DALLAS — Dark Horse president and publisher Mike Richardson gave the keynote address at the ComicsPRO Annual Members Meeting this morning, speaking to the history and possible future of comics.
“For the comics industry, changes have been a constant and necessary partner,” Richardson said, tracing the medium’s early beginnings, to the success of Superman, to the censorship of the 1950s and the efforts of Frederic Wertham.
“The comic book industry essentially muzzled itself,” he said.
Comics came back in the 1960s, but the low cover prices eventually found comics being forced out at newsstands and retail stores. Phil Seuling’s establishment of the direct comics market saved comics, Richardson said, and directly allowed companies like Dark Horse to exist.
The Dark Horse publisher recounted his origins in comics as a retailer, leaving a good job as a commercial artist to start a comic book store, a choice that led to an intervention from several of his friends. After a few hours, he eventually told them he’d give up his comic-book dreams — but of course, he did not.
His plans to start a comic shop came from his own difficulties buying comics, having to stake out gas stations and try to avoid being judged by other patrons.
“It came to me that there might be a better way to sell comics,” he said.
Once he started his store, he not only saw the kids, teens and young adults he expected, but also plenty of adults, he said.
“All they needed was a destination — a place to go talk comics.”
That can’t completely be replaced digitally, Richardson said, but he sees a huge opportunity to grow the comics market through a digital strategy.
“Comics specialty stores are our lifeblood,” he said. “The last thing I would want to do is harm that market.”
Richardson cited a study that there could be 1 billion tablet computers in circulation in 2016.
“Would 1 percent of tablet readers download a comic?” Richardson asked. That could be as many as 10 million people. If 10 percent of those samplers sought out a comic book store, that could double the size of the existing comic book market, Richardson estimates.
“If we want to grow our industry, we need to take some chances,” Richardson said.
One of those chances that need to be taken is publishing a wider variety of comics, Richardson said.
“Publishers need to create new titles that will stand the test of time,” he said.
Going forward, Richardson said the direct market will be a key market for keeping comics vibrant.
“It was you who allowed comics to flourish when the bookstores were not interested,” he said. He said the few thousand direct-market retailers, in a market created to solve a particular problem, have become the engine through which future market problems can be solved.
“I came to listen to what you have to say,” Richardson said.
He said he moved into comics as a career out of love, and that he loves reading, making and selling them. And he closed by holding up a recent Dark Horse comic.
“And I love to hold them,” he said.
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