Valdosta Daily Times

April 28, 2013

Comics are big business

Free Comic Book Day just a part of the comic book business

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Whether you’re a life-long fan of comics or just have a passing interest, mark your calendars: Free Comic Book Day, the day that comic stores across the country offer a selection of free titles, is May 4.

Far from the comic companies of yesteryear, comic companies today (Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, etc.) are far-flung media enterprises, encompassing comics, novels, graphic novels, movies, TV shows and video games. Comics are big business and with any big business, it can be overwhelming to talk about it all at once. So let’s break it down.

Movies & TV

In December of 1996, Marvel Comics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In August 2009, Disney bought Marvel Comics for four billion dollars.

What happened between 1996 and 2009?

Well, it’s complicated, but to simplify: The movies happened.

After the success of the X-Men and Spiderman movie trilogies, Marvel decided to get into the movie business for itself. While movie companies had been trying for decades to adapt comics for isolated movies, Marvel decided to try adapting its entire fictional universe, producing what it called Phase One. Consisting of the first two Iron Man movies, “Thor,” “The Incredible Hulk,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Marvel’s gamble paid off in the release of “The Avengers,” which became the third highest grossing film of all time, only behind the one-two James Cameron punch of “Avatar” and “Titanic.” Currently, Marvel movies as a whole represent the most successful movie brand of all time, raking in more than five billion.

And they’re not alone. DC, the other big comic company, had a huge hit in the recent Batman trilogy, something they look to continue with the new Superman movie coming out this summer. Rumors abound that DC is now copying Marvel’s plan, using “Superman” to launch into its own extended universe.

On the TV side, both companies have released a plethora of animated shows, but up til now, DC was the only one to have any success with a live-action show, with “Smallville” having run for 10 seasons and this season’s “Arrow” being renewed for season two. Marvel is prepping a show titled “Agents of SHIELD,” which focuses on the agents of Marvel’s top-secret international espionage and law-enforcement agency.

Video Games

Although in the past there have been some really bad comic book-based video games (ask any gamer about Superman 64 or Batman Forever and we’ll tell you), the past few years have seen several amazing comic book-inspired games. Video game developer Rocksteady, and its two Batman games, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Batman: Arkham City,” are the runaway leaders, both in terms of critical reception and sales figures. DC has also found success in partnering with established video game franchises, leading to “Lego Batman,” and “Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes,” as well as “Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe” and the recently released “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” a fighting game that imagines what would happen to the world if Superman went to the dark side.

While Marvel hasn’t released a game that quite matches the success which the Batman Arkham games have found, it has had a number of good ones. “Marvel Ultimate Alliance” and its sequel were both well received, as well as Marvel’s long-standing run of fighting games with game company Capcom, imaginatively titled “Marvel vs. Capcom.” And just as DC is working to catch Marvel’s runaway movie success, Marvel plans to release several new games, including “Lego Marvel Super Heroes” and “Marvel Heroes,” an online game positioned to challenge DC’s online game, “DC Universe Online.”

Comic Books

Starting in the United States in the 1930s, comics have been on the rise and on the decline throughout the decades, but have been a consistent part of our culture. While having spun their characters out to various media, comic companies have continued to tell ambitious stories, sometimes using comics to introduce the backstory behind a new video game or movie.

“With Thanos being the villain of ‘Avengers 2,’ there’s starting to be a push,” said James Lewis, Magazine Specialist with Books-a-Million. “They’re bringing him to the forefront.”

Of course, comic companies hope for crossovers, for someone watching “Iron Man 3” and heading to their local comic shop to check out Iron Man comics. But with hundreds of monthly titles released, where do you start?

How about starting with Free?

Every year, on the first Saturday of May, comic stores across the country host Free Comic Book Day.

“They settled on the date a few years ago,” said Andre Oliver, owner of Valdosta’s Kool Comics. “From a marketing standpoint, it matches up with the first big movie weekend of the year.”

Located on Ashley Street, a few blocks from Downtown Valdosta, Oliver has been running Kool Comics for 11 years, and has been participating in Free Comic Book Day for the majority of them.

“I almost feel a responsibility to do it at this point,” said Oliver. “The Boy Scouts come out every year and my regular customers appreciate it as well. They look forward to it, bring their kids with them.”

In the last decade, Oliver has weathered the economic collapse of 2008 and the subsequent fallout and watched comics take on a more mature story-telling stance.

“But there’s also some great titles for kids: ‘Sonic the Hedgehog,’ ‘My Little Pony,’ ‘Adventure Time.’”

He’s also seen his business grow in the last year, with new customers sometimes coming from people who’ve played the video games or watched the movies.

With the advent of digital comic sales that can deliver straight to your tablet or smartphone, some people are predicting the end of the paper comic, but Oliver disagrees.

“With a comic book, you own it. You can hold it. Just like with any business, as long as the companies put out new and interesting products, business will continue to grow.”

Free Comic Book Day is 11 a.m.-4 p.m., May 4. And while you’re there, browse the rest of the store. Kool Comics’ back stock, which offers more than 15,000 comics, is 50 percent off in celebration.