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New TILTING is up!
Posted by: Brian Hibbs on December 17, 2010
Tags: Brian, Tilting
Find it here, as I ruminate on the state of the DM as 2010 closes.
Your perspective is always welcome!
Marvel roped me in with their Heroes Reborn line, of all things, in 1997. Then, when the Heroes Returned, I ended up buying their entire Marvel Universe line. DC gently roped me in with No Man’s Land and then more interesting Superman stories, until I was buying their entire line as well.
Then Jemas and Quesada came around, eliminating the aspect of a shared universe (which was clearly Jemas’s idea based on every decision Quesada made since Jemas was ousted). With it went my interest in Marvel comics because their universe was imploding. Now their universe is the only thing they care about in a thoroughly insular way, such that I find it impossible to care about myself (actions have no consequences despite every storyline being keyed into the previous one–Bendis never broke the internet, much as he wanted to, but he sure broke the MU for me).
DC did much the same thing, losing me then regaining me for a bit with Infinite Crisis and 52, where for a tiny bit it seemed there might have been a direction for the line. But there wasn’t, all of it is build-up without pay-off. Which is possibly what comics have always been, but it sure as heck is much more apparent these days than it was when they were $1.50 / $2.00 / $2.25 / $2.99 compared to $3.99
Less content and less excitement = no interest from me and apparently many others. Meanwhile, I’ve been digging into series like Dungeon, which are continuity heaven because they’re tightly entwined but at the same time ever so stand-alone. After buying everything available in Dutch I’ve also been buying everything available in English, just so my brother-in-law can get his teeth into the awesome art and stories. That’s what all comics need to be like: full of fun and awesome. And the only way to achieve that is to eliminate all the unnecessary series, which means also eliminating all the unnecessary writers, artists and editors. And that’s where the real problem is: some people are obviously doing the job without having a creative bone in their body but they’re still getting more jobs creating lousy comics. Naturally, readers resist.
Best thing they can do is to just raze their continuities completely and start from the ground up with 20 titles max per universe. But that implies firing the incompetents (usually the harder ones to get rid of) and upsetting shareholders. So that’s not happening anytime soon.
Meanwhile, shows like the Big Bang Theory are showcasing comics all the time, this week’s episode spent half its time in a comic shop and focusing (also making fun of, but in a nice way) on the Justice League characters. Millions of people watch that show. But DC is unable to draw even the tiniest bit of those millions to try out their product. And that is sad. (also, Penny should’ve been Black Canary. I’m just saying :)
Just ban the marvel/dc universe “architects” and let good writers and artists do what they want.
I’ve dropped so many titles I can’t count.
That being said…
I love the Spencer’s Jimmy Olson back up in Action Comics. Put 30 pages out of that every month and I will pay $3.50 for it.
Let Keith Giffen write and illustrate Doom Patrol without an Infinite Blackest Death crossover interuption and I will pay for it.
Let Grant Morrison write Batman for as long as he wants and I will pay for it.
Let Marcos Martin and JRJ alternate arcs of Spider-man and I will buy every issue.
Put out Jason Aaron’s Punisher max on a monthly basis and I will buy it every month.
Get BKV and Garth Ennis writing monthly books and I will buy them.
It really isn’t that hard.
I guess I have a silly question. You were around in that horrible stretch between … I want to say 93 to 98 were the bad years? I remember the exact same companies doing the exact same things in those years– it was 500 Midnight Sons titles, all crossing over with one another, written by d-list talents, late books, gimmick covers, coddled independent comics long on hype and short on merit (though, okay, Archer & Armstrong was kind of cool– I’ll give you guys Archer & Armstrong), etc.
And I remember it driving away people in droves and droves. And so when I get angry right now (and angry’s an overstatement but…), it’s not because of these practices but it’s because I feel like this all happened before, with horrible, horrible worst-case-scenario results– and so the “angering” part is everyone involved knows better from lsat time, and knows what the consequences of their actions will be, and is proceeding regardless, from the people making the decisions down to the architects creating the mega-crossovers and on, that there’s just this big heap of blame building every day and no end in sight to the people who’ll be dodging it on twitter in 4..3..2..
So… am I way, way off here? Is there something different this time, some difference between Marvel 1993’s polybags and Marvel 2011’s “death-bags” that I’m not seeing? I always suspect that I sound like a crazy person but… No, I mean, i DEFINITELY sound like a crazy person. But I feel like I … I just don’t get how no one learned anything! But maybe I’m wrong and they did.
Or I mean– how did things recover from them doing this last time? Because my memory is– my memory is awful year after awful year, and then there was this tiny window where Jimmy Corrigan and David Boring came out at the same time as Kevin Smith was writing Daredevil and some of the Caliber guys were just starting to generate heat at Marvel/DC, at the same time as the manga audience really came of age, and it was just this weird fluke confluence of things coming in from different vectors converging all at once. i.e. Awesome to have lived through but nothing I would want to set my watch to. (Did I use that expression correctly?)
But you know: this is just my lame-brained fan perspective– and I spent some of those years having… having some fun, so I’m sure there were nuances I was oblivious to, with re: discounts and what have you. So: I don’t know.
Great column, Brian Abhay, I guess I don’t have to say much since you essentially voiced everything I was going to say.
But, Quesada says, to paraphrase: “Our crossovers are different than those of the ’90s because… heck, they’re better!”
There was definitely a “golden period” I think between ’99 and maybe 2002 (?) where so many Marvel and DC titles had their own identity and I was buying more comics than ever per month. Morrison on X-Men, JMS’ early Spider-Man, Geoff Johns on Avengers – just great comics all around. Then came Marvel’s “throwing everything against the wall” line of ongoing series (Human Torch! Part 1 of 6!) and DC’s Identity Crisis and things went sharply downhill from there.
Maybe “The Death of Spider-Man!!!” will turn things around. Or “Flashpoint.” Yeah. Great.
Whatever, I still look at the solicits to find a potential gem in the rough. For example, besides the “shadowland” references, I really enjoyed this week’s BLACK PANTHER: MwoF.
Abhay, I think the big difference between the periods you’re talking about is that during the 1990s the internet didn’t exist as we know it now (and is a lot of people’s go to main form of leisure / entertainment / distraction) and there’s just way more things competing for people’s entertainment dollars today (way more video games and television shows and channels then there were even in the 1990s and the quality is much better – even though I don’t play video games at all or have time for much television).
I’d say that part of the difference is that, generally, the overproduction was in the b- and c- books, and not the a-list books.
That’s a gross oversimplification, but I think it is truer than not.
I wish I could be optimistic about next year, but many of the combined things mentioned are really putting a stress on the industry that will most likely leave a lot of shops on the wayside. Good luck to all of us in the next year, may we still be able to have a presence in our hobby.
I think most comic readers who post on boards about what they want the industry to be like are full of shit. Oh, not that they’re lying, or lying to themselves, but they haven’t stopped to take into account that they’re posting on the internet about mainstream comic books because THAT’S HOW INVESTED THEY ARE, THAT’S HOW MUCH THEY CARE.
And most readers – and by “most,” I mean those who aren’t on the internet, those who buy Marvel and DC books at bookstores, on news racks, in *GASP* other countries, they just don’t care. They don’t care about continuity, or quality, or art, or writing. One day they’ll wake up and say “I want to read a book where Wolverine stabs someone,” and they’ll go to the store and have plenty of choices.
They can’t care about Runaways or X-Statix or Alias. Why should they? How are they supposed to know about those titles or what they’re about? They don’t care that much. They want a comic book to be a certain something, just like most readers who go to sites like this want a comic book to be a different certain something.
I imagine there were plenty of people who picked up Identity Crisis and thought, “Finally! In this post-9/11 world, they’re finally dealing with serious subject matter in comic books!” More discerning readers, like those who come to this site, could argue that the inclusion of serious subject matter was not matched by a mature understanding of it by the writer, but like I said – different readers, different certain somethings.
There will always be new critical darlings and there will always be new Wolverine titles and there will always be new big events, because all of these appeal to different readers.
“Brevoort: You know, we went into the Heroic Age, and we took a year or so off from doing big, interconnected event series, because we sensed a certain fatigue was setting in, both on the part of the readers and our creators. And fans seemed to like that for the most part. But now we’re all well-rested and it’s time to get back to business again.”
In my opinion, the problem with events isn’t the events themselves. It’s the fact that, once they’re announced you can pretty much guess which titles will be involved, thus interrupting whatever otherwise independent flow and story they were in the middle of telling.
I mean, aside from a storyarc here are there, I don’t think titles like Mighty Avengers, Dark Avengers, Ms. Marvel, Punisher (either of the last two Marvel U volumes), or Black Panther (the Hudlin relaunch) ever managed to have an independent voice, and titles like Namor and New Mutants seem to be continuing that trend.
Michael: I read people saying all the time that the majority of comic readers “aren’t on the internet” or “don’t post comments at newsarama” at “hate puppies” or whatever, but what’s the evidence for that? I’m not smart enough to know how to measure unique page visits accurately, but…
This site: http://bit.ly/erbADX estimates unique visitors to comicbookresources.com at 388,000 (per month). And that’s just in the US.
This site: http://bit.ly/hKR1ml estimates 750,000 worldwide unique visitors to the site (but doesn’t specify a timeframe, as far as I can see).
These sites give Newsarama significantly fewer visitors, but it’s still in the order of several hundred thousand.
These stats could be total BS for all I know. But if they’re even close to accurate — and we accept that Chip Mosher is right in the interview Brian cites — i.e. that there’s about 300,000 direct market zombies — then it seems like teh comics interwebs probably is pretty representative of comics readers. Or at least of DM readers, who are the folks Brian is talking about.
I meant OR “hate puppies”.
Anyway, Brian and Abhay, I think you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not “why are publishers flooding the market with substandard material and oversupply of marginally popular characters, thereby ruining the market in the long run?” but “why wouldn’t they?” As in, what incentives would they have to do otherwise?
It’s kind of like a prisoner’s dilemma. Suppose you’re Publisher X and, like everyone else, you’re guilty of the vices Brian describes. You think to yourself: “Should I stop this nonsense? Well, what if everyone else keeps doing it, and I unilaterally stop? The market will still be f-ed in five years (or whenever). I’ll be just as screwed then as all the other companies. And in the meantime, I’ll have made less money than I could have, by my refusal to screw the market. So if everyone else keeps going and I stop, I’m worse off. So I should keep going too.
“On the other hand, what if everyone else stops? Then again I should keep going. If everyone else stops, then the market may or may not be saved in five years. But I can make more money between now and then by screwing the market, and free-ride on everyone else’s good behaviour. So again I should keep going.”
“Doing bad” looks like a dominant strategy, even though everyone would be better off if all the publishers “did good”. So it seems to me that there are no incentives for any publisher to stop with the nonsense. And so they’re not going to stop, until they’re forced to, by a market crash for instance.
Agree w/ Jones — what we’re seeing is the result of publishers viewing their readership as a shared and limited pool. Why not burn your readers’ good will as fast as possible, because if you don’t your competitors will and you’ll be readerless *and* broke. Screw your own readers and you’ll just be readerless.
Someone either needs to convince publishers that readership *isn’t* limited, and that there will always be enough for everyone (which I don’t believe is the case), or that they’re not sharing the pool and they’re only burning out their own readers (and future sales) faster and faster. But I don’t believe that’s true either. The 30-something white male geeks are clearly willing to read whatever seems most important, regardless of publisher. The days of the Marvel-only or the DC-only fanboy are gone. Nerds are into nerd culture, period.
So I guess this only stops someday when the pool is all depleted and the publishers are forced to stop. Damn, that sounds pessimistic. My hope is that (before absolute zero is reached) us nerds can change the perception of our own pool by spending money on quality books that don’t take advantage of us. That we stop dating the cute girl that treats us like shit and realize we deserve better than that.
That said, I really don’t have any problems with the current state of content being produced. Sure, plenty of properties I LOVED back in the day have been raped (sometimes literally) and that makes me sad. However, I still have a TON of enjoyable material to choose from. And maybe single series no longer shine as brightly as Sandman or Watchmen, but as a whole I believe the entire market has a much higher collective quality than it did 10 or 20 years ago. Books I love will die (e.g., Unknown Soldier) but I will find other loves over the course of my life. And meanwhile I’m enjoying the shit out of characters I NEVER THOUGHT IN A MILLION YEARS I’D EVER BE CAUGHT DEAD READING — Wolverine, Iron Fist, Punisher, Batwoman (seriously?), and Undead Cyborg Bucky Cap. Hell, I’m even planning to buy A F*#KING VENOM SERIES!!!!
Life is good. And I can enjoy the good books as the industry burns to the ground. Sorry, those of you that earn your living selling comics :(
Actually, it’s much more like a tragedy of the commons. D’oh.
Dear God. Here we go again.
Literally. Because from what I can gather, the big Marvel event is going to be yet another worn out trope: alien invasion of Earth (a la “War of the Worlds” this time. Just substitute Martian for Skrull). I don’t want to pre-judge, but it’s been done to death. I’m already bored.
I don’t mind the events or even the crossovers into the regular titles. Just stop the Siege: Young Avengers 5 issue minis or 5 Siege One-Shots that they couldn’t tell us anything about 2 months before they came out because they had no idea what they were going to be and got thrown together, adding nothing to the story. Stop the multitude of mini-series attached to a story like happened with Shadowland. People don’t know what is going to matter or be good or be important, so they pass on all of it, including the main story.
And most of all, have an ending planned from the beginning. Far too often, Marvels “events” spin out of a good “What if…” idea, but have no ending planned. Secret Invasion was neat idea, but that was all it was. I can’t believe the original ending at the initial story conference was that the Wasp would turn into black dots and Norman Osborne shoots someone and they all stop fighting. The original ending to Siege was really Thor hits Sentry with his hammer and Volstagg catches Osborne sneaking away? Really? That is what is making people not like the events. Tons of build-up, tons of tie-ins, a good premise, lots of middle and a dissatifying, “we have to end this somehow” ending.
“There will always be new critical darlings and there will always be new Wolverine titles and there will always be new big events, because all of these appeal to different readers.”
…or NOT, as overall monthly sales seem to be proving. The rot is already in, and it continues to grow.
I think people are overlpoking the economy. Yeah, all indicators are it’s doing better except for the unemployment numbers. Those look positively dreadful.
I don’t buy the common wisdom that there are more things competing for people’s attention because there has always been a lot of things competing for attention. But when you look at the cost of a trade paperback versus a video game, then it doesn’t look so good. I mean, I can buy that Batman Arkham game for less than it costs to buy Morrisson’s run on Batman in trades.
Comics aren’t a good deal financially in a good market, let alone one with sky-high unemployment. But it’s like Jones said, it doesn’t make sense to lower prices.
Amen. I miss buying comics on a weekly basis but it just became too much. Too much mediocrity, too much money, too much to follow, too much hype. Marvel broke me with Secret Invasion, DC broke me with Brightest Day, Dynamite broke me with Red Sonja. It was easier to completely walk away than figure out which 3 out of 7 Batman titles I could afford and were worth owning. I now spend my hours re-reading 25 years worth of comic collecting free of charge.
I’d love to keep buying comics – I really would. I just don’t have the time, energy or money to continually figure out which Batman comic is going to be the best out of the dozen that come out each month. Make your stories matter through quality rather than tying them in to a stupid shark-jumping EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE event.
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