I have been writing this article for almost twenty-four hours. Been talking to senior comic book industry figure after another. The problem is, the second I get a hold of what might actually be going on, the situation changes from under me. But everyone is agreeing that this current coronavirus pandemic, and the reaction to it, will change the American comic book industry for good.
I understand that there is industry bailout funds being put together, which will seek to help retailers, creators, publishers and distributors under stress. There could be a little more co-ordination about everyone's efforts though. However, it is expected that a number of publishers and retailers will have to close as a result of this stress. There is a talent buying spree – creators who were told to stop working on their comics by their publisher, have been picked up already by Marvel, DC, AWA and Bad Idea, with a mission to keep on pumping out their pages in readiness for when everyone's had a cup of tea and all this has blown over. All Marvel and DC creators I have spoken to are still working on their projects.
The problem is that right now, Diamond has closed, distribution to the comic shops is shut down. Books that are printed now have nowhere to land. Away from comic stores and Diamond distribution, sixty traditional independent bookstores closed last week as it is, all with unpaid debts. And the big comics printer for DC, Dark Horse and more has just shut down.
There has been much-rumoured proposal at DC Comics to put the comics they are creating all on the streaming app DC Universe rather than just sell them as individual digital comics, as a way to make that service essential and give it a killer app. But a) it is still geolocked to the USA, b) would be seen as a death blow to US comic shops, undermining the physical sales that are most at threat and c) if it was meant to happen, it wasn't meant to happen yet. This would be just bringing it all forward and no one is ready yet.
There has been concern amongst creators who work on back-end payment only on creator-owned comic books, that a publisher making their comic book returnable especially without asking their permission first, may have broken contract with them, and may harm the individual creator who hadn't factored the costs to them of returnability, more than anyone. There are also alternative distribution plans being worked on by notable comic book industry figures, trying to work around the current restrictions and get new printed comics content to stores and to readers, but the obstacles, currently, are huge. Ingrams, which deals with graphic novels is still operating, for now, but for the comics industry it is a relatively small fraction.
It has been suggested that the perfect thing to put together after the situation is a big money-making Marvel Vs DC Comics crossover event. However, any discussion of this is nothing but wishful thinking, and based on a proposed Marvel/Wildstorm crossover still doing the rounds. I have been told that nothing like that is even on the cards or could be possible these days, but then of course, these are impossible times. But I am aware that long before the coronavirus pandemic, a major crossover comic book from Donny Cates and some of the biggest names in Marvel/DC and creator-owned comics was on the cards.
However, if someone was to put together a Killing Joke II, Rorschach Vs Batman, Sandman Vs Superman, Preacher Vs The Boys, or Poison IV For Vendetta, it might just be what's needed right now. Maybe even a Twilight Of The Superheroes? DC does own the pitch, bought from Alan Moore, could its time have finally come? And at least IDW is doing Locke & Key/Sandman. That's a good start.