State of the Business

State of the Business

What's happened to our business?  When did working for these big companies stop being...

I remember writing letters about this subject before, but hey, what's one more?  So, can one of you once true believers from an earlier age grab my megaphone as I attempt another try? 

Is it just me, or do the people at our two biggest Comic book companies, DC and Marvel, seem lost and rudderless?  It appears to me, a 40-year freelance veteran, that there seems to be no firm leadership anymore.  "No", say those of you who may still work for these companies?  Well, when was the last time your books shipped on time during the past 3 decades?  Seems to me the only ones who can deter this are your so-called leaders, the ones who claim to be steering our ship into healthier waters.  Nowdays, adhering to something as old-fashioned as deadlines is something they all seem to have given up on rather than face it head on and remedy this corrosive trend. 

Another:  Why are constant restarts and redos the only thing Marvel and DC can think to unstall our industry?  When things grow creatively stale they always seem to resort to this ploy--one that their fans probably probably react by saying, "Another re-do?  Maybe they'll do it right this time."  But the spark only flickers for so long, and they're back where they started.  Why do these re-dos keep failing?  Is it something that has real substance behind it, or it just short-term flash?  Is it resorting to classic character reinvention rather than inventing classic stories for their characters? 

You freelancers out there--do the editors at these two companies seem frazzled about the direction of their books, not able to make up their minds about anything?  The weakest decision would be clinging in desperation to the latest P.C. movement.  Is that really the solid, fertile ground on which to go forward in this business?  That's where the House of Ideas currently resorts to when drained of actual ideas. 

Another sign of weak leadership are people who can't make up their minds about something.  When I watch editors and editor-in-chiefs interact with many of the older 1980's workhorses at conventions, I can hear them agreeing to projects I know they're never going to follow up on.  On normal story submissions, like the few that I myself have made, if and when these editors finally do decide on something, their committee-based decisions are so long in coming that any excitement about the project has long dwindled.

The legacy that Stan and Jack built in the 60's--forget it.  Those shafts have been mined for so long there's nothing to sift through anymore.  Their characters have been through so many identity changes, they aren't recognizable anymore.  My once endlessly-inspiring Cap, Thor, and Fantastic Four comics that taught me so many life lessons are...what...unrecognizable?   Comic books have always followed the trends, but it's takes shrewd leadership to know which ones are worth following.

Another worth revisiting:  How and when did lawyers seem to gain more say than the editors or publishers?  If lawyers want to control content so badly,  why don't they draw the damn comics?  The could grab up a few pencils, move their mountains of legal documents out of the way, and start writing and drawing their own line of books. 

Editors:  What happened to the once common duty of editors being in regular communication with their freelancers?  Normally I have to call them.   Note the word "call", since I find it more personal and direct rather than continually corresponding through e-letters.

Comic shops; How are you boys, doing?  It seems like you're always in some new phase of distress.  I know you've never liked the non-returnable, one-sided bully tactics from Marvel.  Our Distributors also seem in disarray--I don't know what's going on with them.  But does anyone know what's going on anywhere--or is that simply beyond the scope of the very race that once invented fire, the wheel, and the talking car?

Comics have always endured their ups and downs.  I'm sure even the densest of our custodians have noticed the always-rising momentum from the Gaming world.  These gaming types are obviously doing something right...other than producing glassy-eyed, virtual versions of kids that  once breathed the outside air.

Heard enough?  Well, go ahead and finish your lunch.  It's only another minutes worth...

Another thing worth mentioning goes back to the 1990's, when the trend-setting Image group confused communal enthusiasm for knowing how to run a business.   The now elder craftsmen from the 1960's and 70's, the last generation that attempted to take leadership seriously, are now rightfully dying off, as we can all see from the ever increasing o.b.i.ts.  Many of the 80's generation who followed these Face-Fronters still keep trying, but with the business in the state that it is, why bother trying to summon the energy they once had in their 20's and 30's?  Creating even a single good 20-page comic is very focused, hard work. 

So...any great leaders on the horizon?  I have looked upon this second (third, and fourth) coming for several decades now.  I want to see if a single fair-minded, fearless, and historically informed individual will finally take up the mantle.

If such a person exists, step up and assert yourself, lest we fall like Rome to the barbarian hordes waiting to silence the once great field of words and pictures.  Once plundered, civilizations seldom rise again to their former status.

To that great new leader I've longed anticipated, your imminent arrival couldn't be better timed.

Steve Rude

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Comics are dead. They’ve been a zombie since 1994. The direct market put them on life support in the late 1970s as the patient was flatlining. Star Wars reinvigorated them for awhile. Image and the Death of Superman were the supernova of comics. The choice now is to go back to newsstand distribution and taking returns, and going back to dealing with the Mafia-run newspaper/magazine distributors. But retailers themselves have little interest, and never did, the profit margin was too small. And now, a higher cover price like $4.00 is going to dissuade most casual buyers. A new generation of casual child customers were never exposed to comics after the mid to late 1990s because it became ghettoized to comics shops only. Comics were always cheap entertainment. I’m sure there were people in the 1920’s who thought dime novels would return. And people in the late 1940’s who though pulps would make a comeback. It’s all about IP pipelines for Disney and Warner now.

The direct market delayed comic’s last rights for 40 years. Otherwise, they would have been a relic of the past by the mid 1980’s. It was a long run. But like with dime novels and pulps, all things must end.


I’ve largely given up on US comic books, the costant feeling of inertia from reading pointless stories where any consequences will be undone in few months time. I still buy books by certain artists, but that’s following them, not any particular titles.

Fortunately in the UK we still have the mighty 2000AD every week. It has ups and downs like any book, some stories are better than others and it does occasionally have a real clunker but overall it’s still a worthwhile read.


Hi Steve,

Long time Nexus reader from early 90s when my local comic carried them and I enjoyed the art and story,

I’m in that reboot tiredness camp, and as each happens. I’ve dropped titles and never picked them back up.

Sincerely from a long time fan,


Tim Benton

I have up reading comics because they stopped being fun. Superheroes take themselves way too seriously, especially Batman. How many things has he done these days make any sense? A bag cave on the moon? Really?? And then planting explosives in case of trouble, and yes they were used in Justice League. Another thing that bothers me is the constant death and resurrections of heroes. Enough already!

Mark Hadlund

Hi, Steve. Love you, love your work.

In this case, I don’t think it’s any sinister bent on the publisher’s part. Comics has always been a fairly sleazy and low-end business – any accurate history of any element of the comic book field – from Golden Age to Silver Age to underground and alternative works – if filled with management making money, squeezing the talent, and just trying to sell product. That we are able to find wonderful works of storytelling amidst all this commerce speaks to the talent of the men and women involved on the creative end.

This all being said, I honestly think the concept of “continuity” has turned the worlds of DC and Marvel into an unreadable morass – I think it is simply that no characters, no story is made to be “infinite” in length. How many times CAN Doctor Doom face the FF or Luthor attack Superman before the aging fan goes “I’ve seen this a hundred times of more”? Compound that with the difficulty any writer has to “freshen up” a series; how DO you make Captain America into something now and “different” at this point? You have to change him, swap uniforms, swap sex or race or political point-of-view, make him a HYDRA agent. All the things that fans hate these days, you have to do, just to be noticed on that series. I see these all turned into “political discussion points” these days but, really, it’s just the creatives trying to make an impact on characters that have been stretched beyond any recognition decades ago.

This is why I favor Dark Horse and Image and other indy publishers that create new worlds – which will suffer the same consequences if they “live” and evolve over decades of time. Cheers.

John Arnold

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