Oblivion, by Mike Gold
So we’re headed straight into another 1930s-style depression, or so our politicians and the media would have us believe. Maybe that’s true, although the attempted cure – the socialization of our investment bankers and the insurance industry – just might work. It’s the perfect solution in the Age of Irony: our neocon president nationalizing the very companies that control so much of our economy. Franklin Roosevelt must be rolling over in his grave.
But the real question that concerns us is – how might this affect us as comics and popular culture enthusiasts?
First, I’ll address the most obvious. If you lose your job, you will have less discretionary income and, despite our self-image, comics and movies and action figures are more discretionary than the rent, electricity and food. Even if you’re 45 years old and you live in your mother’s basement, if she’s living off of an annuity and her insurance company goes blooie, you might be cutting back on those X-Men titles.
If enough people find themselves in that position, the friendly neighborhood comics shop will go blooie as well. If enough comics shops go down, the smaller publishers (the “back of the catalog” people) will see retailers order their wares more conservatively than they did before. Some publishers will vaporize. It’ll certainly be tougher for creators to sell those more interesting yet less commercial projects.
Movies… well, that’s another matter. Movies have this rep for surviving the 30s Great Depression, but only among those who aren’t aware how many movie studios got sold, went bankrupt, or almost went bankrupt at the time. Today’s movie-going experience is a lot more expensive than it was for our grandparents. Even in constant dollars, $10.00 tickets are a lot more than 25¢ tickets… and our grandparents didn’t have to spend as much (relatively speaking) on popcorn and soda. More significant, most were able to walk to their local movie house. Today, we have to drive. Even the low, low price of $3.50 a gallon would crank the entire movie going experience up to $50.00 for a couple; more, with dinner. A movie date will cost you a cool hundred.
Television is no longer free. Sure, only a few people will need to get those digital adaptors for their rabbit-ears this February, but most of the rest of us get our fix from cable or satellite (or, in the case of my bestest friend, both cable and satellite). If food, rent, gasoline and utilities cost a family of four two grand a month or more and either one of the breadwinners is no longer winning bread, those premium channel packages are going to look real expensive.
Comics retailers order their stuff from Diamond on a non-returnable basis and, literally, bet the rent each month on their order form. They will have to be even more conservative. They’ve already been ordering what they know will sell; now they have to factor in the fear factor: how many of their regulars will lose their jobs, how many will be so afraid of losing their jobs that they’ll make immediate cut-backs in their purchases? I already said the “smaller” publishers would suffer; so would those companies that manufacture licensed material – action figures, posters, tie-in apparel,
All that affects us both directly, as in how we spend our time, and indirectly. Publishers and creators alike live off of that ancillary income I noted above. If people cut back on their movie-going, the studios will make fewer huge budget action/special effects movies. Fewer companies will license popular culture properties and movie tie-ins. And so on, until the bottom line gets eaten away.
These are tough times, to be sure. We don’t even know if we should be panicking, which is a real shame. I’ve always found panicking to be cathartic.
What can you do about it? Two things come to mind. First, keep your wits about you and don’t do anything foolish, one way or the other. If we stop spending all of our discretionary income, the economy will come to a grinding halt. Better you should spend your money more wisely.
Second, read up on all this stuff, go to the candidates (national and local) websites and see what they say they’ll actually do about the economy, and on November 4th, vote.
It really will be the most important decision you’ll have made in a long, long while.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.