Robot 6

What comics arguments do you want to hear more often?

Hulk vs. Superman by Mike Deodato Jr.

Hulk vs. Superman by Mike Deodato Jr.

When you think about it, it only makes sense: Because the comics conversation is so dominated by old arguments, it can be tough to make room for new ones. That’s the thesis of a new post by The Comics Reporter’s Tom Spurgeon listing “Three Arguments We Could Be Having.” After we here at Robot 6 pivoted off Spurgeon’s interview with Noah Berlatsky to list the comics arguments we’d prefer never to hear again, Spurge is returning the favor by suggesting three he thinks we’d be better off having in their place: “1) Does reprinting archival comics have a moral component?; 2) Why are so many Direct Market shops still female unfriendly?; 3) What are all these superhero comics really saying?”

In other words, while the current golden age of reprints is a boon to all fans of the medium, what do its practitioners owe the creators of the comics they’re reprinting in terms of not just royalties, but also the best possible packaging and analysis of the material? Everyone’s got horror stories about some creepy store where the wares or employees make it a “shop at your own risk” situation for women and girls — why has that not translated to industry-wide action on those affronted consumers’ behalf? Should superhero comics be expected to have more of a message than “superheroes are awesome,” and if that is the message you go with, shouldn’t that be reflected across the board instead of occasionally having them indulge in really nasty behavior or suffer jarringly grim setbacks to get across the importance of a particular storyline?

I’ll tell you what my big question is: Why do superheroes dominate the online conversation the way they do? Last week saw the release of Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft and Tim Hensley’s Wally Gropius, two gorgeous and weird books that truly make use of the stuff of comics and contain the kind of material you can mentally gnaw on for days on end, but I guarantee you that no matter which comics blogs you read, you read more about Paul Levitz’s return to the Legion of Superheroes. And chances are good that if you’ve read about Daniel Clowes’s Wilson, what you read prominently featured that page where the character makes fun of The Dark Knight. What gives? If you want to make the argument that sheer numbers justify the choice of what bloggers and comics sites cover, I suppose that’s your prerogative. And don’t get me wrong — I read and enjoy multiple superhero comics every single week, and have lots to say about a lot of them. I also understand the need to make a living, which in Internet terms means unique pageviews.

But so much of the comics Internet consists of individual or group blogs where, presumably, there’s no editorial mandate to maximize hits. Indeed, the major selling point of the blogosphere is its lack of the traditional gatekeepers and incentive structures that bedevil mainstream journalism. Meanwhile, even the big group blogs owned by major communications corporations tend to be personality-driven, reflecting the interests and styles of their writers to a refreshing degree — and those writers tend to be interested in all sorts of comics, in their spare time at least. So yes, the nature of the coverage is often idiosyncratic, which is great. But why is that the comics being covered differ so little from what you’d read about on Marvel.com or The Source? Should those of us in the position to do so make an effort to broaden the scope of what we’re presenting to our readers as the comics worth buying, reading, and talking about?

So that’s my argument I’d like to be having. What are yours? Tell us in the comments — maybe we can start having them right away!

News From Our Partners

Comments

75 Comments

1. Comic book fans don’t want character development beyond the status quo.
2. Continuity is held in higher regard then a reboot.

The Ugly American

May 24, 2010 at 3:25 pm

Why are we tolerating such a high price point instead of voting by withholding our purchases?

The Ugly American

May 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Which is more valuable, the artist or the writer?

The Ugly American

May 24, 2010 at 3:28 pm

If DC and Marvel pay for editors, how come their comics are produced with so many grammatical and spelling errors?

The Ugly American

May 24, 2010 at 3:28 pm

That goes for you too, indies.

There are so many different facets to look at, it’s hard to know where to start. The creator(s) would typically want to present an engaging and interesting story, else why be a creator? The publisher and distributor would typically want to get the product into as many hands as possible, which in turn becomes profit, else why be in the market? The retailer would typically want to maximize the diversity of product on the shelf, to appeal to the broadest range of customer, else why be in business? The customer would typically want product that they’re familiar with and interested in, else why be in the store in the first place?

From where I sit, the online comic community (blogs, CBR, news sites, etc.) are remarkably similar to a retailer (aka Local Comic Shop). There is a balance that has to be maintained, or a niche to be carved out. There must be enough mainstream coverage to attract the mainstream audience, and right now, that is still the Superhero Comic Book. There should also be a portion of coverage on independent books, manga, anime, merchandise, etc., and some sort of method of easing a mainstream fan into trying something they may not have considered before. A lot of that depends on relationships, more than content.

I’ll be honest, at this stage, my interests are pretty much set. I know what I like, and I know what I’ll try, and I know what just doesn’t appeal to me. But I also know my LCS guy well enough to at least consider, if he suggests a new comic for me to try out. He knows my usual buys, and knows his stuff to try to tempt me out of mainstream books now and again. Even so, the bulk of my attention, and thus my business, is going to be focused on X-Men and JSA comics. Because that’s what I want to read.

It would be really cool to have publisher supported industry action on the girl friendly note – maybe it seems a little weird, but I think it would be to everyone’s benefit (including sales) to be really proactive on the stop being creepy/inclusion front.

Why are so many people so invested in the characters that they are blinded to the realization that they should instead be invested in the writers/artists who produce the most entertaining version of those characters?

” I read all of Final Crisis like three times and I couldn’t tell you about one idea it extolled beyond looking up its own ass and giving a thumbs-up to the general, grand spectacle of imaginative superhero comics.”

WOW, just lost a big dollop of respect for Tom Spurgeon righ there.

He’s Just Not That Into Final Crisis

We clearly need some kind of online directory of comic book shops that’s entirely oriented around measuring the comfort level that women customers have there, and then we need to boycott or harass those many shops that fall short. Let’s hold off on bashing them for not carrying manga or anything else non-superhero (that can come next) and just stick in the short-term to making the “boy’s club” comic shop as obsolete as possible. Man, maybe I should start it up. :P

Well, I firmly don’t buy into your argument Sean. First, if you look at The Comics Journal, or Spurge, or Berlatsky, or Robin at Inkstuds, there’s a hellavua lot a commentary on books without tights. But it’s not there’s an editorial mandate focusing attention (necessarily) – it’s that as popular titles, they’re well, popular. It means there is a large community with which to engage in commentary. Why do so many people write about Lost, “ignoring” what else is on TV? It’s because it is a popular topic to discuss.

The question I’m interested in is why hasn’t there been a greater blending between what constitutes “genre comics” and “literary graphic novels”? Beyond Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and maybe some of the works of Morrison or Gaiman, why are there so few genre titles that would be appropriate on university syllabus focused on graphic novels (and why are most of these authors British)? At best, from those true masters of the form we have arch commentary (Seth in Wimbeldon Green, Ware with Rusty Brown), while those in the genre field engage with literary IDEAS without producing that which is literary. The former are perfectly entitled to work outside genre norms – they may not find it compelling – while those in the mainstream can continue to produce work which is simply entertainment (that I heartily enjoy). I just wish that occasionally we could get more. Why don’t we is the question.

I’m definitely not talking about TCJ, Spurge, HU, or Inkstuds. Or Comics Comics. Or Thought Balloonists. There, I’ve named half a dozen reasonably prominent sites that talk primarily about non-superstuff. The rest of the comics internet?

I think one of the reasons superheroes dominate the conversation is that people are much more likely to buy them on a weekly basis, and want to discuss what’s going on with other people online in real time, so to speak. With other comics, your local shop might not carry them, or you might be waiting for the trade, or you may just not feel that sense of urgency. So there’s less incentive to talk about them, and what conversation does occur gets spread out over time. (Maybe.)

Other ideas:

1) Is there a business model by which Marvel and/or DC could publish and merchandise/license *new* properties, profitably, with a fair deal for the creators?

2) If there were fewer crossover tie-ins, spinoffs, variant covers, etc. and/or lower cover prices, would readers spend the money on trying different comics, or would they just not spend it? Are these seeming excesses killing the mainstream comics industry or keeping it afloat?

3) On a related note: does the number of titles in a franchise actively drive people away from it? (If there were only one or two Batman books, would they sell huge numbers?)

4) Does the segregation of comics into separate titles and brands for longtime fans, casual/new readers, and kids help or hurt? (Marvel universe vs. Ultimate vs. Adventures, or DCU vs. Earth One vs. DC Kids).

Add to that excellent list yourself, who does a particularly admirable job of balancing commentary on obscure mini comics that might hope to reach an audience of 100′s with giganto series like Blacknest Night. But your issue seems to be that aren’t MORE of such websites, and I’m trying to suggest that it’s because they are more niche driven than ones which focus on the mainstream – which is why we’d call it mainstream. The argument decrying the tastes of the mainstream, and the reflected commentary of it, is hardly unique to comics though. How much more attention does Iron Man 2 get than Mao’s Last Dancer (or for that matter, Defendor)? Is your suggestion that comics internet reporting should not be prone to such tendencies, and instead approach things with a more critical eye (whose?), rather than what is popular/commercial? Because accurate as it may be, frustrations with the tastes of the mainstream and the reporting of it, comic readers included, is more an argument I’m actually tired of hearing

Ah, and Steve beautifully captured my original argument. Thank you, sir.

I, for one, am extremely disappointed that there isn’t a single prominent English language comics website that talks about bandes desinees on a regular basis. It’s bad enough that I have to read the books in French – having to read discussion in French as well would just about kill my few remaining brain cells.

I think the weekly churn does have a lot to do with it, probably, good call guys.

I also want to add that even though Heidi MacDonald doesn’t do a lot of commentary on specific comics and Dirk Deppey barely does commentary at all, but those are two other prominent blogs that talk about a wide range of comics.

There’s a similar divide in the mangasphere as well: a lot of sites focus on mainstream shonen and shojo titles (the manga equivalent to tights and capes, I guess) while neglecting the quirkier stuff. To be sure, there are many sites that cover the full spectrum of titles, or focus on a niche, but the pressure to stay current with new releases and draw traffic discourages a lot of folks from waxing poetic about the stuff at the fringes. Looking at my own site stats, for example, a review of Black Bird or My Girlfriend’s A Geek will attract a much bigger readership than, say, The Times of Botchan.

Which brings me to the argument I’d like to see explored somewhere: how do we interest older readers in manga that’s written just for them? What kind of marketing support would, say, the VIZ Signature line need in order for some of those titles to crack the Bookscan Top 750 Graphic Novel list? Are there genres or artists we should be licensing for this readership, but aren’t?

I think Kate brings up a couple of interesting points…among them the fact that superheroes don’t exactly dominate the online conversation, at least no more than manga. This is an old argument too, but it’s interesting that Sean, who I’m sure reads more manga than I do, nonetheless in his post divides the world into superheroes and art comics, ignoring the elephant in the room (an elephant with which he is, as I said, more familiar than I am!) If you want to know why comics stores, and the comics industry in general, aren’t more friendly to women, for example, it seems relevant that even comics folks who read a lot of manga and promote manga actively are prone to blank spots where they suddenly forget that manga exists. (And if Sean does this on occasion, I’m sure I do as well, I hasten to add.)

Kate — I think the problem you raise is actually really difficult, and I’m not sure quite how it can be solved. It’s analogous to the one that DC and Marvel face in trying to attract female readers; the business model, distribution, and marketing just aren’t set up to sell to that audience. Similarly, manga companies are geared to sell pulp to young audiences; they need to do a ton of things differently if they want to sell literature to adults. For a start, they’d need to get reviewed in different places, probably sold in different places (moved out of the manga ghetto in bookstores and put in literature or, better, on the front tables.)

In that vein, it will be really interesting to see what happens with Fanta’s manga series. Fanta has a lot more experience with, and a built-in audience for, higher-brow comics. I’d think they’d be better positioned than Viz or other manga publishers to do well with those kinds of books. We’ll see though!

It seems this topic of women & comics is the dominant one, but I’d really like to see some talk about the cost of comics.
I stopped reading for a time whhen the price was about $1.75 per. and now they’re weeks away from all being $3.99.
I’m buying fewer books then ever, even from writers I love, and about to cut back more this month.
I’m not a young fanatic anymore, and don’t have to have “this or that” but I’d be spending a damn lot more if they could get the price point back to $2 or even $1 buck per.
I know it’s “stupid” to pine away for the days of the cheap monthly, but if the industry wants to sell more, its got to realize the public’s bottom line.

“We” (collective fandom) spent decades pushing for respect of our chosen medium, and looking back now all I can see is that it’s turned itself into an elitist artform that’s kilking itself by demading more and more from a shrinking pool of hosts.

Keep an eye on what happens to the Marvel line over the next decade (and the rest to follow). Those books are going to get more and more spendy, and eventually the content is going to get thinner and thinner.

It’s the economy stupid!

Stores do not promote the indies and/or non-superhero books the right way. Rather than lumping all of the indies into one section I propose mixing publishers and organizing the shelves by genre. This way indie superhero books can stand right next to Spider-Man. Also, when a someone comes in who may not be a superhero fan they can browse one of the other sections without bumping into one of the Deadpool or Green Lantern nerds. I think this would also help somewhat with the female fan dilema.

Steven R. Stahl

May 25, 2010 at 11:07 am

The urge to serialize content and ensure a steady income often works against creating meaningful comics-format fiction. The focus is on writing for an audience and trying to maximize sales, or at least reach a steady level of sales, instead of trying to say something important. Quite a few comics creators produce autobiographical material, which can be interesting, but there’s only so much that someone can say about himself.

Over the last several years, Marvel’s superhero comics, or at least the “Avengers” line, weren’t “saying” anything. The heroes weren’t being heroic, and although having crime fighters and rescuers be heroic and self-sacrificing aren’t deep themes, at least they are themes. Look all you want for themes in the storylines running from “Avengers Disassembled” through SIEGE; you won’t find any. Some characters have become themeless through sheer overuse. Dr. Doom is a programmable toy; writing Loki scheming is like dramatizing a dog chasing a car. What does he do if succeeds?

The trends over the last several years might be saying that the artwork in superhero comics is more important than the content of the stories. Many readers aren’t bothered by obvious repetition or equally obvious mechanical problems, as long as the artwork makes the stories at least mildly diverting — whereas prose versions of such stories would be unbearably dull.

If a writer has nothing important or meaningful to say, and is just generating words in order to meet requirements, the lack of intensity will be noticeable.

SRS

1. If continuity and character development is ultimately built on sand if not just utterly disposable storytelling, what separates the value of Superman’s legacy from, say, Ziggy’s?
2. With comic publishers gaining more control over other properties such as movies, television shows, cartoons, etc., shouldn’t there be a stronger bridge between these properties and the actual comics from which they sprung?
3. Isn’t it easy enough to accommodate younger readers, longtime fans and “casual” fans of movie properties by creating different lines/continuities catering to each audience? Does one segment have to be compromised in an effort to satisfy another audience?
4. Are there ways to offer digital comics in ways that feel cost-friendly and useful to longtime readers (to ANY readers, really)? For example, offering single issues at a reduced cost online, and collecting those issues as physical trade paperbacks to be sold in stores?

I don’t know if these are arguments, per se. They’re just some of my “big questions”, and I’ve gotten into arguments based on asking them.

Why don’t we have an imdb-style site for comics? Something in terms of archiving columns, interviews, reviews, etc.

Just riffing off of some of the comments above, the topic of how to sell comics to women, and related issues of gender in regards to comics, is both an argument that I think needs to be more articulated more often and intelligently, but also one I am sick of hearing due to usual nature of the debate. Sometimes an important conversation said to many times in the wrong way creates listener apathy.

The Ugly American

May 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm

I agree with MC_N. Enough about women and comics all the time blah blah blah they’re probably so sick of hearing about it that that’s why there aren’t any. Case closed.

1. Why do publishers canel series just to release a new number 1?
2. Are we past the modern era and now in the Bendis/Johns era?
3. Why bring back heroes from the dead ( The Flash, Green Lantern, Captain America etc) when their replacements are already established heroes?
4. If a comicbook store was made like a large chain bookstore (Border, Barnes & Noble) with trades, action figures, movies, lounge areas and games wouldn’t it draw in more readers?

Does it really matter what gender or ethnicity comic book characters are? Do they even have an ethnicity or gender since they are drawings?

Does anyone really decide to purchase comics based on the identity politics of the characters?

Why are there no more Will Eisners? Seriously…a contract with God…no capes, spandex, costumes, just a gut wrenching tale of greed, religion, and pathos. As well as his other classics? I think that if a Brubaker or a Bendis has a really good story, there should be a format for them to produce it with just good human interaction. Firefly is a perfect example…no Starships, fancy phasers or transporters or “forhead of the week”. Just Human interaction, incredible characterizations and story telling.

1. Comics cannot exist on the newsstand or in spinner racks; they have to be sold through comic shops or as trades through book stores in order for them to be lucrative.
2. Why do most readers purchase comics? Is it:
a) loyalty – they purchase what they are used to
b) gimmicks – they buy whatever is “hot” or the next great event
c) enjoyment – the ultimate decision-maker is whether or not they want to read a title
3) Do big companies hurt themselves by flooding their own market? In other words, would overall sales at DC or Marvel improve if there were only two Batman, Superman, or X-Men titles?

the only comic book related argument I want to hear more often is between me and my wife, and it would be whether or not she wears the catwoman costume to bed or the wonderwoman.

Brandon Yates

May 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm

I dunno man, I like indies as much as the next guy but pointing out books that are obviously specifically for you is not a great way to convince the uninitiated. Weathercraft? I don’t think so, sir. You need a good “gateway” indie title, something closer to what saturates the mainstream but with a careful eye on character and story. I wouldn’t even know what to suggest though. But I think my idea is a good starting point (as I’m wont to do).

1. Who would win in a fight, Superman or Thor?

2. Why doesn’t the best comic on the stands, PS238, get more readers?

“Why do superheroes dominate the online conversation the way they do?”

Because superhero comics (that is, Big Two superhero comics– are people debating BPRD somewhere?) have succeeded in creating an audience (however big or small) that’s passionate about them, over the course of decades of hard work (and/or exploitation)…? Each new one that comes out now contributes to and reflects against a massive, massive body of product (which body of work within itself already contains interpretations, re-interpretations, self-critiques, etc., and have so for the last, oh, half-century-ish). Plus: individual books not only reflect the ideas and crafts of their creators, but arguably the industries and culture and traditions and fashions of their creation.

There’s more conversation because they invite a conversation– conversation was part of their DNA since letter pages (which go back, what, more than five decades?). Plus: they’re often lousy, really lousy, in a way that allows fans to not be precious when discussing them, or on their best behavior. There’s not just more conversation– the conversation’s more fun, more vulgar, more lively. It’s a conversation that people have fun participating in.

What you’re (maybe) suggesting is a bug is actually a feature. And it’s not a feature I’m saying that other comics lack– it’s not something you would reasonably expect to exist in the first place! It’s a positive feature, an accident of history, that we’re lucky to have. It’s one of the good things about them. It’s one of things worth celebrating.

Or not. Maybe I’m just in a good mood today.

“Why don’t we have an imdb-style site for comics?”

http://www.comicbookdb.com/ is getting close to it– it’s becoming a pretty valuable reference site for me, at least.

“Why do superheroes dominate the online conversation the way they do? ”

Is it the difference between art and entertainment?

ComicsPricingGuide was great for me for a while, but I keep forgetting my password and never log in.

Steve Giacomelli

May 25, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I would like to see more discussion of the validity (or the inverse) of the different approaches to graphic storytelling: Panel to-panel cartooning, vs storyboard style vs “phototracing” (or whatever the neutral terminology is).

“Which is more valuable, the artist or the writer?”

As I tell my friends “Looks attract but personality keeps them around” so the Artist will attract a fan to a new book but the Writer will keep the fan buying book. Because, who wants to read a crapping story with nice art!!!

“Which is more valuable, the artist or the writer?”

As I tell my friends “Looks attract but personality keeps them around” so the Artist will attract a fan to a new book but the Writer will keep the fan buying book. Because, who wants to read a crapping story with nice art!!!

Why do people freak the fuck out when there are two Viking books, five zombie books, or ten vampire books when there are fifty or so superhero titles every month?

Is the dominance of a single genre in the mainstream consciousness damaging to comics as an artistic medium?

Derek Wyckoff

May 25, 2010 at 3:21 pm

So many good comments. A couple specific observations, then, followed by general reactions:

(1) The price rise of comics has paralleled the price rise in nearly every other print media—which has been driven by the cost of paper. Let’s face it: it wasn’t all that long ago that paperbacks cost what comics do now, and the number of newspapers capable of sustaining profitability is plunging. So a better, and more critical, question might be: can the industry survive at all? And what changes will this necessitate?

(2) I’m sick to death of pan-imprint crossovers… especially ones that take a year, sometimes more, to play themselves out (c.f. Marvel’s present, seemingly interminable “Civil War-Secret War-Dark Reign-Siege-whatever’s next” saga). While doing something like this with annuals is okay from time to time—you can fill in the titles you don’t collect fairly simply—doing this with monthlies, much less with all your monthlies, much less for months on end, discourages me from buying any titles, since I know I’ll never be able to get the “complete” story. At least not until it’s collected into trades… and if I’m just going to wait for that to happen, I have no motivation to get the monthlies at all. This practice is completely discouraging to casual or new buyers, who won’t like being dropped into the middle of something and won’t be able to follow it without a thorough background knowledge of the universe. And as for DC’s “Crisis of Infinite Crises”: the day this last one turns out not to be the “Final” one is the day I stop buying their titles. Period.

(3) I find the “new universe” model Marvel is using with Ultimates to be brilliant—I haven’t looked at any other attempts, in large part due to purchasing ability. It’s allowed writers to avoid many of the problems just mentioned by doing away with existing continuity altogether. The only thing that makes it work, though, is that it is clear that it is a separate universe. Of course, it’s clearer to me because I’ve been reading comics for so long… I’m not sure how easily a new reader would get this; there is no up-front disclaimer stating that “the Ultimates universe is not the same as the (main) Marvel Universe.” So whether or not they make good “gateway” products, I don’t know. I do find the proliferation of titles for a single character/team to be discouraging: I no longer read Batman or X-Cetera titles because I can’t possibly afford to keep up on the history of the character(s) involved. I don’t think trimming the number of titles would increase the sales of the remainder to the extent of the reduction: if you do follow Batman, odds are good you buy all or at least most of the titles anyway, not just Detective. It would certainly reduce confusion, though.

(4) As far as business models, attracting new readers (of whatever demographic), etc.: the store I shop at puts all new releases on a single wall, alphabetically; reprint trades are on separate shelves, grouped by publisher. This solves some of the problems, but it creates others—especially if you’re stuck trying to, say, find titles from the same imprint that are carrying ongoing crossovers. Or even to find other titles in the same universe, just because you happen to like that universe: it was far easier for me to track the Wildstorm titles when they were all in one place. That’s just one aspect of a discussion of “business models,” of course, but it helps point up how complex answers to this issue can become.

For me, the story is far more important than the art: while art has occasionally attracted my attention to something, and I’m thrilled by good drawing and color (I can’t remember the artist who was drawing the Avengers in the 270s, but I do remember Christie Scheele’s name, for instance), I’ve never bought a comic for the art alone, whereas bad art has only rarely made me stop buying a title. (I know a lot of people out there really like Bill Sienkiewicz, but his art caused me to stop buying New Mutants when it got to the point where I couldn’t tell one character from another visually. Conversely, I stuck with Stormwatch: Team Achilles throughout its run, in spite of its justly-criticized inconsistency.) I’m perfectly happy to buy the black-and-white newsprint collections Marvel puts out, just to get the stories. I can always treat them as coloring books if I want. (Which probably makes my response to arguments concerning reprinting archival comics pretty obvious.)

Because my primary interest is the story, I like serialization in general (apart from when it gets out of control). I also like a cohesive shared universe—which does not require crossover runs: it’s simple enough to have characters in one title appear occasionally in another. Both serials and crossovers are discouraging for casual buyers, though, as mentioned above (whereas crossover *appearances* can stimulate interest in previously unknown characters). Serials (and cross-title stories are by definition serial) should be kept short enough that someone dropped in the middle of one has a reasonable chance of tracking down back issues to its beginning and following it to its end. Sufficient one-issue stories should be available from a given publisher that a casual buyer can find at least a couple of these in any given month… and hopefully get drawn in to follow longer stories later.

Here are a few questions/points I’d like to see asked and addressed—not all of which are new; they’re just the ones I think are most critical:

(1) Why is continuity so difficult for a comic universe? Don’t the publishers have copies of all their old titles? (At least the past few decades’ worth?) Don’t the people writing these titles ever read what came before? I would think that a solid grounding in the title’s, and the universe’s, history would be a prerequisite for working in it.

(2) Along the same lines: authors shouldn’t be permitted to alter past continuity just because it’s inconvenient for them, or just because they want to, oh, say, make use of a character who’s DEAD Jean Grey . “Retconning” is fine to introduce new “past” material as far as I’m concerned (I’d point in particular to the Wildstorm universe, which does a brilliant job of giving the impression it’s been around as long as DC or Marvel has, simply by adding new background as it needs it). It is not fine when it wants to alter already existing material.

(3) Again along the same lines: the abilities of characters should be well-established and not subject to change without good, in-story reasons. This applies primarily to the “men in tights” titles, of course, but this problem can be seen in just about any comic if it runs long enough. How strong is, say, Spider-Man, or Captain America, or Aquaman, or whomever? Usual answer: as strong as the writer needs the character to be to accomplish whatever feat the writer wants to throw in. A definitive, quantified answer to this question would go far to eliminate what I have no doubt is the top “argument we’d prefer never to hear again”—”Who’s stronger, X or Y?”

I made myself a list, several years ago, when I was considering writing some comic submissions (back in the days when they were still solicited), of the rules I felt should be applied to a comics universe. It currently stands at twenty-one rules with eight sub-rules, and four meta-rules with two sub-meta-rules. This post is already way too long to include them here, though I’d be happy to share them with anybody interested. (As just one example, here’s Meta-Rule X: “When in doubt, the least ludicrous explanation for anything will be used.” I’m sure we can all think of times this was violated.) Many are hinted at above. Here’s my final question, though:

(4) Should comics in general, or at least a given shared universe, have a set of inviolable rules to guide writers? Or is it more desirable for writers to be able to do absolutely anything they want in the interests of furthering their particular story?

Comic book fans don’t want character development beyond the status quo.

Do delays in comics that result from creators not being to keep up a monthly schedule actually hurt sales, or are readers accepting delays so that they may have a complete story or collection?

Is there a limit to what companies can charge on a per issue basis? Will diehard fans pay whatever price point is offered them no matter what?

Would fans who have extensive back issue and trade collections be interested in acquiring those same comics in digital format if they were offered at a reasonable price by publishers?

Would fans of digital content want a standard platform for all companies across the board similar to what music has in iTunes?

Is the hiring of television and movie writers who don’t know “The big two” continuity healthy vs hiring writers who spend years studying and working on their own independent comic books and know continuity?

Should stories written for mass appeal or to compliment a movie or event coming out or should comic books stay in their own storylines with the occasional crossover?

I have more but this is enough.

Are there characters that should permanently stay dead? If yes, which ones, and why?

Why won’t Newsarama or Comic Book Resources ever do an interview with hard-hitting questions? You know, just even *mention* to Loeb that much of comicdom isn’t digging Red Hulk. That’s just one example.

Why do these site HAVE to kiss so much butt? Every interview feels like Jay Leno throwing pre-planned softball questions…

We need “journalists” to push them to new heights in addition to promoting their wares!

Abhay added some very good insight. Jackace, AMAZING

There has also been some truly inane responses as well. I sincerely hope no one wants to hear the question asked MORE if Thor or Superman would win – never is enough (though I pray the poster was being ironic). And as to why there hasn’t been another Will Eisner – good grief, where begin? Better ask why there hasn’t been another Shakespeare. One might legitimately ask whether the structure of the comic book industry is somehow inhibiting the flourishing of such creativity, but that’s really a whole nother question. I’m also pretty sure Firefly had spaceships…given, that, you know, it was set in space and the title of the show is based on the type of spaceship they fly. But if it’s non superhero genre material with a real human story you’re looking for, try Torso or Criminal. They’re by Bendis and Brubaker respectively. Oh, and you know the Spirit? Kinda superhero dude? That was Eisner.

“Why do superheroes dominate the online conversation the way they do? ”

I think because most of them are dealing with the incredibly familiar, and, because they’re greatest level is on the surface, and much of the fun is fans guessing where they will go, its kind of like discussing what’s going on in your own life. Its like watching an enormous game of chess play out and wondering where it will go. Its the fantasy picks for nerds.

Discussing something like “Wilson” would usually involve more personal emotions and be played amongst a much smaller audience. (If all the Fantagraphics titles were, for some reason, connected, that would create a situation where those reading Hate! know what’s happening in Eightball, and thus the discussion is suddenly enormous.)

(I don’t know if I really agree with Spurgeon’s assesment of Final Crisis. For one, it actually is kind of a meditation on the nature of story and images. Choosing a Grant Morrison book was kind of wrong to me, as he is one of the very few writers in mainstream comics really discussing the deeper themes of his work. I completely agree with the above poster though. Comics site interviews with mainstream people should not read like extended advertisements.)

“Who should have more creative power in a mainstream comic, the brand or the creative people involved?”

OK, apologies if the above can off as true internet dickery. It wasn’t meant to. However, there are two comments I do indeed intend to respond with the full fury of douchebaggery:

The Ugly American: “Enough about women and comics all the time blah blah blah they’re probably so sick of hearing about it that that’s why there aren’t any. Case closed.

Wow, your username befits you. This is absolutely not at all what I was suggesting. Quite the reverse. It is because it is often commentators such as the American who are making the arguments, that the arguments are so inane. The audacity of white, privileged, men to assert why women want something is shocking. Try that with any female in your life: “Oh it’s ok honey, you don’t want that, I know what you want.” Get back to me if you have your teeth.

Raskal66: “Does it really matter what gender or ethnicity comic book characters are? Do they even have an ethnicity or gender since they are drawings?Does anyone really decide to purchase comics based on the identity politics of the characters?”

I’m almost willing to grant this one, as if this ignorance is out there, then yes, the question should be voiced. Once. To be quashed into a million pieces. I’m hardly the person to do it, but I’ll make a half hearted attempt.

The gender question is obvious and easy. You see those giant watermelon things on the chest of Power Girl that make you do a double take and look at the cover (me too, no lie) – that’s how in comics land, characters have a gender. Are you saying that all the characters should be homogeneous hermaphrodites like out of Left Hand of Darkenss? No. Cause that wouldn’t be hot.

But to be fair, it also wouldn’t be realistic. And for these drawings to have any purchase on our lives, they must somehow reflect them. That’s one simple answer for the inclusion of a diversity of ethnicities within comics. There are far more, both touching on more serious issues of representation and oppression, but also simple commercial ones (and hells yeah, people will buy comics if they think their lives and experiences are represented within them).

when will marvel &dc stop this stupid longest day ,&avenger stupidity ,and just work on writing good strong books ,remember those? no epic buy all five issues of shit ,i repeat shit ,to get to point nothing ,just to set up another stupid epic story …stop it ,now just write good books again people will buy them …

casual comic reader

May 25, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Comic readers should vote with their wallets and only buy books they like. Let the publishers and comic shops figure out their own marketing problems.

“Why do superheroes dominate the online conversation the way they do?”

The most obvious answer is that superheroes dominate the medium the way they do. Which leads to the deeper question, why?

Superheroes, as a genre, is an odd duck that seems to only work well in comics, to a lesser degree in cartoons, and only occasionally in movies or television. There is a highly visual element to the superhero genre that leaves most novelizations and even live-action attempts to replicate stories from this genre somewhat flat. Comics hold a strong grip on fans of the superhero genre as the quintessential means of accessing that genre.

Other genres of comics are less exclusive. If, for example, one is a fan of vampires, there are movies, novels, and TV shows that already seem to engage the material in a more satisfying way. Crime comics, western comics, and romance comics seem to appeal to a genre interested that is already served in other media.

Thus, comics serves as the focal point for fans of the superhero genre and so any comics website is likely to be a gathering point for fans with interests in that genre whereas fans of other genres might congregate in other forums pertaining in other media.

Just my theory.

I would love to discuss the benefit of an itunes-esque system where you can get digital comics for .99 (or cheaper than 2.99/3.99) and how that might impact the growth of independent comics, or comic books in general.

Especially because the mainstream comic book market is dominated by super hero books, consumers are already spending 2.99 or 3.99 a pop to read about books they are familiar with, they don’t want to overextend their wallet anymore than they have to to take risks. If prices on many high-quality, but lesser-known series or books were cut due to digital download, would mainstream audiences pay attention and take advantage of it?

I know I would snap up an itunes-esque comic book buying/reading system. It would be incentive to try out different books and I would then go and purchase hard copies, or collected editions. Kind of like what Warren Ellis, Paul Duffield, and Avatar Press are doing with FreakAngels.

Most people read comics to escape from the norm of reality, not get more of it in a comic, which is why more people, including myself, read mostly superhero comic books. In Superhero comic books I get to read about things that are extremely impossible in real life. I live in the real world and know what that’s like.

There have been a lot of great comments here. I have been cutting down my superhero books a lot lately and trying very hard to find books that do something else. I still love the idea of superhero comics, but very rarely are a creative team given the freedom and the time to do something meaningful with them or the characters. I would like to see more creator-owned superhero books being published, like Invincible, that’s for sure.

Vertigo and Icon have provided some great non-superhero, but fairly mainstream books in the past and I am very excited to see Casanova coming back at Icon. It’s not too big of a leap to go from Batman to Unknown Soldier, and then to The Unwritten, then to Day Tripper, and by that point you’ve traveled far away from traditional superheroics and are swimming in books that have relevant, literary themes running throughout them, but you’re still well within the mainstream.

If you can get a reader to realize more can be done with comics gradually, you have a better chance than championing books like Weathercraft and Wally Gropius to someone who is used to all the pretty colors and relatively little character development over in the Green Lantern books. From what I’ve seen of them, Weathercraft is devoid of color and Wally Gropius is largely devoid of backgrounds. It’s just as striking as trying to read a manga for the first time from right to left (and I admit, despite frequent attempts to read manga I still cannot train my brain to read the panels on the page from right to left after all these years of reading comics left to right).

I want to see more blogs focus on the middle ground offered at Vertigo, Wildstorm, Icon, Image, Dark Horse, Boom!, Avatar Press, IDW, and so forth. I think if anything is lacking coverage in proportion to their market share, it’s probably those books because they don’t need as much championing as the artsier things from Fantagraphics or Pantheon or whomever.

And very quickly: hell yes to cheap digital single comics and printed collections. Please make this happen sooner than later or else people who want this might get used to getting it for free. I’m tired of hearing “there isn’t enough demand for it.” How on Earth can anyone know the level of demand for something no one is actually doing anything close to? It solves the problem of creepy small shops unfriendly to women, the problem of lack of exposure to build a larger audience, and the problem of comics being too expensive to attract or sustain casual readers and new readers (specifically kids).

There are many factors that are going to affect comics both regarding subject matter and also whowill shop in the stores.

Subject Matter:

There are so many availible genres for people to choose from, but the publishers continue to primarily promote the Superhero comics. Thats great and all, but it does them and the customers a disservice.

The publishers are dictating what the customer base will read by only promoting one corner of their publishing outlook.
They think by doing this they will tap into the 8 year old future customer.

They would be better served if they promoted their Superhero titles during the cartoon shows on TV. Have some real kids do a segment between episodes of Spider-Man or any other character and they point out to the little kids that they can follow the characters in their monthly adventures which can be purchased at the local comics shop.
This will give awareness where it needs to be and also promote reading which many kids today cannot seem to do.

Other titles like Vertigo books or Marvel Max books could do well if they advertised major storylines or creators in periodicals like MAXIM or Rolling Stone or any number of other magazines that are popular among a certain age group.
Mainly advertise the comics in places that are suitable for those titles.
Little kids do not go into comics stores, so They will not know about your kid themed book. Advertise it like the toys do on the cartoon blocks and you have a winner.

Bottom line the publishers need to get creative and look beyond their base in order to expand their base.

Publishers have to make a concerted effort to put as much into promoting the other books as they do the Superhero titles.
That is why they dominate. No other reason than that.

The $3.99 price point: This may be great for the publishers, but it sucks for the people buying their product.
to give an Idea, My monthly pull list not including any specials or One shots I may decide to grab came up to an average cost of $200 per month. This was after my 25% discount.
When books started going to $3.99, I had to start cutting back because of the massive increase to my comic budget.
I was left with no choice but to decide which titles I really wanted to follow.
Now I spend about $50 a month.
The point is that if not for the signifigant increase in cost, I would very likely still be spending what I was and not caring one way or the other.

This has a major effect on the direct market also. Not all stores are located in bustling urban areas where there are a few million potential customers. Most are in the Smaller urban areas.

The price hike has caused many of the stores in my area to limit their orders.
Now they only order what is guaranteed to sell for them with maybe a couple of titles ordering maybe 5 copies beyond the subscribers.
Any specials or series that don’t fit the mold of primary releases requires a special order and in some cases, agreeing to get the entire series since orders are made 4 months in advance.

This right here is also what keeps many stores from carrying books that might appeal to a female market or even to little kids.
This crap is causing stores to focus on the current client base while practically ignoring anything that could feasably lead to business growth.

Women in the Stores: Comic shops have been a boys club this is true.
At my local shop, Many women who come in act like a deer in the headlights. Like they are so far out of their element that they are scared to ask the proper questions.
Sure there are employees who may leer a bit but maybe they don’t have much social experience yet so do not realize that they are being rude.
Now the place I go has a number of female geeks that go in. Some of them over time have even gotten to the point where they hear the rest of us nerding out over some title that they are starting to sit and join in.

So maybe it just comes down to them getting comfortable with the store and recognizing some of the regular customers to get them to open up.

What the comic Publishers should do.

They should take some of their titles and put them together in an Anthology format book.
Like an AVENGERS Anthology. It could have say a main story about the team, and then have 3-4 backup solo tales of different members of the Avengers.

Sell it for $4.99 It will expose more of their characters. It will give them an opportunity to get some characters out there who cannot carry a monthly title long term. Like Sub Mariner or speedball or Quasar for example.
This could be done with Spidey and any of their characters to be honest.
customers will eel they are getting more for their money and may even start to spend more.

@Jeph Loeb; “Comic fans do not want character development beyond the status quo.”

sorry but thats a load of crap. sure the vocal minority who thinks that any change to something constitutes raping their childhood. They average about 2% of the fan base and my response to them is -Oh grow up-
Fans would be happy to see the characters change. If that change actually meant something lasting. All you guys do is rehash the same old crap over and over. Oh we killed this character. Yeah and he/she will be back in 6 months time. Like clockwork.
Fans have nothing to look forward to because you guys constantly destroy our expectations.

Fans would embrace new changes to characters if it actually meant something and also stuck with the characters base motivations. you know, like not having Spidey’s marriage erased by the devil.

Bucky became Cap. Fans whined about it and the fact that he carries a gun. Now, Fans cannot allow him to leave. So Steve Rogers has to become a new character all over again.
That is proof that change can be embraced if done correctly.

Ultimate Universe did this and is a success. there is some backlash because some of the characters come across as too cynical. But if some writeres, such as yourself would stop trying to turn that universe into the 616 universe, people (fans) would be much happier.

so sorry Jeph. But your statement implies a defeatest attitude of someone who has currently run out of good Ideas.
This is not an attack at you, even though I could do a long diatribe about your current work, this is just a response to your post.

Give the wider fan base more credit than you are.

Why should I care more about the writer than the character. I’m not one these people that follow a writer around to each book he writes.

Why aren’t comic shops or the Direct Market female friendly, another question is why aren’t they kid friendly? The only LCS I have ever shopped at that was accessible to all was run by a woman. There was one display easy to see from outside the store window that had full lines of kids toys and the all ages comics all in one area. No need to go in any further and worrying about junior getting an eye full of covers or collectibles NSFW. They even had shirts in womens sizes, haven’t seen that since. 99% of new tshirts are mens mediums or larger, not even made in smaller sizes.

Another thing about some LCS is the creepy factor. Every Wednesday they become nerd mecca, where a group of guys hang out all day huddled around the counter talking to the person behind the register. There was one LCS that had an old couch right next to the checkout stand that was always crowded. And they wouldn’t get out of the way so you had to move around their legs all while getting the stink eye for interrupting their conversation. Look I get these guys want to discuss the finer points of the latest issue of Spider-man, but do it at the coffee shop or something. Buy your books and get the hell out of the way. The register is not a water cooler and the store isn’t your buddies house you are hanging out at. Half the problem are the workers at these LCS who don’t pay attention to the new customers, just want them to get out so they can get back to talking. I am almost done with my current LCS for this very reason. The guys who buy 20 books get all the respect but buying just 3 or 4 a week, they don’t even bother to update your pull list when you ask. I’m really close to going back to mail order and pay the extra for shipping to avoid the uncomfortable experience of getting them myself.

And when was the last time a heroine saved the day in DCU or Marvel Universe? I’m tired of seeing the likes of Power Girl or She-Hulk being beaten down and taken out of the action early on. Or getting to be the one who takes out the bad guy and being chastised for it like WW did.

The problem I have with the way superheroes dominate discussion is the fact that they’re really only “mainstream” relative to the Direct Market. Outside it, the big movers and shakers are manga, webcomics, indies, and art comics. And it’s not as if superheroes are the only form of escapism, or the genre that comics do better than anyone else. I mean, an anime/manga site will probably focus on popular shounen or shoujo, but that still covers a number of genres!

The Ugly American

May 26, 2010 at 12:50 pm

@Mike W.

You know that probably wasn’t actually Jeph Loeb, right? That was more likely someone making fun of the way Jeph Loeb writes his characters.

@MC_Nedelsky

Keep your personal attacks to yourself and let the women answer.

Noah: I didn’t mention manga but I was definitely thinking about it as part of the not-superheroes segment of comics that doesn’t get talked about as much. You’re right I probably should have been more explicit and not just mentioned various altcomix that began with the letter “W.” (Which was weird. Wait–there it is again!)

Abhay: I think I’d have just as much fun, if not more, if everyone were talking about Weathercraft as opposed to Wednesday Comics. (More Ws!!!)

Why can’t (most) comic stores get beyond the Marvel / DC / Indy model of organizing and presenting their books?

It seems to me that this filter is partially responsible for the way we see and support the industry. To wit: “I’m a DC guy. I don’t bother with those ‘art’ books.”

But go into a “real” bookstore and what do you see: organization by genre: literature, mystery, sci-fi, westerns, etc.

I would love to walk into a comic store and see the “Crime/Mystery” section full of Bendis, Brubaker, and Tardi. Or a “History” section with Geary and Gonnik. Admittedly, some categories would be small, but people (even girls!) could find what they like. And I think it would promote better long-term cross-promotion than any event book does.

(Of course, even “real” bookstores typically relegate comics to the “graphic novels” section rather than the appropriate genre. But that’s another battle…)

Hi Sean, what a great idea for debate. Here’s my fiver’s worth:

1) Why don’t comics news sites properly reflect the diversity of comics? There is such a vast array — for example, webcomics, small press, European/other worldwide comics, alt publishers in the US, comics for kids, and yet sites (like CBR) seem mostly only interested in Marvel and DC (with everything else shuffled off into blogs), why is that? How can we entice newcomers into this amazing art form when the sites can’t be bothered to give this art form the representation it deserves?

2) Where are the sites where kids can go to and read about the comics they like? Whose catering to that? Where was the cut-off point when publishers jumped ship from kids, and *why* aren’t they correcting course in the face of their own thinning audiences?

3) Related to that, why is it, after all this time, that Marvel and DC still cannot sell comics to young adults and women? Why haven’t they called in consultancies to sort this out, surely they can’t just have the one business model? Or don’t they want to, scared to be found out? Is that insecurity killing our art form?

4) Is there such thing as comicbook journalism, really? Or is it nothing more than reviews and re-voicing press releases? Whose out there taking the publishers on?

5) Marvel and DC are often referred to as ‘mainstream comics’ and yet rarely appeal to the mainstream. How about they ask the mainstream what kind of comics would appeal to them, for a change?

6) Are these companies even self-aware they’re competiting against themselves with all the franchising of books they put out? I mean, FOUR Deadpool books and all the promotion they put on their events, no wonder their smaller books don’t make it.

7) Less superhero book reporting. I mean, no one’s really buying these books anymore, except the long-time fan it seems, and yet column space is filled with this shite. Use the vacant space more effectively instead to review the diversity (as noted in 1) or interview newer creators.

Here are some of my questions I would lke to debate.

1. Why does it seem that publishers or the big people in charge never
seem to harp on writers, artists etc that make a book run late or take
three months past the supposed release of the last issue.

2. When will comic sites stop kissing the butts of the most late artist. I know if
I see a story saying “This 6 issue mini drawn by ( as an example) David Finch
J.G Jones, Bryan Hitch or Ethan Van Schier” I know that issue will
be drawn out from 6 to 10 months and they might get a filler artist
to finish.

3. If they want to charge 4.00 a book, why can’t the story at least be
interseting to pluck my hard cash.

Let’s debate these topics. But, since we would either not get an answer
or just half truths, we will be left to wonder forever.

1. Why do Marvel and DC continue to exploit their ever-shrinking audience by dividing their popular titles into more and more spin-offs?

2. Why do Marvel and DC think that re-numberings and cross-over events are more important than good stories? If the answer is that the readers want them, I would point out the readership is 1/10th what it was 20 years ago, so you’re wrong.

3. Why do readers follow characters? A character is a costume and a set of powers.
They’re only as good as the writers and artists that depict them.

@Mike-El

“3. Why do readers follow characters? A character is a costume and a set of powers.
They’re only as good as the writers and artists that depict them.”

You ask the right question there, man (see my earlier post above; I posed an identical question with different wording). To many people walking into the stores and blinding buying based on the characters.

Argh, “Too many”, not “To many”. I hate that mistake.

Why do fans let continuity of other titles effect their enjoyment of a book? I find this utterly stupid. Fans could read the greatest story ever, but if it contradicts another story they can’t seem to get over it.

Superheroes are cultural machines, agents of a social dilemmas, and artifacts of historical values. With superheroes (and most other fictional, narrative character, for that matter) we quite literally personify the inherent struggles of out time in order to better rationalize their purpose or relevance (old values vs new ones). But, unlike so many other fictional characters, superheros provide the allusion of absolute agency. When we read our heroes, become our heroes, we too possess the ability to enact obvious physical change on our environments. Superheroes, in many ways, are also hopeful gestures that individual actions can have profoundly universal effects (afterall, no one can argue that the ability to level a small city by oneself is a humble vision). Psychoanalyze it to any degree you choose, superheroes dominate popular reading because they are the easiest to digest and the most immediately satisfying to our desire to make change.

With that said, I have little to no interest in establishing a superhero bible, a set of rules that all comics must acknowledge. Sure, I appreciate, even respect, the discrete origins of my favorite heroes, but re-imaginig my hero’s supercharged birth for the sake of cultural relevance is not exactly a sin. In fact, its one of the greatest strengths of the genre and perhaps one of the only remaining attributes that has kept comic book writing from slipping too far into kitsch. Continuity, although certainly not unimportant, sometimes perpetuates archaic values while supporting older times. If indeed my favorite superhero reaches a point where they can ask the audience a newer question, then I welcome that change and the uncharted territory that unfolds.

What exactly is “female friendly”? Salior Moon? Wonder Woman? Jemm and the Holograms? I mean if this is going to be debated I would like to know what exactly seperates a “female” comic from a “male” comic.

And before anyone says it, would that mean we should have comics that are friendly toward other types of people too or make the main stream comics a bit more sensitives/international with it’s characters?

What exactly is the the ratio of males vs females buying comic books today?…and this one someone COULD answer!

Todd Spangrud

May 29, 2010 at 10:28 am

I no longer buy weekly comics because of the cost.To buy a comic,read it and then have it be worth less than 1/4 of its oringinal cost or less is the killer.I will read reviews and then buy the HB or TPB a month or 2 later.The cost is prohibitive and digital comics should be sold for that 1/4 th of the pamphlet cost.I know I would buy comics in this formand many more that I would never buy now.Especially indies.
I love comics.I am a Silver Age kid.I grew up with the classics of the S.A. and would support current titles if they would lower the cost with didgital copies.The magazines such as Alter Ego,Back Issue and others have gone this route and I am sure this keeps their bottom line alive.Many more new readers would purchase downloads if they were available.When is this going to happen?

Leave a Comment

 



Browse the Robot 6 Archives