We don’t talk comics all that often here on Fanbyte, but it’d be a little silly to pretend that comic books haven’t had a truly immeasurable impact on pop culture over the last hundred or so years, with particular emphasis on the last decade and change. And like all other aspects of human society, the comic books industry is undergoing its own hardships brought on by the ongoing spread of COVID-19.
Diamond Comic Distributors, the absolute largest, most-pivotal distributor of comic books in the United States, has told printers that it is no longer accepting new shipments to its warehouses, according to industry insiders speaking with Bleeding Cool and an independent corroboration from ComicBook. This means that Diamond can only ship its existing stock to comic book stores across the country, and once that’s gone, that’s it.
The potential impact of this move would, under normal circumstances, be difficult to overstate. Diamond has exclusive distribution deals with Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, IDW, Image, BOOM!, and a dozen other smaller publishers, and with its distribution infrastructure off the table, the greater Comic Book Industry™ has no existing path for getting new comic books onto store shelves. Diamond also distributes magazines, toys, board games, and non-comic books to shops around the country, who rely on it for an enormous percentage of the goods that they sell.
Were these normal circumstances, a drought from Diamond would trickle down into countless store closures, provided that Marvel, DC, et al. were unable to spin up their own distribution networks in record time. “Every week, every Wednesday, they [Diamond] send the new comics and we pay them. Comic publishers like Marvel and DC never actually directly interact with me in any legal way,” said William Carpenter, owner and operator of Long Beach Comics in Long Beach, Mississippi. “Diamond kind of inserted themselves as the go-between, and now that they’re there, they’re an essential part of the process.”
“Theoretically comics can and probably will exist without them, but taking them out of the equation is a messy idea,” Carpenter said over Discord. “Some smaller publishers like TKO do it [self-distribute], I’ve ordered books straight from them without dealing with Diamond, but that’s only one example, I can’t keep my shop afloat from just selling TKO books.”
These aren’t normal circumstances, of course — these are COVID-19 circumstances, and according to Carpenter, comic shop owners first have to deal with the reality of closing their doors, before they have the luxury of worrying about future shipments from Diamond.
“We went ahead and decided to close our shop early last week, ahead of most everyone else in the area. Unfortunately this means we’ve had to deal with two weeks of invoices, two weeks of new stock we have to pay for even though we don’t have an actual store to sell it in,” Carpenter said. “I’m sure if I hassled them about it, they [Diamond] might take some of it back, they’ve been offering some full refunds on a publisher-by-publisher basis. But the onus of getting those balls rolling is on me. Odds are good we’re just gonna have to pay for all that new stock and hopefully it’s still relevant by the time we can reopen.”
It’s difficult to know what the immediate future looks like for the comic book industry. Without its major distributor, and with fewer and fewer shops remaining open to ship to, we may see a hard pivot to digitally distributed comics from the major players.
Digital comics have been available for years, of course, but they’ve always been anchored by the fact that physical books were still being printed, and as such, the best practices of that industry must still be observed. In a world where all major comics are digital-only, authors and artists would no longer be bound by the physical dimensions of a standard page. Furthermore, publishers like Marvel and DC would have to justify keeping comic book prices where they are, without being able to point to the passed-on cost of printing and distribution.