Is the sky falling? Or so bright we gotta wear shades?

10Sep10

Settle in kids, this is going to be a long one…

My friend Jake posted an interesting entry on his blog today that I wanted to take the time to address, because I’m a bit of a masochist in that regard.  Check out his post here.  Seriously, click on that link first.

In Jake’s post, he brings up the most important point, which is that the amount of discussion is coming out of people’s love for comics.  We aren’t going on and on because we hate comics, but because we’re trying to figure out how to make them work for everyone, and at the end of the day, the key is that shared joy from comics, even when we disagree!

I’m going to start on the left hand side, and run down my personal point of view on each point here…this is just me giving my gut reaction to each one, trying to put down a comprehensive response to every point would both take an eternity, and get redundant at some point.

Less Overall Continuity – Less continuity in super hero comics does not inherently mean something is more new reader friendly.  I hear this said over and over again, but there’s better ways to make books new reader friendly without diminishing the continuity.  Marvel’s front page introductions are a great example.  I think continuity is one of the things that makes super hero comics so unique, and the trick is creating jumping on points that are easily grasped.  Blackest Night and Sinestro Corps War worked very well in part because the “quick pitch” for the books was simple and easily grasped.

More Graphic Novels – I think this point is a tad vague, and I’d be interested in exactly what Jake means here.  Look at the shipping list every week, the only thing in the graphic novel arena you don’t see a plethora of is original superhero GNs, but there’s a mountain of backlist already in that area.  If anything, there’s too many graphic novels at this point.

Less Character Saturation – Yeah, I don’t think anyone will disagree here.  It is a tricky balance, though.  The market clearly wants and can support more than one Batman book on a monthly basis, so there’s no reason not to publish more than one.  However, where do you draw the line?  There is also the reality of striking while the iron is hot.  A lot of people have jumped on Deadpool this year for too many titles, but the reality is Marvel has sold a TON more Deadpool comics in the last twelve months than if they had simply had one Deadpool ongoing monthly book.

Less Uncontained Crossovers – I understand the frustration with crossovers from a certain angle, but the fact is, when done reasonably well, crossovers boost sales and interest.  As a recent example, Shadowland has caused my monthly Daredevil sales to spike by more than double because Marvel put a big push into the crossover.  Over the last decade, Marvel and DC have done a fair amount of both of books that are self contained and that are part of crossovers, and the audience’s preference is clear.  In the last ten years, has any book that was not the “Hush” run of Batman beat the sales numbers of books like Blackest Night, Civil War, and Secret Invasion?

Less Super-Hero Books – Again, this is vague, and I’ll be tackling this one more later on in this post.  Less super-hero books on the market?  Why?  If you don’t want them, don’t buy them, the market will eliminate them soon enough.  Less super-hero books at your local retailer?  Well, ask that retailer why they don’t have more non-spandex material, then!  But to be honest, it’s not as bad as you think!

More New Characters – Let’s be honest, there’s tons of new characters every single week in ever facet of the business of super-hero comics.  The trick is making them stick.  Invincible is one of my favorite comics, and people forget that it launched as part of a new super-hero line from Image that consisted of a total of five or six books.  And Invincible was the only book to make it past issue six, and it only did so because Kirkman is tenacious as a pit bull.  Another good example is Runaways and the Tsunami launch.  Runaways was the only successful book out of that line, and even then, the book has floundered to find an audience ever since Vaughn left it for greener pastures.  The problem isn’t new characters.  It’s getting them to stick around and finding their audience!

Better Stories – I personally think there’s a lot of good to great stories out there, so maybe I’m too biased to comment here.  There’s a fair amount of average to meh books, too, so the greatness tends to get drowned out sometimes.  Also, sometimes a story is good, it just doesn’t do it for you personally.

Price Drop – I already commented on this issue a while back here at the blog.  I know prices are freaking people out, and we’re definitely seeing some resistance on it from full line buyers.  I have yet to see any real proof, though, that a price drop of any significance would instantly create a mass influx of new comic buyers.  Without that, I doubt you’ll see a price drop any time soon.

Embrace New Technologies and Audiences – When you’re talking about technologies, there’s one big thing I think making the big companies have a bit of trepidation.  Namely, the music and news industries.  Those two businesses have been radically altered and morphed by their lack of any kind of coherent plan when it came to dealing with the internet.  They’ve seen the perceived value of their product reduced to virtually zero.  If that happened to comics, the industry would evaporate.  Does it seem like comic companies are moving slowly?  Yes.  But that’s because they’ve watched many before them fall through the floor after stepping on the “J”, and they don’t have a cheat sheet handy telling them to step on the “Y”.

Audience Diversification – This is the first one where my ears really perk up.  I sell comics to all ages and both genders very well.  Period.  Audience diversification is not even remotely a problem, from my point of view.  The real problem is audience size.  Anyone who thinks that the audience for comic material isn’t diverse really needs to remove their blinders.

Genre Diversification – Just today I have sold True Blood, Serenity, Invincible, American Vampire, Walking Dead, Sin City, The Sixth Gun, Tiny Titans, Amazing Screw-On Head, and Supergod, in addition to various super-hero comics.  The only entertainment genre I see missing there is a comic equivalent to soap operas and trashy romance novels.  If you think there isn’t enough different genres available in comic form, may I suggest flipping through Previews in its entirety sometime?

Super Heroes Should Be Kid Friendly – I sort of agree here, but I really think the problem has been the crossover of adult characters into kid-friendly versions.  I’m with Stuart Immomen, Wolverine never should have had a kid Wolverine version.  Can you imagine HBO trying to do a kid-friendly version of Sopranos?  Of course not.  Some characters and stories are meant for a certain audience.  You can have adult super-heroes, but I think making those same characters kid-friendly is the wrong way to go.

Less “Grim and Gritty” –  See directly above, with the caveat that I think things have definitely gotten less grim and gritty over the last ten years on the whole, it is just that the blogosphere loves to go nuts when a book like Rise of Arsenal comes out.

More Universe Continuity, More Four Color Heroics, and Better Continuity – I think all three of these tie together.  I do think this is where things are going, with a sort of living universe breaking out, especially at DC.  Regardless of quality, the Brightest Day books have been surprisingly interesting to read how the continuity is playing out across multiple books at the same time.  They aren’t direct crossovers, but there are definitely echoes of events in one book showing up in others, creating an overall sense of world that is very satisfying.  From what I understand, DC is intending to make these ties stronger in the future, and I am all for it.

So there’s my initial reaction.  The biggest point I want to make is about audience and genre diversification.  They’re both already quite diverse, the challenge is making the audience bigger.

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One Response to “Is the sky falling? Or so bright we gotta wear shades?”

  1. Tim, I agree actually on all points. In my post I made a vague, but very essential note that the trend setters, the largest and most stable financially and fanbase wise are the ones who I direct most of the criticism towards. I’ll be blunt, it’s Marvel and DC. Though both have definite exceptions (Vertigo, etc) the majority of their books are targeted to a narrow demographic of full color, name recognizable, super-hero comic readers. This reader group is not supporting the same number of comic shops it did 30 years ago. This tells me that the group might be shrinking over time, and that, while they are a wonderful fanbase, they aren’t the fanbase that will keep the medium thriving for another 30 years.

    There are plenty of good stories, new characters, and all that on the shelves. The reasons I think they are made hard to stick as you might say has to do with the other sides of that diagram.

    Hehe, and I do note where on the diagram you tend to fall 😉

    I actually don’t think the sky is falling at all, check out a few posts back in my blog and you’ll see a post that even uses those terms to make that exact point. My notion in writing this post was to make people active, to do MORE of the things that are already going right, and less of the things that tend to make the issue murky.

    The diagram was meant as a hard and fast thing, not comprehensive or all encompassing, it’s why I put “more” and “less” instead of “stop doing X”.

    As for points that need clarification:

    Graphic novels vs trades: Most of what is called a graphic novel are collected editions of single issues. I mean bonafied graphic novels, written and plotted along a different story pacing. A lot of super hero books are now written this way regardless of their release schedule as monthlies (writing for the trade as it were), and I think the writing suffers for it. Again, the further you move from the big two, the less this problem occurs.

    Less super-heroes: Dovetails with the saturation point, and again concerning new titles from the big two. New super-hero titles are released, relaunched, and started constantly, whereas other genres tend to be started less so. In addition, the method in which most super-hero stories are told (ad infinitum, until cancellation, with a pseudo soap opera style) stifles that actual range of stories being told. People will say that’s what sells, but you can train an audience with repetition and stimulus, it’s part of how we got to the place we are to begin with.

    And a last note on audience diversification: We are most certainly diverse, but proportionally that diversification is lopsided towards males over 20. This one should have been more specific. I’d like to see us have the same proportional spread as some foreign markets. i.e. Keep the males over 20 that we have, and get more women of all ages and children in general. I would say the proportion is tilting away from the stereotype, but by no means would I agree we are at 50/50. The women comic readers tend to read comics from overseas. From personal experience, virtually all the female comic readers I know who buy American comics, buy fully twice as much manga.

    Also, the query will come up as to why I’d pick on the big two more than the others. It’s because, though financially they are less inclined to do so, they are also fiscally the most stable point from which to initiate change on a wide scale through both the industry and fan-base.


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