Lew Stringer wrote:As myself and others have mentioned before, it's the public's increasing indifference to comics that's the big obstacle. It worsens as time goes on as the percentage of kids who read comics seems to decrease with each generation. [...]
Sadly the solution of get the cheque book out and publish more comics isn't feasible for a number of reasons we've covered in the past. Fifty or sixty years ago, when a publisher was confident he could at least break even, and when retail giants didn't charge thousands just to display comics, it wasn't so much of a risk.
What we have here is a classic Catch-22.
Kids don't read comics because, at least in part, comics are invisible and difficult to get hold of (only available on subscription, only available in comic shops, only available in Waitrose three miles away on alternate weeks, etc.).
Comics are difficult to get hold of because a lot of major and prominent retailers (such as WHSmith) are unfriendly towards them, and see them as poorly-selling wastes of shelf space.
Because of this, comics become more difficult to get hold of, etc. etc. etc.
The situation is exacerbated by this vicious circle eventually wearing down even the hardiest of comics and forcing them to close, diminishing the sector greatly since the 60s and 70s. As it's no longer physically possible to fill up a comic rack any more, that makes comics even less attractive to retailers. They've become perceived as a fringe interest because so few of them exist, which of course hurts sales even more and forces even more comics to close, so reinforcing the perception, etc. etc. etc.
And the ability of new players to enter the market (Phoenix, Strip and so on) is severely restricted by these pre-existing prejudices against comics as a fringe interest, hampering their distribution/promotion and leading to eventual commercial failure, which makes purse-string-holders even less willing to take a risk on something with such a pathetic market record, which leads to fewer new comics launching, etc. etc. etc. (In this case, there are still a few players in it for the love, rather than the money, but that can't go on forever. Meanwhile the small press sector is booming because there are far more comic artists in the UK than there are mainstream commercial outlets for them.)
This has been going on for decades. It's by no means a new phenomenon - the number of people reading comics, and the number of places where you can buy comics, and the number of comics being published, and the number of new comics being launched have all been declining steadily for half a century.
What's really needed is for someone with both money and influence to take disruptive action to break the cycle and win over hearts, minds and wallets, like...
Lew Stringer wrote:It's easy for articles like that Spectator feature to advocate throwing money at the problem when it's not their money they're risking.
This is the problem. At present, the only businesses which spend money on comics - and there are some which still spend quite a lot of money on comics - are those who specialise in comics, or are at least (like DC Thomson) indelibly associated with them. There is a clear line between respectable publishers with the lion's share of magazine racks and stacks of their books in bookshop windows, and publishers with interests in comics.
Blank Slate and all their friends are doing a sterling job, but they simply don't have any mainstream credibility, and this keeps them firmly shut out of all the places where they might reach an audience outside the tiny segment of the UK population which doesn't think comics are all about superheroes and/or something you grow out of.
What's needed is the equivalent of one of the gang of cool kids spontaneously breaking ranks and standing up for the school nerd. Bookshops and newsagents are dominated by a fairly large group of publishers who all have one thing in common - they don't sell comics. At least part of the reason they don't sell comics is that they don't consider comics to be a respectable medium, anything with the potential to be a commercial success, or indeed anything which could appeal outside a very narrow (and probably juvenile) demographic which they don't want to be seen associating with.
The irony is that all three of these downsides are basically direct consequences of their decision not to be involved in comics. If a publisher whose products are respected (encouraging other publishers to jump on the bandwagon), with a record of commercial success (and hence bargaining power with the retailers), who sells books and/or magazines to the public at large (removing the impression that comics are a fringe interest), and - most importantly - with a lot of money to burn should announce (and widely promote) a new line of graphic novels and/or periodical comics, imagine how the commercial and reputational landscape could change in comics' favour.
The problem is getting such a publisher to do that. Random House have already had a half-hearted attempt with the DFC, but suffered the consequences of the aforementioned new-player paradox badly, probably mostly due to under-promotion and difficulty in jumping through the necessary hoops to get a copy. Now the DFC's successor has launched, dependent on third-party life-support, and suffering most of the same problems. It must be possible to do better, surely? Maybe Messrs. Barclay & Barclay
would like to have a go?