Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--Better... But Still Not Good
Column by Steve Bennett
Published: 06/13/2012 01:39am
It happened a couple of weeks ago. For some reason a writer named Tim Marchman for the Wall Street Journal turned what was supposed to have been a review of Leaping Tall Buildings by Christopher Irving and Seth Kushner into a "brutal, high profile condemnation of superhero comics as published by Marvel and DC" (see "'WSJ' Trashes Big Two"). For a day or so links to "Worst Comic Book Ever" (I wish I were making that up but that was its title) littered the usual suspect comic book websites and generated roughly the level of outrage you’d expect it to (see "Mark Craddock of Comic Book World on 'WSJ' Trashing"). But a quick Internet search showed that except for a couple of hits the story didn’t get that much traction online.
Marchman deserved credit for at least raising what I believe is the key question of the comic book industry; "How do we get more people to buy more comics?"
"If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new 'Avengers' comic, why don’t more people do so?"
But of course the consternation wasn’t about the question but rather Marchman's answer:
"The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology."
Fans and retailers (that "real bookstore" crack really hurt) were of course offended by Marchman's "review," but so were comic book professionals. Mostly without bothering to back up his argument with examples (though he did trot out the whole "Spider-Man sold his wedding to the devil" thing to disparage J. Michael Straczynski), Marchman targeted Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Quesada and Grant Morrison as "the men most responsible for the failure of the big publishers to take advantage of the public's obvious fascination with men in capes."
It's funny; I would have chosen those same writers as the ones who have done the most to make the modern superhero comic book more appealing to the sensibilities of a mainstream audience. But you can't argue with an opinion and I don’t intend on trying, though I have to question his reasoning, which appears to be "Marvel and DC comic books don’t sell because I don’t like them." It seems, to me anyway, he missed out on a prime opportunity to elaborate on why he doesn't like them.
I have frequently championed the strangely frowned up notion if you want to publish comics for kids you might want to ask some kids what kind of comics they'd like to read. Well, I think that goes double for grown ups because hopefully we're all in agreement the only way to grow the market is not to get current readers to buy more comics. But rather to get more comic book readers, and that so far everything the market has tried to do just that hasn't worked out so far.
I think Marvel and DC are currently publishing a number of solid titles that could potentially appeal to a larger, mainstream audience (Invincible Iron Man, Voodoo, Mighty Thor, New Mutants, Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.)... if they ever got the chance to see them. But when you see how those titles are selling (see "Top 300 Comics Actual--May 2012") it’s clear that hasn't happened yet. It's obvious the industry is doing something wrong and I’ll be the first to admit I have no idea what is. So maybe it's (long past) time we finally asked someone that does know.
Though it is nice to know DC hasn't given up trying to come up with titles that could appeal to such an audience, like this September's Sword of Sorcery which will feature a reboot of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld by Christy Marx and Aaron Lopresti. Of course they should have seen the creative (and financial) possibilities in a series about a young girl who discovers she's really a princess from a magical kingdom years (and years) ago. But since I honestly never expected to ever see Amethyst again I mustn't grumble. Much anyway.
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
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