Most of the readers know that I love comic books. What many of you do not know is that I also have collected, in the past, original art, including comic book pages. I love true works of art. I am now worried I just witnessed the death of the future of the new comic book industry as we know it. Most of you probably did not even see it happen. That is not hyperbole. It is a fact and this scares me.
**Update!** This article came out the day before this blog was published! This blog was written a few weeks ago.
Facts Do Not Lie
When I was younger, Wednesday was new comic book day. It meant a trip to the local comic book shop and buying numerous books from the rack. If a book was hot you would make the rounds from your home store to every other shop in hopes of snagging that key book. Even a trip to the chain book store meant a chance of obtaining that book. Everywhere you looked you could find comic books. Comic books were a part of Americana. Then, everything changed because we changed.
The comic book stores I went to as a child slowly closed. Many were born from the comic book boom in the late 1990s and then died when the markets contracted. Other established stores never evolved as the markets and consumers’ tastes had changed. Stores were hurting already when the pandemic hit. No customers and no new products were the death nail for many local comic book stores. Fewer stores meant lower print runs. It is hard for a company to make money if there are not a lot of consumers buying products. In addition, let us remember that DC Comics and Marvel are owned by major corporations beholden to their stock owners. If a division is not making money, why keep it going? Stan Lee is gone. Now accountants call the shots.
The Magic Bullet
Many of you reading this blog know the legends of comic book art. Frank Frazetta, Jack Kirby, Todd McFarlane, and many others made the comic book industry. Another name you should know is Mike Winkelmann. He may have killed the new comic book industry as you know it. Winkelmann, also known as digital artist Beeple, on March 11, 2021, sold a work of digital art for $69.3 million dollars at a Christie’s auction. The image sold can be copied by anyone. A quick search produces lists of websites that have copies of the image online. I have enclosed a copy for you in this article. That image is worth, again, $69.3 million dollars.
Many people can share that image, but only one person owns it. That is because that winning bidder owns the non-fungible token (NFT) that comes with that image. Think of it as a fingerprint that is unique to that image. Comic book collectors may think of it as a certificate of authenticity. Everyone can share the image and download it, but only one person will ever have that NFT that proves they own the actual image. This sale puts digital art on par with the works of the masters that exist on canvas. That is the point that should scare surviving LCS and new comic book fans.
A Bleak Future?
The market for old comic books will not die. It will exist, just as there is demand for the canvas works of the great masters. What should scare new comic book fans is if a comic book company starts to phase out new comic books and instead starts to produce new comic books with NFTs. No more distribution issues. The cost of paper and supplies would be eliminated. Issues would be produced based upon pre-orders. No more overprinting of books with this method.
Publisher would instead produce comic books in a digital format with a unique NFT to mark the book as an original. Variant editions would also be produced with limited production runs and different NFTs than the regular issues. Does this idea seem far-fetched to you? Sadly this idea has already been implemented with another medium.
Family Video was the last major video store that rented DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. The pandemic killed that company because people were not going out to rent physical discs. Instead, people would stream them or buy digital copies. If you look at your local Best Buy you will see that their DVD section has greatly decreased in size. That is because every square foot needs to make money and physical copies of movies are just not selling. You can even rent digital copies of your favorite movie online. I am a fan of discs. Sadly, I must admit that I found myself in a much smaller crowd than in years past on new movie release Tuesdays even before the pandemic. The movie industry had changed for many because of changing tastes and technology.
I hope new comics books still come in the format I love. Those paper books have character and they are collectible. My fear, though, is that I am not the future of comics. In addition, works of digital art are now selling for millions of dollars. One must ask if comic books can be far behind? Instead of having a book slabbed, in the future will I have to go to an NFT source tech and have them verify I am in fact getting a true first printing variant copy of X-Men #2500? Even Star Trek’s William Shatner has been reported to get in on this type of sale. I am afraid that technology just killed the future for the new comic book market and hardly anyone saw it coming.