As a freelance prose and comics writer, I sweat a lot about where my next paycheck is coming from. Half my day, and I’m being somewhat metaphorical here, is spent with my butt in the chair grinding out the words. The other half is spent partly with my butt in the chair “cold calling” editors or using the internet to market the stuff I’ve got coming out. At Comic-Con this past July – and y’all know Comic-Con is the mother of all comic book conventions, right? — freelance writers and artists converge to bask in the ambiance but more than anything, network, schmooze, and otherwise figure out how to get on the radar of respective editors at Marvel or DC.
There are plenty of other companies producing comic books, but except for the Big Two, no one pays a livable advance – that is a salary up front against earning royalties after ‘X’ amount of issues of that comic book sells. According to Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest distributors of comic books and graphic novels, Marvel had a 42.58% share of the market in July 2009, DC 34.14% and bringing in a distant third was Dark Horse at 4.06%. This still means on an annual basis DH earns millions in sales of comics, tchotchkes like character figurines and such, and movie option dough on properties like Sin City and Aliens vs. Predators.
But publishing comics isn’t as easy as it may seem even given the disposable nature of this sub-culture of “funny books.” If that were the case, why the heck did Virgin Comics fold last year? Here was a joint venture effort begun in 2006 between Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group (and this cat knows a little something about business) and the India-based comics publisher Gotham Entertainment – run by Gotham Chopra, Deepak Chopra’s son. Fact ol’ Deepak wrote a comics bio of the Buddha for the line. Virgin Comics also included comics supposedly begun by entertainment types (though the actual writing was done by others) such as director Guy Ritchie (Gamekeeper), actor Nicholas Cage (a big comics fan who came up with Voodoo Child) and porn star Jenna Jamison (Shadow Hunter). But I guess the pilates practicing, tofu eating crowd who dig the Buddha don’t read comics while Ms. Jamison’s fans would rather spend their money downloading her films.
Maybe some fine day the next Branson/Tony Stark (Iron Man who is also a billionaire)/Bruce Wayne (Batman, also a billionaire) adventurous business person will come along and star another comic book company and throw some money around. Until then, I remain on the hustle.
And for those of you who prefer the world inside the comic books to my own harsh reality, check out Andrew Smith’s speculative, “Will economic crisis affect richest comic book characters?“