NPOs as Comic Arts Community Stakeholders

In order to properly frame the problems of comic artists in terms of a nonprofit organizations’ ability to address those problems it is necessary to categorize comic arts specific NPOs. How many of these organizations exist, what are the resources at their command, and how do they apply those resources. The table below used the Guidestar website to create a list of comic arts nonprofits by searching for organizations that used key words such as “Comic Book,” “Cartoons,” and “Sequential Art” in their organization name and/or mission statements.

That process was not without limitations. It left out some organizations with broader missions that also do comic arts programs, such as the Society of Illustrators which runs New York City’s annual MOCCAfest and NPOs outside of the United States. It also leaves out academic organizations that may be considered nonprofits by many, such as the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum.

Three things became apparent in the process of compiling this list: First that there is a wide range of NPOs in terms of size as measured by gross receipts and assets. The second is that comic arts work in the nonprofit sector is a relatively new thing. The third was that when defining comic arts NPOs in terms of mission three types of organizations become clear.

Categorizing NPOs:

One thing became came when researching comic arts NPOs: organizational diversity is prevalent. There are Comic Arts NPOs in multiple NTEE categories, that focus on different beneficiary stakeholders, and have different levels of resources. Some have long legacies, while many more are young organizations. The Comic Arts dedicated portion of the nonprofit sector is relatively small. This list of 70 organizations, most of which are classified in the Arts, Culture, and Humanities NTEE Category which contains over 126,000 organizations as a whole. The largest Comic Arts organization, Comic Con International, with its $25 Million dollars in gross receipts in 2018 does not even crack the top 250 Arts, Culture and Humanities serving NPOs.

This wide array of organizations creates a need to categorize them as different stakeholders since these organizations will have different goals, different philosophies of change and different needs. In terms of establishing NPO relationships to other stakeholders, such as artists using, a power versus interest grid it makes sense to divide these organizations up by resources at their command (power) and/or by mission statement (interest).

Categorizing Comic Arts NPOS by Power:

Power can be thought of as financial resources available to an NPO. This particularly important for NPOs that specifically seek to address market failure as part of their mission. Below is a model for dividing up NPOs in terms of size for a power versus interest grid based on 2018 gross receipts.

Gross Receipts NPO Size Category

Up to $50,000 Small

$50,001 to $166,788 Medium

$166,789 to $1,887,195 Large

$1,887,196 or more Extra Large

The majority of comic arts NPOs (approximately 68%) are small, earning less than $50,000 a year. Many of these are listed as having $0 as gross receipts in because those 990s are Guidestar’s primary source for information. By far the largest NPO in the comic arts field is comic-con international, whose gross receipts for 2018 are greater than those of the entire rest of the field combined.

Categorizing comic arts by small, medium and large sizes becomes complex using this data in that many of the organizations are listed as having $0 in gross receipts. This is an inaccuracy inherent to Guidestar’s source material: the 990s. Organizations earning less than $50K may file an electronic certification as opposed to a 990, leaving a blank in Guidestar’s process filled with a zero. This creates a problem in calculating averages, medians and percentiles for the comic arts NPO community, which is best solved by categorizing those NPOs as “small” and beginning calculations with the organizations making more than $50K.

The lopsided top end of the field also creates issues with categorizing comic arts NPOs by size in a “small,” “medium,” and “large” model. The top three organizations in terms of gross receipts are bigger by more than one order of magnitude over the median size of NPOs with income greater than $50K. This indicates that a four size model with an “extra large” category would be appropriate to account for a small but powerful stakeholder group of Comic Arts NPOs. For purposes of my studies, organizations that would be graphed as high-end outliers in a box and whiskers plot are Extra Large. Organizations at or below the medium are considered Medium sized NPOs and those above the medium but below outlier status are Large sized NPOs. This creates the following categories of comic arts NPOS:

Categorizing NPOs by Mission:

Categorizing NPOs by interest level is more difficult in that there is no convenient metric for gauging degree of interest. Every NPO does, however, have a mission statement that is an insight to the NPOs values, and so defines interest levels in different aspects of and issues in the comic arts community.

Unfortunately, Guidestar is an ineffective tool for researching mission statements. Guidestar only presents the mission statements of NPOs as captured on their 990s or as submitted by the NPOs themselves. This makes the mission information on Guidestar incomplete.

One observation that can be made based on the sample that Guidestar does provide, however, is that Comic Arts NPO missions seem to fall into three general categories. The first are missions that seek to advance the artform itself. The second category are missions revolve around providing services to artists and other comic arts community members. The third group of comic arts related missions are those that use comics as a tool for achieving objectives in the broader community.

The first group, NPOs whose mission revolve around the advancement of the art form itself generally have missions written from the perspective of consumption of the comic arts. They seek to grow and educate the audience. The mission statements are often written without stating specific problems facing the comic arts community. The unstated problems are “not enough people are into comics” or “not enough people know about comic arts.” These organizations’ missions often involve elements of education and preservation.

NPOs whose mission are to serve members of the comic arts community generally state a social problem or market inefficiency in their mission statement that they seek to address. (Or a set of problems.) Generally the beneficiaries of these NPOs are artists, although there are NPOS that address other members of the community, such as the Comics Professional Retailers Association. These organizations also engage often in various degrees of social entrepreneurialism, most notably in the creation of conventions, festivals, and other recurrent but temporary marketplaces.

The third group are NPOs whose missions involve using comic arts for the greater social good. This includes but is not limited to organizations that provide comic books to hospitalized children, organizations that produce educational comics on social issues such as the immigrant condition to faith based NPOs that use comic books to spread their message. These NPOs differ from other comic arts NPOs in that the problems stated in their missions are not directly issues facing the comic arts community. These NPOs also show a high degree of social entrepreneurialism, entering the marketplace seeking to comic arts as a tool for networking in the marketplace.

Categorizing Comic Arts NPOs By Age: Comic Arts in the Nonprofit sector is not new, with the small Comic Book Club of Ithaca New York having started in 1976 followed by Comic Con International in 1977, but it is a relatively young field, with approximately 74% of the NPOs on this list being 10 years or older. It is interesting to note that this ten-year span matches the typical career length of comic artists surveyed at the 2020 Indie Comics Fair. There does not seem to ne much correlation between age of a comic arts NPO and its financial status, with small, medium, large and extra-large organizations being represented in many decades. However, looking at the age of these NPOs does reveal that in the past decade there has been a dramatic rise in the number of comic arts NPOs. This is an important observation that requires further study.

In general, there is a noticeable spike in interest in comic arts circa 2010: It was the beginning of an era when superhero themed movies dominated the movie box office due to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Crowdfunding was coming into prominence and notable heads of that industry such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo dedicated entire sections on their sites to comic books and graphic novel projects. Raina Telgemeier’s Smile published in 2010, marking the start of a decade of dominance for graphic novels created for children and young adults and published by more conventional publishers like Scholastic. These are all indicators of an increased interest in comic arts and also factors contributing to dramatic growth in resources for publishers and artists alike, but not causes in and of themselves.

The changes in the comic arts nonprofit sector more likely came due to broader social changes in the past decade. Most notably it is the decade of social media coming into its own, connecting members of the comic arts community in ways that they hadn’t before. Comic Arts Community Stakeholders (Artists, Fans, Retailers, Publishers, etc.) now have greater access to one another than ever before. This increased connectedness lead to a greater sense of community and increased social capital.

This decade is also one of financial growth following the Great Recession of 2008. A good portion of the population suddenly found their coffers refilled by 2010. Those extra resources combined with the social capital created by social media to create an environment where organized responses to problems in the comic arts community were possible.

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