Confessions of a Comic Book Guy--As I Was Saying...
Column by Steve Bennett
Published: 07/04/2012 02:40am
As Lee Falk used to put it: For Those Who Came In Late... Tim Marchman wrote a Wall Street Journal book review which went out of its way (truth be told it took a great freaking u-turn) to claim the reason grown-up people going to see superhero movies weren't reading superhero comic books was because the comics were awful. I suggested it would be nice if Marvel and DC did some market research to see if there were ways you could make superhero comics more palatable to a larger, mainstream audience. Then an old friend who was also a lapsed comic book reader was good enough to write to explain why she didn't read them any more.
Which is when, thanks to all of your responses (all of which were interesting, don't get me wrong) I kind of got off topic. So, to get back to writing on the subject I originally intended to here's a paraphrased version of my anonymous friend's list:
2) The format, i.e. what they cost for what you get.
3) Stories were uninteresting.
4) Frustration at their serial nature.
5) Even when a storyline has a distinctive 'arc' it's ultimately meaningless.
6) Don't care for the art.
7) Lack of genuine sophistication.
Now as some of you have been good enough to mention, these opinions are of course completely subjective and when it comes to market research the responses of one lone individual is statistically insignificant. Yet, it's kind of eerie how her completely unrehearsed testimony coincides with what I've been saying for years about the contents, format and delivery system of the modern American superhero comic book. Specifically that over the course of a couple of decades it has been systematically re-engineered to appeal to the narrowest possible of niches: us.
It's also kind of strange the way the big publishers have addressed most of my friend's concerns with their series of graphic novels, DC's Earth One and Marvel's Season One, though each takes a different approach creatively. Earth One features work by some of DC's big name creators while Season One is being done by people I've frankly never heard of, apparently under the assumption that "big name creators" would mean nothing to this hypothetical audience. And frankly I couldn't tell you which approach makes more sense.
Because we don't know what will appeal to this audience. Some of the people who commented on my friend's list specifically dismissed her remark about superhero comics' "manga-like" art. And yes, it has been a while since manga was a big influence on artists, but her comment raises the important point that comic book art, like comic books themselves, has been designed to appeal to comic book fans. It never occurs to anyone that what appeals to us might not appeal to them and there's no way of knowing other than, you know, actually asking someone.
As I've said before, there seem to be weeks when people seem to be doing things just for me, and this has been a banner week for that. For instance:
Marvel will be upping the visibility of one of my favorite characters, Squirrel Girl (see "Marvel's 'All-Winners Squad'"), and while merchandise is nice there's just got to be an All-Winners Squad comic. Speaking of which, since DC finally published (if "only" digitally) Doc Savage #18, Marvel should really, really do the same for All-Winners Squad: Band of Heroes, the eight issue miniseries that was abruptly cancelled with #5.
Disney Plans Marvel Animated Feature"), but honestly the 2008 miniseries was one of the best things Chris Claremont has done in years (and years). If nothing else I hope Marvel uses the possible film as a pretext to collect it.
And though the impossible seems to happen with remarkable regularity, I'm still more than a little surprised by the fact director Luc Besson will be doing a big screen version of the European graphic novel series Valerian (see "Luc Besson to Do Valerian"). I could go on and on about how much I like the series, but I already have (see "Review of 'Valerian and Laureline Vol. 1: The City of Shifting Walters' GN"). And though Mr. Besson doesn't need casting notes I see actress Alyson Hannigan as Laureline.
And I have to admit I'm excited by the possibilities of Monkeybrain's new digital line of comics (see "Monkeybrain Launches Digital-First Line"). I've only had the chance to see one of their initial titles, Chris Roberson and Dennis Culver's Edison Rex, a intriguing pit of superhero revisionism casting a Doc Savage type into the role of a Lex Luthor style mad scientist.
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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