Ron Marz wrote his latest weekly CBR column on the glut of superhero titles on the rack, and equates it with eating nothing but pizza every meal. He is not alone in this assessment, and when you look at the new comics rack of your local comic shop, it feels natural to believe the industry has a superhero problem.
My piece here is not an attempt call out Marz or lambaste his ideas, which make sense for the most part. I get why he comes to the conclusions he does. He's just wrong. While it seems intuitive and has traction with highly regarded geniuses, the idea that comics' problems have anything to do with the number of superhero titles offered is demonstrably false.
What's interesting is that Marz has the antidote to his own false assumption buried in the argument:
"There are more good, diverse comics being published now than ever before. I firmly believe that. But in terms of copies sold, superheroes still rule the direct market roost. So we end up with a majority of what's published directed at a very narrow audience, and much less product directed at everyone else. Why is that? Are there too many superhero titles because that's what the existing audience demands of publishers? Or are there too many superhero titles because that's what publishers are forcing down the throats of the existing audience? Kind of a chicken-and-egg question, isn't it?"
There are more good, diverse comics being published now than ever before. That is the truth. If the situation were that comics publisher stifled creativity or shelved new ideas in other genres, we would have a problem. Particularly if the Big 2 were to stop trying to innovate or test different kinds of work, the medium could be artificially stunted. But this is most demonstrably not the case.
Are there a great many superhero titles on the racks? Certainly. But there is also Queen & Country, (black & white realistic spy book)and Fables, (modern fairy tales) and Beasts of Burden, (cute animals solving mysteries) and Age of Bronze, (historical fiction about the Trojan War) and Jonah Hex, (straight John Wayne style gunslingin')and Scalped, (pure noir crime fiction) and Archie, still the king of teenaged romance and comedy.
|NOT supehero fare|
But of course they don't sell. They're always around, and nobody buys them. Marz wonders if the cause is the audience or the publishers jamming things down our throats. In point of fact it's the non-superhero titles that are jammed into holes that don't want them, and they fail time after time. Where is that Minx line, any way? It's gone. Nobody wanted it, least of all the young women it courted.
So what's the problem, then? If DC had created three of four Minx lines, would that have crowded the technicolor supers off the rack and made it fly? I guess we'll never know, but I put the odds long against that.
|ACME Novelty Libray Vol 20|
Look at Comic Book Resources recent "Top 100" comics of 2010, and notice how it is incredibly representative of the unpurchased indies and away from the standard superhero fare. Ifanboy's 2010 "Book of the Year"? Afrodisiac, Adhouse books. I'm not suggesting that it wasn't an honest or worthy choice, but I know this - you don't demonstrate your expertise or "cool factor" by extolling the virtues of The New Avengers. Comics propaganda, where it is exists, slants always toward the hip and path less taken. And I'm fine with that, by the way.
Does anybody with even a passing interest in comics NOT know about Love & Rockets, or Joe Sacco, or Blankets? Are these well kept secrets that a backwards industry is shoving into a dark corner to force superheros onto a duped clientele? Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I really don't think so.
|Top Seller at Comix Experience|
I don't know. Perhaps there are comic shops out there that only order the X-Men and Batman. I believe that such a shop exists. Even so, this has never stopped a trend in the past. The history of comics has (until recently) been a story of changing tastes from comic strip reprints to superheroes, to crime comics, to horror comics, etc. Even in the midst of the superhero domination, a cult sensation like a black-and-white book about mutated ninja turtles will take the country by storm, if the country feels so inclined.
And that was back before the age of the internet and forum chatter. Can anybody imagine a comics readership secretly pining for a new genre, if only they knew it existed? It's completely preposterous in a day where word-of-mouth advertising is literally instant and global. The idea that there is this huge dormant population of comics fans who simply don't know there's a superhero alternative is so absurd in 2011, and so distracting from the real issue.
|Not helping...at all|
There are lots of reasons for that, none of which have to do with the superhero genre. I have heard a lot of pithy punditry from a variety of sources about how "guys in underwear bashing each other" just can't sustain interest. One hears this from all corners; from the esoteric and grouchy Alan Moore to the affable everyman Jimmy Palmiotti. I think that argument is weak and does not hold up to even casual scrutiny.
To boil superhero books down to "guys in underwear bashing each other" is to engage in the laziest of reductive thinking. Does that sound like James Robinson's Star Man? Not to me, it doesn't, or any other rational human. How about Irredeemable? Is that just a guy in underwear bashing things, or is that an examination of power and trust gone wrong?
Neil Gaiman maintains that comics are a medium, not a genre. It's an empty glass that you can fill with almost anything. He is correct. I maintain that you can also fill the superhero genre with almost anything, and the reason why I maintain that is because I'm living and reading it.
|The sublime Secret Six|
The bottom line is that I detect no predilection on the publisher's parts to slavishly follow the superhero formula. There's no conspiracy to keep non-superhero titles off the stands. Marz never directly implicates the publishers, but if it isn't implied, what's his thesis then...that the retailers are mucking it up, or the customers should want things they don't want?
No, there is no conspiracy. Marvel, in particular, is only interested in collecting its next nickel. If they can do that selling books about puppies, they will do that. If they can earn two nickels publishing adaptations of the Rachel Ray show, they will switch to that. We have superheroes because that's what we want right now, and when we want something else, we'll just buy more copies of what's already out there. Because if you always wanted to read about alien abducted foxes....comics have you covered.