"Cancel Every Existing Superhero Comic"

Gerry Conway, who’s been writing comics for about 50 years, made this announcement.

Comics are meant for middle school kids, he says. They should be simple and easy to get into no matter what issue you pick up. Targeting comics to adults, with adult themes and adult ability to collect hundreds of titles to be sure to amass the complete story, is absurd. Worse, it’s demonstrably self-defeating. Nobody wants to buy hundreds of comics to read a single story. Sales have plummeted.

Put a comics rack in every drugstore and supermarket the way things used to be, and grow a new generation of readers.

The only thing wrong with this argument is that everybody has been shouting it at the suits in charge since the 1980s, with its torture porn, cosmic reboots, and multi-title extravaganzas. Will anybody listen now?

Obligatory “Gerry Conway, you killed Gwen Stacy and ruined Spider-Man forever” comment

A new generation won’t be buying dead tree media, no matter how many drugstores and supermarkets you put it in.

How are comics not doing the online subscription thing? Just release them digitally to anyone with a subscription. Yeah, they’ll get pirated, but for most people it’ll be easier to pay the $15 a month to read as many comics on their phones as they want to; and they’ll make a killing.

Keep selling hard copies as “collector’s items” and release comics in print about a year before your release them online, and you might even end up creating fans and selling more hardcopies too.

Disclaimer: I don’t know crap about comics, I didn’t ever read them even as a kid; I’m basing these ideas off of consumer trends in general. If you think this strategy wouldn’t apply to comics please let me know why.

They are doing the online subscription thing. You can buy a monthly subscription to Marvel Unlimited or DC Universe and get access to every issue, albeit 6 months after the dead tree version is published, as well as a huge catalog of back issues that gets continually expanded. Marvel and DC both plan to eventually have all of their back catalogs available digitally. DC, as part of a makeover of DC Universe after it looses the streaming video element, will also be publishing exclusive online content that won’t have a dead tree version.

There are also services like Comixology that allow you to subscribe to various titles online, and a lot of content from a lot of publishers is available for one-off purchase, directly from publishers, through third-party specialist services like Comixology, and through Amazon.

Publishers are desperately trying to figure out how to survive in the new media ecology. Some individual webcomics are thriving. Some individual creators are doing fairly well as independents using “non-traditional” funding and publishing venues like Kickstarter and Patreon. But “mainstream” super hero comics are struggling, and have been for a couple of decades now.

I personally love “mainstream” super-hero comics. But kids these days, with their tick tocks and their instantgrams and their hair and their music just don’t seem particularly interested in those stories and those formats, whether presented digitally or on paper.

I think super-hero comics as a genre will survive, but we’re heading into something akin to the pre-Code era, where supers were just one of a large number of genres, and a fairly minor one at that.

Oh, and as to Gerry Conway’s solution, both Marvel and DC have tried that. Repeatedly. Marvel, in particular, has launched umpteen different “all-ages” lines with self-contained stories, going back to the 1980s. They all folded, because they simply didn’t appeal to the kids that they were supposed to appeal to, and the adults who are the audience that actually buy and comics nowadays (“nowadays” going all the way back to the 1980s) didn’t like them.

I agree that trying to sell ten-year-olds on print comics is probably a losing proposition. I don’t agree it’s been tried before in any way that would work.

Conway is right that comics have to be dangled in front of kid’s faces as impulse purchases. Expecting ten-year-olds to go to a comic store never was going to happen. (The store owners would hate that passionately.) Making kid-friendly Spider-Man comics never could live up to the real ones. Every issue has to be self-contained and every few issues need an entry point. Put some stickers and stuff inside that can’t be downloaded. Change them every calendar year so that no big investment in time or money is needed. There are ways to approach it that nobody has tried. Let Disney take the lead. They’ll figure it out.

You’d need to have new heroes that the kids could own exclusively. And then grow out of four years later, just like the market structure of the 1950s. Marvel and DC killed themselves by assuming that kids would still be buying comics twenty years later, with all the continuity problems and barriers to new audiences that involved.

I haven’t read comics since I was a kid, and one reason is that as an adult in the 90s I heard of all the reboots and alternate realities and resurrections and I came to the conclusion that it was pointless to be invested in a chronology that would change yet always revert back to where it started eventually.

So each issue wouldn’t have to be self-contained from my perspective as long as the multiverse as a whole stayed coherent and told a continuing story. No use itching to read what comes next when it doesn’t matter anyway since everything will be reset in a few years. But they shouldn’t change their storylines to fit me because I don’t trust them enough to start reading them again anyway.

This is the primary reason I stopped reading comics shortly around 2001-2002. My Nightwing story line was interrupted by something going through the various bat titles. Not only did it interrupt the Nightwing story, but to follow this other line I would have had to purchase several other titles I wasn’t normally inclined to.

Everyone agrees that it hasn’t been tried before in any way that would work. It demonstrably hasn’t worked.

Absolutely. Now, how do you do that? Kids generally aren’t going to dime stores to hang out anymore. Maaaybe a rack at the checkout line of the Dollar Tree, with actual $1 comics, would sell to harried parents trying to keep their kids busy while they wait in line, but, other than that…?

The modern impulse buy is apps and in-app purchases. Maybe there’s a way to market comics that way, but I’m not coming up with anything off-hand.

Again, it’s been tried. Over and over again. You’re right, nobody wanted the kid-friendly Spider-Man comics over the “real” ones.

If Disney put real resources into it, maybe. But comic books are a low-margin business, with a tiny gross compared to Disney’s other ventures. And Marvel has been a Disney imprint for several years now. They haven’t cracked it yet.

That’s an interesting idea. Similar to Disney Channel and Nickelodeon TV series. I don’t know how they would be able to keep that up that kind of creative churn for comics, though. Maybe a radically downsized company that only published a handful of monthly titles.

I think that’s the issue right there; when I was a kid (1970s/1980s), comics were aimed at kids, sold in drugstores, grocery stores, etc… and kids read them.

Sometime in the late 1980s/1990s, they became more of an acceptable collector’s object, and also became a focus of geek culture in a way that I’m not so sure that they had been before. So a lot of comics have been produced ever since that are aimed squarely at teenagers and mostly twenty-something adult men. So they’re neither appropriate in content for children, nor is the format appropriate any longer either- like others have said, the storylines are too long and each issue isn’t self contained.

Which is kind of a shame; most elementary school kids love comics- look how popular the Marvel ECU stuff is among them. But I bet most don’t really even know about comic books, because they’re not sold where they go with their parents.

Comic books are just movie tie ins at this point, expecting them to go back to their hey day popularity is a bit naive.

Yes, well, that’s the point, isn’t it? Conway and others want to separate print comics from their connection with movies. If there’s no point in buying comics that are vastly inferior to the movie experience, start comics that aren’t overshadowed by movies.

I can’t guarantee that would work. But it does directly address one of the current problems.

Actually, comics were collector’s items by the late 1960s. The “flea market” I used to go to realized that collectors were looking through their comics, and the started keeping the Good Stuff in a locked back room, charging premium prices. (I didn’t mind – I used their stash to complete my Fantastyic Four collection, even if it did cost a bit more). Newsletter advertised comics by name and number, with premium prices for sought-after issues. By 1970, in other words, comic books certainly were a collector’s market. That’s long before the 1980s-1990s dates you give. In fact, comics from the 1980s and 1990s are worth far, far less than comics from the 1940s through the 1960s. Even 1970s comics aren’t rated as very costly (unless they’re in the rarefied height of 9.5 ratings or up).

Not that I’m an expert … but my recollection was that the late-80s/early-90s collectors were sort of a “second wave” of collection getting popular as a hobby. It wasn’t just comics – “second wave” sports-card collection got hot at the same time.

My impression is that pre-planned 6 to 12 issue story arcs, with little regard for overall continuity, in which celebrity creators are given a large amount of freedom to riff on the “basic idea” of the characters, with an eye towards the digital and bookstore market, is how comics have been produced for the last 20 years. The notion that you’re going to pick up Fantastic Four #681 and read a bunch of inscrutable footnotes to Moon Knight #128 went out in the mid-90s. I’m not an adolescent but this is actually one of the reasons I don’t read superhero comics anymore - there is no continuity or meaningful shared universe, which I felt were a unique strength of comics as opposed to other media, and it takes a significant amount of research to figure out what order to read the books in when they reboot at #1 every two years or sell them under story titles in trades. There’s no confusion about what to do if you have Amazing Spider-Man #300 through 310, and at least when companies were functioning properly (Jim Shooter era, etc) there was in fact a huge emphasis on making sure each individual issue and individual title was a complete story that you didn’t need to buy a completely different book to understand.

Maybe the real answer is to cut back on the self-indulgent poster-ready art and embarrassing cheesecake. Frankly, anyone who wants to look at that can find as many high-res images of characters or as much outright pornography as they want online. Go back to 4-9 panel grids and put more written content into each book.

Maybe stand alone comics stores are like that (I haven’t seen one in decades), but the comics/gaming stores that I’ve seen are quite happy to have ten year olds come in for Yu-Gi-Oh, Magic The Gathering, and other card games. Friday nights at most game stores had a TON of people playing card games, many of them in the 8-12 age bracket pre-COVID. Card games are often what keeps the shop profitable, and the store owners don’t seem to have any problem with kids coming in, even if the store is not a ‘kid’s store’. I can’t imagine they’d object to also selling comic books to the kids who are already coming into their store for booster packs and the like.

Comics are easily marred. Comic store owners didn’t much like adults handling the goods.

Aren’t most materials in game stores packaged so that they aren’t subject to casual browsing and damaging?

Yes. You typically buy sealed packs of cards (“boosters”).

Individual cards are also sold in a secondary market, but those are typically kept in display cases or at least protective sleeves.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle. Adults are the main customers at comic book specialty shops, so comic book specialty shops mainly cater to adult customers, so adults are the main customers…Some comic book shops take a more enlightened approach and try to be welcoming to kids and encourage them to get into the hobby, but at least as often they don’t.

On the other hand, kids are still a major market for collectible/trading card games, so game stores tend to be welcoming to kids and encourage them to get into the hobby, so a lot of kids go to game stores to buy cards and play in pay-to-play tournaments and buy marked-up snacks, so game stores tend to be welcoming to kids…

It seems that the best marketing strategy would be one where they made media that adults would like to share with their children.

What I believe is that comic books need to grow up even more. The idea that they are periodicals that string you along month-to-month needs to be abandoned. Commit to the idea that they are novels, and should be released as complete stories, like text-based novels are.

Also, each graphic novel, or cycle of graphic novels, should be considered self-contained. Give up on the idea that there needs to be a chronology that encompasses a century’s worth of stories written by dozens of different authors.

Just like with other books, there can be graphic novels meant for any particular age category. The entire medium doesn’t need to be limited to any particular audience. We don’t say that there can only be children’s movies or adult television shows.

And the art form of sequential art should be taken seriously. They should be treated as authors, instead of as dispensable freelancers producing piecework. Give them the same working conditions that novelists get.

I remember there used to be a 2nd market for unsold comic books that was where a company would buy a bunch of old titles wrap 6-12 issues together and sell them for about 5 bucks a set and then the pries became higher for fewer issues and then disappeared … maybe someone could bring the concept back, its how I got into comics actually and then I bought individual issues,

the funny thing is Jim shooter himself tried to make a separate comic line for kids “star comics” with all sorts of new and licensed characters and lost a ton of money on them especially having to still pay the fees on canceled titles

And the other thing is kids today are more sophisticated than kids 20-40 years ago after being raised on harder core comics like spawn watchmen and dark knight era batman

heck one time on a city bus i heard 2 8th graders talking about a perceived repressed lesbian subtext on Harley Quinn and poison ivy s relationship and how they could write it in the story for an hour in a half … … when they got off at their stop some adults wondered when comic books became so complicated …