Comics

Taking Comics to the People

Artists are using new platforms to bypass gatekeepers and grow the comic book industry.

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"Any time you don't have to ask permission is awesome. And now you don't," says Jason McNamara, an award-winning graphic novelist based in northern California. Mc­Namara is just one of many in the comics community turning away from traditional publishing and toward digital platforms like Kickstarter and comiXology to finance and publish their work.

It's a strategy that worked well for McNamara's last release, The Rattler, a graphic novel he co-created with Los Angeles artist Greg Hinkle. The writer launched a campaign through Kickstarter, the online crowdfunding website that lets potential customers contribute money to help get creative or business projects off the ground. His goal was to raise $4,600 to publish the book; he ended up collecting pledges worth more than three times that amount from 390 different backers. "By going through Kickstarter first, we could get a real idea of what the interest is for this book," McNamara says. "There is an element of entrepreneurship and there's a gamble that appeals to people. In Kickstarter, I've had better conversations with [fans] than I've had over the past 10 years of doing conventions."

The emergence of crowdfunding sites has provided fans with a more diverse selection of comics by allowing creators such as McNamara to sidestep editorial gatekeepers and bring their art directly to consumers. Before online platforms like Kickstarter came along, graphic novelists essentially had two choices: work with Diamond Comic Distribu­tors-a company that boasts exclusive arrangements with most American comic publishers and stores-or publish, fold, and staple your books yourself, hoping you'll be able to sell them in person at events.

"In order to get in the comic shops you had to go through Diamond. They do have a monopoly in the comics community," explains Matt Silady, chair of the Master of Fine Arts in Comics program at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. "Diamond does a lot of great things for retailing, but they also have a business model that requires you to have a certain number of pre-orders for you to even be considered as part of their catalog. If you're not in that catalog, nobody is seeing your work."

Now artists and writers can showcase their offerings on a variety of websites and speak directly to fans without sacrificing artistic integrity or ownership.

"Diamond will turn a lot of stuff down based on whether they think it's worth it to them," says McNamara. "You have to appeal to their taste and what they think. But comiXology is more open…Kickstarter-there is no barrier of entry. Which is great, because if you want to make comic books, no one is saying 'no' to you anymore. You just have to find the right platform."

As more creators look online to publish their work, consumers are also embracing the digital marketplace. Comic book sales broke industry records in 2014, with digital comics contributing an estimated $90 million in sales, according to the most recent numbers published by IcV2, a news and data source that serves pop culture retailers. The rise of these digital platforms has only helped to expand readership-which has led to bigger profits in the comics industry and a reported 4 percent increase in the number of brick-and-mortar comic book retailers.

"Overall, comics is healthier than ever as an art form," says Silady. "There's nothing more exciting than the traditional barriers falling away and someone having art, showing it, and being able to put it out there without having to compromise."

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58 responses to “Taking Comics to the People

  1. This is just as true for music, writing, and many other sorts of visual art besides comics. Anything that can be distributed electronically will be, and the gatekeepers are already seeing their doom. We “consumers” are the winners since there’s more diversity and availability than ever.

    1. Agreed, but not seeing much libertarian content here.
      Looks like one business model is becoming obsolete and getting replaced by one that’ll prolly do the same in X years.

      1. The libertarian content is that people are more free to produce and consume the media that they want without some tastemaker/bean counter denying them access to the means of doing so.

        1. That’s really not libertarian content, the tastemaker/bean counters you speak of are not GS-14s. There’s a reasonable (drink!) argument to be made that the only thing that kept them in their jobs is government selection of who was privileged to occupy some of the channels (in a literal sense), but that’s not what the story is about.

          1. Actually there’s no argument to be made there. Anybody could always publish anything they wanted to, provided they had a printing press (with paper stock suppliers and optional color separator), a distributor, a marketing department, and an amenable retailer. But those things are expensive, and while the people who owned them were probably reluctant to use them to publish anything that would and them in hot water with parents’ groups or legislators on a moral crusade, mostly they reserved them for ideas they believed would make them mo’ money.

            These days, thanks to technology, people can bypass all that bullshit and publish faster and in higher quality directly to the reader. That means that both artists and consumers have more freedom to create and find things that appeal to them without having to through anyone else’s filters to do so. Which is a good thing.

            Unless of course you are the kind of blinkered asshole who believes that libertarians should only concern themselves with marginal tax rates and not freedom broadly construed.

            1. Hugh, I agree with your sentiment and facts, but would just add that fearing prosecution on obscenity charges was another big hammer keeping a lot of comics publishers from daring to publish anything other than mainstream material, especially when SCOTUS precedent was much less protective of that kind of thing.

      2. How could kickstarter “do the same”?

      3. It’s libertarian in the positive sense, not the negative one that we’d be concerned w in terms of public policy. People have more affordable options for doing stuff.

        Communication is now so cheap that the real limiting factor is no longer the expense of the technology, but people’s att’n. Until we perfect mind-expanding techniques, people can pay att’n to only so much at a time. Even there, technology helps by making them more productive so they can have more leisure time to consume your product.

        Is there serious potential to mind expansion, such that people will be able literally to think about significantly more things at once? Maybe. If we can find a good substitute for sleep, we can do something else during that time, although it’s possible that dream control would be just as good. I find my dreams to be more entertaining, often humorous, as I get older. But in our waking time, can we literally use more of our brain at once? Especially if we find input methods that bypass the sense organs. It’d be interesting to see what happens to consciousness then?would we have the experience of more things at once, or would we just develop multiple personalities that rarely communicated w each other?

        Of course all of that would be obsoleted if we could deliberately access immaterial awareness, if such exists, and use our bodies as mere adjuncts while they’re alive, discarding them as worn-out baggage when they’re dead.

  2. What are “comic books”? Are they anything like graphic novels?

    /snob

    1. What’s a ‘graphic novel’? Is that like a novel with pictures for people who can’t read good?

      /snob

      1. Cant read WELL….not good.

        /snobbier snob

        1. “Cant”

          /snobbiest snob

        2. That’s not what they taught me the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good.

  3. When is Sugarfree’s comic coming out?

    1. Not anytime soon, unfortunately. It seems that Jack Kirby’s process of creating characters by randomly combining words resulted in him copyrighting the name “Warty Hugeman” back in 1958.

      There’s no danger of readers confusing the two characters, if for no other reason than Kirby’s version wears underpants. But ever since Marvel got those Disney lawyers, they’re not willing to let go of any copyright, no matter how obscure and distasteful.

      1. I’ll have you know that we’re in final discussions with Adult Swim right as we speak.

      2. Well, getting artists to illustrate is a problem, given the understanding of non-Euclidean geometries necessary to properly draw his stories driving them mad and thus unusable.

  4. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,
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  5. Speaking of comics, the “SJW industrial complex” had forced Calgary expo to kick out the Gamergate affiliate group Honey Badgers.
    http://www.reaxxion.com/7825/r…..hem-banned

    1. So this is what happens when you don’t “fall in line with the mandate.” And when people like this control more than just the convention center but also the prisons and the police forces, what happens then to those who don’t “fall in line with the mandate?”

      1. Please. They were a bunch of jerks who then misrepresented who they were to create mischief at the convention and the convention organizers asked them politely to leave. People shouldn’t have to bake cakes for people they don’t want to associate with, and they shouldn’t have to include someone at a convention that they don’t want to associate with.

        1. So now knowingly participating in an event dominated by people of an ideological persuasion makes you a jerk now? So much for inclusivity I guess. If I walk into a room full of bigots (in their case the brand of bigot being radical feminists) I am supposed to leave, or if I stay, should definitely not express my views, that’d make me a jerk?

          And Bo, learn to read: this event took place at a publicly owned convention center. If it were someone’s basement sure, but this is public property, perhaps more akin to public university repressing free speech (I don’t know what the law says regarding events on public property, so pure speculation).

          Also, most importantly, I wasn’t saying the feminazis were doing anything illegal; merely that they’re bigots and assholes. People have a right to be bigots and assholes, but given their tendencies, I’d say I’m accurate to speculate that, once in positions of power, bigoted assholes tend to use their power to advance bigoted assholishness without respect to individual rights. See the affirmative consent law for an example.

    2. I am not sure how the SJW harpies got into a position of power in that group in the first place. What the hell are they even doing there?

      I don’t know enough about nerd culture to really understand what is going on there, but I wouldn’t have guessed that the SJW crowd would have any pull in the comic culture.

      1. Here, let me help you with that.

        And now you’ll get the refrigerators reference to boot!

        1. Huh, so the SJW aspect to the comic culture is organic. Never woulda guessed that.

          I am begining to wonder about you HM. No real person could have the encyclopedic knowledge of ever subject, no matter how obscure, that you do. You are really an AI, right?

          “Simone maintained that her “simple point (had) always been: If you demolish most of the characters girls like, then girls won’t read comics. That’s it!”

          Simone thinks girls like the female characters? I thought they liked the pretty boy types leaping around in spandex. I have also never been able to figure out why young women like boys that don’t like women.

          1. You are really an AI, right?

            I’ll come clean. Here’s a self-portrait.

            I have also never been able to figure out why young women like boys that don’t like women.

            I always assumed it was just the other side of the same coin of why straight guys like (fantasy, lipstick) lesbians. Anyway, Simone’s latest project was a comic series about a group of SJW superheroes (no lie!). It lasted a year. As you can imagine, it was terrible and ham-fisted.

            1. Actually, her writing Red Sonja, the typical half naked female derivative/second fiddle of a more popular male character (Conan) for Dynamite is a more recent project (not by much admittedly). But I can see why that one, not fitting the narrative you’re going for, was elided.

              1. Huh? How is one of the characters being half naked inconsistent with ‘the narrative?’

      2. “I am not sure how the SJW harpies got into a position of power in that group in the first place. What the hell are they even doing there?”

        Here’s the big secret: big companies don’t want to turn off 50% of the market. And here’s another one: most men who like comics like women and are not interested in seeing them turned off from comics, we want more women at these conventions. And we’re smart enough to realize that some feminist complaints about how comics portray women historically (when Wonder Woman was accepted into the Justice Society in the 1940’s she was made the Secretary and was left behind on most missions to organize the files and such) and even recently (when DC re-launched their main titles as ‘the New 52’ I think there were three, out of 52, devoted to a female main character and about the same number written by women authors) are valid. On the other hand, the Gamergate crowd were rightly seen as a bunch of juvenile, offended, in some cases near psychopaths.

        1. How do you have time to read comics and study the historical feminist implications that the inclusion of Wonder Woman into the Justice Society in the 1940s and the tasks she was assigned in relation to the rest of her male contemporaries affected young female comic readers psyches then and over the course of the next 75 years, when you’re rollin in so much hot pussy?

          1. I can multitask. It’s a millennials thing.

            1. Did you take a pole on that?

        2. But feminists telling men (or specifically white men) aren’t psychopaths, they’re just “understandably frustrated”, right?

          Broad portrayal of men as evil, or stupid, or rapists, or what have you is just fine, and men who complain about it are juvenile. Women being portrayed as sexy or wearing pink instead of blue is just intolerable, and women who complain about it are heroes. Having grown up with “boys are stupid, throw ricks at them,” I’m perpetually amazed at how your little feminist narrative maintains credibility these days.

          How about this Bo: I’ll give a shit about how women are portrayed in comic books when feminists start making media in which women are 50% of the bad guys and half the characters constituting the series retard (a la Tim Allen) isn’t a man.

          The fact is, men get shit on in media all the time, including media aimed at women; it’s fairly easy to see. Men just don’t insist on making a fucking movement about changing it the way some women have. I don’t go around demanding that Hallmark stop publishing manhating greeting cards just to annoy a few stupid women, so I’d prefer it if the hypocritical moralists would stop trying fuck with my videogames to avoid bad publicity from those moralists’ media outcry. Is that your definition of psycopathy? How about showing a suicidal man a nice greeting card with man with a gun in his mouth and a woman saying “finally, a man who gets it.” Or are only men psychopaths in your book?

    3. Am I the only one who has trouble reading “SJW” without thinking “single Jewish woman”? It’s the influence of personal classifieds.

      1. Are there a lot of single jewish women on craigslist?

  6. A comic book convention is the only place that has less women than Reason comments section.

    1. Kibby, Riven, Hazel, Dagny, Banjos, HoD, lap83, Nikki, IFH,

      And that’s off the top of my head. Prolly missing a handful.

    2. If you’re gonna lean on a stereotype to make a joke, at least try and use one that’s so dated.

      1. I know. He could have thrown in a refrigerators reference, at least!

    3. Well thank you. I assume that was a compliment.

    4. I always think of Bo Cara as “she”. Something about the Cara. Can’t shake it. Just as I keep thinking of a literal rat’s mouth when I read or hear Boca Raton. I don’t visualize a red stick when it comes to Baton Rouge, though.

      1. The Grand Tetons, however……

        (runs to bunk)

    5. Women? whoooo, gorsh.

  7. “Any time you don’t have to ask permission is awesome. And now you don’t,”

    Just give the FCC a little time.

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  10. I have no doubt that the powers that be will find a way to regulate. These people are doing this on their own without gov’t permission and that will not be tolerated. The gov’t will find a way to “protect” consumers from unscrupulous comic book writers. We need to protect the children.

  11. American superhero comics (not counting some classics) really suck. Terrible art and character design. Everyone is bug eyed and has crooked teeth.

    Popular Manga nowadays have no real plot, but they’re fun and the art is great.

    I honestly don’t know about any new American superhero. I heard the new Captain America is black and Ms Marvel is Muslim. The Muslim Ms Marvel is so laughably lame. But way more people read DBZ and Naruto.

    American feminists should never read Manga. Women get sliced and diced there pretty bad.

    1. Well, an American (or a German, depending on how you look at it) made the first automobile, but the Japanese are better at that now too, so that seems to be the natural course of things.

      Forgive my elitism for asking, but does anyone really even expect a plot from Manga? When I want plot, I read Dostoevsky; when I want something less esoteric, I watch porn. I guess I just don’t have the ‘in-between’ itch that comic books/manga seems to scratch, a I have never read a comic boom in my life or read any manga. And I’m kinda proud of the fact.

      Anyhow, it seems like the established comic book industry is kind dead or dying and the only thing keeping it alive is sentimentalism. Anyone these days can write a story and put it online and a lot of people can make digital art for it that even supersedes the quality you see in the industry product., so there seems to be no need for an industry really. Comic books provide a product for which a better quality substitute is almost inevitably available for free elsewhere. Like newspapers, I don’t think they’ll survive my generation.

      1. *raises hand* I expect a plot from manga, but I’m generally pretty picky about what I get. I generally avoid the really popular stuff that ends up being stupidly long just because even if it starts good, it’s going to descend into mediocrity, kept moving by its own bloated momentum.

        Sure, I will cop to collecting a couple of series because they are mindless fun and/or boobalicious, but the *good* series are the stories like Space Brothers, Planetes, Vinland Saga, and most recently for me, Ubel Blatt.

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  14. Thanks! This is relevant and useful. It also eliminates the possibility of a censorship trust spidering over a number of holding companies with equity in many publishing houses. The prospect harks back to Orwell’s most useful dog being the one to jump through hoops with no whip brandished.
    It’s a new dawn…

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