Friday, August 22, 2014

Wrestling and Comics Part 4: The Independents

Is learning from indie comics even viable for indie wrestling given the structure of the biz?
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Everything I've discussed so far in this series has mainly concerned both mainstream comic books and wrestling. I've confined my references to the WWE, and to Marvel and DC comics. However, in both scenes, so called “indie” companies are routinely putting out top notch material. However, indie comic companies are succeeding while indie wrestling companies struggle. Looking at the recently revived Chikara shows that even popular and critically acclaimed indie wrestling can face rough times. Why the disparity?

Marvel and DC dominate the comics marketplace, making up over 70% of all comics purchased monthly. Superhero comics, as a genre, are what people typically think of when comic books are referenced. Both companies rarely stray from the genre. There is a recent trend of superhero comics straying further and further from the established tropes of the genre, the Eisner-winning Hawkeye a prime example. However, the indie companies are grabbing a larger and larger slice of the pie, with Image Comics leading the way, with IDW, Dark Horse, Boom, and Valiant, all notable companies, routinely putting out excellent comics. The Walking Dead is competing regularly with Spider-Man and Batman, fueled by the success of the television program, and Saga is the best comic being published right now. There's even discussion that it DC and Marvel are no longer the Big Two, but that Image belongs among them in a Big Three. Indie comic book companies publish every genre of comic book, and treat the comic as what it is, merely a format for any kind of story. Westerns, horror, sci-fi, adventure, comedy, and weird mixtures that are undefinable. Mixed with the rise of digital comics and the ever increasing number of minority creators, it is a growing market, one that has a bright future.

The WWE similarly dominates the wrestling market. Its only direct competition among wrestling companies on television is TNA, and with its leadership routinely in disarray, and television deal in jeopardy, it's not really taken seriously. However, indie wrestling companies are many and varied, covering various styles and ideals, often telling stories that would never be told in a WWE ring, or in matches that stray from the so-called WWE style. There are too many companies to name, but many feature many different style matches, featuring anything from straight comedy to ultra violent death matches, with everything in between. The amount of wrestling put out on a weekly basis nationwide is enormous, with only a comparatively small amount of it making it to television. Much like indie comics, they generally find success by filling niches that are ignored by the WWE.

Comparing the two is difficult, though. The rise of the Internet has changed both, allowing fans to follow indies from both comics and wrestling without having to track down a videotape of a match or a paper copy of their comic book. The core difference is that to get the biggest payday, wrestlers are always going to end up in the WWE at the end of the day. Even the most successful indie wrestlers cannot create the same level of income that the WWE can afford them, and certainly not the stability. In comic books, it has changed. Generally artists would make a name for themselves in the indies, and then progress to Marvel and/or DC. Now, with many indie comic companies giving creators a large cut and giving them ownership of the properties, creators are moving back to the indies, some exclusively. Ed Brubaker worked at DC, then Marvel, writing both amazing Batman and Captain America stories for each respectively, before recently signing an exclusive contract with Image, most likely because it gave him a combination of creative control and salary that is unattainable at either of the Big Two. No indie wrestling company can offer something to a wrestler that is comparable.

Will indie wrestling ever reach the stage where the scene's promotions can stand toe to toe with the WWE? There is certainly a possibility, but not in the near future. In the end of the day, the difference between the independent comic and wrestling scenes is a matter of infrastructure, business model, and organization. Comic book companies have a concrete way to get their product to stores, and online in the Comixology store. Almost everything relies on word-of-mouth to a certain extent, but there are fewer closed doors between anyone discovering an independent comic rather than an independent wrestler. A comic book from a publisher I've never heard of can sit right next to Iron Man at the comic shop or in Comixology. The same cannot be said for wrestling. If you're digesting mainstream wrestling, you have to go through WWE, and TNA to a lesser extent. A much more intricate infrastructure must exist before independent wrestling can do more than just exist as an unsubsidized farm system for the WWE.

Marvel and DC dominate comics books, but indie comics are carving out a larger and larger piece of the market. The WWE likewise dominates professional wrestling, but even popular indie companies sometimes struggle. By comparing comic books and wrestling, we see how important infrastructure and exposure is so essential to the survival of independent scenes.