Comics Creators

The creator-owned boom - can it last?


It’s been interesting in recent months to see a bit of criticism of the recent explosion in creator-owned titles, especially from Image’s stable. While I think everyone recognises the increasing emphasis that seems to be being placed on creator-owned books recently - by creators, publishers and readers alike - I’ve also seen some questioning of whether there’s a quantity-over-quality element to the trend (especially from Image, which is really flying the flag for creator-owned books these days) and some questions over whether the majority of books are even selling at a sustainable level for the creators involved.

So I’m interested to know whether people see the current creator-owned boom as something that’s indicative of an even stronger trend in that direction in future, whether it’s a blip that will be ‘corrected’ in the months and years to come, or whether things are settling at the current level and we can expect to see a similar landscape for the foreseeable future.



I can’t see any going back. Or why anybody that there should be. If you don’t like a writer then don’t read his/her work. It’s all about choice.
I think the only losers here are the diehard big two fans, but how can you expect any of their stories to stand the test of time in such a corporate environment? I’m sure I don’t know (some do manage it though).
Creators now have a market and a platform to tell the types of stories that they want to tell. It’s like how comics were always meant to be.
Here’s a question, if the market was like this in the 70s do you really think Jack Kirby would have done his Fourth World stories at DC instead of Image?


It think, as with anything, there will be ebbs and flows. Right now, the Big Two are at a low point and the indies are filling a void. As the Big Two begin to pick up steam again, the indie demand may subside a bit. I don’t think indies will go into a true bust mode, though. There is so much variety of subject matter that the Big Two won’t be able to do (or at least do without corporate restraint) that indies can address easily.

It could also go that when the Big Two start to rise, indies will up their game and everyone wins.

[quote=“KandorLives, post:2, topic:5493”]
Here’s a question, if the market was like this in the 70s do you really think Jack Kirby would have done his Fourth World stories at DC instead of Image?[/quote]

The problem with this is that back in the 70s, comics were still considered “kid’s stuff” and indies were essentially underground with poor circulation. I’m not sure even Kirby could have changed that much had a viable independent alternative been available. Would Jack have taken some of his stuff indie if he had the chance? Maybe. Would it have been successful? Maybe not.


I think it would be more encouraging if there was a flood of new readers coming in for books aside from Walking Dead and Saga, rather than (I’m guessing) a lot of the same recycled Big Two readers from the last decade.

There are definitely quantity vs quality issues right now, particularly coming from Image, and a signal-to-noise ratio that could be hurting the whole trend. It used to be you could pick up one of these titles and be guaranteed a good chance at quality. As that chance decreases it hurts everyone. Line-wide quality is a rising tide that lifts all ships—Marvel and DC seem to forget this lesson every 8 years or so, and Image is losing sight of it now. The other thing this does is make everything look kind of samey.

All of this said, I’m not sure “boom” is the right word, and I’m not sure a “bust” is around the corner. The best books should always have an audience and the best concepts should always have Hollywood sniffing around.


It might help to define the boom. Non Marvel and DC single issues have risen like this:

And the trades have risen like this:

Which in total is this:

Revenues have doubled in 7 years for Indie publishers. In that time Marvel have increased by about 30%, DC by only 5%. The increase isn’t just Image (though they’re the biggest factor), IDW, Boom, Dark Horse, Valiant & Avatar have all seen success over the last few years.

There’s no reason why this expansion of buying behaviors can’t continue. However, the market needs a strong Marvel and DC. That’s what pays the bills. And if big creators are leaving the big two to work on indie properties that could be a problem. If Millar sold 100k per issue of Wolverine, and moves on to sell 50k of Kick Ass, that’s 50,000 less unit sales for the retailers for that creator (which extends into trade sales too). If Wolverine holds steady at 100k units then there’s no issue. If Wolverine dips to 75k units then there’s a net 25k increase. So long as there’s a net increase in books things are good as the big names do more indie books. The question is however does that balance really work when the average indie book is doing maybe 20k units and Image have reduced the price point on trades from Marvel’s average of almost $20 to $10 for the first trade in a series.


Those are great numbers but given that the Walking Dead TV show started in 2010 I wonder how much of that is Walking Dead.



I wondered the same thing so I looked. It varies by year of course but it’s ballpark $8-$15 million for each year (between single issues and trades). On average I’d say The Walking Dead accounts for about 20% of the indie boom over the last 7 years. That series has sold like nothing else in the history of comics.


Hahaha spurted my tea out when I saw that. The girl sitting next to me is looking at me like I have issues …I do but hey I hide them well lol


There is been a slow adoption of increasing prices over the last few years, too.


I imagine that they are issues that we can all relate to.


The number of $2.99 titles has gone from about 1,600 in 2009 to about 1,200 in 2015. The number of $3.99 titles has gone from 1,200 in 2009 to about 2,500 in 2015.

Price is indeed a factor for the success, but the biggest factor is the number of titles to be honest. About 1,200 single issue releases in 2009, today there’s about 2,500 single issue releases. Lots of small press stuff that’s barely making any money of course, but I think it’s become easier to publish small press books.

For those curious the average Indie book makes about $35k in revenue per issue (about 10,000 units). For Marvel the average is $140k (about 40k units). For DC it’s about $100k (30k units). Some indie books of course compete with Marvel and DC, but the vast majority wouldn’t be published at their current numbers if they were big 2 books. You can see why the industry needs Marvel and DC to be successful for Indies to exist.


Is making it about creator-owned even the right question to ask, I wonder. Seems like more of a question of Big Two vs. other publishers to me.

My guess it’s a continuing trend. We’ve talking for years now about how the Big Two are failing to make their books accessible to new readers and draw in teenagers, while people have been turning away from superhero books and towards different fare.

I don’t really see a reason for that to change.


Like I said the thread about the Ultimate line, now seems like a good time for the Big Two to launch a new “Ultimate” line. It helped bring in new and lapsed readers at the turn of the millennium. A small focused line like that may be a good thing right about now.


It should be noted that The Walking Dead sold over 3 million trades before the TV show debuted, it was its own phenomenon in comics alone.

Listening to a lot of comic related podcast interviews from the Hoaxhunters crew to Jonathan Hickman to Kieron Gillen’s blog on Image sales it seems they can break even on around 5-6000 issues a month (Hickman actually made a $1500 profit on those sales for Nightly News but that was a few years back and he did it all himself). That means there’s a lot of scope for Image and other indies to put out new titles. An interesting thing I saw raised in one analysis was how the sales of books at the top end hadn’t changed dramatically in the last decade but the one at number 300 (where they usually stop collating) was selling 5 or 6 times as many copies.

Now some will point out that’s nowhere near enough to earn a living but if nobody is losing money they’ll persevere because one of them could be the next Hickman who heads to Marvel, gets a big fanbase and then returns to many times those sales.

They do ‘cancel’ books of course although they tend to just not appear again rather than be announced as the big two tend to do.


There’s an interesting analysis by Todd Allen here that looks at some recent numbers to analyse the trends:

I won’t copy and paste the full article, but it’s worth clicking through to look at the charts and see how this conclusion is reached:

[quote]On the whole, the stories you read about how great the comics sales are boil down to more issues of lower selling titles. The big hits aren’t as common and when the BIG hits drop, they tend to be Events and aided by variant covers. The ongoing series — the normal issues, if you will — keep drifting down. Even the current Big Three titles of Star Wars, Batman and Darth Vader have been drifting down a bit in recent months. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo aren’t going to be making Batman comics forever and DC is going to have BIG shoes to fill when those two say their final farewells to the franchise. The “normal,” ongoing title have softer sales for the most part.

It’s the mid-list and below that’s driving the market, except it isn’t the really what we would have called the mid-list 5 years ago.

Take a good hard look at all those titles clustered between 20K-39K. If you hear creators lamenting a decline in royalties, they likely aren’t exaggerating. Diamond will be just fine with more small titles. The publishers will be OK if they can pump out enough of them, although the standard attrition will start making that a bit more extreme if it keeps up. Of course, the more titles you publish, the more sales get split between titles. It’s a lot like cable sapping the broadcast network ratings.

Retailers could use a few more hits. Low copy per issue sales makes it harder for them to order copies for the shelf (hence the constant creator requests for readers to pre-order). Having a few titles that sell 100 copies each makes it a lot easier on the ledger to have a shelf copy of one of those lower selling titles sitting on the shelf. Without the big hits, there’s more incentive to take it easy on the shelf copies and err on the side of caution.

It’s a strange time as we wait for Rebirth and Civil War II and the Big Two’s attempt to get some higher per issue sales in the mix.[/quote]


You’re losing money if you’re an artist who could get $1000 a page but instead you’re making ends meat in the indie space. I think any awful lot of the indie books are looking to be optioned and get the Walking Dead contract or the Kick Ass contract. On the one hand it’s great as you’ll always own that thing rather than only having work for hire (which has left a generation of comics professionals with little to show for a lifetimes work building the biggest brands on the planet). On the other hand you’re reaching your peak fame and maximum fanbase and not making much money.

So many of the indie books aren’t going anywhere beyond comics publishing. It’s a bit of a lottery ticket. I’m not sure how long that lasts before that regular paychecks looks appealing once again. The long term status ultimately seems to be the hybrid of contract work and personal work.


This is one of my concerns, less cash means less risk, less risk means less indie books, less indie books means market erosion. Fans complain about events but they sell, it’s like complaining about blockbuster movies. Just like the cinemas need Star Wars and Marvel, the publishers need big books that get fans through the doors.

I’m not sure if Civil War 2 and Rebirth are going to make the kind of splash needed. I think Secret Wars delays last year really screwed things up and had a bigger effect that it first appears.


I’m sure it will sell well but who could possibly be excited about a Bendis-written “Civil War 2” in 2016?

Not to take this off topic but what a weird later-career Bendis is having. I have no idea why he’s doing sequels to Mark’s Marvel work from 10 years ago when he could (should!) be taking advantage of the Image boom with his own versions of The Wire, Deadwood, Sopranos, etc.


As I believe I have said about Mr. Bendis before, I doubt that he will come to me for career advice. I imagine that he’s doing ok for himself.

As a writer, I don’t think that he has the range needed for some of the books that he takes on and he has some weaknesses about plotting (in my opinion). I quite liked that Scarlet book he did with Alex Maleev. It would be interesting to see what he might do if he cut the ties with Marvel for a while. Would he have the ability to make it as big as Millar or Kirkman? Who knows?