PART 1: the problem
So John tossed me a bit of a challenge that I’ve been dodging this past week with Zombie Tales self-contained story posts – John said I’d be stepping in to give you a view of independent comic book and graphic novel publishing. At first I wasn’t sure I had a thing to say, but then I saw an Entertainment Weekly article on an older demographic shift in comic book readership, and it got me thinking.
Two of the biggest announcements of 2005 in comics came out in the past few weeks – the Executive Producer of LOST, Damon Lindelof, is writing a Wolverine/Hulk comic book, and Stephen King is bringing his
Theoretically, this is the kind of mainstream acceptance that comic books and graphic novels have been courting for years. King is one of the biggest names of all time in novel publishing, LOST is the hottest show on TV, bar none. To make it a trifecta, all we’d need would be some huge rock star to sidle up and do a comic.
That’s nice. But who cares?
I’m not saying that I’m not excited that an A-list talent like Stephen King is coming to comics, or that there’s a well-capitalized outfit like Marvel that’s willing to pay out the cash to make it happen. I love the fact that my favorite TV show of all time has an Executive Producer who loves comics, and loves it so much that he’s willing to write a comic to prove it.
It’s just that it’s more of the same – bigger, better, faster, more. And no innovation.
When Stephen King comes to comics, it’s to do more with a franchise he created himself nearly a quarter century ago – and in another medium (so really, is this much more than an adaptation?). I can hear the King fans saying already, “I liked it better as a novel!” and chances are, they’ll be right. When Lindelof comes to comics, it’s to write one of the most over-used characters in the business –fanboy bait Wolverine.
Where’s the innovation?
The dark shame of comics is that the rich get richer and the industry gets poorer. DC Comics (the D and the C stand for Detective Comics, so their name literally is Detective Comics Comics) has yet to create a character that eclipses their big three – Superman (1938), Batman (1939), and Wonder Woman (1941). Their next-most recognizable characters, The Flash (1940) and Aquaman (1941) are just as old. They’ve been making hay off the same old same old month in and month out for 65, nearly 70 years.
Where’s the innovation?
Marvel Comics emerged with a bang in the early 1960s: Spider-Man and The Hulk (1962), the Fantastic Four (1961). The X-Men didn’t catch on until Wolverine was created in the pages of The Hulk (1975) and tossed in with a makeover on the X-Men that catapulted them into what we know today (1975). The mid-1970s was the last fertile era for the company, giving them not only a revamped X-Men team that’s their top seller, but another arguably recognizable duo in the form of The Punisher and Ghost Rider. So they’re not quite as bad as DC, they’ve only been living off the same old ideas for about 30 or 40 years. Half as long.
Imagine this: you turn on ABC TV, and all you’ve got for prime time is a selection of about a dozen of their all-time greatest TV shows – The Love Boat hitting its 27th season, Addams Family would’ve clocked in 41 seasons (okay, maybe taking a season or two off to do The New Addams Family with a Scrappy Doo-like cute and cuddly sidekick), Barney Miller, Benson, Bewitched, you just know that Matlock’d still be plugging away. Lost would already have a spin-off because during any given month, there’s 18 to 20 different Batman and Batman spin-off comic books. 23 to 25 X-Men spin-offs. You think the CSI franchise or the LAW AND ORDER franchise are overdone? When people say there’s comic book collectors – good God man, there’s comic book collectors. There’s hordes of men and women that show up week-in and week-out on Wednesdays to devour this stuff.
Same old same old.
Okay. Let’s be fair. There’s a scattershot of other characters that have attained a franchisable level. The list would have to include some from the past 15 years that have made the leap to movies: Hellblazer as Keanu’s
Meanwhile, the vast majority of funnybooks hitting the shelves week-in and week-out are new versions of the same old same old. The Batman beat the Joker again. Waitaminute, it was The Penguin this time.
I, for one, am sick of it. Out with the old. In with the new. DC and Marvel focus on selling Yet Another Spider-Man series – the latest is called “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” (no, really) –I’d like to find the next Spider-Man.
Big talk, I know. But how are you going to get anywhere if you cower at the feet of these giants?
In the late 1950s, DC Comics ruled comic book publishing with their super-heroes. If Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko had decided to keep on keeping on with what Marvel was publishing at the time – giant monster books and westerns – there’d be no Marvel universe. And yet, in many ways, it’s what editorial at both of the big two companies continue to do – sticking with what came before, and frankly, it’s a snake eating its own tail.
It’s time to color outside the lines.
NEXT: That’s nice, but what the hell are you going to do about it, Mr. Publisherguy?