Before I dive into things with this column, allow me to address a small bit of housekeeping with which I could use your collective help:
Nominations for the 2011 Eagle Awards are now online, and I’m both surprised and flattered to announce that I’m being considered for a formal nomination as “Favorite Writer” (Question #3) and “Favorite Web-Based Comic” with NIGHTMARE WORLD (Question #19). I’d love for nothing more than to send the online incarnation of NIGHTMARE WORLD riding off into the cyber-sunset with a formal nomination, at least, for “Favorite Web-based Comic”, so if you wouldn’t mind swinging over there and taking a few moments to cast a quick vote or two in my direction (and perhaps even one for my main man and FARSEEKER collaborator Len O’Grady for “Favorite Colorist” (Question #8 I’d really, really appreciate it. You don’t have to vote in every category, so just place votes in the one’s you’d like and you can be on your way in a few easy minutes.
I try not to ask for much here (after all, this column is all about giving)… but, again, I really would appreciate your help in this matter.
Consider this one sort of the “second part” to that one, in which I discussed at length how diversity of genre in comics is something that we need to make sure we’re still striving for… especially in a day and age when about 70% of all comics being bought in America are about corporately-owned superheroes.
As I said last time, I’m not “hating” on corporately-owned superheroes, companies who specialize in publishing them, those who work on them, or the people who enjoy reading them. In fact, there are some corporately-owned superhero books that I like reading just as much as everyone else.
Besides, I’m not here to even so much as discuss what you (or anyone else) should or shouldn’t like.
I’m not that type of guy.
Rather, I’m here this time to talk about how we all can (and should) at least take the time to periodically examine what we buy, why we buy it, and how our buying habits may shape the lack of diversity in the industry without us even realizing it.
And yes, diversity in the industry – any industry, for that matter – IS important.
After all, I think you’ll find that any well-reasoned person would agree that when seven out of ten delivered items in any one medium (be it film, television, music, video games or comics) distributed by the vendors of such items are all of the same genre, well, that’s something worth examining.
I mean, can you imagine walking into a video game store and seeing that seven out of every ten games on the shelves were variations of dungeon-crawling first-person shooters?
Or walking into your favorite book store only to find 70% of the books they carried were now vampire-based teen romance novels?
How about going to your favorite record store (be it online or an actual store) only to find that the vast supermajority of the records on display were now strictly jazz-fusion CDs?
“What? You want something different? Oh… we can order that for ya’… but it’ll be a week or so before it comes in.”
My friends, this is the state of affairs in regards to what people who shop – or even browse – for comics or graphic novels in the American market are experiencing, with 7 out of 10 books currently being bought by stores and store-owners being books published by Marvel or DC… and by default primarily books about corporately-owned superheroes.
THIS MEANS THAT ONLY THREE OUT OF EVERY TEN BOOKS ON THE SHELF OF MOST STORES REPRESENT NON-CORPORATELY-OWNED SUPERHEROES.
Think about that for a moment. Picture it in your mind if you must.
Sure, sure… there are exceptions to the corporately-owned superhero rule from both Marvel and DC (especially via DC’s Vertigo imprint, where Scalped and Fables, for example, continue to rock my own personal socks off), and both companies publish such a wide array of superhero books that, hey, even if you’re marginally interested in superheroes then they surely have a book (and/or character) for you (with Marvel perhaps having the slight edge in regards to corporately-owned superhero diversity, at least as I see it)…
But what about the people who are interested in reading comics but have absolutely no interest in superheroes at all?
I mean, they ARE out there, you know. Heck, the Manga explosion of several years ago clearly demonstrated that.
Comics are a fun medium to read… but as fans and creators alike we all need to start paying more attention to the fact that we’re limiting potential readers and customers alike who just aren’t interested in the corporately-owned superhero genre.
I mean, should we really just thumb our collective noses at them and say “Sorry, folks… comics are only for people who want to buy big-company books about steroid-freaks in spandex.”
Especially when we’re currently seeing so many other industries that don’t adapt to the demands of their both their pre-existing and potential-future consumer-bases dying-off left and right?
(I’m looking at you, Borders Books.)
Of course, some of you out there are thinking: “Well, people who don’t like superhero just shouldn’t buy them.”
And you know what? You’re right… they shouldn’t.
But for the sake of the growth and longevity of the industry, there should be a wealth of other options out there for them rather than the meager 30% currently being bought and stocked by book stores and comic shops alike.
After all, when someone who goes into a comic shop – or the Graphic Novel section of their local book store only to find that seven out of every ten books on the shelves are superhero comics (and predominantly from the same two publishers at that!)… well… that’s something that could be described as a bit of a problem in regards to supporting the longevity of the industry, don’t you think?
Of course, the argument can (and oftentimes is) made that 70% of the market is dominated by corporately-owned superhero books because that’s what people want to buy, right?
Not so fast, Quickdraw McGraw. Let’s take a minute to strip this assumption down and look at what’s really going on here, shall we?
First, I’d argue that the continual slippage of overall sales in comics year after year is proof that we, as an industry, are shrinking rather than growing… and the fact that this is happening despite the fact that comics as a whole are better now in terms of quality of art, writing and production-value than they have been at any other point in the history of the medium is a testament, I’d argue, to that fact that the overwhelming predominance of corporately-owned superhero books on the shelves is what’s slowly but surely causing comic and TPB sales across the board to slink closer and closer to the abyss of 100% financial unsustainablity… and possibly even extinction.
Sure, sure, a lot of people will claim that higher comic prices – especially for single issues – is a factor, but to that I counter the higher prices is only part of it. I mean, hey, if capitalism has shown us only one thing, it’s that people WILL pay for things they want to own… so, sorry, but I’m not going to agree with the misguided premise that higher prices is the deciding factor in regards to continually dropping sales numbers of such niche industry with such a slavishly devoted consumer/fanbase.
Similarly, let’s stop blaming “Teh Interweb” and the availability of free/illegally downloaded comics. Again, people can and will pay to own nice copies of BOOKS they like… especially comic enthusiasts and bibliophiles, which many comic readers loudly and proudly are. Yes, even those that own an iPad.
Don’t believe me? Think I’m just some lunatic who’s off my rocker? Check out what uber-author Neil Gaiman has to say about the issue in this short interview on YouTube.
The problem is not the prices… nor the Internet… nor Marvel or DC.
We as comic buyers need to start doing what we can to make sure that more books that do NOT revolve around corporately-owned superheroes are making it to the shelves… and we can do that by advocating for such books to the people responsible for ordering comics at the places where we buy them.
Again – and I cannot stress this enough – I’m NOT saying we should take-up torches and pitchforks against Marvel and/or DC.
Like I said in the last column, they’re both good companies who produce good books.
(In fact, those of you who have been with this column from the beginning (or at least as far back as Write or Wrong #3: How Badly Do You Want It?) know that the now-EIC of Marvel Comics, Axel Alonso – who was then an editor at DC Comics – was indirectly responsible for getting me my start in comics… so believe me, I’m not about to suggest biting the hand that feeds – even if the feeding was tangential at best.)
Furthermore… there are a lot of people out there who like the corporately-owned superhero books being published by Marvel and DC… so who am I to tell anyone else that such books shouldn’t be supported, too?
I mean, heck, let’s not forget that – if nothing else – there are some very talented creators whose livelihoods depend on people buying such books, and I sure as heck wouldn’t want somebody going around saying they shouldn’t buy/support the books that I create – be them about corporately-owned superheroes or not (unless, of course, I was, say, a serial puppy-murderer or something equally awful).
Rather, to paraphrase Gandhi, what I’m getting at is this:
We each need to be the change we want to see in the world.
While it would be nice if we could expect the people who run our local book stores and comic shops to both know exactly what non-corporately-owned superhero books we’d like – even if we didn’t even know they otherwise existed – that usually isn’t going to be the case.
I mean, heck, even those comics shop owners most dedicated to supporting creator-owned and/or non-corporately-owned superhero books are limited in terms of time and budget, and despite the much lower page count of the PREVIEWS catalog these days, when push comes to shove comics that have mass-media name-recognition – especially those tied to some sort of cross-line “event” by Marvel or DC – are more likely to soak-up the remainder of the month’s ordering budget than a creator-owned book that the owner may have never heard of before.
I’m not trying to feed into any stereotypes here, but it strikes me as odd (and honestly, even irks me a bit) how so many store owners are perfectly content having five extra copies of any number of corporately-owned superhero books sitting on their shelves that will eventually be bagged, boarded and filed (but will never, ever sell unless it’s in a “Quarter Bin” at a local comic con five years later) while, at the same time, they won’t bother to order even a single copy of some other lesser-known comics even from a smaller publisher – or even Dark Horse and/or Image – in place of some of these extra corporately-owned superhero books!
I mean, am I missing something or is a book that won’t sell a book that won’t see regardless? Considering this, why not spice-up the racks a bit by ordering only four extra copies (rather than five) of the latest issues of all the X-Man spin-off books (or whatever) and instead order at least single copies of several corporately-owned superhero books from companies like Image, Dark Horse, Boom, Ape, Oni and the like. Heck… maybe you could even have a nice little “Non-Superhero” section of the racks specially labeled, you know?
Speaking of which, here’s a true story for all of you: Several years ago I happened to catch a news blurb about a new horror book that was just coming out from Image Comics by a relatively unknown creator. Luckily I lived in a town with three(!!!) comic shops, so I figured that, hey, one of them would have at least ordered a shelf copy or two that I could snag to check out, right?
I mean, we’re talking about a book from Image Comics, here… one of the “Big Four” publishers.
Yeah… you’d think that, wouldn’t ya’?
As it turned-out not one of the three stores had ordered even a single copy of the book, and it was only through some finagling and begging that I was able to get my hands on a copy of the debut issue of this new horror comic from Image that sounded like something I would like.
You all see where this is going, right?
I immediately fell in love with the book and began talking it up to all of my friends – including my local comic shop owner – both in-person and via e-mail.
As they usually do, they all smiled and nodded while I raved about it… but sure enough, due to my rampant enthusiasm over time a few of them finally agreed to give it a shot… and they, too, quickly grew to love the book as well and they, then, began to talk it up, hence perpetuating the cycle of positive “word-of-mouth press” amongst the comic shop.
By the time the sixth issue had come out almost everyone I knew (except for a few of my most stringent comic-buying friends who – for reasons still not completely understood by me – only buy books from certain publishers about certain characters, regardless of who the creators are) was onboard with this book and also singing its praises.
The comic in question, of course, was The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and (at the time) Tony Moore… a creator-owned title that has since become a bit of a phenomenon, spawning, aside from borderline universal praise from readers, a zombie zeitgeist in comics and a hit TV series to boot.
However, even in a town with three(!!!) comic shops it was hard for me to hunt down that first issue, because, hey, it was a book no one had heard of, and despite the fact that it was the first issue on a new ongoing series being published by Image Comics no one wanted to order even a shelf-copy or two.
You know what, though? I’ll bet you anything that all these years later all three(!!!) stores still have copies of the extra Batman and X-Men books they bought that month sitting in the back-issue bins.
Unless, you know, they dumped them for a quarter a piece at a local con or yard sale.
That being said, just as I’m not trying to blame Marvel and DC for the state of the industry, I’m also not trying to blame store owners for not buying more shelf-copies of “lesser-known” books.
Because, again, WE have to be the change we want to see in the world.
WE need to be the ones scouring PREVIEWS and paying attention to – and dare I say contributing to – the online discussions about creator-owned and smaller-press books that might not otherwise get attention due to the hype/press machines of the larger (read: largest) publishers that dominate the press promoting a seemingly never-ending wave of inner-company crossovers and corporate character deaths.
OK… so given that WE, as readers and consumers, need to do our part to help promote comics diversity… here’s what can be done to help.
Believe it or not, it’s easier than you might think and can be done in five easy steps!
HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE TO COMIC DIVERSITY IN SIX EASY STEPS
1) Take a good look at all the comics you buy. Which ones truly excite you… and which ones are now just you buying out of habit?
2) Resolve to take a six-month sabbatical from any and all titles that don’t genuinely excite you. Mind you, I’m not saying you should never buy them again… but give yourself six months away from them to see if you miss them. After all, in the day and age of TPB collections it’s doubtful you won’t be able to pick-up the same issues again in one form or another a few months later (and possibly even cheaper than the cover price of the individual issues) if you decide you really can’t live without a certain title after all.
3) Make an effort to broaden the horizons of your comic book knowledge and exposure. “Google” some of the creators you like who are now doing work primarily on corporately-owned superhero comics and see they were doing before they were scooped up by Marvel and/or DC... or what they’re currently doing along with such work. (“Google” is a wonderful tool, folks. Use it.) Also, don’t be afraid to pick-up a copy of PREVIEWS from your local comic shop and take the time to read through it... especially the back of the book. Heck, leave it in your bathroom (with a pen) if you have to and make note of some of the books/titles that sound intriguing.
4) Take the money you’re now “saving” during this six-month sabbatical from books that aren’t exciting you and try out some new ones – preferably creator-owned ones from Image, Dark Horse or perhaps even a smaller publisher.
5) Remember that “Small Press” is not synonymous with “Bad Comics.” While Marvel and DC certainly work with a lot of top tier comic creators, don’t forget that almost everyone on their roster – both writers and artists alike – were picked-up from smaller publishers… and usually because of their great work on creator-owned books at that! Remember, for the most part Marvel and DC don’t publish creator-owned books (due not to an aversion to it, but rather due to their business models)… so you’ll need to look past these two companies to really discover what’s out there.
6) When you find a non- corporately-owned superhero comic you like… TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT. Word of mouth advertising, as well as posts on message boards and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter can make a huge difference. Heck, in a lot of cases you can even hunt down the creators themselves on Facebook and tell them how much you like their work – and that you’re doing your part to spread the word about what they’re doing. (While I can’t speak for anyone else, I know I personally like it when someone tells me they’ve finally checked out NIGHTMARE WORLD or FARSEEKER and told me how much they’ve enjoyed it.) Oh… and don’t forget to share your enthusiasm with your local comic shop owner too, and encourage them to order an extra shelf copy (or two) for other potential readers with similar interests to yours.
Will every new comic you pick-up immediately strike your fancy and become your new favorite book/series ever?
No… probably not.
However, I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that, within a month or two, you’ll find at least a few new comics/series you’ll like enough to continue purchasing, and in doing so you’ll not only be broadening your own reading horizons, but you’ll also be directly supporting a new generation of comic creators in the process…
Just like you – sooner than later – will be hoping people will do for you.
And, hey, if nothing else you’ll have saved a little money (or not) for a few months while trying some new things… and if at the end of six months you decide to return to Superman and and you haven’t found any creator-owned books that have tickled your fancy, hey, at least you’ll know you tried to do your part to support diversity in comics, you know?
After all, the time will come – again, probably sooner than later – when YOU will be that creator with a book in the back of PREVIEWS trying to convince people to spend a few bucks on your book rather than, say, all the peripheral tie-in books to the latest Marvel or DC “event,” right?
So, in closing, I encourage to do your part now to help support diversity in comics. By doing so I firmly believe that all of us throughout the comic industry – from die-hard readers to casual consumers to professionals across the board – will reap the benefits of diversity and the support of creator-owned, non-corporately-owned superhero books for years to come…
While we still also enjoy the continuing adventures of Wolverine and The Flash on the side, of course.
Next Time: I’m going to try to resist the urge to make this a “trilogy: in which I talk about some of the better (IMHO) diverse and/or creator-owned books out there I think are worth supporting. After all, I still want to get to my columns on con etiquette/“looking the part” at shows as well as the importance of personal wellness on writing… and an inspirational (REALLY!) column tentatively titled “When to Quit.” Come what may, stay tuned! The next column will be written and published soon!
Dirk Manning is the writer/creator of NIGHTMARE WORLD a web-to-print comic now being loudly and proudly published by Image Comics/Shadowline and FARSEEKER, a fantasy series with artist Len O’Grady being hosted by those fine folks at ACT-I-VATE. He is also a longtime contributing columnist for Newsarama and a staunch advocate for comic creators everywhere. He lives on the Internet and can usually be found lurking around Facebook and Twitter on a fairly regular basis… when he’s not busy writing, of course.
Want to read Write or Wrong from the beginning? Here ya’ go!