This is a column that we hope gives you a real sense of what we’re aiming to do at 13th Dimension. At our site, you’ll find pieces written by the creators themselves that aim to both enlighten and provoke. Today, we bring you a missive from industry superstar Mark Waid — and it’s a surprising mea culpa. Read on because it’s fascinating stuff. — Dan
WELCOME TO THE 21st CENTURY COMICS INDUSTRY
Trust me as I tell you that when the mob storms the village with torches and pitchforks in hand and you realize you’re the only one not holding anything, that is an uncomfortable place to be.
Several years ago, at a conference for comic book publishers and industry stalwarts, when Comixology was still an “upstart” and iPads were still a toy, I came out aggressively against the Old Ways. I wasn’t the first to do so, but I am loud. I rallied hard that we should all be turning our attention to the emerging digital market and that as an industry, we couldn’t continue to be held hostage by our only significant print distributor, America’s 1,800 — maybe — comics specialty stores. I argued that tablets and smartphones were the new newsstand, the new outreach tool.
As the vast majority of publishers and retailers turned on me for preaching heresy and descended upon me like a fat kid on a chocolate cake, I maintained that the Old Ways were doomed to die more quickly than we could imagine and that the future of the comics medium hinged on digital distribution.
And you know what?
I was wrong.
Not wholly. I still have no regrets about soapboxing over the New Ways, about the role screen-based portables can have as outreach tools. In fact, I staked my entire personal, legendary collection of comics and three years (and counting) of nights and weekends in sweat equity that digital comics were the future. That’s how my webcomics portal Thrillbent.com was born, and it thrives as a platform for telling comics stories in a new medium and for reaching an audience who can’t make it to a comics shop every Wednesday. So far, so good.
But in all honesty, the Old Ways weren’t doomed. Had you told me three years ago that comics sales in America would be up by significant numbers when all other forms of print media were shedding readers at a brutal pace, I’d have been the one to call you a heretic. Yet here we are. Print comics aren’t the business juggernaut they were in their heyday and may never be again, but no one can deny that there’s a sustained boom going on and no hint of an oncoming bust. And here’s what’s really cool: The same thing is happening with digital comics. They’re not only matching print’s growth, they’re exceeding it.
A year or two ago, when readers (new, old and lapsed) began reporting that reading comics online spurred them into stores, we considered that to be anecdotal evidence that there was a positive symbiotic relationship between the two. Today, we have hard data to back that up; every shred of evidence goes to show that one does not “steal” from the other. Not only can digital and print co-exist, they can feed one another. Digital is the outreach, but brick-and-mortar is the community gathering place, the sales platform, the pop-culture oasis.
I’m so convinced of this that I’m now taking another huge gamble. I — I, who have the reputation of a digital zealot who hates print — I now own a store of my own, Alter Ego Comics in Muncie, Ind. I mention this not to plug, I swear, but to make the point that I’m approaching the possibilities of this new virtual/brick-and-mortar relationship with the same zeal that brought me to Thrillbent. We’re installing a kiosk in Alter Ego where customers can browse Thrillbent on-screen and, using their phones to activate QR codes, purchase digital downloads directly from the site. I’m very curious as to how this works out for us. It’ll be strange, offering both physical goods and downloads for sale under the same roof. It may not yield results, but if it doesn’t, the next experiment will, or the one after that.
I’ll stop back by here from time to time to keep you informed of our progress. The audience is out there — you’re proof of that.
And speaking on behalf of the entire industry, regardless of what brings you to the table, we appreciate your support.