Wednesday, June 02, 2004


I recently picked up a copy of The Comics Journal #199, published in 1997, which includes a 32-page symposium on "The Comic Book Crisis," with contributions by people such as John Workman (whose seven-page essay leads it off), Steve Geppi, Brian Hibbs, and Kurt Busiek. Considering that this was seven years ago, it's surprising how little has changed; even sales figures seem to be at about the same level as they were in 1995, going by the few examples given. The only major changes, as far as I can tell, have been the routine collection of Marvel and DC comics into trade paperbacks and their penetration, along with a few independent titles, into bookstores; and, of course, the spectacular rise of manga.

The diagnoses haven't changed much, either. Most of the contributors agreed that the direct sales market was a dead end (with Brian Hibbs vigorously dissenting), and that the then-current contents and format of "mainstream" superhero comics (which were pretty much the same as the now-current contents, "decompression" aside) repelled new readers. Actually, what reading this made me realize, more than anything else, is that nobody can predict what's going to sell. If anyone had said in 1997 that manga (which was a tiny segment of the market then) would be the key to attracting new readers and breaking open the bookstore market -- especially manga published right-to-left -- they would have been laughed at, and with good reason: there was just nothing at that time to suggest that manga could ever have more than niche appeal. So the saviour of American-produced comics, if there is ever going to be one, may come equally out of left field. Which is an encouraging thought, since at the moment there are no likely candidates.

(Edited slightly to clarify one sentence.)

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