Ten years or so ago, noted comic book writer Robert Kirkman left a nice job writing stories for Marvel, one of the leading corporations that publish comic book titles in America, to go after a career exclusively in creator-owned books. Back then, this was seen as a huge gamble. This is because independent comics creators have all of the risk that their titles will not sell enough, but working on corporate characters at Marvel and DC offers a solid, if not spectacular, rate. Kirkman has preached the gospel of independent comics for years now, his pitch carrying a lot more weight now that The Walking Dead, a title he had a hand in creating, has ended up being such a considerable ratings draw on television. And as digital comics market share develops, deciding to go independent might become even less of a gamble.
For many years, the hardest challenge for an indie comics creator was simply getting noticed by neighborhood comic book stores. The industry is strange in that one company has a monopoly on distribution, so retail shop owners normally get their new stock from one order form. To make matters worse, just two publishers are responsible for at least 75 percent of the market for print books, so you can imagine that the order book gives the primary focus to DC and Marvel. Sellers have to spend a lot of time to find independent titles in the order book. The average independent comics creator struggles to get the work in front of shop owners, let alone fans.
But that could be evolving as more and more comics are being sold for computers and tablets. On the web, independent writers and artists do not have to face the disadvantage of paying higher per-book print prices on smaller print runs. And there are many storefronts and sales tools sellers can utilize to sell their original work at favorable prices. Needless to say, the better known platforms will continue to cater to the big publishers, but the digital store is not as limited as the space in a physical store.
Nor is independent comics just for novices. Longtime creators including Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera have all in the past year announced their plan to start working on creator-owned titles, though not all of them will do independent work exclusively. The independent world allows all creators the option to profit or fail from their characters. Robert Kirkman believes the future lies in a world where comic book creators use the Big Two as a professional step, a learning center to practice their talent before switching to the (possibly) more profitable opportunities in the field of independent comics owned by creators. As the indie market grows, we can find out if his vision becomes the industry standard.