The Midwest’s biggest comics and pop culture conference, C2E2, is coming up this weekend. This year the event features more than 100 panels and nearly the same number of special guests. C2E2 2017 features photo op and signature hunting galore with stars from The Flash, Stranger Things, Harry Potter, and more. If you’re hoping for sketches from your favorite comic book creators they have those, too. We’ve pulled out some of the highlights from both entertainment and comics.
Non-Bay Area related content.
Since it was announced Zendaya was cast in Spider-Man: Homecoming there’s been a big question mark around her character. Early rumors that she’d been cast as Mary Jane Watson were quashed by the star in a November interview with ET Online. She verified her character is named “Michelle.” Last night we saw the first trailer for the film finds Zendaya reading in the cafeteria giving us our first glimpse of the actress in her role.
The moment doesn’t give us many answers other than showing us “Michelle” is an avid book reader. As a fan of seeing books on film and figuring out what characters are reading, I took time last night to squint at the blurry screen capture.
Here are the top three books in the pile with Wikipedia synopsis:
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Adolescent
The novel chronicles the life of 19-year-old intellectual, Arkady Dolgoruky, illegitimate child of the controversial and womanizing landowner Versilov. A focus of the novel is the recurring conflict between father and son, particularly in ideology, which represents the battles between the conventional “old” way of thinking in the 1840s and the new nihilistic point of view of the youth of 1860s Russia. Whereas the young of Arkady’s time embraced a very negative opinion of Russian culture in contrast to Western or European culture.
Another main theme is Arkady’s development and utilization of his “idea” in his life, mainly a form of rebellion against society (and his father) through the rejection of attending a university, and the making of money and living independently, onto the eventual aim of becoming excessively wealthy and powerful.
Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove
This novel tells the story of Milly Theale, an American heiress stricken with a serious disease, and her effect on the people around her. Some of these people befriend Milly with honorable motives, while others are more self-interested.
Kōbō Abe’s Woman in the Dunes
In 1955, Jumpei Niki, a schoolteacher from Tokyo, visits a fishing village to collect insects. After missing the last bus, he is led, by the villagers, in an act of apparent hospitality, to a house in the dunes that can be reached only by ladder. The next morning the ladder is gone and he finds he is expected to keep the house clear of sand with the woman living there, with whom he is also to produce children. He eventually gives up trying to escape when he comes to realize returning to his old life would give him no more liberty. After seven years, he is proclaimed officially dead.
As for the fourth book, there are many books that have “Democracy” and I haven’t been able to find a matching book spine image.
Zendaya Reading in the Second Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer
The second trailer dropped on March 27 and gave us our second peek into Zendaya’s character’s reading interests in Spider-Man: Homecoming. This time the visual is clear: W. Somerset Maugham‘s 1915 masterpiece Of Human Bondage.
From Penguin Books:
W. Somerset Maugham’s masterwork is the coming-of-age story of Philip Carey, a sensitive young man consumed by an unrequited and self-destructive love.
Born with a clubfoot, Philip is orphaned as a child and raised by unsympathetic relatives. Sent to a boarding school where he has difficulty fitting in, he grows up with an intense longing for love, art, and experience. After failing to become an artist in Paris, he begins medical studies in London, where he meets Mildred, a cold-hearted waitress with whom he falls into a powerful, tortured, life-altering love affair. This is the most autobiographical of Maugham’s works, with Philip’s malformed foot standing in for Maugham’s stutter, and the character’s painful romantic struggles inspired by the author’s own intense love affairs with both men and women. A brilliant and deeply moving portrayal of the price of passion and the universal desire for connection, Of Human Bondage stands as one of the most accomplished novels in English literature.
This post is in response to Jason Iannone’s Cracked article “6 Specific Reasons Why Superhero Movies Ruined Comics.” In his post, Iannone builds a starting point for the greater discussion of how the mainstreaming of popular superheroes through film is impacting the medium where they were first created. He makes some interesting observations but ties too many of the systematic problems with the superhero genre in comics to the current success of superhero films.
#6 The Moviemakers Regularly Shit on the Comics
“Regularly” is an odd word choice. Iannone cites Bryan Singer, Josh Trank, David Goyer, and Zack Snyder. I don’t completely disagree on Trank, Snyder, and Goyer but I do need to defend Singer.
In the case of Singer, he references a statement from Hugh Jackman regarding a rule on the set of the very first X-Men film. You know, way back in 2000 when bringing a superhero film to the big screen was still a massive gamble. Since that first film the superhero movies Singer has directed or produced have moved closer-and-closer to the comics to the point of lifting storylines straight from the source material. Clearly Singer learned his lesson, but we should still hold a grudge against him for creating a filmset rule nearly two decades ago.
By saying “moviemakers regularly shit on comics” Iannone is broad brushing. He ignores many people who are part of the moviemaking process and have expressed at the least respectful regard for the source material: Avi Arad, Geoff Johns, the Russo Brothers, Guillermo del Toro, Kevin Feige, James Gunn, Josh Whedon, Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, Sam Raimi, Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, Tim Miller, and many more (although, that is a lot of dudes. I’m looking forward to adding some diversity to this list).
#5 Marvel is Sabotaging Marvel Characters (When They Don’t own the Film Rights)
I don’t have a problem with this one. We’re pretty much on the same page when it comes to how the rights issues with Marvel films have hindered some titles. Marvel has significantly reduced the role of the X-Men and Fantastic Four over the last five years. Dorkly has a better breakdown of what’s going on.
#4 The Original Writers and Creators Don’t Get Shit from the Films
I also don’t have a problem with this being used as a point. Any day we can remind readers about the issue of creator rights is a good day. However, creator rights are significantly more complicated than simply not getting “shit from the films.”
#3 The Films are Starting to Change the Comics
Iannone appears to be mostly upset that popular concepts from the films are creeping into long established canon. This isn’t a bad thing. The mainstreaming of superheroes is changing the medium of comics for the better. There’s long been a movement for more diversification in superhero comics but it hadn’t caught fire until that lack of diversity was put up on a big screen. If a film’s going to be successful it needs to cross multiple demographics. The success of superheroes in film and on television has helped force Marvel and DC to start looking at how they publish comics, which characters they promote, how those characters ar portrayed, and who they hire to play in the sandbox. Marvel’s currently doing a better job at making these adjustments but DC is showing some signs of hope in the Rebirth solicits.
Iannone makes his case on the back of Marvel introducing a black Nick Fury due to the popularity of Samuel L. Jackson in the film role. In the comic this character is Nick Fury’s son. Iannone claims Marvel retired “Old White Dude Fury” in 2012. Although his statement is puzzling because OWD Fury played a fairly substantial role in 2014’s crossover event “Original Sin.”
If comics are going to bring in more readers it makes sense to cater to what works in the films. If a Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury into Earth-616 encourages people to pick up a comic book that strikes me as the opposite of ruining comics.
Iannone goes on to hold up Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men as proof that Marvel “de-colorized” the X-Men costumes to fall in line with the film. When the hardcover trade of Morrison’s run on New X-Men was published Marvel kindly included the “manifesto” Morrison wrote to guide his direction of these characters. Point seven of the manifesto is “get rid of the costumes.” Morrison writes “Let’s ditch the spandex for the new century and get our heroes into something that wouldn’t make you look like a prick if you wore it on the street.” He mentions the film costumes moving in the right direction but not being quite right: “I’d like to see some yellow in panelling or detailing on the costumes – if only to avoid the dull black leather of every film superhero – but it should be pop art dayglo yellow, the kind cyclists and bikers wear to be seen.”
Editor Mark Powers wrote in the margins, “back to basics, but with modern trappings. Yep.”
Morrison is known for understanding modern fashion trends and trying to be one step ahead of the next hot thing. No doubt he took some influence from the film but it was clear, both in the story and Frank Quitely’s designs, that he wished to take the X-Men in a new direction.
As for Hawkeye, I don’t see how the purple Robin Hood costume would have fit with the Matt Fraction and David Aja vision of a powerless hero surrounded by supers. This wasn’t the story of Hawkeye. It was the story of Hawkguy. It was the story of a grounded character who spends most of the series within a few blocks of his apartment complex. Don’t get me wrong. I grew up with West Coast Avengers and love Hawkeye’s long term costume, but having Clint Barton chasing Russian mobsters while wearing a winged mask with an “H” on it just wouldn’t fit Aja’s minimalist style.
In a greater sense, Iannone isn’t completely wrong. The companies do need to be careful with how these characters or elements are introduced into the Universe. I think he would have been better served to revisit his fifth point and discuss how Marvel is trying to shove the Inhumans down our throats while downplaying mutants. That’s ruining comics more than a costume change.
#2 Comic Sales are Going Down, Not Up
This is the point I find most flawed and the one that inspired me to write this post. Iannone misuses data to make his point and that sub-headline is misleading. He isn’t actually saying comic sales overall are down (they are, sort of). He clarifies “comic book sales are way down, but only if the comic competes with a movie.” The hypothesis, I guess, is comics featuring a character in a recently released film doesn’t see a sales bump from the film?
He randomly pulls out the Hulk’s June 2014 title, Savage Hulk, and holds it up as an example of a book doing poorly. Yes, the Hulk was part of the ensemble cast in 2012’s Avengers, but other than that the last time the Hulk appeared in a film was 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. If we want to use Hulk as the example why not look at the other factors for the character in 2014?
Iannone fails to mention Marvel was publishing more than one Hulk series in 2014. As the year started Mark Waid’s The Indestructible Hulk was already on issue 17. In April, a second Hulk series was published and was simply titled Hulk. When it dropped it landed at number seven on the sales chart. Perhaps, just perhaps, when Savage Hulk hit the shelves two months later readers were experiencing Hulk fatigue? Maybe it had less to do with films than character saturation?
The interesting thing about The Indestructible Hulk is it was released seven months after the Avengers reintroduced the characters to filmgoers. The first issue landed at number five on the November 2012 sales chart moving more than 118,000 floppies.
Iannone also highlights April 2016’s sales data as proof that superhero movies have ruined comics. It is true that 2016 has seen a softening in overall comic book sales but April’s numbers come with a number of caveats. For one, major publishers have released 12 percent fewer comics in the first quarter of 2016 versus 2015. Marvel is the only publisher to increase offerings while DC, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Boom, and Dynamite have all cutback. ComicChron writes “this month’s 300th place title sold 4,309 copies, which is the highest figure seen so far this year in that slot; that seems to suggest that the volumes on that smaller number of titles are hanging in there.”
April 2016 is notable for another reason that Iannone completely ignores: Black Panther. Black Panther is the breakout character of Captain America: Civil War. Marvel released a new Black Panther title in April which immediately sold out and is currently the top selling comic of 2016. This is the first number one solo outing for Black Panther in the character’s history.
Moving away from superheroes Iannone attempts to use Star Wars sales as an example of how movies aren’t helping comics. He writes, “In 2015, the wacky adventures of Luke and his Papa owned 19 of the top 50 sales spots, including #1. By January 2016, shortly after The Force Awakens came out, they only owned four spots.”
Firstly, he’s comparing yearly data to monthly data. He’s counting single issues. Technically, Marvel only had six Star Wars titles in the top 50 at the end of 2015. The flagship Star Wars title took 11 of the top 50 spots, the Darth Vader series took 4, and Vader Down, Leia, Lando, and Shattered Empire took the remaining slots.
Secondly, he’s wrong as to how many Star Wars books Marvel had in top 50 in January 2016. There were five: Star Wars 14 and 15, Obi-Wan and Anakin 1, Darth Vader 15, and Kanan 10. It would have been quite a feat for Marvel to have more Star Wars Universe titles in the top 50 considering they were only published four that month. Overall, Marvel has taken a mini-series approach to the Star Wars’ characters. Leia, Lando, and Shattered Empire were all mini-series that ended before 2015 came to a close.
Thirdly, Iannone calls out the fact that Darth Vader is coming to an end with issue 25. Okay…what’s the point? Does he understand the creative team publishing strategy Marvel has embraced over the last decade? In most cases, Marvel doesn’t publish a series ad infinitum anymore. Darth Vader, in storyline terms, is currently owned by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca. The title has consistently landed in or near the monthly top 10 since issue one hit the shelves. Ending volume one in Darth Vader’s story likely has less to do with sales than it has to do with Gillen finishing this story he wanted to tell.
While shouting about the end of Darth Vader the article fails to mention the number two title in April was a Force Awakens established character, Poe Dameron. It overlooks the number four title in April was C-3PO. Iannone omits the fact that June will see the release of the first Han Solo solo series. The Star Wars vertical is strong with Marvel.
As for my parenthetical way up in the third sentence of this section, comic sales do appear to be softening in 2016. There are so many factors that could be contributing to a slowdown it would be reckless to place blame at the feet of superhero films. One simple factor, the average cover price of a top 300 comic has risen from $2.91 in 2005 to $3.96 in 2015. The average cost of a top 300 comic in April 2016? $4.12. Comic prices have increased faster than the rate of inflation and readers have significantly less buying power than they did a decade ago. However, while other websites are quick to blame the publishers I personally believe readers should shoulder most of the blame. As long as comic readers are willing to push $6 comic books into the top 25 the publishers will keep testing how high they can go. And Marvel editor Tom Brevoort will, justifiably, continue to perform his Scrooge McDuck impersonation.
One more complicated example, a failure of marketing comics to the mainstream. DC is about to embark on Rebirth but all of the promotion seems to be within the comic book news echo chamber. I don’t see any effort to communicate what comics are and why someone, as a non-reader but fan of the films, should pick one up. Where’s the out-of-home advertising? Why don’t I see Rebirth digital advertising while I’m making my daily laps around the Internet?
Marvel does a little bit better with marketing but there’s significant room for growth. I only learned last month (thanks, Free Comic Book Day) Peter Parker has spent the last 10 months in San Francisco. That’s interesting! We have more than a dozen comic shops in the Bay Area. Why isn’t Marvel using the image of Spider-Man swinging in front of the iconic Transamerica building to get people into those stores?
tl;dr: superhero films aren’t the factor impacting sales of comics.
#1 Anything that Isn’t DC or Marvel Gets Thrown Under the Bus
Iannone argues that Marvel and DC are sucking all of the air out of the room and their parent companies have no interest in adopting any other comic book properties from other publishers. Again, Iannone mixes the superhero genre with the comic book medium to make his point citing a number of non-superhero projects.
Here’s a quick selection of other comic-based properties (seeing as Iannone so easily flip-flops back and forth between the superhero genre and other genres in the comic book medium to make his point) in the production pipeline:
That list doesn’t even scratch the surface of comic properties transitioning to television or Netflix. Iannone writes “third-party asides like Dark Horse Comics might as well not exist” without acknowledging Dark Horse signed a deal with Universal Cable Productions last year to bring a number of properties to television. Universal also snatched up Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick last year for Sex Criminals and other IPs. Based on Universal’s commitment to the deliciously bizarre Mr. Robot it’s likely we’ll start seeing the results of these relationships in the next two years.
In August of 2011, DC comics was preparing to take a massive gamble by relaunching the publication’s superhero universe with the New 52 initiative. The plan was a new continuity for all of the heroes and a hard reset of titles to number one. The first title released was Justice League #1 on August 31. The month of September would see the rollout of the remaining 51 titles. It was difficult to escape all of the DC lining the shelves, endcaps, and promotional tables.
Most of the media focus was on how the stories of this “New 52 Universe” were going to unfold but they weren’t the only stories starting that month. Tucked away between O.M.A.C. and Red Hood & the Outlaws the astute comic reader would find a striking green cover with the silhouette of a woman exhaling a plume of red (assuming your LCS displays alphabetically and not by the company). The simple three-color cover was a stark contrast to the bright multi-colored covers of the DC universe. The title, Rachel Rising, suggested zombie comic. The name above the title, Terry Moore, suggested it wouldn’t be that simple.
Even before all of the new 52 titles had hit the shelves DC was quick to declare in a press release “It’s official! All 52 first issues of DC Entertainment’s historic publishing initiative DC COMICS – THE NEW 52 have sold out from Diamond Comic Distributors in advance of publication.” That’s right, at the distributor level, all of the New 52 titles sold out. The New 52 titles received second printings with several receiving third printings. Even with all of the incentives dealers received, including the option to return any unpurchased stock, such a sellout is definitely worth trumpeting. If the objective of the brand-wide relaunch was to bring new and lapsed readers into stores DC certainly deserves a mighty pat on the back.
The untold sales story of August 2011 was that of Rachel Rising. The new series from Terry Moore sold out and received second and third printings. Is it possible Rachel Rising benefited from being launched during the same month as the New 52? Sure, but a self-published title selling out at the store level versus the distributor level without a multi-million dollar promotional machine or a familiar character is a Samsonian accomplishment no matter the tide on which it rises.
On May 25 of this year, DC and Moore will once again jointly mark historic occasions. The Warner Bros. Entertainment company is bringing the New 52 to a close and relaunching it with “Rebirth.” Once again dealers will receive a long list of incentives so they’ll order as many copies as they can muster. Around June 17, comic news sites can likely expect to receive a press release declaring all Rebirth titles were sellouts at the distributor level. Meanwhile, Moore will be releasing the final chapter in the story of Rachel Beck. Rachel Rising #42 only has one incentive: The issue sees the conclusion of one of the most finely crafted on-going graphic serials published this decade.
All a reader should know going into Rachel Rising is it’s the story of Rachel who digs herself out of a shallow grave with rope marks around her neck. She has no memories of the last two days or how she died and, in the first handful of issues, has no idea that she’s only the first omen of terrible things to come for the town of Manson. Within the first two arcs, Rachel learns she’s a reincarnated witch of Manson. Rachel and her best friend, Jet, who’s the reincarnation of that witch’s best friend, are being stalked by Lilith and the demon Malus. Malus occupies the body of a 10-year-old girl named Zoe. Zoe has a close relationship with a knife named Jack. This only scratches the surface of the plot but writing anything else would disrupt the experience for new readers (and I do feel like everything I wrote above is telling too much). On the surface, the story is a tightly woven mystery with exclamation points of supernatural horror. At the core, it’s a nuanced existential narrative that explores whether or not we’re defined by our relationship with our past or by the company we keep.
Moore made a name for himself by writing strong female characters in the pages of Strangers in Paradise and that talent continues to shine throughout Rachel Rising. You want to care about these characters; even the ones with a dark and twisted past. The series is a slow burn, so go into it with the expectation of unanswered questions as each arch comes to a close. That can be frustrating for some, but the long-term payoff of sticking with the series is worth the investment.
Moore uses surgical precision when writing and illustrating the comic’s pacing and beats. He understands when a picture can articulate an emotion louder than words. As a result, Rachel Rising often makes a reader hold their breath when they turn the page. It manages the rare accomplishment in the comic book medium of generating audible gasps.
Do yourself a favor when you go to that Rebirth midnight release event at your local comic shop and pick up a copy Rachel Rising Vol. 1: The Shadow of Death. If issue 42 is on the shelf consider picking that up as well. If you see Rachel Rising through to the end you’re going to be happy you own it. And maybe, just maybe, we can repeat history and help make Rachel Rising selling out the untold story during DC’s most recent relaunch.
Who sucked all of the color out of the DC Universe? Everything is so drab. I’m really hoping the Justice League film will be Justice League vs. Instagram Color Filter Man.
In this context Wonder Woman looks more bad ass than Bats and Supes. Batman looks like a stuffed sausage who fights crime by bear hugging evildoers into compliance. I’d be okay with skipping the Justice League film and going straight to a Wonder Woman origin film (if it isn’t completely sepia tone).
And whats with all of the glowing eyes? Was Batman all like “Oh, you have glowing eyes? Well check this out!” *pushes button on utility belt* “BATGLOW!” *stare* What color do you think Wonder Woman’s eyes will glow?
Publisher’s Weekly has a new article looking at the success rate of crowdfunding publishing projects. It’s a worthwhile read for anyone who might be taking into consideration the use of a platform like Kickstarter to jumpstart their book. According to the article Kickstarter has a success rate of a little more than 50 percent when it comes to funding comics. However, don’t let that go to your head too much as there’s much more that goes into a successful crowdfunding campaign than simply wanting to do a crowdfunding campaign. Check out the article, but don’t forget to weigh all of the different crowdfunding platforms before taking the plunge.
Contrary to the possible misrepresentation of Sony Co-Chair Amy Pascal’s comments, an expanding Universe based solely around Spider-Man has a great deal of potential. Yes, there is a risk of Spideyverse exhaustion (although the reboot being so successful in spite of it being less than five years after the Raimi trilogy suggests otherwise), but I believe Pascal was suggesting Spiderverse-based films that don’t necessarily include Spider-Man. Unfortunately, with superhero films, we’re locked into the blockbuster mentality. That’s why I think Sony may be the best bet when it comes to breaking open a larger Spider-Man Universe. Sony has shown by continuing franchises like Resident Evil and Underworld that they’re comfortable with their subsidiaries occasionally turning a profit of less than $100 million. This is where I see many of the Spideyverse spin-off films falling. Again, this all comes down to who has the rights to the below characters.
(note: this is part two in a series exploring why we don’t need the X-Men and Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. See part one here.)
My life’s been better since I learned to stop worrying and accept the Marvel films rights status quo. If all of the heroes were under the Disney/Marvel roof it’d be unlikely we’d see as many Marvel heroes on the big screen in a single year as we do now. Theoretically, if Disney/Marvel had X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man they’d be less likely to start gambling on films like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel Studios is currently averaging two films a year and Kevin Fiege has said it’s unlikely the studio will up that number. There’s no reason to think that would be different in a Marvel Cinematic Universe that includes Wolverine and Spider-Man as potential Avengers members. Instead, thanks to the rights debacle, 2014 will see the release of films featuring Captain America, Spider-Man, X-Men, and the Guardians of the Galaxy.
What we’re now hearing is the rights holders of these various properties want to dig deeper and do more with what they own. I believe this actually happening is contingent on two things happening for the House of Mouse/Ideas: Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man need to be successful.
Guardians of the Galaxy being successful opens numerous pathways for Fox when it comes to playing with the Marvel Cosmic. Ant-Man being successful could act as encouragement for Sony to follow through with spinning off the Spideyverse. What could that mean for the expansion of Universes?
I’m going to do some speculation, but before I do it should be made clear that I have no clue where the rights of these characters fall. For example, Cloak and Dagger is a bit of a muddle. They made their debut in Spider-Man and were typically associated with his titles. They were classified as mutants, so they could fall under the X-Cinematic Universe. However, they have carried their own titles on occasion, so it could be argued they’re part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They could fall into the Quicksilver/Scarlet Witch zone where it basically comes down to whoever gets to them first and even then multiple Universes can use them as long as they respect certain noun and adjective usage.
Today I’ll toss out two possibilities regarding Fox and Marvel Cosmic. The Spideyverse requires a bit more fleshing out, so I’ll touch on that tomorrow.
Silver Surfer was arguably the single best part of the previous Fantastic Four movies. Silver Surfer could (and likely will) be introduced in a sequel to the Fantastic Four reboot. That reintroduction should be followed by a Silver Surfer solo origin film that also acts as a prequel by ending with Silver Surfer leading Galactus to Earth.
Disney/Marvel might have the Guardians of the Galaxy, but Fox has the Starjammers. In the comic the leader of the Starjammers, Corsair, is the father of Cyclops and Havok. I need to rewatch X-Men: First Class, because I don’t recall how deep that film went with Havok’s origin story (I’m not even sure Havok and Cyclops were brothers in that film?). It isn’t necessarily relevant as the X-Cinematic Universe origin is nothing like the X-Men Comic Universe origin, so there’s a limitless number of ways to introduce the space faring team. The Starjammers would also bring the Shi’ar into the XCU fold. The Shi’ar, unlike the Skrull and Kree who are important to Fantastic Four and the Avengers, have almost exclusively been featured in X-Men and Fantastic Four titles.
Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the endless opportunities for Spideyverse.
It was a strange and fruitful blip in the online comic community. Writer Warren Ellis’s comic book message board The Engine ran from early September 2005 to Aug. 31, 2007, birthing in its short life new comic books, ongoing collaborative superteams, Eisner and Harvey Award-winning projects, and at least one marriage.
My affectionate memories are not only those of a participant, but of one of six hand-picked moderators (or Filthy Assistants, or Enforcers, or Attack Wombs, or…) from its birth to retirement. I spent hours a day reading, enforcing, and talking Engine, so it looms large in my memory as a crucible of comic history. The Engine was uniquely suited to making things happen, not just talking about them, and I’m heading back into the mid-aughts to explore what made it such fertile ground and why its echoes affect comics to this day.
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”
The Engine’s original charter called for a unique structure: protected sections for published or contracted-to-publish creators working outside the superhero genre. Somewhere in the mid-aughts web small indie fora devoted to a particular creator’s work no doubt puttered along nicely, but major comic sites simply didn’t excise superheroes.
A few days before The Engine went live, Ellis expounded on his two primary intentions in 8/29/05’s Bad Signal e-newsletter:
[The Engine] serves two purposes: a point for conversation about FELL, DESOLATION JONES and my other adult-oriented, non-superhero, creator owned works. There are loads of other places for people to talk about PLANETARY, NEXTWAVE, JACK CROSS, ULTIMATE SECRET and all. And also a stage for like-minded creators, involved in original non-superhero work, to talk about what they’re doing. That, you’ll note, is not an all-inclusive and all-welcoming stance, and I’m going to be selective about it, too. There’ll also, with luck, be a space for pros to talk that’ll be read-only to everyone else: there are conversations worth having in public that wouldn’t survive thread-drift from the audience.
Continue Reading →
This morning Image Publisher Eric Stephenson gave a speech at ComicsPro, the annual comic retailer meeting, that should be required reading for anyone interested in strengthen the foundation of the industry.
The Beat has text of the entire speech, but I wanted to dig in and pull out some interesting bits.
Stephenson told the retailers they should see a growing graphic novel section at Barnes & Nobles and increasing sales on Amazon as an opportunity.
And it’s our job – yours, mine, all of ours – to figure out how to reach that growing audience and drive them to the Direct Market, because as bookstores continue to close and chains continue to disappear, the best place to get comics in the future will continue to be the best place to get comics now:
He encouraged the retailers to not see the industry as being about the “big two” or “big three” and instead to focus on the only thing that really matters: “good comics and bad comics.”
Are $4.99 and $7.99 comics going to help our industry in the long run?
No, but they sure help the bottom line at the end of the year.
Same with gimmick covers and insane incentives to qualify for variants that will only have a limited appeal for a limited amount of time.
Of course, Image publishes variant covers, but Stephenson said that’s only because retailers keep ordering them. He said variants and other gimmicks are detrimental to the long-term health of the industry.
Constantly re-launching, re-numbering, and re-booting series after series, staging contrived events designed to appeal to a demographic destined only to a slow march toward attrition, and pretending that endless waves of nostalgia for old movies, old toys, old cartoons, and old video games somehow equals ideas or innovation will not make us stronger.
One of the most important parts of his speech was pushing the retailers to look beyond superheroes and to accept that there are new demographics coming into comics. He notes that one of the most important demographics is women.
There is a vast and growing readership out there that is excited about discovering comic books, but as long as we continue to present comics to the world in the Biff Bang Pow! context of Marvel and DC, with shop windows full of pictures of Spider-Man and Superman, we will fail to reach it.
The biggest problem with comic books is that even now, even after all the amazing progress we’ve made as an industry over the last 20 years, the vast majority of people have no idea whatsoever about how much the comics medium has to offer.
TRANSFORMERS comics will never be the real thing.
GI JOE comics will never be the real thing.
STAR WARS comics will never be the real thing.
Those comics are for fans that love the real thing so much, they want more – but there’s the important thing to understand:
They don’t want more comics – they just want more of the thing they love.
I personally don’t agree with this assessment as it’s disingenuous to the writers and illustrators who invested ink and sleepless nights into expanding those Universes. Larry Hama’s GI Joe comics, not superheroes, were my gateway drug. There is a place for such content if you’re truly trying to build a strong foundation. I do understand the greater point he’s trying to make that the comic book industry should strive to be a new idea factory and not build it’s foundation solely on what Hollywood and toy companies churn out.
There’s much more to the speech than the quotes I pulled out. If your LCS wasn’t at ComicsPRO it might not hurt to print a copy out and leave it on their counter.