One of the really nice aspects of the web-based discussion boards is the ability for board moderators to control the overall tone of the posts. People who are disruptive or offensive, who shock for the sake of causing a ruckus, can be deleted (their posts, that is), boosting the signal-to-raise ratio substantially. (For the sake of anyone needing a civics refresher, that isn't censorship, but rather sound editorial judgment.)
What follows is a discussion on comics that I got involved with on one of the Warren Ellis Forum offshoots, currently listed as Nerdbait Code Red (the name over the door is roughly as stable as the staircases in that Harry Potter flick). It reads fairly sequentially as a continuous thread, something of a rarity with online discussions, so it's nicely reminiscent of the old convention panel transcripts that The Comics Journal used to run. I have excised the posts extraneous to the main thrust of the discussion, and have edited the comments only marginally for clarity and spelling.
There has been talk over the past ages about fixing comics. Making them less superhero and more mainstream. Which I can see, I'm one of those people who want comics in everyone's house. Realistically that's not going to happen. Not everyone owns DVD's and not everyone will own comics. People argue that comics are marketed wrong. Possibly. Do you see comics advertised on TV? The radio? No, you don't. If you did, you know what would be in those ads? Superheroes. That's what. I'm not saying it's bad. I've come off as hating superhero's just as much as the next person that can color-coordinate their clothes. Unfortunately comics have a rep. And it's not a good one.
When you mention comics to the average person you will get that dead look, it takes them a few minutes to register what you said. Once it clicks though you get the look of pity or disgust. "Comics are for geeks or kids," is what is running through the mind of that person. I'll put money on it. All they think of is some guy (because girls don't read comics, do they?) unwashed, living in the parent's basement, not working, and hasn't had a girl in ages if he knows what one is. These are the scum. No, not the person thinking this. The actual guy. They are out there. I've seen these guys. They are the ones buying 10 copies of something and only opening one - if that - just for the collector value. They keep their comics in a vault. They will have more action figures than Toys'R'Us. And they will be in the original packaging. These are the scum to hate, for it is their fault you're getting the strange looks. It's their fault that comics aren't out in every bookshop known to man.
As a girl reading comics I'm a small part of the comic readership. I know a few other girls who read comics. I know fewer that work in comics. We are out there. And I'll tell you, we are tired of being gawked at. We are more than our breasts and more than a pretty face. I bet you we know more on comics than the average guy reader. True, we aren't as obsessive as the guys (some of us anyway) but we do pay attention. We do know what's going on. Unfortunately we are still a small percent of the comic readers. It's time to change this. It's time to change the spandex look at the large breasts comic.
Can it be changed? Maybe. I think it depends on how many of us there are. And how many of us are willing to make things change.
I'm tired of reading shit about comics. I'm tired of reading the shit about nostalgia and spandex. I'm tired of not seeing the girls speak up.
Yes, comics have a certain stigma associated with them. And it's not the good kind of stigma.
This used to really bother me.
But you know what? I decided to make it stop bothering me by doing something about it. It's not much, but it's a start. My co-worker that I always talk movies with got my copy of Fortune & Glory. I hounded him until he read it, and he loved it. A woman I work with, who is always with the sarcastic like I am, got the Dork trade, another friend got Cowboy Wally. My uncle who got me hooked on Robert Heinlein and Orson Scott Card got copies of Transmet.
My roommate will always be a Wolverine junkie, at heart. But now he LOVES Planetary, too.
It's more than that, Sabrina. Some people simply refuse to look at any comic no matter how well it's written, or drawn, because they are "kid's stuff."
My brother's attitude is simply, it's not valid literature if it's got pictures.
I have to disagree with you on this, Sabrina (regarding comic shop geeks). These guys form the de facto bulk of the comics-buying audience only because they're the only ones left. All of the other demographic segments of the comics audience have gradually been pushed out, marginalized, and otherwise neglected over the last few decades.
What's left? The ones you're pointing at, certainly, make up the largest proportion; other identifiable groups, though much smaller, are populated by the people who come here and to the WEF, and those of similar perspective; and there's probably a nostalgia crowd that only wants reprints of golden age or silver age books.
The casual readers are gone, which is appalling since they used to number in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Comic racks in the forties and fifties were teeming with variety. Super-heroes shared those racks with crime books, horror, fantasy, SF, historical fiction, action-adventure, romance, humour, anthropomorphics, drama comics, etc., etc. Thanks to various internal and external pressures on the industry, most of that went away.
I can't blame the basement-dwellers for actions they've had little to do with. The industry players (primarily publishers and distributors) have made decisions over the years that have left them as the only group that it's profitable to market towards (although DC/Vertigo has made remarkable inroads in developing economic models that can justify publishing comics aimed at smaller audiences).
With that group as the one the industry aims for, it's hardly surprising that this is where potential retailers come from too, and this all becomes a perpetuating cycle.
The challenge for publishers/distributors/retailers now is go back after the casual readers, rather than just try to exploit the current audience to the maximum degree possible. A key step (in my opinion, at least) is to return to wider distribution. Get the comics out of the comic shop and back in the supermarkets, the convenience stores, the toy stores, the drug stores, and anywhere else. Make the things returnable again, so that the risk is shared more evenly at all levels of the chain. Write stories that are more self-contained and more appealing to mass audiences. In other words, rebuild the audience, starting again from ground zero.
That's a great idea. One problem. You'll never see a single issue of anything printed by Vertigo, anything by Warren Ellis, Alan Moore (well, possibly Top Ten, but I doubt it) Peter Milligan, Bill Willingham, or Garth Ennis on the racks. You will NEVER see Gloom Cookie, Frumpy the Clown or Barry Ween on these racks.
What you WILL see is a lot of X-Men, Superman and Batman comics. And X-Men will be cutting it closely with the way things are being done lately.
The problem won't be with what sells and what doesn't. The problem will be that a lot of these titles are basically adult content, adult orientated stories that often contain strong language, and adult situations. And that's why a lot of the places you're talking about have already cut back on things like Playboy and Penthouse. Hell, King Soopers out here announced awhile back that they where moving the glamour magazines back to the magazine isle because the covers might be construed by some as a little racy. And now, they're on high shelves so that the kids won't get to them, because often, these magazines contain lingerie ads.
Then you'll have the other problem I see in Super-Markets these days. Which is that if it's a comic, it automatically gets put on the lower shelves in the kids' section. Okay, great. But kids aren't buying comics. They buy video games, action figures and CCG's.
So, eventually, some anal retentive parent is going to read the latest issue of X-Men that young Jimmy Thudpucker from Dogshit, Nebraska just bought, and pitch a flying fit because of Emma's costume, and the references to sex extra-marital sex between Emma and Scott, not to mention the fact that the Beast is now gay. And that parent is not going to go complain to Marvel. They're going to go to the super-market or 7-11 and scream at them. When enough of these people start complaining, the super-markets and 7-11's are going to tell Marvel to take a flying leap. This scenario is already happening as we speak, because guess where I saw X-Men the other day whilst grocery shopping.
I've read X-Men all my life. But I wouldn't let my daughter touch it right now. She's 10 by the way. That's not Grant's fault by the by. If this were ten years ago, I wouldn't have let her touch it then, either. As a parent, I would have been a little uncomfortable of letting ME touch it back when Claremont and Byrne had Jean Grey and Emma Frost parading around in corsets, panties, and thigh high spike heeled shoes, not to mention all of Claremont's references to bondage, slavery, and the way he seems to intertwine them all into some sort of sexual thing.
Now, book stores like Barnes and Noble could be a big help in this case because they have those high shelves that allow them to place things like Playboy and Penthouse where kids can't reach them, and they can also put things like Maxim and Stuff there as well. But over 300 titles a month?
Jard, that isn't a problem at all, unless your objective is to get all of those titles under people's noses *right now*.
It's all about taking baby steps, building the audience back up to levels that *matter*, and that's going to come from a lot of super-hero books, Disney comics, and Archies, all written specifically for mass audiences, distributed all over the place as far as the eye can see.
If you want to see the market for, and exposure of, Ellis, Moore, Willingham, Millar, and other Vertigo-style writers increase, you've got to expand the overall size of the comics market *first*. That's primary. As the audience for the mass-marketed stuff grows, so too will the opportunities (and economies of scale, too) for publishers to cultivate the niche stuff. The Powers That Be in the industry - at all levels - need to think long-term about these things. The foundation for comics in North America has been crumbling for decades, and there needs to be a significant structural upheaval of the whole thing if they ever want to drag the industry upwards from the ghetto it's fallen into.
I agree with you about the content of the X-Men titles; it's not suitable for kids. Like it or not, though - and I'm stating this as an opinion - the resurrection of the industry back to historical volumes and dollars is going to depend on kids, as a demographic, starting to buy comics again. That means wide distribution and specific content guidelines.
It also means lowering the prices.
And more comics specifically aimed at Children. Stuff like X-Men Evolution... whoops. Marvel canned it. Or Archie.
You know. The stuff that people like Warren Ellis hates.
It also means Parental Advisory labels. You know, the stuff that people like Frank Miller hates.
The industry doesn't WANT to make kid friendly comics anymore. No matter how much they say otherwise. Not enough money in it.
I'm not being smart-assed here, and rereading the post it looks like I may be acting that way towards you, and I apologize if I give that impression.
It could work. But only if the industry is really willing to do the things necessary to MAKE it work. I don't think they will. They've got their heads too far up their own asses.
To add to the previous, we're also talking about titles such as Micronauts, Thundercats, GI Joe, Transformers.... all the nostalgia stuff that appeals to old time fans right now. Some of that is going to appeal to kids as well. Especially if other books are created that are aimed more towards kids at the moment...
Agreed. Nothing is going to change until the publishers start thinking long-term, rather than in terms of the next quarterly profit statement. Sadly, this industry has always geared itself towards short-term gains, at the expense of long-term vitality.
So which publishers are going to have the wherewithal to break out of the bunker? It won't be Marvel; I don't see them having either the funds or the autonomy to make the kinds of long-term infrastructure investments that are necessary. DC is a possibility, particularly with the Warners Animation properties they can access, but they're going to have to build a pretty solid business case to take to the authorities higher up the Warners' food chain. I sure they can do this, but it's going to require the right combination of ingenuity, confidence and willpower.
CrossGen, though... now there's a leading contender. Their titles hit a variety of genres, and there's a lot of attention paid to production quality. Alessi is hitting the marketing and distribution sides of the equation with the 'Comics on the Web' initiative, and the remarkably inexpensive compilation trades. He's making aggressive -- and creative! -- use of previously produced material, and that's darn impressive.
CrossGen might be smaller and less capitalized than the big two, but as a company, they're in a much better position to innovate, something that's always been true for the upstart entrepreneur. The smartest thing that DC and Marvel could do from a corporate angle is replicate CrossGen's successful innovations; the challenge for CrossGen is to keep the innovations coming so that everyone else is always playing catch-up.
Whoever leads the way towards rebuilding the audiences is going to end up upsetting some very vocal audience segments, precisely because of the scope limitations (widespread distribution, general audience content, and inexpensive production). Some people might not like the Disney books, the Archies, the retro revivals, labeling, etc., and they'll be vocal in their opposition. If the goal is to rebuild the audience, however, then those howling voices really don't matter. Their criticisms simply aren't relevant to the objective at hand. If my goal is to get kids reading comics, as part of a long-term strategy to rebuild a comics-buying audience, then I don't care about a "Mature Readers" advisory on the later Preacher trade. It's a matter of getting age-appropriate content, packaged economically, where kids and parents will see it.
Just an interesting point about all this, and I'm still putting together my thoughts on comics and the industry and finding a place in it.
I can remember my initial comic book experience. It was at a pharmacy, where they had a rack of comic books. X-Men, some other stuff... it was all there. What did I pick up? A Transformers book because I watched the cartoon. Nothing else even interested me in the least.
Just a side note that's not really worth much, but is at the forefront of my mind today.
Another side note. I've seen DC Animation properties (Dexter, Batman, etc, etc) in stores (Wal-Marts, Super Giant's, etc) for years now.
Maybe what needs to happen is a sharp division of attitudes? An "adult" focused market, with books in the format of the GREAT reprint of Road to Perdition, and a "kids" focus group, producing straight to stores material. This may have been said already and I'm sorry if it has.
Mmm thinking out loud when I can't even MAKE any of those changes. Blech.
But, to me, what's killing CrossGen is that their books really aren't innovative in the slightest. They make a lot of noise about not being super hero books but they're absolutely using the conceits of the super hero genre and really making a line of books that are fairly interchangeable with mainstream super hero books. They aren't truly exploring other genres as much as their just playing dress-up. No offense to the writers, all of whom I like, but they don't have any movers or shakers over there, no matter what genre you put them in. It's a lot of derivative ideas that are packaged very nicely but seem to leave most readers cold and really aren't any more interesting than a random issue of Batman (some personal tastes aside, of course.)
The only book of theirs that really reads differently is MERIDIAN and it's their lowest seller. But it truly does feel like a fantasy comic and explores its worlds and characters in a way that isn't simply another book for male comic readers. But the word isn't getting out.
I absolutely agree we need a stronger, more affordable kids' line of comics. But CrossGen is aimed right at the typical teen male comic reader. Their attempts to SELL the books to other fanbases don't change the fact that the books are still WRITTEN for the same old audience.
CrossGen, as of yet, doesn't seem to be the answer to anything to me. Actually, I'd love to see the Archie people really drive their product harder and try and do a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew type book using their own sensibilities but pushing the action a little bit more. And not make it a direct Archie spin-off.
I haven't read enough CrossGen books to say anything substantive about their content, but what I've seen matches your assessment. More than the stories they're telling, I've been impressed by Alessi's willingness to try new distribution ideas.
Still, this reminds of the scene from last night's "The West Wing" in which Bartlet, while playing chess with Sam, keeps telling him, "Look at the *whole* board." The comic industry isn't going to be rebuilt solely by new distribution ideas, new imprints, or directed content. The industry needs publishers that develop integrated strategies that incorporate *all* of those things.
I like your suggestion of a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew style of book; I devoured those series voraciously as a kid, along with the Three Investigators books, Enid Blyton's Famous Series, Tintin, and anything else in that vein that I could get my little mitts on.
I know what you mean. I grew up with comics at the Super-Markets, local drug store and 7-11's. Back when they where like .25 cents, and .35 cents. But it's a different beastie today. You'll never see a large portion of what's currently printed in 7-11.
I'll tell you something else that used to drag me in, and I saw them more in libraries than anyplace else, but it could work.
There where the actual comic versions, and then there where those mini-trades (which is the ones I liked.) and they were indeed, the classics, brought to comic form.
Frankenstein, HG Wells, Black Beauty even.
Well, see the way I'm thinking is why is that? I mean, when I got into comics the direct market was growing, and therefore, does EVERYTHING being printed need to be in a store?
I mean, only romance and pulp novels are in pharmacies. Why can't just kids comics be in stores?
I don't disagree. I think it's a matter of the companies actually making some kid oriented comics, and making a commitment to stick too it.
The companies don't even need to have new stories produced, since they're already sitting on decades worth of suitable material, much of it quite timeless.
Unfortunately, many of this material is "dated", hence the problem with it appealing to mass culture. References to the New Kids on the Block and Tiffany aren't exactly going to pull people in the by the droves.
Unless you're talking about old Looney Tunes/Simpsons/etc. THAT is a goldmine they are just sitting on.
I think that you're overestimating the proportion of stories that contain explicit references to pop culture people and events. Most comics I've read are pretty timeless in that respect, even those set in specific time periods. For example, Archie stories from the 1950s and 1960s work just as well now as they did when I first read them in the 1970s. The same goes for most of the super-hero stuff that DC and Marvel have published. (Except for some early Marvel; Stan Lee had Mr. Fantastic utter some pretty strong anti-communist stuff, for instance.)
Postscript: I want to emphasize Jeremy's idea way up near the top of the thread, that of giving comics-related material to friends and family based on their preferences. There are excellent comics trade paperbacks in all genres - super-hero, crime, SF, fantasy, historical, etc. - so with a little research you should be able to come up with something appropriate for everyone on your holiday shopping lists.