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For First Time, the Comic Book Industry Is on Hold

The Hollywood Reporter logo The Hollywood Reporter 4/1/2020 Graeme McMillan

What happens when New Comic Book Day has no new comics?

For over two decades, Wednesday has been the day of the week when fans can get their fix of all-new material. Shipments show up either Tuesday evenings or Wednesday mornings, and retailers rush to stock shelves in time for customers to arrive, eager for the latest adventures of their favorite characters. The tradition is so strong that when ComiXology started offering new weekly releases, they were issued on Wednesdays as well, to be released day-and-date with the print versions. Whether it’s a way of getting past the mid-week blues or simply the continuation of tradition at this point, for the majority of comic book fans, Wednesday has come to mean New Comic Book Day.

Except, of course, there aren’t any new comics this week.

That’s not entirely true; there are a limited number of digital releases to be found, with collected editions from DC and Marvel — as well as some titles intended as purely digital comics, or product already shipped to stores and subscribers — available. But those 23 items are far below the hundreds traditionally available to stores, and it’s a number that’s potentially going to continue to fall on future Wednesdays, as the current situation evolves.

There are, of course, very real and very serious impacts being felt by those working in the comic book industry right now — retailers, creators and publishers are extremely likely to see significant reductions in income, especially the longer the pandemic continues, and Diamond Comics Distributors is already reporting cash flow problems — but there’s a secondary impact being felt today, especially: a feeling of loss from fans as it becomes clear for the first time that, yes, things actually are different for comics right now. After all, there aren’t any new comics for them to read for the first time in… forever…?

That sounds melodramatic, but to put the matter in some perspective, the comic book industry going on hiatus isn’t something that’s really happened before (at least not to this extent, as cutbacks have occurred previously). Comics have been published on a regular basis in the U.S. through all number of existential threats in the past, whether it’s World War II — even with paper shortages — Watergate, oil crises or 9/11. Comics, and the escapism they offer, have been ever present… and, as of now, they’re not.

Multiple outlets are doing their best to deal with the loss, in a number of ways; the stores that remain open are offering “new-to-you” sales of existing inventory, and the same is true of digital platform ComiXology — although the latter regularly has sales on specific material as decided by publishers. (Just today, Marvel announced a buy-one-get-one sale on its own, ComiXology-powered, webstore.) It’s an approach that should work — it’s unlikely, to say the least, that anyone has read every single comic ever released — but it’s also an awkward stopgap that doesn’t address the audience’s desire for new material.

The industry shutdown is presumably — hopefully — temporary, and short-term, at that. For all anyone knows, new material is around the corner and the pause will be just long enough for everyone to catch up on their foreboding To Read pile. But if that’s not the case, and the stoppage lasts enough time for the momentum of weekly new chapters of fans’ favorite superhero soap operas to stall entirely, then the question may become, "How easy is it to rebuild your audience when habits have been broken?"

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