Comics in My Future, Ever So Slightly

Hawkeye Freefall set!

Those of us who’ve been patiently waiting to complete our sets of Matthew Rosenberg and Otto Schmidt’s five-issue miniseries Hawkeye: Freefall now have a conundrum on our hands. (All cover art by Kim Jacinto and Tamra Bonvillain, presumably including the itty-bitty one for #5.)

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as a direct result of the ongoing and measurably non-resolved Coronavirus epidemic, Diamond Comics Distributors effectively shut down the comic book industry at the tail end of March, a temporary but unprecedented cessation that has vexed comic book shops worldwide and deprived habitual comics collectors such as myself of their weekly fixes of printed, single-issue graphic storytelling. We understood the decrees and the crisis at hand, but we lamented seeing a large portion of the medium paused in unison.

America’s 2200 remaining retailers, many of whom were already surviving on razor-thin profit margins, were justifiably nervous about their long-term financial stability through this era, whenever they weren’t too busy grappling with pervasive COVID-19 anxiety. Or with literal COVID-19, for all we know. Those shop owners thinking ahead wondered aloud: what happens if our customers’ habits are suspended for too long? What if deprivation begins to feel to them more like liberation? What do we do if the audience that had already been shrinking for years gets even tinier? Especially if too many of them are unemployed and can’t afford comics anymore?

Fantastic questions, those. I’m still mulling over my parts in some of those equations.

These past six weeks I’ve found other uses for my reading time. Without that steady input stream and with countless other activities in our lives postponed or canceled, I’m savoring the gratification of making headway into my colossal backlog of unread books and graphic novels. (And DVDs, but that’s a separate entry.) I haven’t been bored. When I’m home, I’m never bored. I don’t lack for entertainment material by any means. I’m definitely missing the exercise I got from the power-walk to and from my local shop each Wednesday afternoon, and I miss saying hi to people I haven’t seen in months. But to my own surprise, I’m not as heartbroken as I should be.

Creators and publishers, on the other hand, are understandably less calm about it. Partway through April, DC Comics were the first to break ranks and decide that publishing simply must go on. They made plans to resume printing and selling comics through a pair of new companies, each owned by longtime Diamond account holders who’ve decided they’re now also distributors. Their revised release schedule for the first three weeks under this new paradigm was a series of short new-comics list — beta-testing of sorts. Their plans for late May and all of June are a bit more ramped up, but not quite at full strength. This past week Diamond began negotiating with the other publishers and is gearing up to get the supply chain up and running again, albeit with severely curtailed product volume for the foreseeable future.

Mind you, it’s a bit awkward trying to reopen shops in all fifty states when we’re all still faced with the impositions of stay-at-home edicts and/or that very real pandemic that’s defying any and all attempts to wish it away. Our own Indianapolis/Marion County is still on lockdown through at least May 15th — potentially even longer if/when enough people screw up and inaugurate that dreaded second wave of infections we’re bracing ourselves for. Some shops ’round here have been getting by on mail order and by offering limited curbside pickup service. With new items to sell, perhaps that’ll prove more fruitful for them. Marvel has announced their new-release schedules through early July. DC, Image Comics, and BOOM! Studios have each announced through the end of June. As of tonight, Dark Horse Comics has yet to step up. That’s pretty much it for comics publishers in the singles biz who had my attention through March 2020.

Hopefully these plans do well for all involved. So far my own participation is looking to be distressingly minuscule. When I compiled my 2019 comics-in-review entry, that was the moment I noticed my comics spending habit had been curtailing itself without any outside help or conscious self-control. The pandemic obviously isn’t helping reverse my trend.

Up until Indy’s last pre-shutdown day of March 24, 2020, I’d been regularly buying seven new comics a week. (If that sounds like a mountain of reading matter to you, you should see the stacks in the hands of those guys who buy waaaaay more than I do.) Since that time, and projecting into the future based on the updated release schedules online, my acquisition results past and future looked/will look each Wednesday like so:

April 1:
nothing

April 8:
nothing

April 15:
nothing

April 22:
nothing

April 29:
nothing

May 6:
The Green Lantern Season 2 #3, which this very week has become a 20-page MacGuffin that I’m having a ridiculous amount of trouble arranging to acquire

May 13:
nothing

May 20:
Dollhouse Family 6
Ludocrats 1
Plunge 3
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 10

May 27:
Basketful of Heads 7
Farmhand 15

June 3:
Far Sector 6

June 10:
The Batman’s Grave 7
Legion of Super-Heroes 6

June 17:
Firefly 17
Once and Future 8

June 24:
Captain America: Marvel Snapshots
Plunge 4
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 11

July 1:
Definitely nothing from Marvel; too far out for all other publishers.

Bit of a comedown from seven a week. As a value-added kicker (or is that “value-subtracting”?), Marvel’s reduction came concurrently with the announcement that several lower-selling titles from their original slate are now being relegated to digital-only releases. Those lower-tier floppies won’t exist in print form until their eventual trade paperback collections. It’s better than Marvel simply pulling the plug and burning the artwork, but a kick in the head to anyone who’d been supporting those plucky underdogs up to now. Exhibit A is up there in our lead photo. After four issues on stands, the final chapter of the five-part Hawkeye: Freefall will be released May 20th only in digital form.

Fans who treasure the reading experience regardless of format will be satisfied. My previous thoughts on this:

It’s possible the publishers may continue releasing their wares digitally. I don’t care. I don’t read digital comics. At all. I compartmentalize my hobbies so that print-reading (i.e., comics and books) is among my favorite respites from screen addiction. I don’t want every single thing I do in life to take place exclusively through screens. Comics were there for me before the invention of computers, smartphones, and all the other glowing informatical devices in between. I was hoping comics and their dedicated shops would outlast me.

So there’s a high chance I’ll never read the conclusion. It wouldn’t be the first time in my life that I’ve skipped the final issue of a miniseries. And I’m not buying the fifteen-dollar trade later to compensate for missing out on one four-dollar comic. My sense of closure may well be denied. Holes in collections are not my favorite thing, but I have the tools to deal with them and move on.

But the big question remains: how enthusiastic am I about resuming my trips to the comic shop, reinvesting that time every week once again like the good ol’ days, knowing I’d only be getting one to three comics per week? I mean, sure, I really could use that weekly exercise, but it’d be challenging to do to my comics runs while studiously observing social-distancing protocols and trying not to panic at the sight of any and all other humans.

A larger question looms: assuming I’m not the only reader looking at such cutbacks, will the shop, the staff, and the medium still be sustainable with incoming goods down to a trickle?

One bright side either way: with all this money I’m saving through lack of comics, I can probably afford the second Immortal Hulk hardcover collection that’s scheduled to hit stores July 8th. It’s nice to have things to look forward to, even if they’re not in our favorite shapes.

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