What is the future of the comic industry? Look, I might always play a wizard in D&D, but that doesn’t come with the future telling powers one might think. Still, with a pinch of toad, a wing of bat, and some legitimate research into the trends and data, let’s see if we can’t project a few scenarios about the future of the comic industry.
The Current State of the Comic Book Industry
First, let’s examine the present state of the industry, particularly among the big 3 players.
- Marvel produces 60 comics a month at $4 a pop. Marvel also has an incessant obsession about tying each of those comics together through events and crossovers, the intent, of course, is that you’ll buy them all. That’s $240 bucks a month just on Marvel comics. Nigerian princes will need to start pulling in more income from their email scams to afford that. So is Marvel pricing readers out of the hobby, despite them owning an incredible universe full of great characters?
- All Image Comics produces are #1 issues. Seriously, I shared an elevator with Robert Kirkland once and he asked me to pitch him a new number 1. This makes it hard to build shared universes and character longevity, despite having some of the best creator-owned titles in comics.
- And who knows what DC is thinking? They claim their latest relaunch is for long time fans. But their long-time fans are approaching social security age for heaven’s sake, so will DC be able to achieve diversity needed for a younger, modern audience?
These are just some of the issues in regards to print among the Big 3. Notice I didn’t even go into digital vs. print, because give me a break, I’m not a wizard, man. Instead, let’s just jump into possible solutions, writing some possible stories for the future of comics.
The Future of the Comic Book Industry
Keep on that train. Currently, comics are propped up by movie and TV properties. Look, we know this. In fact, it seems as if some Image titles are written specifically with future TV rights in mind. And comic book movies pulling in a billion dollar box office haul is old news.
So why start pessimistic? Let’s imagine a future of the comic industry where it can continue on those rails of TV and movie success. After all, there are decades worth of comics with hundreds of characters with a story to tell. Marvel has proven that second-rate characters can find huge success, so let’s imagine the next decade where this continues.
Let’s pretend that consumers don’t tire of Marvel movies, that DC TV properties continue strong, and that more Image titles are picked up for TV treatment (or they continue to produce Walking Dead spin-offs). Under this future scenario, the comic industry simply continues on that superhero movie train, meaning comic shops maintain a healthy (if aging) audience for comic books.
The movie bubble bursts. We also know that consumer habits are fickle. Maybe 3-4 big superhero movies a year simply gets old after a while and audiences grew weary of superhero movies and TV. They move on.
Under this hypothetical future scenario, DC would probably go first because they’ve doubled-down on long-time fans and without movie properties to prop them up, there just isn’t a wide enough audience to support comics the way they once did.
But if the movie bubble bursts, it would represent a probably loss of a couple million casual comic readers. So Marvel would be in trouble next, as not even its market share would be able to sustain it from a loss that size. To be clear, this isn’t to suggest both Marvel and DC completely fold their comic business, its just that the tightening of the belt will most certainly lead to fewer titles. It would almost certainly also mean a systemic unwillingness to take chances, instead relying on their core titles only, hoping to continue to appeal to long-time fans with known commodities in a smaller market.
Retreat and get comfortable. A couple future big-budget movie flops would undoubtedly make studies more risk averse. As a result, they might quit trying risky fare like Guardians of the Galaxy, and instead retreat into the bread and butter core characters. When Chris Evans is 40-years-old, they simply recast him, and attempt to reboot the franchise. Again. Again. And again.
Under this future scenario, comics will return to being a niche. The hobby would continue, but it wouldn’t thrive. Creativity would be gone and there would little diversity in the subject matter. If Deadpool 4 would be cheap to make, the title would simply be relaunched with another #1, hoping to get short term gains out of a dwindling and aging core comic audience.
The Multiverse expands. Encouraged by the recent success of Ms. Marvel and the new Black Panther, minority readers and viewers could be welcomed into comics. This could lead to a further diversity among genres, titles, and characters.
Inspired by Image comics, new niches could thrive and their success could raise all ships, bringing steady growth to the industry, not just among classic superhero titles. And rather than recast Chris Evans into a new white male Captain America, Marvel could give the cinematic shield to Sharon Carter or The Falcon and revitalize the franchise with a couple well-received movies with these new leads.
This new diversity and creativity would provide variety and welcome new comic readers in by allowing previously unforeseen niches of readers to pop up in the hobby. Young girls could buy Wonder Woman action figures, while older minority readers are welcomed in through more diverse properties. Meanwhile, OG nerds will still have their immense back catalog to wax nostalgic over.
Obviously, these are all hypothetical future scenarios. I don’t have a wizard’s orb, after all. But it’s easy to imagine any of these scenarios representing the future of the comic book industry. Obviously, lots depends on the popularity and relevance of movie properties in broader culture. More depends on a decision to retrench to core characters or to take a more diverse approach.
So knows knows? Personally, I’ve read comics for 30+ years so I’d love for superheroes to continue to exist in some form. But darned if I want them to look only like they did in the 70s. I love both Image comics and the diversity of characters that the big two are slowly moving toward. So I’d love to see the Multiverse expand, but that’s just me.