A small moment today at Newbury Comics helped re-contextualize, or maybe just remind me, what we’re up against as self-publishers. Pictured here, you see Spawn filed under “Small Publisher.” Also found here: Transformers, Buffy, and a dozen other big franchise titles. If that’s small, what chance do we have?
If you don’t know it, Newbury Comics is a New England chain music/movie/novelty store that began life in the late 70s as a comic shop. They still devote a small section of each store to comics, though it must account for a very slim percentage of their business. The selection is decidedly mainstream and seems to focus on titles with good sell-through to other merchandise: Wolverine comics and trade paperbacks that link to the Wolverine DVDs & Blu-Rays that link to the Wolverine action figures that link to the bobble heads that link to the posters to the wrist bands to the drinking glasses to the keychains, etc. It’s pure show business wrapped in a faux punk ethos, akin to Spencer Gifts and Hot Topic.
I should note here that I dislike mainstream superhero comics. Not a seething, angsty kind of hate, just a bored sort of exasperation mixed with disbelief that they’ve managed to continue pushing these bloated storylines uphill for so many years. I also dislike Newbury Comics, which stems from me and others trying to do business with them as a small publisher.
As a result, I’ve never attempted to buy comics at Newbury Comics. I was just killing time, waiting for some soup, like you do, when I came across some bargain bins. When I flipped through the “small publisher,” I was shocked to find Image Comics (which sold five of the top ten selling graphic novels in 2010) along with Dark Horse (Hellboy, Terminator, etc.), IDW (Star Trek, 30 Days of Night, G.I. Joe, etc), and one or two others. Not a single Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Ad House, or other publisher that I would consider small, or smaller, at any rate.
Yes, these companies are obviously dwarfed by Marvel and DC, who together control nearly 70% of the dollar share in printed comics. And that’s just printed comics, which are barely worth the paper their printed on compared to the true worth of these franchises. The real money is in the film rights, box office, and merchandise. Even these smaller “creator-owned” companies like Image must rake in millions in fees and licensing.
My point is simple, and probably moot. There aren’t that many places a small publisher can go to peddle their wares. If Spawn is “small publisher” material, it’s no wonder to me that Newbury Comics has no interest in developing local talent.