Around the Comics Nexus over the last few months, we’ve seen many long-time fans grouse about the state of the comics industry. In many ways the ring leaders of this vocalized disillusionment are Comics Nexus veteran fans/columnist/contributors, namely Mathan, Chris D., and (sometimes) me.
Mathan talked about his concerns about Green Lantern, and Chris D coined “detergent comics” to describe today’s comics output. Me, I have the same concerns, but a bit more muted. Let me explain.
What ties the three of us truly together are not our ages (although we’re likely around the same age), not our geography (although we’re all in North America), not even our tastes (for every book one likes, the other likes it less), but that we share a love of comic books (not the “industry” per se, but those humble little paper pamphlets) that we’ve seen transcend its paper confines and grow into a cross-platform entertainment juggernaut.
What also ties us together is that we’re the early “veteran” reviewers/columnists for a comics site that started at 411 and became a key part of a new venture called Inside Pulse. The three of were here (“online” here) about 10 years ago writing about comics, before IP and before many of the comics fans that peruse our site (and we appreciate your visits) were deeply immersed in comics (to be fair some of us left the Nexus for a while and came back to be part of the Comics Nexus rebirth in 2010). We also first started reading comics around the same time in or around the early part of the 1980s. The industry was very different then.
My journey as fan is likely different from there’s, but my sentiments about today’s industry are likely similar although not as charged.
This Wasn’t Always “Mainstream”
It is also important for the current generation of readers to remember that the “mainstream” respect that comic books has received over my three decades plus of reading has been hard earned. It wasn’t always this way. And it hasn’t been easy.
Although I am not an avid wrestling fan, I do think that in many ways our generation of fans endured some things that current fans don’t deal with. We paid ours and your fandom dues. 🙂
When I first started reading it was seen as a “kids” medium to the point that DC put on many of its books a blocker over the UPC code that read something like “DC Comics Aren’t Just For Kids”. When I was in high school and still reading comic books, I was just happy my local comic book store put the books in brown paper bags so no one would ridicule me about by juvenile habit. After all, what could mature teens or adults really get from a comic book?
In today’s generation where video games (which he had in the 1980s too BTW, just not as sleek or slick in all aspects) are a huge seller for all-ages, where super-hero movies are almost certain blockbusters (this wasn’t always the case), I can’t imagine newer or older fans need to worry about how they are perceived with their latest video game, blu ray, or comic book in the same pile.
The Lost Decade & The Warnings Signs For Today
In my three decades plus reading comics I have seem the industry go up and down several times. To be fair, although I started reading comics probably in the late 1970s / early 1980s, I didn’t start “regularly” reading books until the mid-1980s. That’s when comics were on an upswing and it was the advent of the comic book store. Prior to that, I’d get my comic books at the local convenience store. That’s where I got first hooked on Green Lantern, Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man. The business was going, up, up, and up.
It was in the “lost decade” of the 1990s, were the bottom fell out of the industry and sales have never truly recovered. The top books nowadays, while good by today’s standards don’t hold a candle to the sales of Jim Lee’s X-Men, Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man or Rob Liefeld’s X-Force. During the 1990s the industry pounced on the next big thing/gimmick/variant/storyline and propel into the stratosphere and, as we have seen, it wasn’t sustainable. And, a lot of the gimmick storylines being undone in the most recent decade with Hal Jordan back as THE Green Lantern. The decade started with a bang, but that bang didn’t last long and took the rest of the decade and a few years more to recover.
The 2011 equivalent of this is what we’re seeing now (or it sure feels that way). Variants galore. Several tie-in mini-series to events from the Big Two. Licensed properties by every other non Big Two player AND the Big Two too.
While there are some praised “newer” comics out there like Walking Dead by Image Comics it is rooted in a comforting/familiar genre. We also have lots of cross-platform tie-ins. Movies. Videogames. CDs. You name it. Now, the fact these continue to proliferate and sell well, by today’s standards, is great, but it really isn’t sustainable. You already hear grumblings out of Hollywood about these “low brow” profitable comic book movies. I can only imagine what these same insiders will do when the average comic book movie out in a given year is anywhere between 4 and 8 or more.
The comics book side of the comics machine will inevitably contract unless this new digi-comic stuff creates a whole new additional audience.
I do think having streamlined comic book output, a handful of decent comic book related animated TV series do have potential to sustain and (maybe) grow new fans, but the additional variants, gimmicks, events, movies, videogames, etc. while seeming logical (with the conglomerates that run the Big Two for example) also seem illogical (in a time when many are choosing food on the plate instead of comic book in the box).
Where the 1990s jettisoned established history for new history with Kyle Rayner as THE Green Lantern, for example, the 2010s did the exact opposite. It gave us MORE of Hal Jordan as THE Green Lantern and more Lanterns in general. Although, I’m using this as an example, there are several other examples from Marvel too.
I’m not a doomsayer, but I’ve seen this before and I really hope it doesn’t come to pass. And, it’s almost worse now with comics not really written anymore because of the story, but because of the merit of the cross-marketing potential. That wasn’t always the case.
The Modern Decade Of Excess & Continuing Passion
That said, today’s comics conglomerates are booming. But, with the industry at such heights, there’s only one way to eventually go. Down (unfortunately).
That does NOT mean I want that happen, but it seems the only way this can go. There may be a year or three of boom with this new cross-platform promotion by DC and Marvel, and I will continue purchase and view what intrigues me. I won’t boycott anything, I will just let my tastes decide. I hope there isn’t a bust coming, but we’ll see.
And, in terms of the comic books, you can read and enjoy what you want to naturally. I know I do. A lot of it is DC. Some independents like IDW’s new John Byrne’s Next Men (plug, plug – a gem from that lost decade) and some Marvel.
Will the 2010s be the “decade of excess” that leaves the comic book industry in the same state it was in the 1990s? Will those that complain about the passion with which some critics (Mathan, Chris D., and occasionally 🙂 me [when talking Shazam and Green Arrow]) of the current comics industry… no… I should say current “comics machine” still be here in the same “robust” form at the end of the 2010s?
Will YOU still be reading comics whether there are all the fancy tie-ins inside and outside the medium? I do know that in some form I KNOW Mathan, Chris D and I will be.
Agreeing with us has never been part of the deal. Heck, we don’t always agree with each other. That said, agree with us or not, like you we all love the comic book medium and want it to thrive and be healthy for the next generations too. The risks inherent in the comics machine nowadays are evident if you choose to see them. I hope that we don’t start and end the 2010s like we did the 1990s. Time will tell.
Ok, I have a few new comics to read.
Cheers and thanks for reading (and understanding).
Tags: DC Comics, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Marvel Comics, One Fan's Trials, X-Men