Its not uncommon in Africa to hear questions directed at people who make a living creating comic books or in the arts like, “Are comic books serious business?” or “Aren’t comic books for children?” . Most professionals and parents to young people in Africa who grew up in a time when professions like teaching , nursing accounting, law and medicine were the expected career paths find it worrying or bewildering at the least that a young person may seek to pursue a professional career as a comic book artist or writer. It simply doesn’t equate to “serious business” or “real work” .Comic books invoke visions of toddlers gathered around TV sets on Saturday mornings watching Tom and Jerry or tearing up a dated and boring newspaper cartoon after starring at the drawings for a few minutes. On this note This article aspires to look at the reality and viability of comic books today in the world and their potential in Africa. And hopefully will prove that Comics are “serious business”.
Considering that commerce and the idea of “serious business” or “real work” prompts the image of monetary gain for the effort that is invested, it would be a great start to try to evaluate the monetary worth of all these fancy drawings on glossy pages and also to try and determine their contribution to any respectable industry . In an article written by Calvin Reid for publishersweekly.com he noted that,
…led by book format comics with $415 million in sales, the North American comics and graphic novel marketplace generated $870 million in sales in 2013, according to a new estimate by ICV2 and Comichron, two comics industry trade news and data sources.
These figures reflect sales alone for that period but what is interesting to note is the fact that those revenues were generated by sales of printed comics alone. Anyone new to the comic book industry will miss the real kicker in that statement because this excludes revenues generated by the following products that are a by-product of comic books. These are include (but are not limited to) :
- clothing / apparel
- video games, apps and other interactive media
- licenses sold to movie studios, television shows & advertisers to use comic book intellectual property
- block buster movies based on comic books(Avengers, Thor, Captain America , Ironman etc )
The scalable nature of the intellectual property generated by comics alone ensures that several, if not tens of billions of dollars are grossed in the American market alone.Eugene Ramirez Mapondera and Tino Makoni appear in a recent article on the Zimbabwean Techzim website sharing similar information. They are both Zimbabwean comic book artists and writers.
One might argue that for a young person in Africa or for a Zimbabwean comic book artist such achievements are impossible because of the absent “economies of scale”, opportunities or facilities but that brings us to the next point in our run-down of this serious business .
The indie comic book publisher is a fairly new phenomenon . Independent artists who seek to publish their comic books or graphic novels while distancing themselves from comic book giants such as DC comics, Marvel Comics, Dark Hoarse, Image comics and so on have found a favourable platform to publish their titles through the internet.
E-comics which are electronic versions of traditional comic books published on paper are now very popular. They can be read and stored on Ipads or mobile phone devices without taking up shelf space like their predecessors. Publisherweekly’s Bruce Lidl wrote this while referring to Comixology‘s (An on-line comic book publishing company)acquisition by Amazon
Comixology has proven itself the dominant force so far in a digital comics marketplace estimated to be worth over $90 million in 2013
The value of digital comics, though not as impressive as its forerunner is clearly very “serious business”. To bring our discussion back to the African or Zimbabwean comic book industry , These statistics are evidence that comic books released in Zimbabwe using the indie style of publishing stand a chance of circumventing the challenges of infrastructure and high costs of print and distribution.
A more practical example of the model mentioned above can be seen here on www.comexposed .com in the shop page which currently offers 2 free, full colour comic books which are The Gift and Ganyamuto . Through the use of on-line publishing, the challenges and cost of print, and distribution has been avoided while bringing the comic books on offer to a global audience on the web.
If a Zimbabwean comic book industry could achieve even 20% of the success attained by the american comic book industry it would literally result in the employment of hundreds of artist and creatives.With these numbered facts in mind previously sceptical parents, business people, investors or general inquisitors can have some swayed opinion regarding the viability of comic books and the business of making them .