Star Trek: can a movie save Nerdville?

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One of my first blog posts was about how Star Trek was my gateway drug into being a full on geek. Now that it has started and is looking like it’s going to be the next Iron Man, a light fun summer geek-flick that crosses over there’s a question that needs to be asked, are these types of movies good for comics or bad?

The natural answer is that they’re good for the comics industry, but I don’t know if it’s that obvious.  A lot of the mainstream reporting that I’ve done on the issue ends up demonstrating that there’s no real bump from a successful comic book movie, at least not for local comic book shops.  Last summer I got a job working part time at Elfsar Comics & Toys in Vancovuer, and despite the success of both Iron Man and The Dark Knight movies sales continued to decline throughout the year and despite being voted the best comic book store in Vancouver year in and year out, I was let go because business has just kept falling off.

Now trades in book stores such as Barnes & Noble in the United States, or Chapters up here in Canada, continue to sell well.  I’ve seen figures that suggest that Amazon ships a decent volume of comics, and everyone and their dog has been selling Watchmen books since the first trailers hit the internet, but what about issues?  What about the bread and butter of the local comic book shop, the monthly bagged and boarded issues?

When I started reading comics we got them at the local Red Rooster, which was kind of a western Canadian version of a 7-11.  They’d be on the spinner racks and I’d get any X-Men titles I could find, some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles issues and even a Betty & Veronica if I had the money.  These days comics are hidden away in speciality shops that are increasingly having hard times.  Most comic shops in Kelowna where I grew up where comic & shops.  Meaning they’d be a store that sold comics, but also sold RC models or baseball cards or Warhammer shit.  Eventually I had to drive to Vernon for my weekly books because there was nothing good in town.

The fact that every week I was driving two hours to get comics means that there is definitly something lacking in the current distrubution model.  Let’s face it a lot of comic book shops feel like you need to know the secret handshake and origin of Krypto Superman’s dog, to fit in.  Free Comic Book Day, at least how I’ve ever seen it done, is too insular to really bring in new readers and ends up being just a way for the same old customers to get free shit.  Elfsar in Vancouver uses it to raise money and gather food for local charities, but is that helping grow a new market?  I guess if the homless have cans of soup, maybe they’ll buy comics but I think that’s a stretch.

I did not intend to get to the point where I declare all of us fucked, and say claim that comics is going to die.  However we are in a bad spot right now.  As the economy, raising prices of books and a generally shrinking audiance all combine to drive local comic book stores out of business then there’s less money for the companies.  Eventually Marvel and DC will notice that they make far more from the movies and toys than they ever did on the comics and we might find the medium shrinking more.

At the end of the day I doubt I’d go back to driving two hours a week to get my comics.  If the good comic book stores around Vancouver go out of business, or get pushed to the suburbs where rent is cheaper, I might not follow.  No matter how awesome Iron Man 2 is.

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3 Responses to “Star Trek: can a movie save Nerdville?”

  1. Gokitalo Says:

    To be honest, I don’t think movies have bumped comic sales up since the 1989 Batman film. There could be a lot of reasons behind this, such as distribution (until Marvel Adventures came along, spinner racks had all but disappeared from drugstores, supermarkets, etc). Plus people are reading less, the economy’s in a bad state, and there’s the simple fact that lots of comics don’t reflect what’s in the movies. X-Men was a prime example: the movie may have gotten the concept and most of the characters right, but its aesthetics and storyline were completely different from what was going on in the comics at the time.

    Nevertheless, I doubt we’re going to see the end of comics anytime soon. The economy has taken its toll, but we’re not anywhere near the point of no return. Sure, the prices of some comics have risen and some stores have been hit hard, but otherwise it looks like business as usual. What have really suffered from the economic crisis are the comics affected by Diamond Distributors’ new “cut off” rules. High sales numbers are hard to reach for comics not published by the big four (DC, Marvel, Image and Dark Horse).

    As for Free Comic Book Day, it’s always been pretty popular at my store. It really depends on how the place is run, it’s location and so forth, in my opinion. For example, the store I go to is on a street with a lot of restaurants and has a very welcoming staff, so I think those are big draws for a lot of people.

  2. spiffyithaca Says:

    Good post Jeffrey.

    Before I begin, I want to say I fucking loved the Star Trek movie. I’m no Trekkie/er, but I watched most of the original series, and really enjoyed it, cheese and all. Being a huge fan of Abrams (Alias, LOST, MI3 wasn’t bad and neither was Cloverfield), I had a good vibe on the reimagining, and it was just awesome through and through. The FX were incredible, and the opening scene was one of the most intense openings ever, and completely drew me in. I had a pretty solid hard on for the entire movie, and really loved Leonard Nimoy’s involvement. So fucking brilliant.

    But that said, it’s a great point made, about how these movies don’t really sell comics. It has increased the image and selling power of these characters, but only in movies, and I could definitely see a future where Marvel was simply a movie empire, with comics being an afterthought. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but if the movies (which for the most part are good/great, save for the first Hulk, Elektra and the Punisher movies) can’t get people to read comics, what else can they do? I think Marvel should lobby to have comic racks in the theatres that play their movies. They can carry free movie adaptation stories or sell them for real cheap, and perhaps feature other trades of the character.

    I agree about Free Comic Book Day: it kinda just seems like the regular’s come in. It doesn’t bring anyone new in. It’s not a big enough deal.

  3. Gokitalo Says:

    Depends on the store, I guess. Like I said, a lot of new faces tend to show up at my store when Free Comic Book Day rolls around.

    Putting comic racks in movie theaters is a great idea; I remember talking to a comic book store owner about this a few years back. Or maybe they can give away free issues, like when the X-Men movies were coming out and they were giving away the prequel comics.

    But you know something? I think if Marvel’s next couple of movies are really good, that could actually translate to a rise in comic interest. I remember how people were buzzing like crazy after Iron Man and Hulk came out: these guys were excited about comic book characters and they KNEW it. If good film after good film comes out, they might actually think, “hey, maybe we should give the comics a shot.” I don’t know why, but I think the fact that the next few Marvel movies are going to be in a shared universe and are going build off each other changes the playing field a little bit.

    And yes, Star Trek was awesome. Simon Pegg was hilarious as Scotty.

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