I’m starting this thread so as not to hijack another, and besides, this topic deserves it’s own thread dammit! You can find the beginnings of this debate here. All bolded quotes are original by New & Improved Scott, everything else is me. I’ve cut back in the parts of my post that he didn’t include in his response for clarity’s sake. The basic thrust of my argument is that the comics industry is dying and something needs to be done, Scott disagrees. All you non-comics fans please don’t run away, you might learn something.
Well you have a wonderful reading ability because I never said that that was a description of all comic readers, only some. But that some is a higher proportion than what you’ll find in the average population, and it’s enough to help give people a view of comics as being a geek interest.
I suspect that for whatever reason, comics draws more easily those members of society who are more introverted and have more trouble fitting in than most other artistic mediums. This group of people stands out as being introverts (or as I undiplomatically put it “unlikely to get a date”). I’ve shopped in a number of stores up and down the east coast over the years, and I’ve seen my fair share of people who fit this description. Furthermore I’m only commenting on appearance so my description of them could be completely wrong in terms of what goes on behind their bedroom doors (some of them probably have a better sex life than I do) but you can’t deny their appearance and the assumptions that puts in people’s heads about comics readers. I think you think that I’m judging these people when I’m not, I’m only commenting on the judgments of them that other people make. Maybe I’m guilty of a lack of tact with regards to my get-a-date comment, but I was certainly not generalizing about comics readers.
Numerous other posters have already disproven your claim that very few other comics do well and before 1938 there were no super-heroes. If you want to get technical comics got their modern start in the late 1800’s with the publishing of collections of comic strips from newspapers and original material in comic book format followed shortly thereafter; what do you think people were reading in comics for the forty years before Superman hit the scene?
You also are entirely missing my point: the market is super-heroes. That’s a problem. Super-heroes are regarded as the reading material of dorks by most people, hence, most people won’t read comics.
I’m not sure how golf fits in with your analogy, seeing as how it’s a more of a sport than an artistic medium, but collector’s plates are a niche artistic market, or to put it another way a subgenre of prints or paintings; most people like their paintings on canvas, some like them on plates, and that’s why your second analogy falls apart. Comics is a medium in and of itself and separate from all others. Comics are not literature (even though you’ll occasionally see people refer to them as such including, when I’m being sloppy, myself), they are not movies (the closest medium to comics) and they are not single image drawings or paintings. Comics rely on a serious of static images placed next to each other in a deliberate sequential order, something that no other medium does.*
If comics is a medium in and of itself then there is no reason why it should have to be dominated by super-heroes. However since it is dominated by super-heroes, that is leading to the death of the industry (not the form).
**You’ve apparently misunderstood my comment about graphic novels and story length, and simultaneously reminded me about another problem in the comics industry.
The current page length of 22 pages per comic at $2 or more a pop dissuades people from picking up comics due to their perceived expense. I’m not blaming Marvel, DC or any other publisher for that, there’s not much they can do about paper prices. However the way graphic novels would help solve that problem is more bang for your buck: you can pick up a hundred page graphic novel for $15 or so and that seems to be more of a deal than picking up single issues (and forget about buying single issue comics for speculation value, ‘cause that market’s largely dead).
As for what I was saying in my last post regarding graphic novels and how they’d help draw in new readers is that graphic novels as the industry standard should appeal to comics’ newcomers and veterans. They allow for a higher page count which gives newcomers the ability to pick up a comic and get a larger chunk of the story then they’d get with a single issue, thus reducing confusion because they have more time to pick up what’s going on and the nuances of the characters. For comics veterans there would need to be little to no change because they can still hold onto continuity (that could be expounded upon more easily with the increased page count, or included in the beginning of the book as a synopsis for newcomers) and the longer stories that have to take multiple single issues now. Graphic novels could still follow a sequential issues format as they do now as to allow an ongoing story, but as long as they are clearly numbered in terms of order this should be a small obstacle to new readers.
Comics do not have to appeal to a niche market, they have not always and they do not now. Go and pick up a newspaper and look in the comics section, what do you see? Comics. And they follow the same rules as the bound comic books with super-heroes in them do: the pictures are not stand alone, but are placed in a specific order to be viewed. Most people don’t make this connection but it is there and they are the same medium, and that’s a medium that millions of people are reading, but not enough of them are reading actual comic books.
If you want a clearer example look at Japan. In Japan everyone reads comics and they are not looked down upon. There is also an incredible diversity in the content of comics offered in Japan: a few years ago the number one selling comic in Japan was about a business executive, unthinkable in the west for a comic book. Japan admittedly has a different culture than our own, but I don’t see why our culture can’t develop a similar view to comics that Japan holds.
You could also go back to WWII when it was not at all unusual to wander through a G.I. encampment and find a slew of soldiers reading comics (during those years comics selling a million issues was commonplace, now if a title’s just pushing six figures it’s doing well). Comics as a niche market in America is a relatively recent development.
If most people are willing to read stories in picture format in their newspapers then why should they be so averse to reading stories told in picture format in books as people in Japan do or as people did in WWII? Because reading stories told in pictures in books has been indelibly linked with super-heroes, and reading pictures told about super-heroes in books has developed a geek connotation in our society that has bled over to all comic stories that are contained in books (with the notable exception of collected newspaper strips).
If the comics industry can break out of the Masked Marvel’s Last Toehold into material that is more palatable for the mainstream, comics have a chance of pushing into a larger audience, and at least reversing the trend of declining readership.
You must’ve missed the part of my post where I said that super-heroes are perceived as being for geeks unless they’re on a TV or Movie screen; super-heroes are cool to watch, not cool to read. Marvel’s stock has gone up due to better business practices than those they practiced before they went into bankruptcy, as well as the string of successful movies they’ve had.
The movies have admittedly stirred up sales for the titles they are based on and some of that has bled onto other titles, but in the long term those sales will disappear. Batman’s sales went through the roof when his movie first came out but they have since fallen back down to lower levels, and I imagine that once the fad of super-hero movies fades away sales for the industry will be the lowest they’ve ever been. Such fads come and go and comics sales will go with them, but every time they get a bit worse and eventually Marvel and DC will simply be companies that hold the rights to characters once published in comics but will then only be found in other media.
You should take another look at them. Comics readership has declined by ninety percent in the last sixty years (I’m basing this on sales of top sellers) and the decline is slowly getting worse.
Consider again my statement that comics sales have declined and the readership has gotten older. That means that the same people who were reading comics in their teen and pre-teen years twenty years ago have gotten older and new readers have not come in to take their place. That means the industry is dying out. It won’t die today or tomorrow or ten years from now, but in a few short decades it will die in America unless there are some substantial changes made now.
Don’t misunderstand me, I love super-heroes. Over ninety percent of my large collection consists of super-hero or fantasy comics. But I don’t kid myself that that genre can sustain the entire industry indefinitely.
*If you want to know more about this I heartily suggest you pick up Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. That book changed my view of comics forever. Also of potential interest is Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art.