There was a time when comicbooks were derided as “funnybooks” — fully disposable kiddy crap that barely rose to the level of “literature”. Comicbooks were something that was simply meant to distract the young and/or feeble-minded; certainly noting of consequence and most assuredly nothing that would distract an educated adult for even the merest of moments. Well, thankfully, those days are long gone. These days (believe it or not), comicbooks are the little engine that is — for all intents and purposes — powering the huge trans-media* juggernaut that is the entirety of pop culture. At least that is what Rob Salkowitz, author of Comic Con and the Business of Pop Culture (McGraw Hill, $27.00) has to say on the subject.
Salkowitz is not only a writer but is also a consultant specializing in the social implications of new technology. He is the author of Generation Blend: Managing Across the Technology Age Gap (2008), and has worked with leaders in the IT industry, including Microsoft, HP, and others, to forecast social and technology trends, formulate market strategy, and articulate business goals. Salkowitz also writes a popular weekly column for the website Internet Evolution and has maintained his own blog, Emphasis Added, where he talks about technology as well as social and economic development. Still, for the purposes of our discussion, Salkowitz is also something of a comicbook historian and pop culture aficionado.
For the past several years, Salkowitz who lives in Washington State has traveled down to San Diego, Calif, to attend Comic-Con International: San Diego which he describes as the nexus of all trans-media pop culture. In his book, Salkowitz takes a broad overview of the comics’ world as it unfolds before him during the juggernaut that was the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Salkowitz’s observations is that he approaches the subject as not simply as a longtime comics fan but as the business futurist that he is in “real life”. In fact, throughout the book Salkowitz continues to tie anecdotal accounts of the craziness that unfolds at the Con with his own ruminations on the current state of the industry.
In this fashion he manages to see through all the flash and glitter through to what he considers to be the heart and soul of the industry. Salkowitz unique perspective given him a very interesting insight into what is happening. To be sure, the essential core of what is going on in San Diego is comicbooks (yes those same four-color pamphlets that our fathers and grandfathers looked down upon), but there is something more going here, and Salkowitz sees it quite clearly. It isn’t just comicbooks, it is videogames, TV, film, books, clothing, tchotchkes, commercials and advertising, music, language, and yes, even the culture itself that has been transformed by something that our mothers would throw away whenever we went to camp.
You see, those muchly disparaged “funnybooks” have evolved into highly literary graphic novels, quirky webcomics, and ultimately have transformed the entire sequential-art format as a whole. Believe it or not, comics are not just four-color mainstream (superhero) comics and the effect that they are currently having on Hollywood movies goes far beyond that. If you were to look closely enough (and Salkowitz certainly does) you can see how wide-spread the reach of comics are in today’s modern world of entertainment. From fans meeting the rock-star creators behind their favorite strips and characters, to the crumbling direct market, to the burgeoning digital distribution channels; all of this maelstrom of activity puts the entirety of the marketplace in flux.
Truly (according to Salkowitz), nearly anything is possible in this field. As the comicbook industry gingerly enters into the 21st century all of the old standards are falling by the wayside even as there is a new generation that is discovering the past and paying reverence to it. The industry is attempting to embrace the new technology that will drive this world-weary, “disposable” form of entertainment to its next quantum leap forward. What survives to make the leap, and Salkowitz puts forth several scenarios — all of which are highly probable but entirely plausible especially given the forces currently at work.
Needless to say, even after all of the analysis, the ultimate outcome is about as easy to pinpoint as a digital cloud drifting through the intertubes. Still Salkowitz doesn’t pull punches or shy away from his stated purpose and attempts to consider every possible angle eventually proposing four possible scenarios for comics that could transpire over the coming decade. If you care at all about comics, then you’ll probably want to seek out and read this book for Salkowitz thoughts on the matter as he does have some very salient insights into what is going on here from a business, as well as fan perspective. To be sure, much of the book reads like a personal diary of what he did at the 2011 San Diego con, but even that is enjoyable as it gives behind the scenes information of the dynamics of the industry from both the fan and professional perspective.
*Salkowitz describes trans-media as content that is transportable between media (print, video, digital, web, film, etc.). He feels that the true salvation of comics will be that content that can survive any transition from any one form of distribution to another.
Robert J. Sodaro has been writing articles and reviews for some 30 years. During that time, his reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular literature and book reviews.