Not to mention we never would have had Frank Miller’s The Spirit movie.

§ October 13th, 2021 § Filed under question time § 13 Comments

Okay, let’s take another question, this time from the ever eternal Alan David Doane:

“Hey Mike!”


“How would you assess the effect on comic sales and/or the general direction of the industry in the wake of 20 years now of spectacularly popular superhero movies? Would comics retailing look any different in a world where the Sony and Fox Marvel movies and the MCU had no more impact than David Hasselhoff’s SHIELD TV movie?”

Y’know, I never did ever see that Hasselhoff Nick Fury show. Most I ever saw was a promo still with the Hoff in an eyepatch. I’m sure I missed a vital cultural artifact.

Anyway, Alan, I’d been thinking about your question ever since I saw it posted. It’s a tough one.

My initial kneejerk response would be “barely any effect at all.” It’s not like everyone who saw, say, Iron Man suddenly ran into shops to start reading Iron Man comics, pushing its print run into the 20 millions and making it the most successful American comic book of all time. Heading to the shop once a week to pick up your new funnybooks is, as I’ve said many times before, a lifestyle choice, a commitment to following the serialized adventures of the characters you like, plus associated spin-offs, etc. For most people, for whom one Marvel movie every few months is all the superheroin’ they need, that level of involvement is a pretty big ask.

That said…it’s not as if the movies or TV shows have had no effect. People have come in looking for comics…not in that they became regular customers with pull lists or anything, but sometimes they’ll have seen some superhero media and want to see a little more in its original stapled-paper context. The most popular trend of late is folks looking for anything Wandavision-related, so of course all those trades are out of print. Luckily I had plenty of back issues featuring Vision and/or the Scarlet Witch to satisfy those cravings.

Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is old comic readers returning to the fold after decades out of the hobby, specifically citing the prevalence of superhero media for their comeback. Not being able to swing a dead Uncle Ben around without hitting something broadcasting a Marvel movie at you can’t help but remind some folks of the comics they thought they’d left behind. I’ve had more than one customer who’d once collected in the ’90s (including a few to whom I used to sell) tell me the Marvel movies got them poking through their old comics out in the garage or wherever, and the next thing they knew they were back haunting Ye Olde Comick Shoppe every week.

And plus, there’s just general increased awareness of comic books and their characters out there in the “real” world now. I didn’t expect to live in a time where grandmas knew who Rocket Raccoon was, but here we are. But that awareness means more people seeing comic books as an entertainment option…maybe not a regular every Wednesday thing, like I said above, but I’m certainly more likely to see a parent pop in with a kid looking for a Black Panther comic than I ever was in the previous decades I’ve been in this business.

So my initial kneejerk, and somewhat cynical, reaction of “nah, made no difference” is wrong, in that the business did see benefit from the films and TV shows…just not in the way that we comic book lifers are used to interacting with the medium. Also, personally I keep judging things by how the 1989 Batman film really shoved people into comic shops in droves, which is a mistake. That was a faddish influx caused the film’s novelty which went away almost as fast as it came. The slow and steady influx of new readers and returning fans is, I would think, a healthier reaction. A gradual build of interest and goodwill is better for the industry as a whole.

How would comics retailing look in a world without these successful Marvel movies? Well, I imagine a lot of the effects I just noted would not have come into play. Certainly no one would recognize my giant cardboard Groot cut-out in the window…in fact, that cardboard Groot wouldn’t even exist!

As far as other effects for retailing…hard to say, really. Fewer shops due to less demand/awareness of comics? Fewer comics published for the sole purpose of tying into the movies, even just barely? Less tail wagging the dog, with characters avoiding arbitrary change to more closely resemble their multimedia counterparts?

This is something that’ll require a little more pondering, I believe. Maybe look for a part two of an answer down the line.

Thanks, Alan…and if you want to submit a question, just drop it here in the comments and I will get to it!

13 Responses to “Not to mention we never would have had Frank Miller’s The Spirit movie.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    For those who are curious, the Hasselhoff version of Nick Fury is available, at least for the nonce, on YouTube.

    I feel obligated to note that I found it on this playlist:
    If you go down to near the bottom (it is a long list), you will find a run of comics-based pilots, including a 1950s version of “The Heart of Juliet Jones,” a Jim Henson-produced version of “The Wizard of Id,” and an unfortunately Americanized version of “Modesty Blaise.”

    Keep going and you hit the animated section, which includes Chuck Jones’s version of “Wizard of Id.”

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    I really, really don’t understand why Marvel and DC haven’t taken advantage of all the publicity of the movies to increase sales.

    Maybe a ticket stub from the Iron Man movie would get you 50% off an Iron Man comic at any participating comic store (with stores able to return ticket stubs to Marvel for reimbursement)?

    Maybe DC could pay for free Aquaman mini-comics in movie lobbies with an ad in the book encouraging readers to “discover more Aquaman comics at your local comic store”?

    Do these big companies not have marketing departments?

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    A display of Aquaman mini-comics in a cinema lobby would be emptied in five minutes. They would all be taken by one person, who would immediately put them up for sale as rarities on eBay.

    “Turn in your ticket stub for half off an Iron Man comic” would probably translate into a lot of arguments over what qualifies, with people trying to get discounts on 75$ ominbuses and TALES OF SUSPENSE #39.

    The funadmental flaw in your proposal is that it assumes the publishers have any influence on the movie studios. DC cannot tell Warner Brothers how to market its movies. A cross-promotion between Marvel Comics and Marvel Studios would have to be approved by Kevin Feige, who probably regards the money made from comics shops as pocket change.

  • Great response, Mikester! Thankees.

  • Chris V says:

    I’m pretty sure that if the superhero movie craze was a flop, Disney would have never bought Marvel and Marvel Comics may be on the verge of bankruptcy by 2020, if not already bankrupt before 2020.
    It seems like an industry with steadily decreasing sales since 2005 isn’t a successful business model.


    I think Marvel and DC have taken advantage of the movie popularity to increase sales by stocking their TPB selections on Amazon and at chain retail booksellers.
    That’s really the best chance Marvel and DC have to increase comic sales.

    With the ticket stub idea, it would be like Free Comic Book Day. New readers would show up at a comic store once to get their item and then forget about comic books until they went to see the next movie.
    A better idea would be to appeal to them getting a discount by ordering a TPB off of Amazon.
    Even then, comics require too much research for novices who have families and steady jobs to take up their time.
    You see a X-Men movie and then what comics do you read? There are only a thousand different X-Men related collections.

    It takes people with a special mindset to obsessively show up at comic book stores every week to pick up a serial comic book which is released once a month.
    Children are easier to appeal to, but they have been well priced out of the market when you have to spend $4 or $5 to buy one comic book.

  • Thom H. says:

    Yeah, but Free Comic Book Day can make stores a lot of money in other purchases. Mike posts about that every year.

    And you have a much better chance of converting *some* movie-goers into regular comics-buyers (or TPB-buyers) if you send them to a comics shop with staff who can help them navigate the confusion of modern comics relaunches, etc. Amazon isn’t going to help with that. At least not yet.

    As for the other concerns listed above:

    — The ticket-stub-for-book program could be for a specific comic (or mini-series or TPB) to cut down on any confusion at the point of purchase.

    — Free comics at movie theaters could be a one-comic-for-one-ticket deal. Not just stacked up in the lobby.

    What I’m trying to get at is that Marvel Studios and Disney could 100% figure out ways to make cross-promotion between movies and comics work. They just don’t want to. They consider comics an IP farm only, which is too bad.

    If they invested in some ambitious comics storytelling backed up by some solid marketing ideas, they could create a whole new generation of comic book readers. Instead, they let all of their best talent drift away to Image or Substack and ignore comic shops for the most part.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    “Free comics at movie theaters could be a one-comic-for-one-ticket deal.”

    And who is it that is handing these comics out? The teen-ager in the box office, whom an increasing percentage of the patrons ignore because they already bought their tickets on-line? Or the teen-ager who is scanning the telephones of the customers who bought their ticket on-line, and tearing the paper tickets of the rest, and who is not going to appreciate being given another job that slows down the line?

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    By the way, why are these demands being made exclusively in regards to comics? Why are you not also insisting that the people who saw NOMADLAND in the cinemas be able to use their tickets to get half off the price of the book on which it is based? Why do you not think that free copies of an Agatha Christie short story should be available in the lobbies of cinemas showing DEATH ON THE NILE? (Both Disney releases.) Why is Disney obligated to save comics shops, but not book stores?

  • Thom H. says:

    Mostly because this is a blog about comic books. But I’m sure Disney could find similar ways to support bookstores, too, if they wanted.

    Also in the case of comics, Disney owns the production of the source material. They only stand to benefit from increased comic sales, while also helping out comic shop owners, comic book creators, etc.

  • Mikester says:

    I’ll have more of a response later, but just checking in to say, in general, Disney’s not going to go out of its way to help storefronts they don’t own, even if it’s to sell their own product. If Disney was interested in boosting the comics industry, more likely they’d either buy out already existing comic shops or open their own, carrying exclusively Marvel product. They will never do this, but if the superhero comics publishing world were more of a thing, that’s the tack I’d expect Disney to take.

  • Chad says:

    For all those suggesting a comic giveaway/discount with your movie ticket, I have been offered codes to redeem for free digital comics for some of the superhero movie tix I purchased over the years through Fandango. I’d be curious what the redemption rate was on those — my guess is not great, as it was so long ago that I can’t remember what movies did it.

  • Andrew Davison says:

    Mike’s comment has made me wonder about the availability of comics in Disney owned stores, and resort shops? Can someone post about that?

  • […] So in answering Alan’s question about what the comic industry might have been like with the success of superhero (read: Marvel) movies, I completely missed the forest for all them cut-down-to-print-Unstoppable Wasp trees. Chris V points out […]