Some Reflection on the Effects of the Pandemic on Comics
By Hervé St-Louis
May 9, 2020 - 12:49
I’m adding my take to a growing list of armchair pundits who like to pontificate about comics. If there is anything novel to contribute, it is that I don’t care abut what the other guys are writing, nor do I feel any attachment to the pre-pandemic world of comics. Dire warnings, moral panics, various attempts at shaming a variety of groups or individuals are not what I care about when I think of comics.
1-Comics are not the comic industry.
Comics are greater, wider, and more than the sum of the comic industry as seen in North America. Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and the other “majors” are not comics. They are actors in the comics scene which is more complex and richer than just a few “Diamond Top Tier Publishers.” As surprising and scary as it sounds, if all of these so-called top-tiered publishers disappeared tomorrow, and that Diamond also failed, there would still be comics. There are plenty of comics waiting for you to discover them. There is no shortage of comics that you can read now. Get to it.
2-Digital and web comics are not a back up plan.
In a scramble to find a “solution” to North America’s comics distribution problems, many have suggested digital and web comics as alternatives. Digital and web comics are not replacements for floppies nor books. They are part of an intricate ecosystem of comics but just like printed comics distributed by Diamond Comics are not the totality of comics, nor are digital and web comics the totality of or the alternative to all that is comics. There are no magic wands that will create a perfect distribution system tomorrow. Many people who dismissed digital and web comics for years now think that they can magically monetize these comics as replacements for floppies and books. It’s wishful thinking.
3-Comic Stores are in jeopardy and there may be little that can be done to save them.
Many sectors of the economy have been exposed and hurt by the pandemic. There is little that the average consumer can do to support a growing list of industries to “keep alive.” Consumers, through their governments will already be supporting the recovery of many sectors of the economy deemed more important by politicians, economists, and lobbyists. People’s dollars are stretched. Shaming comic readers into “actively” supporting comic stores is not commendable. It is a luxury for some but not a necessity for most. Comic stores are great and play a role much like movie theatres are for the film industry. They are venues where people can get their entertainment from. Comic fans are already well aware that comic stores are hurting. Shaming consumers and constantly “reminding them” to support their local comic store should stop. They know. If they can, they will. If they cannot, they should be left alone.
4-Comic creators and publishers must engage comic readers again.
Fandom culture makes it easy for comic readers to feel disengaged with the publishers and creators that create the comics that we read. Opinion leaders have been able to polarize the comics’ reading public the same way others have done so in the rest of popular culture and society. We are in the midst of a cultural war exacerbated by the Trump presidency. But even before that, comic creators and publishers often dismissed readers and fans. They communicated badly with the comic press and media, only using them to plug products and shower compliments. There is no culture of networking and relationship building in the comic book industry. People connect with one another, but it is based mostly on affinity and not complementary. Popular creators will follow one another on social media but will not engage with fans. When creators do not feel equipped to connect with fans, then it is the publisher’s job to do so on their behalf.
5-The future of comics is related to movies and other forms entertainment and it is not at once.
First, the MCU, the DCEU, and whatever comic movie is due to be released is not comics. Comics are not movies. The continuing alignment of larger comic properties with their gaming, toy, or media counterparts is killing creativity in comics, once the most creative source for stories. Yet, whenever Fortnite, of the Avengers perform well in games or movies, their success takes away discretionary income people have for entertainments. Comic readers cannot support all forms of entertainment equally. They have monetary limits but also time, and resources limits. Comics are competing against a lot of other things for the attention of readers.
6-If you can make comics, make some, but only if you can.
Comics have changed. We in North America, and I should say Americans, then to see comic as one thing only. Americans will often use the term North American as they cannot dismiss Canada. But there are comics everywhere outside of the direct market. There are comics all over the world. Creators do not all have the luxury of Diamond Comics across the world. So, people make comics regardless of the economic situation or have other financial goals attached with their cartooning. Comic can be a way of life for many and the need to pay bills may force people to other ventures. Telling people to do something when it can affect their financial stability and ability to survive is a selfish and idealistic mantra. Comics provide fun for many creators. For some, it is a way to reach other objectives or goals in life. Many may exit the industry quickly and seek alternatives, but comics remain the most approachable and cheap way to create intellectual properties.
Be open to change. Avoid being nostalgic or dogmatic about comics.
Hervé St-Louis, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Emerging Media at Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, in Canada.
Last Updated: May 19, 2020 - 14:06
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