Knowing how superheroes dominate the box office and television airwaves these days, you’d think comic books would be flying off shelves – but that unfortunately isn’t the case. In an era when Black Panther – a character previously unknown to the mainstream at large, mind you – can’t translate a highly successful theatrical run into periodical sales, it may be safe to assume that not as many people care to read anymore.
Speaking of which, I’ve noticed how each successive generation enjoys sitting down with a good book even less. As such, bookstores are closing left and right, in addition to magazine racks growing smaller with each passing year. To quote Egan Spangler in Ghostbusters, “print is dead.”
Still, there are those of us unwilling to give up on the comic book industry, myself included. Even so, famed writer and author/artist of the classic Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle Bob Layton isn’t afraid to be brutally honest. In fact, what he had to say about the future of the industry makes a lot of sense (via Adventures in Poor Taste):
“Sooner or later Marvel or DC, Warner Bros. or Disney will look at the publishing arm as diminishing returns. Both of them have the largest reprint libraries in the world. I mean, think about, when’s the last time you saw a Mickey Mouse comic? Mickey Mouse is the most popular character globally, most known character. They don’t make comics of Mickey Mouse anymore. Once you climb the rungs of the ladder and become part of the lexicon, you push the ladder off, you’re on top.”
As Layton continued, he made some rather valid points. Similar to how I mentioned Black Panther earlier, he touched on the meager sales Tony Stark is able to muster on average – and that character’s the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
“All this other stuff, Iron Man sells what, 20,000 copies a month or something? You think they’re even making a profit off that? And the price keeps going up. Now we’re competing with Netflix. When comics hit $7, they’re dead, because it’s just cheaper to get a Netflix subscription and watch all the Marvel stuff in the cinematic universe. So as I said, 10 years ago I saw the writing on the wall. And not that I don’t love comics, I do.”
To be honest, he’s not wrong about increasing cover prices turning off readers. Comics may be cheap individually, sure, but very few of us read only one title per month. With $3.99 now being the standard price tag, one can only imagine how long it’ll be before that goes up.
In my view, it’ll be quite some time before comics go the way of the dinosaur, but I’m not banking on Action Comics reaching 2,000 issues. If anything, trade paperbacks may carry on the legacy of this medium in an archival sense, but superheroes such as Iron Man will likely live on only through movies and TV at some point.