COMICS: This post by Sean Collins reminds me of something very funny. In it, Sean continues a discussion he's apparently been having about the perrenially fun topic of superhero comics dominating Direct Market comics shops. The point he makes is that since DM comic book stores are, and always have been, superhero focused that non-superhero comics won't sell there. He's right, of course. What's funny to me about this is how closely this follows what Warren Ellis has been saying recently. As much as people like to bash Warren, the general thinking among those few people who bother to think about comics tends to hew pretty closely to his ideas. Whether people actually do listen to Warren despite their own protestations (not that Sean himself has any thoughts about Warren Ellis, he's just the one who made me think about this) or whether nobody listens to Warren but he's always ahead of the curve is for somebody else to figure out.

What Warren has been saying, and what I've been agreeing with for quite a while, is that the fight for opening up the DM for non-superhero comics is pretty much a lost cause. The people running the shops (barring people like James Sime who actually care about making money, not talking about Green Lantern with their buddies), the people doing almost all the shopping, and the companies selling most of the product in the DM are all adamantly against anything new and against anything that isn't superhero making any inroads. When faced with a brick wall of such gigantic preportions, you can either chip your way through it bit by bit or you can walk around it. Manga has not only helped open up a new road around the brick wall of the DM for non-superhero comics, it has paved, painted and lit it. It's now up to publishers to get on the road and finally move toward the future.

The recent discussions of this topic always leads me to think about the book from a few years ago called The Innovator's Dilemma (I've made this point before so excuse me if you've heard this). One of the points of that book is that the road to ruin for a lot of companies has been following exactly what their customers want. The problem of Giving Them What They Want is that you get too comfortable with your current customers and make no effort to look into anything new. Then when something new comes along, your competition (who either aren't large enough to have the large existing customer base in place that you have or are new to the industry) sees the new thing as a new way to get customers, gets a lot of new customers who didn't want what you were supplying and you eventually whither and die as your customer dwindle or move to the new thing. The parallels with the DM are pretty clear if you think of super-hero shops as one entity (which I'm comfortable doing since you can walk into 90% of the comics shops in the US and know what they're going to have the same as if they all had the same franchise name above the door). Superhero-focused comic shops have a large and generally change-adverse audience that is keeping it alive, albeit barely. These customers by-and-large do not like non-superhero comics so those shops have no reason to stock them. This suits both parties just fine. The shops keep their audience and the audience keeps the product it likes. Now comes bookstores and an increasing number of mainstream stores that stock non-superhero comics for people who didn't read comics before. This is the crucial element. People buying manga and non-superhero comics didn't frequent superhero shops before so these new shops aren't taking customers away from the superhero stores so their impact is largely ignored by those shops. Hence the wishful thinking of a lot of people in the DM of ignoring manga or thinking it's a fad. The problem for the DM is the same for all businesses where new technologies or products come along, most people end up wanting the new thing, no matter how you repackage, rethink, give away, or promote the old thing. The old audience just becomes life-support, keeping you going in the short term only until there's not enough life left even for the machines to puff up.

To bring this monster of a post back around to the original point, the DM is a sinking ship and if you look at history, it's almost inevitable that it be this way. The new mainstream comic shops and stores are where non-superhero comics need to be, not in the DM.