Comics / Comics News

Back the Comeback Is Pointless

By Hervé St-Louis
May 19, 2020 - 09:43

On May 13, 2020, Geppi Family Enterprise, headed by Diamond Comic Distributor (Diamond) Steve Geppi launched a marketing campaign to encourage comic, games, and other pop culture consumers to start purchasing wares distributed by the firm to comic book stores across North America. Local authorities in many areas have shut many comic book stores and other non-essential businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic. Diamond, the main comic distributor in North America had shut down its operations on March 23, 2020, leaving comic book publishers, comic book stores, and consumers stranded.

Pundits have wondered whether the fragilized, North American comic industry could sustain yet another setback and if consumers would return to comic stores. Most comic book stores receive the majority of their wares from Diamond.

The campaign consists of an insignia modelled after the infamous comic code authority that led to the self-censorship of comic contents from the 1950s up to the 2011, when it was finally abandoned. The insignia, which Diamond, claims an unregistered trademark over, consists of a message telling consumers that “Our comeback will be bigger than out setback!”

A few publishers such as Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, and Dynamite Entertainment have announced support for the marketing campaign meant to galvanize the comic industry. Publishers are encouraged to tag their comics with the insignia to let consumers know that they are supporting the comic industry and to create a collectability factor. A brief analysis will demonstrate the futility of this campaign and its utter disconnect from comic fans and its misunderstanding of the market.

That Diamond which has access to the most complete sales data on the comic industry cannot gain proper insight from its knowledge and come up with a serious marketing campaign backed by proper demographic and survey analysis demonstrate its failure in leading this industry over which it has a quasi monopoly. The campaign is modelled after one of the most destructive event in North American comics’ history which led to voluntary self-censorship, an abandonment of creativity, coupled with a reliance on formulaic and bland contents geared towards children in reaction to a moral panic.

Here Diamond is doing what some minority communities have done in the past by reclaiming a negative element, such as a slur and identifying with it. Homosexuals did the same with the terms queer and gay. Black communities have reclaimed with much controversies some racial epithets.

While the comic code is part of comics’ history and had a defining influence over their developments, the abandonment of this self-censorship apparatus has helped reinvigorate creativity in comics. The Comic Code Authority seal is a negative aspect of comics, not something worth celebrating. Its adherence to comics was closer to a label of self-subjugation than an attempt to communicate creativity, entrepreneurship, and liberty.

Diamond’s insignia is so context-driven that it highlights one type of comics which is based mostly around genres such as superheroes, fantasy, horror and science fiction, collected by one type of comic consumer, not all of them. Any comic reader born after 2000 will feel no connection with this. This is a problem as many comic publishers and now Diamond continue to mine the old generations of readers which are aging rapidly and dwindling, instead of attracting new readers. This campaign is meant for the old guard of comic readers who likes to go to comic stores. It does not target other readers.

This campaign is meant to prop up Diamond principally and continue its dominion over the comic industry. It is a reactionary measure which much like the comic code days, is meant to recentre on a unique definition of comics and the comic industry. There are no overtures towards newer readers. It is meant to protect one business model and ignore competitive ones such as the multiple comic distribution strategy spearheaded by DC Comics, or other points of sales such as bookstores, large retail chains, niche distributors, digital, and web comics.

This campaign does not address any of the recurrent and systemic problems that prevent consumers from buying comics in comic book stores, or have pushed away many of them from some types of comics such as superhero comics. The campaign does not address the precarity of comic stores and publishers who each share margins on products that can often be inferior to Diamond’s share.

I have advocated proper marketing and survey analyses of the comic industry for over 15 years at ComicBookBin. These proper approaches which are meant to understand the comic market, estimate specific targets and different profiles are still lacking today and totally absent from Diamond’s overture. Diamond does not seem to understand who collects comic books in 2020 and what situation they are in when they have other issues to contend with, such as a pandemic and economic security.

This campaign shames the same old group of comic buyers into supporting a decaying distribution scheme built on their back without returning or giving back anything to said consumers, except the pride of having been asked to throw away money once again. There is no compelling argument as to why comic consumers should support this campaign when other entertainment venues appear more amicable and beneficial.

Instead of expanding, Diamond continues the failed strategy of contracting and encirclement of a narrower comic buying public asked to contribute more and more for less value. Just last week, on a podcast, I heard a retailer complaining that digital comics had no collectability and that his real consumer was the person buying five to ten copies of the same comic every month. That such foolish thinking continues to exist in 2020 is alarming.

What this unhinged and pointless marketing campaign demonstrates is that the comic industry is due for a serious restructuring and that the Covid-19 epidemic, having shown the systemic weakness and unsustainability of this industry, may open the door for more enterprising, innovative, creative leadership in comic distribution, marketing, and sales.

Last Updated: September 6, 2021 - 08:15

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