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Homogeneity Of Heroes
April 23, 2007 10:49 AM   Subscribe

"I like to think that there'll always be a place in our universe where a kid can look and see reflected in the mirror an idealized form of themselves." Hero Deficit: Comics Books In Decline is an article, by freelance journalist Brad Mackay, exploring the challenges of superhero relevancy in a diverse society. Previous comic book and superhero-related posts on Metafilter. Wikipedia also has a very informative superhero page.
posted by amyms (48 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Superheroes seem to be doing just fine outside of comics.
posted by Artw at 10:58 AM on April 23, 2007


We don't need another hero
We don't need to know the way home
All we want is life beyond the thunderdome

posted by srboisvert at 11:00 AM on April 23, 2007


upon RTFAing...

So the reason kids don't read comics anymore is because comics are acism? er, right.
posted by Artw at 11:01 AM on April 23, 2007


acism == racist.

Blame coffee faliure.
posted by Artw at 11:01 AM on April 23, 2007


I'm surprised that Mackay didn't mention Nick Fury.

That said, I'm sorry, but this wasn't a very well written article. The first three paragraphs are about declining monthly sales, and then all of a sudden he seems to switch gears and decides that the real problem is the lack of black people.

For what it's worth, I think that monthly comics are an outmoded business model. Trade paperbacks all the way for me.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:03 AM on April 23, 2007


Agreed and agreed, FoB.

Dang Artw, I had a "Um, that was addressed in tfa" all warmed up and ready to go...
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:05 AM on April 23, 2007


They're too fucking expensive, that's the problem. Comics ought to sell for like 50¢, and they ought to be longer then 20 pages. That's why I stopped reading them as a Kid.

When I started buying comics as a kid, they were $1 a book, and a candy bar was 50¢. When I stopped (probably around age 13/14) they cost like $3 and a candy bar cost 75¢

Comic books became something else, collectables full of lush artwork, smooth gradients and alternate versions. The whole thing became preposterous. Also, the marvel universe would have these gigantic continuity changing crises every six months or so. It was lame. So that's why I stopped reading as a kid
According to their own figures, the Marvel universe contains more than 5,000 characters, yet even a generous count reveals that only 100 or so of these are black – less than two per cent of their fictional population.
That's preposterous. Of the prominent characters, many are black. Storm in the X-men. Bishop and Luke Cage and War Machine off the top of my head. These were prominent heroes, not minor characters. I don't think you can really fault Marvel for that, and frankly even if minority children were not interested in comics, it still wouldn't account for the decline, so the authors thesis is totally without merit.
posted by delmoi at 11:13 AM on April 23, 2007


So the reason kids don't read comics anymore is because comics are racist? er, right.

I don't think he's saying that comic books are "racist," but he does posit that the under-representation of black heroes (and a non-diverse character roster in general) is a contributing factor to the decline of comic books' popularity.
posted by amyms at 11:17 AM on April 23, 2007


booo-urns.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:17 AM on April 23, 2007


The homogeneity of comics doesn't stem from latent racism on the part of publishers but from the dearth of minority writers and artists. Because the creators are, for the most part, white and male we get hollow minority characters (the Samuel L. Jackson schtick is the latest stereotype) and improbably proportioned heroines.

They try to provide a bit of diversity, but they're simply not equipped for it. See, for example, the laughable results of Lois Lane's transformation into a black woman.

Comic artists outside the hero genre have faced similar difficulties. Charles Schultz introduced Franklin in the 60s, but never developed his character. He simply didn't feel qualified to write a black character and didn't want to fake it.

Comics publishers will make an effort to better represent a broader audience, but only if they think it profitable. They're not intrinsically averse to new markets and demographics. To tap the potentially vast Indian market Marvel worked with Indian authors to retool one of their staple heroes in Spiderman India.


When I pick up the new books on Wednesday I'm surrounded, primarily, by adult, white men like myself. We're the people who are spending money on comics. So the real question is this: How do you get kids - of all colors and backgrounds - back into the comic shop?
posted by aladfar at 11:20 AM on April 23, 2007


FoB's dead right about monthly comics. As for homogeneity of characters at Marvel and DC, I think that's at least partly because of the increasingly incestuous, closed-loop nature of the subculture... lots and lots of the current crop of creators are hardcore fans who grew up reading about a set of characters, and now just want to write about them (with said writing being aimed at other hardcore fans). It's not a setup that really encourages branching-out, so things have a way of staying the way they were back when Geoff Johns etc. were kids (there are, of course, exceptions to all of this, but I think I'm right on the broad strokes).

Ultimately, though: meh. Metric shitloads of good comics about all sorts of things are being created right now, and trouble at Marvel and DC just means that the two big guns of the superhero genre have seen better days. Comics aren't going anywhere, and there'll always be a market for superheroes, even if it's a small one.

and as for this:
The worst recent example of this was Steel, a 1994 Superman spin-off that featured a black engineer-turned-superhero. "The stories were insulting. [Here's] this guy that's supposed to be highly intelligent and makes weapons for the military, and he's fighting people in the ghetto,

the worst thing they ever did to Steel was make a movie about the character starring Shaq.
posted by COBRA! at 11:22 AM on April 23, 2007


The first three paragraphs are about declining monthly sales

And misinformed. Both monthly and collection/graphic novel sales have been increasing steadily over the last four years.
posted by solid-one-love at 11:27 AM on April 23, 2007


Why is this article in the Science & Technology section of the Toronto Star?

****

Memorably, in 1972 they introduced John Stewart, an architect who becomes an emergency replacement for the Green Lantern of the day, Hal Jordan. By resisting a suggestion to name him Isaiah Washington (a stereotypical slave name), artist Neal Adams struck a blow for diversity at DC.

If D.C. ever made a movie about the Black Green Lantern, they should cast Isaiah Washington as the lead. Take that, Neal Adams!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 11:29 AM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


The fact that the discussions about the orthogonal concepts of "comics" and "superheroes" is inextricably confused shows what the real problem is here. The genre is played. Write a comic about something else other than a white dude bitten by a radioactive grasshopper.
posted by DU at 11:37 AM on April 23, 2007


Because the creators are, for the most part, white and male we get hollow minority characters ... and improbably proportioned heroines.

I was never bothered by the unrealistic representations of female bodies in comics (I was never worried about my Barbie's impossibly "perfect" form either). I knew they weren't purporting to represent reality; they were supposed to be larger than life (no pun intended) lol...

But, what I do remember feeling bothered by was that the really "cool" comics, the ones that the boys in the neighborhood were reading, had a dearth of powerful female characters... Yes, there were/are heroines, but we girls didn't have as many to choose from as the boys did... So, I can imagine that if I felt short-changed as a girl, then non-white kids must also have felt under-represented and thus lost interest in comics.
posted by amyms at 11:37 AM on April 23, 2007


The linked article is from The Toronto Star, but no mention at all of Toronto's homegrown Black 'Superhero': The Black Bastard.

Article about The Black Bastard's creator Matthew Mohammad here.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 11:48 AM on April 23, 2007


Mangas kind of being ignored here as well. A huge chunk of the comics people actually read are A) Not superhero comics and B) written by asians of either sex.
posted by Artw at 12:00 PM on April 23, 2007


Interesting article, but i think we all agree that superheroes not being black or hip enough is about 2% of the problem. I remember why i stopped buying comics.

-- Grew tired of going to the musty little store every other day to see if they had any new back issues of "The Maxx" to find out that, no, they didn't.

-- All the comics with awesome artwork had shitty writing, and the comics with awesome writing had shitty artwork.

-- Got hooked on Spawn ( I was young, okay? ) and loved it until around #33, when the art and eventually the script started being given over to lesser craftsmen, and the story stalled. It was like watching "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy if Peter Jackson got lazy and contracted Michael Bay to direct the last film.....

>__<

As for kids these days, how can you expect them to find their town's one little musty store, when they can just sit at home and watch blocks of Inuyasha and Samurai Champloo while blasting the Covenant on their X-box? For the ones who are actually interested in the art -- well, that's what they have DeviantArt for. It's easy, it's free, you can leave comments, and design your own snappy Inuyasha avatar!
posted by ELF Radio at 12:01 PM on April 23, 2007


Working for a bookstore that sells both graphic novels and monthlies, here's what I can tell.

Younger readers LOVE their manga and buy it religiously in graphic novel form. Hardcore mainstream comic fans do the same because they're crafty consumers.

If there is less interest in traditional superhero comics these days, the 'blame' can be rested on more sophisticated readers who want more complex stories and a larger cast of characters, both of which are easier / cheaper to digest in graphic novel or collection form. Long long gone are the days when an issue offered a singular storyline with a beginning, a middle and an end. Story arcs stretch across months' and years' worth of issues.

In a similar development, I no longer pay for cable, i just rent and buy box sets of my favorite shows.

As the fanbase gets more diverse and more specific, Superman will shrink, but sandman and Cowboy Bebop will hold their own.
posted by es_de_bah at 12:07 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


I thought Truth: Red, White, and Black was a brilliant concept. Few times have I been that excited to read a retcon. But sweet Christmas, it was fucking terrible. The writing was ass, the artwork was ass, the plot was ass, and by the end of it you could tell from the lettering, the pencils, the inks, and the dialogue that everyone involved in the comic knew they were working on a piece of crap and just wanted it to be over.

Comics could use a good deal more of diversity, but as a previous poster mentioned, writers don't know how to do it. You can make your black guy from the 'hood and have him fight drug dealers--but that's stereotypical. Or you could just write him like you would write any other character, write a white guy, but then you get arguments you're not being true to the character's roots.

'Course, you look at series like Runaways, series with young, diverse casts, and so far ignoring race and cultural heritage (beyond alien heritage) hasn't affected quality or believability at all. But it would be very difficult to make older black superheroes, like Black Panther or The Falcon, to not be in some ways about the blackness, since that's why they were created and to change their tactics would be a pretty huge change in the traditional personality of the character.
posted by schroedinger at 12:10 PM on April 23, 2007


They're too fucking expensive, that's the problem.

That pretty much nails it. They've got trapped down this dead end where a comic has to be this monthly, glossy 22 page thing that's read in 15 minutes and, on a dollars per minutes of enjoyment basis is horribly overpriced.

Compare that to manga - pulp paper, black and white, but lots of pages - and perpetually available - it doesn't just disappear at the end of the month.

Theres been a few attempts to address this - Image and their 16 page format, the odd papaperback sized book - so it looks like the majors are aware fo the problem, but so far none of those experiments have really takn off. And TBH none of them haver shifted that dollars to moments of enjoyment far enough either.
posted by Artw at 12:11 PM on April 23, 2007


I thought Truth: Red, White, and Black was a brilliant concept. Few times have I been that excited to read a retcon. But sweet Christmas, it was fucking terrible. The writing was ass, the artwork was ass, the plot was ass, and by the end of it you could tell from the lettering, the pencils, the inks, and the dialogue that everyone involved in the comic knew they were working on a piece of crap and just wanted it to be over.

No kidding. What a total, total waste of a good idea. I can't think of a single good thing to say about that assterpiece.
posted by COBRA! at 12:16 PM on April 23, 2007


Err... When I stopped reading comics, about 14 years ago, Spawn was right up there with The X-Men and Batman. Now it doesn't even crack the top 50? What happened?

Anyway, I don't think Spawn was "insulting to the intelligence" or a protest character. He was a Navy Seal (or of some other kind of crack military group), and middle-class.
posted by Kronoss at 12:27 PM on April 23, 2007


Hero comics are/were a statistical anomaly brought about by the Decency Code. Before the advent of the Code there were romance, horror, adventure, crime, true crime, humor, science fiction, and fantasy comics, plus a few dozen genres that I'm sure I'm forgetting. The Code, a form of "self-imposed" censorship, companies feared straying too far from the ultra-moral, good-versus-evil of the hero titles.

Then came the underground comix of the late 60's and 70's with content made by and for adults. Then the 80's brought in non-code underground comics written for kids and teens, and an explosion of publishing houses.

This broke the Codes back.

Marvel published adult comics under the Epic label. DC started Vertigo. All of the forgotten genres came back, slowly, cautiously. And they sold. Lord how they sold.

Once the Big Two got a taste of the money that could be made, they started getting cautiously experimental. They knew that hero books sold, but what about romance? Could that be published? Well, what about hero romance? Hero horror? In the early 90's, DC and Marvel started publishing damned near anything so long as there was a hero in it.

The underground comics just kept getting better and better though, and suddenly people started reading comics from other countries, thanks to Viz and a few other companies. By the late 90's, heros still had the largest single block of the marketplace, but they were feeling the pressure. In any given comic book store you could find on the shelves equal amounts of super heroes and "other." In time I'm sure that super heros will be just another genre in a sea of comic books.

The super hero lived and thrived due to lack of competition. It has to share its niche now.
posted by lekvar at 12:30 PM on April 23, 2007


Except Vertigo kind of died on it's arse as well...
posted by Artw at 12:35 PM on April 23, 2007


Vertigo is still publishing comics, like the well-respected Y, the Last Man. Do you mean "died on it's arse" financially? Perhaps, but stylistically, thematically? The authors who launched Vertigo are powerhouses in the comics industry now, or in Hollywood or fiction. Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore. (which came first? Swamp Thing or Vertigo? Tenuous, I know...)
posted by lekvar at 12:43 PM on April 23, 2007


DC introduced radical reboots of some of its stock superheroes, including an African American version of Firestorm, a Hispanic Blue Beetle, and a new Batwoman, resurrected as a gay socialite. It's not much, but if it convinces even a few kids to put down their PSP or step away from their computer long enough to get lost in a good, old-fashioned, four-colour power fantasy then there may be hope for superhero comics after all.

I dunno about that...
"Johnny, why arn't you playing the PSP we bought you for Christmas? It's downstairs and you've been locked in your room every afternoon for days!"
"I'm reading Batwoman! She's a lesbian socialite!"
"ZOMG! The gays are trying to get Johnny through his comics!! Call the cable news!"

Also, consider that there are scores of comics-based games on the market, in addition to movies and cartoons and whatever else the large corporations that have major interests in the Big Two have in store for the future. The comicbook itself is not the money-making end of the spectrum. It's the test marketing end of things, where characters and stories are developed before they're spun off into another medium.

Diversity is key to comics. Not racial diversity, but diversity-diversity. You've got to try a whole bunch of stuff to see what sticks with the readers, and just fiddling around with a character's race or gender or orientation just isn't going to cut it nowadays. My favorite comicbook character is a big red demon with sawed off horns and a giant handgun. To me, that's a lot more interesting than a gay hero, a hispanic hero, or a black hero. I see those three every day waling down the street (not in costume - if only! - but the form of, you know human beings who try and do right by others). If Hellboy were gay, that wouldn't have a whole lot of effect on me besides finally legitimizing my vast collection of Hellboy/Abe slash. He'd still be a big red demon with a big gun that hunts monsters, which is what I buy the comic for. I suspect that many other comic readers are like me and Stephen Colbert in that we really don't see race when it comes to comics. We see cool characters, cool stories, and awesome kicks to the face, but spend very little time paying attention to skintone.

So, yeah, create more comic characters of every size and shape you can think of, but do it for the story's sake, not the numbers. Really, is there anything so shallow as a comicbook character made solely appeal to a certain market and meet some form of diversity quota?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:51 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually if I had to pick a stand-out comic from the current Vertigo line up I'd go with DMX, but their still a pale shadow of where they were ten years ago. Neil Gaiman buggering off to be a novelist and Grant Morrioson being busy doing superhero work probably has a lot to do with it, but I think a lot of the energy just ebbed out of the project.

Alan Moore, of course, does quite well without ever having written anything for Vertigo.
posted by Artw at 12:52 PM on April 23, 2007


Whoops, my mistake. For some reason I thought that Swamp Thing switched over to the Vertigo imprint during Moore's run. Still, my larger point stands.
posted by lekvar at 12:58 PM on April 23, 2007


"I'm reading Batwoman! She's a lesbian socialite!"

Of course, for a while Vertigo was practically the "OMG! Lesbians!" comics line. Then briefly the "OMG! Trannies!" comicbook line.
posted by Artw at 12:58 PM on April 23, 2007


****SPOILER ALERT****

Lesbian Batwoman is dead. But, we've got a lesbian version of The Question in her place.

****END SPOILER****
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:16 PM on April 23, 2007


I quess Lekvars point holds then - spurious lesbianism is mainstream now.
posted by Artw at 1:19 PM on April 23, 2007


"Comics ought to sell for like 50¢, and they ought to be longer then 20 pages."

Given the actual economics of printing, that will never, ever happen again.

Unless of course, you can get as many people to read long-form comics as read newspapers...

Oh, and I can't resist:

MetaFilter: the increasingly incestuous, closed-loop nature of the subculture
posted by zoogleplex at 1:19 PM on April 23, 2007


When I first got into (hero) comics it was all "Here's a cutaway view of Superman's fortress of solitude - here's where he's got the legion of robot supermen, here's the bottled city of Kandor, here's his rogues gallery with statues" - lot's of little details that impressed the magpie aspect of my young mind.

Nowadays, it seems, with stuff like Civil War, it's about as much fun as watching the news. You can't grow the base if you're constantly catering to the older demographic.

(there are probably exceptions, this is just my impression from the outside looking in)
posted by Sparx at 2:50 PM on April 23, 2007


Sparx - You've really got to read All Star Superman.
posted by Artw at 3:05 PM on April 23, 2007


1. The comments upthread about superhero comics being a played out genre are dead on. The ironic thing is, there are actually still very good superhero comics being put out – the aforementioned All Star Superman is a good example – but they are buried in an avalanche of mediocrity.

2. Comics-as-advertising-media has inflated to the point where it is sickening. There was a point a year and a half or so ago when you'd open any given Marvel comic, see the now ubiquitous recap page, and then find a 2-page spread for the Honda Civic before you hit a single page of new comic content. Marvel literally increased the superhero monthly to 48 pages without changing the amount of content, so the book is now primarily composed of advertisements.

3. In order to capitalize on people who grew up on comics in the '60s through the '90s, who now provide the major basis for superhero books, mainstream comics are now embroiled in elaborate, ever-increasing crossover stories that make the book incomprehensible without following a broad swath of related titles. (Civil War, Infinite Crisis, etc, etc, etc)

4. Individual issues don't make sense any more. The multi part story arc format makes the graphic novel / trade paperback supreme here. The manga publishers figured it out 5 years ago, when they stopped putting out individual issues of everything. The superhero publishers don't deserve any slack for thinking they are special here.
posted by graymouser at 3:24 PM on April 23, 2007


"Comics ought to sell for like 50¢, and they ought to be longer then 20 pages."

Given the actual economics of printing, that will never, ever happen again.


The price issue is interesting, I have some old 200 page manga volumes from the early 90s that cost between $16-$20, the market for manga was pretty minuscule until TokyoPop and others got aggressive and started pushing $8-$12 dollar volumes. The price dropped in half (more if you include inflation) but the market grew enormously. It probably isn't really realistic to go back to 50 cents but pricing is an issue.

-- Got hooked on Spawn ( I was young, okay? ) and loved it until around #33, when the art and eventually the script started being given over to lesser craftsmen, and the story stalled. It was like watching "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy if Peter Jackson got lazy and contracted Michael Bay to direct the last film.....

That happens in manga a lot, but you don't notice as the clever thing is you only see the creator's name on the title. It's a little secret that most manga is done by a team of many artists, and sometimes the creators get lazy or busy on other projects and start phoning it in.

And graymouser, about point 4, it's been widely noticed that superhero comics seem to be put together "for the trade" nowadays. Decompressed stories, delays because a fill-in artist would make the trade look weird, these things show that Marvel and DC want their stories to work well as trades.
posted by bobo123 at 4:00 PM on April 23, 2007


"Marvel literally increased the superhero monthly to 48 pages without changing the amount of content, so the book is now primarily composed of advertisements."

To be fair, have you looked at just about any other magazine out there on the rack these days? Find one with a cover price under $10 that's not at least 50% ads - some are more like 75% - and you'll surprise me. Why should a comic book be any different from any other printed magazine? I don't have a problem with advertising in comics as long as the advertisers don't get any say over the content.

And really, do you remember that comics back in the 1970s and early 80s had many pages of advertising in them? It's one reason why Marvel comic books were "still only 25 cents!" into the 1980s. If you only want comics in your comic books, they're going to cost a lot more.

"I have some old 200 page manga volumes from the early 90s that cost between $16-$20, the market for manga was pretty minuscule until TokyoPop and others got aggressive and started pushing $8-$12 dollar volumes. The price dropped in half (more if you include inflation) but the market grew enormously. It probably isn't really realistic to go back to 50 cents but pricing is an issue."

Manga is kind of a special case, and you have to separate them from American-style comics in the American market. Remember that comics are about 5000 times more popular in Japan, where people of all ages really do read comics like Americans used to read newspapers - probably more. You can buy a 2-inch-thick comic book, like your 200-page volumes, in Japan for 600-800 yen - a third of the price you paid back then. They have an audience of tens of millions over there, so the economies of that level of scale apply. Selling comics there is like selling Cosmopolitan or Maxim over here, in terms of production cost to sale price ratio.

"It's a little secret that most manga is done by a team of many artists"

Yes, in Japan (but not here in the US, even for American-made manga). Studios there have large teams of people working in professional offices cranking out dozens of pages per week for actual salary money. It's a fairly large, legitimate business.

In contrast, the "hard core" American-style comic book audience comprises something between 250,000 and 500,000 individuals, with a more casual audience of perhaps another million on top of that. Most of that core audience is now in the 28-to-50-year-old-male demographic. The top-selling books here are all superhero books; the #1 seller does about 100,000 to 150,000 a month, with a rapid falloff down to about 25,000-30,000 a month for the #10 seller, and dribbling further down from there. Most color superhero books muddle along at around 10,000 a month sales at best.

Over here, you get maybe 4 people (mostly guys) working on a book in sequence, alone in their personal studios, getting paid a page rate on delivery, turning out maybe 7 pages a week per person (except for the letterers, but they get paid very little per page). Most of these folks, if you do the math, are working for less than minimum wage much of the time. Bless 'em for doing it for the love...

(I have a buddy who's doing a new series for TokyoPop. He's done the whole thing by himself - American style - on a deal similar to a prose book author's, an advance to cover expenses for a year while drawing the book, then payment via royalty after the advance is covered.)

There's just no comparison.

The prices of Japanese manga as edited and sold over here are beyond outrageous compared to what you'd pay for it over there (or here in many Japanese bookstores if you can read it in Japanese...), because the audience is a fraction of the size and is culturally used to reading comics in $3 24-page bites instead of $6 200-page phone books.

And manga here has a much wider audience; most of the widening seems to be in the 12-24-year-old-female demographic, with the rest of the wider audience being people of all ages up to about 40.

Anyway, I'm ranting, sorry. You have to leave manga-type comics completely out of the superhero comic discussion. The audiences don't cross over as much as we'd like.

"Decompressed stories, delays because a fill-in artist would make the trade look weird, these things show that Marvel and DC want their stories to work well as trades."

The profit margin on trades is astronomical compared to pamphlet-style comic books - especially when you've covered the production expenses (paying the writer(s) and artist(s) is the most expensive part of making an American comic) with the 24-page serial version. Those trades are making Marvel and DC a very large of money, even with TPBs being sold in a "returnable" market - most of which is not getting passed on to the workforce.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:38 PM on April 23, 2007


Deathlok (the later black guy version) was a great character. Went nowhere. “buried in an avalanche of mediocrity” is apt graymouser.

Yeah, I never liked having to buy 10 different titles to get an idea of what’s going on in the story. It feels too much like I’m being hustled. And rarely are the overstories that dense that they truly NEED to do it. Marketing pretty much.
And really, no wonder if the writers and artists are getting hosed - why put forth your best effort? Particularly if you don’t get anything for it.
Seems to me - and this is off the cuff and way outside of the business, Marvel and D.C. are really only making money off of letting other people play with their toys (trademarked characters) for a little bit. It seems to be the only real reasource they have. Otherwise they’d be stocking up with, y’know, talent.
You’d think it would be like the old studio system or how magazines are run where you sign a talented individual to produce quality work and look to retain them. Not so much apparently.
So you get this goolash.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:00 PM on April 23, 2007


ANyone else reading BARACUDA? Theres your role model right there.
posted by Artw at 9:45 PM on April 23, 2007


Back on the OP, "Hero Deficit: Comics Books In Decline" is a crappy article because the author never even touches on the fact that most many comics are expensive for what you get and have a crappy story. Yes, the publishers could do more in terms of racial diversity, but I just don't think that's the reason for the decline of comics.

Also, there is some diversity -- look at Love and Rockets... There's complex characters (male or female) gay, straight, etc... No, it's not a superhero story, but it's a great story with lots of minority characters.

I mostly agree with previous posters that the superheroes have been played out... There are a few different things being done, like "Astro City" or "The Boys", but the vast majority of the standard superhero stuff is just junk.

Any way, for those interested, there are is all sorts of wonderful stuff being done outside the superhero realm, like "Girl Genius" (http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/), Digger (http://www.graphicsmash.com/comics/digger.php), Fables, Bone, Love and Rockets.
posted by webnrrd2k at 10:55 AM on April 24, 2007


Have web comics cut into the market share as well?

Whenever I'd use the local Internet cafes here in Queens, I'd always see the front desk staff reading Korean-language manga-style comics on the web. When I saw this post I wondered whether web-comics had gained a broader audience.
posted by jason's_planet at 12:30 PM on April 24, 2007


Have web comics cut into the market share as well?

That sort of thing's really tough to quantify, but it's hard to imagine that the internet in general hasn't at least increased the competition for attention and mindspace. Since the article here's mainly concerned with superhero comics from Marvel and DC, I'd say that webcomics probably aren't a direct competitor-- there aren't a lot of long-form superhero webcomics with pro-quality art (and with established, trademarked characters). But webcomics and webeverything else are definitely absorbing audience time that could be dedicated to Marvel and DC. Driving to the comic shop and forking out 3 bucks for X-Stallions#27 is a little less compelling if you could spend the time reading Achewood (or MetaFilter) for free.
posted by COBRA! at 1:08 PM on April 24, 2007


Plus, y'know, piracy.
posted by Artw at 1:22 PM on April 24, 2007


I think, that as with most mass media, over-pricing and general mediocrity (including the lack of diversity in both race and topic) are far greater causes of decline than piracy.

Which is a shame, comics have rarely been more diverse and overall better than they are now. And it's still not enough.

Get the damn things out of specialty shops and back in newstands, drug stores, grocery stores, anywhere a friggin' kid (or even a curious adult who might otherwise never go near the Android's Dungeon) might get their hands on a copy. Cut the price a bit, even if we have to lose some of the gloss on the pages. And it wouldn't hurt Marvel and DC to take a look at Dark Horse and Image and see what a well balanced line of original material, movie/television tie-ins, and such looks like.
posted by davros42 at 3:15 PM on April 24, 2007


"Get the damn things out of specialty shops and back in newstands, drug stores, grocery stores, anywhere a friggin' kid (or even a curious adult who might otherwise never go near the Android's Dungeon) might get their hands on a copy. Cut the price a bit, even if we have to lose some of the gloss on the pages."

davros42, I think pretty much everyone in the entire superhero comics industry would love to see all of this happen. Except, of course, the guys who actually run the industry and write the checks. They seem to be quite happy with the status quo, since they're doing exactly zero to change it.

There are folks in other parts of comics that are doing their best to make such things happen, but it's a rather difficult job here in America for some reason. Comics used to be a huge part of the mainstream culture here (and still are, but far less directly), but that's been lost here unlike in Asia and Europe.

Just the challenge of getting comics sold in places other than comic shops is monumental these days. Trade paperbacks are doing fairly well in regular bookstores, at least.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:04 PM on April 24, 2007


Back in the early 90s, I thought Milestone Media's Dakotaverse was a fine effort to correct the imbalance. Solid, interesting, creative work that couldn't beat the big two.

Around the same time, despite its Image Comics fanfare, I also appreciated Larry Stroman's Tribe for the same reason, I remember reading he wanted to address the diversity issue as well. Pity he retired after banking the profits on the first issue.
posted by elphTeq at 1:16 AM on April 25, 2007


Robocop is Bleeding - word & amen.

The problem has nothing to do with under representation of any one type of person or another. The problem is that there aren't that many things you can do with the traditional superhero that haven't been done better already and that the majority of comics the Big Two are producing today suck wind.

Also, they seem to have bought whole-heartedly into the idea that comics really should be nothing more than the "R&D lab" for more immediately lucrative media. As someone who makes comics myself, I can't help but resent the fact that so many people in the game aspire to nothing more than becoming Hollywood's clever but ugly stepchild.

The secret behind the the genius of Love & Rockets has little if anything to do with the diversity of characters' ethnicities, sexual orientations, and whatever else. The secret is that the Brothers do just plain damn good comics. Look at any copy of L&R - every character, even those in the background who only show up for one panel and never come back, they all look different. They all have different body types and ways in which they carry themselves. They look as idiosnycratic as real live humans. Looking at the Big Two's comics you'd think the world was entirely populated by models from a goddamned Gap ad.

That said, I don't have a lot of use for superheroes. The regular everyday non-super kind is just fine for me.

(Though I do have a weakness for Hellboy... Mignola! What else can you say?)
posted by Adam White at 4:31 AM on April 25, 2007


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