This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on January 29, 2017.
One question that regularly confronts American comics creators, retailers, and fans is: how do we grow the medium? While the heroes of Marvel and DC Comics may dominate theaters now, comics remain a niche. So how do you find new readers and show off this wonderful form of storytelling? Well, one option is to transform your comic into a massively successful television show that is talked about non-stop and use then use it to lure people into reading the comic. That sounds like good work, if you can find it.
That’s exactly what writer Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard have been able to do with The Walking Dead though. The success of the comics’ television adaptation has helped Kirkman fund his own projects as well as others at his Image Comics’ imprint Skybound Studios. It’s an instance where success outside of comics has boosted comics, including the regular inclusion of The Walking Dead on the (now defunct) New York Times Best Seller’s List for Graphic Novels. Kirkman and Adlard aren’t resting on their laurels though. They’ve got a new idea for finding new comics readers and it arrives this upcoming Wednesday.
The Walking Dead #163 lands on February 1st and it will only cost 25 cents. You read that right. For the cost of a single quarter, you can get an entire 32-page issue of The Walking Dead. That’s only about 8% of the standard $2.99 issue. Of course, 163 seems like a daunting number, but this has been designed as a jumping on point in the wake of the last storyline “The Whisperer War”. Readers should find everything they need in these pages to enjoy the comic and continue reading if they like it.
Why Sell a Comic For Only a Quarter?
The answer to this question may seem obvious, but there are more layers to it than you might think. The simple response is: to sell a lot of comics. What else can you get for a quarter these days? Maybe a piece of bubble gum? It’s easy to lay down a quarter, especially when you get at least 15 minutes of entertainment in return. The better answer to his question is who exactly is trying to be sold on The Walking Dead.
In the world of comics shops there are both lapsed readers and those who have never tried the series. For these Wednesday warriors with pull files and a dedication to reading comics weekly, The Walking Dead is just one thing they’re not engaged with. Clearly the option to add one more to the stack for only a quarter is enticing. They’re not the only ones who might be lured in by this offer though.
There’s also the possibility of transforming non-comics readers or those who don’t frequent comics stores, opting for online retailers or mainstream bookstores instead, into interested visitors. It’s important to remember that a vast majority of Americans don’t read comics as they’re published in the direct market. They’re the biggest untapped resource for the medium, and they also probably see a quarter as a very low cost to give something new a try.
Can It Possibly Succeed?
The next question is whether selling The Walking Dead #163 can actually succeed in building a new audience for the comic. “If you build it, they will come” may have worked in Field of Dreams, but we’re all busy people and real life isn’t a movie. No matter how cheap the issue is, people must be aware of it and think it’s worth their time. Both of those tasks are more difficult than you might suspect.
Walking into a comic shop on Wednesday can be overwhelming with there often be around 100 new titles. Spotting a price tag of 25 cents in that ocean of product is no easy task. Simply making customers aware of the option will rely on the folks who run these stores. They’ll also have to work, alongside media sites like our own, to help people who typically don’t read comics aware of the opportunity. Knowing is only half of the battle. There also has to be a sales pitch beyond this issue being cheap. It has to be good and both shops and media have to stand behind that quality.
The success of this strategy will live and die by the work of local comics shops. They will have to remind their customers that this is happening, hand sell it as a worthwhile use of time, and find ways to seek out newcomers and fans of the show. There is potential to this concept, but the price tag alone isn’t enough. The Walking Dead #163 certainly could succeed and build a much larger audience for the comic in addition to the show, but it’s far from a sure thing.
What’s The Upside for Comics?
The cost of The Walking Dead #163 isn’t incidental either. Those 25 cents match up with 2017 being the 25th anniversary of Image Comics. They are the third largest publisher in North America and the biggest publisher of creator-owned and non-superhero comics. The Walking Dead has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, successes in their history. This issue isn’t just about building an audience for The Walking Dead, it’s about building an audience for comics.
If it can succeed in bringing brand new customers into a shop on Wednesday, then it will expose them to a whole world of new titles. They’ll see books like Saga, Deadly Class, and Shutter on the shelves as well, stories they might never have noticed otherwise. It’s the opportunity to give new readers their first try and expose them to a whole new medium. Even current readers might be encouraged to step outside of their typical comfort zone and read more Image or creator-owned comics.
The Walking Dead #163 isn’t just about selling one issue or hooking readers on one series. It’s about exposure. The 25-cent price point is a great start, but it’s no guarantee of success. That will depend on how fans, retailers, and others share it and spread the word. There is great potential in this issue though, a chance to keep spreading the word about the world of comics and the many great stores that specialize in them. Kirkman and Adlard should be applauded for creating that opportunity, and we can all hope they and other creators keep thinking of new ones.