I know I joke about Radical Comics going under a lot and let’s face it, it’s a ticking clock, but I don’t actually want to see an independent comic book company go out of business… or any comic book company for that matter. Radical has made mistakes unique unto itself, but they’ve also made some common mistakes that a lot of defunct publishers made as well. The point of this article is to shine some light on the mistakes that companies make that eventually put them out of business. Hopefully a few of them will read it and avoid the pitfalls of others and if not, at least you’ll see why certain companies aren’t around anymore.
You’re Popular! You’re a Critical Darling! You’re Making Crap Now…
The major problem I see with comic companies is that they hit this sweet spot where they become untouchable. They’ve got great creators, great titles and everyone loves them. Then they start relaxing their own standards and putting out, well… crap. I love indie comics a lot and when I find a good company I can’t wait to check out their next issue or series. But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to love everything. The problem with this business is that everyone gets friendly and soon enough the critics that once ripped their titles to shreds are kissing their asses. It goes right back into the “free passes” we’ve talked about on the site previously.
The best example I can think of is Dreamwave comics. Who the fuck didn’t like their take onTransformers? They blew up overnight and starting gobbling up licenses and green lighting new titles left and right. The problem was that they had no quality control. Mega Man? Crap. Their manga adaption line with translations that now a day’s Google Translation could do better. Crap. Devil May Cry? Beyond crap. You’ll find that Dreamwave will become my go to example in some cases, but I’ll always remember that this company was out of control and really needed someone on the outside to tell them that their shit still stunk. They also need someone to help make the books run on time and stop people from wasting money on bullshit, but neither here nor there on that one.
We Made The Top 100! Let’s Act Like Marvel and DC!
If there is one thing that an indie company should never do, that’s to act like the “Big Two.” I’m watching companies like Boom Studios that were once known for their mini-series now slowly moving into ongoing monthly titles and constant adaptations. The danger in this is that books that would probably not be picked up for a second series due to sales or feedback are now… still going. It’s the curse of comic success that companies think that once their popular and have a lot of sales that everything they do should be ongoing and I'm not just talking about Boom.
Creatively this is also a killer because story ideas that have long run their course continue indefinitely. Sure there are books that have broken this mold, but one could agree that they should have ended long ago too. Personally, comic books need to adapted and change their thinking. They tend to be a lot like WWE with their never-ending season, rather than being a hit TV show with the summer or fall break in the story. The point is, don’t let success dictate scheduling and story. This medium is all about the story and to force something to run long past its prime is just tragic and often fatal to indie and self-published comics. The "Big Two" can eat the loss, you're company will just eat crow.
I’m going to switch it up here with a different example. In the early 2000’s a lot of Image comic companies were buying up the license to popular toy properties. Devil’s Due had G.I. Joe, Image proper had Masters of the Universe, Wildstorm had Thundercats and we all know who Dreamwave had. That’s right, Dreamwave was once publishing through Image. Everyone became license happy and guess what… where are all of these companies now? Obviously Image is still doing fine, but you’ll notice they don’t really touch the licensed products any more. Also I'm not crediting Masters of the Universe with the reason that Wildstorm was sold off and now no longer in exsistance, but they've always sucked at licensed properties just look at Gears of War and God of War for proof.
The thing people don’t understand about a licensed property in comics is that it’s just for the shareholders sake. Take a popular franchise like Godzilla. IDW knows that they are going to sell “X” amount of the title based on the built in fan base along. People will try the comic if they even remotely liked one of the movies because they’re curious. Because they know this they don’t even really have to try with the title which is evident with several current licensed comic properties (and no I don’t just mean IDW’s). The licensed product has other difficulties attached to it, but none more powerful than the shareholders peace of mind. Too often small companies will invest way too much money to obtain a license and then end up not being able to afford to keep the book going or shipping on time.
We Figured Out More Stories For That Thing That Made Us Popular!
Here’s a strange example for you, Marvel Zombies! Or anything that Dynamite has done that started off as a mini-series. Everyone loved Marvel Zombies right? No, I loved the covers and that’s about it. The story sucked and the interior art was barely tolerable. Add the fact that Kirkman was on the book and that he was forced to use characters that Marvel was pushing as “popular” at the time and it was actually quite the stinker. Yet Marvel kept pumping out series after series until everyone just stopped giving a damn.
Dynamite is no less guilty. I love the Green Hornet, but even I got really tired of how many GH series there were. It got to the point where people just stopped buying the books because they didn’t know which one they were originally reading. They all had Alex Ross covers practically so it’s no wonder that someone couldn’t tell them apart. Another example from Dynamite is the Army of Darkness series. Other than being terrible they’ve basically ran the franchise into the ground by pairing Ash up with any other license that would have him and their still trying to pump the character down our throat. A character I might add they have no understanding of outside of three one liners used over and over again. For others look no further than Project Superpowers and it's endless amount of spinoffs. This last category may be more for the big boys than anyone else, but hey it needed to be said.
This Is A Business
The thing that a lot of creators don’t realize is that they’re running a business. And let’s face it; business and creative process only get along so well. If you’re going to be an indie company you need to almost have a separation of church and state within the company. As much creative talent that you need you also need business talent or you’ll end up running yourself out of town. It sucks, but if you want to continue your success you need to face the facts that you’re no different than any other company. You’ll all have to make money to keep the lights on. The biggest thing to remember about your business is that 50% of it is shipping. You need to ship your product and on time or as close to on time as possible. If your pizza showed up three hours late you'd still be pissed off even if you haven't paid for it yet. Well everyone stops caring about your comic when it’s six months late because they're pissed off as well and again haven't even bought the book yet. Scattered shipping schedules are the first sign of decay within a company so think about that. I could go on, but each business is different and really no one wants to be bored. Read a book on business for the entertainment field, they're out there trust me. Pro tip, stop mailing yourself your trade marks it'll just make you look like an ass if you go to trail.
What Did We Learn?
Now, granted I don’t run an indie company and hell Comic Bastards hasn’t even been around long enough for me to go through similar difficulties on our end, but I’ve been reading comics for well over half my life now and I’ve observed a lot. My personal interest in the hobby has outlasted a lot of comic companies and I don’t want it to be that way. There will always be companies that mishandle their success and fade away, but if companies are smart and take a business class or just pay attention to the companies around them they’ll be able to stay around for a long time. There is plenty of room for success in comics and as much as people talk about it as a dying medium they’re wrong. There will always be comics and there will always be comic success stories. You never know when something is going to catch fire and become the next Hellboy or The Walking Dead so keep putting out the good stuff, daddy needs his fix.