NPR and it’s affiliate occasionally provide content exploring Comics; today, on All Things Considered through the work of Youth Radio, was one of those days. These stories, like this one, will even shed the usual hooky misunderstood sentimentalism that makes comics seem to be pop cultures baby brother.
This is remarkable considering you could extrapolate some loosely accurate numbers and come up with the figure $228,000,000. A figure representing a picture of the total revenue of the comics industry annually.
The story focused on Comics writer, Mark Waid and his effort problem solving production and marketing strategies for comics content in digital form, representing something above $19M annually ( http://m.npr.org/story/158374174?url=/2012/08/07/158374174/a-comics-crusader-takes-on-the-digital-future ).
Are these numbers that would represent content of value to the NPR audience? Well, no actually. Had most of the audience heard of Mark Waid, before the broadcast? No. Do most of the audience consume comics print or digital? Of course not. Not when we are talking about American Comics, it’s industry, it’s audience and it’s creators (I am one, full disclosure).
Consider Comics sister industries (other American Storytelling, Literary, Visual Lexicon, Art Forms); Revenue annually in America for Art over $9B, Film over $10B, Television over $12, Radio over $17B, Video Games over $18B, Publishing over $27B…That’s Billion and even if these quickly searched numbers are all off by Billions…it’s still well more then $228M (a number that could be more or less off by $100M itself). In this light, Comics are not news worthy.
In today’s dollars, in the year 1940, Action Comics (featuring Superman) sold for $15M it’s next closest rival Detective Comics $12M, Famous Funnies $6M. Yes, there were possibly more publishers and series in the dawn of Comics through it’s Golden Age. But let’s say conventional wisdom is wrong and sales of comics total units fall off on other series then and total revenue for the comic books 1933-1954 (when the Senate’s Comity on Juvenal Delinquency began it’s war on Comics) never meeting annual sales in today’s dollars of $228M…even then, there was no competition from Video Games. Film and Television were new enough for it to be close. Publishing and Art were still a high end product I would think. Radio was populous king, I would guess. But Comics were making their mark and had a noticeable share of the pie or so we imagine.
Let’s look at it another way. In American Comics there are maybe 1000 Mark Waids at any moment (I am being generous in assuming the quality of work and name recognition are there for that many cartoonists…there is no way there are 1000). For everyone of them there maybe 20 professional, highly skilled cartoonist, not making a living off of Comics, no one has heard of (like me). For every one of them there possibly 80 unskilled cartoonist (or that’s what it seemed like in cartooning school), also called comics fans. Represented in this are Publishers, Production Team Members, Sales Team Members, Editors, Distributors, Comic Shop Owners & Employees, Comic Con Personnel, ect…(there are a lot of jobs to get a comic from an artist to a reader). We are talking about something above 1 Million Comics Community members (a total guess on my part). Spending about $288 dollars each year to keep things going. After retailers, distributors and publishers get their cut, some of the 1000 cartoonists at the top of their game just make comics. Not many…not 1000, maybe hundreds. Basically there is enough money to support 4,000 people with a living.
Now feeding this pool professionally you have the traditional apprentices, make it on your own types picking up a pen or brush each day. Or those few hundred each year who graduate from a cartoonist college (SCAD had dozens in the Sequential Art department when I started, 300, when I left; CCS has a couple dozen each year…I think). That’s hundreds more suckers, trying to keep the dream alive. But nothing compared to the industries that pull in Billions.
The point of the NPR story was, there is a guy, Mr Waid, who is trying to save something. Each of those Million or so are. We are a diverse group as are the content of Comics. Far more then is conceived of outside our little circle. We do not all agree on how to proceed, with content, distribution, promotion and sales. There has been infighting and back stabbing all along. In a community this small and sensitive, we are warned. But the comic book nerd is opinionated. So we fight for our future amongst ourselves and with our overlords in the other communication media medium industries. For 79 years so far, we see each other bleeding dry, while seeing them paradoxically come up with perpetuating problem solving that keeps this old hunk of junk running with pioneering spirit and content.
Waid, is pushing for a digital solution. I read Comixology on my iPhone and love it; content is improving (see we have Love & Rockets through Fantagraphics now, plus Marvel & DC same day print; Batman, Batwomen, old X-Men, Tiny Titans, a Ben Towle comic…). I still have that moment when a panel looks to big blown up on my phone. I still value the tactile, and smell of a comic book. I appreciate holding a graphic novel, particularly when it is treated as an art book should with it’s design. I love the craftsmanship and purity of a mini comic. I will never forget getting sweaty palms going into a comic shop as a kid. I remember the joy of discovering a new comic on a news stand rack. Downloading doesn’t appease all of those desires. But there is room for a diverse delivery of content.
To match our efforts to diversify content and quality. Comics were never just made by White Jewish Males (yes…I am one too) for White Boys…and that certainly is true today. Despite some backlash from misogynist white male nerds. Women in particular are returning to the medium as readers and cartoonists. Cultural diversity is required, moving back to a diverse content (sorry super men in tights…who I LOVE…along with most other genre of comics…oh yeah comics are a medium not a genre).
I should also pick up his and Alex Ross’s epic Supermen in tights painted comic DC’s Kingdom Come again, it’s sitting on my shelf, in my library. I still have not seen Waid’s approach, but will; hope it diversifies.
So perhaps, NPR recognizes, the Comic Book as part of a short list of American Artistic inventions (Jazz, Modern Dance, Baseball, Musical Theater, Animation, Quilting, Rock, Hip Hop…). They recognize the pop culture impact of summer block buster films that mine comics for intellectual content. But perhaps they also have respect for a medium that can reflect and comment on our world, with a valuable and/or unique perspective. A medium that continues to participate in our technological and cultural development.
If logic dictates comics are a small part, perhaps it recognizes the over sized impact it makes and the passion of it’s community in keeping that influence on the Billion Dollar industries, with a measly $100 Million and some chutzpah.