Like the majority of comic publishers I spend a lot of time thinking about the state of the and steps to make it better - well, truthfully, steps to make my little corner of it better. After spending a lot of time thinking it over and discussing what everyone perceives to be the main elements ultimately causing the downfall of comics (the distributor monopoly, for example), I realized what the greatest problem and killer is really: the industry.
I believe all of the problems that individuals encounter "in the industry" originate from the itself. To start, comic companies often publish only for folks who happen to be in the industry comicvine. Comic publishers usually target their marketing towards those who are already here and creators tend to produce product only for folks who happen to be well-versed in industry. Very rarely does the idea of bringing new readers in really ever pop-up, which can be insane. That could be like Hollywood only creating films for folks who work in film and television. As wacky because it sounds, this seems to be the mentality of the at large.
Magazines like Cosmopolitan are fashion magazines, but their audience is the common woman (or girl) thinking about fashion and not members of the itself. Their advertising stretches beyond fashion industry trade publications and to the mainstream itself, where its buyers reside. Why short sell your books and then the 50,000 roughly members of the active comic community and not select thousands of people on the market who enjoy action movies?
Comic publishers aren't the only real ones at fault, either. Creators themselves are as big an obstruction to new readership as anything else. If you wish to know why, take a look at a modern comic versus one from as late as even the mid eighties and you'll see one very big difference. No, I'm not speaing frankly about paper or printing processes. The art itself is the main trouble with comics. Solid, clear storytelling has changed into a thing of the past. A new buyer will find modern comics unreadable because the solid storytelling of days past (along with gutters - remember, full page bleeds on every page get confusing) is gone.
Have you any idea why a lot of new readers are picking up Manga titles? It's since they're easier to see than US ones. Even with the flipped format, most Manga has easy enough storytelling that even the most uninitiated reader can follow what's going on and which panel comes next. This can't be said about most US titles (indy or mainstream). The truth that the current trend in the US is for over rendered, poorly thought out computer coloring, doesn't help readability at all.
Comics and comic art are becoming so inbred the only real ones who can stomach them are their sister-mothers. However it doesn't have to be that way.
Everyone will read comics if you will get yourself out of the industry mindset and start creating comics for readers as opposed to for an industry more thinking about John Byrne's latest social blunder than in buying your books.
Some places to take into account for your books (depending on its target audience) are non-chain book stores, new age shops, record stores (Tower is starting to really have a great selection of indy and small press 'zines), libraries, corner markets, magazines with a similar aspects of interest, schools, local area mailer compilations (such as the little coupon books you obtain in the mail), area events (concerts certainly are a great spot), swap meets, arcades or game stores. There's an endless listing of places that could be willing to transport your work in the event that you let them know it's out there. You might have to spend some funds to advertise. Get used to it. The old adage, "you have to invest money to make money," holds true for almost any business.
Here are some methods for making your books more accessible to general audiences:
1) Market your books outside of comic-specific areas. Figure out who might be thinking about your book and pursue those outlets. There are tons of places out on earth that could be willing to offer your comic...but they need to know it exists first. I've had success at art festivals, flea markets, record stores, sci fi magazines and more. Get as creative with your marketing and sales as you do with actually producing your book. It's worth the extra effort.
2) Eliminate full page bleeds on every page. Don't hesitate of negative space around your pages. It will in actuality start your pages and keep them from looking cramped.
3) Don't your investment gutters! Overlap panels are interesting from time to time, but gutters help to help keep the art readable and from blending together. They're also great for pacing in your storytelling.
4) If you're going to color your books, don't select the over-rendered look that most comics use. It's muddy and unclear. Look at animation or places like Disney Adventures for reference on coloring. Most "cartoony" books are well colored because they would like to make sure the task is readily accessible to readers of all ages. Its not all panel needs to be a fully digitally painted work of "art."
5) Consider storytelling. The main part of an amusing is that you may not lose your audience. If at any point your readers get confused concerning where to see next, then you've failed at your job as a storyteller. And, remember, "style" is not any excuse for poor storytelling (or poor artwork generally, but that's a rant for another time)
6) Don't have large blocks of text or dialogue in each panel. There's a classic unwritten rule in mainstream comics (and one that's been largely forgotten or ignored): do not have more than 26 words in any balloon or caption box. Anything more than that and the words will run together, potentially causing readers to skip over sections of what's on the page.
7) That one will probably cause any comic collector to cringe: eliminate issue numbers. Or, if you merely need them, put them in the indicia only. Issue numbers are among the big obstacles for new readers, especially in periodical product like comic books. A reader must be able to come in on any issue and not need to worry about having to see 10 back issues to learn what's going on. Sure you are able to let them know there are other stories they can read (and, which will be obtainable in trade paperback), but don't make those stories required reading. Follow Cosmo's lead (or Playboy's) and just have the month and year on each cover. Comics must be entertainment first and foremost. Get out of the collectible mindset.
8) Your investment mantra, "comics aren't just for kids anymore." It's old, played out and is part of the death sentence of the industry. Creators have spent so long trying to prove that comics may be for adults that they've forgotten to construct the following generation of fans by only making comics for older fans that are already in comics. Without young readers there's no future in the industry. As an additional part of the thought, because your comic has adult language, nudity and graphic violence doesn't automatically make the book for adults. Vertigo and "Ultimate" writers take note.
9) Be prepared to get the hands dirty and do some work. Publishing is a company and, in the beginning, you may find yourself putting in just as much time marketing as you do creating. That's not just a bad thing.
My heresy will end with this particular statement: the only path to save comics may be to allow the comic industry, because it exists right now, shrivel up and die. It's traveling because it is, with everyone racing to tear whatever pieces they can get from its still (barely) living corpse. The industry isn't one's heart of comics and didn't make sure they are, so dare to be different. Pay the most recent issue of the comic industry death watch, Wizard. Disregard the party line that an indy book will sell significantly less than 250 copies - there's some sort of outside of the Geppi chokehold.
A little bit of inspiration for you personally: Nifty's main title, the Cadre, sells over 5000 copies per issue and 90% of that's outside of the comic industry. Not harmful to a black and white, mainstream style super hero comic.