Wednesday, June 24, 2009

RE: Marvel & DC Flooding The Market With Comics

Some casualties from The Glut of Comics Past

Hasn't this always kinda happened – the "circle of life" of the industry, as it were? Flood, boom, bust, repeat?

I don't care if you're a major publisher or not, the real key is striking a chord with the modern zeitgeist. Two buddies with a Xerox machine can do that. But it takes 1) A real sense of what is important to people nowadays and 2) a pair of balls.

You can't create that sort of magic in a boardroom. By its very nature, such projects find themselves in conflict with the ultimate needs of the corporate machine, which rarely wants to take a chance. That sort of magic largely happens by accident, with projects that have managed to slip by management unnoticed and, by some miracle, make it to the stands. Then they get hailed as a "genius" – and then, realizing they have a great hit on their hands, the publisher milks it for all its worth with dozens of sequels and spinoffs and similar projects. That's the comic book Circle of Life. And that's largely the entertainment industry's Circle of Life.

Personally, I don't want to spend money reading about some old superhero that the writer idolized when he was 11. I've read that story in everything from "Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Boy On Earth" to "JSA." Give me something new. I don't want to read another Kirby riff, though Kirby was of course awesome. I don't want to read another riff off of a teenage superhero who gets special powers and learns that with great power comes great responsibility. "Remember those great Sunday Comics?" Yeah, I remember them from when I was a kid, and I've been trying to get out of the burden of childhood memory & nostalgia for years. Give me something else. Give me something new.

So to me, all other business strategies take a back seat to actually publishing that book or series that seizes that zeitgeist and sets the world on fire. That's the only way the industry actually grows and develops:

Accidental Awesomeness --> Sequels and Spinoffs --> Glut

And then:

Glut --> Bust --> Accidental Awesomeness (allowed because management isn't really paying too close attention, they're busy licking their wounds)

Stir, repeat.


  1. I think Marvel's doing it worse right now. Wolverine has taken the place of 90's Spider-Man with so many titles and appearing in three teams. The Avengers have several teams that have no real distinction except for the adjective but require you to read ALL of them in order to get a semblance of a story. And I'm annoyed that I was enjoying Guardians of the Galaxy all by itself but now have to read about WAR OF KINGS which features a lot of characters I don't give a damn about. Makes indy titles all the more attractive. Seriously, if space is so big, why do the same characters need to crossover every 6 months?

    At least if I read Supergirl at the moment I don't HAVE to read New Krypton. It adds stuff, yes, but Supergirl stands on it own (amazingly as promised).

  2. Anonymous4:31 PM

    When I was younger, I loved walking into the corner shop and seeing row upon row of the latest issues from Marvel (I can't recall any DC comics, but then I was always a Marvelite). Of course, that was so long ago they were all "still only 25¢!". It seemed like such an embarrassment of riches which to spend my pocket money on, and they were all fun, entertaining reads! Even Man-Thing! Sadly, now I look at the same number of comics and see an industry hammering their target with hundreds of mediocre punches and hoping one or two will hit nerve points. Is it just me hitting middle age, or is there any truth to how I feel?

  3. Anonymous4:59 PM

    Sometimes, though, it isn't because management isn't paying attention. Sometimes, it's because they're desperate.

  4. I tend to agree. And as huge a Kirby wonk as I am, I'm not interesting in seeing another rehash of stuff he did 40 years ago. I seriously doubt he would want that, either. Didn't he always tell people if they wanted to really be the next Jack Kirby, they'd do something different than what the real Jack Kirby was already doing?

    Being in Japan, I'm not seeing the glut as it's happening, but I can't imagine it will end well. How many total readers are there now, around 200,000 or so? Is that relatively tiny market going to be able to absorb all these new books? Are mainstream comic fans so brainwashed and/or addicted they're going to expand their monthly spending to encompass a ton of new, possibly mediocre product?

    I mean when does the industry reach its breaking point?

    Alan and Derek make good points. I never waste time or money on huge crossovers, which means I end up skipping most monthly books as well. Oh, and remember when that embarrassment of riches consisted of about only 20 titles total? Did anyone feel ripped off not to have three or four ancillary mags about various B-list Avengers characters? Did anyone think, "Dammit, there's just not enough Wolverine in these here books. I could stand to have him in a few more titles!"?

    I just can't see spending 3 bucks a piece on 20 or 30 comics each month. And here in Japan, they're sometimes about 9 bucks thanks to import pricing! I honestly prefer to pick up a trade or an omnibus hardcover of stuff I really know is brilliant and will give me self-contained stories so I don't have to wade through all that other crap.

    If I'm going to pay through the nose for my comic book fun, I want something meaty and robust, not watered-down and something of an afterthought.

  5. Anonymous8:23 PM

    From the massive bust (circa late '94 thru 97), the comic book publishing industry has not rebounded to the pre-boom sales level.

    Meaning, what sales were in the late 1980's -- prior to Marvel doing the sales gimmick of having adjectiveless Spider-Man #1 with multiple covers.

    This ignited the path that would lead to Image, fuel Valiant and yield new series that would launch with 13 variant covers, etc.

    I thought that 1980's sales would be back before now -- and that means all books in the top 10, moving around 500k or better, per month.

    Since the bust, Batman Hush (with Jim Lee) is one of the few series to consistently break 200k of copies, ordered per month.

    I don't know if it's a lack of retail outlets (comic shops) or a residual problem from distribution being narrowing down to one company, or what.

    I sure would like to see a book to hit *big* and not just sell 2 or 3 million copies, but have 2 or 3 million readers who bought those copies.

    Something that would lead to sustainable growth, renewed interest and GIGANTIC freelancer royalties.

    -Josh ^_^

  6. Perhaps the comics aren't different, some of us are just getting tired of them and want something different.

  7. I'd rather see fewer books and better quality.

    Fewer crossovers, few people can afford these days to buy all those books to keep up anyway, get back to basic month to month storytelling.

    Quit oversaturating the matket with a few key characters.

    More respect for fans.

    Get people doing their proper jobs and keep them out of others' duties. Let writers write, artists create art, and editors stick to editing. And while we're at it, the bigwigs need to remember that it's the rank and file staff that is producing the stuff putting money in their pockets. Don't try to run everybody's show for them and let the creators actually create.

    Then readers will actually read again.

  8. yeah. there are lots of good comics outside of the majors. my wife bought some "Pride and Prejudice" comics. she doesn't read comics, but she likes those kinds of stories, so she figured "why not?"

    this gets to the core of things. when i was a kid, i didn't get every issue of x-men. when i went to the 7-11, i got what i saw. now, the industry demands that i be a rabid fan of comics. that i know the special place and time to buy comics. that i continue to love books that go on forever while they think of a new crossover idea. bleh!

    the expense and structure of mainstream books has killed the casual reader. hopefully indies will get some of them back. but most indies will have to learn much better marketing to reach readers (Pride and Prejudice got lucky. my wife was with me at the comic shop).

  9. Thou speaketh the truth, Fair Damsel.

  10. Not to put you on the spot, Val, but... what's new about your Cloak & Dagger series? What did you formulate when pitching the series to Marvel?

    Also... isn't Dark Reign a new idea? Having a villain in charge of a huge security organization... or did President Luthor blaze that trail?

    New ideas are rare. Permutations, sure... Archetypes re-imagined, updated, stay relevant. So, sure, we can take the classic story of a baby set adrift by his parents to a better life, who then gains miraculous powers to better mankind, and instead of making him Jewish, you make him Kryptonian.

    Also... there were gluts in the 1970s. I recall a 1974 Marvel subscription ad listing at least forty titles.

    Recently, I found a copy of the first comicbook I ever collected, Amazing Spider-Man #254 (1984). What surprised me most? The Bullpen Bulletin listing the monthly comics at the bottom. Maybe 25 total. Back then, I collected about six titles. Today, not counting mini-series, I buy about the same amount of ongoing series, with the odd mini-series or one-shot.

  11. Of course you don't wanna read that stuff - you're not SUPPOSED to wanna read that stuff, it's for KIDS. If comic books would keep pandering to YOUR generation as it ages and goes through life, comic books will DIE with YOU. I don't think the companies want that!