It’s Not Your Job To Save Comics
It is not your job to save the comic book industry. You are a consumer and a fan, someone who is under no obligation to change your preferred purchasing methodology to cater to others. If you do not want to buy single issues in lieu of only buying trades, go for it. If you don’t feel like committing to a book three months in advance, don’t. If you want to buy digitally only, go e-reader nuts, my friend. No other media industry asks as much of its base than the comic book industry does, and there are several valid reasons and complexities as to why, but ultimately, folks, you are 100% responsibility-free when it comes to how you choose to consume your hobby.
Personally, I buy very few single issues because I prefer to read series in trade and get a complete story arc all in one place. But I don’t think I should feel bad about that. Obviously, if a book doesn’t sell enough single issues the trade that I so covet may never come to be, I get that, but I refuse to blame myself for how a company chooses to distribute their product. Publishers, like any other business, are the ones that are supposed to adapt their strategy and business model around what the market demands, not the other way around. Undoubtedly, they’re the ones with the hard data that helps them decide what is most financially sound or at least make educated guesses about what stands the best shot at turning a profit once collected. But I’m going to continue to buy things the way I want and if I’m in the minority, if I’m somehow one of only a handful that says paying upwards of five dollars for 20 pages once a month isn’t my preference, then that’s my choice and I’ll live with the consequences. But then it’s their job to take into consideration that instead of the fifteen dollars or so I would have excitedly handed over to them for a collected edition, they now have zero dollars. Do with that information what you will, publishers.
There’s a difference between eagerly supporting something you love and making concessions for something you love. Disappointed with cancellations of high-quality books (She-Hulk comes to mind), series that are largely auteur-driven and take place outside the never-ending monotony of events and the like, there’s been a strong push from fans to save other deserving titles from a similar fate. And that is fucking great and amazing and commendable all mixed together into a menagerie of comic book fandom. Those fans, specifically many a Gotham Academy reader, are trying to get the word out about a book they feel passionate about in danger of getting cancelled. They already read this book and are asking others to do the same, in the hopes that it simply hasn’t found itself in the hands of thousands who would absolutely dig it and ensure a long and healthy print run. I love what these fans are doing and throw my voice in with theirs in encouraging others to check out that wonderful series. But if you haven’t or you don’t want to for whatever reason and it gets cancelled, that’s not your fault. It would be a monumental bummer if it gets cancelled, but that’s what the market dictated and that’s the way it is. It’s shitty, but that’s how it is.
There are so many aspiring creators, and hell, so many very well established creators who are going the independent route and creating amazing works that are exploring much more substantive, daring and innovative ideas. These creators desperately depend on pre-orders, an archaic mechanism of the industry’s ass backwards distribution. All right, that’s not entirely accurate, but the pre-order system is unlike anything else in media distribution. Having to decide your tastes three months in advance is strange, but if there’s something upcoming from a creative team you know you love or a concept or character that is one of your favorites, then this works out marvelously for all involved parties. But since the success and even long-term (hell, mid-term) existence of the book is inherently linked to your clairvoyance, that’s a lot of pressure to put on a consumer. Independent films don’t ask you to buy your tickets months in advance, and while that’s not a fair apples-to-apples comparison, I realize, it’s perhaps the closest example we can work with. Choose to support books sight unseen if you want, more power to you. That unbridled sense of community and support structure is part of what makes comics wonderfully unique and tight-knit, but don’t feel pressured into supporting something because its failure can be partly attributed to how you want to consume your media.
In this unyielding technological age, with comics having several new methods for getting themselves into the hands of potential readers, the current model is obtuse. If going digital means harming brick-and-mortar shops, then maybe those shops weren’t very good to begin with. There’s a mountain of data that shows that the growing digital market hasn’t harmed the print market in any significant way and, if anything, digital distribution costs allow for great chances of success for books previously on the precipice of cancellation. Those who love buying print comics are going to continue to do so and there will always be a place for print, but don’t let a shop owner bully you into feeling responsible for ‘the death of real comics’ because your preference has changed. How are shops supposed to survive if more and more people turn towards digital? Guess what, that’s their problem to figure out! They’re the business! Deciphering how to serve clients best is entirely on them. Let the market shape the means.
Comics are a hobby to most, an outlet to others and a profession for a small few. It should not be that the hobbyist is required to place the survival of an industry, or the survival of specific works, on their shoulders. I realize things are more intricate than I am perhaps laying them out to be here and I am genuinely sympathetic to the trials and tribulations artists and writers are faced with when simply trying to release their work out into the world. If you feel passionately about a work, by all means scream it from the rooftops and do your darndest to raise awareness or buy multiple copies to distribute or whatever it is you are actively willing to do to share your feelings. If you want to wait for the trade on a book, but are afraid it won’t happen, feel free to evaluate if you want to buy the single issues to ensure you get something. That’s your call. But don’t let the current system dictate to you how to spend your money. That’s their job. Let your wallet tell them how and what you’re willing to pay for and let them scramble to figure out the best way to provide that. It is your job to buy what you want, enjoy what you like and keep an open mind about trying different books. Go read Gotham Academy already.