Saturday, December 01, 2007

So, Anyway...


Well, that was fun. No one said people were just going to sit around and nod politely while you challenge long-standing paradigms. But putting up with a little abuse is the price you pay when you want to get people's attention. 

The Web does give you the power to hang out your shingle all over the world and get the attention of kindred souls, and in that regard the response over the past couple of months has been more than I could have imagined. 

Whatever reaction I've gotten from a few fans (who despite the catcalls, kept coming back for more) has been at least equaled by the response I've gotten people who are working in similar or complimentary fields. Unlike me, these guys are smart enough to stick to email. 

My Uncle Marv even called to tell me how brilliant he thought the whole thing was, that this kind of controversy is exactly what you want to stir up when you're promoting a book. I had to confess that it didn't go down quite that way, and that my lingering idealism has a tendency to make we wander into digital buzzsaws now and then. 

But it was good to know that the story was getting attention from the boys in the mothership. But there are other issues I want to address, now that the storm blew over. Pop culture is in trouble, and storytelling is taking a beating out there. 

Maybe this is the effect of the enormous popularity of videogames, but there are a lot of accountants out there who are seeing the effects of sizzle over steak in the media. DVD sales are tanking, and a recent study shows that Hollywood is bleeding billions. 

In comics, publishers are increasingly relying on those middle-aged superfans with crossovers and extraneous titles. DC is trying to flood the market to make up for falling circulations, and Marvel is concentrating on online subscriptions to weather the effects of the increasing cost of living on booklet sales. DC has their own digital program in the works. 

Both of these programs are exactly what needs to be done right now. Online comics have been kicking around for a while, but you need the power of the big boys to get the program really up and running. 

Because they are relatively cheap to produce (and digital comics are almost free to make), comics are the medium I'm hanging my hopes on for rescuing the concept of narrative in the mass media. There are a lot of good writers and cartoonists out there, but you need to make the work accessible and you need the power of a big corporation to put the material in front of the eyes you want to reach. In my eyes, the market and the medium is in a similar position it was before the creation of the direct market. 

The Comics Code and retailers were dictating the content and controlling the availability of comics. There was a lot of great material on the newstand, but you didn't see the explosion in maturity and creativity until the direct market changed the rules of the game. 

Today, comics are largely sold in the direct market, largely run by fans with relatively conservative tastes. There are some real visionaries out there, particularly in major metropolitan areas, but there's a lot of retailers still that stick to the big titles, whether out of personal taste or financial necessity. 

The medium wants to go in new directions. Kids are out there reading manga, reading alternative comics, reading online comics like PvP or Penny Arcade and are not beholden to Silver Age nostalgia. 

Comics today are beautifully drawn and usually well-written but are not engaging younger readers. I've worked in the youth market almost my entire career and I can tell you the kind of art kids like to see is not what most of the big titles are putting out there. The direct market is controlled largely by the tastes of middle-aged men and that is not a prescription for a viable future for superhero or adventure comics. 

As I write about in Spandex, these characters are evergreen, and there's no reason they can't be updated for kids today.