Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Am I the only one who feels like this?

I’ve been insanely busy with lettering the last few weeks, so I haven’t made it to the comic shop in about a month. I finally got a break around 3 o’clock yesterday so I decided to head in the City and visit a shop. I usually go to Jim Hanley’s Universe or Midtown Comics, but I’m in the beginning stages of research for a possible graphic novel so I wanted to see if The Strand Bookstore had some out-of-print books that I’ve been looking for. The Strand is in Union Square so I stopped by Forbidden Planet, hoping to catch up on the comics I’ve missed the past few weeks.

So here’s where I got a real jolt of reality. There wasn’t a single “mainstream” comic that piqued my interest. Four weeks worth of new books and I didn’t buy a single one. I’m pretty sure that working in the industry for the past 5 or 6 years has jaded me a bit, but I didn’t realize that my jadedness had gone this far. It’s just starting to feel like everything has been done before in some form or another. Does mainstream comics need new blood? Maybe it does...I mean it seems like it’s the same fraternity of guys writing all the “important” books. It used to be that the “event” comics were spaced out over time. One every year or two… Secret War and Infinity Gauntlet being two that comes to mind. Now it seems like it’s one after another after another, in my opinion, if you keep bombarding your readers with big event comics over and over with no break in sight, you’re going to lose that excitement that is key in getting people interested in these events. Nobody will care about the event if they know there’s another 2 or 3 coming up right after this one. Killing off a character used to be a big deal. Think of Elektra’s death in Daredevil or Gwen Stacy’s in Spider-Man. They meant something… they shocked people, now when someone dies we’re only a story arc away from the big “Return”. I used to laugh at the storylines of Daytime Soap Opera’s, but mainstream comics aren’t far off at all. They’re so alike that it’s hard for me to even think about it without being embarrassed.

Keep in mind that I’m just a lonely letterer. But first and foremost I love comics. There’s been a lot of talk lately about the influx of Hollywood talent that has come on and started writing books. While this is great, and these guys are talented people, but really what makes a guy who writes a show on the WB more capable of writing a book than a guy who has been writing comics for his entire career? Do the companies think they’re making themselves more legitimate this way? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.

It goes back to me thinking that the sooner the comic industry stops looking at itself as Hollywood’s bastard little brother, the sooner they’ll get that respect they so desire. How many times have you read a creator interview where he says that he’s trying to make comics more “cinematic”? How about those reviews where the writer has “Tarantino-like” dialogue? Or the penciler who is using wide panels to get that “cinematography-feel” to his art? If people want to feel like they’re at the movies they’ll go to a theater or they’ll pop in a DVD, they’re not going to flip through a 3-dollar comic for it. People buy comics to get a comic experience. They go the movies for the theater experience.

Another thing I notice is how mainstream comics have all but completely counted out their female readership. But every single time I walk through the graphic novel section at Barnes & Noble or Boarders there are as many, if not more, girls reading comics than guys, they’re not reading mainstream books, they’re reading Manga. What is it about Manga that gets the girls to read? Has anyone at the big companies thought about this? Are they doing anything to get in on this market? There’ve been a few attempts, but nothing memorable. I think more can be done. It’s worth it… 50% of the readership is basically ignored.

What about kids? Seems like they’re another group that is being given up on. Marvel has a few books and they’re making an effort, but much more can be done. And really, the plug will be pulled the second the books marketed for kids start losing sales and/or money. DC, with the big Infinite event thing they have going on is not only forgetting about new readers, but they’re forgetting about readers like me. I’m not a DC reader, I’ll check out an occasional book, but I’m more than willing to become a regular reader of one or more of their titles. Thing is, when I read about the present event, I’m completely and totally confused. Earth 1 Superman and Earth 2 Superman, different Flash characters, different Green Lanterns… I don’t know where to start and frankly, I don’t want to. How would an 8 year old kid be able to figure out what is going on there? I’ve heard people say that kids don’t want to read comics; they want to play video games. Part of that may be true, but what about the 1000’s and 1000’s of kids lining up around the block at midnight when the new Harry Potter book comes out? Yeah, Harry Potter is a phenomenon that doesn’t come around often, but if it proves anything it proves that kids will read if given a great product. Comics can’t grab all of that audience, but I’m willing to bet some of those kids would enjoy a comic book.

Wow. I really rambled on there. I should place a disclaimer here. Yes, I work in the industry, but that was written as a fan of comics. I love comics and I want to see them succeed and be more than a fringe fraternity of fans who only leave the shadows when a movie is released. I have no “inside” knowledge of what’s going on behind the scenes and I don’t want any. I just want to see the industry, as a whole, push itself further.


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