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What the Market Will Bear: A Big Two Skip Week Leaves the Indies to Rule the Racks

So this may be a short column. For one thing, I’ve procrastinated and gotten pressed for time. But also… I don’t have many funnybooks to talk about. Neither Marvel nor DC released anything last week, which didn’t impact me all that much since I don’t read a lot from either of them. But not much that I DO read came out, either. It was just two books, in fact, but they were both doozies: the second issue of The Boys: Dear Becky, and the long-awaited (by me, anyway) return of Jason Aaron and RM Guera’s The Goddamned.

But, hey. Since we’re so light on reviews this week, let’s talk a bit about why neither of the Big Two released any books, and what that means for the comics shop market.

Since coming back after the nation-wide lockdowns stopped publication, Marvel has only been shipping comics every two weeks. In part, this is to avoid overwhelming the country’s remaining comic shops with product at a time when they don’t have much capital to spend, and when their customers may be out of work and not spending money on expensive hobbies like comics. It also helps Diamond Comics Distribution lessen their warehouse staff’s exposure to COVID-19, with fewer people working fewer hours at safer distances. I’m sure it also helps to some extent on shipping costs, since one large shipment every two weeks generally costs less than the two smaller shipments they’d be making if they went weekly.

Basically, they want to make sure their primary means of selling their wares doesn’t completely collapse. Granted, they’ve been putting excess pressure on that market for years, shipping far more titles than it can realistically bear, with the goal of pushing other publishers off the shelves. So this is, at least partially, a simple market correction. But it’s easy to be cynical about this thing. Ultimately, it really does seem that Marvel’s heart (for once) is in the right place.

DC, meanwhile, has been shipping every week, and I’m not sure their output has really slowed all that much. I’m not casting aspersions on them for that, mind you. They were already shipping fewer titles than Marvel, so the chances of them overwhelming the market are a lot more slim. What they’re doing in terms of distribution, however, may actually harm the industry more than it helps.

During the shutdown, when Diamond stopped shipping for safety reasons, DC made deals to distribute their comics through two online comics dealers. Never mind that there was a global pandemic killing people by the thousands. Never mind that there weren’t many stores that could legally be open to sell those books. And never mind that shops got shut down by the cops because they did open to sell them. DC wanted to sell some shit, so they did.

They sold the same books through Diamond when they started shipping again, mind you, but it seems that was just to make sure they got their wares out to all the stores that chose not to participate in their irresponsible pandemic distribution scheme. Because now, DC has pulled out of Diamond completely, and they took last week off from shipping to give all the holdouts time to set up accounts with their new distributors.

Which, on the one hand, is fine. Diamond is far from an ideal business partner for many comic shops. Their terms are crap, and they make a lot of mistakes. They needed competition to make them better. But the middle of a global pandemic, when the entire comic shop industry is in danger of collapsing in upon itself, is NOT the time to give them that competition. Comics are a niche market in the best of times, and if losing DC’s business makes Diamond go under right now, the entire market that’s been selling the vast majority of their wares for the last 30 years might just go under with it.

So unless DC has some other avenues set up to sell their shit… They might just be cutting their own throats. I’ve seen arguments that the healthy shops… the ones run by serious businessmen who know how to make the small business model work for them… will survive. But here’s the thing: those shops, for the most part, don’t make a lot of their money by selling DC comics. Or Marvel comics, for that matter. A lot of those shops were already getting out of the business of selling monthly comics before the pandemic hit. And some of them have already said that they may just stop carrying DC’s line altogether now.

Which would leave them with that network of small, shoddily-run shops that still cater to the buyers DC and Marvel increasingly aim their books at: flippers trying to turn a quick profit on the latest hot books and variant covers, and the corporate spandex lifers who don’t want to read anything but capes. But those are the shops most likely to go under right now, so… I hope DC’s got some plans in the works.

And they probably do. They’re certainly better-positioned for it than Marvel, whose output has remained myopically focused on the monthlies. But DC has always (in the modern era, anyway) been known for trying different things. They pioneered the trade collection in the 80s. And they’ve been branching out with books for kids and young adults for years. So maybe they could go digital-only with the monthlies, and keep distributing trades and OGNs in print through Penguin. Or maybe they could stop doing the monthlies completely, and concentrate on OGNs and young adult books. Comics don’t have to keep looking the way they’ve looked for the past 80s years. And they might, honestly, be better off if they didn’t.

But I love that comic shop culture. And I will miss it if it dies.

So anyway. That’s how the Big Two’s skip weeks came to coincide, and why we had a week where the racks were ruled by the indies. Speaking of which, I believe I had a couple of comics to review…

The Goddamned: The Virgin Brides 1
by Jason Aaron and RM Guera

The feel-bad comic of 2016 has returned! And it’s uglier than ever!

But also prettier. The long gap between series has evidently paid off, because artist RM Guera has turned in some breathtaking work on this issue. After that gorgeous cover, you open the book and are immediately greeted by this two-page landscape:

click to embiggen

I must have stared at that spread for two or three minutes before I started reading. RM Guera’s work here has a sort of brutal delicacy to it that I was not expecting. I can see shades of Moebius in it, and Barry Windsor-Smith, and (strangely) Brandon Graham. The art for the first series was nice, but extremely rough, as befitted that rough story. The Virgin Brides is no walk in the park, mind you, but its brutality hides behind a veneer of beauty that Guera’s most definitely mirroring in the visuals.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. If you’re not familiar, The Goddamned is grimdark Biblical fantasy adventure, set in the days before the Flood. It’s a time of lawlessness and despair, when human beings have turned their backs on God, and the Earth is home to monsters. The protagonist (not sure you can really call him the “hero”) is Cain, first-born of Adam and Eve, cursed to walk the Earth undying as punishment for committing the first murder. He wants most fervently to die, and throws himself in the path of danger in his attempts at doing so.

But Cain’s not in this first issue. No, this one is devoted to a small village of young girls who, upon attaining puberty, are wed to an angel. And it is not a beautiful experience.

I’m not gonna lie: This book messed me up. It’s a tale of innocence betrayed, and innocence lost, and the passage right before that cloudy scream almost makes me want to cry it’s so sad. Considering the dark timeline we find ourselves in right now, it’s an uglier story than I really want to read. But it’s so very well done that I can’t look away. And it’s not all sad. We do have a plucky heroine who’s delightfully cynical about all the right things. And her best friend, who’s charmingly naive. And they’re fun to read about, even as they discover the horrors they’ve been born into. I have a terrible feeling that this world will not treat them well in the end. I may very well regret reading this thing before it’s done.

But it’s so good that I just can’t help myself.

The Boys: Dear Becky 2
by Garth Ennis and Russ Braun

This issue, we get a slightly clearer picture of what this series is really about. Ennis has put together a story here that juxtaposes the damage done to Hughie’s psyche by his time with the Boys, and the damage done to Billy Butcher before him. The difference between them, of course, is that Butcher was a vicious bastard before he ever started hunting Supes, while Hughie was always essentially sweet-natured.

And… I don’t know what to say, other than that. We get some of the patented Boys super hero parody and extreme wrongness along the way, and it’s all very funny and entertaining. But it all just goes to illustrate the point I already made above. I mean, don’t get me wrong. This was a good bit of nasty fun, as you’d expect, and it’s all in service to the kind of solid character writing that made the original series one of Ennis’ best. It’s very good. It’s just that…

Anything else I could say about it would spoil the fun of the thing.

And I don’t want to do that.

About Mark Brett (579 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

5 Comments on What the Market Will Bear: A Big Two Skip Week Leaves the Indies to Rule the Racks

  1. The Goddamned sounds intriguing. Your beginning commentary furthers my worry for my local comic shop. Right now I have to pre-order and put money down before they place their orders as they can’t order comics/graphic novels without knowing it is a definite sale.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m surprised more shops don’t do this. I know my local shop gets stuck with books all the time because they don’t require pre-payment. But don’t let my thoughts on the comics industry worry you too much. I pay attention to stuff, but it’s still just idle speculation.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dale Bagwell // July 8, 2020 at 6:17 pm // Reply

    I’m definitely going to check out The Goddamned based off your summation. Waiting for the release of the Virgin Brides to read it BECAUSE of your description.
    That art really is hauntingly beautiful and yes I definitely see a lot of BMS and MOEBIUS in his style.

    As for the state of comics, well, I imagine in the next 30, 40 years you really see a major difference in how things were done in the 20th century to as far as publication and distribution goes. With the market and more and publishers, not just the big two, moving more and more towards writing for trades and OGN’s, that’s primarily where I see the focus being by most comic publishers. So, say by 50-100 years, if there are any monthlies left being published, they’ll definitely be digital rather than print, which I see dying if not all but dead as a medium for comics by then. I could be wrong, but at the rate and way technology has been, and is continuing to develop, I would not be all that surprised to see physical print go the way of the dinosaurs, especially when the cost of comics being manufactured can be dramatically reduced with the move to digital copies only.

    It’ll be very interesting to see how the impact of DC’s decision to leave Diamond behind impacts the market in general. That’ll only really be seen in the next, 10, 15, 20 years I’m sure. Honestly everything really depends on how long this pandemic lasts, and how soon and often the next ones show up to take this one’s place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I may be too pessimistic. Diamond survived Marvel jumping ship on them back in the 90s, after all, and that was going on while the speculator boom crashed and left the comics market in even worse shape than it’s in right now. So we’ll see. I am encouraged by things like pandemic response and mask-wearing becoming less of a political football as time wears on and the numbers keep climbing.

      And, yes. Print comics will eventually go away. The one thing that will keep them around in print longer that most other print media is the collectible aspect. But even that’s only going to last so long.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dale Bagwell // July 10, 2020 at 4:22 pm // Reply

    Yeah, we’ll just have to wait it out and see how much DC’s decision impacts other companies and the industry as a whole. I do know the way the current system of how comics are distributed needs to change and HAS needed to change for some time now as it’s antiquated and not every efficient. Hopefully this helps spur on that change in the system for the better,

    Btw, I got around to reading the 1st The Goddamned series. Wow, Damn good, Damn, damn good. Virgin Brides was too. twisted, but good. Looking forward to how it all ends. Probably not on a happy note if the 1st issue is any indication, because honestly, how are two plain, ordinary mortal girls going to single-handedly bring down what’s essentially a black market bride-making scheme?

    Like

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