Looking To The Stars

Best before 2525 or when Brian Michael Bendis is writing every book put out by Marvel, whichever comes first.

Management is not responsible for your inability to understand satire or take a joke.

Management is interested in your responses, provided they are correctly spelled and of greater length than three words, with no interesting remarks about the management’s parentage, its’ mother’s virtue (or lack thereof) or its’ preferred methods of sexual congress.

ITEM ONE
The time is now. Our beloved industry has not only let the barbarians in the gates; it has given them the keys to the liquor cabinet and directions to your son’s and daughter’s bedrooms. The need for action is obvious. The Young Punk says sharpen your wits, unfurl your tongues and get your typing fingers at the ready. For the time has come for us, the fans, to save our hobby from ourselves.

ITEM TWO
Despite the ravings of various prophets, The Comics Industry has yet to collapse like The House of Usher. Things are looking up and this is due in part to a Restoration of the core ideals of heroism in recent years. With that in mind, I put it to you that only an optimistic approach and a positive outlook can benefit us now. Doom and gloom serve no one but those who build stories on nothing but doom and gloom.

Anyone who wishes to drag themselves out of the shadows is welcome to join us. The rest of you can continue to hide in the basement along with your long box full of double-bagged copies of Spawn #1 and wait for the day that they are worth the money you spent on them. You won’t be missed.

It is time for us to remember what it is to be a child. For as a wise person once said, “There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”

ITEM THREE

While it is true that the graphic novel, album (or whatever pseudo-intellectual term you wish to use for the lowly comic book in order to make yourself feel important and mature) has become a popular format with the masses, it is far from optimal or indeed infallible. The sad truth is that not every series of six issues collected in a glossy cover and then retailed for $12.99 has been a success. For every Batman: Hush, there have been five Hawkeyes.

Given that all media should tell a complete story, does this mean that ALL comic books must be six-part maxi-series being prepared for the inevitable trade paperback? I say thee nay and suggest that many more comics could be sold if there were more one story issues. It would be a lot easier to justify the expense of $2.25 to perspective buyers if they were investing in only one story; not Part Three of Six, requiring a $15 investment for the whole story.

A balance between the monthly periodical and the trade paperback collection can be achieved and maintained. After all, Carl Barks did just fine for hundreds of issues of Scrooge McDuck without telling more than a few two-part stories in his entire career. And single-issue comic stories in a collection seemed to sell quite well in volumes III, IV and VIII of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman”?.

ITEM FOUR

While we’re on the subject of Maestros Gaiman and Barks, does anyone really think that your average kid gives two swift kicks to the rump who writes Spider-Man?

No. They just want a book with Spider-Man. Possibly one where he fights Doc Ock. Because the characters are what attract us to comic books. The writers and artists are what keep the characters going and what keep us hooked on a title. And for the first time in the history of the industry, the writers and artists are beginning to get the star power of other professional performers. This is, despite the few who let fame go to their heads, a good thing. That said, which of the following do you think is a more frequent question among newbies to a comic shop?

A: Hello. I just read that Michael Chabon, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer had written a comic book. Do you have it?

B. Hello. I just saw the Spider-Man movie. Do you have any good books with him in them?

To paraphrase a popular saying among moralists, characters count. Anyone who says otherwise is probably hard at work on a lecture upon the virtues of J. Michael Straczynski’s references to the African myths that inspired the spider-trickster god figure versus the psychological drama inherent to the works of Paul Jenkins.

ITEM FIVE

Horray for superheroes! Honestly, it is costumed heroics that got the medium started. It’s what kept it going through the dark days after our “Seduction of the Innocent” and the establishment of The Comics Code. And for better or worse, it is what makes up the majority of the market today.

The enemy is not wearing a cape. Nor is the enemy wearing a black trenchcoat. The enemy is all those who would, through short-sightedness, pettiness or the simple need to belong to a tribe, limit the whole of their exposure to the wonders of the medium. Be they the zombie who says “Make Mine Marvel” and gleefully plop down 300 pennies for anything with an X in the title or the wanker who only purchases alternative texts, printed in black and white at a Kinko’s, these people are the same beast in different skins.

Variety makes us evolve. And your mother was right; it won’t kill you to try new things once in a while. So give the new books a chance. Try things by the new publishers on the block and by the tried-and-true Big Two. And if you don’t find anything you like, try writing your own comics and your own stories. Heck, dress up in a costume and make a movie in the backyard for the amusement of your friends and neighbors. You can hardly do worse than some of the shlock Hollywood puts out.

ITEM SIX

There are some who will tell you that what you say on the message boards and the letter pages doesn’t matter. They say that the people who make the big decisions do not care what you have to say about how they are screwing up your favorite book and that your opinion and words have as much value as sand in the desert. If that is so, then please explain…

…how Mark Waid is still writing Fantastic Four, if not because of public outcry over his firing?

…why Chuck Austen is no longer working for Marvel, if not because of the wailing and gnashing of teeth of many an X-Fan?

…why some analysts credit bad buzz from comic fans as a major cause for why the Halle Berry Catwoman movie tanked?

…why I have gotten threats of violence from three “professionals” regarding my negative critiques of their work?

And even if our words do not have power, there is one power we have that even Superman cannot fight against. The power of the purse strings. Put your money where your heart is and the publishers will listen. It is democracy and capitalism, working together to build a better tomorrow for you.

ITEM SEVEN

Much has been said about how the hope of the industry, like many things, lies with our children. Some say that this is proof that we have no future. Today’s youth is more interested in video games and television than reading. The humble comic book is passe and marketing towards the children is a waste of energy and resources.

Try telling that to the dozens of youths, both genders, I saw lining up to see Spider-Man 2 on Free Comic Book Day, who begged me for more than one book each to take home and read. No, the problem lies not in the children, but in us. All of us in the hobby, from the lowliest fan boy to the highest of the publishers. If the kids are not coming into the comic book shops, then it is our responsibility to find ways to get them in there. And failing that, to take the Mountain to Mohammed.

Publishers, do you really make an effort to print books that kids would be interested in? And I mean exciting books. Not sanitized work like Archie, which I’ve only seen bought by thirty-something women and well-meaning dad’s looking for something for their daughters. Not modernized reprints of Stan Lee stories that were fine the first time. Not dumbed-down versions of the very smart, very popular shows you run on your cartoon network. Actual, honest to goodness, books written for kids?

Retailers, do you have an area set aside for the young ones? If not a whole section of the store, than at least a few shelves or a spinner rack? Are your employees well-versed on what is written for kids, not just what is “safe” for them?

Parents, have you tried reading your old comics to your kids? Instead of reading “Good Night Moon”, why not pull out one of your old Batman stories? Do the funny voices, while you’re at it, even if you can’t manage a passable Adam West impression. And if they show an interest in books, don’t wait until they’re old enough for school; start teaching them how to read yourself. Comics are a great tool for this. If you’re worried about content, start with the newspaper comic strips.

While we’re on the subject, do you let your kids have access to your comics? Can they look at them with you there to watch over their shoulder or do you just yell at them to stay away from your collection? Are you one of the far too many parents I see on the weekend growling “Don’t touch anything” as you walk through the store while picking up your favorite titles?

The audience is there, folks. We just need to give them something that will interest them without making mom and dad scream bloody murder about the bloody murders. Thankfully, there is a lot that you, the common fan can do.

Donate some of your books to the local hospital, library or youth center. Take it from a guy who has done a lot of outreach work in this area: they all LOVE donations of reading material, because so few people think of donating books for sick children. And if you’re able, why not give your time and try reading to the kids yourself?

These are just a few suggestions, though. Be creative. Just do something to solve the problem instead of sitting around complaining about what is wrong and telling others what to do about it or waiting for someone to tell you what to do.

ITEM EIGHT

Yes, that DOES include me too. It’s like George Carlin ranting about the evils of advertising while still doing commercials for 1-800-COLLECT. If you can’t figure it out for yourself, then my yelling at you isn’t going to do anyone any good.

ITEM NINE

The success of Spider-Man 2 has proven that the general public can accept comic book stories and that it is possible to bridge the differences between ages, races and genders. The time is right for us to start promoting our hobby and ourselves. Out of the basements and into the streets!

ITEM TEN

It ends. Tune in next week. Same Matt time. NEW Matt Website.