Comics, much like animation, have been shunned to a sort of fringe ghetto. People who read comics are often looked down upon for a myriad of reasons. Between that and an often times overwhelming continuity, it is no surprise that comics have been teetering on the brink for some time.
Both Marvel and DC have made attempts to hook in new readers. A few years ago, Marvel launched it’s “Ultimate” line. A separate line of of comics that featured classic characters in a modern setting without decades of complex continuity. For a long time, it was quite successful, although that is starting to sort of plateau. DC countered this with it’s “All-Star” line. That came and went, but DC is taking another crack at it with their Earth One graphic novels. Whether or not that is successful remains to be seen.
There is often talk of how to keep comics alive. Everyone seems to have their two cents, although the two bigs just seem to think that doing the same thing will eventually allow the problem to fix itself. Obviously, that won’t work, but there are ways to help save the sinking ship.
Ease up on “event” comics
I love event comics alright. It’s great to see a threat that spans the entire comic universe and it’s just as great to see all of my favorite heroes band together to try and save the day. They can be done very well and they can be a great way to hook in new readers. Heck, Infinite Crisis was what got me interested in comics again in the first place.
The problem is that since then it hasn’t stopped. We’ve had a deluge of big events without a chance to catch our breath and relax. I know, an annual mega-arc seems harmless, but most of these arcs take six or seven months and the rest ends up being build up.
You don’t need to eliminate them entirely, just spread it out a little. The Green Lantern comics have been good about this. There was the huge “Rebirth” that relaunched the title and brought Hal Jordan back, then it was almost two years before the outbreak of the Sinestro Corps War. After that there was another two year break before it hit the Blackest Night.
While there were certainly multi-issue story-lines in between, they acted on their own while also giving the story a chance to really grow and evolve.
Self contained is a good thing
Another problem with the reliance on event comics is that, inevitably, every other ongoing gets slapped with a banner advertising that this ties into whatever event is going on at the time.
On a certain level, I get it. You want to try and get current readers to expand their library by baiting them with a comic that involves whatever story you’re reading. The problem is that this can often backfire. When Amazons Attack hit, people who read the ongoing comics stopped when they saw that it tied into the event. This is also overwhelming for someone who just walked into the comic book store and is looking for a place to start.
Look at story arcs like the aforementioned Sinestro Corps War, or 52, or Trinity; those were all epic stories that stayed within the official issues themselves. For the Sinestro Corps War, there was one tie in issue of Blue Beetle and 4 one shot tie ins; and 52 also had 4 one shots that were released near the end of it’s run. Four or five issues is acceptable over the course of a year long arc, but when it gets to the point that there is more story material in the tie-ins than in the comic itself, you have a problem.
Heck, you could take it a step further and compress the story-lines in the ongoing comics themselves. Look at Dini’s run on Detective Comics, there was no ongoing arc, it was just a series of well written, entertaining one and done stories with the occasional two-parter. Jonah Hex has also been good in this regard.
I know that 20 pages isn’t a whole lot of room to tell a story, but it can be done. I also know that multi-issue stories lend themselves well to a trade paperback release, but having some comics that act on their own is a good way to bring in new readers. They can pick up a comic, get a nice story within the comic itself, and that will pique their interest in other comics.
Stop insulting your audience
Normally when someone says that a writer is insulting their intelligence, it usually means that there is a really moronic plot point or they get too preachy and sanctimonious about a certain topic. In the case of comics, it is quite literal, I’m afraid.
There has been a sort of brewing conflict between comic writers and comic fans. Comic fans aren’t always pleased with what the writers are doing and the writers are sick of hearing people complain. Both sides kind of have a point here, there are times where writers just really don’t understand what makes a character work (often times editorial mandates are involved, but not always). We care about these characters and want to see them get the respect that they deserve. However, comic fans can blow things out of proportion and make a mountain out of a mole hill (the whole thing that happened with Catwoman a couple of years back is a prime example as is the fact that the Hal/Kyle fan war continues to this day even though both are active and being written well).
That being said, you can’t dismiss legitimate criticism as “fanboy rage”. Even when a well written, well thought out article points out what’s wrong with a story or why a character portrayal fails, the heads just roll their eyes and assume that it’s some basement dweller ranting ad nauseum.
Look, comics are a literary form. As such, we the readers should be able to dissect and analyze these stories to point out what works and what doesn’t, just as we would any movie, book, or television show. Just because someone points out something wrong, there’s no reason to get petty over it.
The complaints have driven writers to literally attack their readers, either through certain characters (Superboy Prime is meant to be a reflection of us) or through dialogue (Mark Millar…just Mark Millar). Comic fans are often portrayed as losers who can’t get a date and live in our parent’s basement until we’re in our 40’s. Find some interviews with Joe Quesada, he’s not subtle about his contempt for his audience.
This is by far the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I don’t have a business degree, but I know that you don’t boost sales by giving the people who buy your product the finger. Especially when your business is supposedly on the brink of collapse.
Yes, internet message boards have their fair share of trolls, every message board does. Suck it up and get over it, Not every commenter is a “troll” and not every criticism should be dismissed as such.
Bring the spinner racks back
In a recent interview, Greg Rucka said that one of the keys to saving comics was to bring back spinner racks and put them back in grocery stores and drug stores. He has a point, nowadays, the only place you can really buy comics are at comic book stores, which are not always conveniently located. Occasionally, you might find a rack of comics in a bookstore, but not always.
I don’t know if this alone is enough, but it would certainly help. People who are interested in comics but can’t read them due to location would have an easier time picking them up and it would also allow consumers to check out something they may not’ve seen otherwise.
This is the one that a lot of people suggest. Much like music did, people feel that the Internet is our greatest tool for distribution. Digital copies of comics would allow people all over the world to buy a copy even if they don’t have a comic store nearby.
It could help, but I doubt that people will completely convert to digital. Much like with books and movies, people like having a concrete copy. That being said, it couldn’t hurt to sell copies over the iPad or Kindle (although the latter would need a color screen in order to be effective). I don’t think it’s the next stage of metaphorical evolution, but it is a good way to boost sales and widen your audience by allowing people who want to buy, but can’t, a chance to get in on the action.
No matter how fringe it may be, comics won’t ever die. With the popularity of manga, sequential art is gaining some exposure (oddly enough there seems to be a rivalry between the two, which I find odd). The medium can be saved and while the big two have been doing everything in their power to alienate mainstream consumers, it still hasn’t reached the point of no return.