Creators, Retailers, Publishers and Beyond Share Their Thoughts on Comics + the Coronavirus
Earlier today, a massive feature on the impact COVID-19 – or the novel coronavirus – could have on comics in the short and mid-term. It explored this idea from the perspective of creators, retailers, publishers, and beyond, working in a ton of different perspectives into the mix.
Even with the length of that piece, though, I was only able to work in so much. And because each of these people gave me so much and they each have such different perspectives, I wanted to highlight each of their answers in full, ensuring they’re represented in full rather than just what I could fit in. That’s what you’ll find here, with each section organized by the question – or the foundation of the question – that each was asked. We’ll start with creators and go from there, with each section organized in alphabetical order by last name.
Creators: Is the coronavirus a factor in your short to mid-term decision making at all when it comes to conventions, how you engage with people at conventions, day-to-day work, or anything else?
Vita Ayala: Patreon
I have cancelled convention plans (and then had the conventions cancel). I am a tactile person by nature, and not like shaking hands or hugging people (who want to be hugged) has been hard. I am assuming FCBD is cancelled, but even if it is not, I may not do it. I have an event in June I have to travel via plane for, and while I am not cancelling it, I am really apprehensive about it. It may not even happen, because it is at a comic book shop.
Day to day, besides a huge (and very distracting) surge in my anxiety, my life hasn’t changed too much. I am a full time freelancer, and I work from home or cafes. No more cafes, for now, but otherwise not as much change as someone who lives their life outside the house. I have to remind myself not to just casually go places now – no more restaurants, bookstores (biggest change), and bars. Mostly this means my wife and immediate neighbors (all friends) are seeing more of me.
I am worried about retailers. I have a lot of friends who work in comic and book stores, and they are suffering. They still have rent to pay (as individuals and as shops) but so many are closing or at least reducing hours. (My anxiety and concern also want me to mention food service workers, and people that work hourly at any places that depend on the public to come there. But I could go on all day if I start, so let’s just say I am worried across the board.)
Covid-19 is definitely having a huge impact on my travel plans for 2020. Many creators are facing devastating financial losses this convention season because of canceled/postponed shows—many of us make a significant portion of our annual income from these events, and it’s not uncommon for even established comic artists to factor in potential convention print + original art sales into their rates for actual commissioned work such as covers and interior pages. Publishers are often able to pay artists lower rates because it’s been well established that there will be opportunities to make additional profit from selling comped/discounted copies of comics at conventions, but without that as an option, now creators are faced with overflowing stock and nowhere to sell.
Even for artists who aren’t working professionally, the reality of tabling at conventions is that it requires a huge monetary investment on the front end: ordering prints, zines, and other products is not cheap and many do not have the ability to run an online store or handle fulfillment, so they are truly in a position of not seeing any return on their investment—that can have a cascading effect if they were hoping to recoup enough of their costs at ECCC (the first big show of the year) and apply it to convention expenses later in the year.
For professionals or hopefuls who planned to attend without tabling, there has also been a cost—the sudden lack of viable opportunities to get in face time with editorial staff and potential clients is huge as many people rely on those in-person meetings and networking events to get their projects funded and further develop important working relationships. Even established creators really count on these annual events to meet the fans and provide a great experience for their customers.
Covid-19 is truly shining a light on how fragile most creators’ livelihood actually is, and while I am personally in a position where my income streams are diversified enough that not going to conventions doesn’t completely knock me back for 2020, it has definitely been a huge blow. The silver lining here is that it is encouraging many of us to make those connections online and help other creators through hashtag events like #ECCCOnline and #ArtistAlleyOnline, which has been really heartwarming to see. There is no shortage of fan support on the internet, thankfully.
Yes, I’m in the middle of promoting a brand new series that launches April 29, so I was going to be hitting ECCC and WonderCon and then numerous cons/signings from May til August – the most I’ve ever done – in support of the project.
So, it’s a major effect for me right now as I won’t be attending anything until there’s an all clear. I’m hoping by the launch date of Adventureman, April 29th, things will be better.
In lieu of making public appearances, I will be doing extra online and social media promotion including live streaming, YouTube videos, things that I don’t often do but that fans really do seem to enjoy (maybe even more than seeing me in person ;-)
For Day to Day – I work at home so not a big factor.
In fact, there’s a silver lining, as I’m phenomenally busy coloring 146 pages of Adventureman and the final issue of X4, so I’m just going to keep my head down and get to it!
The Coronavirus has definitely been a factor for a lot of my decision making lately.
Up until a week before ECCC, I was prepared to dive into Seattle, but I had my apprehensions. While I wanted to be in Seattle for the event, I was nervous as to how my time at the event would be, if it would still be justifiable as an event or was I putting my needs for networking or sales over my health.
With many of my events, I am often someone who is a high-fiver, a fist-bumper, a handshaker. I like to create an experience with the people I talk to, and for many that means even just an acknowledgment of their time spent. It’s definitely not needed but say when a kid comes by my booth and buys a comic, or maybe someone stops by my booth and they mention it’s their first time at a comic con, I like to celebrate with them with a high five or something similar.
Even being more mindful of how I take money, hand products over, or even walking the halls, It’s all important to be aware of. We’re all familiar with the idea of “Con Crud”. With how many people are already at these events, vendors are already aware and heightened of possible sickness. To crank that up to 11 with everything going on, it’s a a lot of stress for a already stressful weekend.
I will say, something that my wife and I have been more considerate of is the time we take for ourselves. The idea of self-quarantining for artists is in a way always needed, as we find ourselves needing time to develop our thoughts and ideas into projects and stories. With the busyness of life constantly pulling us n so many directions, being told to make time for yourself is beneficial to our creative minds.
Brenden Fletcher: Website
I almost feel like a jerk saying it, given all the complications, anxiety and misery the virus is currently causing, but it doesn’t effect my short term decision-making at all.
I work from home and take most meetings via phone, Skype or FaceTime. And though I’m in a densely-populated urban center, I can totally limit my exposure to other human beings by having most anything I need delivered and dropped at my front door.
I feel very lucky.
Cons don’t play a major part in my yearly income so scaling back isn’t going to put a notable dent in my wallet. I wasn’t planning on attending any conventions until late-spring and even then, I’ve only got a single one on the books that I’m contractually bound to attend. If the show in question happens to be canceled I won’t incur any costs, so that’s no stress. But if it’s still happening and Covid-19 continues to make the rounds in a consequential way? I guess I’ll need to reconsider how I usually engage with fans (is shooting signed merch across the con floor with a t-shirt gun a thing?)
I’m currently (lightly) stressing about the commitments I’m already making for SDCC. I know it’s months away, taking place in late July, and by THAT point things will likely be back to something that’ll look like normal, but I’m aware there’s a danger of things being upended through the year and for THIS convention, I’m on the hook for every dollar spent. So far I’ve only committed to my hotel room and have yet to book a flight. Currently keeping myself in a holding pattern, watching how this all shakes out.
On the whole, I’m not sure how pumped I’m gonna feel about mingling with and fighting through large convention crowds later in the year. Not so worried about the one-on-one engagements but the crowds would concern me if things continue to worsen into the summer. At the moment, I’m happy to stay home and type.
Tadd Galusha: Website
No, I’m very cognizant of it, but it’s not really a factor. Now I can only say this because I’m personally in a super fortunate situation where I’m at a minimal risk of the virus. I’m completely in favor of the decisions being made to minimize the outbreak as much as possible.
It is a factor. I decided to not attend ECCC a week before the cancellation due to the virus, and I don’t plan on attending any cons for the rest of the year. Traveling puts enough of a strain on ones immune system, being in an enclosed, poorly ventilated convention center with thousands of people is an added risk I’m not willing to take under the current circumstances. I’m also refraining from public exercise studios for a couple weeks until the situation becomes more clear. I would hate to get COVID-19 and pass it on to someone who’s at risk, or get sick for 2-3 weeks and blow my deadlines!
Simple. Yes. Specifically with conventions and travel.
Well, I definitely see a lot more fist bumps and a lot less handshakes in my future. All joking aside, I was already rethinking how I do conventions before this pandemic hit. I think the wear and tear on my body from a really intense con schedule just isn’t feasible for me. Not to mention the time away from home and the office. So I’ll just be limiting how many shows I do, paying a bit more attention to hand washing than I did before.
Other than that, my biggest concerns are the daily obstacles that come with having three kids under the age of 10 home from school. My wife and I are both entrepreneurs, so we’re having to get really creative about how we work, while making sure the kids are safe and given the time they need. This has always been the biggest balancing act for us as business owners, but the school closures have definitely upped the ante.
Even before the pandemic label, I was more cautious about how i approach people which is crushing at these events where you’re meant to be connecting with peers and fans (I am a hugger, which is rough at conventions when you haven’t seen your friends in a while.) I’ve already cancelled two trips and booked one far off in the future that I am mildly regretting, worrying that the investment may be affected. Most of my entire last week and a half was completely lost to Emerald City postponement, revamping my shop and preparing for the con season virtually, if anything.
Eric Palicki: Website
Short answer: yes. The more nuanced answer is, the coronavirus has thrown my entire year into upheaval, and it’s not just a matter of health. When I’m not making comics, I have a day job which is medical-adjacent, so I have to be mindful of how exposure to COVID-19 could impact my ability to do the work. In addition, my employer considers me ‘essential personnel,’ so there’s no self-quarantining for me (although, to be clear, I’m very aware of how privileged I am to have that kind of job security right now). More than that, however, I have to carefully consider how I use my time off for conventions. When shows like Emerald City or Wondercon cancel at the eleventh hour, that’s not time I necessarily get back to use traveling to another con. I have two unannounced projects upcoming in 2020, and cons will be a vital opportunity to promote them. I suspect some hard decisions will have to be made about SDCC and NYCC in the near future.
The most this factors into my decision making in short to mid term convention planning. I felt I was one of the last holdouts on ECCC before I dropped out (which was just before they announced the postponement of the show). I’m a generally healthy person and at shows I wash my hands a LOT. I wasn’t too worried about getting sick, but I started to worry about the financial impact the virus was going to have on the show. Publishers, companies, and pros were dropping out and I was worried that attendance would be super sparse.
With ECCC, Pax, SXSW, and now Wondercon (among many others) cancelling or postponing their shows, I’m now looking at the rest of my year and trying to anticipate which other shows will cancel. It’s difficult because you usually have to plan/put money down far in advance of the show in order to exhibit. Now, it’s uncertain as to how long this will be affecting large public gatherings. I was planning on ALA Chicago in June, but I think I’ll pass now. Fingers crossed SDCC still happens, but who knows at this point.
And, again, from a financial standpoint, I have to begin to recalculate how I’ll approach my year. Cons aren’t a large portion of my income like some, but they do account for some of it. The typical customers I get at my table are those who casually stop as they’re walking by. I don’t have the same name-brand draw other A and B-list creators do – so people seeking my work out through my online store is far less common if I’m not at a show they happen to be at. The other impact that I’m thinking about is the networking aspect. Being able to interact with/meet/have meetings with companies/pros/editors at the larger shows is often how I line up work for the year. If I’m not able to see anyone, how will that affect securing work for 2020? I don’t know yet…
Well, I’m taking it all more seriously than I was originally. I was planning an event in Dublin to launch my new book (something bigger than a signing) and it looks like with the crackdown on live events in Ireland, I’ll just have to let that go for now. I think I’ll avoid conventions for a while (which isn’t a big deal as I hadn’t committed to any). I have signed up for a handful of store signings. I was at a show a few weeks ago and was happy to shake hands, but with the signings, I’ll probably just do a comical salute, or something to that effect.
Day to day, I’m just working away as usual. I pretty much self-quarantine every day, so it’s not impacting me too much. Making a point of not leaving the house if I can avoid it, which is actively working against my overall efforts to work less and get out of the house more. I just can’t win!
Kyle Starks: Store
It’s interesting because me and my friend, Chris Schweizer, had a show coming up that had not yet announced if it was cancelling or rescheduling yet and we had a conversation about whether or not we should consider rescheduling and we ultimately decided if it didn’t reschedule (it did) we would still attend but I wouldn’t be lying if I said it wouldn’t have been with some real concern.
I’m lucky. I work from my home, my wife doesn’t work – our outside risk is low beside of our children. So my daily concern is low because I rarely ever leave my house for anything more social or crowded than a grocery outing. But I work a lot of conventions each year. I probably do way too many (25-30 a year) but it makes up a large portion of my income.
I’m probably ahead of the curve in really efforting personal health at conventions. I haven’t shaken a hand at a convention for almost two and a half years now and have rarely gotten the infamous con crud. I get a lot of weird looks when I put the dap fist out and I’m certain a ton of people think that I’m a germaphobe instead of a Convention Germaphobe. For what it’s worth I’ve been in enough convention bathrooms – and as for that matter, airport bathrooms too – to see how rare it is for folks to wash their hands – so I have real, practical concerns about these shows to not physically interact with anyone. In the rare times I’ve been sick it’s been from peers and bar con so I tend to not even do those anymore. I do my show then chill out in the hotel or work quietly. I always try to get a ton of rest now at these things. That being said, I don’t feel super confidant in these measures. I don’t feel like this would, for sure, keep me safe and then my family safe.
I still have shows in April in May and by all accounts I can’t see how I don’t attend them if they still happen. It’s going to reach a point where I’d have to just to pay my bills, danger or not, I think. And I fear it might be that way for a lot of people. It’s going to be a tough decision that, for me and I suspect everyone else, will be decided by how desolate the pantry becomes.
With the coronavirus being such an immense factor in the short to mid-term thinking of creators and conventions, what options do you think creators have for managing a period where travel might be limited in a very real way? Do you think it would be prudent for creators to look into setting up or promoting an online store in the near term as an alternative to lost sales from conventions?
Andrea Demonakos, White Squirrel
Unfortunately I think this crisis has really emphasized the flaws in our freelance-based industry. So many artists, writers, and creators are dependent on conventions as huge income source, and those just aren’t going to happen for the next few months.
I think it’s very worthwhile for creators to look into alternate income options. Now is the time to take a chance on something new: set up a Ko-fi, Patreon, or Drip. They’re all excellent secondary income sources, and some are more passive than others. If you’re an artist or writer, share works in progress on Patreon or Drip. Set up a monthly print or sticker club, share behind the scenes info and stories, post digital versions of your comics on Gumroad. Look at creators you admire, ones you’ve supported financially, what are they doing to reach out to potential customers?
If you’re ambitious, I definitely recommend setting up an online store, but it’s not easy. (My thread has tips!) Start small, what do you have on hand that you could sell? Set up a pre-order for pricey products like pins or apparel. Pre-orders and pop-up shops can be great projects to devote your time and energy to, since they have a defined end point, so you’re not facing an overwhelming ongoing amount of work. Those are projects you can do now, and then wrap up when things hopefully return to normal.
Obviously all of the above depends on the individual creators’ workload, and comfort level, but I like to think of it this way: take the hours you would have spent on convention prep, and redistribute those to setting up an online income source. Give people a way to support you, even if it’s not from the other side of your Artist Alley table.
Retailers: Is the coronavirus a factor in your short to mid-term decision making at all, in regards to ordering, staffing, customer interactions, or anything else?
Steve Anderson, Third Eye Comics
Yes. (Here’s a link to how his shop is handling things)
Bruno Batista, Big Bang Comics
Yes, absolutely, and and in many ways.
The staff is wearing vinyl gloves since we handle cash and goods constantly. The hand washing is as regular and intense as possible and we do try to provide hand sanitizer but it’s proving very hard to find more these days!
We are encouraging customers to switch to postal order instead of in-store pickup if they prefer it as it is less risky. A lot of them have said that they can’t make it in for various reasons but want to pay for the comics they have aside with us so we are not left in a lurch, which is admirable! Glad that’s a function that ComicHub offers, makes our lives a whole lot easier.
We also canceled an upcoming event with Dan Watters and Dani, the creative team for the Image comic COFFIN BOUND. It was due to happen in two weeks but we decided that the safety of the customers and the guests was more important and we should minimize contact as much as possible in a situation like this. We have other upcoming events that we are considering, but we need to see how the situation plays out.
Things in Ireland are a bit all over the place at the moment. Just today (or at least the today when I’m typing this), the Government has ordered the closure of all schools and colleges until the end of March, besides the cancelation of all major events (on top of this, St Patrick’s Day Parade and Dublin Comic Con had already been canceled earlier in the week) and there are rumours of other possibly harsher lockdown measures, similar to what happened in Italy.
This of course has an impact on our store takings but so far it hasn’t been a dramatic one. A lot of people are stocking up on books to read while they are stuck at home (either working remotely or minding their kids), or books for their kids or for friends.
I think we have to expect disruptions and delays down the line in the supply chain for a LOT of items that are manufactured in China but that hasn’t kicked in quite yet.
One very, very important thing to consider is that we are only a case or two away of COVID-19 hitting some Diamond workers in their warehouses and we might be looking at a complete stop of comics distribution worldwide for a number of weeks. And retailers are already asking about Free Comic Book Day, can we possible see a delay on that this year?
All in all, a lot of questions and uncertainties. All we can hope is that in the middle of this all our staff, our customers and all our loved ones remain safe. That is the number 1 priority.
Marc Bowker, Alter Ego Comics
The coronavirus is absolutely a factor in all decision making at this time. Here in Ohio, all schools have been closed. Bars and restaurants with sit down service have been closed. And Gatherings of more than 100 people have been prohibited.
We have canceled all upcoming events at Alter Ego Comics, but we are open regular store hours. Like many stores, we are offering curbside pickup, delivery within 10 miles of the shop, and shipping as options for our customers. Customers can shop in stock inventory at our site. And subscribes can use ComicHub to pre-order items and pay for anything in their pull file.
Hand sanitizer is available at the door and at the register, and my team is using disinfecting wipes on surfaces throughout the day.
Staff has been told to stay home if they feel sick or have been around anyone that feels sick.
From an ordering standpoint, we’ll be tightening up on rack copies of many new series and moving to subscriber only on some existing titles. This week is going to be a good indicator of how much slashing we have to do. Really looking at what sales look like Wednesday-Saturday this week.
I’ve posted two video updates on our Facebook Page and customer response has been fantastic!
Looking at the data, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But we’re going to get through this. And we’re going to be here for our customers until we’re told that we must close.
Patrick Brower, Challengers Comics + Conversation
This question came in right as I was writing up a Challengers website post on the virus. I, personally, may not be concerned but it would be irresponsible for us, a public business, to not have something in place to hopefully soothe potential customer fears and offer alternate ways to get them comics. If interested, that response is here.
To answer the question, it HAS to be a factor. This is an unprecedented time on our planet. People are scared and the first thing they’re changing is their everyday routine. I wasn’t worried this time last week, but the customer count in both of our stores has dipped this week, and we can’t help but think that fear of the virus is responsible. We haven’t done any order adjusting as a result of this, but it’s also too new to see if this is a lasting change. We staff light to begin with, and we have yet to have anyone request time off or show any symptoms of any illness, but we’re certainly more sensitive to the potential of both of those possibilities right now. As for customer interactions, I am asking people their thoughts on all of it. Asking if they’re changing routines or if they’re worried. People say their offices are a lot emptier, but that they’re optimistic here in Chicago. Of course, those are the people that are still coming in, so they’ve already shown a willingness to stay the course. And as I am typing this, a mom and young daughter just came in and are going about their day like normal.
So basically, we’re cleaning more often and disinfecting regularly, and just keeping our eyes open.
Ralph DiBernardo, Jetpack Comics
We’re taking it as it comes.
We have Free Comic Book Day coming up (3000 + people), weekly events (50 – 75 people), and more, so it’s first and foremost on our minds. We’ve got gloves and hand sanitizing soap on hand for anyone that wants it. We’re cleaning a lot more than we use to. We’re currently staffed up – almost over staffed – but as long as sales remain we’ll keep things going as they are.
We’ve issued statements to all of our groups about staying home if you’re sick. We’ve offered to ship product locally to those that don’t want to come out and visit. We’ve told our staff that if they’re sick stay home. If any of my staff get quarantined I’ll do my best to keep paying them, as long as I can.
If sales start to dip we’ll adjust scheduling accordingly. I did issue a statement to my staff to reduce buying for the foreseeable future. Since we have to order so far ahead I’d rather get caught short and reorder than have product and no one to sell it to.
This could be a great time for speculators.
Every day the drama builds and people are more and more scared. We’ll keep our doors open until the government says we have to close.
HA HA. I guess that is a YES, without a doubt.
Brian Hibbs, Comix Experience
Yes, but it’s such a fluid thing at the moment that most of the brain cycles going into that thinking and planning seem like they could be an enormous waste. I’ve held back from pulling a lot of triggers, as of yet, to see where and how things land.
Jen King, Space Cadets Collection Collection
We do have both long term and short-term plans. As schools close, we are adding ways for young people to interact in safe ways, like the fun initiative begun by Joe Murray at Captain Blue Hen Comics called #ThousandComicChallenge, where we have challenged our customers to read and review comics and post to social media and use the tag and tag their home shop and the creators and are having a fun competition to see whose stores customers review the most books. It’s good for the creators, as it brings attention to their books, and lets customers show off their love of comics and their shops.
We, as a shop, also are offering porch delivery for customers who can’t or don’t want to venture out and are adding live FB feeds so that our customers can shop from virtually anywhere.
I truly hope to have enough work for my amazing employees to keep their hours, but also am open to their requests to not come to work should they wish to stay at home. I know that BINC, Lion Forge, and others have stepped up to offer them wage replacement help should they choose to do so, or if it becomes necessary for the shop to reduce hours.
We are looking for all of the positive ways that we can help our community and know that together, we can weather any storm.
Colin McMahon, Pittsburgh Comics
Not at this point. I haven’t seen a slow down until yesterday. Everything was pretty much business as usual. Ordering 2 months/3 weeks out makes that tricky. I won’t do a big stock up of extra stuff for FCBD because that’s kind of in question right now. The free books are already ordered.
As far as staffing, it’s me and one full timer. So not a lot to be done there.
I will be doing an email about how we will happily ship people their books if they are hesitant to leave their home. Luckily your store is rarely full of people other than Weds. So avoiding contact is not hard. Regularly wiping door handle and credit card pin pad. Those are really the only commonly touched things.
Katie Proctor, Books with Pictures
Yes, it is a major factor for planning the rest of 2020, including stock ordering, business model adjustments, capital expenditures, staffing levels, cleaning protocols, event planning, and toilet paper acquisition strategies.
Brandon Schatz, Variant Edition Comics & Culture
Coronavirus is a huge consideration right now. As a shop, we’re in a good position, as we’ve been offering in city delivery for years (to help people with low mobility and time) and had an online store in operation since September – so we’re ahead in a lot of ways in dealing with this. As for ordering… time will tell. We’re in a fairly unaffected part of Alberta, Canada, and this coming Wednesday will be the first big test, as the weekend was pretty robust for sales.
Weirdly, our store’s focus on growing big, while keeping small, is making us respond fairly nimbly to changes that are coming, and we can currently run the store with just myself and my partner Danica. We ARE taking the step of having one of us work at home, and switching those days, to limit our time out on the front lines, and ordering a little tighter just to be on the safe side. But time will tell what other adjustments we’ll have to make.
Scott Tomlin, Comics Dungeon
Yes, the Covid-19 virus is impacting short, mid and long term plans for the business. Customers have already starting canceling subscriptions due to financial burden. We are reducing what we can on FOC assuming less foot traffic will be the case. Mid-term it will affect our initial orders significantly, we are already discussing staffing strategies and business pivots, like more mail orders, etc. Long term, the finances could be a struggle and we are taking it a day at a time. A long-term downturn in people visiting retail stores won’t be good for the small brick and mortars especially in an industry that is already struggling with the model.
Obviously anything you say might be speculation, or at least in the realm of educated guessing. But if you had to guess, do you think the current coronavirus pandemic could have short and mid term impacts on the broader comics market? If so, would you guess it would be more of a temporary shift – leaning towards mail order or digital for the time being – or something with more permanence?
John Jackson Miller, Comichron
I’ve written about external shocks to the marketplace here and will likely write more in the future, and my observation is that the Direct Market has had a way of shielding much of the industry from outside events. Clearly the 1950s juvenile delinquency panic and the inflation of the 1970s severely harmed comics, with many publishers and newsstand outlets turning away from them. But much of the volume in the Direct Market is subscription-based in nature, which keeps it from fluctuating much. One month’s sales in aggregate tend to look like the previous month’s sales, because it usually takes an affirmative act on the part of subscribers to cancel.
So we’ve had a number of external financial shocks that didn’t do much to comics. There are a few mentions of the 1990-91 recession in the contemporary comics trade publications, but there’s no doubt that the market ultimately charged through that and then some. The Great Recession hits as the boomlet of the “aughts” is winding down, but there’s still a LOT of titles being published, and that volume postpones much of the slowdown into 2010. Publishers were moving from $2.99 to $3.99 around then; that alone was part of what was going on. A lot of other events had ephemeral effects that washed out quickly; 9/11 you could almost say was a rallying point, falling days after Wolverine: The Origin #1 released and bringing readers into stores to get the benefit books and special issues like the black-covered Amazing Spider-Man #36.
Coronavirus, however, is a special case of a kind we haven’t seen. It attacks consumers’ mobility in the same way that, say, winter weather does, making it harder to go to stores to get those subscription copies — but it also strikes at their disposable income. I don’t think there are any good parallels, and of course anyone who suggests they know how long these conditions will persist is just guessing. Markets don’t like uncertainty and neither do retailers, so I could see this impacting how much they order from here, both out of a lack of cash flow and concern that the customers won’t be there as often.
The March and April numbers may not be too much changed — reorders are already coming in for those months and so at the publisher and distributor level, we wouldn’t see such an abrupt change — but one could see retailers having to contact a number of absent customers about how long they’re going to pull their books, and while I expect many would want to support their shops by keeping their files going, a lot will depend on their financial situations. A snowstorm that keeps you from the shop for a few Wednesdays isn’t the same as an event that keeps you from earning a living for a longer period due to health or business disruptions.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see new release volume decreasing if the containment stage goes long — publishers, like movie producers, might see some benefit in releasing big event titles later when there’s more cash flow and more certainty. That both helps and hurts retailers, so it’s a question of balance. I’m not sure digital would see tremendous leaps beyond, perhaps, the usage levels for the subscriber-based services — by now I expect everyone who is comfortable with digital as an option has long since migrated there. Another ‘X’ factor is conventions, which were drawing untold sums from the collector economy and in far more locations than just the big metropolises — I expect there’ll be a period of some length when individual mobility is restored, yet the conventions aren’t yet up again, which could benefit the retail economy.
But that’s all conjecture. What we know for sure is that the Direct Market was in decent shape when this started, perhaps on the way to a promising year — and that the book channel had been doing great. The fundamentals of the business are sound; it’s just a matter of how quickly we can get back to that business.
Publishers: Is the coronavirus a factor in your short to mid-term decision making at all, in regards to convention planning, book launches, how you’re managing internal processes, or anything else?
Chris Fernandez, Publisher at Mad Cave Studios
At the moment, we are treating the situation like it has the potential to alter the course of 2020 in terms of conventions and other events. Our team is a family and their health is second to none. Whether or not we will be attending events this year will be determined on a case by case basis as the situation is constantly evolving. Regardless, we will continue to move forward with our planned convention exclusives and offer them through whatever means possible. We do not want to hinder the fan experience any further than it already has been. Look out more info on that as we get closer to said events.
In regards to launches and internal processes, we will be continuing with our scheduled releases for the year and will be looking to facilitate purchases in any way we can to meet readers’ needs. Mad Cave is committed to providing quality content and this will not affect that commitment. While I am sure many individuals will be deciding not to venture out as much in the coming days, I urge fans to communicate with their local comic shops in an effort to find ways of picking up their comics in a safe and timely manner.
Damian Wassel, Vault Comics
Coronavirus has obliterated our convention and conference schedule for the first half of 2020. Our entire team has been working to create alternate events to engage with both fans and retailers, and to give our creators opportunities to promote the books they’ve worked so hard on. Operationally, we have the benefit of living and working in a small office in a geographically remote and sparsely populated place, so for now we’re planning to continue operating as usual. We’ve discussed work-from-wherever contingencies for our team, and have plans at the ready for that. Meanwhile our employees all work on an unlimited PTO basis, so everyone has been encouraged to take their health and safety seriously, and respond in the way they see best for them.
That’s it for now. I’ll add more as they come in, and if you’re a creator, retailer or publisher who wants to share their thoughts, feel free to email me at david@SKTCHD.com. If you enjoyed this content and would like more of it, consider subscribing to SKTCHD!