Comic Book Case Study: Follow Up Thoughts

Photo Jun 18, 2 04 03 PM

I think that my previous post on Inferior 5 and why that book didn’t work—and why I don’t see the traditional delivery system/format/pricing for comic books working either—solidified a lot of stuff I have been observing and thinking about for at least 10-15 (heck, 20?) years now. And I feel I need to add some follow-up thoughts to the entire thing.

First, I think graphic storytelling is still a very valid and effective way to tell stories to masses of people. And I think certain formats, like weekly online serializations and affordably priced collected editions/graphic novels, still have “legs.” And there are certain breakout mega-talents out there doing wild, forward-thinking creative stuff that can still bring readers into the shops on a monthly basis; I don’t think there is a tremendous amount of them employed and published at the moment, but they are there, and probably Image is publishing like at least half of them.

But in general, the monthly pamphlet-styled comic book that you access at the specialty shop is kind of a dinosaur, and mostly appeals to older people who remember this ritual from their childhood. (And, they might introduce that ritual to their kids who may or may not be interested; I know my young nephew is NOT interested and would rather play Roblox & Minecraft). Because this format is kind of a dinosaur, it attracts a very specific demographic, which are largely aging white males. The point I tried to make in my previous post is that this the result of, and perpetuates, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So you have people who claim to be part of Comicsgate or what-have-you and they say the major publishers are making a mistake by including diversity in their books. They have been saying this for at least a decade, way before Comicsgate was a “thing,” And surprise!, as a person who worked for a few of these major publishers in various capacities, I observed this mentality among some members of the editorial and leadership departments. Which is to say: it is my belief that the “seeds” of Comicsgate started within the publishers themselves and essentially “leaked” out.

But if you have a dinosaur format that only really seems to appeal to this demographic who remembers it from their youth…does it really make sense to include any diversity that might blow their tender minds? Isn’t this just alienating your market?

These questions ignore the larger business objectives of the parent companies of these mainstream publishers: larger objectives being, making money and setting up the next (read: younger) generations to buy their products.

And who’s doing the heavy lifting in terms of pushing these superheroes through the mass-market are: networks like the CW with their interconnected DC shows, video games, Marvel movies, and so on.

Which is to say: it is very possible that the concepts, characters, and mythologies that were “born” in the traditional comic book format have “graduated”/evolved to the natural Next Level for their dissemination to the Public: TV/Movies/Video Games.

I mean, just look at the incredible feat CW did with their recent “Crisis” storyline/crossover. What this network is doing, basically, is…what only comic books used to do. Superhero serialized stories, crossovers, etc. And to a lesser extent in terms of scope/frequency, this is what the movies are doing as well.

Most children/teenagers are clearly going to choose a CW show or Marvel movie—or playing Minecraft, Roblox etc.—over spending $4-5 a pop on single issues that come out every month. If they are more inclined to read in general, then collected/serialized book volumes of comic book material is also an option (my nephew occasionally will read that stuff, though again: he’s not a big fan of the pamphlet-style comic book).

Unsurprisingly, these media options outside the traditional comic book format include a fair amount of diversity.

In my time as a comic book editor/writer—decades—I have witnessed such hostility to issues of diversity both within the industry and the “satellite” network of fans/media connected to the industry, that I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over it. I’ve watched the biggest proponents for more inclusivity within comics get pushed out of the main industry. I’ve seen some really savage, knuckle-dragging s**t that has been done without any thought to the safety/well-being of others—stuff made even more ridiculous and grotesque considering this was all supposed to be a “fun” medium for kids.

And so…it would be impossible for me to write about comics without having that lens on at least some of the time. But who would really want to read that type of criticism, when the pool of people interested in traditional comics in general is really not that big to begin with? A lot of current comic book fans today are really in it for the nostalgia feel-good factor and that’s it. And that’s fine—life is hard, these characters are comforting, and *I get it.* Really. I’ll occasionally watch some toy-collecting videos on YouTube for the same reason.

Now, a person trying to “make it” in mainstream comics, or is already struggling in the industry, already knows that to “cause trouble” means getting no work. So. Why would they really want to be involved in any criticism of said industry? I mean, with Marvel blowing deadlines on freelancer paychecks left and right, maybe some sort of collective backbone/bargaining would have been a good idea.

But that’s just it…I think, my final thought on this particular topic for now. I believe “traditional” comics as we know it is ending. Traditional distribution. Traditional delivery systems. And, most of all, that traditional “autonomy” outside of the larger parent entertainment company. I think variations on the Image concept still works. I think a Netflix-styled system could work—but it would have to either offer entire new runs at one time, or at least weekly (as opposed to monthly) updates. I think selling books to kids and libraries still works. And I think that (re)opening mass-market avenues for graphic storytelling like education, advertising, political stuff (I know it’s a Pandora’s Box, but…), would work and give more jobs to comic writers/artists.

How do I feel, though, about seeing this old-time hobby I used to love make a fade-out into new formats, audiences, vistas and such?

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I feel great, actually. Hurry it up!!!!