How Hollywood and Pikachu will save the comics industry

By now, you've already read two introductory columns by our other regular columnists here at Psycomic. And while I like talking about myself as much as the next guy, I figured it's time to give you guys a bit of a break, so this column won't be an introduction. There will be plenty of time for that later. After all, I'm not leaving here unless they drag me kicking and screaming out the door.

Instead, I'd like to talk a little about some of what's going on with the comics industry as I see it. I've been a comics fan for close to twenty years now, but it's been relatively recently that I've begun focusing on what goes on behind the colorful pamphlets that make up my hobby. And when you do that these days, the inevitable conclusion you come to is that the industry is in trouble.

It's a disturbing realization for any comics fan, and probably even more disturbing for comics pros. But the good news is that the industry has been in trouble before. Each time, something has brought it back, and each time, folks have failed to learn from their mistakes, resulting in another crash. There was the boom brought about by the G.I. Joe/Transformers commercials, which actually brought me in. Then there was the spike seen when the Batman movie came out, and many people stepped into a comic book store for the first time. Or the increased sales when Marvel trading cards brought both kids and sports card speculators in.

In my opinion, the hardest part about creating new comics fans is getting them into the shops. If you can make them want to seek the comics out, then they can get past the obstacles of not enough stores, poor distribution to the stores, bad salesmanship on the part of some stores, high cover prices or whatever other causes people cite for the declining market. Creating the demand is the first step, and beyond every current fan going to everyone they know and extolling the wonderfulness that is comics, that's the hardest thing to do. The way I see it, we've got two possible opportunities to do this coming. Those two opportunities, in an echo of the past, are collectible cards and a big-budget Hollywood movie.

I'm sure you all see where I'm going with the collectible cards thing. Pokemon is, as any shop owner or parent can tell you, huge right now. Shops are buying them direct from Wizards of the Coast off their website and selling them a little above cost, just so they have something to say when the hordes of children converge upon their store after school. Pokemon comics are reportedly the hottest sellers on the market when you combine direct market and retail sales. The cartoon is so popular it shows twice on Saturday mornings plus every weekday, and the WB is using it to promote the rest of the shows in their lineup! Not to mention the movie, coming on November 12.

I'll be honest: I don't get Pokemon. I can't sit through the show, can't read the comics, I have no interest in playing the game, and I'd rather sit through another showing of The Haunting than see the Pokemon movie.

But I'm glad it's so popular. Pokemon appeals mostly to young kids, but I've heard stories from retailers and those in contact with retailers that they've seen kids coming in and trading their Pokemon cards in for Magic: The Gathering. Magic cards are still sold primarily in comic shops, which means that we're keeping these Pokemon fans, these young kids, in the shops. Step One to turning them into the comic readers of the future. The rest is up to good store owners, as it always has been.

Saying that Pokemon is going to save the industry is kind of a stretch. But it can't hurt. What I think has a more direct tie to the health of the industry, and will be very interesting to watch, is the upcoming X-Men movie. There are a lot of comic fans (including me) who have been watching the casting news with great interest. Some choices are perfect (Patrick Stewart as Professor blatantly right who would have expected Hollywood to do it?), some are a little strange (Taylor Mane, a professional wrestler, as Sabretooth?) and some are downright bizarre (Dougray Scott as Wolverine? Didn't he play the pretty-boy prince in Ever After?).

X-Men comics are currently the best-selling comics in the direct market. They don't need the help as badly as most. But if kids and adults can go see X-Men and then go to a comic shop to buy some of their comics, it's entirely possible some others will catch their eye.

Actually, maybe what the industry really needs is an X-Men/Pokemon crossover. I can think of quite a few frustrated parents who would probably pay good money to see Wolverine filet Pikachu.

Randy W. Lander

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