A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were out on a day trip that led us to a trendy area of town with a bunch of specialty shops. Whenever I end up in a place like this, two kinds of stores come to mind: guitar shops and comic book stores. I get great joy from perusing the merchandise of both and driving my wife nuts from boredom as I do. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to those that have read this blog that I never buy anything in either store and get just enough out of the experience of tinkering with the merchandise in the store.
It just so happened that we came upon a comic book shop and I darted right in. The world of comics is a strange place for me now. To my knowledge, kids do not buy their favorite titles as soon as they come out and continue to read them issue to issue. They have mostly become fodder for Hollywood blockbusters and toys sold to kids. The shops reflect this by having very few new titles, many toys on display, and old comic books in boxes to explore.
Even in my youth, I tended to save money and comics cost $1.25 a piece, so I could only pick a few here and there a month to read. As such, I would miss installments of certain stories and always feel like I was missing something. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one because many of the story lines of my youth have been put together in graphic novels that feature all the comics that told the story in order. I came upon one such graphic novel featuring Batman. It was, no doubt, put together, because it was the first time that the villain Bane was introduced and that is the villain featured in the Dark Knight Rises film. This fact foreshadows the more recent conclusion I came to.
I seriously considered buying the graphic novel, but at a $30 price tag, I came back to reality. Instead, I checked my local library and they had not only volume 1, but 2 and 3 as well. I have a habit of getting obsessive about certain things or subjects for an amount of time so not only did I check those out, I also found a biography of Stan Lee, who is known as the head of Marvel Comics.
Reading his bio while going through the Batman series made me see how business driven comic books are. The biography gives a litany of comic book heroes that Lee helped create, some that stuck and some that did not. It also told of how it was a copycat industry, simply trying to replicate a formula with each new character. Then, as I got through the graphic novel, I could actually see it at work. Every comic ends with a cliff hanger so the reader must buy the next one. New characters are introduced regularly, and if they don’t rate well, they will meet their doom. Admittedly, that part is kind of funny, but also makes me sad realizing the realities of one of my favorite hobbies as a kid.
For those unfamiliar with the comic book market, what happened in the late 1990’s is the industry basically went belly up and Marvel Comics went bankrupt. This is because they continued to create more titles and saturated the market. The readership couldn’t keep up and the cover prices went way up. They tried to revamp it, but comics as I knew them were gone. Now, they have turned to Hollywood and seem to have a pretty successful model for turning out profitable movies. Thus showing again, it is all about the business.
What did I learn from my reading?
Everyone knows that people market to kids very aggressively. We also know that kids are not going to analyze what or how they are being advertised to, they just know if they like something or not. So, in a way, I laugh at my child self, getting caught up in the comic book cycle that always leads you back for more and whose creative integrity is basically “throw it all out there and see if something sticks”.
The truth of the matter is this is how all businesses think. I find it very helpful to understand the position of a business as part of a purchase. Ask why something cost what it does, what is the competition, and what is the benefit? There are many other things to ask, but the point is to not get caught up in an image or gimmick.
Also, I learned that Marvel Comics got rid of a lot of staff and hired many freelancers to keep costs down. Apparently these freelancers found ways to pit the various publishers against each other to make more money. This was going on back in the 50’s and 60’s, so the lesson here is even then, you couldn’t trust the stability of a job in corporate America, so stay savvy and diversify your talents and income streams!
Have you ever researched the business side of an entertainment you enjoy? What did you find?