Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

April 11, 2013

Jim Rugg Asks A Question About Comics Sales

The cartoonist, designer and podcaster about comics Jim Rugg wrote in to ask about a recent podcast on which I appeared talking about the sales of comics. His letter:
I found your thoughts on building comics' audience interesting. I wonder if we've entered an age, where all three of the scenarios you describe are all possible:
1. Building casual fans (Time-Warner and Disney with their brand licensing approach)
2. Building passionate customers (which I think is something comic book shows and online efforts like your site,, and individual sites and blogs and podcasts all support - I think this is ultimately up to the individual, and now days, there is enough quality content that if a person discovers comics and has a passionate reaction to the form, we as creators and professionals and fans/customers can all support and welcome that new convert)
3. Organizing comics in terms of individual content rather than under a collective "form," (I think a number of books and creators and publishers do this well, for instance, Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree has certainly found fans based on its content in addition to comics fans who find the cartooning appealing)
I think all of these strategies are possible and being supported by a wide variety of people and groups within our industry. I interpreted your comments to suggest one strategy may be superior to another, but from my perspective who cares because one strategy being adopted by one group doesn't really impact the other strategies, does it?
So let me respond.

I'm not sure if I'd describe one strategy as superior to another; that seems the kind competitive-to-binary way that arguments on the comics Internet move that gets us arguing definitions and reasonableness and what was just said and meant more than it get us talking about the actual issues involved.

The main distinctions I would make when it comes to arguing comics sales is that 1) I want policy and strategies that drives sales -- actual sales, as opposed to an indirect benefit; 2) I want policy and strategies that stand a better chance to see pay go to cartoonists and comics makers over one that doesn't. I think slow growth mechanisms that build on existing institutions are under-utilized given their historical effectiveness and speak to those two areas of a concern more than broader solutions might.

And yes, I do think that some entities pursuing different strategies can come at the expense of those kind of slow-growth strategies. I think businesses can emphasize policies that favor things like market share and publicity and chasing after specific properties and their well-being because of some concern outside of publishing over making a healthier industry where more people are paid more frequently over a longer period of time. I would kill for Marvel to become a better industry citizen; they're already awesome at being a public corporation.

So basically, short form, I would like more energy and resources focused on driving attention to things like opening more shops, say, as opposed to placing articles in USA Today or whatever. I think companies have limited resources to do these things, and I would prefer to see them spent in a way that builds on what we know drives money into creators' pockets not because that's better, but because I think there's an opportunity there. I think paying creators and investing in the art form itself makes for better art over time, and is fair besides. That doesn't mean I don't love all the other strategies, and I realize that opens me up to attacks of "he just wants comics to remain a little thing." It's more like I think comics -- the actual comics -- are for the most part a niche art form the way all art forms not maybe movies and TV and video games are now, and that once you realize that it may be better to find 200,000 more readers and 50 great comics shops than it is to create 2,000,000 people that know who Iron Man and a rack of five comic book at 200 Wal-Marts. Or at least the former shouldn't be ignored for the latter.

So no, Jim, it's not hard and fast, but I like the see the baseline emphasis change. More readers. More buyers. More for comics-makers. Creators not corporations. Books not brands. And so on.
posted 9:00 am PST | Permalink

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