Monday, December 12, 2011

Change is good. Try it . You'll like it!

I've been reading comic books steadily since I was about 10 years old. The majority of those comics have followed the exploits of super powered beings in masks and flashy costumes. But I've noticed a trend developing these past couple of years. The percentage of superhero books in my weekly stack has steadily dwindled while my overall enjoyment in what I'm reading has increased significantly.

Now I love superheros as much as the next person. But let's be honest. There is only so much you can do with these characters that hasn't already been done. When you are writing characters that have existed for close to 75 years (I'm looking at you Superman), it's hard to find new and exciting situations to put them in. Occasionally you get something you've never been given before and it stands out. Sadly, more often than not, the stories are derivative and lack any real tension because you know the good guys always have to make it out safe and sound. But more than just being the same old thing, my tastes have changed because I've finally learned to see comics for what they truly are: a medium and not a genre.

Comic books are as diverse as movies, novels, and television shows, and yet their sales are dominated by one type of book. It's as though a large portion of the readership has a "superheroes or bust" attitude when it comes to buying their books. If a title doesn't have a cape or a pair of spandex pants on the cover they don't want to be bothered with it. I understand this. To a degree. Most of us grew up on superhero comics. It's familiar. It's safe. And there is nothing wrong with that. Read what you like. But do you always want the same thing? I love pizza but I don't eat it for every meal. After all, variety is the spice of life.

This imbalance appears unique to comics. You really don't see it with other forms of media. There may be certain movie goers who only watch action movies or romantic comedies, but on the whole no one genre overshadows the others. This is a good thing. It not only exposes viewers to something new and intriguing but it allows the industry as a whole to flourish. That said, it should come as no surprise that the comic book industry appears to be waning.

Walking into a comic book shop is no different than going to a movie theater, turning on your television or stepping into a book store. You'll see superheros, westerns, horror, crime noir, espionage, and hentai. OK so you won't see that last one in a movie theater (at least not one you'd like to go to) but you get my point. It's all there for the taking and yet so few people take advantage of it. And it has nothing to do with talent. The talent is there. For example, Ed Brubaker is considered to be one of the best writers in comics. His run on Captain America is legendary. Attaching his name to a book over at Marvel is practically a license to print money. Yet Brubaker struggles to get people to pick up his creator-owned work, Criminal. Now I don't know about you, but when I enjoy an actor's performance in a particular movie, I tend to check out their other work. Not so much in the world of comics. I find this strange. If you like their writing on one book it's not beyond reason that you will like them on something else. The same rule applies to genres as well as creators. If you like a police procedural on television you'd probably like one in a comic book. All you have to do is give it a shot.

The industry needs books that do not center around superheroes. That is how the industry that we all love will grow. We need a new Walking Dead or Scott Pilgrim. Something that will draw in new readers who wouldn't normally pick up a comic book. If you truly love comics then I think it is important to know that there are writers and artists out there releasing some of the most inventive, well-crafted books the industry has ever seen. Once I pared down the number of superhero books I picked up and starting replacing them with independent and creator-owned books I finally realized what I had been missing. I remembered why I love this art form and I started having fun again.

We all like what we like. And it's difficult to try new things when what you like seems to be working for you. But every once in a while it's nice to try something different. If you try something out and you don't like it, that's cool too. Not everything will be a winner. The quality has to be there. But open yourself up to new worlds and characters. Who knows, you may find your new favorite thing in the world.



Dafixer's Hideout said...

Interesting thoughts, however I've heard them before being almost old enough to be crusty but too young to chase those kids off my lawn and all. But at my age range I've almost heard it all. "Comics are dying." "Super Heroes are killing comics" "Kids don't read anymore." "The big two companies are killing smaller comic publishers." "To Serve Man is a cook book." "Get away from my daughter. . ." Oh wait, skip that last one.

Now back in my younger days when they just invented the iWheel and Ben Franklin was trying to lure girl to his house to help him "string his kite" (nudge nudge, wink wink) - people were complaining that Super Heroes were the problem with comics. This was in the 1980's just before Crisis and during Secret Wars, when you couldn't throw a dead Robin II without hitting a comic store and the boom of the 1990's was only a twinkle in DC & Marvel's eyes and Image Comics wasn't around to publish comic that were 55% splash page, 0% story. Like your post there was a cry for different type of comics, the logic being that there were just too many Superheroes and there's only but so much you can do with them. (If this sounds similar then it is. If it doesn't, it still is but one needs to get ones hearing checked.) This was said by comic fanzines, convention attendees and shop owners - who curiously all resembled Comic Book Guy way more then Matt Groening intended.

There are three significant reason I disagree with this notion. The first being that shortly after these cries went out to stop Super Heroes from ruining comics and America and the minds of our belove damn dirty apes (I call them son and daughter these days), Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, Alex Ross and that ilk hit the scene and demonstrated that yes, you can in fact find other things to do with super heroes that don't involve special pricing at the Bunny Ranch.

Secondly, there are and have been plenty of other type of comics on the market. Harvey Pecar was publishing his own stuff back then, Heavy Metal was all the rage (especially with teeners who noticed hair where there was no hair before), there was EC, Eclipse, Doctor Who comics and other British imports (like Judge Dredd and Stontum Dog.) There were a whole slew of indy publishers not doing Super Heroes. Also Marvel and DC had many other types of comics out, including novel adaptations, war and western stories and the occasional funny book. In fact there hasn't been an era where there wasn't variety - its jus that, for the most part Super Hero sell better then the others. Whose to blame there? The consumer or the publishers? Too many blame the Super Hero.

Third and lastly - comics and Super Heroes are made for each other. Super Heroes work best in comics. Other kind of story might or might not work but they have other media they work well in. Okay it's true that today's world iso one where any up and coming actor has to have a Super hero movie on the resume - but that's only because CGI is the bridge that makes Super Heroes work in movies today. Yesterday the best you got was Superman, Rocketeer and (God help us) Buckaroo Banzai. the TV show back then were fill with high end suck-a-tude and Eddie's father walking to the tones of suicide music because he had an anger issue. People today speak fondly about that Hulk TV show but that's because they haven't watched it again in 20 years and they forgot the "Death of" movie. So even if we got some okay to good movie, Super Heroes still work best in comics because a comic doesn't have to worry about a CGI budget.

So agree or disagree I respect anyone's opinion (and I respect it even more when it completely agrees with everything I say), I just thought I'd give you my take on your post. Keep those great shows coming.

Christopher John (@Christopher2814) said...

Thank you for taking time out to comment. I was hoping someone found the article interesting enough to join the discussion.

I think it's important to point out that I do not think superhero books are ruining comics, nor do I think they should go away. I couldn't agree with you more that superheroes and comics go together like PB&J or rice and beans. I'm merely suggesting that the vast majority of readers only pick up superhero books, and are thus missing out on some fantastic work. Unfortunately because of this many books either find themselves being cancelled or fail to find the audience that they truly deserve. I believe comics as a whole suffer because of this.

I do also think that the comic book readership is getting older and it doesn't appear as though we are being replaced by our younger counterparts. I don't think superhero books are enough to bring new people in to the shops. Now if I'm really being honest, maybe nothing will. Maybe comics are a dying art form. I know that many people think digital is the answer. They think there are tons of new readers out there who either don't have a local shop near them, or would rather not go to one, but they would download the books on their PCs/tablets. It's too early to tell if that is true. I hope it's at least partly true. I love comics and want them to be around forever.

But at the end of the day, whether or not diversity in your stack will help bring in new readers or help to grow the industry is really not my chief concern. I think it's important to try new things and to support creators who are releasing some amazing independent work. Just because a book doesn't have Wolverine in it doesn't mean it's not worth reading.

Thanks again for the comment and I hope you keep coming back to to the site.

Tressina Bowling said...

Coming from my own standpoint, I'm MUCH more likely to pick up independant titles nowadays than ever. I love the world of superheroes, don't get me wrong, but I don't always find their stories nearly as interesting anymore. It may be because I'm getting older(yaaaay) but I also think that it may be a result of the company I now keep.
I have more friends now, than ever, that are trying to get themselves and their work (art or writing) out there for the public to see. Because of this I have a greater appreciation of indies and who they come from.
Yes the two big companies dominate the market, but I think indies are becoming the heart of it. I hear so many comic readers bitch and moan about the books they're reading. "This story arc is terrible." "Can you believe the costume they're wearing now?" "I buy it every week because I always have, but I never read it." My reaction now is always going to be, "Stop buying books you hate reading. There are fantasic comics out there that have nothing to do with superheroes!!!" Then I usually throw a copy of Chew at them.
I hope the art form of comics isn't dying...I don't think it is. Every year, each convention I attend is getting bigger and bigger. Films and TV have become a big part of that, the industry is evolving, which can also bring new readers. But I think a great deal of the "life-timers" come for the supes but stay because of the indies. I know I am.

P.S. Great article to start off with Chris!!!

Christopher John (@Christopher2814) said...

Thanks Tressa!!

Nothing irritates me more than when I hear someone complain about a book week after week and still buy it. It's like "Do you realize that you are paying for this? You don't owe the Fantastic Four anything. They are not real people." Again, I love superheroes but I don't know what I would do without Scalped, Chew, The Unwritten, Fables, etc. My world would be a dark place.

Comics of all types are definitely feeding the larger entertainment market and that is a great thing. There are so many television shows and movies that are born out of comics it's ridiculous. I think this helps (at least I hope it does) motivate independent creators to keep at it because they know there is a whole world of opportunity out there. If you get your book in the right hands who knows what will happen.

I think blogs like this one can go a long way in helping creator owned books find an audience. Your readers and listeners are very likely to pick up something they may not have based on your recommendations or just hearing you talk about it.

Tressa, have you ever read Fables? If you like Once Upon a Time you should really check it out. It comes out monthly in singles but I was late to the game so I grabbed the first 3 hardcovers. I love it!!

Tressina Bowling said...

We actually have the hardcovers of Fables too! Danny has read them (and loves them), but I haven't had a chance to. It's high on my "next" list. :)

And yes blogs like this can go a long way. I think it's something that we're also trying to accomplish with the podcast as well. We purposely try to get independent creators as guests in hopes of spreading the word to our listeners.

Dafixer said...
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Dafixer said...
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Dafixer said...

I would suggest that all those working in the comic industry take a "By Any Means Necessary" approach to things. The fact of the matter is that one cannot argue that in 20 short years the current crop of comic fans will be heading to their LCS' in a Hoover-Round. (Hopefully they'll invent 3-D bottle bottom lenses for old men so I can catch Son of Potter II: Racking UP More Cash when it comes out in 2031).

I think one of the problems is that comics as a community refuse to give up the old ways - we live in iPad world but the comic community is still living in the days of VHS and music television that actually shows music videos. I hear Diamond Distributors (the Corleone family of the comic book industry) is in trouble and the smell of fear is in the air. As if that antiquated bully of a company didn't deserve to have been put out to pasture with competition a long time ago. They practice comic distribution the way Tony Montana handles guys who look at his sister.

Comics are not going any where, but they will change. The old paradigm only works because we are so used to it that deep in our hearts we can't see another way.

But the old way is already on it's death bed clinging to life by keeping fresh but unwilling donors locked and drugged in the basement due to madness from fear of death. Digital might or might not be the answer, but it is most certainly the shape of things to come.

(One aside. I am still wondering why comic companies do not advertise the product during comic movies and TV shows. They could buy some space on that flip-crap theaters show before they turn the lights off. I'd rather get an ad about the latest event then a Subaru commercial and word puzzles that are lamer then the first round of Wheel of Fortune. Here's a clue they don't have to buy: How about advertising the product on those animation everyone's putting out these days. Don't DC and Marvel own those things? How come you never get an ad about Batman comics on Batman related direct to DVD animations? I'm just saying. . .)

Christopher John (@Christopher2814) said...

I feel the same way you do about the lack of advertising. DC did just run a series of commercials promoting their "New 52" initiative which did run in movie theaters. I believe they aired on Cartoon Network as well, but don't quote me on that. It's a small step, a VERY small step, but hopefully a sign of things to come. Also, Vertigo a full-page ad in New Yorker magazine promoting Scott Snyder's "American Vampire." Curiously, Vertigo is an imprint of DC. I'd like to see Marvel get in the ad game. Even if they just ran them during the Super Hero Squad to start.

I'm planning a new article on the affect digital distribution could have on comics as a whole, and independent creators specifically, so stay tuned.

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