Robot 6

Is Superheroes vs. the Rest of Comics still a thing?

shazambone

I know I still get hammered via e-mail when I suggest something like, say, that there aren’t any superhero comics in any one of my year’s top ten, with a line of thinking that things should somehow be balanced between that particular form of expression and others. I kind of thought most fans were past this …

Tom Spurgeon, wondering whether the quantity of superhero comics in this year’s Eisner nominees is an issue

It wasn’t too many years ago that this definitely was an issue, at least for me. I thought of the stages in my comics life in terms of how much each involved superheroes. My childhood years were all about Harvey, Walt Disney and Looney Tunes until I discovered Marvel and DC and put away “childish things.” That lasted well into my 20s, until companies like Dark Horse and Vertigo opened the gate to other genres.

Not that I abandoned superhero comics. I did my best to balance my reading, but I still thought steadfastly in terms of Superhero Comics and Everything Else. When planning my comics budget, I’d allot half of it for DC/Marvel and the other half for the rest of the Previews catalog. I thought this was a very generous, progressive, and indie-supportive way to go. I’m not judging Then Me or anyone else who budgets in a similar way, but I realize now that I was letting the two publishers with the biggest market share determine the way I thought about comics. It’s not actually even a superheroes/non-superheroes thing; it’s a Big Two/Rest of the World thing. And it’s not a very useful way of thinking.

These days, Marvel and DC compete for my dollars equally with the entire Previews catalog. I read very few comics from the Big Two, but I enjoy the hell out of the ones I do.

If we’re not yet to the point that All of Comics has absorbed Marvel and DC into itself, we should be. I’m not going to tell anyone how to spend his or her money, but the best from the Big Two should at least compete equally with the best of the rest of comics for awards and honors. They shouldn’t be given a special pass just because they’re more popular. I mean, they also shouldn’t be dismissed summarily either, but shouldn’t we be at the place by now that all comics are considered equal regardless of genre or publisher?

Shazam and Bone art by Jeff Smith.

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16 Comments

The mindset exists because a lot of comic book readers started serious comic collecting as “Marvel Universe” fans or “DC Universe” fans. I know I did. It took me several years (and several disappointments with the direction Marvel went in the early 1990s), for me to shake this mindset and start to think of myself not as a guy who tries to keep up with the Marvel/DC Universes, but a guy that just likes to read a good comic.

All comics equal regardless of genre or publisher? The answer is simply NO.Superhero comics especially those that dominate the market coming from the big two have a numbers advantage through sheer number of titles available,have been around longer and have greater pop culture visibility,use variant cover and double shipping gimmicks that give them an unfair advantage in the marketplace.I buy some of those titles as well as Superhero and other genre titles from a number of indies.To me reading Superhero titles regardless of publisher is old school comics and a lot like reading fairy tales,the same fairy tales over and over again.Nothing wrong with that what’s fun is fun.However the expansion of non Superhero titles over the last 30 yrs’ or so is the real meat on the bone for sequential art as we now know it.Just my taste and opinion. Doesn’t have to be yours.

The only situation in which “superheroes vs. all the rest” becomes relevant would be if there exists wide critical support for a particular work within the superhero genre, by a particular author who has a record for pushing the envelope in the genre– and the elitists choose to ignore it because it is a superhero book or resembles one.

Of course, it’s almost impossible to prove this invidious motivation.

So no, I don’t think it’s wrong if a critic chooses not to represent all genres in his best of the year list.

I also don’t think it’s wrong if a critic’s best-list includes nothing but books in the superhero genre.

In both cases I would consider it incumbent on the critic to demonstrate persuasively why his choices were best, without resorting to, “because I say so.”

To answer the question rhetorical; Yes! The playing field should be level. Your article reminded me of how I gradually broke out of my own inertia that was my focus on one of the ‘big two’.

There’s been peaks & troughs a-plenty since I began buying comics, but currently, I feel that there’s more innovation and excitement, across the ‘independent’ publishers. It’s certainly important to me that I’m reading a story as the creator’s intended.

With the likes of DC, I’m really quite tired of the persistent editorial interference that seems to produce more and more average stories that neither the reader nor the hired creatives care about.

I’m buying far less DC comics than ever. The variety of the comics I buy is broader than ever. Overall, the quality of the books I buy is better than ever and I’m really, really enjoying what I read.

Simon DelMonte

April 30, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Nope. It’s still superheroes and everything else. And by “everything else” I mean anything in any medium that isn’t a DC comic. My love for a good Batman comic dwarfs all comers.

I think in some circles there’s an underlying superiority/inferiority complex from superhero hero fandom that collides with an underlying snootyness/defensiveness from indy comics fandom. I don’t think this is a “thing” from comic fandom as a whole but simply something that rears it’s ugly head from time to time.

For me I’m in a position where I love superheroes as a genre but I loathe what Marvel and DC currently do with it which amounts to lot of bad fanfic at best and nihilistic horror movies with capes at worst. Indy superhero comics what scant few of them are don’t really scratch the itch either because they tend to be either aggressively deconstructionist or just mocking the whole thing in some way. Or it’s a superhero comic but it’s coming at it from a very “this aint ya daddy’s superheroes” type of view.

I don’t know. I guess the feeling I’m trying to convey here is that it often feels like everybody wants to make a superhero book but nobody wants to make superhero book.

I don’t think this is a ‘thing’ specific to comics. A top ten list of an entire medium is bound to be stacked one way depending on who’s doing the stacking. Just like when annual ‘best movie’ lists come out, they’re either going to be filled with indie darlings or summer blockbusters, depending on the site/critic doing the compiling.

As someone who sits at conventions trying to sell people on a non-superhero comic I can say there are definitely still people out there – TONS of them – who don’t look at anything that isn’t Marvel or DC superheroes, but that doesn’t mean their choices are wrong either. I don’t know if they’ve tried indy stuff and been burned, (whether it’s a quality thing, life view differences, or just buying one issue of something only to fall in love with it and never see another issue) or if they’ve never even tried something new, but – people like what they like. Even if that happens to just be superheroes, or ‘everything else’. Personally, and from a sales point, I DO wish people wouldn’t be so set in their ways, but selling one comic is hard enough, let alone changing years of mental programming.

Well-rounded, well-read individuals who sample a little bit of everything tend to be pretty rare, and most of them are probably just the reviewers who are paid to do it, and even reviewers are biased. They’re not objective, calculating robots. Just people with opinions like everybody else.

I buy what I like, I buy what I think is good. I got back into reading comics monthly (mainly big two books) in 2008. Before that I rekindled my love of the medium via DC/Vertigo trades. I’ve always seen comics as comics period. So the big this or that thing never really stood out to me all that much.

It’s never been an issue for me. I never stopped buying the Harveys and Archies from my youth. Of course, the Harvey titles are all back issues now. I’ve always purchased independent titles that I enjoyed, such as Strangers in Paradise, Bone, Usagi Yojimbo and tons of titles that didn’t make much of a blip on the average comic collector’s radar.

I also buy lots of DC titles and the Marvel titles that interest me, such as the Spider-Man, FF and Daredevil comics. There are also plenty of other titles from Bongo, Dark Horse, Image, Valiant, IDW, Archaia and whoever else publishes something that I think I’ll like.

My thoughts seem to mirror Jonesy Stark’s, though I never had a period where I was away from reading comics since I started reading them in 1977.

Perception tells me everytime someone’s drawing a rather huge divide between superhero comics and everything else, its a fan of indy comics telling me how terrible the Big Two are and how they’re just corporate symbols and the real comics are published at [insert short list of publishers]. And basically when you bring up non-superhero comics to a Big Two fan, they’re likely to either agree that they have good comics, or shrug their shoulders and move on. However I’m largely a superhero fan and I fully admit this perception could be incorrect. It’s merely what I have observed over the past ten years online.

Now I read other comics from time to time but my bread and butter is with DC and Marvel. There is a good reason for this: Superheroes make only the most marginal appearances in every other form of media. Complain about a summer full of superheroes all you want, but if you went and saw every superhero film that came out in a year, you STILL won’t have gone to the theatre once a month. Any cinephile that attempted to subsist on superhero films alone to prove this would go into some sort of strange film withdrawal. Video game fans that like superheroes are entirely screwed unless they want to play Batman games forever. A live-action superhero series airs maybe a couple times a decade, and cartoons happen…more often than everything else outside of comics, but certainly not often enough to feed someone addicted to the genre. So yes, superheroes run rampant in comics…because they’re just barely around everywhere else.

Now, as far as superheroes vs. the rest of comics critically? Can we just admit that 2012 was largely crappy for superhero comics and move on? There’s no bias, there were just a lot of bad/mediocre/sleep-inducing comics released last year from the Big Two. It happens. They can try again this year.

I’m personally wondering when critics and the general public will start to recognize that “superhero” comics should not be treated as their own genre, but treated instead as any other fantasy/sci-fi/etc. story of nearly any genre.

I appreciate that the Eisner judges want to display the idea that there’s more to comics than DC or Marvel, but by displaying this point they are ignoring some fantastic stories. The nominees are all fantastic and all deserve to win, but comic judges today are becoming just as biased and ignorant as film award judges.

I think the distinction between Superhero comics and ‘the Big two’ comics is really important here and one that I think has got muddy already, in the article and the comments.

I made a conscious effort to move away from buying so much DC stuff about a year ago, simply cos my budget is limited (I get about 20 – 25 comics a month… I know, I know not that limited!) and I was missing out on stuff that looked really interesting, to accommodate titles that I enjoyed from DC (I’d given up on Marvel some time ago). My aim was to over the course of a year, drop DC titles I wasn’t REALLY enjoying and for each one a did I’d have a slot to try something new. Now it didn’t go as simply as one in, one out, but since crossing my own personal Rubicon of dropping The Flash, its gone very, very well and surprisingly easily. I’ve shifted from getting 19 regular DC titles vs. 4 from other publishers, to 7 DC titles (2 Marvel now (small n, no pun intended) as it goes), which will slip to as low as 4 possibly with various things coming up, titles ending etc. vs. 11 from other publishers, with additions coming here taking that to 13.

This has been a conscious anti-DC thing, though only as the tool I’ve used to diversify and broaden my reading. Most importantly to move my reading from comics I like, cos I like the soap opera of a shared Universe, to comics I chuffin’ love full stop.

Now to the actual point I was meant to be raising. Of those titles you could argue which are actually Superhero ones and which aren’t, is Jonah Hex a superhero title (well actually since the relaunch it has got more of the trapping of such), is Animal Man, or is it a horror title? Of the titles I get from other publishers arguably 6 are straight super-hero titles, IT Girl (oh I’ll miss you), The Victories, Black Beetle, Uber, Sex and Mudman, with another Bounce on the way for a try out. Some others have superhero elements, or tropes in them.

So the distinction, as you allude to, isn’t superhero or not, its really Big two or not. Ultimately what the last year has shown me, personally, is however is that by moving away from the big two, as a conscious effort, has been a really useful tool to making me enjoy my comics reading all the more, regardless of publisher or genera.

I think it’s just been a bad year for Big Two comics and that’s that.

While I do think that there is a divide between superhero readers and non-superhero readers and that it’s a mistake to pretend that there is one vast, homogenized comics culture out there, that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that the Big Two have infrastructure, which is something that most smaller companies can’t even dream about. But somehow, even with the kind of financial support that comes with multinational corporate backing, they still managed to underperform against comics that were written, produced and distributed on a shoestring budget.

It’s like the difference between over-produced corporate rock and garage punk bands – one of these is intended to add to the bottom line and the other is a group of people playing music for the hell of it. It is possible for good music to emerge from both environments, but some people simply prefer dealing with a small creative team that has none of the constraints that come with commercial-oriented oversight. At the present time, that divide happens to fall along Superhero vs Everything Else lines.

Great discussion.

Except… why don’t we ever talk about why MARVEL and DC publish superhero comics almost exclusively? If the perceived divide does exist, why don’t they diversify?

Aaron – those conversations are happening, they’re just happening in places where the superhero is not the dominant genre. Any cursory survey of comics publishing shows that publishers hopped genres every few years in the 30s, 40s and 50s. By the time FF #1 came out, Lee and Kirby had both made romance comics, sci fi comics, horror comics, war comics and superhero comics as trends dictated.

In the modern era, the Big Two have spent a lot of time and energy optimizing their supply chains and business practices towards the production and distribution of superhero comics. Remember that the primary customer of publishers are retailers, not readers. If retailers did not buy superhero comics, the publishers would change genres or (more likely) figure out a way to coax the retailers to start buying them again. The demand has not slacked off, therefore there is no reason to reduce supply.

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