Thursday, April 10, 2008
"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb!"
It seems that the last few posts I have posted on the blog in regards to the situation of the comic biz and the Babymen has hit a cord with many, many of my fellow comic fan and professional as well. I guess these are thoughts and feelings I have been dealing with and stirring around in my head, steering around as well as a professional. As a kid the batman show was such a big event, everybody was so excited to watch it every week, both my brother Dave and I were just fixed on it and the other Irwin Allen shows. It seemd to be a cool thing, popular and we didn't take it as being silly or feel they were getting the essence of the character wrong, and ok, I was like 7-8 years old. But those shows fuled my playtime as well and Dave and I had plenty of action figure including the Captain Action withe the Batman disguise, Corgi batmobiles, etc.That's what this new Batman Brave and the Bold is supposed to be, the same thing I'm sure the network and toy producers want.
If you are 30 years old and angry that some cartoon on TV isn't getting the character right because it's aimed at kids, designed for kids---then you have a serious fucking problem, and the cartoon is the least of it! The good stuff, the good cartoons, stuff Timm and Crew did can be enjoyed by a kid, or even adults, and that's great. But we have Adult Swim and shows like Venture Brothers where the whole thing is to aim at us adults using the familaiar icons of the past. That's part of the joke. And you caan have the draker edge in the batman films, but I still think if you go too far you eventually weaken the concept , corrupt it and then you loose the heart. you also make it seems like eveything else...
The recent passing of Charlton Heston also fits and flows into this all as well. Heston was really to my mind the prototype-action hero we have today like Arnold, or had I should say, the current crop of soft, pretty featured Hollywood leading men being more like girls standing in wet panties compared to Heston. It might be a byproduct of getting older to look back and think things were 'so much better back then." But in many cases or at least in comic and film I think they were, sure there was a lot of crap, but there is a lot more of everything now and a higher percentage of it is crap, and very expensive crap. Sure Soilent Green is a fun, kinda' cheesy movie, like Planet of the Apes. Like Kamandi was. Fun. A fun comic for a 10 year old kid like me who also happened to like Soilent Green and West World. But if you took those concepts today, that idea and try and sell it to the Babymen crowd, forget it. It can't be fun, nope, all one note, retread, grim gritty. You have to take Soilent green and show the people being turned into food in as gross and ghastly as possible, you leave so little to the audiences imagination...no participation.
I have read things like One Piece and Narrutto and Death Note and they, the Japanese are doing with the medium of comics what we used to do as an industry and don't now. they make stories that appeal to different levels of maturity and for people who like different genres as well. Hell, just for different people period! At one time it was pretty standard here. You had Kirby who appealed to a kid, then maybe Neal Adams who appealed to the older reader, and then you could even step up, Dr. Strange, Warren mags or even undergrounds like Zap, Slow Death, etc. You has Mary Worth, Blondie, Eek and Meek, Steve Canyon, Dick Tracy, B.C., Peanuts all on one page and nobody seemd to get outraged or upset at one being silly and one being "real". people just read them and accepted them all in the 'world of cartoons". That day with strips is sadly gone too as we all have been reading about the steady decline of the American newspaper. And more people read strips than ever read comic books and adults bought the papers and the material was aimed at them, kids also loved the stuff too, but the direct market is so anti that idea.
The equivalent of those books from the pre-direct market today struggle to sell 1500-10,000 copies, I know, I've worked on many and have friends like Rick Remender who does too, and works hard at it.
There is also a pretentiousness today in comics that there wasn't back in the 60's, 70's and 80's that is very apparent today in comics. It's ironic I think, that while I feel the comic biz is in some respects in it's worst state in many regards as a profession, ( no effective raise in page rate since the mid 90's) and as a biz, comics have never been more "in the news", more accepted, more popular. So, why is there this disconnect between the popularity of comics as a medium, being adapted into films, TV, graphic novels coming into their own, being actively purchased by librarians and librarys all over, appreciated by popular and learned minds, read the world over by millions in strips, manga, etc., yet the average comic shop, the Walled City of Babymania is like some ghastly blighted backwater full of the mentally, socially "tarded" and most importantly, business wise the village of the damed!
Dammed if you can find anything much beyond the offerings of the top tier of the Big Two-Three publishers in the average strip mall comic shop. Dammed if you can find any manga, any humor books, dammed if you can find the owner who's interested in selling more comics, growing his business.
If these guys owned a supermarket they wouldn't stock Milk, or Eggs or anything but the three types of food they liked, forget having a selection, forget advertising, forget inventory, tracking sales, etc.
In this set-up, how can the business have a hope of surviving long term? The fact is there are a few good retailers out there, and we know them all. it's about 300-400 shops tops. They order well, order a variety, have a good staff, have a store that people would feel good going into if they were a teen, a kid, dare I say...a girl or a woman. Those shops order the Indy book, the alternative books, stock manga, put it in the front, have books for a wide audience, like a regular book store. But there are not enough of these shops to offset the negative or bad shops and that's why all the indy cartoons make little or no money, why you don't have more Bones, or Stranger in paradise, etc. that's because there is not enough good shops to support an artist or writer making this type of book. The retailers just won't fucking support you, even if they could sell your book in some cases. They don't care, they don't want your business. Nobody seems to be really talking about this stuff, about the real 8 million pound gorilla flinging shit in the room. Without growth, and continued attrition at what point does the tip point, shark jump, Kirk beam up for the last time? I know some people will read this and say i am the angry guy holding the sign saying the end is near...and first I am not really angry, more resigned, and also I think just saying how things really look in maybe a more realistic way than many people in comics do. I thinks it's partly because of the mindset of being insulated from reality, comics is very insular, and the fantasy that we will be saved.That soething or that Superman will somehow save us. And why aren't more people with a lot more at stake in this game than I have feeling the same way, and more importantly talking about it?
I don't see hundreds of new shops opening or hundreds of new faces in the cons or in the shops. It's the same dam people.
last year something happened. I didn't go to the comic shop for 8 months, the longest time I have gone without buying or looking at a single new comic book since I stared buying them as a kid and certainly the longest run as a pro of not venturing into a shop. And guess what---I missed nothing. Same grim heroes "posing". Sure, there are some swell comics out there and I picked up a reprint of Scalped my fave current comic, and the Gorlon Parlov Punisher comics and a few hex comics by Brenet I missed, some few Hellboy's and Hellboy related stuff like the Abe Sapien comic, Umbrella Academy, an Ashely Wood comic, but dame the mainstream Marvel, DC stuff just seems so unappealing. I just look at stuff and put it back and wonder how anyone but the hard core 50k fans will even want to buy this stuff? I did see other stuff I liked but frankly now I wait for trades, I just have too much crap I need to get rid of as it and then i have these piles of comics sliding around now and it's a mess and a hassle.
Nobody that know of has posted any numbers on how many comic fans we have left. And by this I mean direct market fans? I say it's 150K tops since the average books sells what-- well under 50K now and the top books sell 100k or so. I figure if the top book sells 150k, that means the fact is there must be 15-20k of those issues bagged as extra copies, as store stock, etc., because these guys still think this shit will be worth something. From the numbers I see posted on the Beat and elsewhere and from my own info from fellow pros and people in the trenches the numbers today suck sliced donkey meat! I think the average cartoonist today, especially the new guys and gals coming up might seriously do better to put ether work up on-line in color for free to build a readership and not waste the thousands of dollars to try and sail that boat in the stagnate, hostile direct market. More about that in my next post.