every woman adores a fascist -- sylvia plath

Friday, April 06, 2012

Why You Don't Read Comics Anymore (if ever)

As an independent comic book writer, I'm constantly under pressure to evangelize the idea that "comics aren't for kids anymore" and "comics have grown up." In fact, everyone I know in indy comics says that. While the whole comics-to-film marketplace has lent a lot of credence to that notion -- and brought a lot of respect to the art form of comics creation as, well-- it still hasn't translated to massive growth in comic book reading sales, even though it has brought a lot of growth to comic book movie watching.

The fact is, is that with the entire independent comic book creator scene evangelizing this notion, you're still probably not reading comics anymore, if ever. So, why the disconnect?

1. Comics are still just for kids. The fact is, is that DC and Marvel possess a duopoly in the comics marketplace, are owned by massive media companies (Time-Warner and Disney respectively), and pretty much control distribution and comic book store interest. DC and Marvel live off their respective properties and know that they're selling to a certain segment of consumers: kids.

Independent comic book creators, in that environment, just don't have a chance competing. Of the 2500 or so comic book shops in the US, only about 700 are considered "indy friendly". And those 700 shops? Yeah, they may buy 1 of your indy books. And good luck if they've never heard of you or your artist. Don't get me wrong, stores will buy independent books, but you better have great reviews and known artists. However, compare that to the 2500 shops purchasing 20 issues of "Marvel Apes" on a whim and you get my point. A bad idea from Marvel sells 50,000 issues. A great idea from an indy creator may sell 500 issues. If you're lucky.

Here's my point. The public conceptualizes what a comic book is from what they see in the world. If the independent comics designed for the adult reader isn't in the public's experience, they're not going to consider comics as something for serious readers. They'll think comics are still just for kids.

PS. Please Google "Marvel Apes" and you'll understand my frustration.


2. Marvel and DC don't create substantial material. Adults want to read complex stories with three-dimensional characters, great twist endings, and themes they connect with. Marvel and DC simply don't do that.

3. Marvel and DC create comics that are meant to be watched, not read. If you don't believe me on this point, go pick up a comic at a comic book store and read the first 6-to-8 pages. It'll probably take you about one minute to complete. Now, go check out an old-timey comic from Will Eisner, or heck, a comic from the 70s and do the same thing. Notice the difference? 6-to-8 pages of Eisner is like a full story that took time to read, was engaging and entertaining. It probably took about 10 to 15 minutes to read. It had substance. It left you full.

Marvel and DC, on the other hand, have decided that video games and movies are the top competitors to their business, and, as such have decided to emulate those art forms in comics. Reading a book and watching a movie are two different activities: one is active, the other is passive. Instead of creating a comic book that requires active interpretation and thought (reading), Marvel and DC have created books that are experienced passively (watching). Many people blame the decline of comic book sales on movies, video games, and the death of the collectors market. However, the correlation of that decline and the decision by Marvel and DC to make comics more like movies is worthy of consideration for the decline, as well. Who wants to pay $3 for a 22-page comic book that takes 3 minutes to read and has less substance than an 8 page Will Eisner story?

(Will Eisner's THE SPIRIT)


4. Comics-to-film curtails interest in exploring comics. Why search for that next great title when so many comics are being made into films? Just wait for it to come out in theaters and then decide if you're going to buy it. And if the film bombs, then who cares? The comic probably wasn't that good to begin with.

5. Marvel and DC are museum curators. Since comics are dominated by "The Big Two", and both of them have decided to perpetually repackage and relaunch extant properties (has Supes died again, yet?), the comic book reader has become accustomed to simply awaiting the next big remake. Marvel and DC have both pretty much relinquished any desires to creating new characters, and quite frankly the risks to editors for failed new characters is so high, why would they? Could you imagine being the editor of Superman -- having DC and Time/Warner entrust his care in your hands -- and saying to them, "I'm going to launch the next Superman? A new character who is going to be as big as he is!"? No editor in their right mind would take that risk, and it's far easier to game the existing comic book customer into buying relaunches. DC's 52 was a huge event. But nothing new came out if it. And quite frankly, hearing people debate whether or not Wonder Woman should wear pants was embarrassing. That's what we're debating? That's what the supposed brain trust of nerdery is doing?

You're joking, right?

To sum it up, you're not reading comics anymore (if ever) because comics are made for kids, predictable and boring, and not worth the money you pay for them. Don't get me wrong, there are comics out there very much worth your while (and I can name a lot of the off if you ask me), but the comic book shops probably aren't carrying them, and, most likely you'll just wait to see the movie.

By the way, I don't blame you.