Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Changing Role of Comic Books in Adventure Entertainment

Can Internal Imagination Compete with Immersive Tech?

There's no getting around it. Entertainment becomes more an more immersive. And it's not just video games. There's also the IMAX experience that transforms a regular "watch the movie" outing into a 3-D adventure.

While some long for the days of books and radio with their theater of the mind, others embrace the new tech of immersion. Is there still room for both? Can the two still compete on level ground?

Curious, I posed the following questions to readers, writers, and publishers.

In a world where the top-selling entertainment items have become immersive and interactive, can anything really be done to save or revive the internalized and imaginative medium of comic books as an industry?

Robert Bear: To be honest, I think comics already made the transition (to video). The medium may be a fading medium and that is an issue for all mediums at some point. Book sales have dwindled some due to the switch to audio books. Much like film has mostly went away, taken over by digital format, comics may have to give way to a more inclusive or interactive format.

Andrew Salmon: Comics are done. The younger generation watches the movies, then... watches the movies again while waiting for the next movie. Very few get hooked on the comics. But it's really a reflection of changing needs. Kids grow up addicted to screens of any and all shapes and sizes. And the movies show on screens so they're good with that. Comics are also way too expensive these days. That's not helping. I'm not saying comics will disappear entirely but they now sell at levels that would have got each title cancelled a few decades ago. It's mostly older folk reading them now and we won't live forever. Sad reality. I believe they will always exist in some form but as a "go-to" medium, that ain't happening.

Matthew Gomez: Moving beyond the big two publishers. Supporting indie comics. Getting more trades into traditional bookstores, including indie stores.

Frank Fradella: I find that a lot of people want to throw stones at the giants, but the fact is that they own their marketshare because they earned it. They all-but created the industry and while they may at times have strangled out their competition, they have their success in the marketplace because what they're selling SELLS.

I'd much rather see people adopt the point of view that 90 percent of the playing field belongs to them, so let's look at what they know.

The problem, ultimately, is that they have millions invested in market research annually that continues to tell them that nobody wants non-superhero comics. At least not enough to make it financially worthwhile. They're not guessing. They know. If there was money in it, THEY'D be doing it.

An indie publisher can publish a western comic, but it's not going to be enough to move the needle in public perception that comics = superheroes. The problem is a cultural one.

Other countries have non-superhero comics and graphic novels. The fact that Americans by-and-large conflate "comics" with "superheroes" is something that Sean and I battled [through Cyber Age Adventures and iHero Entertainment] for a decade, with little success.

John Morgan Neal: Get the comics in more hands. By hook or crook. Kids are naturally drawn to them.

PJ Lozito: Make comics good again. Take a look at a bunch of 1960s Marvels and DCs. High quality!

Ian Ramirez: There will always be a place for stories in every medium. Just because we may stare at a screen, does not mean we won't be looking at panels filled with art and littered with dialogue boxes.

Percival Constantine: People don’t want interactive 24/7. Look at books. There are a lot of novelists who are making a full-time living off their books, maybe more than ever before. And books are even more internalized than comics because all the images have to come from the reader.

Ashton Adams: Yes, the industry can be saved. A major evolution has to occur that probably won’t look much like the current one. But comics media will survive.

Corrina Lawson: Comics books are doing just fine, except the market may be shifting to the bookstore market. Look at Ghosts.

If books and comics both operate in the same medium (that of the internalized and imaginative), why hasn't the book publishing world suffered the same decline in market that comics have?

Dave Creek: Industry stats on book sales look at the industry, that is the large publishers -- not self-publishing authors who make up a large part of book sales. It's also why you see reports claiming that ebook sales are declining. That decline is often among the major publishers because their ebook prices are so high. Meanwhile, cheaper indie books are cleaning up.

John Morgan Neal: Books are not a visual medium. Not as much crossover and there are more older readers overall that aren't into gaming or high tech.

Kel McKay: I would argue that books are a slightly different audience demographic than comics. Those who are interested in  comics are often also interested in technology-based entertainments. So there has been a slow drag in that direction as the technology improves.

Corrina Lawson: Book publishing is tight and has constructed over the past ten years. YA, however, is still an excellent market and that's where many of the successful graphic novels are being aimed.

Ashton Adams: That’s just simple cost benefit. $4 for a comic with a (generous) 15 minute entertainment value vs. a book for $10 that has hours or days worth? Comic’s value isn’t there anymore. I have to make a conscious decision to make a bad spending choice for my entertainment time when buying a comic just for the love of them.

Matthew Gomez: Comics still(!) face a certain stigma of being for kids, despite generally being price-pointed out of kids' budgets. Book world, while taking a hit, has the benefit of being a) not stigmatized and b) being generally more diverse. If I go into a bookstore I'm not faced with an overwhelming barrage of variations on a genre. In a lot of ways, for the book market to look like the comics market, it would be like walking into a bookstore and being faced with 90 percent pirate bodice rippers. And in some cases, you would feel like you had to read 10 years worth to know what was going on currently.

Percival Constantine: Two words: direct market. Diamond still holds a stranglehold on the industry and the direct market has been holding comics back in a way that books didn’t have to worry about.

PJ Lozito: As expensive as books get (someone like Mary Higgins Clark gets $7.99 for a mass market paperback), they still offer a lot of pages. A comic book, at this point, is a pamphlet you read while your coffee cools.

Vik-Thor Rose: Part of it is price... when 3 floppies can cost more than a paperback book, and can be read in a fraction of the time.

Is there any kind of marketing or culture re-shaping that can be done to rebrand or rebuild the audience for sequential illustration formats? If so, what repercussions might that have on the "insider club" that has been loyal all these years to their tights and capes books that one the one hand, kept the industry alive but also created the insular market that is gradually killing it?

Ashton Adams: Evolve or die. Screw the insiders club. That’s a sure fire way to kill the industry quick. You need the highest quality product for the best price like everything else. You want to put out McDonald's you can’t price like Ruth’s Chris.

Corrina Lawson: Get comics where people can read them. See: the success of the tie-in works connected to DC Super Hero Girls and the Superhero High stuff.

Keith Gleason: I don't know what the answer is but when you see a small indie company like Alterna Comics start printing on newsprint paper again and get the cover price down to $1.50 and their profits start to double and triple there's something to that, now imagine if Marvel and DC did that.

Frank Fradella: We grew up in an era when comics were on spinner racks. When I started, they were 25¢ which seemed a reasonable trade for the amount of time you spent reading them. Then came the direct market, a exponential rise in prices, and an exclusionary culture.

You're not going to change anything unless you change everything. You've got to eliminate every objection people have to buying comics -- price, availability, and culture.

Mike Schneider: We need a reading device designed for digital comics. Flexible, gutterless, dual-screen full color paper white at an affordable price point and DC, Marvel, and others publishers throwing in with the same all you can read service would go a long way.

Marlin Williams: The days of riding your bike to the store that sold comics is lost to the newer generation. It's easier to view on an electronic device and much more convenient.

John Pyka: To answer your question think back to how you were introduced to and hooked on comics... technology may have changed but human nature is constant. My first Comics were given to me. I think we need to start gifting comics more often.

Matthew Gomez: Diversification in genre. Adapt and change. The old guard is going to be pissed as hell about, but then it seems easy to get a significant portion of them angry about anything (could be an over-generalization and obviously those that yell loudest get the most attention, even if they are only a small subset as a whole).

Percival Constantine: Pay attention to manga. I know a lot of American comic fans roll their eyes at that suggestion, but guess what? Manga is popular. Manga sells.

John Morgan Neal: Utilize the even more well know comic book characters and worlds and make folks realize they exist. Too many times I have been asked when holding a comic. "They still make those?"

Simon McCoy: I don't know what parents give kids these days as an allowance (assuming they do) but I'm still a firm believer in the idea that the average comic book is too expensive to hook kids these days. They also have options that weren't available when a lot of us were kids: smart phones, tablets, pcs, game consoles -- and these things can provide content without even leaving your home.

You can pay for a month of Netflix at the price of, what... three comic books at most? And quite possibly two? The most iconic characters will survive, but I think print comic books will become even more of a niche thing.

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