Comics and Cosplay
Show Me the Money: Are Adaptations Helping Comics?

Marla Desat | 11 Jun 2014 18:00
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On the video game front, global sales of Batman: Arkham City were 5.4 million units, Batman: Arkham Asylum netted 4.2 million units sold, and Batman: Arkham Origins sold 2 million. Lego Marvel Super Heroes, which features about 150 Marvel characters, has sold just shy of 2 million copies. Publishers other than the big two are finding success in video games too. Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, based on the comic by Robert Kirkman and published by Image Comics, sold 8.5 million episodes.

With millions of proven fans of these stories, why aren't we seeing a flock of new comic book fans marching to their local stores, setting up pull lists and eagerly awaiting the next issue of Amazing Spider-Man? I can speculate that new fans find the years of history behind an ongoing comic daunting, but that doesn't explain the slow sales of graphic novels and trade paperbacks. A self-contained story like Watchmen may be easier for new fans to pick up, but that doesn't lead to a monthly comic book habit. Image Comics' The Walking Dead is one of the few comics that has seen a clear and consistent jump in sales with its success as a television series. The first volume of the trade paperback was the top selling graphic novel in 2010 and 2011.

With Marvel owned by Disney, and DC under the auspices of Time Warner, I would argue comics have become a loss leader for these studios. They keep churning out the comics and keep the collectors and the dedicated fans buying it, but the big cash payback comes from the movies and merchandising. It's an inexorable truth of capitalism that companies will work to maximize profits, and if movies, television, and video games are where the money is, it's only reasonable for Marvel, DC, and everyone else to capitalize on it. You can't make a value judgement on it - it's not a matter of morality or of what is best for the comics industry. It's simply a matter of making money.

So here's my cynical plea to the big two, and to anyone else wanting to market a movie based on a comic book or graphic novel: make the books part of your merchandising. Give me a QR code on my ticket stub for The Winter Soldier that gets me a digital download of Winter Soldier #1. Produce "deleted scenes" special comic issues for Arrow and advertise them before the credits of the show. Package an issue with a self-contained story in every single Avengers play set for Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes. Set up every new comic book hero fan with a reason to walk into a comic book shop and ask for something that they know isn't an inscrutable fraction of a story. The well of comic book stories is deep, and varied, but it needs new readers to keep it growing, to keep it revitalized, and to keep churning out the worlds and characters that will hopefully become the big blockbusters twenty years from now. More importantly, converting the moviegoers to readers will keep the comic industry healthy, so that when mainstream tastes move back away from superheroes, as it inevitably will, some will stick with the smaller, panel-bound versions of the characters that they learned to love on the big screen.

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