Recently, both Marvel and DC have announced many cancellations of their comics this spring. This is all to make way for their corresponding events, Convergence for DC, and Secret Wars for Marvel. What are Marvel and DC(sometimes referred to as the “big two”) planning? Mega events that involve many ongoing titles are not uncommon. Crossover events frequently bridge one comic over with another, for example, “Guardians of the Galaxy” recently had a crossover with “All-New X-Men”. In this case, it resulted in a much more drastic change, with many titles ending or changing drastically. From this event will come a slew of brand new series – some will feature the same characters, while others will have entirely new casts and narratives. However, there is more behind these events than you may think.
Diamond Comic Distributors, the primary comic book distributor for stores, publishes monthly sales numbers showing how many copies of a comic stores have ordered. Unfortunately, this does not tell us the exact total sales of a comic. What this does do, though, is give us an idea of what is consistently selling – because stores try to only order what they can sell. Only the parent companies know how well their comic actually sold.
Immediately after the first issue of a new comic, we see the number of readers begin to steadily decline until they stabilize later on. This decline is often referred to as “attrition”. If the sales numbers don’t stabilize high enough, attrition can be the nail in the coffin for these seemingly strong titles. What do Marvel and DC do to combat this? They renumber and relaunch. These strategies offer a temporary boost in sales until attrition takes hold once again. Relaunches attract newer readers by making their comics more approachable to a casual audience, because they can pick up a new story without having to catch up. This is both a good and bad thing.
On one hand, this makes it easier to start reading a company’s comics by having new stories stem from the results of the inciting event of the relaunch, while simultaneously encompassing many of the previous ongoing narratives. However, frequent events can make it difficult for creative teams to write their own stories when they need to periodically tie into someone else’s, regardless of how relevant it is. While the creative teams are generally given fair warning before an event approaches, they are seldom permitted to abstain from taking part. When you have events too frequently, “event fatiguing” is also a risk. You can only buy all the $5 event issues so many times before purchasing future trade paperback collections becomes more favorable for your wallet.
That being said, the numbers that event books sell are quite a bit larger than normal books, regardless of what you think of them. This shows how successful they are in drawing in new readers who probably don’t buy many comics anyway and are casual readers. While this effect is generally temporary until the event ends, more people are still in comic stores.
In my opinion, I don’t think the industry can sustain itself on constant events. In addition to these events, you need stories that resonate with people on a more personal level. This is why it’s important to allow writers to tell their story. Image, Dark Horse, and IDW are are examples of companies publishing something called creator owned comics. With creator owned books, a team can create their own self contained story without any of the strings attached that many superhero comics continue to face more and more. This isn’t to say that Marvel and DC release inferior work, but its important to note that with creator owned books, the original team maintains full control over the story and characters they’ve created, unlike at Marvel and DC. Creator owned comics have given us classics like Invincible, Pride of Baghdad, Saga, and so much more. Does this make superhero comics bad? No. There are plenty of amazing super hero comics released every week, regardless of what they are crossing over with. But it’s still important to see the industry as something broader than the big two. This is why it’s important to bring in new readers – more people in comic stores, and even browsing comic distributor websites creates the opportunity for them to be exposed to the incredible amount of overlooked creator owned comics.
What people forget when they shun the “big two” is that Marvel and DC are the only reason we can have a comic industry with as much creativity as we do. For stories to reach new readers, they need to… well, be read by new people entering the very fan driven community. Unless these new readers have friends who already read comics, events are needed to draw them in to the genre. The entire line of comics published by the two largest market shares in the industry are crucial for getting formerly casual readers like me into comic stores.
Time will tell what frequent events and renumbering means for the industry. That being said, they do bring in a needed flow of potential new readers. Even if only a small percentage of these new readers become interested in less mainstream comics like X-Factor, Saga, and Wicked + Divine, the industry will be better for it. Yes, this reasoning is fairly capitalistic and, yes, this means the trend of renumbering and events will continue, but this strategy works. I only ask this: If you have a friend who is interested in getting into comics, encourage them to read not only mainstream super hero comics, but also a creator owned comic. They have much to choose from one of the many other companies making fantastic new comics every week.