Comics in 2015
By Hervé St-Louis
Jan 2, 2015 - 16:42
5-Mediated Comics Contents
Contents originating from comics will continue to dominate and attract producers from other media. This is not a new development as producers such as Disney and Warner Brothers have multiple year plans for comic book properties. The result of this interest from outside producers is the reduction of risk-taking in comics contents. Wolverine will not adopt a new red suit and lose a finger permanently as this would not benefit his appearance in an upcoming film or the sale of his licence on pyjamas.
Thus expect comics contents from larger publisher to be bland and safe. They will continue to reuse older material that has been vetted and is known. These so-called mainstream comics are no longer the place for innovation where characters like Howard the Duck or Ambush Bug can get a series. However, expect the visual quality of these new made for profit comics to increase tremendously with better artists, colourists and better production values around the material.
More than ever the fate of Captain America and Wonder Woman in comics are tied to their appearances in several other media and licensed products. More than ever, Daredevil and Aquaman are brands managed by media-based reputation stock brokers as opposed to cartoonists. If you enjoy this stream line version of comics where every aspect is tested though focus groups, then you are in luck. Otherwise, you’ll just continue to skip the number one issues and the reboots in favour of new material, like I have done.
4-Comics Mediated Licenses
Although a much smaller market than video games, movies or novels, licensed properties from other media like Star Wars, Buffy, Transformers, Star Trek and older forms of comics like Flash Gordon, and Charlie Brown will continue to populate the comic book landscape. Here, publishers have an opportunity to differentiate themselves based on the contents. One publisher specializes in licensing Doctor Who and similar eclectic science fiction material, another specializes in publishing the supporting material for the next Hollywood blockbuster.
Again, over the past years, there has been tremendous concentration of licensed properties. Their adaptation to comic books as new material has become a standardized feature the same way the adaptation of original comics contents has been in other media. The strategy between publishing new comics based on Star Wars and Angry Bird is the same. Find a suitable niche and target it. Reused the new comics contents in broader campaigns supporting the contents outside of comics. The development of original contents is also concentrated even more with a few specialized publishers with expertise in comic book-based brand management for comics.
Licenses are probably priced out of reach for most comic book publishers and only those working on properties owned by their related conglomerates parent companies, like Marvel and Star Wars or those with aggressive brand management experience like IDW Publishing and Dynamite Publishing will succeed and afford more brand publishing. A brand manager’s licenses is now like a stock portfolio with publishers like Dark Horse losing equity over several years by having many of its lucrative brands taken over by other publishers.
3-Digital Comics meet Web Comics
Many readers confuse digital comics and Web comics. Development this year will make the narrow distinctions between the two forms of comics even more blurry as digital first strategies will now include aggressive plans for Web comics. Comixology surprised many in 2014 when it was bought by Amazon. Comixology publishes mainly digital comics read on various non-desktop platforms. Digital comics usually come on closed platforms and do not allow users to hold personal copies of comics without digital rights management or without cloud computing access to a library or purchased comics.
Web comics have always had the ethos of the open Internet by being published on Web sites and being easy to copy. Whether they were monetized or not they were available for most users regardless of platform of choice. Following the successful exit plan of Comixology, other technology entrants such as Tapastic fully versed in Silicon Valley ethos are trying to monetize Web comics on dual digital comics platforms and Web sites. As has happened many times previously, investment within comics comes from outsiders who see an opportunity that they believe comics insiders have missed.
Web comics perform a different function in the comics landscape. The contents tend to attract readers that would be ill at ease with the negativity of #gamergate. Much of the contents appeal to gender and ethnic minorities often pushed on the sidelines of the mainstream printed comic book world. Web comics also appeal to manga fans who have been relegated to second class status in comics for decades notwithstanding the sales success of this type of comics with younger and female readers. The new dual platforms and whatever Amazon is working on to expand Comixology’s reach, integrate the new readership segments yet at the same close the platform and accessibility of new comics by federating them into walled gardens.
2-Independent Comics Will Perdure
Even if Web comics are seen as commodities like digital movies and music downloads, there are few barriers stopping dedicated creators from creating them freely and continuing to distribute collected materials as books or other formats. The barriers to entry have not changed. Creators must surmount some technological barriers to have their contents published. The discovery of new material is still difficult and will continue to rely on regular updates, good marketing, and good community management to create loyal readers.
Regardless of the financing barriers, the contents of independent comics will continue to reach new creative levels, especially with creator-owned projects. Comics creators are better trained, better read and more willing to explore different themes and genres than past generations of independent comics creators. Whereas in the past, many independent comics creators published proxy Marvel and DC comics super hero material, comics in 2015 will continue the trend of exploring other genres. One difference is that thanks to access to better technology, the production value of many independent comics is equal or superior to offerings from Marvel and DC Comics.
1-Integrated Comics User Experience
For years I have advocated a greater place for comics readers and fans in the comic book industry. Often, readers and fans are seen as nothing more than the purse of creators, publishers and producers. The function of fandom was to buy and shut up. Trying to please the customer is still a difficult thought for comic book industry. Pleasing the users usually mean catering to the vocal fringe of 45 years-old comic book fans who are critical and more visible than other readers. Making Spider-man black or rebooting the DC universe was seen as a careful management and curation act where the stakes was to avoid pissing off a vocal minority of readers who in some aspects of the comic book world, was the literal backbone of some publishers’ fortunes.
The greater role played by the Internet over the last 15 years in comic book fandom and the transformation of user interaction with media through mobile media has slowly forced a redefinition of what comic book user experience is about. The platform has forced many comic book creators and publishers to reformat the information they share online about their comics. The format has to be easy to consume and has to appeal to a larger population that may not understand nor appreciate the intricacies of Hawkman’s continuity.
However, so far comic book user experience has only focused on the technology used by readers to interact with online news, and digital comics. I predict that 2015 will be the year where a renewed focused on the user will integrate more than technical and functional considerations. It is still very difficult for many in the comic book industry to understand the value of the comic book fan as a customer. However, the reality of business has caught up with many publishers. For example, it is no longer realistic to have a comic book universe populate mainly by characters of European descent. The realization that the comic book reading public is not exclusively constituted by older white males changes how comics will be marketed and created in 2015 positively. Past 2015, laggards will finally understand that perhaps having a transgender super hero will not create as much opposition as it would have 20 years ago. Through forced market appeal consideration, there may yet be some experimentation in comics by tying to make them appeal and resemble the tastes its varied readership.
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