Von Allan has written a fabulous article on the obvious. Are comics simply too expensive for the masses to see them as a viable form of entertainment? Yes. Fans have been saying it for quite a while. But it is a surprise to hear the same from professionals. Anyone who has a product to sell is going to emphasize the benefits and minimize or even eliminate all discussion of possible flaws. So to hear these salesmen—and make no mistake, these men and women are salesmen as well as creators and editors—openly admit to inflating sales to ridiculous proportions to compensate for a shrinking audience is a bit mad, isn’t it? If one isn’t going to lower prices, why even bring that up? Shove that unpleasantness in the closet and razzle-dazzle ’em with new costumes and the number one.
I’m not rich. I’m not even middle-class. However, I do have a very small amount that I am able to spend on entertainment, like many of my working-class peers. We have televisions, but no gaming consoles. We have used computers off Craigslist and no tablets in sight. We have library cards and no comics. We have land lines and bills—lots and lots of bills. For me, the goal is to get the most entertainment for the least amount of money. However, I’m not going to consume anything simply because it’s cheap. I’m looking for quality plus quantity for the least amount of money I can spend.
When one make one’s purchases this way, life becomes a waiting game. I buy critically-acclaimed computer games years after they have been released. I picked up Arkham Asylum off Steam not too long ago for five dollars. This provides hours of quality entertainment featuring a superhero that I love. I can pay seventy-five cents an hour to role-play as Batman or I can spend three dollars to read a story about Batman in five minutes. No contest. I want the most bang for my buck.
However, unlike most of my working-class peers, I do buy comics. Well, I buy trades. Close enough, right? I’m the one rifling through the five-dollar rack at comic conventions. You paid $17.95 for that B.P.R.D. trade? I snagged three B.P.R.D. trades for $15.00. You got to read a story way before me? Yeah, I couldn’t really care less about that. I’m too busy over here saving money.
I’ve changed more than the format. I’ve also reduced the amount I buy as well as the type of comic I buy. I don’t buy superhero comics anymore. There’s no point. I can keep up with the canon for free via Scans Daily (which I’ve actually been doing less and less) and enjoy quality superhero stories via video games and movies. I do plan on picking up the first Mister Terrific and Voodoo trades if the first few pages intrigue me. But I doubt either story will be wading through many superhero tropes.
I have a slightly off-topic interjection here. DC and Marvel should really find some way to steal traffic from Scans Daily and comic news sites. Those hits could put a few advertising dollars in DC and Marvel wallets. And a few dollars are better than none. Make them come to DC or Marvel websites to view and talk about the five pages you’ve released. Give fans a free, unmoderated area to socialize around your content. No hoops to jump through or accounts to create. Slap some ad space and a disclaimer off to the side and walk away.
But, uh, back to the lecture at hand. What’s the point of this post? I’m thinking as I type, so please bear with me a moment. I started off with three posts which seem to be folding themselves into one. The three topics I wanted to address? I wanted to discuss how the exorbitant price of comics has drastically altered my buying habits. I also wanted to mention my desire for a Gen 13 comic featuring Static, Blue Beetle, and a very popular teen character to give readers who ignored Static and Blue Beetle previously the chance to “warm up” to these characters via a team book with a popular sales anchor. Finally, I wanted to express my fear that the upcoming books from DC featuring minority heroes will not sell well, resulting in DC yanking these books from its lineup and retreating from the idea of including minority characters within its titles.
I think the fear is warranted. Americans as a whole have less than we used to. Americans who are brown? Well, we have even less than that. And if Chris Stokowski, a middle-management man and a die-hard comics fan from Pittsburgh isn’t buying comics like he used to? Well, Devontae Evans, a high-school kid who works Saturdays and Sundays at Foot Locker, damn sure isn’t going to start picking them up. Not when they cost three or four bucks. And when Chris is over at Newsarama complaining about how there’s no need for a black Spider-Man and this PC nonsense is just getting out of control? It’s not farfetched that sales featuring minority characters might be meager and comic companies might decide that integration and diversity are no longer priorities. Minority characters will once again be reduced to background shots in team books. Minority creators will not be hired.
Of course, I still think Ultimate Spider-Man is going to sell well. The character has enough company support and calculated marketing to make up for the casual racism of some readers. Remember when I said that Marvel should blatantly push the characters that DC ignores? It’s happening. And Marvel’s doing a pretty good job of it too. There’s no way any book featuring a brand new black and Latino teen character should outsell Static Shock. Static has years of history and a very successful cartoon under his belt. But Miles? Well, Miles has the power of the Spider-Man franchise and blisteringly hot creators as a sales anchor. Miles is popping up in news articles all over the place. Miles will have guest appearances in popular Marvel books. And Miles is going to make more money than Virgil and Jaime—all while wearing Peter’s hand-me-downs. I think Miles is adorable, but that doesn’t sit completely right with me. Regardless, it’s going to happen. DC will simply toss Jaime and Virgil into the solo waters to sink or swim. Marvel’s hauled out the Coast Guard. Yes, DC is going to obliterate Marvel with its higher level launches, but if I were a DC rep I’d still take the time to start nipping this kind of lower-level ish in the bud right now. I mean, isn’t this how Marvel gained its foothold in regards to diversity in the first place? By actively supporting the type of minority characters that were languishing at DC? And now they have a nice little roster of second-tier IPs to make money from in the future. Well, the future is now.
Actually? The future was the past.