McFarlane's Mark: The Future of Comics - The Medium


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In this installment of McFarlane’s Mark, we continue our discussion of the future of comics and how they may or may not be affected as an art form by digital media and the advent of the trade paperback.

This installment of McFarlane's Mark was produced by Jason Wilkins and Frederik Hautain.

BROKEN FRONTIER: We talked a little bit about how the business side of comics would be affected by new delivery methods. How do you think comics will be affected as a medium?

TODD MCFARLANE: It depends on your definition of the medium of “comic books”. The definition of comic books – and I’ll just give you mine – is just words and pictures. I don’t think the medium of words and pictures is ever disappearing. I think it’s always going to be around. I’ve been saying that literally since I broke into the business.

I think what may change over time – we’re starting to see this in fits and starts – is the delivery mechanism of it. Although, there may come a time when driving twenty-five miles to the comic store may seem a little obsolete, when you can just download something.

Which is why music stores are struggling today. Because people say, “I don’t have to go to Tower Records. I can just download it, if I want it.” That may be something that’s in the future but comic books, which are words and pictures? I don’t care how good technology gets. That combo is never going away. So now, what we have to decide, is how we’re going to do it.

Because even if the answer is that every comic book shop in the world went away, I could still put comics in my toys. So, I’m delivering them through toys now. Or if you buy a chocolate bar, you get a comic book. If you buy a t-shirt, you get a comic book. There’s other ways to deliver your comic book, if you were forced to, outside of the current business model that we have right now.

BF: So, do you think the actual physical act or process of creating the comic book will stay the same?

MCFARLANE: I think so, with the caveat that some people will take more advantage of the technology. Some people might build to the technology. “If the screen is 3x3, then we’re going to draw that way. If the screen allows for moving pieces, then can we build that into a design to give people whatever it is they’re getting excited about?” You’re going to have to acknowledge what it is that people like about the technology, other than that they can just download it.

BF: Have you considered how these new delivery mechanisms will affect newer properties like Haunt? And here, I’m not just talking about technology but also things like the trade paperback. I know the Haunt trade paperback sold out already. How do think trade paperbacks and that trend to collect, almost as soon as possible, story arcs and series will affect publishing?

MCFARLANE: It’s sort of interesting because one of the things that Marvel Comics and some other people are trying to figure out is can you [still] get people to buy the issues one at a time or do you have to try to get them do it on a subscription basis? And if you do subscription, how long do you hold them?

I think whether or not it’s in a trade paperback or a single-issue form, there’s always going to be a need for people to want comics. The question now is, as you now shift the technology on them…everybody starts applying a value factor to it, if you will. I think there’s still a bit of a struggle and a little bit of finding out for all of us as to where that’s at.

It was interesting that Marvel, I believe, was selling their comics books at .99 and as soon as the iPad came out, the iPad version of it was a $1.99. There was a little bit of a rebuff. People go, “What are you talking about? It’s the same comic book. Why all of a sudden is it a buck more?” Even if a $1.99 is still cheaper than if you bought it at a comic book store, people were like, “Hold on a sec. We were just getting used to that .99 price. Now you’re going to double if. What are we going to get for it?”

So, there’s also that price resistance we have to be careful of because the consumer starts to get into habits and whether we agree with the habits or not, they start to make decisions based on that. Because they think, “For two bucks I could get two songs or I could get two .99 comics from another competitor.”

Do I think there are going to be people who want the first twenty-five issues of Haunt when we get the twenty-five issues done? Yeah, sure. The question now is, how do we deliver that to them, if they’re not just going to buy the twenty-five issues in a comic store or buy the trade paperback in a comic store? Do we expect them to pay the same price? Or do we give them a different version of it? I don’t know.

Those are the big unknowns that nobody knows about, even though everybody is willing to say haphazardly that this is new trend or the new way, without even knowing what the habits are of the people who are buying.

BF: It seems like the way comics are being written and created have shifted into this story arc format, which makes it very easy to collect in trade paperbacks. Do ever see publishers moving straight to the collected format, perhaps going towards a more European style of publishing?

MCFARLANE: Those attempts have been made in the past, before the technology caught on. There was a movie, Road to Perdition. That sort of came out of that experiment. I think the biggest issue with it right now, is that you still need at least a decent amount of sales up front on the monthly of it to help offset the cost. Because if you don’t get the sales you want from the trade paperback, then you’re literally putting all of you eggs in one basket. If it doesn’t come back, you could get stung financially.

You need to have a couple of areas where you can draw a bit of revenue, at least in the current state of where our volume is with comic books and trade paperbacks. But will people continue to play with it? Yes. I think arguably long before people worry about delivering three hundred pages of a book every six months you have to worry about the driver.

People buy trade paperbacks because we somehow got them addicted to the monthly book, in advance of that. I think what you’ll see before that is someone who says, “I’m going to do a brand new, 22-page comic book and I’m going to only make it downloadable.” I think that will come before a program that has three hundred pages all in the vein of a trade paperback and all original.

BF: Getting back to Haunt, you’ve had a lot of success now with the trade paperback. Are there any plans to develop him in different areas such as the iPad, now that you’ve seen it in action or into an online comic?

MCFARLANE: Yep. We’re going to try a couple of them. I know that Robert [Kirkman] is a little anxious to try and get some of that out. So I told him once we get a little bit of a decent library, then we’ll punch it out there and just sit back see how it works. We’re going to try it.

And again, we’ve been having various conversations with people in Hollywood, who are interested in the character and having chats with us about trying to develop him into some other medium. We’re not going to sit idly by on the sidelines. We’re going to get proactive with it.

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  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom Jun 17, 2010 at 2:36pm

    I hang on his lips... as that correct english?
    I mean: I soooo love these columns!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jun 17, 2010 at 4:11pm

    It's not quite right Richard but I like the imagery of your version much, much better! ;)

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