Thursday, 6 March 2014

In Defence of Superhero and Nostalgia Comics

Last week, Image publisher made waves by endorsing the comics he publishes! SHOCK!

So the biggest comics news in the last week was Image publisher Eric Stevenson supposedly “pwning” Marvel and DC comics.

I know, I know, a two syllable word should at least have two vowels, but that’s not the big part of this story. His words have been supposedly hailed as indicative of what “everyone” thinks;

As an industry, we still cling to the shortsighted and mistaken notion that presenting ourselves to the world as Marvel and DC, as superhero movies, is the key to reaching a wider audience, and it’s just not....
...The Walking Dead and Saga... have brought a lot of new readers into your stores.
It is not a coincidence that both of those books are published by Image....
New creativity is the future of this industry, not the latest Spider-Man #1.
[New readers] want the real thing.
Transformers comics will never be the real thing.
GI Joe comics will never be the real thing.
Star Wars comics will never be the real thing.
Okay, so if you didn’t get all of that, basically, Image are the only ones who matter. In his speech, he managed to slam DC, Marvel, Valiant, Dark Horse, IDW and pretty much everything not Image. I could go on for days about how suspicious I find it that the only major publishing house not criticised is Image, but that’s not the point of this article.

I appreciate the need for books like Saga, The Walking Dead, and Burn the Orphanage. I loved reading the first issue of Lazarus and am keen to get the TPB in the near future. But to dismiss Spider-Man, Batman, Star Wars or Transformers purely on the basis of them being around for longer than Saga, is, in my mind, just as shortsighted and mistaken as thinking that Superman comics will destroy the industry.
Currently, there is nothing on the market that is the
equivalent of this.

“Not the real thing” quickly becomes “the real thing”

Stevenson believes that the reason comics based on Transformers or Buffy sell so well is because people what more of the thing they love. That’s a fair comment. But who’s to say that it therefore can never be the real thing?
Take a quick look at the state of the “real thing” today: the Star Wars prequel trilogy was rubbish, GI Joe had horrible movies and was not able to keep a series going, The Transformers has been rebooted so many times that it now resembles its 80s counterpart in name only (I mean, seriously, Optimus Prime has a mouth- that’s how kids see Optimus Prime! As having a stinkin’ MOUTH), and Buffy hasn’t seen a screen for at least a decade now. These books haven’t become a replacement for the real thing, they’ve BECOME the real thing.

For example, I treat IDW’s Transformers as being more authoritative than Transformers Prime on the Hub. That’s because, as much as Transformers Prime is one of the better series of the franchise to come out in the last decade-or-so, it’s a totally different creature. IDW’s take, however, more closely represents the characters as they were originally portrayed, and I therefore identify with it. To me, it’s become the real thing- more real than Michael Bay’s films, more real than that awful anime version, more real even than the 80s cartoon.

I imagine that the same can be said for Buffy. The same can be said for GI Joe. The same can be said for Star Wars. The same can be said for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These stories become personal canon for their readers. Dismissing it as “not the real thing” ignores the very personal connection one makes to a story while reading.

Superhero books are just as necessary to the industry.
I'd better not add this picture, or people
will get the mistaken impression that
comics have great characters that have
inspired and helped to shape western
society for almost a century!

I’ll admit; one of the biggest challenges I run into on this blog is finding a way to include other books amongst the deluge of DC and Marvel titles. I’ll also admit, it is a mistake to think of comics only as these two companies, or that comics are just superhero books.
But they still have a significant readership. If that readership gets ignored then the comics industry loses a significant portion of their market. It’s not a victory if you gain all of these new readers if we lose an equal amount of old readers by alienating them.

Beyond that, though, Superhero comics play an important role in the medium. Most of Image’s creators got their start working on superhero titles with the “big two” (Eric Stevenson HATES that phrase, by the way). It wasn’t Saga or The Walking Dead that got me into comics. It was Nightwing  and Scarlet Spider. These are fairly recent comics and they’re ones that I just found more appealing than something I had no idea about- like Saga and The Walking Dead. But the value of superhero books has more to it than just the fact that I started reading comics thanks to them. Superhero books also create the image of the ideal human spirit. They show optimism in the face of trial give messages of hope to its readers- that’s something people need.

For the record, yes, I know people can in theory get that from other books as well, but why ignore a genre that inspires hope purely on the grounds that other genres do it too?
Out now! Pretend you're better than
other comic book readers because you
don't read superhero/nostalgia books!

There are still good stories to be found in these books.

The fact is, when stripped down to its bones, all of these books are simply good stories being told. That’s the message that needs to be sent out if we want to bring in new readers. Let them know that there is depth to be found in lots of comics, whether that’s Saga or Superior Spider-Man. Let them know that the comic industry is as mature as the novel industry, and even more mature than the film industry (I feel more grown up reading a copy of All-New X-Men than I ever have watching a Fast and Furious movie). That’s what will bring in new readers; not wrapping up the same bones in different skin.


Overall though, any storytelling excluding porn and Nazi propaganda is generally worth reading. As I’ve said before, good narratives invite us to consider deep themes and questions. Can Saga and The Walking Dead do that? Of course, but so can Justice League and The Avengers