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 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.


Dylan said...

Mike I'm with you most fo the way on this one, but I wouldn't slag off the "babymen" too much. They contribute a lot of money to the industry, also just guessing here, I imagine they form the bulk of the commissioned sketch and original art buyers.

Steve Buccellato said...

Your points are all well taken, Mike, but I also think Dylan is correct. At least in that the "Babymen" have their problems, but sadly, right now, they are the audience we have.

You aren't alone. Your rants echo (very succinctly) conversations that all of us frustrated pros have been whining about for at least a decade. The problem is that it doesn't seem like there's anything we can do about it at our level! I can't understand why the higher-ups at Marvel & DC don't seem hip to these obvious truths about our industry. The content of the books is mostly trash and the marketing/distribution is worse.

I remember once in a moment of mad hyperbole, I proclaimed that "if I were Marvel's publisher, I would cancel ALL their current books, and ONLY print classic reprints (with slight edits to 'modernize') for a couple of years, while re-imagining the whole Marvel Universe to appeal to a younger demographic." Nobody is asking me to be anything at Marvel, but when I'm standing in my local comic shop, staring at the racks of zombie books and gritty superheroes, I can't help wondering,"What if?"

Urban Barbarian said...

Good points. Great drawing!

Mike Manley said...

Steve, I agree the ability to effect any of this is really out of our hands as creatives in the direct market. The fact is I am not interested in attempting that anymore anyway, I ran my head into that brick wall long ago and long enough.

I say just leave the island, leave it to the natives and go off and find a new land. I figure you can be no worse off in many reguards and probably better off creatively and have a lot more fun. I think we are in teh first years of what radio was with the internet. I think there are models there that will work better for us artist and creatives there. the Utube, the daily painter ideas are just two ideas that seem to work by skipping the bullshit of the middleman and going direct to the public, or creating one.

I think your scenario is actually the likely fate of comics within this deacde depending on the bottom line of liscensing revenue. Don't forget Disney effectily stopped publishing comics featuring their characters , yet everybody still knows them. I could see Marvel going all digest/magazine reprint, sold in markets and places where they sell kids mag and it doing very well as the characters are known enough by several generations.

fans forget the reality of revenue and it's ultimate effect. like Galatcus's hunger, the corproation must be fed, and fed well.

Disney magazine stopped publishing selling well over a million copies and issue as I heard it, numbers anyone would kill for in the babyman world, yet for Disney, it wasn't enough, the bread wasn't fat enough for them.

Jon McNally said...

Thanks for another interesting post, Mike. As with other recent posts I found myself nodding my head in agreement.

Call me naive, but I like to think there is some kind of shift in progress at the Big Two. It seems to me that there are, at least within the men-in-tights genre, at least a few more general audience mags out there. Stuff like Parker's X-Men First Class is consistently entertaining and the issues of the Marvel Adventures line which I've sampled are also, I think, on the right track. Waid's Brave & Bold title seems amusing, too.

Still, there's the issue of location. How many average, fun-loving kids or adults are gonna stumble onto these items, I wonder?

Regarding collections vs. monthlies and the discussion of reprints, I propose that the monthly format is, for the moment, widely misunderstood and misused.

Mike Manley said...

One only has to go to MoCCa or SPX to the local Borders to see that medium of comics is very healthy and has wealth of material avilable...IF you know it exists and then WHERE to find it. Again, in comics we are so insulated from these questions because ware in inside the Wallede City or withing eye sight of it.

I showed a huge batc of comics to my Uarts class 2 weeks ago, everything from Euro comics, self published comics,basically things that showed the breath and width of the medium outside of superheroes, and I make superhero comics mostly myself.

Not one student knew how to find this stuff, had heard of Mocca or SPX and the local comic shops in Philly don't carry or cater to this type of book or reader.

Ed McKeogh said...

Mike, you're preaching to the choir.

When reading the above and its comments, I entertained this fantasy wherein every frustrated creator said, "No. Not this month. No more spandex shit." Suddenly, none of the Big 2-3 have anything to print in two months--or what they get is NOT what they ordered. What would they do? Fire EVERYBODY? Push reprints or fillers onto their unsuspecting public? Toss a rookie hack job into the fray? The whole industry, from publisher through distributor to retailer would never be the same.

Dave Sim was right: Corporations exist to (1) perpetuate themselves by (2) owning stuff. The corp gets bigger, "overhead" expenses eat up more of the bottom line, and the real backbone of the industry--the talent--suffers from the creative equivalent of osteoporosis. How many of the "old school" are left making comics anyway? I mean, what's John Byrne (the Michael Caine of comics) doing these days? Even Neal Adams knew enough to pull the rip cord over 20 years ago.

But comics have always been about "escape," and you'd think that, with the world the way it is, we'd want a lighter, more engaging, more fantastic read that does the medium proud. I sure do. I've been traveling more in the indy/small press world lately, and it's a poor but happier place. I'd rather spend the time and energy finding my own creative voice than contributing to the next marketing-driven/competition squashing weekly fiasco or heavily delayed super-xross-over event.

It's important to note, though, that big changes either (1) take a long time or (2) follow a catastrophe. As far as comics these day go, I'm thinking it's gonna be #2.

SCBD said...

Hey Mike,

I'm a fan of your work and think that the vitriol the B&TB artwork inspired was ridiculous, especially since the show itself remains unseen. Folks should at least reserve judgment until they've seen and episode or two.

That said, I think you're attributing some opinions to your critics that they (most of them anyway) don't appear to hold.

I'm fairly sure that the majority of your critics weren't looking for the animated equivalent of 'Batman Begins' to debut on Saturday morning TV -- especially since the upcoming 'Gotham Knight' DVD should satiate that need just fine. I don't even think they were looking for a Batman series that matched up precisely with what the current creative teams on DC's various Batman comics were doing.

They probably *were* expecting (or at least hoping for) something evocative of the Bruce Timm animated DCU -- but I'm not sure there was anything terribly wrong with that. The Timm stuff is well regarded for a reason, and not just by 'babymen' -- or are you arguing that the Emmys Timm and co. won for their efforts were undeserved?

That would be a difficult argument to make, IMHO. As would the argument that the Timm stuff was somehow alienating to younger viewers.

In fact, I'd argue that the opposite is true -- I'd argue that the Timm shows were responsible for keeping the 'Batman' property alive and exciting to a new generation of fans not necessarily invested in the comics. They grew up on B:TAS and now they're happily queuing up for 'Batman Begins' and 'The Dark Knight.'

Personally, one of the things I liked about B:TAS and even 'The Batman' is that they were shows that, while aimed at kids, adults could watch without feeling that their intelligence was being insulted. In other words, shows some of these 'aging fans' you deride could share with their kids.

In my opinion, the best (and most enduring) animated shows are the ones that operate on multiple levels for different audiences. B:TAS, the Simpsons, and Avatar are three thematically and stylistically diverse examples of that. Kids eat those shows up, and their creators didn't have to tell anybody off to make that happen.

But who knows? Maybe B:TB&TB will be one of those shows too. If so, great.

If not, we'll see how the loss of those adult owned and operated Nielsen boxes does or doesn't effect things.

And one more thing: Adam West may have been your Batman -- and that's fine. But the Biff!Pow!Zap! Batman of that era is hardly the original Batman. Batman a la Bob Kane bears a greater resemblance to the Batman of 'Batman Begins' than the pop-kitch version you seem to prefer.

There's wrong with that, but claiming that your vision is somehow truer to the character's roots than the recent movies versions, or Bruce Timm' work is silly. Modern creators aren't so much 'darkening' the character of Batman as you are 'lightening' him to better reflect the version you fondly remember from your childhood.

Focusing on that version is well within your artistic prerogative, but arguing that said prerogative is somehow more 'right'/'true'/'accurate' than Frank Miller's or Bruce Timm's or Jeff Matsuda's or Neal Adams', etc., etc. strikes me as being at least as arrogant and 'entitled' as those uber-fans for which you have so much contempt.

That said, best of luck with your show. Getting any sort of decent American animation on kids' TV these days seems to be an increasingly difficult proposition -- and I think viewers of all ages who care about the health of the artform on this side of the Pacific need to support good creators and good productions whenever they can.