If you are a comic book publisher, distributor, convention operator, have some level of authority in the comic industry you are likely GenX or very early Millennial, and I'd like you to think back to all the bullshit we had to overcome or bypass from the then powers that be...baby boomers... who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into trying new ideas.
I'll give you a quick personal anecdote as an example. A million years ago when I was getting Arsenic Lullaby off the ground I was going to local stores, introducing myself and seeing if they'd carry my book. At one particular store, the owner told me of a time he missed out on carrying a new book, that became a hit. That book was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He turned the guy down flat, saying he didn't think it would sell. He didn't think TMNT would sell. He then, shortly after after telling this story, completely oblivious to the irony, turned me down. Also under the opinion that he didn't think it would sell. Arsenic Lullaby no.1 sold out three print runs in that one year, and his store has long since went out of business.
Did he go out of business because he didn't carry TMNT or A.L.? Not specifically, but he went out of business because of that attitude.
Keep that all of that in mind, because for the sake of your own endeavors and the industry in which you make a living, you'll do well by paying attention to what I have to say here. Because some of you. whether you realize it or not, are turning off the type of people you need, people who can do work like this...
Wrapped up my comicon appearances for 2022. I've got some observations worth paying attention to.
Personally, for me, they all went pretty damn well. There was an...unplanned (you know what I'm talkin' about).. gap between these and the last time I was face to face with the public, putting my work down for their knee jerk reactions. Didn't know what to expect. I did a Con in Chicago, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids Michigan and a Paranormal con in Milwaukee. All midwestern states but large and different enough for them to be a decent cross section of the public. At each of the comicons I sent more copies of Arsenic Lullaby off to new homes than in previous years. AND sold way more copies than I expected at the Paranormal convention. Good for me.
In fact it was embarrassingly easy. New people saw the name, it sparked their interest, they saw some pages, they took a book home. I barely needed to be there.
That's good...for A.L. However, the comic book industry needs to understand why it was so easy, because part of the "why" is currently bad, for them.
First observation- I saw all manner of person at these shows. Old, young, children, all colors, shapes, and however many genders there are...AND, everybody getting along. A far cry from what humanity is on the internet. More than any other year, these shows were very much "local events". By that I mean-here's a fun thing going on in our city, let's go check it out. Fine by me...and fine for anyone with a hint of people skills and a decent "product".
However, here's what I did NOT see. I did not see people walking around with armfuls of comics they bought, or bags or them...or handfuls...or ANY.
I pay attention to what comics people are carrying at shows, for obvious reasons. It's important to know what people are reading, looking for, or what is catching their eye at a show.
I went to three medium/large shows and saw nearly no one carrying any books. Do I need to explain why that's a problem?
At this last show I saw a few (well...two), and I asked what they had. They had indy books "motor City Mo" and a western (I wrote down the name but don't have it handy). Both times the person volunteered why they got it "There was hardly any people selling actual comics, but I saw this and hadn't seen something like it before, so I'm giving it a try".
That there presents, in my observation, THE problem for the comic industry, and also the path to the golden goose. People were willing to get some comics, but were not interested in the usual comic book stuff. The ratio of "usual stuff" to "something they hadn't seen before" was why I wasn't seeing comics being carried around.
Have you heard of the term "brain drain"? It's where all of the best and brightest are leaving and/or going somewhere else with their skill and talents. It is something that erodes industries, companies, cities. Young people with talent and skill taking those things on down the road to somewhere else.
Imagine if you will, an alternate reality...it is 1960, and the music industry is hard down on big band music. That's is all they are interested in, that is all they are promoting, that is what they insist on new musicians putting out. Now...the baby boomers sure as hell had little interest in listening to the Glen Miller Orchestra, or a clone of it. They had less of an interest in making such music.
Every generation has their own voice, their own ears. If you want a 19 year old in 1965 to by an album, your best bet is to have it be made by a 19 year old. A 19 year old putting out the music he or she wants to put out. Imagine instead of The Doors, The Rolling Stones, or the Beatles...the music industry in the 60s was just rolling out record after record of big band music. The kids would not be interested and the older people would not be interested because they've heard it all before.
You want to know why, at three different comic cons, I saw no one who had bought any comics? That's why. No one, in real life, gives a flying F about what's being put out, promoted, lauded, by the comic book industry. "Indy" books aren't a "nitch" right now...they are the only thing anyone who's not been indoctrinated into the industry ( i.e. genZ) gives a damn about. They are the only thing being picked up by the casual public.
They (GenZ) specifically, though this also covers a large segment of the other generations who are bored with the usual crap, do not have any interest in reading some 50 year old ideas. Or, what to them in 2022, are just comic books versions of movie characters. Make no mistake, for people under 30, that's what an Avengers comic is. It is a comic book version of a movie, not the other way around. That is the reality to them. And they ain't interested.
MORE IMPORTANLY, the next wave of genuine creatives have no interest in doing their take on that 50 year old idea or movie character.
Imagine all if that musical talent from the 60's...just decided to use their vision to write screenplays instead of music. Creative people, genuinely creative people, are good at more than one thing.
If you look around at an "artist alley" at a comic con you'll see a GLUT of talented artists who have forfeited down to just drawing prints of MCU characters. Because they feel/think (in most cases incorrectly) that they can't make a dime at a con unless that is what they do. They piss away their skill and time just doing their version of someone else's intellectual property as if the world needs another picture of spider-man.
Skillfully done, is most cases...but who gives a crap? For an industry that lives or dies based on capturing peoples imaginations, that ain't getting it done.
I have long since given up trying to explain to these people that they are capable of more than that, and that there is an audience out there for them if they do more than that. It's a fools errand trying to explain this to someone more than once. Encouragement helps, but ultimately someone either has ambition or they do not.
Someone can be very talented and skilled...but not creative. And not part of the wave of creative effect that each generation has. That does not mean GenZ has no creative wave. It means their waves is hitting different shores. Take a look at some of this work by young people...
Creatively, far and above a collection of drawings of Batman, eh?
Yeah, the creative wave of GenZ is out there and it is formidable but...it has not gone into comics. These are all NFTs. I've been working in the NFT industry for about two years, and I can tell you that there is a sea of new, brilliant, creative talent. AND I can tell you that pretty much all of them would love to do a comic book. BUT, they see that industry as, going back to my analogy, only interested in big band music.
This industry is just a simple shift of perception away from a creative revolution as great as music had in the 60's. AND for that matter a wave of $$$$ like it hasn't see in decades.
What that requires though is some encouragement, putting some focus on the new, some jettisoning of the old. Stores, publishers, cons, need to put some effort into making these people feel welcome and needed. Because they are needed. You will NOT survive without them.
In five years boomers will be going off the the happy comic book store in they sky. Gen X will have completed every collection they nostalgically started during lockdowns. That will leave your with the few Millennials who ever gave a crap and... GenZ.
Most of you pros out there...can you survive if comics go the way of the rotary phone? Or would you be far better off with an influx of GenZ curiosity?
Look at your shelves, you stores. Look at your solicitations, you publishers. Look at your endcaps and prime locations on your floor, you con operators. Would a GenZ look at what you're looking at and GAF?
Are they seeing things that they're grandparents would be interested in, or are they seeing things like this...
Because, if you want to live to see tomorrow they need to be seeing things like that. Because, they are making it, because that is what appeals to them.
Many of you, I have no doubt, instead of considering that GenZ ain't reading comics because comics ain't being made for Gen Z, are going to the tried and true nonsense such as "you're never going to get kids to read comics, they have their phones, they have netflix, there is just too much other stuff they could be doing". Fun fact for you- Kids have ALWAYS had other things to do besides read comics. ALWAYS. During the golden age of comics kids were out playing baseball, building go carts, camping, fishing, building models, being outside getting actual exercise...those were all things they could have been doing beside reading comics.
GenX had video games (...sure they sucked, be didn't know that), skateboards, dirt bikes, cable tv with non stop music videos and video games (again, it sucked but we didn't know that), backpacks and boxes of action figures to play with, Legos to play with, as well as baseball, basket ball, and just being outside vandalizing things.
There has always been something else to do...the key is to be the thing they do instead of something else. And that is going to require that "thing' to be based on a concept that's NOT 50 years old. and if it's are going to properly compete with cell phones, it'd help if it wasn't being made solely by someone old enough to remember when they were no cell phones.
Some creatives and concepts have the ability to be timeless or at least appeal across generations...in music you have your David Bowie-s, Prince-s ect...but you can't prop up and ENTIRE INDUSTRY on the flawed idea that every creative and every concept has that ability, because MOST (as in 97%) do not.
Maybe you're genZ or older and are thinking to yourself "GenZ just keeps politicizing and ruining the things I grew up with". Well...maybe...possibly...have you considered...that they are jamming those stories into your super hero books because super hero books are all they being given to work on? that mayybbeeee, they had stories and concepts that did not seem forced or heavy handed that got turned down?
You like the song "fade to black" by the Rolling Stones? Imagine if they made Jagger sing it like Harry James and made the band get 40 other musicians so it was just another Glenn Miller orchestra knock off with different words. No guitar, no drums...a big horn section and a singer who stands in from of the mic singing melodically. That would have been shit wouldn't it? It would have appealed to zero baby boomers and the only copies sold would have been bought ironically or as a birthday gift from an out of touch Aunt.
Well...mayybeee...that's what's going on here. MAYBE...if someone said to that writer "look, you Cleary don't want to write about Captain America punching the red skull, so...don't. Write the story you want". Maybe, THAT story would have been really good. More impostantly for the industry, you can bet your ass that if that Gen Zer wants to write a different kind of story...it's because Gen Zers want to READ a different kind of story.
Now, you can go find them or they'll find you. The key is...just treat them better than the Boomer treated us. Support them, be nice, don't stick them in the middle of nowhere at your cons, or on your store shelves, so they have to fight tooth and nail for every sale. Because they won't, they'll do something else, for someone else.
If you are a comic book pro, how's about giving them some tips, some encouragement, a hand up...instead of the cold shoulder or trying to kneecap them? Like many Boomers did to us?
I'm not gen Z, I'm not in the mind of Gen Z and I'm not going to pretend I speak for Gen Z. But I know this much from working with them...they have a refreshing understanding of the word "reciprocation" . You be nice to them , and they'll be nice to you.
That's all Gen X ever wanted, right?
As always, homebase is here
NFT work here-
Here are the other places to find me...my use of them is fluid, inconstant, susceptible to the whims and shifts of the paradigm