Thursday, December 18, 2008

American Automakers Could Learn From Marvel Comics

Cross-posted at United Liberty

While searching through the comic book section at a Barnes and Noble in Emeryville, California, I was unsurprised to see that there were about five shelves dedicated to manga (the term for Japanese comic books) compared to only three for American graphic novels.

Like Japanese automobiles, Japanese comics and animation have infiltrated and taken over American culture. While American comic books and graphic novels still bring in more revenue than their Japanese competitors, with recent estimates showing the American market at $705 million compared to manga at $210 million stateside, the competition is fierce. DC Comics has started its own line of manga comics called CMX. The art of myriad American artists resembles manga, with artists like Chris Bachalo and Joe Madureira looking as if they stepped right out of the Tokyo scene. With the intense popularity of manga among younger generations, it is possible that American comics could be eclipsed by manga.

Like their American counterparts in the auto industry, the American comic book industry has been faced with bankruptcy. In 1998, Marvel Comics, one of the “Big Two” of comic book publishers along with DC, was operating under Chapter 11. In order to maintain its relevance, Marvel had to completely retool itself, changing editors in chief, involving itself deeper in film, toys and licensing and video games. It became a part of Toy Biz, a move that may have been humiliating to some involved.

The restructuring proved a lifesaver for Marvel. Only two years later, “X-Men” was released in theaters, bringing in $157 million in ticket sales. In an article released in 2003 on the website Comicbookmovie.com, it was noted that while Marvel’s shares traded at $6.75 in 1998, they were trading at $28.58 in 2003.

While I’m by no means a business expert, I think American automobile manufacturers could learn alot from Marvel’s experience. While Chris Matthews may have quickly dismissed Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s assurance that going into bankruptcy helps a company reorganize as Milton Friedman rhetoric which clashes with recent events, that is exactly what happened for Marvel. Giving the automobile manufacturers a chance to do the same thing is not a bad idea.

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