Charging into the Future like There's No Tomorrow!

By | Tuesday, September 15, 2020 Leave a Comment
Fantastic Future Stories pulp cover
I try to be a forward-thinking guy. I try to look out down the road to see what's coming, so that I have a better chance to zig and zag as needed. I'm by no means a futurist, though; I'm nowhere near adept enough at predicting sociological behaviors or extrapolating wide-spread trends based on current technologies. I have my moments of insight, but they're not as frequent as I'd like. I was forecasting wide-spread cloud computing years before the term was commonly known and saw "video blogging" coming a few years before YouTube was founded, but I was completely side-swiped by social media when that came on the scene.

On the plus side, I think even the most prescient futurists aren't exactly batting 1000 either! :)

But guys like Marshall McLuhan and Alvin Toffler (both of whom I've referenced on this blog before) were able to see some of the broad strokes coming down the pipe. McLuhan didn't know what the internet was but he saw a vast communications network that reduced our entire planet to the equivalent of a single community: a "global village." And that's the type of thing I try (in my decidedly unprofessional and seriously inadequate way) to do. I try to look at the information of today and figure out not only what's going to happen tomorrow, but also in the next several years.

At some level, many people do that. Whether you're planning a wedding or booking gigs for your band or saving up to buy a house, that's all about looking toward the future by extrapolating as much as you can from what you know right now.

How all that relates to comics is, of course, the question of what's going to happen to comics as a whole? Where is the industry headed? What will overall sales look like? What technologies will enhance production and distribution of digital comics? What properties will become "hot" and garner population attention? Those are the questions a lot of folks in comicdom are asking.

The problem, obviously, is that we're all speculating. We don't know the future, so we all have to guess. And we're all making these guesses with incomplete data. Sales numbers are often a big blind spot for us. Retailers know their own numbers, but not for the industry at large or any of their direct competitors. Publishers know their own numbers, but not specific retailers or other publishers. Creators don't provide their financial information (notably, income from making comics) to anyone. Bloggers like myself don't know any of that. So any predictions any of us make are based on less than ideal information.

That's where a lot of arguments come from. A retailer can say, "Listen: I make X amount of money selling just Marvel comics and I'm doing fine. I don't see what the deal is about DC distributing separately." While the next retailer might say, "I've seen a decline in sales because of COVID, and many have switched to digital." And yet another retailer might say, "New people are coming into the store because of comics they read online." Those three retailers are going to see the future of comics differently, based on the information they have that is biasing their view.

I use "bias" deliberately. I don't mean to suggest that they're actively altering their opinions to fit what they're seeing in their respective stores, but the information at their disposal will push their thoughts and ideas in a certain direction. I'm very cognizant that my constant work in web development focuses my attention toward online behaviors over print, and colors my outlook.

But it's not just a single factor like that impacting my thought process. I pay more attention to independent creators than the larger publishers any more. I got hooked on comics in the early 1980s. I went to college for design. I went to graduate school for an MBA. I have an 8-to-5 job in a beige cubicle. (Or, at least, it would be in a beige cubicle but for the pandemic!) I've done freelance work. I am familiar with printing processes from previous jobs, but my knowledge there is primarily based on technologies from 20 years ago. I don't drink. I got a divorce after ten years of marriage, and eventually married someone else and moved to a different state. I have a dog and a cat. My favorite color is green.

All of that, regardless of how irrelevant it seems to comics, has some measure of impact on how I think about the medium. The same holds for everyone else. Their first car. The parent that abandoned them at age 7. The house that burned down across the street a week ago. The childhood friend who they hadn't talked to in 25 years committing suicide after a long struggle with PTSD that originated with their military service. The Spelling Bee their cousin won in fifth grade.

All of those things, many of which you're probably not aware of, have an impact. Which is to say: take EVERYTHING with a grain of salt. I'm certainly going to talk and act in what seems to be my best interests, and that's one of the reasons I'm bullish on webcomics in general. If you see/hear someone else speaking with a contrary point of view, there's almost certainly a reason for that.

I think my point here is that you, as a consumer of information, need to keep alert of not only what people are saying about the future of comics, but who is saying it and where they're coming from. As much as I like and respect guys like Brian Hibbs and Joe Field, I always keep in mind that these guys are both retailers and have a retailer perspective. Nothing wrong with that, of course! I'm just saying that it's different than a creator or a fan perspective.

But the future is a big question mark for all of us, and our backgrounds and current situations are going to impact our outlooks. Just something to keep in mind the next time you see someone touting the demise of the direct market or the rise of competitors to Diamond.
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