The comics industry today is very different from the industry I joined back in the day. It is, I suppose, a victim of its own success. Back then, every Marvel title sold 500,000 to 750,000 copies, every month. Today 50,000 is a phenomenal sale. Back then, comics cost 20¢, 25¢, 35¢. Today they’re $3.99, but the rates paid the creators have escalated as well, so the profits are less. Back then, comics were printed on newsprint with a four-color process. Today they’re printed on slick stock with full Photoshop color, which also eats into the profits.
Back then, comics was a genre. If you were into comics, you knew comics, but if you weren’t, you knew that they were low-level trash—not from personal experience, but because that was the commonly accepted label. Three-quarters of a million people read them, and that was the entire audience.
Today, with the advent of the movies (which I basically created, by figuring out how to do the Batman as an adult so non-comics-readers would be interested) everybody knows the world of comics. Still, almost nobody reads the printed versions. That’s okay with the companies; those movies pay the bills, and the comics are just trailers. DC Comics was always owned by Warner Brothers, but now has been subsumed completely. Marvel was recently bought by Disney.
I can take that a step farther. When comics were a quarter, it was possible to buy a bunch of them. It was possible to buy into Marvel as a “universe,” full of characters, and buy into DC as a universe, too. It was possible to see comics as a medium, with a history and a future, and explore all the offshoots—the small contemporary companies, the large and small companies that had come and gone (like Fawcett, with Captain Marvel—a title once bigger than Superman). Today, at four bucks a pop, readers tend to find a few series they like at one company and stick with them, never encountering what other writers and artists are doing on other titles.
The biggest change of all in the industry has been the freedom to be creative. That’s also the biggest reason I left comics to write novels. But that deserves its own post...
Steve Englehart is a novelist, comic book, film, television, and video game writer known for his work on high profile titles, including Marvel’s Captain America, The Hulk, The Avengers, Dr. Strange, DC’s Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and many more.