Ten years ago I worked as a house mover, not the type that moved furniture but the type that moved the actual house itself. It was a labor-intensive job but I did it without complaint. I was a big bloke then and I worked with some blokes who would have done the wharfies proud. One day I was caught reading ‘Donald duck’ comics and that night at dinner I spent thirty long minutes trying to explain why I read them (I had about 50 Walt Disney comics with me, couldn’t quite say I found them somewhere). After 30 minutes of trying to explain myself I come to the realization that my dinner was now cold while everyone else had finished and was looking straight at me. I decided to mutter some awe-inspiring words – ‘ I read them because I enjoy them, I don’t have to explain it to you’. With those words I then ate my dinner in peace. I still believe Carl Barks is the best storyteller in the business.
So why don’t I read comics now? Because I don’t enjoy them and would be embarrassed to admit that I did in fact read them. So where did the industry go wrong? I left when IMAGE started their ‘domination of the industry without taking any prisoners’.
Imagine a new person (I’ll call him ‘Newbie’) walking into a comic store and saying in an unbiased way ‘ I would like to start collecting comics, what are the current bestsellers?’. Show that customer the current top ten sellers and he’ll walk out the shop the same way some people walk out of a sex shop. From reading newsgroups (I still keep in contact with the industry, I just don’t read comics) I understand not many are impressed by X-Men at the moment and only buy it because of what Chris Claremont did years ago (yeeeears ago). So if you gave the current batch to Newbie, would he be impressed? How many do you know buy Batman because of the character and not the writer or artist? Imagine giving this to Newbie and telling him it’s good because it’s Batman. What if it sucks?
The overall standard of the industry has gone down, there is not enough people at the top end holding up the industry. If you don’t know what I mean by this then consider this, everyone says TV sucks, yet they keep watching it, why? Because there is enough good quality shows to keep people watching. People go to the cinemas because there is enough good quality movies each year to keep the punters coming back. For every ‘Star Wars’ there is about 10 ‘American Pie’ movies. (I hated ‘American Pie’, it you enjoyed it then just put your most hated movie in its place). My point is that there are not enough Frank Millers, Chris Claremonts, Carl Barks or Will Eisners to keep the industry ‘average’ propped up to a respectable level.
What is the overall problem of the industry? Two things.
Firstly, the industry is not advertising outside the industry (in Australia there is no advertising). What everyone is trying to do is pinch readers from another comic book instead of trying to bring new readers to the fold. This only leads to an overall decrease in readers in the long term.
Secondly, and Jim Shooter* admitted this, the average reader only ‘averages’ two years in the industry. Therefore, according to Jim, you could REHASH THE SAME STORIES EVERY TWO YEARS!! Why hire another writer? What came first, the attitude to redo stories every two years (therefore driving people away from comics), or the realization that readers change every two years? It’s like asking if it was the chicken or the egg that came first. Why don’t we try and break this cycle?
* I heard Jim Shooter talk at the Chicago comic Convention in 1995 or 96 (I can’t remember which year), he was giving a writing workshop. He had just started a new comic company with a castle as its logo; I can’t remember what it was called.