The West Coast Era of Comics

I predict that in the future this comic era will be known as the West Coast Era of comics. (Maybe I should better say I nominate this nomenclature for future scholars to understand what drove the comic industry in this era.) For these reasons.

1. Hollywood’s influence. Comic movies are popular and successful, with The Dark Knight and three Spider-Man movies ranking in the top 30 all-time worldwide grosses. But it’s not just superheroes; all kinds of graphic novels get optioned. Some — Persepolis, the upcoming Scott Pilgrim — are better done and better received than others — Whiteout, Surrogates, Watchmen — but we’re long past the days of movies based on comics being considered only cheesy, low-quality action flicks. Chasing this success also means seeing a lot of comics published purely to serve as storyboards or licensing bait from those dreaming of being the next adapted property, unfortunately.

2. Cross-pollination with television. TV writers (such as Joss Whedon or J. Michael Straczynski) dabble in comics to get buyer interest, while comic writers such as Brian K. Vaughan get TV gigs after writing well-known graphic novel series. TV adaptations run the gamut from my beloved, departed Middleman to the wearing-out-its-welcome Human Target to the now-casting Walking Dead zombie thriller. Then there are shows that are just like comics. Heroes, most obviously, which has had several comic pros on its writer/producer staff, but Lost‘s structure owes a lot to never-ending serial storytelling, while The Big Bang Theory is like reading a slice-of-life nerdy autobio, in addition to all the explicit comic references the show makes. It’s not the only one. Comic references have been casually dropped, without special explanation, in such diverse shows as Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Ghost Whisperer, and Bones.

3. The most exciting publishing companies are located on the West Coast. The traditional “big two” superhero comic companies come out of New York book culture, while newer, growing publishers like IDW or Boom! are California-based. Marvel (East Coast) has been acquired by Disney (West Coast), while DC (East Coast) was reorganized to be part of DC Entertainment (West Coast). It remains to be seen how the change in leadership will affect those publishers. Plus, the big manga companies — Viz, Tokyopop — are set up in California, where there’s a strong Asian community and lots of cultural influences, as is Image Comics.

Update: And, as I was reminded, there are the comic capitals of Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, which are headquarters for publishers Dark Horse, Oni Press, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, and home to many many creators across all varieties of comics. If something took out Portland, comics as we know it would instantly change.

4. The prominence of licensed comics. Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s “Season Eight” from Dark Horse (a top-30 seller). Marvel has a line of adapted comics that include Stephen King’s Dark Tower. Star Wars, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and similar titles have strong followings, while video game tie-ins seem to be keeping DC’s WildStorm imprint going.

5. San Diego Con’s role as THE nerd haven and marketing must. ‘Nuff said.

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