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But i *like* super-hero comics!

I like comic books. Everybody knows that. I think its blending of static art and words allows for unique types of expression, and i think the medium is definitely not given the respect it deserves in the larger world of literature. I have enjoyed many different stories, in many different genres, that have been published in comic book form.

But the enthusiasm you see on this site and elsewhere from me around comic books really deals very specifically with super-hero comics, more specifically Marvel super-hero comics. I love reading about a bunch of wackos with crazy powers in crazy outfits beating the hell out of each other, and more importantly, i love the idea of the shared universe that's been going on for decades - all these interconnecting story arcs that are part of a giant ongoing epic. That's something fairly unique. And of course within the Marvel Universe there are tons of sub-genres - you've got Dr. Strange, X-Men, Punisher, Runaways, etc.; all very different types of stories.

So, for me, if the rest of the comic book industry had to die in order to keep my Marvel fix going, so be it! But i don't think that's in any danger of happening. Between comic strips, manga, DC's Vertigo, and all the indies, there are plenty of non-superhero stories available in comic form, and even if all the current publishers suddenly went out of business, i think the medium itself is strong enough that it would regrow. I don't see a crisis in the American comic industry due to the dominance of Marvel and DC.

Other people have different opinions, of course. I suspect that these are people that have "outgrown" super-heroes (which is fine) and have some favorite comics that they feel the world needs to know about, but the glut of super-hero books somehow prevents them from getting out there.

I know how they feel. There's plenty of bands that i love, for example, that i think ought to be more popular and i do bemoan the fact that radio stations and MTV mainly play pop drivel. I've never actually met someone who loved Britany Spears* that would be devastated if i replaced her spot on the radio with Can or something, but now i know how they would probably feel if i did:

Alan David Doane:

A Future for Comics -- It is my long-held belief that the direct market network of mostly superhero-oriented comic book stores is headed for extinction. The reason it is passing into history is because it excludes new readers and embraces only an existing "fanbase," willfully ignoring the fact that comics as a vital, living artform are so much more than superheroes. At the same time, a minority of shops within the direct market are reaching out to a broader audience for comics, one nurtured by mainstream media coverage like comics receive on National Public Radio or in print publications like Time Magazine. The question is, will the truly full-service comic book stores that point the way to the future serve as an example to the majority of stores currently dependent on Diamond's weekly shipments of superhero titles? Or will the backward, pro-superhero (but ultimately anti-comics) policies of such stores destroy the direct market before a transition can be made to a viable graphic novel-dominant marketplace that serves all comics readers?

In the 1970s and '80s, the direct market thrived because superheroes were about all there were in comics, at least in North America. Alternative/ground-level titles like Elfquest, Cerebus and Love and Rockets were curious sidebars to what most readers thought of as comics, but in the 1990s and especially since the beginning of the 21st Century CE, those comics as well as manga and some newspaper strips, have come to define what the average person thinks of as comics. Meanwhile corporate superhero comics have marginalized themselves through editor-driven, continuity-dependent, poorly-crafted "events" like Identity Crisis and its descendants. Such titles create a frenzy of interest in the minority of comics readers who value the sub-genre of superhero adventure fiction more than they value the artform of comics as a whole. [Hey that's me! - fnord12]

Such readers don't consider actual quality much of an element [fnord12's emphasis] in the debate over the future of comics at all, and have created an artificial sales bubble that is destined to feed on itself until the direct market itself collapses. [A 'sales bubble' that has been going on since as long as there have been super-hero comics, i suppose - fnord12]


I have shopped at a lot of comic book stores since the 1970s, and stores that carry mainly the latest corporate superhero comics with a heavy emphasis on back issues increasingly fill me with indifference bordering on contempt.

First, i'm a little stunned by his raw condescension and the dismissal of the entire super-hero genre, as if nothing within that catetgory could possibly be any good.

I'm also not clear on why he feels that comic stores need to carry the sort of content that he is looking for. He makes a very convincing case that the non-superhero genres are thriving and growing outside of the direct market - look at his argument over how sales analyses that only use info from Diamond are useless. Manga seems hugely popular in places like Borders, based on the amount of shelf space they devote to it - why do we need that replicated in comic shops as well? Meanwhile, i need access to tons of back issues because the back-story of the Marvel Universe is important to me. If you replaced all those boxes with trades that people could get elsewhere, no one would have any need to go to these stores. He needs to think of comic book shops as serving a specialty market - sort of like a CD store that focuses on jazz music.

And i'm a little confused by his apocalyptic vision - if us dumb super-hero fans are only a "minority of comics readers who value the sub-genre of superhero adventure fiction more than they value the artform of comics", then what is he worried about? This majority of sophisticated non-superhero comic book fans must be getting their books somewhere already. Why does he care if the direct market shops go out of business?

I'm not saying he doesn't make some good points. He's right that some comic book stores are operated by people that have no business running a business, but that's really neither here nor there regarding his larger argument (although isn't it interesting that he trashes super-hero comics for being 'corporate' and yet his description of what a good comic store should look like sounds a lot closer to Walmart than a Mom 'n' Pop? (except "They will operate their business in accordance with local, state and federal laws, including labour and employment laws.
", ofc.)). And it's worth trying to promote non-superhero books; there's lots of good stuff out there. But I love my poorly-crafted, spandex-obsessed revenge fantasies super-hero comics, dammit, and he better not take them away from me or i will personally pull my underwear up over my pants and go over there and beat the crap out of him.

Update: ADD takes a thrashing in the comments section here. Many of my points are made much more eloquently there.

*I know, Britany Spears is like 10+ years ago, but i have no idea what's on the radio today, and she's my standard shorthand for 'bad pop music'. Just be glad i didn't say Madonna.

By fnord12 | June 14, 2007, 2:46 PM | Comics


Where'd Woody go?