As the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic the Canadian (and International) comics community is being affected significantly on all fronts, primarily economically as businesses are under orders to stay closed, and comics distributing and brick and mortar sales have ground to a halt.
Comic Book Retailers
Determined to be “non-essential” during the health crisis, our many comic book and related retailers across the country are closed for day to day business. Many have had to look to alternate means to sell and distribute products, from online ordering and shipping, selling via social media, local deliveries and curbside pick-up. Most retail stores have to pay their commercial rent, which has not been suspended, as well as other bills. Many have had to lay off employees during the time of crisis. It is likely that some of these stores may not be able to weather a prolonged forced closure as weeks turn to months.
There are government loans being offered, interest free, with a forgivable component to help small businesses cover costs and keep employees on the payroll, but there are some concerns that comic shops may fall under the requirements and discussions continue with government leaders.
The only light is that when businesses begin to reopen under new measures, non-essential retail will most likely be among the first wave of businesses allowed to reopen and should be looking at models adapted by essential retail such as grocery stores and pharmacies… social distancing, limited numbers of customers in the shops, consider installing plexi-glass shields by the cash register, push for more “cashless” transactions with credit and/or debit. No one knows when this may start, but one hopes that May will see a loosening of the rules that require non-essential retail closed.
There is another major hurdle. As most stores receive their comics orders from US based Diamond Comics Distributors, they have not received any comics shipments since the last week of March. Products that were designated for April 1 and April 8 remain in Diamond’s New York state warehouses unpacked because of requirements that DCD close their doors to protect their workers.
No new comics to stores is a double-edged sword, in that stores that could still sell to regulars through curbside, delivery or shipping methods don’t have new product to sell. But on the flip side at least they don’t have to worry about inflated bills based on orders made when times were better.
On top of that, the printers in Quebec where most comics are printed are also closed for health concerns, to protect their workers. While some publishers have sought out alternate means for printing of graphic novels, which they continue to ship to book stores (most of whom are also shuttered).
When DCD does reopen, they will presumably pick up where they stopped, and what was due on April 1 will arrive in shops. Printers will need to be back on track as well, in order for that to work.
Conventions and Arts Festivals
As of now, as per government directives about social distancing and the banning of gatherings of more than 5+ people, all conventions and arts festivals have been cancelled or rescheduled up to late May, with some in June and July and even August also rescheduling to give their events some distance. Governments at all levels, as well as Health Canada cannot give an estimate to when they might return.
Personally, as the Comics Lead for Fan Expo HQ that has affected me and the creators and vendors who I work with as we had four events scheduled in March and April – one, Toronto Comicon, was outright cancelled, while events in Dallas and Orlando were postponed to June, and Calgary Expo has been rescheduled to July. The popular Toronto Comic Arts Festival as well as the Vancouver Comic Arts Festival had to be cancelled outright. Montreal Comic Con is still on in early July for the time being, Fan Expo Canada in late August and events after September 1 are still on the schedule.
Many online fans see active events and feel the need to deride or comment, declaring that they should cancel immediately, but the reality most promoters face is that they are beholden to contracts with facilities that are either government owned or regulated, and must wait for a decision from above before they can make changes so they proceed cautiously and are watching the news with the rest of us.
Creators are Adapting on the Frontlines
On a positive note, the creators themselves are mobilizing. My social media feeds are filled with active creators, doing commissions, raising money for food banks and to help retailers, or just staying active – doing online chats, live drawing sessions, and catching up on their backlog of work and creating new comics.
Artists concerned with loss of income, or slowed income, that are not in a position to turn to commissions and other online methods to earn money, should look at the CERB, which was expanded this morning to include people whose earnings have been limited significantly by corona virus.
I know people are extremely disappointed about the situation, but we are all understanding as most people get that we are doing this to help us get through this health crisis and save lives and prevent the hospitals from being overloaded. We are flattening the curve, and we have the utmost sympathy for everyone who has been affected by illness, or have lost a family member during this time of crisis.
My Grandmother passed away last Thursday, she did not have the corona-virus, but the place where she lived had a growing number of cases, so only a few members of our family had a chance to say goodbye in person. She was 98 and while it was her time, we are thankful for the care she received. We are not sure when we may be able to gather our family together for services to celebrate her life. It may be months before that is possible.
Please take care, we want to see you on the other side of this.
P.S. The Joe Shuster Awards
We here at the JSAs will be using the time to work on updating some of the links on our website as they are becoming woefully out of date.
Work will continue on preparing for the 2020 Awards, which will be handed out late summer as in previous years. Like the Doug Wright Awards we may be doing this online, which is something we have done before.
For the main categories, published works will be considered. For the Gene Day Awards we will continue to receive submissions until the end of June. Please send a copy of your self-published, non-distributed work that was published in 2019 to:
Director – Joe Shuster Awards
484 Oriole Parkway, Unit 305
Toronto, ON, M5P 2H8