Marvel Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski and Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada are heading to Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest festival next week, and they plan to host a panel which will show how all of the success Marvel has had in markets far more lucrative than comics — movies, TV shows, video games — ultimately stem from the ideas that originated in the less lucrative comics.
This might seem like a common sense argument to make, but maybe it's one that's necessary. As we saw in Brian Hibbs' recent takedown of Big Comics, the business of actually selling comics could be in peril. Hibbs noted:
National sales are very poor – there are comics in the national top 100 that aren't even selling twenty thousand copies. A significant number of stores have closed — perhaps as many as 10% of outlets.
And as Hibbs went on to illustrate, publishers' strategy to make profits seem to rely not on increasing readership, but from bilking more and more money from the existing (and dwindling) readership:
Want a clear and current example of Marvel's preposterous "flood the zone" strategy? "War of the Realms" is supposed to be their major Q2 project in 2019, but in the first month alone they're asking us to buy into TWO issues of the series being released with no sales data, as well as FOUR different tie-in-mini-series. All six of these comics (which are built around a six issue storyline) will require final orders from us before we've sold a single comic to an actual reader. Is there anyone in this room thinks that this is good? That this is sustainable? That this will sell more comics to more readers? That this will sell any copies to people who aren't already on board Marvel's periodicals already?
I say to you: we do not need plans or programs that are aimed at selling more comics to the same customers – they really can't afford and don't want any more titles to buy – our focus as an industry should be on making our periodical releases more attractive to more new readers, and to grow our base, not simply exploit the existing one.
We enjoyed Hibbs' takedown of the superhero-industrial complex. It echoes many of the things we've personally been saying for years (and to be fair, which Hibbs has also been saying for years), though the primary difference is probably that Hibbs, a retailer, naturally comes at things from the perspective that the direct market is the heart of the comics industry and in need of saving, whereas we would argue it's actually part of the problem and does nothing to expand comics readership either, and further serves to keep retail prices high since publishers can't make a long term play to sell cheaper comics on the mass market without concern that they'll undercut the direct market and lose their primary source of revenue before the wider initiative has a chance to succeed. Nevertheless, Hibbs' analysis of the immediate problems afflicting superhero comics publishing is spot on.
Which brings us to the panel below. If less people are buying comics and the direct market is on the verge of collapse, then why should a megacorp like Disney continue to bother publishing them at all, especially when they can make far more money mining the intellectual properties for other mediums? Well, perhaps that's why Quesada and Cebulski plan to make the case that none of those things would be possible without the comics. Therefore, comics must continue to be published even if they add little value to the budget on their own simply because they provide the genetic material to make actual profits elsewhere.
That's our take, anyway, and of course, your mileage may vary. In any case, if you want to see Quesada and Cebulski make their case in person, check out the press release below.
New York, NY—March 1, 2019—At this year's SXSW®, join Marvel for a special panel that celebrates the history and far-reaching influence of the Marvel Comics Universe!
On Friday, March 8th, Marvel's Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski and Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada will lead an interactive discussion about the history and landscape of Marvel Comics. Titled Marvel: From Comics To Screens, the hour-long panel will look at how some of Marvel's most iconic characters and storylines have contributed to the games, movies, and television series that are so renowned among popular culture. Everything starts with an idea – and Marvel Comics is the spark that lights the fire!
The full panel descriptor can be seen below:
Marvel's Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski and Chief Creative Officer + fan-favorite writer/artist Joe Quesada lead an interactive discussion on the unprecedented vast creative landscape and content factory that is MARVEL COMICS. Marvel's characters have achieved international renown, and now the movies, television series, and games of the Marvel Universe are the most popular in the world – but everything starts with an idea, and Marvel Comics is the spark that lights the fire. Heroes and villains were teamed together in an epic challenge against each other in the first ever Marvel limited series Contest of Champions in 1982 before it became one of the most successful and popular mobile games of all time. The Guardians of the Galaxy as they were seen in the 2014 film assembled for the first time in 2007's Guardians of the Galaxy comic book. Iron Man and Captain America had their first Civil War in the pages of the Marvel Comics series of the same name in 2006. Cloak & Dagger first came together in a 1982 issue of the Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man comic book. Are the next breakout stories of film, television, and gaming happening in the pages of Marvel Comics right now? Hear from two of the Marvel Comics' biggest story-crafters on what it's like to lead the way in the Marvel Universe!
The panel will take place from 3:30pm-4:30pm in Room 12AB on the fourth floor of the Austin Convention Center.
This March, Make Yours Marvel at SXSW®!