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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill

6.12.2007

What Killed Comics?

Secret Wars:

For a very long time I read comic books religiously, perhaps literally so since Batman and Superman had a greater impact on my moral outlook than any church did. Even when I drifted away I would still occasionally visit the comic book shop or see a cover that caught my eye at the rare newsstand that still carried comics and pick it up to visit with my old friends.

I can’t do that anymore. If I pick up a mainstream Marvel or DC comic I don’t have a clue what is going on and I’m not going to get anything approaching a complete story. I’ll get one part of a six part story arc if I’m lucky; if I’m not I’ll get one part of a story spread over six different titles instead.

I understand the motivation. It is to get the reader hooked. If the story ends on page 22 they don’t have to buy the next one but there is no greater impetus to return next month than a blurb that says “to be continued.”

And if you can tie a whole bunch of books together you can make fans buy them all, or so you hope. “Hey, Superman has been selling pretty well lately but Aquaman could use some help. How about we continue the story over there?” I suppose if you’re super-power is swimming you need all the help you can get.

But unless the reader is already well versed in your fictional universe it’s heavy seas without a lifejacket and he’s drowning by page two.

That is the monster from under the bed slowly sucking the lifeblood out of the comic book industry; tightly woven interrelated continuity. I’m not calling for a return to the days when every story was neatly wrapped up in eight pages or twelve pages or even twenty-two but in order to be accessible to new readers there has to be a balance. Dare I dream of a complete entertainment story in one or two issues without crossing over into another title or are those days gone forever?


It's a curious kind of stupidity which infected comic publishers in the 90s, after the rennaissance years of the 80s ended. They jerked comics out of the newsstands and into the specialty shops, where new audience was harder to come by. They jacked up prices relentlessly. They decided that after all the success of more sophisticated storytelling in the 80s what was really needed to pack 'em in was bigger boobs and lots of extraneous pockets. Story? Who needs that?

And after they'd finished tearing the hearts out of longtime fans, they urinated in the hole by launching crossover after incessant crossover and doing away with "done-in-ones". Now if you collected one book, you needed to buy 5 more you didn't collect to understand what was going on in the book you did collect. They did away with schedules, to the point that you would forget what was happening in the months it took since the last issue came out.

Here's an idea:

1. Put comics where kids can read them.
2. Get the price down to $1.00 or under.
3. Tell a story.

Of course, that would depend on comic publishers wanting to reignite their flagging industry rather than cash in their chips on dwindling movie trademark options. The comic fanbase from the 80s is dwindling fast. Without some attention being paid to attracting a younger audience, this quintessential American art form won't survive the next generation.

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