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Off My Mind: Why Word of Mouth isn't Enough for Great Indie Comics

Comic books aren't just put out by two publishers. There are many other great publishers.

These days are the best and worst for comic book readers. There are so many quality titles that flood the shelves each week. There are so many different genres in comics that there can be something for everyone. It's rare that a trip to the comic store leaves you with no titles you'd be interested in.

Why would this be the worst time for readers? The fact that there is so much to read, along with the cost of comics makes it harder to read everything. Even if cost wasn't an issue, finding the time to read everything isn't always a possibility.

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Despite there being so many high quality books available, not all of them are getting read. We tend to see the same characters and teams in multiple titles at the top of the sales lists. Despite all the praise and respect some indie titles get, why are comic readers refusing to read them?

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The answer is pretty simple. Comic readers will often go with the safe purchase and buy what they know. That means they will usually buy Marvel and DC and overlook titles from independent publishers. If Marvel puts out another X-Men book or if DC publishes another Batman title, comic readers will buy it. If Image or Dynamite Entertainment launches a new title, readers will be more hesitant.

Looking at the sales rankings from January, the top ranking indie title was THE WALKING DEAD at number 59! FATALE by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips had a lot of buzz before the issue even went on sale and was at number 90.

Despite the success of the Walking Dead television show and the praise the title receives, that doesn't translate into sales. Of course, if you talk to anyone that does read THE WALKING DEAD, most will say they read the series in trades. That could account for some of the sales numbers.

Yet Brubaker and Phillips have a proven track record with their past series such as SLEEPER, CRIMINAL and INCOGNITO. Did the decision to publish FATALE at Image affect the sales or availability the comic would have?

DC Comics has moved to the top of the sales chart with the success of the "New 52." There's been a lot of talk and coverage of the relaunch of the titles and many have moved towards giving those titles a chance. Besides the relaunch and the idea of #1s and fresh starts, the DC books have familiar characters. That makes it feel safer for new readers to jump in. They might never have read an Aquaman comic but knowing who he is and that it's supposed to be new-reader friendly could give more incentive to buy the book.

The book everyone (especially here at Comic Vine) talks about is Scott Snyder's BATMAN. Snyder has quickly moved up to the list of great and respected comic book writers. Based on the sales estimates, BATMAN was the number two selling title and the numbers are close to those of the number one selling book (Geoff Johns and Jim Lee's JUSTICE LEAGUE). There is a bigger gap between BATMAN and the third top selling title.

With the recognition Synder now has, you would expect readers to automatically buy anything he's attached to. Unfortunately that isn't the case with SEVERED from Image written by Snyder and Scott Tuft. SEVERED is an great comic with amazing art by Attila Futaki but it doesn't appear to be on the radar of many.

I asked Scott Snyder his thoughts on why comic readers should buy indie titles:

The indie world is the place you're able to develop your voice, to push boundaries you might not be able to push (at first) in mainstream comics. So looking to indie comics to find new voices you're excited about is a wonderful thing. I discovered Josh Fialkov through his terrific work outside of Marvel or DC. Same with my best friend in comics, Jeff Lemire. Same with someone huge like Ed Brubaker. You find out what people are passionate about in their indie work and then you can see it carry into their mainstream work.

It's really about taking a chance. It's understandable that a new title such as THIEF OF THIEVES from Image might not sound like something you'd pick up blindly. Knowing that the story is by Robert Kirkman and it's written by Nick Spencer should be enough of a reason to pick up the comic. Will the book fly off the shelves? Unfortunately, the casual comic shopper might be lucky to find it on store shelves as many comic shops have to be conservative when placing orders for new series. Top creator names attached should be enough but the examples above show that isn't the case.

Consumers want what they know. They feel safer. If a comic has Spider-Man or Batman in it, they have an idea what they're going to get. Does every comic with Batman compare to what Scott Snyder or Grant Morrison writes? Not even close. But popular and familiar characters sell.

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It's not even about the characters being "popular." BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is now telling stories from the series' "Season Nine" at Dark Horse. Buffy managed to grab the number 65 slot. Everyone is familiar with Star Wars but STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC, also from Dark Horse, was at number 116. Dynamite Entertainment is constantly putting out titles with known characters such as Red Sonja, the Lone Ranger, Green Hornet and the Bionic Man. They even have a couple comics based on Voltron. IDW has the rights to franchises such as G.I. Joe, Transformers, Star Trek and Ghostbusters but you won't see those titles at the top of the charts either. Top Cow also has WITCHBLADE, which has passed its 150th issue but people are still hesitant to buy the comic.

It's no secret that I also love Marvel and DC Comics. The difference is, those aren't the only comics I buy and read. We're often asked why we don't focus more on independent comics around here and the sad truth is because it isn't always what people want to hear or talk about. It does have to start somewhere. We will continue to bring up indie books when possible. Consumers also have to do their part. Money speaks louder than words. We can give praise to the five-star level indie books but comic shoppers have to do their part as well.

My challenge to you today or this week or this month is to give some indie books a try. "Try something different." We see a lot of complaints that the Big Two are constantly putting out the same types of books or giving us event after event. We're not saying to abandoned those publishers, but why not try something new. If you take a chance, you might just discover your new favorite comic.