27 Problems & Opportunities in the Comic Industry

Last week I wrote about How We Can Build a Better Comic Book Industry.

This week I wanted to get more specific and identify discrete problems - and the possible opportunities therein - that we're facing.

The idea isn't to be negative about the industry, but to take the first step toward addressing the issues by exposing the problems.

These are just a few that I was able to think of, that we need to solve if we want to build an industry that's better for all of us.

They're not listed in any particular order of importance, so maybe you can let me know which you think are the biggest obstacles in our way.

1. Successful creators who are "doing well" still can’t support themselves through their work. Artists, in particular, are even worse off than writers. They're barely being paid per hour for their time, at all but the highest levels.

2. There's no organized forum or effort to discuss the business of comics in a deep way.

3. We ignore other possible audiences. The massive kids / YA audience that are being reached outside of the Direct Market aren't becoming greater fans of comics as a whole and little work is being done to reach the webcomic readership, among others.

4. Discussions about the comic market are limited in scope. References to mainstream graphic novels refer to Marvel & DC, when Reina Telgemeier's graphic novel "Sisters" is an Eisner Award Winner & New York Times bestseller.

5. We lack the numbers to discuss the industry - beyond the Direct Market - in an informed way. No numbers to show how much wider the industry is than the direct market. 

6. Creators aren't equipped with enough understanding of how to operate the business and marketing sides of their work, preventing them from reaching independent success.

7. The Direct Market faces a distribution monopoly supported by many retailers. Even worse, established print distribution is limited to comic book retailers. 

8. The industry has no point of sale tracking, so creators and publishers are incentivized to make decisions thinking of the retailer as their end consumer, rather than their actual readers.

9. The way comics are published today, they aren't competitive enough other entertainment options, like movies or video games to capture a larger market.

10. Within the Direct Market, ongoing series have a hard time growing their audiences past the readers they're able to reach through the first issue.

11. The Direct Market is set up to favor established names and properties, catering best to Marvel & DC rather than the many independent titles that could improve the industry.

12. There are few independent creators who have built successful careers independently in the modern market to serve as role models for other up-and-coming creators.

13. There's a lot of pride and ego in the work of creating comics and, as a result, individual creators are forced to bear the burden of creation themselves, rather than embracing a studio system, which may be able to increase the rate of production for comics and lead to other benefits.

14. Readers new to the Direct Market have to deal with too much friction to start buying because of the complex pre-order system. Not only is it difficult for new readers to understand, but it complicates the way creators can market - forcing them to push once for pre-orders and again when it's in stores.

15. The costs of print continues to rise, making comics even less of a worthwhile purchase for customers and challenging the economics of the industry further.

16. Retailers are in financial situations where most don't have the flexibility or freedom to take a chance on independent titles without guaranteed audiences.

17. Comics lacks a unified initiative to bring in new readers, as most comics continue to cater to shrinking fan base.

18. There's still too little acknowledgement of or action on the subject of gender bias in comics. The fact that we need specific "Women in Comics" panel is clear indication. Even worse is that we get "Women in Comics" panels filled with men speaking from a *qualified* point of view on the issue.

19. While independent comics might seem to booming, they're gravitating towards treading on the same kind of work again and again like speculative science fiction or action.

20. There is little initiative to bring new stories to market in a way that gets them in front of as large of an audience as possible so they have the best chance of catching on and broadening the industry

21. No critics or outlets actually have the real power to make changes by driving sales to the work they spotlight.

22. Most outlets, regardless of what power they do have, don't use their coverage to spotlight new work and help incentivize creativity & experimentation among creators.

23. Publishers have yet to fully embrace digital or the other possibilities of online business. Institutional inertia keeps them doing more of the same.

24. There aren't enough links to and between international markets for independent creators to use.

25. We're in a lose-lose diversity situation. Companies can change existing characters to be more diverse, but then people complain that it's either cultural appropriation or lazy, and when they create new characters they see it as a token offering. Both are important and we need to be understanding to survive the tide of progress.

26. Outrage culture within comics is still prominent. It's to easy to get angry at the issues we come across, rather than having the patience or endurance to dig into issues and discuss them.

27. There's no shared vision for the future of comics or an actionable plan to get there. I shared my own thoughts on the subject, but even that is not enough.

27 problems may seem like a lot, but I'm sure we can think of even more.

I want to thank Larry Watts, Gannon Beck, Josh Trujillo, Eryk Donovan, and Afua Richardson, for helping me flesh out this list and offering their own suggestions.

If you have anything you want to add to the list, comment below. Let's keep the conversation going, too.