Comic book industry in the midst of change
Books, more than any other medium, seem to be embracing the digital revolution.
But even more so than prose novels, the comic book industry is looking to move beyond its traditional format.
Though people will pay up to $20 to see Tony Stark kick butt on the big screen, they donât seem to be going out of their way to pick up his monthly adventures at a comic book store for a fraction of that cost.
The drop in direct comic book sales could be the sign of a need to shift toward digital comics that use the Kindle or Nook.
Jonathan Hickman, writer of Marvel Comicsâ S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Fantastic Four, doubts the digital market is having much of an impact comic books now, but sees a lot of potential in the future.
âWe got to get our digital shit together. We havenât yet, weâre very poor in that area, just because weâre in the beginning,â he said. âNobody gets it right. Once we get that started, we wonât have the distribution choke that we have right now in the direct market. Things will get more interesting. I donât see any way we donât expand in the next 10 years.â
Becoming more digital would benefit both the comics industry and digital platforms like the burgeoning tablet market. Comics get a wider audience and the platforms get more content.
After all, thereâs an amazingly large back catalogue of each ongoing comic, not to mention comic book production is cheaper and faster than that of television shows or movies.
Why wait a year for the next season of less than a dozen episodes of AMCâs television version of The Walking Dead when there are more than 80 issues ready to be read?
âI can write what is essentially a $350 million movie as a comic. I can add all of [the special effects] I want and all someone has to do is draw that,â Hickman said. âAs a delivery device for narrative, comics are fantastic.â
But Nick Spencer, creator of Morning Glories and The Infinite Vacation, sees more creative opportunities beyond just putting comics on the screen. To him, the digital medium attracts new readers, but also allow for the creators themselves to try new things.
âThe big things that are coming are purely digital and arenât confined to the traditional structure of printed comics. Thereâs no reason why they need to look or feel that way,â he said. âThe big innovations in the next decade will be meaty in that, re-exploring the medium of sequential storytelling without page boundaries. Thatâs the stuff Iâm excited to see.â
And with that re-exploration, he sees artists taking a greater role in creating comics, and really taking advantage of what new media offer them.
âTheyâll have an inherent advantage, because they think visually,â Spencer said. âI think youâll see a big power shift as this develops. [The comic book] industry for last 10 years [has been] heavily dominated by writers.â
âI think [writers are] always obsessed with the tech of [contemporary culture]. More from a readership standpoint, itâs exciting,â Snyder said. âThere are all kinds of possibilities with digital comics.â
Transmedia, or telling the story across multiple platforms â how shows like Lost spread their mythology across webisodes, alternate reality games and books â allows for not only the broader artistic canvas that Spencer suggests, but also for writers to experiment with telling stories in ways they havenât before.
âSoon youâll be able to download elements to a story that are only able to be seen because of iPad, iPhone, Droid, etc.,â Snyder said. âIt will be an experience thatâs much more nuanced story-wise.â
The writers donât fear the coming shakeup. If anything, they are excited about it.
âI hope [to be at forefront of it]. I think writers that will succeed are writers that are willing to adapt, willing to change,â Spencer said. âIf you want to come in and do five panels, and add your captions and dialogue, itâs going to be a rough decade for you. If youâre willing to get with an audience and say âHow do we break loose?â then this will be a great time to be writing.â
Nicholas Slayton is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, âAge of the Geek,â runs Fridays.