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CR Sunday Interview: Rob Salkowitz
posted July 7, 2012



imageI met the writer and consultant Rob Salkowitz at this year's Emerald City Comicon through mutual acquaintance Ellen Forney. We spent some time subsequent to that initial meeting sitting in the back of a meeting room watching a panel and making wisecracks at a low-enough volume nobody could hear us -- I don't remember which panel. You meet a lot of nice, smart people at comics conventions; what struck me about Rob was I saw him later in the weekend at a fairly downbeat, post-show event where I didn't have the energy to talk to him or his lovely wife for any sustained period of time, and he was still nice and smart. That's a good sign. Conventions can be tough.

Salkowitz has written a book about pop culture industries using comics as its basis and Comic-Con International as its laboratory. Because it's structured around a single CCI weekend and all of the things Salkowitz encounters in the experience of it, from the hotel reservations day through the end of the show and the last "Dead Dog" party, Comic-Con And The Business Of Pop Culture at the very least provides significant insight as to how a pair of reasonably casual, all-the-way-grown-up comics fans organize their Comic-Con weekend: what they emphasize, what they attend, how they spend their time. It's a serious book, though, one with a great deal to say about what Comic-Con means in the wider sense of giant business entities grappling with an oddball event and its specific-culture peccadilloes. I press Salkowitz on some of the wider lessons and observations during the genial conversation into which we both relaxed below. -- Tom Spurgeon


TOM SPURGEON: One thing stands out about your past with comics that gets mentioned in the book: you were reading The Spirit and writing letters to it at ten years old. Were you a weird little kid, Rob, or just one with uncommonly advanced taste?

ROB SALKOWITZ: I was totally a weird little kid, but in this case, the credit for my early exposure to The Spirit belongs to my dad. At some point it dawned on him that I was going to read comics whether he liked it or not, so he decided I should at least read good comics. He remembered The Spirit from when it ran in the Philadelphia Record when he was a kid. He found a copy of the Warren magazine (#13, if I recall correctly) at a used book store and brought it home for me. I thought, "hey, this is pretty good!" The art was nice too. At that point, it was all over: I was hooked.

SPURGEON: Can you talk a little bit more about your re-entry into comics, what spurred that on? Because it seems like you pretty wide-ranging taste in comics, although I'm not sure how deeply involved you are with any one facet. What are your consumption habits like?

SALKOWITZ: I mostly lost interest in comics in the early '80s when I was a teenager. I read maybe one or two books -- Frank Miller's Daredevil, some stuff from Eclipse, that kind of thing. I wasn't cool enough to have discovered Love and Rockets. In college, a guy who lived down the hall bought Watchmen issue by issue when it came out and people would pass it around the dorm until it was beat to rags, but that was about my only experience with comics between, say, 1982 and 1996.

I got back into it for good in the mid-'90s when I was travelling somewhere and had some time to kill, so I wandered into a comic book store. That got me vaguely interested in what was going on again. I was working as a freelance writer and got a gig doing capsule summaries for Comic Base, the CD-ROM cataloging program. They sent me all kinds of stuff, from obscure Golden Age book to cool undergrounds I'd never heard of to absolutely horrible professional wrestling tie-ins and crap with holographic covers. That was sort of a crash refresher course in comics.

These days, my regular reads are a mixed bag. Art-wise, I love everything that Eric Powell, Guy Davis and Steve Lieber do. I try to keep up with the better graphic novels. I really dug Petrograd, for example, and can't wait to read Eddie Campbell's new book. I'm enjoying DC's new All-Star Western. I'm also strangely addicted to Dave Sim's Glamourpuss. You know that cliché about not being able to look away from a car accident? In that case, it's literally true. [Spurgeon laughs]

Mostly, though, I rely on the guy at my local comic shop (Chris Casos at Comics Dungeon in Seattle). He knows what I like and has impeccable taste. A lot of what I wrote in the book about the invisible benefits upsell and cross-sell at the point-of-sale is based on people like him. I can walk in intending to buy one book and walk out with an armload. I don't think you can establish that kind of trust with an online recommendation engine and I think the industry will really take a hit if it lets great direct market stores go down.

imageSPURGEON: I'm curious about the nuts and bolts of how this book came about, so I hope you don't mind a slow walk through the process. First, when did writing about Comic-Con as a prism for discussing entertainment media generally coalesce in a way that you thought suggested a book? Because I think we've all had ideas about how Comic-Con is a cultural signifier in a lot of ways, but not all of us write books.

SALKOWITZ: I'd been writing books and papers on the future of the workforce, the future of digital media in the global economy, young entrepreneurs, and all that. Denis Kitchen, who's become a very close friend over the years, kept needling me to use my "futurist super-powers" to write about comics. To me, "write about" means "write a book," because that's pretty much what I do these days. Eventually I said fine, if you can find a publisher, I'll do it. Denis is an agent; finding publishers is what he does. So we worked up a proposal and started taking it around, mostly to business and non-fiction presses because that's my background.

McGraw-Hill jumped on it instantly. They have no footprint whatsoever in the pop culture space, so everything I wrote was new and interesting to them and their traditional readership. And it turns out that all the conversations that have been taking place within the comics-watching community and seem familiar to us are incredibly eye-opening when removed from specific "nerd-media" context and presented to mainstream business types.

SPURGEON: Second, can you talk about how you decided to make a trip to Comic-Con the framework on which the book would be organized? Because certainly you could have gone with a lot of different organization principles there.

SALKOWITZ: My original outline had nothing to do with Comic-Con. It was built around scenarios and that sort of thing. And it was really dull. Even Denis, who's in my corner, wasn't thrilled. We had dinner the night before Comic-Con trying to figure out how to salvage it, then the Con took over, as it tends to do. I knew I was researching a book, so I kept my eyes open and took lots of notes, but I didn't know the book would be about the Con itself at that point. On Monday morning after it was over, I woke up with the light in my eyes and an insistent voice in my head saying "ORGANIZE THE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE AROUND THE CON!" Suddenly, everything snapped into place. It solved every problem I was having with the material and it helped us sell the proposal at light speed. I wrote the first draft in about ten weeks.

SPURGEON: Third, I wondered how you approached the process of turning that specific 2011 trip into the book. Did you know going in that this would be the one that would become a book? Did you take notes? Did you keep a journal? Did you work backwards? How much outside corroboration did you count on in terms of keeping honest your own perspective?

SALKOWITZ: If I'd thought of using the Con itself as the narrative structure beforehand, I would have gone about things in a much more systematic way, and strangely, I don't think that would have worked out as well. This may sound like a cop-out, but I do not claim to be a journalist, and when I try to act like one, I tend to look foolish compared to the pros. I am a business analyst, which is a slightly different set of skills. I do research, I do interviews, I seek out various perspectives, but it's more about applying different frameworks and trying to understand the bigger picture. On a few things, I spoke to a few super-knowledgeable people to get some basic facts and context, but I wanted this to be more of a point-of-view piece at the end of the day.

SPURGEON: To develop that last one a little bit more, you do fold in your wife's viewpoint and the viewpoint of a pair of other family member, but not to any significant extreme. What was the purpose of accessing those points of view but only in a limited way?

SALKOWITZ: My wife Eunice is a full partner in terms of comic geekdom; her viewpoint is part of my experience and I can't honestly represent myself on the subject of Comic-Con without including her. As for the section on casual fans, I used Mic and Emily because I don't have that "innocent eye" anymore and felt it was important to have those sorts of voices represented. If comics wants to broaden its audience to encompass enthusiastic comic-adjacent fan constituencies, these are the folks they need to reach.


SPURGEON: Another thing that I think distinguishes your viewpoint is you have a relationship with Batton Lash and Jackie Estrada. Do you worry that their unique perspective on the show and the Eisner Awards may color your own? It seems like you're aware of this in terms of how they might have viewed the Trickster effort, for instance.

SALKOWITZ: As you know, probably better than most people, everyone involved in comics has strong opinions about lots of things. Batton and Jackie are friends; lots of people mentioned in the book by name are people I know and like, are knowledgeable about certain parts of the industry, and they were all incredibly helpful and generous with their time, so I wanted to fairly represent their points of view. That said, I don't agree with them about everything, and I tried to tease that out in subtle ways when it was important. Also, I intended those "After Hours" sections (the BOOM! Studios party, the Eisners, Trickster and the Dead Dog Party) to be a little less formal and more subjective.

SPURGEON: Speaking of the Trickster effort, you describe it as a backlash, and while there are elements of that to anyone wanting to do an event outside of the show, why did you decide to describe it that way rather than, say, a natural spillover that occurs with arts festivals into alternative venues?

SALKOWITZ: I think the backlash element was fundamental to the way Trickster marketed itself, at least in that first year. You can't walk two steps in the Exhibit Hall without someone belly-aching that "Comic-Con isn't about comics anymore." It was a savvy move to tap into that, while at the same time also doing a very affirmative event that had a lot of substance in and of itself.

SPURGEON: This is kind of a rudimentary question, but it's one that bears asking, I think, because it kept coming up while I was reading the book. What exactly is the primary audience for a work like this? Is it people familiar with Comic-Con that might be interested in this application of that experience, or is there a business-type audience that will see this as a quirky way to get at various theories. I'm guessing the latter, but I want to hear from you.

SALKOWITZ: Heh... I guess we'll find out. When I pitched the book to McGraw-Hill, with their traditional business focus, I emphasized there's an appeal to creative professionals in all industries; people in media, marketing, publishing and other decision-making roles. Comics are doing something right to have completely taken over the pop culture space in the last decade, but it's really complicated, and about as fascinating as anything happening in business today.

Fundamentally, though, Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture is the story of an industry and passionate community of fans and creators that went in search of attention, prosperity and respect. It’s about what happened when they found it, and it’s about what happens next. Years from now, when all the dust around today’s controversies has settled, I hope the book still holds up as a snapshot of a pivotal moment in comics culture and a way to think about issues of change and continuity in any kind of creative industry.

imageSPURGEON: How strongly do you believe that what gets termed "comics culture" -- this idea of geek culture with comics as a kind of pure, binding force within that wider conception -- really belongs to comics? I wonder sometimes if something like the reflection of comics readers or their interests on something like that Big Bang Theory TV show has anything to do with comics at all, or if it's just a facile use of comics that gets played back on the culture in a giant, funhouse mirror way. Is that even important?

SALKOWITZ: I think there's a core personality type that's attracted to comics culture and identifies with it so strongly that they become a "fan" rather than just a consumer. They want to participate at some level, whether by drawing their own comics, hosting a podcast, dressing in a costume, or just becoming a know-it-all nerd. Whether this fan personality trait is activated by superhero comics, by manga, by Twilight novels, by collecting action figures -- that's just a matter of taste. It's the attitude and the intensity that matters.

Big companies look at Comic-Con and the fan energy there and say, "I wanna get me some of that!" The whole project of creating "fans" for products is the hot thing in marketing these days. A lot of these entities think the easiest way to tap into the rabid fandom of comics fans is to represent, in some superficial way, affinity with the cause. Most of them get that wrong, because they don't really get the relationship between comics and its audience. That said, even a mass-market show like Big Bang Theory has moments when it demonstrates a pretty sophisticated understanding of the psychology of nerds; of why smart and sensitive outcasts are drawn to the whole nexus of comics culture. I dare say Big Bang Theory offers a more sympathetic portrayal of nerdom, than, say, Kevin Smith's Comic Book Men, even though Smith has spent his whole career trying to prove he's one of the tribe.

SPURGEON: Can you unpack the idea of transmedia storytelling in a way that doesn't make me want to go back to bed for three days? I'm trying to understand what you see as the specific value of the notion; it always seems buzz-wordy for the sake of being a buzzword to me. I also always feel like that notion is being explained to me by people who have a real interest in seeing that notion get over so they can pick up business based on their expertise in it. If my interest is in art, and the expressive content of comics, what should I know about the word "transmedia" beyond what seems like an easily graspable and surface understanding that some properties find life in a variety of media?

SALKOWITZ: Talk about transmedia without sounding boring or like a slick PR guy... man, this is a tough interview! It's true that the concept of transmedia is nothing new. Lots of properties from Sherlock Holmes to Dracula to Snow White have been done in different media for over a century. What's new today is that the process is being managed more strategically. The owners are trying to achieve something bigger than just sell you the next movie, book or t-shirt because you happen to like comics. They want to create stories that sprawl, by design, across all these different channels. And now, with devices like iPads, they can provide all those different experiences on the same platform.

To a great extent, the push toward transmedia storytelling is a byproduct of consolidation in the industry. The same few giant companies own all the big characters and all the various media channels. They're finally getting smart about how they are pushing those characters and stories out into different versions. They're trying to unite audiences for the characters in different media, so they're creating webcomics that fill in the details of a weekly TV series, or a Web app that adds new content to digital comics, or getting gamers who like Arkham City into the theatres to see Dark Knight Rises. That's basically what it's about.

I agree that it's more a business issue than anything to do with the art. There are some interesting new potential storytelling possibilities for comics and comic-themed stories: I thought the Star Trek mini-series that IDW did a year or two ago, which filled in some of the story gaps from the JJ Abrams movie, was a good, well-conceived and well-executed example. But by and large, most of the stuff out there strikes me as contrived and way too clever for its own good. It's like everyone wants to draw with the new crayon in the box. Before long, we'll have a better understand about what really works aesthetically and what's just a gimmick.

SPURGEON: One of the things that was depressing to me about things on Comic-Con like the recent Morgan Spurlock documentary is that I still see a pretty strong arts-comics show. I see Comic-Con more as a place where the Hernandez Brothers have appeared for decades than it is a place Steven Spielberg appeared once. So I appreciate you engaging that side of the show. You seem to think that art-comics are a bit more insulated from the general thrust of global business interest in comics than others believe. Is that a fair characterization? Do you really feel like there's an element to art-comics culture that's actively hostile to the thrust of general entertainment culture to the point they don't have any investment in its success or failure?

SALKOWITZ: I think one of the biggest mistakes that outside observers make about the business is to conflate the expanding commercial horizons of the comics genre with the expanding artistic horizons of the comics medium. At Comic-Con, it's an easy mistake to make because everything is under one roof, for better or worse. The art side of comics is driven by different dynamics and appeals increasingly to a different audience. Their success isn't necessarily assured, but it depends much more on creators producing good work (and getting recognized for it) than on the box office returns of the latest Spider-Man movie. Independent creators looking to digital distribution have a bunch of problems to solve, but at least they don't have to worry about pissing off retailers the way the mainstream publishers do. There are fewer externalities and fewer dependencies.

SPURGEON: Another underlying notion that I wanted to ask you about is I wondered how you felt about an arts industry presenting itself in this way, this kind of flea-market aspect to Comic-Con. Because that's become so powerful that other groups either through participation at Comic-Con (the film industry) or reform of their own institutions (prose publishing and BEA) are adopting that commercial aspect. Do you ever find it weird or noteworthy the fundamental notion of an industry's primary showcase being a big ol' flea market with supplementary programming? Where might that express yourself in this work, do you think?

SALKOWITZ: Well I did a whole section on the collectibles dealers in the book. I revised that section a few times because I am quite conflicted about it. I'm a collector myself; I like the old books, I like flipping through dollar bins, I like haggling with dealers. It's an association that comes from going to Cons in the 1970s when I was a kid. By my lights, the flea market is part of the experience and part of the culture. But we've already established that I'm weird that way.

The fact is, every subculture and every trade show and consumer show has its quirks. If I ever did a book about car shows or gun shows or insurance sales conferences or whatever, I'm sure I'd discover things that seem much stranger to the outside reader than anything that goes on at Comic-Con.

imageSPURGEON: Your digital section is almost ruthlessly even-handed and equitable. It's one of the parts of the book that feels more like survey than analysis. Do you think it's remarkable at all that comics' digital outlook still has such a Wild West aspect. Should we expect it to be more settled than it seems right now? Having spent a lot of time at least detailing the landscape, do you have a specific desired outcome in the way comics is going to approach that material? You describe the kind of extraordinary reluctance that companies have in moving forward because of the perceived risk to the DM; how do you feel that is best negotiated?

SALKOWITZ: I'll take that as a compliment, because I feel strongly that the whole digital debate would benefit from some ruthless even-handedness and equitability. In one of my earlier lives, I helped launch a digital book publishing venture, back in 2000. We looked into doing digital comics, particularly back issues that were in the public domain, and that's when I stumbled onto the whole pirates-with-scanners scene. People were doing these "zero-day scans" of brand new books -- titles that maybe sold five or six thousand copies were getting hundreds if not thousands of downloads. It didn't seem fair to the creators or healthy for the industry.

Later, I did some work with Microsoft, so I had a TabletPC and mostly ended up using it to read comics. This was 2003 so we're not talking about a fully elegant user experience, but I figured sooner or later, they'd get the technology right and comics would play a big part in any future content strategy. I tried talking to folks in the comics industry around that time and they looked at me like I had two heads. I got the impression they just didn't want to deal with any of it.

Luckily these third parties came along to solve some of the problems. A company like comiXology isn't a publisher, isn't a content owner, doesn't have any relationships with retailers to maintain, so they are free to build a better mousetrap. I don't love everything about the current digital distribution model and I felt like I spent a fair amount of time analyzing the different approaches and pointing out the problems that might lie ahead. But given the hand they were dealt in terms of the existing industry partners and the requirements for content security, I think they've done a very good job turning a potential fiasco into a raging-hot business. I also applaud them for taking the step to create the digital storefront program for retailers. The fate of the direct market is not really comiXology's problem, but the company seems sincerely sympathetic to the issue, rather than just cheerleading for the demise of brick and mortar like some of the others in the space.

That said, it remains a tricky issue for me. I have a Kindle Fire; my wife has an iPad. I like the convenience of the digital reading experience and I'd love to not have stacks of new comics around because space is running low. My local comic shop has a comiXology storefront, and every so often, I ask the owner, "will you make any money if I buy digital through your site?" And he squeezes his fingers closely together in the universal "not so much" sign. So I don't do it. I don't do Netflix either, because I like my local video store. The people who work at those stores are my friends, my neighbors, my fellow nerds. If the physical spaces closed down, my life would be poorer in ways that no amount of digital convenience could compensate for. I may not feel that way forever, but I like that I still have a choice. I want to keep having that choice.

SPURGEON: Talk to me about scenario planning as a serious discipline in the kind of the work you do. I'm interested in its backbone, what separates your various scenarios for the future of comics from the kind of late-night noodling people might indulge in sitting at the Hilton bar in San Diego at 2 AM. What makes good scenario planning distinct from sloppy or haphazard applications of same?

SALKOWITZ: Scenario planning may seem like noodling, but there's a real discipline to the methodology. The backbone of the approach is the concept of uncertainty: that there are some outcomes we can't predict. Will comics continue to reach the mass pop culture audience, or will we see a retreat back to the old nerd niche? We don't know. We can guess, we can speculate, but if we make an assumption and it's wrong, almost everything predicated on that assumption is wrong too. Will the business climate in the entertainment industry continue to be dominated by the big corporate players, or will we see some kind of grass-roots storyteller uprising enabled by digital distribution? Again, we can't know for sure. But the picture sure looks different depending on how that works out.

In my experience, having a sense of the possibilities bounded by uncertainties gives you a much broader and more all-encompassing way to see the future. You don't get blindsided by being overconfident; you can make sense of changing events more clearly. It lets you get above a tactical, reactive posture where you're trying to parse out every new twist and turn. I've worked through this process with technology companies, automotive companies, office furnishing companies, energy companies, governments and schools. So why not comics?

That said, typically when we do formal scenario planning sessions with corporate clients, there's a whole process of convening discussion groups, identifying uncertainties, building out the scenario descriptions, role playing, etc. It's a collaborative process. In the book, I basically set some stakes in the ground as points of discussion and then built around it, as I'd do when creating the final report; it's similar, but definitely an abbreviated version of the process. Honestly I'd love to do a full-on scenario planning workshop with 20-30 stakeholders in the comics space. It would be fascinating. Maybe for the sequel...

SPURGEON: How do you deal with the notion that people are going to have when they read your various scenarios to basically Abe Simpson the whole bunch of them, to say, "Well, what we're really going to see is a bit from columns A, B, C and D." How is making distinct scenarios more important than positing a future that blends those scenarios in different ways?

SALKOWITZ: I think it's highly likely that the "real future" will blend elements from several scenarios. It's not like I have a crystal ball in my office and can say for sure that x, y and z will definitely happen. But the value of scenario thinking is to expand your horizons. When the Avengers movie racks up billions of dollars worldwide, it's not easy to picture the Infinite Crisis or Ghost World scenarios I talk about in the book, where comics decline as commercial drivers. It's a forecast against the grain. But unexpected stuff happens. One day, disco was the hottest thing in music and the next day it was a bad joke. In 1999, the economic, political and military situation of 2002 was almost literally unimaginable unless you were willing to consider extremely contrarian scenarios. But being unimaginable didn't stop it from actually happening. Things go well until they don't. You always have to account for change, even if the change is unpleasant or inconvenient.

Here's another example. My colleagues and I did some work in the mid-'00s where one of our scenarios involved the failure of the Euro currency. This is when the Euro was trading at $1.55 and it seemed farfetched to forecast what we called "Continental Drift." We didn't rate it as a very likely outcome, but we told our clients they should at least consider it in their planning. Not everything in that scenario came true, but we did put it out there as a possibility, and if the clients did their strategy right, they'd have a contingency plan for what's going on right now. That's all I'm trying to do in the book: expand people's perceptions of what's possible going forward, so we don't fall into the trap of assuming something is inevitable just because it looks likely at the present moment.

SPURGEON: How fragile on your constructions, do you think? My hunch is that if you wrote this book a few years ago, say, that the idea of the emergence of an iPad device might weigh more heavily on how things develop in terms of digital comics in a way that the reality of it now makes it more easy to deal with as a concept, if that makes any sense. Are there events out there that you think might weigh on the future of comics significantly that simply haven't been brought to bear yet? If you could see one part of comics' future in order to better describe the entire future, what would you want to know?

SALKOWITZ: To me the most exciting possibility in comics this decade is increasing globalization. Here in the US, the artistic and commercial potential of comics has been pretty well institutionalized and contextualized by the culture, but in many emerging countries, comics are still dangerous. They're politically and culturally disruptive. The social and economic conditions are right for the artform to really connect with those societies in interesting ways, for new geniuses of the medium to emerge. They have the same potential for huge impact as they had in our Golden Age or Underground eras

If that starts happening in young, dynamic and diverse global markets like India, Africa or the Middle East, we may see comics take a huge step forward in unexpected directions. That's part of what's behind the Expanding Multiverse scenario I talk about in the book. You've been tracking this scene for years, so you know exactly how much great material is out there and how diverse and interesting approaches are emerging from every corner of the world. To me, that's worth watching more than the next announcement about "augmented reality" or other flavor-of-the-month mini-trend.


SPURGEON: It's interesting to me that you call for transmedia development in terms of properties not previously bound to traditional formats in a summer where we're seeing huge, cross-platform success with things like Avengers (50 years old) and Batman (70-plus years old). Am I understanding what you mean by allegiance there? Is there any advantage to properties being developed with multiple platforms in mind as opposed to properties being exploited in that direction?

SALKOWITZ: The comics from 50 or 70 years ago were not necessarily developed with transmedia in mind. We're stuck with those properties because they are well-known and owned by the same people who own the studios and media channels used for the large-scale distribution of the content. But it's problematic, both artistically and commercially, as we've seen.

The paradox of developing legacy comics properties into other media formats is that their core audience responds to them first as comics, and comics have certain characteristics that are hard to reproduce in other media. When you read a superhero story drawn by Jack Kirby, for example, Kirby's giant style steamrolls logic and overwhelms our normal experience of reality. You don't ask why Galactus wears a mask that covers his eyes, as if he were trying to protect a secret identity. You don't question the physics of Captain America flinging his shield to knock out 10 guys at once. It just works. It's unspeakably cool because it's drawn that way.

Movies are visually literal and are much more distracting when they don't follow the rules of ordinary experience or depart from their internal logic. Producers have to appeal to fans who want to see the source material represented on screen exactly the way they remember it from the comics, but also create something that makes visual and narrative sense to people just there to see a movie. That's why every comic movie is a roll of the dice, even when it has nearly unlimited special effects budgets, star power, and sympathetic creators associated with it. Avengers was a hit. Green Lantern was a miss. Sin City worked but The Spirit was a catastrophe, despite similar approaches. Hollywood hates that unpredictability.

Moving forward, creators have the opportunity to think transmedia from the start and to tell stories that can scale if they have to, or remain rooted to one medium if that's the intention. I think we'll get better stories and more consistently successful productions if creators -- and publishers -- make those choices strategically.

SPURGEON: I thought it was interesting you end with a call-out to the Days Of Future Past storyline in X-Men where the characters wonder if their actions in the story changed the dire future that story portrayed. The truth is the future in those comics never arrives, dire or utopian, because the nature of those comics is to avoid the future as assiduously as possible and extend the present for as long as profit allows. Could that be true of comics as well?

SALKOWITZ: If it were only about the internal dynamics of the comics industry, I'd say yes, absolutely. But we're in a new world now, where forces like digital distribution, transmedia, globalization, platform convergence and collaborative co-creation of content are affecting everything. Comics can't hide in their niche anymore -- they have to engage these trends and find ways to adapt, despite their profoundly sentimental, nostalgic and small-c conservative fan and business culture. How well comics can handle that transition is the big uncertainty. If they do it right, the potential is unlimited; but because of stuff we all know about how the industry is, there's always the possibility that everything will come crashing back to earth in a flaming wreck.

My small contribution to the dialogue is to highlight those choices from a business perspective and clarify to fans and other interested parties exactly what's at stake. It's not just a creative conversation, or a fan conversation, or even a business conversation anymore. It's a conversation as big and insane and unruly as Comic-Con has become. That's what I tried to capture in the book.


* Comic-Con And The Business Of Pop Culture, Rob Salkowitz, McGraw-Hill, hardcover, 9780071797023, July 2012, $27.


* cover to the new book
* publicity photo of Mr. Salkowitz provided by the author
* Salkowitz with Denis Kitchen
* four basically contextual photos of past Comic-Cons by Whit Spurgeon
* promotional cartoon for the book featuring art by Steve Lieber (below)