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There’s a dilution of the bold and uncompromising design of comic books, and it is the event banner. Last year there were event banners scattered across the face of nearly every DC title, and they were a mess.
Over the last 4 days, I have alphabetized an entire year of DC comic books. Not my own meager collection you understand, but an entire comic shop full of them. I volunteered to help my friends at Isotope Comics clear out the back room to make space for their epic annual WonderCon party (which I highly recommend, though fair warning – it will be stupidly crowded.)
While that might sound like a lot of work, I personally enjoy organizing and I had fun. An unforeseen side-effect of all of this delightful alphabetical and numerical organization was becoming ridiculously familiar with the actual graphic design on the cover of each and every issue, i.e. how the information was presented. As an experienced graphic design pro, you’d think that I would already be intimate with these designs. Not so. I like to separate my work from my comics, so I do my best to visually gloss over the graphic aspects of the covers. In case I find them wanting, I don’t think too much about the information delivery systems employed by my beloved comics.
Unfortunately, over the hours spent trying to ascertain the title and number of each comic in order to organize them, I was forced to become aware of the total confusion of information on these covers. What’s the title? Who knows. A lot of the time, I had to read the tiny legal copy in the back of the books to figure it out because the event banners obscured the actual title. This is not because I’m unfamiliar with these titles. At some point in time, I’ve probably had a glance at most comics, I like to try a little of everything (how do I know if I like it otherwise?) Sadly, there’s a design epidemic plaguing these poor books, and it is a disease of event banners. By my third day of looking at comic books, all I could say was “keep your damn event banner to yourself, no one wants to see it!”
At this point, let me interject to explain something: For those of you who aren’t aware, comic book events are large, sweeping, “stories” spanning many of the books in a publisher’s pantheon. My first experience of this phenomenon was many years ago, with “Secret Wars II“, (which could be the first of these marketing events.) Like any completely clueless little kid, I took my pocket money and bought comics that I would otherwise never have picked up because they had the Secret Wars II event banner. Potentially, this could have led to me experiencing (and becoming loyal to) entirely new characters. Instead I was put off by the irrelevant and uninteresting stories. I’ll never forget that bitter sting of betrayal, as I read my hard-won purchase and realized what kind of marketing bollocks had been perpetrated. I could have lived my entire live without reading the Secret Wars II issue of Spider-Man, and seeing the Beyonder turn a building into gold, while Spidey explained how to urinate (maybe there was more to it, but that’s what I remember.) Marvel created this cross-over event to sell more books, not to raise the bar of comic book storytelling. Over the last five years these sprawling marketing events have spawned and multiplied like a flesh-eating bacteria, eating away at the foundation of these great comic books.
There are so many examples of this, it’s not even funny anymore… I’m interested in Adam Strange because of his interactions with Swamp Thing, do I want to read the Rann-Thanagar War? Not at all. Mr. John’s Green Lantern is a favorite of mine, but not because he’s part of some kind of color-based cult. Infinite Crisis? More like infinite damn events. For my money, the DC universe was a little less tedious before it had it’s not-so-final Final Crisis. I wish this were just a problem that DC had, but Marvel are also still misguidedly beating that dead horse, and as far as I can see, there’s no end in sight. There was a Civil War, but I really have no idea what happened because that event was so big and messy that it put me off, and I actually stopped reading titles I liked when I saw the event banner splashed across them. It is a damn annoyance and a marketing mistake to take well-known characters, and sprinkle other titles over the cover, obscuring recognizable logos. It dilutes the brand, and it’s the most obvious marketing mistake a publisher could make. Comic book titles are meant to be bold and uncompromising. If a publisher thinks that scattering a slew of tedious messaging around won’t confuse the reader, they’re insane.
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