I’ve always been interested in comics and comic characters. Like any little boy who grew up in the 80’s I used to run around with towels tied around my neck and pretend to be Superman or Batman. I watched the Chris Reeve Superman movies; I begged my parents to take me to see Burton’s Batman. My room was covered with posters. I had all the toys and would act out my own stories with them. I waited with baited anticipation every time a new episode of Batman: The Animated Series would come on. I loved the idea of superheroes.
I never got the chance to really read many comics, because it was a habit that was just too expensive. I’d occasionally be able to read piles of my friend’s comics whenever I went over to their house, but it wasn’t until my first year of college that I got the chance to really start a collection of my own. When I worked for a bookstore as a summer job I was able to pick up with my store discount Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and the incredibly awesome Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. Like everyone else, I loved the Killing Joke, but it was Kingdom Come that really had an impact on me. I was a pastoral ministry major at the time, with the intent on going into the ministry after I graduated (which I did). The way that Waid and Ross weaved the book of Revelation from the Bible into the story about DC’s biggest heroes mesmerized me. I didn’t even know who half the characters were, and I had to constantly refer to the beautiful double spread character pages in the back of the book to know who was who, but that didn’t matter- I was in love.
A year later me and my two best friends were living together and running a summer camp for a local church in Chattanooga, a church I’d later go on to work for full time as a licensed minister. Matt was a huge comics nerd and had brought a large part of his comics collection with him from Memphis, so every night after work I’d spend a majority of my time (when I wasn’t playing Knights of the Old Republic) reading comics. Daredevil, Ultimate Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, I devoured them all. At the end of the summer I spent nearly my entire paycheck on starting my own collection. Three years later and my library of trade paperbacks rivaled Matt’s.
Comics have been a passion of mine ever since, and it’s been a dream of both myself and Shawn to create comics for a living. I have a huge amount of respect for many of the creators working today, but I, like many fans, have grown increasingly concerned with the direction that both of the “Big Two” have been going the past few years. While the movie side of things, especially for Marvel, has become brilliant, the comics side feels more like it’s about short-termed planning rather than ensuring a legacy of quality for the long-term. I understand completely that it is a business. As an indie writer I know all too well how difficult it is to market and sell your creations.
I didn’t have a problem with the New 52 sorta-reboot of the DC universe. I was actually excited because I felt like it was something that has been needed for a long time. The problem is the relaunch, while financially successful, has felt incredibly “short sighted”. It’s become obvious over the past year that the reboot wasn’t completely thought through as much as it should have been. A reboot meant to correct continuity problems and start fresh caused more problems than it solved in many areas, mostly because DC failed to fully commit. The bat-family’s history is “mostly intact” but is instead crammed into 5 years, where some things have happened, some haven’t, and some just wasn’t thought through and has changed several times over the course of the last year *cough*Tim Drake*cough*. The same could be said for Green Lantern, though the problems there have been less substantial given that much of the GL universe has been pretty self contained away from Earth. Still, it leaves the long-time reader feeling as though the whole thing was more a short-term money grab than the long-term quality enhancer it was originally sold as. That’s not to say that good things haven’t come out of the reboot: Snyder and Capullo’s Batman run has been nothing short of amazing. Wonder Woman got a much needed shot in the arm. Animal Man and Swamp Thing were both surprisingly engaging, and they actually made Aquaman a legit hero again rather than a joke. But overall, the line-wide quality, constant shuffling of creative teams, inconsistent storytelling, continuity confusion, and creators very publicly breaking down have all tarnished the initiative.
On Marvel’s side they’re entering their own not-reboot, and many of the decisions thus far have left fans wondering if that same short-sighted decision making is in effect there as well. In my personal opinion the 616 Marvel universe as a whole has been in trouble for a couple of years now (with the exception of a few select titles like Waid’s run on Daredevil and Slott’s run on Amazing Spider-Man). Marvel’s done one “Event” after another to the point where in some cases they’re already promoting the next “big event” while the current one is still going on. Readers often haven’t had a chance to see the consequences of the larger story in the stand-alone titles before another “big thing” happens which often renders the previous stuff moot. Then the Avengers scored HUGE at the box office, and now we have 40 Avengers titles in the lineup of the new Now! initiative. Tell me, what’s so special about being an Avenger when EVERYONE is an Avenger? Do we need the same 3 characters in 15 different books? I’m exaggerating here, obviously, but it still feels like decisions are being made that are more about selling comics than about quality storytelling. Again, I understand it’s a business, but it doesn’t make sense to me to cater to supposed “new” fans that might pick up an issue or two because they like the movies only to alienate the long-time loyal readers that regularly buy multiple comics each week. Is there no real balance point there?
Then there’s digital comics. I’m a HUGE fan of digital. I love having direct, instant access to stuff. I’ve gone largely digital for both my comics and my novel collections. I still like having hard copy trades for my collection, but for singles digital is great for me. I’m very glad that the comics industry has finally embraced digital content in a big way. Where I have the problem is it is utterly ridiculous for us to have to pay full price for a digital copy of something that we, as a consumer, don’t even technically own. Again, I understand the reasoning behind it: they don’t want to scare retailers who are afraid that digital is going to put brick and mortar store out of business. I get it. Still, it’s incredibly unfair to the consumer at the prices we’re currently being charged. $4 for something that takes 5 minutes to read and we don’t even have a physical copy that we can claim ownership of? Horsecrap. Both DC and Marvel would find that those new readers they’re so interested in finding and keeping might be much more apt to check stuff out if they didn’t have to sell their children to be able to afford it. Hell, especially if those new readers are kids. How many parents can afford dropping $20+ a week in comics? I know MANY fans that would gladly buy dozens of titles a month for a cheaper price in digital and then would still buy the trade for their collections. You’d get them twice. Dolla dolla billz ya’ll.
Casual fans, parents buying for their kids, or fans of the movies who are interested in checking out the books are much more apt to make purchases digitally, even on a whim, than they are to actually hunt down a brick and mortar comic shop. Even ignoring that, it’s still a pile of crap for publishers to charge consumers the same price for a digital object they don’t own as they do for a hard copy of the same product- and that’s for ANY publisher, be it comics or traditional novels. It’s the reason why Shawn and I agreed that our digital products would ALWAYS be cheaper than the physical copies. In fact, the digital copies of the two books we currently have for sale are the lowest price point we could charge for our system of distribution, and it’ll continue to be that way for everything we do, be it a novel or a comic. Period.
I love the comic industry. I want to see it flourish, especially now that the movies have made comics less a “kids thing” or a “nerd thing”. Now is the time where the comic’s industry could really shine as a medium, but it feels like the two biggest companies are squandering away the opportunity with short-sighted cash grabs, rather than focusing on telling quality, engaging stories that will keep the new readers they may gain wanting to come back. There’s a balance there between quality and need. I really hope that they can find it, especially now that more and more creators have been jumping ship mostly due to frustration with many of the things I’ve been talking about. Fans can be jackasses and whiny b*tches. We can be very fickle, and they’ll never be able to please everyone. In the end, however, most of that passion, no matter how misdirected or inappropriately expressed it may be, is only because they love these characters. I love these characters, and I love many of the creative teams that are working on them. I’d just like to see things be more about the quality, and less about the quantity. When the quality is there I truly believe the rest will take care of itself eventually. I think the movies are proving that now- like with the Nolan Batman films and Avengers. I just hope that the people in charge of both companies will realize that soon. /endrant