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CSBG Archive

Committed: Is Indie the New Mainstream?

Popular, successful comic book creators are often accused of being unsuccessful unless they make books for Marvel or DC, but these books are rarely the most lauded. Despite what some readers of the CBR Top 100 Comic Books of 2010 might think, mainstream acceptance of beautifully crafted comic books doesn’t translate to equivalent breakthroughs in the quality of superhero comic books.

Yesterday I had a quick read of the Comic Book Resources forum to see the response to the CBR Top 100 Comic Books of 2010. Since a lot of my picks had made it into the list, I wanted to see what people thought of the choices and the words we’d collectively written. As in all areas of life, some people were happy and some weren’t (to paraphrase one whit: “‘You didn’t pick my favorite book! I am outraged!’… Did I do that right?” which was pretty much spot on as to how some people responded.) Some people were excited to have a list of recommendations for future reading, I include myself in that last group as I was happy with the variety of choices. However, there were some vehement responses that shocked me, these were the ones that seemed to think this was a list of obscure books of little interest to the general public or a list of overhyped comic books of dubious quality. These people seemed to believe that the list ought to have had more superhero comic books on it.

Unfortunately the rest of the world still doesn’t think of superhero comic books as adult reading materials, including the publishers themselves. Adult fiction readers wrongly assume that capes books are for kids and men living in their mother’s basement and the publishers try to produce books of a corresponding quality. They find our excitement and interest in the genre juvenile, it is annoying, but it is the way things are. I’ll admit that superhero-influenced film, fashion and art is becoming mainstream, but have you noticed that the readership of the actual comic books themselves is not? Superhero comic books are still perceived as something invented for, and read by children. As comic book readers ourselves we may know this to be false, but to call a non-superhero comic book an elitist comic book is to completely misunderstand what is happening in our culture. Yes, people are gradually accepting the medium of sequential art as a true form of artistic storytelling, but that does not mean that they are comfortable with (or even interested in) reading about well-built adults wearing spandex. The concept was always far-fetched, but we buy into it because we understand that the metaphor is that much stronger and richer than it can seem on the surface. The simple addition of a veneer of costumes and powers opens up the character’s fictional worlds to incredible possibilities, as writer Samuel Delany once noted in answer to why he wrote science fiction, (but it can be applied to superhero comic books): “The phrase ‘her world exploded’ in a naturalistic text will be a metaphor for a female character’s emotional state; but in an SF [or superhero] text, if you had the same words— ‘her world exploded’—you’d have to maintain the possibility that they meant: a planet belonging to a woman blew up.” Unfortunately many people can’t see past their assumptions about the superhero genre, to them it is fun and dorky, good enough to watch an action movie about, but not to read about.

People who buy books buy them in book stores, online, or find them in libraries. In these places they often miss the superhero comic books entirely, because they’re relegated to separate sections. Even people who read comic books rarely seek out comic book stores for various reasons, I know this. Today a friend told me “Oh I know where the comic books are in the library, they’re on the shelf on the left”, which meant that he’d only seen the adult, non-superhero comic books, since the superhero ones are all in the “Young Adults” section on the right. I regularly introduces friends to my local comic book store and they are surprised to find it such a friendly, relaxed atmosphere, encouraging customers to browse and ask questions. Many comic book stores like this exist, it is becoming a very welcoming environment and yet still, people who read comic books continue to look elsewhere for them. If you look in a book store you will find superhero comic books divided from other fictional books, near the books aimed at young adults,  labeled with an off-putting “Teen Reading” or something similar. It took me a 4 visits to find the superhero comic books in one local bookstore, because it never occurred to me to look in the “Teen” section for superhero comic books about alcoholism, violent war, sex, death, etc, but that is where I found them. Meanwhile the non-superhero comic books sat happily on the adult bookshelves alongside adult books. That is what happens; Superhero comic books are effectively dismissed while the comic books without superhero-subject matter aren’t trapped in the superhero ghetto of the book store and library shelving system. Books by people like Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Los Bros Hernandez, Darwyn Cooke and Charles Burns can often find a way into the main shelves because these are books which obviously appeal to a wider group of people, and thus they are more popular in the wider world.

So yes, while there are a lot of us who read superhero comic books proudly, they still aren’t as quickly palatable for non-comic book readers. The books that I use to get my non-comic book reading friends hooked are those supposedly elitist books, because the quality and presentation is so much more appealing to someone unfamiliar with capes. Recently I got a friend Persepolis for her birthday. If I bought her Kick-Ass she would have immediately thrown it out, no matter how many times I told her it was great. Instead I got her Persepolis, which is enough of a step outside of the medium that it appealed to her. That friend has been derisive of my love of superhero comic books, but it never occurred to her to tease me about this book, since it was an emotionally revealing, politically aware, autobiography. For her, it didn’t even belong to the same genre as the superhero comic book.

For people who worry that the CBR staff are lauding elitist books too highly, I would invite you to open your eyes. Of course people still look down on us for reading comic books about superheroes, they still aren’t the most popular books and they often aren’t the highest quality. You take a book like Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library #20: LINT for example, (which was CBR’s first place choice for 2010.) This is a book written and drawn by one man, at his own pace, published on the most beautiful quality paper. Simply as a physical object, we rarely see superhero books which reach this level of quality, this book is aimed at the whole world. No one buying this book complained that it was $3.99 and not $2.99, it was created as an expensive object of desire. No publisher canceled this book half way through, no publisher pushed the author to put it out every month, regardless of quality, in case some kid forgot to buy it when it was a month late. There are so many reasons that this book is a better comic book than many corporately owned superhero comic books. This book had advantages over superhero comic books, not just because it was more popular with a larger demographic of the general public, but because it wasn’t hobbled by an industry treating it like the content didn’t matter.

It is a shame that more people don’t love and understand the incredible gift that the superhero metaphor is to our fiction, but to decry the reality and perceive superheroes as the mainstream is to give up the fight. If we pretend that superheroes are the mainstream choice of readers, then we stop trying to improve them and spread the word. The fact that a lot of non-superhero comic books made it to the CBR 2010 top 100 is a call to action. We need to continue pushing to bust the medium apart, stretch the boundaries, continuing the work done in the ’80’s which is what was such a large part of the film industry in the last few years. A good quality book might cost more, or take more than a month to produce, or contain storylines which are upsetting or complex, and more comic books about superheroes should be allowed to shine on that level as well.

44 Comments

Superhero comic books are still perceived as something invented for, and read by children.

I disagree. People see the pictures in the media from the Comic Cons, people see the geeks on line at Star Wars and Tron premieres (not comic-based but lots of overlap in fanbases), people see the ones who come out on opening day of the superhero movies…people know superhero comics aren’t for kids anymore.

The problem is, now people think superhero comics are for developmentally stunted, overweight socially inept manchildren like Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. The idea that superhero comics are now for misfit adults to me is a worse stigma than the old one of superhero comics being for relatively well-adjusted kids.

Beside the public awareness, there is another issue which becomes a problem in libraries, “normal” bookstores and such: that bloody continuity, that you need to read a series of books in a certain order and it might not be enough to read one title, you need to know what is happening over in Avengers at the same time. Which is kind of ridiculous demand.

My local libraries do keep some superhero stuff available, both on adult and kid sections. Works well on stand-alone stuff like Batman miniseries or even contained runs like Fables or manga, but even I, who do have an interest in superhero comics, am not that enthusiastic in picking those individual Captain America or Daredevil or whatelse books because it’s just too much of a hassle to try to figure out the context, which across-the-lines crossover event are we in the middle of, or which had just ended, or which is about to start.
And for a library to keep stocking everything Marvel and DC put out is too much to ask.

On another thread, in that top 50 comics creator voting, I did mention that superhero comics have become a bit like opera: a form of art which does have its own aesthetic but which has become so marginalized from most people that they are no longer capable of appreciating what is good and what is not, or sometimes even understanding what the hell is going on in the performance.

…because it wasn’t hobbled by an industry treating it like the content didn’t matter.

I really like that description. I can’t begin to describe how frustrated I get with the attitudes that what matters about a comic book are:

1. Price.
2. Release Date.
3. Lead Character.
4. Costume.
5. Where the book fits in the publisher’s shared universe and the latest event.

Me, I’d like to read a book with a good story and art. Crazy, huh?

To clarify: I agree that those other things *do* matter, but I disagree with many fans’ priorities as to what matters *more*.

I think part of the problem is that superhero books are considered a genre, so they are grouped as such. I think the question should be how you would effectively get them out of the “superhero ghetto” where they are currently shelved? Except this brings up its only list of questions such as:

How would you move them to the regular section of a book store when those books are generally organized by the author who created them rather than the character they are about? Where would you place books by multiple creative teams?

My local library groups all comics in the same section but groups superhero books by series and anything else in alphabetical order by author. Just yesterday I found X’ed Out right next to all the Batman books.

@Ryan, they could take the same approach they do with book series that have multiple authors, like Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. Of course that never seems to be quite consistent from store to store, so who knows whether you’ll find “The Dark Knight Returns” book under, say, “M” for Miller, “D” for “Dark,” or “B” for Batman.

The library here has all comic books together, alphabetical by title. (And yes, they are all in the Young Adult section, including the very adult ones.) The only bookstore I’ve been to with comics has them grouped by publisher, next to the music section.

I still kind of find it astonishing that in this day and age where books like Harry Potter and Twilight sell in the millions, comic books are still struggling to find their footing. I dont understand how someone can say that a book about a teenager living in New york bitten by a radioactive spider is for kids while that same person will buy a book about a teenager who rides on a broomstick and casts magic spells in a fictional world. I mean at the end of the day what is the real difference between fictional novels and graphic novels besides the fact that there are drawn pictures?

@Kyle, some people seem to be of the opinion that the presence of pictures means that it’s for children, because adults don’t need them. Adults can read words. Picture books are for children who are still learning to read. (IKEA instructions get a pass because they’re sort of like blueprints, which are appropriate material for grown-ups to be looking at.)

Oddly, this logic doesn’t seem to apply to movies, which not only have pictures, but also have sound and even move the pictures for you.

kyle –

It’s easy for Twilight and Harry Potter because if I want to try them, all I have to do is try book #1 of either series. It’s very self-explanatory.

With, say, Spider-Man, where do you start? I know it doesn’t seem intimidating to guys like us who grew up with it, but I remember when the Spider-Man movie came out and I saw young girls trying to buy Spider-Man books because they loved the movie.

I never realized how many things I take for granted that confuse noobs greatly. If you have a trade for Ultimate Spidey, Amazing Spidey, and Spectacular Spidey, and they all are numbered #1, how do you know which one to start with? Also confusing is when trades for the same character have different numberings for different runs.

@Kyle, some people seem to be of the opinion that the presence of pictures means that it’s for children, because adults don’t need them. Adults can read words. Picture books are for children who are still learning to read.

You guys are attacking a strawman. It has nothing to do with people thinking superhero comics are for kids. That’s not an issue. It’s not about people judging comics badly because they have pictures in them either. It’s because superhero comics are very inaccessible, and even worse, many fans seem to love and celebrate continuity heavy runs the most, which also happen to be the MOST inaccessible.

For example when Avengers movie comes out, if a non-fan asked your average comic fanboy what a good Avengers book would be to start with, they’d likely get recommended Kurt Busiek’s Avengers run. I actually READ many Avengers book and couldn’t figure out what was happening there.

When I go to the bookstore, I see tons of adults who bypass the American superhero comics walk over to pick up manga comics by the basketful, so I disagree that it’s something about sequential pictures scaring them off.

Thats a great point T. Whether we want to admit it or not, and as hard as Marvel and DC try…their books just ARENT accessible to the mainstream public. I mean, when Ultimate Spiderman first came out, it sold hundreds of thousands of copies because it was a fresh start from the beginning and it was easy to recommend to people wanting to get into spiderman. But now there are so many spidey, xmen, avengers, thor, cap, ironman books out there people wont know where to begin.

Unfortunately Marvel and DC are of the mind that more is better because it gives people more choices and they arent necessarily wrong. BUT, if they want to bring new people in, that tactic doesnt work. People are simple-minded and like things to be presented in a simple way i think. Which is why novels are much better sellers than GN’s.

@T. I think you’re correct in saying that part of the problem is the inaccessibility of most superhero comics, but I don’t agree with you in saying that people thinking superhero comics are for kids is not at least part of the issue. I bring comics into work all the time to read on my lunch break and just today someone saw me with the Batman and Robin Vol. 2 hardcover and asked me, “Whatcha got there, kids stuff?” No one asked me this same question a week earlier when I was reading a novel that was classified as Young Adult.

I wonder if someone in CSBG or elsewhere would want to do a primer of superhero comics which are low-continuity, books or runs that work by themselves (there might be some references to surrounding works, but ones that have little consequence or reference things on generic level most people know (e.g. “Batman is Bruce Wayne, a millionaire who dresses up as bat to beat up criminals”).

And it’s not just about not knowing the other works. Recently I was reading those old New Mutants books which did have some problems about referencing X-Men in the beginning but was quite fine for quite a while, but after a while started to get really choppy, half of the story was elsewhere (around the time of Secret Wars II, with Beyonder who killed NM…and in the enxt issue they were back in life, without explanation).
And I have read those X-Men books of the same period and have Essentials sitting on my shelf and that was still very frustrating.
Trying to read superhero comics is too often about being a victim of bait-and-switch: you expect to get a story with a book, but you get only half of it.

There are some self-contained universes of course, books like Powers or Astro City or many Alan Moore creations which just require that the reader is familiar with the idea of superhero. And Vertigo of course, but also the pre-Vertigo books like Swamp Thing or Doom Patrol or Animal Man or Sandman were quite self-sufficient, having occasional references to DCU around them but those for the most part did not affect the stories.
I did manage to follow e.g. Simone’s Birds of Prey and Andreyko’s Manhunter despite several references which just meant nothing to me (strong writing for the main characters still work wonders, and half of the stories did not happen elsewhere), but wouldn’t mind finding something even more independent from DCU or Marvel. I want to read good superhero comics but not adopt reading them as a lifestyle, I have other things to do too.

Sonia – when you say that “For her, [Persepolis] didn’t even belong to the same genre as the superhero comic book,” you are absolutely correct; it would have been more correct for you to say that she was surprised that it was the same medium. Superheroes are a different genre than autobiography (which is where Persepolis is often filed).

As a creator of comics that don’t contain superheroes, I’m thrilled that people outside of the comics community are discovering that comics contain interesting, compelling works of multiple genres. It’s also really amusing that because these works don’t fit under the superhero umbrella (where the money is, traditionally), they are usually made by non-corporate creators and are thus considered to be “indie.”

If comic book companies really want to stay in business, they would do very well to create non-genre works and market them to non-superhero readers. There are a lot of potential comic book readers in the world, but not all of them are interested in superheroes. To pretend that this is somehow a revelation is, well, charming. After all, crime fiction sells pretty well; in theory, crime comics would sell very well to the same demographic if anyone bothered to market them appropriately.

I think a large part of why modern ‘mainstream’ comics fail to break into larger niches is that they are a very slow medium with very poor entertainment return on the dollars spent. Consider the modern 6-issue arc. Depending on the book the reader has invested anywhere from 18 to 24 dollars and half a year in those 6 issues. Not including the ads and such you are looking at roughly 150 pages of story and a reading time of perhaps half an hour. And at the end of that nothing may have happened. It most assuredly won’t be self contained. Any changes made to the status quo will be very much an exception to the rule. So much so that real changes are often advertised as a special event.

For the same cost there are any number of book series sets on Amazon catering to the demographics. They will provide hours, if not days, of reading pleasure. They will provide character progression and a self contained story.

Hell, comics are about the only form of media that makes going to the theatre look inexpensive.

‘Mainstream’ comics try to be collectible, mass market, specialty store, expensive, unique and serialized products all at once. It is schizophrenic.

Indie comics are less prone to these problems. There is less money involved in them so people only tend to make them if they feel there is something to say (even if they are not always right). Character development is viewed as a good thing, not a threat to valuable IP. And while they are expensive, they are also happily waving flags of art and culture and exclusivity which are all excellent historical excuses for higher prices.

Great read. I think it would be interesting if there were a superhero book that had the kind of appeal and credibility that the indie books mentioned here do. An OGN superhero book, presented like Cooke’s Parker or something, by a writer/artist of equal talent. If ASS used an analogue as was published this way would it be even more celebrated?

And it goes without saying that a lot of the comics people complain are missing from the list suck. We put up with a lot of crap art and writing from a lot of superhero books because we’re fans of the characters and grant significance to certain storylines, but taken as standalone works they don’t compete with the artistic merit of a lot of indie books, regardless of how much you appreciate them. They’re inaccessible, not just because of genre, but because of poor narrative structure, lurid art and design, unsophisticated premises…

I say this as someone who reads a buttload of superhero comics and not as many indie books as I’d like. I’m not bashing superhero comics at all, when they’re great, they’re really great, but we as a readership can have relatively low standards at times.

Comic book fandom as a whole has very low self-steem. Always worried about stigmas or reasons why more people aren’t reading comics, superhero or other. Complaining about how general low quality or elitism or spandex in comics is keeping the public away.

Fact 1: Most people just don’t read. The idea of reading for pleasure is alien to them. Comics or novels, superhero or non-superhero. I know comics once were read by millions, but that was mostly when people hadn’t that many other entertainment options that were cheaper and less demanding. That ties to Facts 2 and 3.

Fact 2: Comics are very expensive. When you consider dollar per content, or dollar per minute of enjoyment, comics are one of the most expensive entertainments there is.

Fact 3 : Most peole are very conservative in their tastes. And they want easy stuff. You’ll have one oddball movie per year that is a success, and dozens that are romantic comedies or action movies that you’ve already seen a thousand times. Challenging material – be it a superhero’s universe intrincate continuity or the extreme pessimism of a Chris Ware – will not appeal to most people.

From a commercial standpoint, I understand wishing more people to read comics. As a reader, I am torn. Facts 1 and 2 mean it’s almost impossible to broaden the readership significantly without a major price decrease. Fact 3 means you’d have to dumb things down across the board to get large readership increases. Not sure I’d like that.

People have been calling independent comics “the new mainstream” for years now.

I’ll let you know when it actually becomes true.

We’ll know when it’s NOT true, Michael, when NPR and Time Magazine start covering corporate superhero comics and not Chris Ware, Dan Clowes and Alison Bechdel.

What I’m wondering is, why is this a problem? People should read what they like, not what we want them to like. I’m more concerned with whether people want to read -comics,- and if they’d rather read Persepolis or Naruto, more power to them. Why -should- they be expected to read superheroes?

The answer to “Hey, people outside comics fandom might be more interested in non-superhero comics,” isn’t “Well, how do we get them to read superhero comics?” The answer is to make more comics in more genres so people can find books they would like. You know, like comic companies in other countries do.

I think outside of the comics reading world, no one would consider comics either produced as monthly issues or original graphic novels to really be mainstream.

I think of it as a hobbyist’s medium in the same way that model airplane magazines appeal to people who make and enjoy model airplanes.

They are not standard periodicals anymore since you have to go to specialty shops or online to find them and the collected volumes found in your prominent bookstores are there because interest in them is at least great enough thank to the prominence of comic book franchises both indie and Marvel/DC in feature films right now. If these films were not coming out and getting people excited, I don’t think Barnes & Noble, etc. Would bother because the audience would be too limit to warrant the amount of shelf space (and even their selection is limited but nice to see if you don’t mind paying cover price.) I can still find the “Road to Perdition” in the discount bin at my LCS, never mind Borders. Even if the Green Lantern movie is a huge critical, financial, and cultural success, I think the number of folks going back and picking up Rebirth, Sinestro Corps War, and Blackest Night as a result of having seen that movie will likely be minimal, but I hope to be proven wrong.

I think the idea that comics either are mainstream or becoming mainstream is something that the comic reading public concerns itself with. A non-superhero OGN may get some non-comic readers to look and enjoy, and a movie might prompt a trade sale or two at places like Borders but comics and the graphic story telling medium is still a very limited club who either can not or do not market their material in a way that gets the “mainstream” public’s attention. It doesn’t mean the stories are bad by any chance. However, the day a person like Darwyn Cooke, or Seth, or Bill Clowes becomes a name most people think of in the way they do Stephen King, Michael Crichton, or Dan Brown then you’ll know the corner has been turned

First, I don’t agree with the idea of NPR as an indicator of the mainstream. NPR is more mainstream that really underground or indie stuff but still trends toward elite and highbrow in comparison to truly mainstream populist stuff. NPR is more skewed toward the big-city liberal elite crowd, the types you see profiled on the site Stuff White People Like. So NPR not covering superheroes doesn’t necessarily mean that superheroes aren’t mainstream or that indie comics are more mainstream than indie.

SECOND, NPR does cover superheroes, as seen in my links below:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2010/12/31/132366304/the-most-memorable-comics-and-graphic-novels-of-2010-with-caveats

http://www.npr.org/templates/archives/archive.php?thingId=126677980

http://www.onpointradio.org/2010/12/dc-comics-at-75?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wbur_programs%2Fonpoint+%28Programs%3A+On+Point%29

http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2010/11/16/131353485/float-like-a-snagriff-sting-like-a-fish-snake-superman-vs-muhammad-ali?ft=1&f=93568166

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130862700&ft=1&f=5

@Rene – I completely disagree with your asseration that people don’t like to read. Harry Potter, more than anything else, disproved this canard.

It’s not so much that people don’t like to read – it’s that people don’t want to read the majority of what is available.

“However, the day a person like Darwyn Cooke, or Seth, or Bill Clowes becomes a name most people think of in the way they do Stephen King, Michael Crichton, or Dan Brown then you’ll know the corner has been turned”

Well, Cooke or Seth are not doing a similar thing as King or Brown.
However, more reasonable comparison might be, say, John Irving or Toni Morrison or Joyce Carol Oates or Paul Auster or Kurt Vonnegut who are not selling on the same level as King or Brown but who are nevertheless mainstream (at least more mainstream than best of comics).

Rhodes –

People do not read. Not like they go to the movies or watch TV. A couple of times in any decade, there will appear some phenomena that will subvert this trend of people not reading. Harry Potter, Twilight, DaVince Code. Those multitudes that buy this stuff are not fans of novels, they’re fans of only the specific franchise and probably a few of the copycat franchises that always appear in their wake.

And they’re not what I’d call challenging reading in any sense, shape, or form, even though Harry Potter is supposedly not as bad as your typical pop best seller (I’ve only watched one movie and was not very impressed, though I was also not disgusted). The book industry in this regard is even worse than the movie industry in terms of quality and originality. Would you want comic books to follow this trend? A comic book version of a Twilight plus a thousand other copycats, and afterwards people return to not reading?

Quite frankly, I prefer the model we have now, with few people reading a more or less broad number of comics (though not as broad than I’d like), than millions of people reading only ONE comic series and a few hundreds reading the copycats of said series.

Recently I got a friend Persepolis for her birthday. If I bought her Kick-Ass she would have immediately thrown it out, no matter how many times I told her it was great. Instead I got her Persepolis, which is enough of a step outside of the medium that it appealed to her. That friend has been derisive of my love of superhero comic books, but it never occurred to her to tease me about this book, since it was an emotionally revealing, politically aware, autobiography. For her, it didn’t even belong to the same genre as the superhero comic book.

So many things wrong with this paragraph. Comics are a medium, not a genre and the two words are not interchangeable. Your friend would be well within her rights to deride Kick-Ass. It’s a juvenile self-serving masturbatory work at best and a racist confirmation of bias at worst, the only redeeming thing about it is John Romita Jr.’s stellar art and a high concept premise (that quickly goes to hell in the execution). Certainly, if you were trying to convince somebody that superhero comics can reach the heights of serious literature there are much better choices than Kick-Ass; but why are you trying to convince people of that why do they need to like superheros? I’m somebody who will defend Jack Kirby as one of the most important and unsung American artists of the 20th Century against the derision of the “high art” intelligentsia and think that “Of what import are brief mortal lives to Galactus?” is one of the greatest written sentences in literature; but I will never buy the idea that superhero comics are some grand metaphor for the human condition. It’s a schlock genre born out of a schlock genre and while you can find some very serious rewards from studying it critically and while it has occasionally produced staggering works of breathtaking genius, the genre as a whole is escapism. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t see the point in trying to raise the whole genre to a bar it was never meant to reach.

Give me escapism over serious literature any day, please. Actually, lets take the best of both words and make that “serious escapism.”

Like Michael Chabon said “It was a mark of how fucked-up and broken was the world–the reality–that… …such a feat of escape, by no means easy to pull off, should remain so universally despised.”

@ Julian – thank *God* someone else has noticed and commented on the far-too-prevalent failure to distinguish between medium and genre in this article. I’m not sure I share the conviction about the power of the superhero as literary device, either – certainly not in terms of current content. I’ve seen more interesting explorations of what a superhero could do or be in one Fletcher Hanks collection than I have in the (admittedly somewhat limited) number of superhero comics I’ve read in the last five years. Aside from which, it’s not like the superhero is the only literary device available in comics, so why should it be treated as something worthy of a special place?

Yes, I agree that a lot of superhero comics get a bad rap. I don’t think that the problem here is the wider audience dismissing superheroes, though, I think the problem is that for decades publishers have behaved like the most important things are, in order, 1) to publish monthly product regardless of quality, and 2) to have it all be one big shared universe.

Frankly, when you’ve got publishers trying to put out circa 100 issues of comics *every month*, which are expected to fit within an overall editorial drive and inter-relate in meaningful ways, you’re hobbling your creative teams in a way that makes it very unlikely they’ll produce a highly-acclaimed and popular work. I don’t even think it’s the production schedule that’s a problem – look at the rate at which some manga series are created.

So maybe the biggest problem the superhero genre faces stems from the expectations of its own audience and the limited thinking by those in its own industry.

I occasionally read superhero comics, but it’s pretty rare for me to pick up an ongoing series as I’m aware that monthly ongoing comics don’t tend to deliver what I’m looking for. I’m delighted to have read things like Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers of Victory or Jonathan Lethem’s Omega The Unknown, though. Of course, I’m also delighted to be reading things like Sweet Tooth or 20th Century Boys or Chew or XIII.

It’s not even as if superheroes are the only form of escapism. Persepolis, Sandman, and Yotsuba&! are all escapist, just in different ways.

I don’t know that I’d call Persepolis especially escapist, but yeah there are definitely other forms of escapism beyond tights. And Rene, I don’t have anything against escapism just like I don’t have anything against more cerebral stabs at “high art” or “literary merit”. I just don’t know if there’s all that much to gain by pushing lots of serious melodrama and subject matter into stories about grown men and women who dress up in circus underwear to fight garish Bad-with-a-capital-B-Bad-guys, and I’m alarmed at the amount of people that seem to think that putting in “edgey” material somehow elevates these stories to serious literature. I’m sorry but the majority of work by Mark Millar and people like him is utterly juvenile to the point where it can often enter the uncomfortable realm of racism, misogyny, and soldier worship that permeates the fantasies of the American adolescent male. A lot of this stuff is more offensive than the crypto-fascist “Boy’s Life” themes that ran in Adventure Strips and superhero comics in the first half of the 20th Century and I’m very uncomfortable with how many people not only don’t call it out for what it is but put it on a pedestal and expect legitimacy for it.

And yeah Chabon would be one of the people I was referring to when I said “you can find some very serious rewards from studying it critically”.

I dislike Mark Millar. There is something strangely dishonest about his writing. As if all the testosterone were an act, calculated to make him appear kewl. I don’t like to throw the word “juvenile” around (it sounds too condescending), but if there is someone it applies to, it’s Millar.

I am not crazy about the circus underwear bit (and superhero costumes are a consequence of several factors that don’t really involve in-world rationales), but the bit about powerful individuals fighting out, dashing heroes and terrible monsters, supernatural powers, a shared mythology, this stuff is very primal and it’s not something that I think automatically merits people scoffing at.

But I completely understand the burnout many comic book fans feel for superheroes. I mean I am a fan, and I can only take Marvel/DC superheroes in small doses myself. I don’t have much affinity for slice-of-life stories in any media either. Instead, I’d offer non-superhero, but still genre ficton for consideration when planning to conquer the mainstream public. Scalped, the Walking Dead, American Vampire, things like that.

Personally, I love the circus underwear.

In regards to Millar, i agree he can be very over-the-top sometimes, especially in his recent stuff, but Millar is one of those writers who really helped re-invigorate the superhero genre as a whole. His Ultimates work made me a huge Avengers fan and it was incredibly entertaining. It felt like a superhero movie on paper. But i do agree, his work is becoming more and more absurd for the sake of being absurd.

I’ve never been one for “cinematic” sensibilities in comics, I think it plays against their strengths for the most part. I did like Millar’s run on The Authority though, and think that it was really the only time that book lived up to its promise.

I don’t even know where to begin between the article and the commenters rushing to throw the entire superhero genre under the bus. Its a little amazing to see an editorial of this nature posted here given the percentage of CBR space devoted to those “juvenile” superhero books that seem completely in vogue to bash (if you’re a “cool” fan of sequential art. . . don’t want to call it a comic or some one might snicker at me). To me this just sounds like a quick and creatively bankrupt way of sounding superior on a lightly read message board.

Additionally, everyone reads superheroes. Try commuting on the L train through Williamsburg NYC, one of the “Hippest” places in the world at the moment (according to the kind of silly people who care about such things). You’ll see issues of Wolverine, Green Lantern, and all kinds of other tights in the hands of 20 something men and women who look perfectly acclimated to society.

I’d like to blow up this notion of “who reads superhero comics.” There is no one group that this medium appeals to. Yes, there are a lot of 40-30 year old men reading these books, and for years the genre has been targeted towards them (the notion that the vast majority of superhero books are targeted towards children is disturbingly false. Go no farther then the young reader lines of books published by DC and Marvel if you doubt my claim. . . why publish two entirely different lines if you’re not trying to appeal to two entirely different age groups?). But to behave as though the entire world expects only nerdy old men and young children to read superheroes is foolish.

First, Barnes and Noble and Borders, arguably the two largest retail book sellers in the US in now way label their comic book sections for “Teen and young adult” or anything along those lines. They drop them right in along with the rest of the Sci-Fi section, completely stigma free (or is the Sci-Fi genre only for the young and the hopelessly nerdy?). Perhaps tiny little hipster-run indie book stores segregate the superhero comics? Who knows? But they represent a tiny fraction of book sales per year in the US.

Second, the writer sights her friend, her one friend, as some kind of litmus test for the entire media consuming world. As if her dislike of Kick-Ass could some how balance out the 50 million dollars the film adaptation made at the box office and untold more it raked in with pay per view, DVD, and pay cable sales. I promise you, at least ten times as many people saw Kick-Ass then the adaptation of Persepolis. I’m not saying it makes one better then the other, I’m just saying its easily researched fact that blows most of this hypothesis out of the water.

To then go on and sight that your friend is in fact close minded toward the mythology of superheroes further invalidates any point you might make. What good is a test study that’s already formulated an uninformed opinion on the topic at hand? What evidence for your theory is there in telling us your friend who hates superheroes would also hate Kick-Ass (which isn’t exactly a shining example of the genre either)? I don’t have too many “friends” so close minded, but the few I do, I wouldn’t bother trying to share my love of comics with them anyway. What’s the point? She clearly already knows what she likes and doesn’t like (probably because of that societal pressure you seem to think exists).

As far as your seeming argument in favor of the Acme line of books being not only superior product (thats your opinion, I won’t tackle that at the moment, but its certainly fine to feel that way) but also better selling to a wider audience, it takes no more effort then a quick check of the Amazon.com top selling graphic novels to discover quite a few of those silly old superhero yarns well ahead in sales (though I can’t speak to demographics).

To then sight the 80’s as a creative era to emulate. . . while belittling the superhero genre (yeah, I know you’ve gone out of your way to pat us on the head and tell us its ok to read them, but lets face it, its an extremely pandering tone which you’re using) is laughable. Which comics defined the 80s? Dark Knight? Watchmen? Batman: Year One? Which indie comics from the 80’s inspire hollywood in recent years? Please let me know, seriously. . .

In general the entire tone of the article is not only mildly condescending, but also poorly researched and mostly self serving. Basically a lot of readers on this website disagreed with your picks, not because they are anti-social misfits who can’t wrap their head around non-comic graphic novels, but because you under represented the primary focus of the industry.

This is nothing new and very common in other mediums. Every year people complain about the Best Picture selections at the Oscars for not being “mainstream” enough. But no one goes out of their way to write a blog post about how silly they are for feeling that way.

I loved 100 Bullets. I read Scalped first whenever it comes out. I have devoured Preacher, all of Burbakers Noir work, and many many others. I also love me some green lantern (as will about 300 million dollars worth of movie goers this summer). I don’t see that kind of interest in the Acme whatever guide. I’m sure its lovely, but to present it as if that one single, pricey book is going to spread the gospel of sequential art to the world at large is just, well, foolish.

Finally, can we please do away with this myth of the geeky comic book nerd? Have you been to any of the NYC comic cons? They are incredibly well attended by punks, nerds, jocks, young, old, pretty much everyone. Comic book readers can in fact meet girls (some of whom read comics!) and they don’t have to be reading the lastest issue of Scott Pilgrim or Demo, or whatever hipster crap the writer seems to think is going to appeal to everyone.

Finally, who cares what anyone thinks? What kind of artistic medium ever grew in quality or popularity by pandering? Which one of us got into comics because we thought it was socially acceptable?

So until Persepolis 2: The Revenge opens to 150 million at the box office, I’m going to take this article as one more navel gazing work existing mainly to defend the tastes of some folks who run a website. Nothing wrong with that, but lets just call it what it is.

There is an incredible amount of self hate here among the posters on this board. I’ve rarely seen so many fans punish themselves for their passions. its almost as if people feel real guilt for reading super hero comics. That would be your issue, not ours. . .

You’d think the last few years of immense box office success for Comic book Characters would have destroyed the notion that superheroes are not mainstream. Superheroes are plenty mainstream. Just look at the state of video games, film, fashion, the internet, and pop culture. They are everywhere. People I know who rarely crack a book, let alone a comic, fell into a tizzy over Dark Knight, and continually ask me about the upcoming Green Lantern movie. its not the super heroes. . .

. . . its the medium. People don’t read, they don’t spend 3 bucks on things that they finish with in about ten minutes. They don’t buy Acme Novelty whatever, and they won’t start anytime soon.

@DKNY: Did you happen to catch which comic has been in Amazon’s top 100 for 1395 days? And spent most of that time in the top 20 to boot?

I dunno, but im guessing its something i got wrong and you’re trying nail me on.

Either way, it doesn’t invalidate the other 3000 words i rambled through.

Gosh, somebody’s defensive. It was Persepolis, and along with Maus, Jimmy Corrigan (which is a collection of the first 15 ACME Novelty Libraries), Blankets, and the books by Moore and Miller from the 80s those are the books with staying power on that list.

And again, I love the capes and I think most of the commentators on here do too. I’m just not interested in putting them on a pedestal and having other people validate them for me.

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