Tagged: Freakanomics

Marc Alan Fishman: Paper Is Dead!

For those uninitiated to my writing process, allow me to be transparent: I write my column Tuesday evening. This is helpful for many reasons – mostly all revolving around having a full-time day job, a family, and Unshaven Comics. With that being said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t come clean.

Today, I’m sure there were a bevy of topics I had on my mind (whether the Sonic Screwdriver is really just a magic wand, the appeal of Attack on Titan, or why fantasy football renders my mind numb)… and then I watched Apple’s keynote. With the unveiling of the Apple Watch (sans i?!) and the new iPhone 6, I am sadly forced to deal with my Mac-ness once again.

It’s a terrible disease, kiddos. One that strikes me every few years. There was a time, in the long-long ago, when I was stronger. I was raised on a Compaq Presario, and the PC age. I openly mocked Appleites with aplomb. “My mouse has two buttons! I can upgrade my computer without voiding the warranty! And it’s so much cheaper!” I’d yell at them. And always, they would snicker, look me right in the eyes, and whisper “You’re right, and I still don’t care.” Not a semester into college, and I buckled. That is to say I forced my parents to buckle. Don’t worry. I paid them back. And funny enough, that first iMac I own still works, and still lives in my house. Natch. But I digress. Apple is great, and I love them, blah blah blah.

After seeing the debut of the iPhone Phablet (or 6 Plus if you’re being obvious) the never-ending death of paper consumed me. With each passing generation of digital technology being released to the public,  tangible media and products continue to become more artifacts of history. Even a decade ago, the notion that we’d be able to call up one of a million movies and beam it to our television instead of renting or purchasing the special edition DVD was somehow laughable. And even five years ago, could you honestly convince Johnny Average that he could cut the cord on his local cable provider and his home phone and just exist with amazingly cheap subscription services and a hefty data plan instead? I doubt it.

With each of these arguments, the last bastion of the printed form – the comic book – continues to hide in the dark recesses of specialty shops and tiny convention halls (stop snickering).

For those ready to flame me for forgetting books, just look at the sales figures for all digital publications, and count how many Barnes and Nobles still exist. You’re welcome. As screens become permanently affixed to our wrists, hands, and eye-wear, the notion of a printed piece is truly novel. As with all digital distribution models, eventually a price and delivery system becomes ubiquitous to the public at large, and eventually, the physical media is reduced to the collector’s market alone.

DC, Marvel, and the lot of mainstay publishers have all adopted digital practices. Readers of Mike Gold here on ComicMix no doubt know about how certain digital only pieces are trumping the quality of their printed brethren. As with everything else, it’s only a matter of time until our medium at large is thought of as digital first. Scary, no?

No, in fact it isn’t. With the eventual death of paper comics – aside from the collectors market (akin to how the music industry is moving back to vinyl) we’ll soon be privy to something new and amazing. Instead of odd motion-comics, or narrated comics, we’ll soon be able to purchase truly interactive comics.

Think of it. A cover with a well-rendered animation to draw you in <http://www.buzzfeed.com/adamclement1/30-animated-comic-book-covers-that-are-downright-h-il8v>. Single panels on a page being able to be instantly full-screen-zoomed so you can relish in the artwork. Interactive commentary on particular moments. Editorial annotations that actually call up the other issue in question. The possibilities are endless (and yes, some of them are potentially true now, and I don’t know it). And all of it could eventually be monetized in such a fashion that a subscription-based model could provide an unwieldy catalog of back issues for a price that feels like stealing. The best part of all, all of this could happen in another five years or less. The future is here, and its battery life mostly sucks.

Suffice to say, I’m a bit of an early adopter. But I also see the forest for the trees. Those trees needn’t be cut down en masse to make way for new comics. As I’ve explored in the recent past (Freakanomics, anyone?), we know the major publishers are likely not sweating over per-issue sales so much as potential licensing opportunities. As the appeal of moving away from ink, paper, bricks and mortar… so too will our industry look more like the music and television models.

Paper is dead my friends. And you can pay for that on your iPhone too.


Marc Alan Fishman: Looking For Comics, Found Nothing But Posters

Harley Quinn Deadpool Little PonyAhoy, mates. You’ll forgive me (or not, I don’t know how easily you get ticked off) if my post this week is a bit less meaty than my norm. My excuse: Thursday morning, on the way to the top of my stairs – a box of magic monkey balls safely in tow – my cat decided he’d prefer to be under foot rather than elsewhere. I decided that kittycide didn’t suit me. So, my other other option at the time was to return down the same flight of stairs from whence I came. Unluckily for me, my shoulder (and the hard ground/basement door) stopped an otherwise elegant descent. By the end of the evening, I’d have one less arm at normal usage then I’m normally used to. So, here I sit, in mild agony, pitter-pattering away for your enjoyment. But I (as per my usual) digress.

These past few weeks I was becoming quite excited over the notion of finding some indie comics to share with you after visiting Wizard World Chicago. And while there were indie titles to be had, my injury prevented me from really digging into the alley in a manner conducive with true discovery. So, my epic journey will have to take place at the next convention for Unshaven Comics – the Cincinnati Comic Expo in September. With all of that now covered, I can still share with all of you a trend I caught at Wally World that leaves me a bit perplexed.

In my few jaunts across the Artist Alley, my gaze could not travel for nary more than a yard before it was stricken by a 10 foot tall monstrosity packed from floor to tippy-top with poster-prints of every marketable pop-culture icon, in nearly any style you could think of. Seemingly every row was packed to the gills with pin-up Harley Quinns, macabre zombie Deadpools, or Whatever Anime Hero Is Hip This Week Mashed Up With Whatever Cartoon the Kids Dig. Perhaps it’s always been this way, or maybe the Universe saw my desire for small publishers and pelted me with prints instead. Or more likely, the trend is hitting its peak. And for great reason.

As I have detailed before, an independently produced comic book is rarely a profit-making machine… unless you have the capital to afford a large (1000+) print run and don’t mind sitting on a ton of product in between shows. Prints, on the other hand, can be produced in small batches, stored in any number of space-saving receptacles, and can be produced for less than a dollar a piece at nearly any reputable printer within earshot. Prints tend to run anywhere from $5 to $20 a pop, so you can safely do the math. More to my point, a poster of a well-known character sells itself. A comic of original art and concepts does not. If I were Steven Dubner of Freakanomics, this argument would be over. And for what it’s worth, I see that point loud and clear.

But as I said: this trend leaves me perplexed. As an artist myself, there’s a desire to show the world my take on a litany of licensed fare, sure. But at the cost of doing nothing but? Not a chance. To have ambled about the Alley and see dozens of visual artists all fighting for capturing the essence of someone else’s creation in their style, all in hopes of snagging profit doesn’t ring true to me. Even worse? When those would-be creators toss a few of their actual comics into a rack and shuffle it lazily some uncared for corner of their table… capped with a scrawled sign declaring “COMICS”. As a presentation, it makes the point clear: “Buy my sexy Poison Ivy and give me money. Oh, my comic? Yeah, it’s this other thing I do.” And there my friends, is the dark truth that kept me up all weekend. It could have also been searing shoulder pain.

Let me be clear: I have nothing against those who want to showcase their ability to produce a fine pin-up. Behind me sits a coiled pile of prints I’ve dropped coin for that proves that. But when it comes at the cost of people pushing their creativity, I draw the line. Or, more truthfully, I curse our industry. Creators making original books trying to find a way (yes, internet included) to be profitable… only to find their only money-making endeavor at the bottom of a pile of Doctor Who and My Little Pony prints (made without any licensing fee mind you) represent too much of our ilk. When the Artist Alley appears more like a swap meet of grey market wall coverings, we don’t elevate the medium.

All we do is dilute our brand, and hope to have “made table” instead of making something new. There’s nothing artistic about that.


Marc Alan Fishman: But Why A Comic Book?

FreakanomicsLately, I’ve become a freak. That is to say, a fan of the Freakanomics Podcast. Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt like to take a topic and ask the questions no one is asking. They also like to start from the opposing side of the common problem in order to find potential solutions. As such, I figured I would let their methodology bleed into my brainpan. I want to tackle a question I’ve had lately and approach it from a different perspective than I’m used to. The problem is simple: With all the more lucrative business ventures that exist for the largest publishers of marketing licenses (that’s DC and Marvel, kiddos), why produce comic books?

Because I’m not an economist and I don’t have the will power to sift through sales data, I’m going to opt to go out on a limb instead. I believe that it’s safe to say that the revenue that comes in for a blockbuster comic book movie – and all the associated merchandising and licensing revenue associated directly to said movie – outweighs the revenue generated from the parent comic book in levels of magnitude that’d astound even Lex Luthor. That in turn would make the common man scoff. Why would Marvel and DC, peddlers of the most recognizably licensable properties, waste any money chasing the paltry profits that stem from their publishing arms, and not just opt to make movies and television? It’s time to freak out.

If I were Mr. Dubner, I’d likely start with the history first. Obviously DC and Marvel have dabbled in non-comic book ventures nearly as long as they have been printing funny books. Look to the Superman serials, radio shows, TV series, et al. And Marvel, too, had their run of crappy movies, TV shows, and odd proto-motion-comic ventures to boot. In their time, perhaps these alternative media led new eyes to the products. More likely though, those models in the past never doled out the bankroll like todays modern day media. At the heart of all those aforementioned side projects though, one would argue that the real crux of content being produced was driven by the rags on the racks. And therein lies the answer to the original question.

Beyond the likely-break-even nature of comic book publishing, the actual process of producing the product establishes worth beyond simple dollars and cents. Because a great comic book story may give birth to an amazing storyline, a new character, or an inventive design. Where might Jon Favreau’s Iron Man franchise be if not for Adi Granov’s ubiquitous model? Would the pockets of the Warner Bros be as full without the library of reproducible stock art for any number of merchandising ventures? Would the House of Mouse’s motion picture business be as entrenched in the zeitgeist today if not for the decades of source material being produced on a weekly basis? And if we’re thinking to a brighter future… How much credit is owed to ComicMix’s John Ostrander if Amanda Waller ends up becoming the Phil Coulson of the new DC movie franchises? Suffice to say on all counts… the sunk costs of producing sequential fiction is a pithy particle when compared to the opportunity cost you’ll gain for making it.

Even if a comic doesn’t sell well – or even is a loss – the final product exists for eternity thereafter. If I as a fan pick up that long forgotten issue of Slingers and pitch it to Marvel in a new and fantastic light, and my relaunch of the title captures the attention of the niche masses of comic book fans, then the thru-line exists that the new book may lead to a new licensable property – like a new character on a cartoon, a subplot to be used in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or its own Netflix spin-off. The simple math says the loss having to pay for even six issues worth of ink-and-paper (including the per-page costs of the creative team, the salaried cost of editors/administrators, as well as the actual material and distribution costs) may eventually balance out through the usage of the intellectual property that then sits in the archives of the parent publisher. A bad batch of Coke II will never mint Coca-Cola a fortune. And in a few weeks, D-List book will likely net Marvel hundreds of millions of dollars in repeating revenue.

When you think of it that way: why would you ever notproduce a comic book?