Robot 6

The Middle Ground #103 | How did I get here?

Looking through the previews of Archie’s New Crusaders revival the other day, I had this odd reaction that took me a while to work through. My first impulse was a sense of … dissatisfaction, perhaps, that it looked too “cartoony” and aimed toward kids, which was immediately followed by its own backlash as I remembered, oh, that’s right: that’s what they’re supposed to be.

It seems odd to think about that these days, now that The Avengers is breaking box-office records like a hobby and mainstream pop culture has been hijacked by what used to be four-color fantasies. Somehow, the world at large has bought into the idea that we’ve been playing with for years that superheroes are modern-day myths and therefore deserve to be taken seriously, to the point of finding myself at a party recently listening to two men who’ve seen the movies but never read the comics arguing at each other about the origins of their new favorite characters and the metatextual roots of Tony Stark’s Afghanistan armor-forging. (Also, note to both: Alan Moore didn’t create Iron Man. Sorry) On the one hand, it feels like a victory because, hey! Everyone finally gets it after years of abuse! But on the other…

Somewhere, the “mainstream comic audience” — the direct market fans, the ones who not only know that comics come out weekly on Wednesdays but try to get to the store that day to pick up their books — became too possessive about their characters, I worry. “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!” went the 1980s slogan created in the wake of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, and that’s obviously, undeniably the case because it’s an entire medium, how can a medium be solely for any one audience? But in trying to prove that to everyone, we’ve reached a point where the idea of superhero comics created for kids has become as much an anomaly as those created for adults was 30 years ago.

This isn’t a new thought, of course; everyone’s been here before me, and knows that (a) the western comic industry skews weirdly, self-destructively older than it should as a whole, and (b) it’d be great if the larger publishers in the direct market made more of an effort to cultivate a younger readership than a couple of specialty books a month. But quite how that translates into New Crusaders feeling too much like a kids’ book and therefore not for me is the thing that has stuck with me: Exactly what is that all about, my brain?

Annoyingly, it’s likely the art, which doesn’t fit into the detailed hyper-realism school as pioneered by Neal Adams and then twisted into the Jim Lee and/or Bryan Hitch schools in the last couple of decades? It’s far closer to something Mike Parobeck or Mike Wieringo would do, if a little more static right now, which is annoying because … I prefer Parobeck or Wieringo to Hitch or Lee, and the idea that I’d jump to “not for me” when I see their art seems particularly like I’ve missed the part where over-exposure has programmed my brain to think that way (I didn’t agree to that, dammit).

There’s a tendency to accept received wisdom over your own taste, sometimes, because it’s easier; you can look at something and think “Yeah, that’s the way things aren’t meant to be” or “that’s what sells” or whatever and be okay with it in ways even if a moment’s thought would put you elsewhere on the spectrum of good to evil. Maybe that’s just me, but it’s something that I have to be aware of and push back on more than I’d like. New Crusaders may benefit from that kind of course correction, because I know I’m going to sign up when it launches tomorrow if only to try and deprogram my brain from this weird preconception. After all, I have to try and learn not to be so stupid sometime, right …?

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16 Comments

It’s not just you. I sometimes find myself being put off by even someone as popular as, say, Humberto Ramos, because his style is comparatively more “cartoony” than many other artists working in the mainstream right now. I know in my brain that he’s a talented dude, but when I see his work my gut reaction is often not a positive one, and I think it’s only because he’s not particularly “gritty” or “realistic” in his style, not because of any actual, specific problem I have with his art.

Jake Earlewine

May 15, 2012 at 3:26 pm

To my eye, this reboot looks too “cartoony” and aimed toward kids. Just like the nu52. Your first instincts were right, Graeme.

But I appreciate how the mainstream (superhero) comics market isn’t aiming for my dollars any more. Let the kids have these comics, then. I’m happy to spend my money elsewhere. No bitterness. There are lots of good things in this world for a man with mature tastes.

This might seem like I’m trolling, but I’m really not. It’s just that this whole attitude towards mainstream comics drives me nuts.

The problem I have with this outlook is the assumption that what mainstream comics have done can be at all considered “adult” or “sophisticated” in any meaningful way. It’s not and, in my opinion, it’s so far from it as to be laughable. In fact, I feel that superhero books from the Big Two have plunged head-first into an uncanny valley where writers and artists have – and this may offend some reading this – fooled themselves into thinking that they’re more capable than they are. By that I mean they’ve completely forgotten what comics are, tried to make them “adult,” and as a result have written mediocre junk that is about as sophisticated as a hobo with a monocle.

Comics should be written for kids, but that doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy them. There is no shortage of stuff from the sixties, seventies, and eighties that still holds up beyond nostalgia, and it’s because they knew what they were doing and what they wanted to do but, more importantly, were actually capable artists that knew how to execute their vision without pretense. There’s too many writers out there now that would be laughed out of the room as hacks if their characters weren’t wearing capes or masks, yet somehow because of the capes and masks they’re given a pass and praise by a pool of readers that simply hasn’t had enough exposure to legitimate art and literature and are driven, more than anything else, by a desire to be specifically targeted and catered to. The fanboys are no different than fans of mainstream country songs that love it when lyrics literally rattle off a list of things they like and activities they partake in.

In short: so what if a comic is for kids? I bet you can still enjoy it, and I bet it’ll be a lot better than the junk masquerading as art that’s geared towards more “mature” fans.

Bravo Kevin, I agree entirely.

The so called mainstream superhero books of today’s DC and Marvel or anything but. They are written and aimed at the very peculiar and narrow tastes of predominantly 30-50 year old men who have bought supehero comics for decades and become accustomed to buying a product honed to perfection over those decades to appeal to them, and only them.

The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, most of Cerberus, many works of Tezuka, are all far more nuanced, sophisticated, and appeal to actual widespread audience groups. None of the art in those could be described as gritty or realistic.

Jeff Smith’s Bone was a minor success when distributed primarily through comic shops. It became a huge hit and consistent seller when it was made available through Scholastic Books, meaning it became a hit when it was presented to a true mass audience.

“There’s too many writers out there now that would be laughed out of the room as hacks if their characters weren’t wearing capes or masks, yet somehow because of the capes and masks they’re given a pass”

Indeed. The Big Two are filled with hacks who couldn’t make the B-team writing staff for a low rated sitcom, yet get slobbered all over by 40 year old men who have been reading the same soap opera antics of their favorite superheros for the last 30 years.

I’m with you on that, Kevin. I feel that stuff like this upcoming New Crusaders should do what the Big Two have failed to do for a long time–bring kids into the world of comics. I have a feeling this will have the same effect Batman: The Animated Series–basically, any show in the DCAU–had on kids at the time: getting them interested in the characters.

I think that for a while in the 80s and again in the early 2000s, mainstream comics were better on average than mainstream TV shows and also better than your average bestseller (Dan Brown’s work, for example). Unfortunately, with Geoff Johns’ ascendance at DC and Mark Millar’s popularity at Marvel, writers thought that more extreme violence and sexual themes equivalent with those on TV equalled “sophistication.” Of course, that proved completely false while also alienating a large potential audience of kids (in addition, I think the ridiculous pricing of comics drove away children as much as the sex and violence). The best comics from any decade are like Pixar movies: they are appropriate for and visually appealing to children but are sophisticated in terms of character and plot so that anyone will enjoy them.

Bizarro am seeking creative writing degree.

Dear Kevin and Jason,

Your ignorant denigration of my age group and our so-called need for comics to cater only to “us” is a flawed argument and POV that has existed throughout the history of the comics industry, cyclically dredged up by each new generation that likes to criticise the one before it. You’re both better than that aren’t you?

I’m a long-time reader and I find the comments and intellectual “insights” and criticisms pretty funny, especially as they’ve been regurgitated over and over, pretty much ever since comics were around. Shit, I can even recall the “cutting edge” insights into what’s wrong with comics, it’s the older fans’ fault, comics aren’t accessible for kids, dating back to my Denny O’Neil Batman and Green Lantern comics. Change the record guys – we’ve heard this one way, way, WAY to many times.

cgorg2: Maybe you’ve heard it so many times before because it’s been a problem for a long, long time, and has yet to be properly redressed. I think it’s fair to say that it’s one of the main reasons the industry has been struggling for, oh, 30 years or so.

cgorg2: And year after year, meteorologists tell us it will get cold in the winter, but that repetition doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

— MrJM

cgorg2: Your cynical, dismissive attitude towards this conversation would be understandable if we weren’t at a point where fewer kids were reading comics and, more importantly, a smaller percentage of the audience was children than ever before.

I don’t know what else to say other than that I’m sorry the discussion of things bothers you.

@ d

“it’s one of the main reasons the industry has been struggling for, oh, 30 years or so.”

Struggling… for 30 years. That’s 30 years you said? 30 YEARS?!?! And it’s struggling? LMAO. I hear TV has been struggling for over 50 because all those old-timers just refuse to stop watching Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie as well.

@ Kevin

My cynical, dismissive attitude is basically a reflection of your own cynical, dismissive, and ignorant beliefs that the supposed “problem” with comics and the comics industry in general is due to old-timers like myself who refuse to let go, etc, etc, etc. I agree my comments are fairly dismissive, but it’s because you’re bringing nothing new to the conversation. Apparently my comic-peers are the doom of the comics industry – BUT WE’RE STILL HERE!! Just like we all were 30 years ago. Your argument, like it was 10, 20, and 30yrs ago is flawed and irrelevant.

And the reason why comics don’t sell as well now as they did in the past is because of all the other forms of entertainment out there from X-Box, Playstation, to Ipad, and the easy and fast accessiblity of cartoons on TV and DVD. Kids don’t buy comics like I did because there is so much more out there for them nowadays. Feel free to blame me and my peers, but you’re wrong, and your argument is seriously flawed. But like they say, opinions are like arseholes – everyone’s got one.

MrJM

You’re confusing facts with opinions. Your example has no merit.

Warren Newsom

May 19, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Kevin, I agree with you 100%. The best Spider-man comics of the past decade have been Ultimate Spider-man (aimed at middle-school and high school audience) and Spider-man Adventures (aimed at the preteen crowd). The regular Marvel U. (and most of the Ultimate Marvel U.) are just no damn fun (although the current Spider-man run and the new Daredevil are showing signs of turning around). DC had a chance to make things fun again with their reboot, but the Teen Titans and Legion of Super-heroes are excruciatingly boring, both of them taking things way too serious.

Image has some great books right now aimed at various age groups with no big crossover events to try to lure you into buying stuff you don’t want. Make Mine Image.

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