000 is low. My store's hometown of Ankeny has more than 20,000 people living in it.
Diversity is fine. There should be characters for everyone. Though, just as if the title character was a typical white superhero, there needs to be a creative team on the comic that would make it sell. At this point, I'm not even sure why half of the books even have the creative teams names on the covers. Most of the readership has never heard of these people before, nor do they care. If they do care, they can easily use their phone to look up the info. Comics sold better when they didn't have the creative teams on the covers. People opened up a comic and checked it out and decided by the cover art and interior if they wanted it or not.
People don't watch NCIS and go, "Who wrote and directed tonight's episode?"
2018 looks to be a comeback year for Marvel — at least, I hope it is. I would say it couldn't get any worse, but years ago I never would have dreamed Marvel could have a year like they did in 2017.
DC had a good 2017. Their four-part crossover between Batman and Flash did well. Initially, I felt their Metal event was announced too soon. When the first issue of Metal: The Forge came out, I was telling people it was not going to be a big company crossover with titles crossing over. That turned out not to be the case.
That said, Metal has been great sales-wise.
DC really jumped the gun announcing big-name creators on books such as Immortal Men, Damage, The Terrifics, and Silencer. They were announced originally as coming out months ago. Now it's looking like most are coming out in February of 2018.
DC managed to keep us on our toes in a good way. DC had Batman proposing to Catwoman. From Convergence Superman and Lois, along with their son ending up staying and playing a big role in the DCU.
Marvel made DC look good in 2017. DC stayed the course for the most part; didn't rock the boat with fans and/or retailers.
That said, DC had its share of misfires.
Bane: Conquest managed to make people who wanted to read about Bane not want to. Yes, the writer that helped create him seemed to have lost his touch with the character. Bane's updated mask made him look even more like a gimmick wrestler. Batman seemingly being alright with Bane killing people in the limited series turned a lot of people off.
Doom Patrol had promise, though delays hurt the book badly.
The Flash sells very well. Howard Porter did a good job on the art when he was doing interiors. I just wish the art on the Flash's various story arcs was by artists that could move the sales needle.
DC got greedy in 2017. I wish the Justice League of America title did not launch. Batman leading a black ops Justice League team on paper looked like an interesting idea, but reading the actual title doesn't seem to be what the book is about.
X-O Manowar, as I have written about before, did what few comic titles have managed here in store. It increased in readership here. Luckily, I have been able to reorder past issues. People enjoy the art and writing. I was only a casual X-O Manowar reader in the past, meaning I read an issue once in a while. I have been reading the current series and enjoying it. If you haven't been reading X-O Manowar, I recommend you check it out.
Valiant has kept their publishing line small. People can easily pick up their complete monthly publishing line without breaking the bank.
I'm looking forward to seeing their characters on the big screen one day. Bloodshot should easily make the jump to the big screen. A cool X-O Manowar would be great to see in theaters.
Their books make us money. Throughout the year, the same number of people kept buying them.
My Little Pony had the exact same amount for pull box customers for the whole year. We ordered extra for on the shelf, and kids still love My Little Pony.
Same story with Back to the Future. Though kids aren't picking up the title; adults are.
I was hoping against hope when the Transformers movie came out this year that we would see new customers picking up Transformers. Sadly, it did not happen.
Odd fact: we have more people picking up Optimus Prime's title than we do the various Transformers titles.
Star Trek comics have seen some love in the store. Star Trek: Mirror Broken had great art and a solid story. For Next Gen fans, it was good to see the old crew again, even if they were evil — or just to see Picard being buff and evil.
Judge Dredd still keeps coming out. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has almost the same amount of people picking up their titles as we had years ago. Sadly, I think the last TMNT movie hurt the popularity of the brand a bit.
It seemed there were less Simpsons comics this year than in years past. I always try to keep Simpsons comics on hand, since they are usually a hit with kids. Kids that get comic books are always a treat to deal with. Kids do not care if it is a first issue, or if it is a comic that is going to be collectable. They just want to be entertained. The Simpsons saw some sales thanks to the holidays. People were buying trades of the Simpsons along with single issues for the kids in their lives.
2017 for us seen a drop for us with Image Comics sales-wise. Walking Dead sales softened. Trade demand really dropped; however, Walking Dead is by far and away the number one selling Image title for us. Thankfully, Kirkman still writes the Walking Dead comic, when odds are he has more than enough money thanks to his various T.V. deals that he doesn't need to.
Image slingshots out so much material with such an anything goes mentality stance it makes ordering new Image titles overly challenging. Image publishing often seems so short-term. Will the creators on this new title get bored after the first story arc and leave? Or cash out for a better paying writing job in television after a brief amount of time on the book? Will the title not sell enough to keep publishing it past the first story arc?
We have had some luck with their various Aliens and Predator comics. Dark Horse losing the Star Wars license years ago is something the publisher has not recovered from. Dark Horse overall had high-quality Star Wars comics for most of the time they had the license.
Delays really hurt.
On the gaming front, Asmodee went exclusively with Alliance Games in 2017. Which I wish wasn't the case. On Asmodee's side of things, I am sure it was a great business deal. For everyone else other than Alliance and Asmodee, I doubt it was an improvement. Exclusives, for the most part, make companies give up on customer service. It's like Diamond. If only one company carries something, then my choices are dealing with them or not selling their product. It's like when Wizkids went exclusively through Diamond and Alliance. If I want to sell the material, I have no choice but to deal with Alliance and Diamond — no matter if I'm impressed with their customer service or not. Now, to go through all that with Star Wars Destiny, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures, and other Asmodee material just isn't that appealing. I can no longer just send an email to ACD or Southern Hobby to order material Alliance might be out of.
The card game Magic the Gathering is a cash cow that many stores enjoy. Wizards of the Coast (the makers of Magic) flooded the market in November with the product. Dual decks, Iconic Masters, From the Vault, and on December 7th the funny set, Unstable. People were not impressed and felt like it was overkill. To make matters worse, big chain stores were allowed to carry Iconic Masters. Master sets originally used to be exclusive to non-chain stores. Big chain stores are basically allowed to sell before the official sale date, often blocking sales for smaller stores that follow the street date release. To make it sting a bit more, big chain stores received drafting packs of Iconic Masters that non-chain stores aren't even able to order. Basically, three bundled packs people could buy at once to draft with. If I had known this beforehand, I would have ordered less of the set. Come March, Wizards has already announced another $10 a pack Masters set. Wizards of the Coast will need to convince a lot of stores to place as high of an order as they did on the Iconic set.
I understand Wizards of the Coast doesn't want to upset the big money-making chain stores by actually enforcing product release dates (though they would have no problem with doing so on small stores). However, they could do it like Pokémon decided to do. When I went to the Gamma Trade show back in May, Pokémon admitted big chain stores make them a lot of money — though they also acknowledged it wasn't fair to smaller stores. So Pokémon decided to let stores that have pre-releases to sell their product the Monday before the release date. Pretty cool of them.
Wizards of the Coast did throw me a surprise. The Unstable set had a low print run. Wizards were out of stock within eight days of Unstable's release date. After years of Magic material being on hand for quite a while, this was quite the surprise. When people find out something is hard to get, people tend to want it all the more. I sold more of Unstable a week after it was released than the day it was released, which was quite the surprise. As of writing this up, I have managed to get more from vendors such as ACD and Alliance. I can tell ACD and Southern Hobby are hungry for business and trying even harder after Asmodee went exclusive.
After seven years of us in business, it is time for Wizards of the Coast to raise their prices so both themselves and those who sell their product make more money. As of right now, I make more per sale on the average comic book sold than I do on the average pack of Magic. I know in this day and age of entitlement and cheapness, there will be people upset with an increase, but it is needed. In order for people to make more money, a price increase needs to happen. Most business face rising costs each year. Employees want raises, there are rent increases, and so on. Magic products are at big chain stores, drugstores, bookstores, and even gas stations. Easy to find. Meanwhile, comics are much harder to find at various businesses. If someone wants a comic book, their best bet is a comic store.
2017 sounds pretty bad, doesn't it? At times it was rough. Internal issues and so much going on. It wasn't all bad, though. I gave myself a raise by cutting expenses. Remodeled the store. Gained new employees and allies (I know, sounds like a D&D adventure). Re-upped on the lease. Some friendly free advice to business owners: do not put off lease negotiations if you are renting commercial property. I have talked with others who rent commercial property and have noticed that those who wait with little time left on their lease are the ones hit with a much bigger rent increase.
We are small; no doubt about that. We are also still open. As I have said before, we are like the Millennium Falcon. Small, old, and underestimated. Yet, still cool as heck.
Here's hoping for a better 2018 sales-wise, vendor-wise, and product-wise for everyone. One can only hope, right?