Back in the mid 1980s when the Kirby petition circulated there were a lot of options for comic book artists, writers, editors and the like. Alongside Marvel and DC were other, smaller, companies, such as Pacific, Innovation, Eclipse, Dark Horse and a host of other, smaller publishers. Distribution was handled by at least two major companies, Diamond and Capitol City. Competition was healthy enough for a book to be cancelled at Marvel (Ghost Rider) for only selling 100,000 issues per month. Today 100,000 issues per month would be classed as a blockbuster beyond compare. Today the world has changed, and not entirely for the better.
|Michael Netzer's complaint to the FTC|
Over the years several companies have come and gone. Eclipse and Innovation folded years ago. Malibu was bought by Marvel who shelved the characters and refuses to publish them. Dark Horse is still hanging in there, albeit on a limited basis. Image was hailed as the saviour of the comic book world, but they too aren’t what they once were. In a move reminiscent of Marvel/Malibu, DC Comics bought the crown jewel of Image, Jim Lee’s Wildstorm, and in doing so hobbled the competition to the point where they’re not the force they once were. It’s ironic to think that Lee joined Image because he wanted creative freedom and was tired of the ‘plantation’ that Marvel had become, now heads up DC Comics, a plantation in it’s own right. Wildstorm is all but gone now. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Where did it all go wrong? Everyone has a theory, mine is a simple one – things began to go wrong when Capitol City folded and Diamond emerged as the sole distributor for comic books and comic book related items. People will argue that there are ways to get your books into stores without Diamond, and indeed there are, but those methods have limited success, if any success at all. Ordering is done via Diamond, shipping is done via Diamond. If you want your book to be seen, ordered, read and bought, then you need to go via Diamond or you might as well forget about it. Diamond, with their monopoly, dictate the rules. If they want they’ll simply shut a publisher down, as they did Claypool Comics a few years ago, by refusing to carry their books and citing poor sales. Who wins with Diamond? Marvel and DC – they have the biggest ads, they have the most space and they strangle smaller publishers into oblivion. Diamond is only too happy to assist with this by bringing in unrealistic cut off limits and refusing to carry smaller publishers and magazines. In almost any other field no one company could establish and maintain such a monopoly without being reported or investigated, but Diamond are allowed to do this. As to why they are, well your guess is as good as mine.
The other main issue with comic books today is that, well, they’re no longer comic books. Each time I pick a title up and browse I can almost see the panels being used as storyboards for the next movie featuring the characters. Designs, plots, dialogue and visuals are taken from the books and used wholesale, generally with the original creator not being compensated for their work. The concept of comic books in 2011 is one of a farm, they exist to feed ideas into movies to make money for the studios, for Marvel and DC and for the producers – in fact they make money for virtually everyone barring those who come up with the ideas in the first place. The comic book industry truly is a plantation now, and those who would argue otherwise are those who are profiting from the ideas, concepts and visuals of others.