Column by Rob Salkowitz
Posted by Rob Salkowitz on December 17, 2018 @ 7:34 pm CT
Stan Lee, RIP. Like it or not, Stan Lee was the face of American superhero comics: a legendary story-teller, marketing genius, film cameo kingpin and avuncular spokesman for geek culture from its earliest days to the current moment of global superhero saturation. Stan was with us for so long and was so ubiquitous that it seemed like he’d be around forever, even though troubling signs of decline started to appear in the last couple of years. The debate over his role in the creation of the Marvel pantheon will no doubt continue for decades. As to his importance to the business, it’s hard to imagine fan culture, the idea of a superhero universe (much less a multi-billion dollar cinematic universe), or the ambitions of mainstream comics to reach older audiences without Smilin’ Stan leading the Merry Marvel Marching Society and making a generation of fans feel like they were part of something special when they picked up an issue of Spider-Man or Fantastic Four. 2019 will be the first year since 1939 when there’s an American comics industry without Stan Lee as a part of it, and it will never be the same.
Changes Roil the Comic Publishing World. Time will tell whether 2018 was the start of a publishing renaissance or the peak of a publishing bubble. A bunch of new imprints either spun up this year or started making more noise in the market: a few new superhero universes, some direct-to-digital initiatives, a couple of projects aimed at older, non-superhero genre fans. At the same time, there were lots of changes at the top. The year began with Valiant being acquired by Chinese-backed DMG Entertainment, leading to the ouster of co-founders Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari. Lion Forge made some big changes, bringing in Gail Simone and expanding their kids and teens lineup, before announcing a round of layoffs right before the holidays. IDW lost editor-in-chief Chris Ryall, then co-founder and President Ted Adams stepped aside over the summer, then just replaced publisher Greg Goldstein with Ryall last week. Editor Joe Illidge was out at Lion Forge, then in at Valiant, and now out again. All this turmoil took place against an economy where direct market sales were basically flat and the biggest growth in the business continued to be young readers and the book channel.
'Comicsgate' Dumpster Fire Rages. Political polarization came to comics fandom "bigly" in 2018, with an upswing in sites and YouTube channels trafficking in grievance and harassment. Spearheaded by people who don’t deserve mention by name in this column, the self-proclaimed "anti-social-justice" movement ramped up its media profile this year with unflattering feature stories in the Washington Post, Vulture, the Guardian and other mainstream outlets, while drawing pushback from industry professionals and fans alike. Members of this subculture also became more litigious, suing writer Mark Waid and, separately, 11 independent cartoonists who called them out on their misbehavior. While unlikely to be successful in court, these filings impose a financial burden on those targeted and create a chilling effect on speech within the industry. The rising toxicity of fan culture, and the increasing organization and sophistication of those toxic elements, threatens the gains that pop culture fandom has made in recent years toward expanding its footprint with more diverse audiences, creators and characters. Hopefully this is will be a "done-in-one" industry trend that we won’t need to talk about next year, but I’m not holding my breath.
Of course there were lots of other happenings in the biz like increasing consolidation and sponsor presence in the convention space, the ongoing takeover of TV and streaming services by comic-based content, a slew of deals between comic creators and Hollywood studios, another great year for graphic novels, advances by comic art into the world of galleries and museums, and more. Stay tuned over the holidays for my annual forecast of next year’s biggest stories, and a scorecard of how I did in 2018!
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.
Rob Salkowitz (@robsalk) is the author of Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture.
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