Fan Nation/Station/Elation/Relocation

Published on July 11th, 2011

Travis breaks down how the big business of comic book characters is no longer in comic books.

Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself

SWM seeks blog with writing vacancy and spare foot medication. Interested in long conversations about popular culture, Christopher Nolan and late-night cartoons. Must be willing to listen to long-winded descriptions and criticisms of various Batman comics, films and action figures. Fragmented sentences a must. BYO Pirate costume. No weirdos, fatties or actual pirates. Serious inquiries only.

This is the ad I placed on craigslist last week. Only 10 minutes later, Alex had replied with a dimly lit picture of his manhood and I was immediately hooked. I’ve been brought on to The MacGuffin Men team to write, primarily focusing on film’s paper-based cousin the comic book. Between James, Alex and I, our love of indoor sitting hobbies allows for near-perfect surveillance of the pop-culture landscape.

Let’s Get To It

I had a great time recording the podcast about comic book movies, and thought afterwards that I would like to go more in-depth on some of the subjects we spoke on. With the deluge of film adaptations over the last few years, publishers and creators have imagined a golden utopia of new readers that could return their sales numbers to rates that rival those of the 1990s (a high point for sales, but not necessarily creativity – more on that later). Speaking to DC Comics’ new digital initiatives (there will be a longer post explaining this in full), Warren Ellis wrote:

Comics used to sell loads back then, yes. But a big part of that — and this is the part he isn’t mentioning — is that there were ten thousand comics shops back then. And now there are, optimistically and rounding up, about two thousand. There simply aren’t the number of outlets left to sell the kind of volume comics could shift in the 90s.

So this increase in attention despite low sales has prompted a few discussions among readers and the (amazingly active) blogging communities. If Ellis and the sales figures are right, these 2000 shops and their customers represent a small fraction of the audience DC is hoping to claim (or reclaim, depending on who you believe). Why are there not more people reading comic books? I don’t mean to argue that due to my own preference (THEY’RE SO GOOD GUYS COME ON), but the evidence suggests a cultural gap between derivative works (films) and their source material. With films, television and other media the top tier of comic book born creations have been in our collective faces for almost 100 years. Superman and Batman are about as valuable intellectual property as Mickey Mouse, perhaps even more valuable. The Dark Knight’s opening weekend grossed $67 Million, while the highest selling Batman comic book that month sold only 103,191 copies – which at $2.99 is $308,541.

Fashionable People Doing Questionable Things

The answer could just be that it isn’t fashionable for people to walk into a comic book shop and pay for a magazine, or that western culture has never really taken cartoons seriously. I believe that although these play a significant part, there are several other circumstances that keep the comics industry from reclaiming its former riches. The big issue that I see is that the more mainstream part of comic book culture is insular, and a bit stagnant – and this statement includes readers, publishers and creators. Many of the larger publishers have for years been predatory organizations looking to maximize profit, creators dream of a more glamorous career in films, and readers have adamantly defended their pastime to the point of self-parody. Any “outreach” type programs are being spearheaded by publishers looking to push what is usually the lowest common denominator, often the equivalent of a nutshot.

So what’s a guy to do?

I often find myself in social circles composed of critical-thinking individuals that have a similar aptitude for popular culture. I am of the mind that the cure for stagnation in the comics world is to bring in new perspectives from all realms of culture, without the exclusion that has dominated comic book culture for years.

Comic books have as much to offer as any summer blockbuster, and the medium affords some rare and unique treats from creators that have a passion for it. To readers and other pop-culture aficionados, I say let’s embrace the silliness and contradictions for all they’re worth. These things have the ability to speak profound truths to anyone who understands the language.

Batman and Robin in: The Night of 1000 Spiders Oh My God Spiders They're In My Hair!


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