Monday, September 01, 2008

INDUSTRY RANT: Passion of the Comics

Well, haven't done one of these in a while, and it's kind of topical now, what with Kirkman's plea to save comics...

I dunno, that just seemed, odd, to me.
But, hell yes, can't argue more creator-owned comics wouldn't be a darn cool thing!

Anyway, my buddy Rashad (one kick ass comics head) had a journal up on DeviantArt about comic fans needing to "chill", in relation to making some changes in the US industry, for the better. Be that more creator-owned comics, or some actual, you know, change and growth, to their beloved superhero (registered trademark/copyright Marvel/DC) comics!

And yeah, while I agree with that, I don't think the ownus of change is on the fans, or at least, the "readers", I think it's more on the powers-that-be, or the "powers-that-will-be"!

So here's my response, or passionate rant, that mostly sums up my observations to what's needed to truly move the US comics industry forward:

The US comics industry is incestuous, and is only concerned with milking money from it's existing, dwindling fanbase. And because of that, it's core fanbase are only concerned with getting more of what they're spoon fed by the big two.
Look, it's business, and through other media, they aren't forced to innovate and bring in a new audience. They can keep wrangling dollars out of the aging fanbase, and not really giving too much effort to new readers.
It's not really on the fan base though, there gonna want what they want, for the most part.
It's gonna take something new changing the game; digital, manga, etc, or a corporate focus to get new readers at the cost of existing ones.
There's a lot of things that are great about the current market, but most of it is built on old outdated standards, from production, to story, to quality, to distribution. Soup to nuts, the US market is still built around the disposable entertainment newsstand model it left behind decades ago.
To have a better quality product, one only need look East or West, manga as many point out, tell natural story arcs, more than never ending serializations (only concerned about maintaining the status quo for licensing), and European comics have much higher production quality from their slower production schedule emphasizing art over all, instead of a new book every 30 fucking days!! To say nothing of either’s wider focus in genre, tone, and style.
To put it bluntly, it’s a mess.
But if it’s clear to a layman like me what’s lacking, than surely something can be done.
As I said, it’ll just take some kind of paradigm shift. Because the fans don’t want it (by in large), and the corporations that run/own/are the big two (that do what, 70/80% of US comics?) don’t either. The publishing divisions are just farm systems for other media and licensing, that's what Marvel/DC comics are.
But, with a new generation embracing manga, and webcomics, as much or more than the stale US market (hey, don’t get me wrong, there’s a ton of good shit in it too, despite itself, but it’s approach is completely ass backwards and not looking forward), who knows what may come.
Digital will undeniably play a part, or most likely change the game, no outcry for tangible reading can stop the economics of it, it’s just a matter of a better reader most likely (and yes, there’ll always be print… or at least for the foreseeable future, to some extent, but not as the norm), and/or time.

And yeah, it’s funny, the US market had the tools, and the model in place, with things like Ultimate Marvel, and All Star DC. You could roll out new contemporary retellings of your core characters/stories, which you’ll HAVE to do eventually (as you point out, not many concepts are built like the X-Men where by it’s very nature, a school for mutants, it’s built to have legacy and change... but hey, just cause they keep adding (or subtracting) mutants from their roster, don't confuse that for actual change), while still telling the current continuity, and bringing those stories growth and an actual end. All while being massively epic, on a scale beyond any other medium. You’ve got your existing stories for your aging fanbase, and new contemporary stories for new fans (and those that enjoy that as well). Then you can just repeat that model. :)
The problem is, then they'd have to actually invest in finding that new market...

Otherwise, as things are, there’s never any real change, and only the die hardest of the die hards, won’t get burnt out, or just plain burnt, by that! (which is pretty much what you have now, perhaps the movies etc bring back some lapsed readers/fans, but do they really bring in new fans in any large number?)
Every death, undone.
Every change, swept away.
It’s frustrating, dumb, and just lame.
And none of it serves story, which is what ideally, we’d all like to see.

Or ya know, outside serialization, creator-owned or story driven material, if it’s good enough, will live on. Case in point, Watchmen.
So hopefully that will sink into someones brain, “Hey, this Watchmen thing doesn’t go on to infinity, maybe telling a really great story can continue to sell as good, or better than recycling the same shit forever?!?”
But more likely, they’ll just start an ongoing comic for it! ;)

And the one last caveat to all this, that's kind of forgotten today, is licensed comics. And no, I don’t mean Dynamite Entertainment and nostalgic licenses like that (Lone Ranger, Buck Rogers, etc), those sell comics for independent/smaller publishers because they’re recognized brands marketed to the existing aging fanbase. I mean licenses for current other media. The big two used to trade in this heavily, and now that they’re essentially their own license companies, do not. And that my friends, is/was a huge factor to snagging new readers!
Star Wars, GI Joe, Transformers, etc
Hit movies, TV, and toy franchises bring in new readers.
They buy a comic of their favorite toy, then if they like comics, start trying other stuff.
Where’s Harry Potter, where’s Lord of the Rings, where’s more video games of the moment?
That puts new butts in the seats!
Sure, there’s Battlestar Galactica, Halo etc, but those skew more older, which is a tougher sell for those who aren’t already fans of the medium, to say nothing of the lacking mainstream availability.
Oh, and FYI, bookstores are not the answer.
You need outlets that reach everyone, and bookstores are far from that.
Outside the internet, the easy answer a few years ago was video stores, but not anymore… but something more along those lines, where people already traffic in similar media on a large scale.

As you can tell man, this is one of my biggest peeves, let’s not call it fixing comics, but improving them. If you’re a true fan of the medium, you only want to share it with more people, and I just don’t see that happening enough with where things are, or where they’re headed, but there’s always hope!

What do you think?

Come on, lets IMPROVE comics!!!

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