So, the John Byrne Board starts a thread on what’s a fairly common subject over there, Marvel-bashing for Beginners:
“You’ve got a time machine and want to go back to the past, to prevent the decline and fall of Marvel. Which event must you avert?”
Now, before anyone gets all upset and points out that Marvel’s decline is a subject of debate and their fall a subject of fantasy, what makes this thread worth reading are two of the participants – Mr. Byrne himself, and Chuck Dixon.
Byrne goes first:
The creation of the DSM, or, barring that, the decision to put all the eggs in that one basket.
As originally conceived, the Direct Sales Market was a great idea — a way for dealers to create a stock of back issues, and for fans to be able to purchase those back issues at reasonable prices. But even back at the very beginning, my spider-sense tingled. I saw in the DSM a great potential for disaster, more and more as the Companies began shifting product to “Direct Only” status. Yes, the DSM saved (or at least prolonged) books like MICRONAUTS, which had reached cancelation point on the newsstand. But, ultimately, was that such a good idea?
…In the end, you see, saving comics from cancelation, shifting more and more product to the DSM only weakened Marvel (and the industry as a whole). By the time the decision was made to “pull out of the newsstand” it was kamikazee time. There was no way the industry could survive as a nitch market. There simply were not enough readers, and the move to Direct Only severely reduced what few of them there were. Then came the madness of the Speculator Boom, also fostered and nurtured by the DSM.
Give me a time machine, and let me go back and prevent the creation of the Direct Sales Market. The comicbook industry today would almost certainly be a different beast from what we have, or even what it used to be — but at least it would have got there, wherever that is, by “organic” means.
Dixon disagrees, partially:
I don’t think there was anything wrong with the DSM in theory. I had no problem with a kind of boutique side to the comics industry. The trouble began when the publishers began to listen to the retailers and respond to their complaints that newsstand and bookstore sales were “unfair competition” for them. Never mind that those venues were the entry level for new readers while comic shops were dedicated to already hardcore fans.
It saddens me to look at old royalty statements and see how many copies I used to sell on the newsstand vs. the comic shops. So many times it was a 10-1 ratio. I could laugh all the way to the bank on books like Savage Sword of Conan which sold like crap at the comic shops but often cracked the 200K mark on the newsstand. The DSM debacle may have gotten us to where we are. But the advent of Wizard and the star system mentality of publishers made sure we’re parked in a handicapped space with four flat tires.
Much as I loathe WIZARD and the “star system”, they are just gangrene. The wound that started it all was the DSM, and the steady shift into that as our sole venue. As if Hallmark had opened their stores — and pulled their product out of every other shop, and made most cities only had on Hallmark Store.The insanity is palpable. But, hey, I’ve been singing this song for more than 25 years now.
Aaaaand back to you, Mr. Dixon:
We’ll just have to agree to agree then. I like your Hallmark analogy. It perfectly illustrates the situation. But it also illustrates what direct marketing could have been had it been kept as the boutique system it should have remained. We COULD have had our cake and eaten it too.
That sorted out, the two then team-up to sort out the rest of the industry. They start with another familar complaint – Byrne on popular creators:
[T]here are the so-called “professionals” themselves, far too many of which are anything but. People who, as Frank Miller once put it, “do three issues and want a parade.” And, alas, these worthless prima donnas are able to find far, far to many brain dead “collectors” who are eager to support them while they are “growing roses.” To the point, even, of making lateness a badge of honor, and producing books on time an indication of shoddy workmanship.
Dixon on the same subject:
[W]hat baffles me is that these “hot” talents are given assignments based on hype rather than performance. Creators whose books are selling steady if not spectacularly are removed so that sexy new talent can take over. More often than not the sales fall below that of the former less-sexy team and never again rise to their former numbers no matter how many rounds of musical creative chairs are played. But those replacement guys maintain their gloss and keep getting books until Gareb Shamus no longer wants to party with them. And if all of this star-chasing (to clean up the term) resulted in higher sales I’d just admit I’m clueless and go away. But each month’s figures prove me right. It’s a slow downward spiral but its ever downward.
In the end, it shows a lack of any kind of leadership and chases off good talent. I was told recently that to get more work at a major company I would have to “party with” and “buddy up” to certain people. That ain’t me, babe.
Dixon also starts off with the “videogame” argument, but Byrne has yet to show up to that particular party… But I’m looking forward to more sense-shattering pulse-pounding action from these two gentlemen soon.