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State of the Business

What's happened to our business?  When did working for these big companies stop being...

...fun?

I remember writing letters about this subject before, but hey, what's one more?  So, can one of you once true believers from an earlier age grab my megaphone as I attempt another try? 

Is it just me, or do the people at our two biggest Comic book companies, DC and Marvel, seem lost and rudderless?  It appears to me, a 40-year freelance veteran, that there seems to be no firm leadership anymore.  "No", say those of you who may still work for these companies?  Well, when was the last time your books shipped on time during the past 3 decades?  Seems to me the only ones who can deter this are your so-called leaders, the ones who claim to be steering our ship into healthier waters.  Nowdays, adhering to something as old-fashioned as deadlines is something they all seem to have given up on rather than face it head on and remedy this corrosive trend. 

Another:  Why are constant restarts and redos the only thing Marvel and DC can think to unstall our industry?  When things grow creatively stale they always seem to resort to this ploy--one that their fans probably probably react by saying, "Another re-do?  Maybe they'll do it right this time."  But the spark only flickers for so long, and they're back where they started.  Why do these re-dos keep failing?  Is it something that has real substance behind it, or it just short-term flash?  Is it resorting to classic character reinvention rather than inventing classic stories for their characters? 

You freelancers out there--do the editors at these two companies seem frazzled about the direction of their books, not able to make up their minds about anything?  The weakest decision would be clinging in desperation to the latest P.C. movement.  Is that really the solid, fertile ground on which to go forward in this business?  That's where the House of Ideas currently resorts to when drained of actual ideas. 

Another sign of weak leadership are people who can't make up their minds about something.  When I watch editors and editor-in-chiefs interact with many of the older 1980's workhorses at conventions, I can hear them agreeing to projects I know they're never going to follow up on.  On normal story submissions, like the few that I myself have made, if and when these editors finally do decide on something, their committee-based decisions are so long in coming that any excitement about the project has long dwindled.

The legacy that Stan and Jack built in the 60's--forget it.  Those shafts have been mined for so long there's nothing to sift through anymore.  Their characters have been through so many identity changes, they aren't recognizable anymore.  My once endlessly-inspiring Cap, Thor, and Fantastic Four comics that taught me so many life lessons are...what...unrecognizable?   Comic books have always followed the trends, but it's takes shrewd leadership to know which ones are worth following.

Another worth revisiting:  How and when did lawyers seem to gain more say than the editors or publishers?  If lawyers want to control content so badly,  why don't they draw the damn comics?  The could grab up a few pencils, move their mountains of legal documents out of the way, and start writing and drawing their own line of books. 

Editors:  What happened to the once common duty of editors being in regular communication with their freelancers?  Normally I have to call them.   Note the word "call", since I find it more personal and direct rather than continually corresponding through e-letters.

Comic shops; How are you boys, doing?  It seems like you're always in some new phase of distress.  I know you've never liked the non-returnable, one-sided bully tactics from Marvel.  Our Distributors also seem in disarray--I don't know what's going on with them.  But does anyone know what's going on anywhere--or is that simply beyond the scope of the very race that once invented fire, the wheel, and the talking car?

Comics have always endured their ups and downs.  I'm sure even the densest of our custodians have noticed the always-rising momentum from the Gaming world.  These gaming types are obviously doing something right...other than producing glassy-eyed, virtual versions of kids that  once breathed the outside air.

Heard enough?  Well, go ahead and finish your lunch.  It's only another minutes worth...

Another thing worth mentioning goes back to the 1990's, when the trend-setting Image group confused communal enthusiasm for knowing how to run a business.   The now elder craftsmen from the 1960's and 70's, the last generation that attempted to take leadership seriously, are now rightfully dying off, as we can all see from the ever increasing o.b.i.ts.  Many of the 80's generation who followed these Face-Fronters still keep trying, but with the business in the state that it is, why bother trying to summon the energy they once had in their 20's and 30's?  Creating even a single good 20-page comic is very focused, hard work. 

So...any great leaders on the horizon?  I have looked upon this second (third, and fourth) coming for several decades now.  I want to see if a single fair-minded, fearless, and historically informed individual will finally take up the mantle.

If such a person exists, step up and assert yourself, lest we fall like Rome to the barbarian hordes waiting to silence the once great field of words and pictures.  Once plundered, civilizations seldom rise again to their former status.

To that great new leader I've longed anticipated, your imminent arrival couldn't be better timed.

Steve Rude

  • Jul 31, 2020
  • Category: Blogs
  • Comments: 10
10 comments
Lenny August 01, 2020

The single greatest problem in comics is the price. $3.99 is just too much to spend on a single comic. No kid with a five bucks allowance is going to go into a comic store to spend it on getting only one book. The comic companies did not do enough to keep prices down when they could and now it’s too late. I still love comics but I’m an old for hard. Kids, the future of any endeavor, are just not buying comics. And It’s true that the comic companies have just become IP for their parent companies, Disney and Warner.

Tony Figueroa August 02, 2020

Hello Steve.
I’ve been reading comics for 50 years and they saved me from the 3 ghettos and 2 projects I was raised in. I had my DNA rewritten and mind permanently altered by the first comic book I received at the age of five. Perhaps some things are better in our memory than in truth. In those days, and even now, I lived in eager anticipation of seeing new comic books, with new heroes and their worlds. Each new concept that I hoped would thrill, titillate and fill me with wonders. I was the eager apprentice of countless masters whose works were sacred texts created by artistic astronauts who had traveled to unknown vistas and returned with the secret knowledge of art and story. The halls of DC Comics and Marvel, the two undisputed Superpowers of comic books in those days, were Mount Olympus and Valhalla; rarified realms where gods walked in golden halls and whose casual utterances could inspire countless concepts and an eager army of would be creators like the young me. Although I was raised in an environment suffused with religiosity and gods both benign and terrible my true religion’s prophets were the sole survivors of doomed planets, masked avengers who ruled the urban night, industrialists in solar powered suits of iron and men with iron fists and wielders of magic rings. I grew up in a time when comics were ubiquitous but Fandom was a more solitary affair to be shared with a small group of fellow travelers. I still love comic books unreservedly and Ive even created my own but I dont read the current Marvel or DC output. Comics are not where kids are anymore; spinner racks and the like are gone. I refuse to watch Marvel or DC movies because like the Big 2 all they do is strip mine the medium I love like that gigantic pyramid draining the ocean in “Oblivion”. How about just one Spider Man/Superman/Batman monthky comic instead of the convoluted mess on sale every week? How about heroes we can root for while we’re at it?

TC August 03, 2020

I can’t imagine being the person in charge of reinstating Marvel and DC comics to their former glory.

Comics as a whole are doing well. I can’t say they’re booming in the U. S., but they’re high volume and profitable. Dog Man, Big Nate, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, Amulet, Wings of Fire… in the kid’s market opportunities have been exploding for a decade or more and show no signs of stopping. Teenagers, reading less overall, are still eating up Japanese comics and some superheroes. If grown-up comic readership has changed at all in the last few decades, my guess would be that it has gone up, thanks to us nerds. I certainly can’t imagine my dad ever reading a comic.

Superheroes are a different story. I grew up reading every comic I could get my hands on. As a teenager, that meant a lot of superheroes, though I was still able to discover a “Cerebus” or a “Maus” from time to time. My choices were very limited. But if you gave 16-year-old me a choice between reading some classic Batman comics, watching one of the modern Batman movies, or playing one of the Arkham games I would choose… well, I’d probably try to choose all 3, but my point is that there are new mediums where superheroes thrive. Comics aren’t necessarily the best place for them any more. There will always be some kind of market for superhero comics, but why would it ever reach former heights with all this fantastic competition?

I have a friend that loves Marvel movies. He’s never read a Marvel comic. There’s something about comics that just turns him off. Even if the savior of comics descends on Marvel, revitalizing a generation, my friend will still never read one.

My point: Superhero comics are not dead, but they are past their prime. Other kinds of comics are gaining traction every year, and superheroes in games and movies are booming.

Phill Warren August 04, 2020

I’m with you man. As a comics fan of some 40+ years, I find the constant crossovers, reinvention, ‘this issue changes everything’ declarations, and more importance given to the number of variant covers than the content within, to be tiring and destructive to this medium I love so much. Rare now are the occasions when I read an issue of anything and feel like I’ve been told a great story for its own sake that doesn’t rely on buying 10 other titles.
Phill.

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