Will comic books survive the COVID19 pandemic?

By May 5, 2020Culture, News

As the COVID19 viral pandemic stretched across the world it hit many services and industries hard- including comic books and graphic novels.

Diamond Comics Distributors distributes nearly every comic sold in the anglophone world but they quickly noticed a drastic change to their industry.

The head of Diamond Comics, Steve Geppi, announced on the 23rd of March, that there will be no new comic books for the foreseeable future. The pandemic hit retailers sales figures badly meaning they couldn’t pay their bills to Diamond or rent to their landlords.

“Product distributed by Diamond and slated for an on-sale date of 1st of April or later will not be shipped to retailers until further notice,” Geppi wrote.

Of course, if shops can’t pay Diamond Comics then Diamond in turn can’t pay their publishers, who then can’t pay artists and writers, who can’t pay their rent or bills.

Diamond plans to start shipping comics to shops again on 17th May, however many around the world will still be in lockdown. Many publishers have addressed this by offering to produce digital copies of the comics for those unable to visit shops just yet.

Al is not lost, however. According to The Guardian, dozens of artists and writers are setting up book and art auctions for charity; DC artist Jim Lee is sketching a superhero pinup every day for two months, selling them for thousands on eBay to benefit comic book stores.

DC Comics (AT&T) and Marvel Comics (Disney) are worth $192bn and $224bn respectively and have taken a hit from the pandemic, however they are thankfully big enough to not only survive it but to help others. DC has donated $250,000 to a bookshop charity, and, for the first time since the ’70s, is allowing retailers to return unsold comics. A spokesperson noted that the company was also finding new ways to get comics to shops for mail-order and kerbside pickup programmes.

Owner of New York shop Jim Hanley’s Universe, Ron Hill, says he appreciated charitable gestures, but overall is upset by the lacklustre response of publishers. Hill, and retailers like him, are grateful for discounts however they also need debt relief, and understanding that every company now is in the same position.

“This is beyond 2008, this is beyond the Great Depression,” Hill added. “I’m just a guy who sells comic books but I feel like this is true up and down. How are we gonna do this? I’m reading that Macy’s is gonna go out of business, and AMC [movie theatres] is gonna go out of business. Why are we letting these places go out of business?”

The unprecedented situation has raised serious questions about the role of bricks-and-mortar comic book shops. One of the industry’s heavyweights in the USA, Denver’s well-loved Mile High Comics, have huge web presences but if the lockdown continues much longer, publishers may not wait for other shops to catch up.

As Hill says, “There’s a lot of fear that they’re going to go ahead and release comics digitally and leave us behind, and continue to release comics into the market when we’re not able to participate.”

Gerry Conway, co-creator of antihero The Punisher said: “It’s a tragedy, because the books created now are so much better in so many ways. But they’re also largely irrelevant to the wider culture. The fact that these movies and video games and TV shows have appeal shows that these stories have potential, and we haven’t been accessing it, because we’ve had this safe zone.”

“If this goes on for the amount of time that we think it will go on, a lot of these stores are not going to come back.”

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