Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The End?

Nothing appears to scare the extreme fanboy like change. The illusion of change is all well and good, but the status quo is much more comfortable.

Some comic readers shit their pants when they heard the surprising news that Disney had purchased Marvel for eleventy billion dollars. One of the many fears that have come out of the whole affair is the idea that Disney just sees Marvel as an intellectual property farm that no longer requires monthly comics. That there really isn’t any need to produce Spider-Man or Fantastic Four every four weeks, that there have been enough stories to spin off into a thousand new properties, that series that have been running for decades could just stop.

I say there is no reason to be afraid of this. I say it sounds like a good idea.

* * *

Chances are, the changes on the ground level from the recent restructures of both Marvel and DC will be barely noticeable. Companies restructure all the time, at least every three or four years, because that’s how businesses spark growth. And trust me ­ I’m a mild-mannered business journalist by day ­ companies fuckin¹ love sparking growth. You can get good solid growth by playing it safe and easy, or you make the company look sexy to shareholders and investors by making bold moves that make a lot of money, and carry a
shedload of risk.

So DC gives Paul Levitz the boot and Mickey Mouse owns Razor Fist, and Superman will still be published tomorrow and there will always be something new every Wednesday, for a while at least. These comics must still make money, or these companies wouldn’t even publish them, (because that’s something else businesses like ­ things that make money). Lah deh dah, life goes on.

Except what if it didn’t? What if the word came down from on high that the monotonous monthly grind was seen to be damaging the brand and preventing far more lucrative multimedia deals and they had to be shitcanned? What if there would be no more regular comics fix? What if they had to stop? What if there was no more Action Comics or Incredible Hulk books every bloody month?

Wouldn’t it be brilliant?

* * *

There can never be enough comics. The world could overflow with self-replicating and self-aware alternative comics and I’d happily drown in paper overflowing with autobiography and teenage wanking.

But there really doesn't need to be a new Batman comic every week, or a new Daredevil, or a new Terror Inc. There are just so many superhero comics out there, far too many for anything to stand out. Blending painfully from one series to the next, stories meander around entire universes of titles, and so what?

Entire lines of comics with tightly regimented styles are all the same, all a bit dull, all a bit pointless.

Teen Titans has had absolutely nothing new to say for two decades, but it’s still there, still being cranked out every month. It only seems to exist because it has always existed, and there are still some people out there who genuinely fear a world without the Titans Tower.

* * *

What if Spider-Man stopped at issue #36? We’d still love him, and there still would have been plenty of stories, in different formats, in different ways. But it carried on, and there have been some terrific stretches in the ongoing saga, there have also been a few terrible ones and so many average ones. They're the damaging ones, average comics are nothing comics published to fill a gap.

I still think there would have been some form of Spider-Man comic if Ditko left. The character certainly struck a chord with the popular consciousness and would have been well known from cartoons with groovy theme songs and that awful, awful Nicholas Hammond thing that I thought was the bee’s knees in 1980.

It he hadn’t been stuck in that monthly pattern, Spidey could have showed up in full-sized books. If there was only one spider-Man a year, you could guarantee it would be something worthwhile, produced by the best talent the copyright owner could grab. If that had happened, there would have been dozens of stone-cold Spider-Man classics that the monthly grind just never had.

There were certainly odd bright spots in the 675,000 Spider-Man comics produced since 1963, but not as many as there should have been.

* * *

What if Crisis On Infinite Earths had actually ended monthly comics and every Superman story since then had been its own standalone title, sharing consistent features, but free of all continuity and just focused on the story?

Would that have been worse than what we got?

* * *

I know I can handle not having a slice of Morrison every week if I can get a slab of it every couple of months. I’m right behind the latest change in the Love and Rockets format. Even many of the monthlies I get are left at the comic shop until a couple of built up. The only ones I actually get every time a new issue comes out are any new Morrison, the obligatory Mark Millar comic and the latest issue of Jack of Fables.

Stuff like Greek Street and Sweet Tooth are easy enough to put off for a couple of months, but it’s actually bloody hard putting off things like Garth Ennis’ Battlefields comics. I always want to read these as soon as possible, but want to read them all at once. Saving up the monthlies gives me a couple of months on the eventual collection and are still cheaper, most of the time.

It wouldn’t make any difference to me if they went straight to book, if that was the first way to get them.

* * *

But who cares about this whining little bitch? The only ones who would really suffer if the entire comics industry shit itself again are the poor old retailers. They have been screwed over by distributors and companies so many times over the decades, I’m convinced that anybody who lasts more than 10 years in the business must have Balls of Steel.

Retailers like Brian Hibbs still make a solid case for the business sense behind the monthly comic, and it’s disingenuous to argue the point with somebody whose entire livelihood depends on it. But as Hibbs has recently pointed out, the comic companies seem to be doing there best to kill the periodical, and if the people making the most money off it can’t see a way to make it a truly sustainable industry, what chance does it stand?

* * *

Because that whole business model of selling comics is broken. It’s survived all sorts of setbacks, but has only really worked several times in the medium’s history and when it has, it’s been built on a boom and bust cycle that just isn’t sustainable for solid growth.

The whole industry is changing and for all the talk of going digital, nobody really knows how it’s going to end up. All I know is that breaking things down is a good start before building something new and the assault on the monthly format from collected books and the digital arena can only produce interesting results.

And that’s all I’m asking for: get us off this ride, get us off this need. Give us new and wrap up the old. Spider-Man doesn’t need it, he will still live on in movies and television and cartoons and video games and yeah, even comics.

There will always be comics, they’re too much fun to ever totally lose an audience. But the never-ending battle doesn’t need to go on forever

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