Walking Away From the Monthly Big 2 Fix

Last week, I pulled the Band-Aid off.  I dropped all comics from the Big 2 from my subscription with Tales From Another World.

It was strangely liberating.

I had a lot of people asking me why I made this move.  After all, why such a blanket decision?  Was it to save money?  Because I was boycotting corporate comics?

There are a lot of reasons, most of which stem from the inherent problems with corporate comics.

Cost played a part in my decision, for sure.  DC's insistence on maintaining 52 monthly titles, many of which are starting to take part in multi-book crossovers, was part of it.  They're not making me buy all of those books, obviously, but the intent is to maintain that number in an effort to maintain some kind of bottom line, which is perfectly understandable for a corporately owned company.  They have people to answer to, and it's going to take 52 comics to get them what they need.  But for those of us who aren't interested in the business, just the medium, maintaining that artificially chosen number seems kind of crazy.

Marvel's new double publishing decision is obviously an issue.  It's a big one, actually.  Say I bought 3 of Marvel's $2.99 books every month.  That was costing me $9.  If they all started double shipping, I'm now at $18 a month, and I'm on a limited comics budget already.  I'd have to drop other titles to make up that extra $9 a month.  But if I just drop those three books completely, I now have an extra $9 to put towards something else.

Again, from a business standpoint, you can see why they would do this.  David Brothers discusses the issue nicely here and here.  Brian Hibbs, who's a fairly prominent retailer in the comic book world, makes some great points on how the double shipping will impact sales.  His follow-up post is also worth reading.  Like I said, though, you can see why Marvel would make this move.  They need to make more money, and getting people who are already buying a book to buy an extra issue every month seems like a pretty easy move.  Comic book fans are willing to put up with a lot.

Tom Spurgeon probably says it best: "This is a really interesting example of a mainstream comics publisher favoring short-term gain over long-term benefit. Ostensibly the practice of using other talents, particularly those that might not mesh smoothly with the more closely-affiliated comics-makers, would drain readers from the regular reading experience over time. I say "ostensibly" because like many practices in comics it's not just there's an aberrant, anti-conventional wisdom policy in play as much as there's an odd practice in play and a market that's been conditioned not to punish such practices. It may even reward them."

Which, of course, is the theoretical part of my reasoning (as good a way to put it as any).  Because I think this IS a short sighted strategy that will invariable fill the coffers now, but ultimately drive away more readers.  And it's true, that comics, unlike pretty much every other industry, often rewards short term thinking on a great level.  But the risk of losing readers due to a doubling of cost, or multiple creative teams, is worth it for the additional, immediate sales, or at least that seems to be the idea.

Therein lies the problem for someone who loves comics and wants to see them vital and strong for decades to come.  By now, it's probably clear that Marvel and DC don't seem to be doing anything to expand the medium's audience.  Why would they?  They are owned by Disney and Warner Brothers, who could probably care less how well the comic book industry is going, so long as they maintain copyrights on their characters.  The money is in movies, TV, and licensing.  It doesn't matter to them that their comics make a lot of money, just as long as they break even.

A big part of this, and yet another reason why I've dropped these books, is that stories from the Big Two tend to be ignorable.  Is there a better example than Fear, Itself on how cosmetic and temporary these stories are?  So much was reversed just a few issues after it happened.  But, of course it did.  Real change can't happen in titles featuring core characters, because they're not characters any more, they're brands, and the brands must be evergreen.

I realize this is something of a generalization, but it's gotten to the point where the comics that the Big Two are putting out are stuck in story loops, unable to move forward.  With the costs increasing and the sheer number of books stretching the limits of creators (are there really 52 amazing creative teams out there, DC?), why should anyone stick around?  Particularly when better comics exist?

Comics are a hard habit to break.  Comics from the Big Two are the worst of the bunch.  We care about these characters and want to know what happens to them.  We're given the illusion of change, because it's all they can really offer.

I said that dropping all of the Big Two books from my pull was liberating.  It was.  I suddenly found myself with extra money and the desire to start looking into some of the creator owned books I'd always wanted to try.

I know how stupid this sounds, but comics from the Big Two tended to be package deals.  I really couldn't buy just one.  And I always had to allow for the eventually tie-in book or annual.  Going cold turkey cleared the decks.  Suddenly all those slots I held in reserve for corporate superheroes were free for...well, anything at all.

Cold turkey
And "anything" is the key for comics' survival.  It should be clear, by now, that people who are interested in movies about superheroes are not interested in comic books about superheroes.  If that was the case, the gravy train of superhero movies would equal a golden age of comic book sales at the Big Two, but that hasn't been the case at all.  So it begs the question: do people just hate the medium?  And, if so, will superheroes really convince them to like it?

Comics hasn't really tried diversity at a high level in decades.  Marvel and DC will periodically publish titles that don't feature superheroes, but those invariably get canceled after just a few issues.  I can't blame the Big Two for this -- the books need to make money to stay alive.  But is a four to six month window really enough time to establish a non-superhero book?  And then for said book to start getting attention outside of the comic book store?  It's doubtful.  Had Marvel or DC been publishing The Walking Dead, it would have been canceled after six issues.

I could go on and on, and I do, about creator owned comics and diversity and how they are the only hope for the industry.  You can find more ranting from me over here and yet another post about the same issue over here.

I've rambled enough for now.  Next time: the cool creator owned comics I've recently discovered thanks to my new windfall of cash.