And You Thought I Was Bitter…

Greg Hatcher discusses his Free Comic Book Day experience. Some excerpts:

What we think of as ‘the mainstream’ — the regular monthly books from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and Image — isn’t mainstream, and hasn’t been for twenty or thirty years now. Those comics are published for a fringe subculture, a group of hardcore hobbyists no different from model train enthusiasts or SCAdians or any one of a dozen different examples.

I only see three out of nine [FCBD Gold books] that I would say unequivocally are aimed at a general, non-comics, non-geek audience. All the others suffer to a greater or lesser degree from an in-group mentality, the automatic assumption that the reader will be some kind of geeked-out fantasy/SF nerd at the very least and an every-Wednesday comics regular at most. These books are all aimed at people that are already reading comics they buy at a comics shop.

if “mainstream comics” aren’t a big hit NOW, when’s it going to happen? What’s it going to take? Look at how geeked-out Hollywood is now, look at how successful Smallville and Heroes and Battlestar Galactica have been. … Never, EVER has it been as cool to like this stuff as it is now. But none of this acceptance and enthusiasm ever slops over on to mainstream comics. Sales keep going down. The comic book as we know it, the 32-page stapled booklet that comes out once a month, is only still around because of us, the hardcore fans. I don’t think that fabled next wave of new readers is ever showing up. Not for these things. They’re all reading manga digests and Shonen Jump.

To echo his comments, for years people have supposed that stapled comic sales were declining because customers just didn’t know about them, or know the variety that existed, or know where to find them. What if that’s not true? What if people just don’t want the traditional 32-page comic?

This, by the way, is why I refuse to use the word “mainstream”. Applied to mean DC/Marvel/whomever else you include, it’s just plain wrong. Applied to mean the real mainstream, it confuses everyone else in the discussion.

11 Responses to “And You Thought I Was Bitter…”

  1. Dave Carter Says:

    “What if that’s not true? What if people just don’t want the traditional 32-page comic?”

    I don’t think that’s a “what if?”–it’s true. Many people are willing to toss in an occasional graphic novel into their book reading habits these days, but not many want to go down to the local comic shop every week to read their stories in installments. The total size for traditional super-hero comics seems to be about 300,000, which definitely a niche, not mainstream.

  2. Lyle Masaki Says:

    Well, as I frequently say, I think DC/Marvel superhero comics could sell to a wider audience if they hadn’t spent the past decade courting the rabid continuity-obsessed fanboy segment of the audience. Look at how superhero stories are reaching much wider audiences on TV and in theatres, mainstream audiences would read superhero comics if it were meant for them.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Lyle: and if they were good value in convenient packages at easy-to-find locations… i.e. graphic novels. :)

    Dave: great estimate work. Thank you for adding that.

    To throw oil on the fire: so that means, if we continue estimating, that the total size of the female audience for superhero comics is about (.08x300K =) 24,000 women? My husband went to a college larger than that!

  4. mark thorpe Says:

    We’re also talking about characters that are over 60 years old. Sixty years old with no ending or conclusion in sight. Spider man will never reach the age of 45. There will always be a meteor or super strong nemisis for Superman to stop. Every few years or so Magneto will show up and dance with the X-men a bit. There’s no end to it. Why would anyone want to read about characters that have been around long before they were born, and will probably still be around doing the same routine long after they are dead. I didn’t want GTO to end, but it did, and I’m greatful. What would happen if Rumiko Takahashi continued creating Ranma 1/2 after volume 35? It would turn to crap, people would stop reading it.

  5. Lyle Masaki Says:

    Mark, I think a more apt question would be What would happen if Rumiko Takahashi stopped working on Ranma 1/2, with Kazuo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegame taking over to bring a “fresh” take on the story?

  6. mark thorpe Says:

    Might go something like this, Lyle. Ranma and Akane get married and have a violently sexual honeymoon. A secret Chinese organization murders Akane , causing Ranma to snap and walk a road of vengence. He will use his female half to lure the bad guys into her bed, and just before the climax, Ranma dunks his head into warm water, turns male, and molests the bad guy before killing him with a blade hidden in one of the bedposts. With Ryoga’s bad sense of direction he ends up in America where he becomes a tough as nails NYPD cop, who uses a jitte instead of a gun. And has lots and lots of sex.

  7. Tintin Pantoja Says:

    Why the hell would I want to read a Kazuo Koike take on ‘Ranma’? That would defeat the whole point of my reading ‘Ranma.’

  8. Lyle Masaki Says:

    Tintin, that’s my point — the way superhero comics are run, a concept’s creator doens’t matter as much as running t he series until it stops making money.

    Hence, a magical girl series like Amethyst can suddenly become a dark story where the heroine switches between whimpering and getting beaten… and suddenly there’s little point in reading Amethyst. You wouldn’t see that happen in Japanese comics, Ranma is always Ranma because the creator is allowed to end it when she walks away.

  9. Jim Perreault Says:

    Mark wrote:

    Why would anyone want to read about characters that have been around long before they were born, and will probably still be around doing the same routine long after they are dead.

    Honestly, I don’t think that is the problem. Personally speaking, most of my favorite characters were created long before I was born. But maybe that is just me.

    Anecdotally, I do have nieces and nephews who are big Batman and Spiderman fans (and for that matter, Scooby Do). All of which were created long before they were born. And the do react well when I give them comic books featuring them as presents.

    However, they do react much more ecstatically when I give them DVD videos.

    So I don’t think the problem is that the characters were created long ago. I think that we’ve become a much more video centered culture.

    There is a good counter-example to this: Harry Potter. There you have an essentially super-hero character that is popular in both book and video formats.

  10. David Oakes Says:

    “You wouldn’t see that happen in Japanese comics, Ranma is always Ranma because the creator is allowed to end it when she walks away.”

    Is it? If the creator decided to write Ranma 1/2 vol 36 as a Sci-Fi Apocalypse, would it be sacrosanct? If they had stopped after vol 1 and said “I don’t care anymore, do whatever you want”, and someone volunteered to write vol 2-35 – with the blessings of the creator, but not the guidance – out of their love for the characters and the potential for storytelling, would those stories be inherently crap?

    Yes, corporate ownership places The Brand before storytelling. And yes, this will often limit the stories (that are allowed to be) told, and at the same time (paradoxically) create more stories simply to have something to publish. But all these Cassandran prophecies about how anyone else doing Ranma 1/2 would be the end of life as we know it, or how no character created before your lifetime can have any ressonance are complete BS.

    Yes, the independant creator has a few less restrictions placed on their talent. But it doesn’t guarantee their talent. Any number of original works are soulless tripe. And many more were done in the hopes of making money, no matter how “creative” the creator may be. It is only this blind worship of the individual artist – and corresponding demonization of the corporation – that keeps people from remembering that 95% of everything is crap.

  11. Lyle Masaki Says:

    AFIK, most manga artists aren’t like independent creators with control and ownership. However, for the most part, fans can expect a series to remain consistent. That’s the opposite in superhero comics, where a new creator usually wants to put his stamp on a series that emphasizes the creator’s brand more than the series’.

    There are exceptions (Tezuka’s Blackjack comes to mind) but for the most part in manga, the reader can expect that every adaptation will stay true to the original. I tend to find manga much more rewarding because I don’t worry so much that there’s a radical turn coming up that completely transforms the series.




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