Robot 6

When it comes to comics, what is ‘real’?

Real? Donald Duck by Carl Barks

Real? Donald Duck by Carl Barks

Eric Stephenson means well. As publisher of Image Comics, and even before he held that position, he’s often called out for change in the comics industry. I love these calls to action, even if they’re not always graceful; change usually isn’t. Most of us agree that changing the comics industry for the better is in everyone’s best interest, but how to change it and how we define better is when things get messy. I’m usually in agreement with what Stephenson is saying, but his speech last week at the ComicsPRO annual meeting was jumbled and tripped over itself when it came to licensed comics.

Stephenson got hung up on a significant sector of comics publishing, and I think it muddied his larger message. In his speech, as I’m sure you’ve seen re-quoted multiple times by now, he claimed that licensed comics like IDW’s Transformers and GI Joe, and Dark Horse’s Star Wars “will never be the real thing.” In the lead-up, he also explained there are “only two kinds of comics that matter: good comics and bad comics.” Now, he never outright said licensed comics are in the “bad” category, but some certainly viewed that as the implication.

His argument is that comics should rely on original ideas to produce original content, a point he underscored by pointing to the perennial bestseller The Walking Dead and the fast-growing Saga, both coincidentally published by Image. I agree original comics are where the magic can happen, and where the creators can most benefit. But that doesn’t mean everything else is by default a waste of time.

If that were the case, we would never have experienced the work of one of the acknowledged masters of the comics art form, as the majority of Carl Barks’ work on Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge and other titles was published by Dell Comics through a license with Disney. Don Rosa is similarly recognized as a magnificent artist and storyteller. Yes, there was a lot of unfortunate mistreatment regarding credits, rights and salary that wouldn’t have existed had those two creators produced their own original comics. But both men wanted to work on those properties. For Rosa, it was a dream come true. Who are we to say the results of that dream aren’t real?

Of course, a Carl Barks and a Don Rosa don’t come along every day. And the stigma with licensed comics is that they are creatively restrictive because the owners of the property have to sign off on everything. That’s not always the case. Scott Shaw! is working on the Annoying Orange graphic novels for Papercutz, and he’s doing some weird and funny work in those silly books with minimal interference. Such projects will never give the creative freedom of someone making comics they fully own, but more and more creators are largely being left to do what they do best. Licensed comics are also employing a significant number of creators right now, many of which either don’t otherwise have the financial means to risk on a creator-owned book, or don’t have the interest in that kind of project, as in the case of Barks and Rosa. As much as I’d love Scott Shaw! to do more Now It Can Be Told installments, I’m willing to bet they don’t pay the bills as well as a regular gig from a publisher like Papercutz. The debated reality of those comics stories translates into very real jobs for a lot of people.

But what exactly did Stephenson mean when he said licensed comics “aren’t real”? He obviously recognizes they exist in time and space; he was speaking from the consumer’s point of view. The majority of casual and more enthusiastic fans of Disney were first exposed to those characters through animated shorts or feature films. That might be debatable these days, but certainly in the 1940s when Barks was starting out, that was the case. The theory is that these fans are only interested in experiencing those characters in the medium in which they first encountered them, and a transition to a different medium is seen as derivative, something “less than,” and most just won’t do it. So we shouldn’t bother.

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It’s difficult to prove that theory is the rule for all consumers of entertainment, but this notion is not without precedence. That concept usually resonates with longtime readers of superhero comics. These readers, especially the older ones, are often concerned with what “counts” toward the “real” stories being told about those characters. That’s why Marvel’s What If-? is doomed to occasional miniseries or one-shots tied to big events; an ongoing series is doomed. Even the What If-lite X-Men spinoff Exiles, which kinda-sorta “counted,” couldn’t make it. There are too many superhero comics to buy that do count toward the epic narrative — who can afford to buy something else on top of that? If DC’s Elseworlds labeling had existed at the time to eliminate all doubt, I wonder whether Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns might just be a cult favorite today. So this idea of what’s “real” has a rich legacy among the core of Stephenson’s audience for his speech, direct market retailers.

But does it translate to the outside world? I think the answer is often yes, which might sound like I agree with Stephenson and comics shouldn’t bother with licensed comics. But it’s not quite that simple.

When I was young, I shared the thought that the comics versions of the cartoons I loved “didn’t count”; they weren’t the “real versions.” I was a child of the ’80s, so my world was all about Transformers and GI Joe and a number of other toy properties before and after them. (By the way, it’s important to note that these are toy properties first. While not the case with Star Wars, the original medium of the first two licensed comics properties Stephenson mentioned was technically toys, not TV. But more on that later.)

I was not interested in licensed comics. But without licensed comics, it’s extremely likely you wouldn’t be reading this. They are what got me reading comics. So what changed? Only the most emotionally scarring moment of any kid of the summer of 1986: the death of Optimus Prime. The unexpected offing of the main character and many other favorites in the animated Transformers: The Movie, which took place in the far-flung future of 2005, left a lot of questions about what the upcoming third season of Transformers would look like. I held out hope that in the fall, the season premiere would go back to the present time of 1986, and all my favorite characters would still be alive. Not so. The show continued on with an almost entirely new cast, and all my cartoon friends were gone forever.

Or were they? I remembered seeing Transformers comics in a convenience store, and the original cast of characters were still there. Well, it wasn’t “real,” but at least I’d get to see them again. The next time my mother went to that convenience store, I asked her to buy me an issue. The great irony is that by the time I got to the comics, Optimus Prime had been killed there too. But at least it was set in the present and other familiar characters were around. So I begged for a subscription and slowly got hooked. After a few years, I started to get GI Joe too. By 1990, Marvel’s in-house ads had subconsciously bewitched me and I started buying a superhero title. By the next year, I was buying virtually every book even tangentially connected to the X-Men. From there, I explored different publishers and genres, and my fascination with the comics art form has yet to be exhausted. I am as real a comics fan as they come. For me and many like me, licensed comics were the gateway, they were the familiar hook that lured us into the new and original. And because of that, they hold immense value.

I recently re-read a lot of those old Transformers comics. I admit, they are pretty weak (although, the last third of the Marvel series redeems the whole thing). But they were admittedly meant to entertain children, and there is a spark to them, a creativity and world-building that grabbed tens of thousands of kids just like me. That creativity was so rich, that it was the basis for the very cartoons that are supposed to be more “real.” Most of the names, personalities, abilities and other unique attributes of both the GI Joe and Transformers characters were created by Marvel’s creators. Larry Hama is single-handedly responsible for at least the first decade of characters that have inspired stories in multiple media, many of which he himself has written or influenced. His work on the original GI Joe comic book is an impressive, sprawling epic worthy of any superhero universe. In the case of GI Joe, the comics are the real thing and the first thing: GI Joe #1 was released in summer 1982; the animated series began the next year. Writer/editor Bob Budiansky was responsible for a good portion of the Transformers characters. The first issue of the Transformers comic predated the first episode of the cartoon by several months. In both of those instances, Stephenson’s first two examples of non-real comics, the comics actually are the first version.

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But not everyone knows that because more people watch TV and go to the movies than read comics, even in the heady ’80s when Transformers and GI Joe comics were selling very well for Marvel. That’s the case even more so today, and the same thing is happening to one of Stephenson’s examples of comics originality, The Walking Dead. It may be hard to believe in our circles, but not everyone knows that the zombie TV show comes from comics. And even if they do know, their perception is still that the “real” version is the TV show. I know people who have tried the comic after being educated about the “real” version of the TV drama they love, and they couldn’t get into it. It just didn’t feel right, a classic case of it not being the “real” version for them. See, the trick is that just like with those ’80s properties having strong roots in comics but being seen as TV and toy properties, we don’t get to decide what the larger public ends up deciding is “real,” regardless of the facts. It’s the same reason people were angry about a white Green Lantern when the movie was cast — the John Stewart version from the animated Justice League series was their “real” version, because they never knew about the decades of history that said otherwise. It’s the same reason that even the animated version of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is the “real” version for a good number of people.

It doesn’t matter if it’s superhero comics from the Big Two, licensed comics, creator-owned or small press or indie — it just matters what people experience first and like the most. Comics don’t need to argue over what’s real. Every comic is very real to someone. To achieve Stephenson’s, and the industry’s, real goals, of reaching more readers and new readers, comics need to keep looking for ways to be experienced first, and be the best experience.



I see his point, and I think he is largely correct. Licensed comics WON’T be a “real thing”. They’re very rarely considered canon. They exist to satiate fans’ hankering for more of popular television and film characters that they don’t want to wait for, or have been cancelled or ended their runs in other media.

No one considers film & television novelizations to be on a par with even the most amateurish of original fiction paperbacks. It’s weird that it has to be discussed for comics.

In the case of live-action comic spin-offs, everyone reading them or dismissing them knows on some level that the actors who brought those characters to life couldn’t care less, have nothing to do with it, and the writers will, with few exceptions, ever quite capture their voice.

Likewise, toy-based comics are seldom any good.

What I see as exceptions are, obviously the Barks and Rosa Duck comics (although Scrooge was invented in comics, so it follows that that again is a checkmark for creating original content, and not simply adapting, not to mention it was a very long time ago.)
The other exception would perhaps be the comics for Spongebob, Adventure Time and Regular Show, etc as they have a variety of artists that are allowed to draw in their own style, not just the approved design packs, creating something refreshing and new out of something familiar.

Yeah, when he said licensed comics “will never be the real thing,” he didn’t mean they will never be real comics (they are undoubtedly real comics), he meant they will never be real Star Wars. A new film trilogy is coming out, and with it, the expanded universe of the comics will be swept away. That didn’t happen. They are now merely fan fiction.

This doesn’t mean they are bad comics, or that licensed comics shouldn’t be made, or that they aren’t a necessary part of the marketplace. But it does mean that to a Star Wars fan the comics are an accessory to the main event.

How “original” is The Walking Dead, exactly? It certainly owes a great debt to George Romero’s NIght of the Living Dead and sequels.

Real is what you want it to be, cannon is what you make it. If you are beholden to everything in the continuity of a bunch of (really well written mind you) robots that turn into dinosaurs and cassette decks, you need help. Continuity within a given story yes, but at the detriment of a good story, no.

Good point. Though adding “realism” to the medium is a good thing, it goes down eventually to both consistent good storytelling and great visual execution that really matters.

I have heard many people (including me) say “that’s not the way it really happened” when a movie or TV show changes a familiar story or origin. None of it ever “really” happened. It’s why remakes rarely work

No writer on licensed properties will ever really own what they wrote. The story, characters, events, etc. are all used up to serve someone else’s property. And as has been eloquently pointed out by Middenway, it’ll all just be cast aside like so much Star Wars fan fiction.

It’s why I think cartoon books like Spongebob, Donald Duck and Adventure Time actually work in comic form; every episode (generally) resets to some degree. The TV versions never concern themselves overly with continuity, so the comics CAN all count. It does no detriment.

Michael P: The same could be said of EVERY zombie comic/film/tv show ever. Try complaining the next time you see characters kiss that you’ve seen other characters kiss in other books/tv/movies before, and it’s not original.

In regards to how original The Walking Dead is, it’s the characters and their experiences. There have also been some vague hints about the zombies rate of decay but that’s yet to play out fully.

We need to stop focusing on whether or not a story will count or if it’s “the real thing.” Like Stephenson said, good and bad should be all that matters when it comes to broadening and strengthening the direct market.

I got my sister hooked on comics through the Serenity trades from Dark Horse. Now she has a pull list, which includes three Image titles. I bet Eric doesn’t mind that she ended up there because she wanted to know Shepard’s story. And it sure as hell doesn’t matter if the stories she first read get swept under the rug if Whedon makes another Firefly movie down the road. What’ll matter is that she was exposed to the medium, and found out she liked it.

this talk on canon and “what counts” makes me think of fanboy obsessiveness.

though i agree that some comics are worse than others when it feels that all you read are bland filler stories. Rom Spaceknight was an excellent licensed comic. as for creator owned works, we forget the bad ones really quickly because those vanish from the market fast unless they become big television hits…

Well said, Corey. I couldn’t agree more.

Eric unfortunately made a bad speech, where his hipster urges collided in a messy fashion with his very real position of being the guy in charge of making Image sell more comic books. What came out was did no service to either side of Eric’s position.

Stephenson normally balances these two elements quite well, so I guess he was do for a stinker. Fair try to him, we all fumble for the right words and go off target at one time or another.

Um, Marvel’s What If series Volume One ran for 47 issues. Volume Two went for 114 issues. That’s not occasional or a mini series in any way shape or form. Get your facts straight before you put them out for anyone to read.

There have been so many reboots and rewrites I’ve just learned to take great stories like TDKR for what they are: stories of my favorite characters. Continuity and “realness” went out the window years ago.

“No writer on licensed properties will ever really own what they wrote. The story, characters, events, etc. are all used up to serve someone else’s property.”

In America, yes.
In England (and other European countries), it’s a different story.
For example, Terry Nation created the Daleks for DR WHO.
Since they were his creations, he actually owned the rights, despite their being created specifically for the BBC series!
Whenever they were used on the show, or in licensing, he (and now his estate) received payment, even if he didn’t write the stories.
Plus, he was able to independently-license the little pepperpots in new tales (as long as they didn’t reference other Dr Who characters), and merchandise like t-shirts, etc.
BTW, that’s why, since it’s revival, the DR WHO series producers/story editors conceive/create new characters, then assign them (with plot outlines) to writers.
There are exceptions, like (understandably) Neil Gaiman, but those are extremely rare these day…

So many sites seem to focus on the ‘not real’ statement about licensed comics while overlooking the greater point that Stephenson is making:

– Bringing in more readers, new readers (esp. women)
– Not relying on nostalgia alone or slavish devotion to continuity
– Branching out with original content

All of these point to directly to Image Comics’ mission and successes, which is what Stephenson was there to promote.

When there are cross-overs between existing Marvel/DC/etc and licensed characters, it makes for some tricky rewriting of “history”.
For example, Black Sun/Nth Man/Mysterium first appeared in Marvel 2-in-1 #21, featuring The Thing and Doc Savage.
You won’t find the story in the 2-in-1 Essentials or any other reprints, and even doesn’t have a page for Black Sun/Nth Man/Mysterium despite his prominence in several later storylines!
(when he’s mentioned on other characters’ pages, he referenced as “engimatic” and “mysterious” as if he was never given an origin tale…)
Because Savage’s presence in the story is a critical plot element (involving time travel and Ben Grimm’s hero-worship of the Man of Bronze), apparently the editorial staff never figured a way to explain Black Sun/Nth Man/Mysterium’s origin without somehow mentioning the licensed pulp character, so they just ignore it!

“The people who say you are not facing reality actually mean that you are not facing their idea of reality. Reality is above all else a variable. With a firm enough commitment, you can sometimes create a reality which did not exist before.” — Margaret Halsey, No Laughing Matter

In some cases, characters don’t HAVE a native medium. My childhood favorite, He-Man, is a great example. The action figures came with mini-comics and a cartoon series VERY soon followed. The mini-comics initially contradicted the cartoon, as Mattel and Filmation were allowed to sell their stuff in the best way possible, but eventually there was a semblance of continuity and, as a kid, I figured all was well. He-Man wasn’t JUST or FIRST a comic, cartoon, or toy — he was all three.

If Marvel’s Transformers comic came out alongside the cartoon, I think that falls in the same category. Hama’s G.I. Joe is beloved and canon to some, but that wasn’t the cartoon. These are just a few examples (seemingly all from the ’80s! — I guess I could mention the likes of Naruto).

I guess the point is even less “story” and more “character.” TWD has quite a few memorable characters that have transcended comics and TV to become household names for those fans and pop culture in general. SAGA is apparently on its way. This is the very trend ESTABLISHED by He-Man, or Superman, or Scrooge McDuck, et al. Create a character with an image and baseline personality that can be recaptured in multi-media, ideally forever!

I wonder how the Star Wars comic books published by Dark Horse fit into Eric Stephenson’s definition of real. John Ostrander & Jan Duursema created the characters Aaayla Secura and Quinlan Vos in the comic books. George Lucas liked them so much that Aayla Secura ended up appearing in both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and Quinlan Vos was mentioned in passing in Revenge. Which means that at least some of their stories in the SW comics are probably considered canonical.

And when do you say about the Buffy the Vampire Slay and Angel comic books, where these are stories that are not appearing on television, but Joss Whedon flat out states the events in those books are officially part part of canon? Same thing with the Babylon 5 comic books that DC published way back when, which J. Michael Straczynski either wrote or closely supervised.

Confusing, isn’t it?

I don’t really care whether a story is canon. But I do care whether it’s good. And sadly, a lot of licensed comics or novelizations of popular movies and TV shows just aren’t very good, for a variety of reasons. The writers either don’t bring their A game to it, or they’re not very good writers to begin with and that’s why they’re saddled with writing novelizations/licensed comics. It may be impolite to mention, but there IS a pecking order to the writing business.

Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, but that is what they are, exceptions.

Sometimes it’s a beginning writer that will turn out to shape the medium, like Alan Moore writing Star Wars and Dr. Who comics. Sometimes the original medium has a lot of storytelling limitations that can be transcended in licensed material, like G. I. Joe. Sometimes the TV show is cancelled and the comics are the only stuff left so the A team will relocate to it, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But most of them never raise themselves to be more than appendages.

Now, stories like The Dark Knight Returns or Alan Moore’s Superman stories are a very different thing. Actually, it’s almost the opposite thing, even though they’re usually not canon either. It’s the superstar A team that won’t commit to a monthly series agreeing to write a popular character for one very special occasion. Sort of like having Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorcese directing one episode of your favorite TV show.

Now, I’m not saying that licensed comics don’t have their uses, like attracting new readers. Or helping you with withdrawal when your favorite TV show is months away (Me and my wife almost caved in to read Doctor Who novels, because we miss the show so much), but I always felt those are guilty pleasures.

What it boils down to is this: everything I like is real and everything else is just garbage. And you’re wrong if you disagree with me.

Neener. Neener.

I’m getting pretty tired of this manufactured outrage.

“His argument is that comics should rely on original ideas to produce original content”

The key word in this sentence, and the one that everybody and their grandmother seems hellbent on ignoring, is “rely.”

This isn’t a zero-sum issue. He never said these books shouldn’t exist. Just that they shouldn’t represent the face of the comic book industry to the general public.

The issue of these comics (some of which I love) not being the real thing annoys me too much to actually collect my thoughts on that topic, so instead I’m going to be completely pedantic. Sorry!

Somebody else already tackled What If? so I’ll mention Exiles. The original volume lasted 100 issues, and that only ended so they could relaunch it as New Exiles, with Chris Claremont continuing on as writer but starting with a fresh cast. And that one managed to last a solid year and a half of terribleness before it was cancelled and relaunched immediately with no fanfare or people really even realizing volume 2 existed.

I think it would be hard to claim that the original book didn’t “make it” since it ran for, essentially, 118 issues plus a couple one-shots. The second volume didn’t make it, sure, but I think that 6 issues of a really good, failed series counts less than a decade of steady publication.

“The writers either don’t bring their A game to it, or they’re not very good writers to begin with and that’s why they’re saddled with writing novelizations/licensed comics.”

Issac Asimov wrote the novelization of Fantastic Voyage (and an original novel that “reboots” the concept: Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain).
Joe Haldeman wrote a couple of Star Trek novels.
Vonda Mcintyre wrote both novelizations and original novels for Star Trek
EC Tubb wrote both novelizations and original novels for Space: 1999.
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle rewrote/updated Armageddon: 2419 (the first Buck Rogers story) and outlined the follow-up series of novels fleshed-out by other authors.

About a year ago, I was at my brother’s house for a family gathering. I was browsing their movie collection when I noticed he had all of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel season collections. I wasn’t aware he watched the show. My sister-in-law informed me that they were hers. She then lamented that that neither was on the air anymore. I then informed her about the continuing “seasons” in comic book form. She kind of laughed so I explained that they were by the shows creators and it was the official continuation of those shows. Her reply was, “Yeah, but those are just comic books”.

What I took from that is that the average person will dismiss even licensed comics because it’s not happening on their television screen. I have a feeling she’d be equally dismissive of an animated version.

While this is a singular case and other people might have different responses it made me realize that for all the movies and merchandise out there, the comic industry has yet to finally crack that barrier of being seen as a legitimate entertainment medium. I know there have been attempts but most of those have been seen as novel rather than groundbreaking. (i.e, motion comics, official tie-ins, the original creators being involved).

I don’t pretend to have a solution. What brings on one reader won’t bring in another and it may serve to turn off people who are already reading (I’m looking at you DC). I just know that if the industry wants to not just survive, but thrive, it has to completely rethink they way the books are created and promoted. I would say it’s time to evolve.

“When it comes to comics, what is real?”

The price tag.

Since 1992, Lucas Arts has developed a cohesive Star Wars universe containing the movies, tv shows, novels, video games, and comics. While there have may have been some mistakes along the way, Lucas Arts worked with the authors and other creators and created a living universe that I, and others, thought was the definitive Star Wars universe. Now it looks as if this universe may be just brushed aside for a narrow-minded view that the slate must be wiped clean to create a new trilogy of films. If this happens, the covenant created between Lucas Arts and the consumer will have been violated, and I, for one, will stop buying any Star Wars product. I am not interested in a new history, a divergent history like Abrams did in the StarTrek films reboot, or any other different product. While nothing has been announced, it sadly seems likely the established history will end because, after March 11, no new Star Wars novels are on the publishing calendar outside Disney’s Star Wars Rebels tv show. To me it will be a sad end to a great franchise.
So, what counts? Regardng Star Wars, the last 22 years count to me.

I think those licensed comics are real as they add a richness to the already established universe.

Didn’t Adventure Time win an Eisner? If you ask me, winning an Eisner is as “real” as it gets.

Atomic Kommie Comics –

Those are all the exception that proves the rule. I can add two more: The Doctor Who novel written by Douglas Adams and The Abyss novelization written by Orson Scott Card. They become legendary because it’s so rare that something good comes out of it. It’s like “Hey, remember that time Mick Jagger came and sang in our neighbourhood club?”

There aren’t many Hugo or Nebula award winners giving interviews about how much they dream of writing the novelization of the latest blockbuster sci-fi movie.

Drew G. –

Well, reading a comis IS a vastly different experience than watching a TV show. It might not have mattered if comics were seen as more respectable. Novels are respectable, and many people don’t bother with reading the book series that their favorite movie was taken from.

If your determining what’s “real” by whether or not creators own their work then none of our favorite super hero stories are “real” b/c they’re owned by the publisher in the same way the licensor owns the work derived from their property. Also, sometimes licensors incorporate ideas from derivative works into the main property. Take Star Wars, everything is considered canon. The EU was very influential on the prequels (and originals whenever Lucas makes his frequent changes) and it looks like the new films are going to incorporate the Solo twins, who are only featured in the EU. Timothy Zahn left his mark on the Star Wars universe in the same way Grant Morrison left his mark on the X-Men.

I think a problem with licensed books arises when publishers try to incorporate a licensed property into their mainstream universe. For example Rom and the Micronauts. Both were licensed books set firmly in the Marvel Universe with many ideas from those books becoming canonical parts of the MU. Unfortuately, since those licenses expired Marvel is no longer able to use the characters owned by the licensor leaving their writers with the task of dancing around significant events when they want to use concepts from those books in their main titles.

I for one would love the opportunity to work on a licensed book. If I got the opportunity to do a Voltron comic book, I would treat it like Claremont treated the X-Men. I know I won’t own what I did but I created it for that universe, and the concepts wouldn’t be the same outside of it. However, I have the satisfaction of knowing I created something significant for something I love and hopefully fans of my work on Voltron will follow me to or seek out my creator owned work.

“When I was young, I shared the thought that the comics versions of the cartoons I loved “didn’t count”; they weren’t the “real versions.” I was a child of the ’80s, so my world was all about Transformers and GI Joe and a number of other toy properties before and after them.”

As another child of the ’80s, I don’t quite understand why so many (apparently mostly Americans) put the cartoons far above the comics. When I was a kid, it was much easier to come across a comic book than a TV episode. The show might air on some channel I didn’t have, and only aired once so if I missed it, that was it. Maybe you could find some VHS tape with a couple of random episodes on it in some store, but it was nothing like today’s avaliability.

On the other hand, if I had a comic book in my shelf, I could pull that out any time I wanted. Or find volumes at the library.

When I first started going online, I was surprised how many Transformers fans there mostly talked about the cartoon. And even these days, when something like the Smurfs movies come out, I see a lot of people refer to the cartoon adaptation, and very few mentioning Peyo’s comics.

The only thing I can think of is how many times people have dismissed me for being a fake fan because I got into superhero cartoons before I dove into the comics years later. Deciding what’s “real” and what isn’t for consumers seems like a futile endeavor and does make him come off as pretentious, even if he was trying to make another point.

Sorry to get all Ayn Ditko on people, but only tangible things are real. Physical print comics are real. Digital comics aren’t.

Of course Neal Stephenson is going to say something negative about licensed comics. His job is to sell more Image comic books, and if he can convince even a few people to stop buying books Image does not publish and start buying books that Image does publish, he’s done his job. That’s really the beginning and end of it. Always be skeptical of someone who’s trying to sell you something.

Point to Barks in the 40s, or the comics you read in 1980 something… so what. What about right now? Are licensed comics growing the industry now?

Last I checked Eric Stephenson didn’t get to decide what was “real” or not in my longboxes or anyone else’s. Just his own. This debate is absurd. Licensed comics can be just as entertaining as original creations and often are just as good or better. At the end of the day all that really matters is if the reader likes it. They’re the one throwing down the bread to buy the comics after all. And plenty of readers have already showed Stephenson that licensed comics are enjoyed by plenty of people.

And frankly with Disney and Warner owning what they own, most comics now days ARE licensed properties…except for Image. Makes you want to play conspiracy theorist and wonder what his “real” intent is given that he’s the publisher of Image. Hmmm?

I believe Stan Lee acknowledged that the star Wars comics saved Marvel in the 70s…

If anything could or might be good for comics, then there needn’t be any absolutes or guarantees.
Or only creatives or publishers to focus on their own strong points, both as on what might be good for them. Both as shops. Or comics fans themselves.
There would be no need to favor certain stuff or to but wait for licensable material to come along. When potentially anything could turn out a success.
There could be mainstream stuff, both as indie stuff being great side by side. Without excluding whatever else.
I’d say.

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