Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Death of the Comic Book

Remember when you were a kid and stuck with your parents at the grocery store or the drug store or the whatever the fuck store that you didn’t want to really be at, but you made the most of it because you always managed to find the section where they had comic books? Those were the days, and that was pretty much partly my introduction to comic books too come to think of it, since there wasn’t an actual comic book shop around where I grew up. Still, I made the most of it regardless (in case you haven’t been able to tell for whatever reason).

Those days are long and gone now though…and even more dreadfully, the days of the comic book as we know it may not be far behind. Digital reading hasn’t just taken off for the typical print and prose crowd, but now it appears that the realm of digital comics may have some life to it as well. It’s something that hasn’t always worked so well in the past couple years, but more recently, digital comics seem like they’re slowly taking off…which may in fact spell doom for the traditional print comics we all know and love.

Let’s face facts here, comic book sales are in the toilet. Despite the frequent superhero movies and comic adaptations that seem to now forever be part of Hollywood movie-making, the amount of people that actually lay down the 3 or 4 bucks for a comic book or more for a collected edition or trade (or “graphic novel” as they’re more frequently called, fucking hipster cocksuckers) are the lowest they’ve been in the long time. Generating big sales now is what the big two comic publishers, Marvel and DC, are scrambling to do…and fanboys are having a shit-fit at the methods of which they’re doing.

Marvel, frequently known for killing off major and minor characters at the drop of a hat to generate sales and then resurrecting them months down the line, is now doing just that at a record rate. Captain America, the Human Torch, the Ultimate version of Spider-Man, Bucky, and now it appears Thor as well, have all either been killed and/or resurrected as a means to draw in readers and sales. No superhero comic experiences better sales when a character is either killed or brought back from the dead, and Marvel is taking that notion to an unbelievable degree these days, so much so that they’ve managed to alienate the shit out of their audience.

DC is taking things to an even more extreme, by cancelling just about all of their titles and re-launching them all with new issue numberings and rebooting practically all of their characters. Flagship characters like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman (yes Aquaman), Swamp Thing, and even John Constantine are all getting rebooted (to a degree) origins, backstories, and histories in a real last ditch effort to draw in new readers. Marvel leads them in sales (even though DC features finer writing and artistic talent with its various books), and has for a while now, making DC’s attempt to draw in new readership all the more desperate. It worked in 1985 when they used “Crisis on Infinite Earths” to effectively reboot their whole universe, but what they’re doing now is way more beyond that.

Other comic book publishers, namely Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Avatar, and more besides continue to soldier on and weather the storm (granted Hellboy did just get killed off, but that’s another story for another time) and are doing just that…but if Marvel and/or DC fell apart, there’s little chance that any other comic company would be around to pick up the pieces. The aforementioned comic publishers also have little, if any, digital publishing domain as well, which is pretty much the nail in the coffin for them if the printed comic book would ever go the way of a dinosaur. Keep in mind that Marvel and DC are also owned by mega-conglomerate corporations (Marvel by Disney and DC by Warner Bros.) so the likelihood of them legitimately tanking is fairly unlikely, but hey, you never know.

Legendary writer Alan Moore, who penned such celebrated works like “Watchmen”, “V For Vendetta”, “Batman: The Killing Joke”, and “Saga of the Swamp Thing” among others, had stated in an interview that he personally hopes the comic book medium does swallow itself into oblivion (he’s plenty bitter, but who could really blame him?) as he predicted it would some years ago, and that the digital reader realm wouldn’t be of any help to it at all either. I can see his point, because quite frankly, if someone doesn’t want to lay down the cash for a comic they have to hold in their hands to read, then why would they want to download it to their hard drive to keep dragging and clicking to magnify and turn pages?

While there’s been plenty of doom-saying about the future of comic books, one thing I can say is that there is still a ways to go before things get as bad as they did in the mid-90s. Marvel was this close to bankruptcy and permanently closing their doors due to some ungodly bad marketing decisions and ultra-oversaturation of product and their characters (namely anything featuring the X-Men). They managed to pull through (barely) as did DC who didn’t have quite as big a financial crisis, before flourishing in the late 90s and the turn of the century when we experienced a comic book renaissance in terms of product and sales.

Even if print is truly dead and digital reading becomes the norm, I think that that may be pretty much it for me. I don’t own a Kindle or whatever other reading devices are out there, nor do I ever desire to, because to me a book isn’t a book unless I’m actually fucking holding it. The same goes for comic books for me, so in essence, digital reading can suck my balls. As for the death of the comic book as we know it…well, I’ve already been alienated enough from Marvel and DC as it is and primarily stick to indie comics and stuff from DC’s mature-themed Vertigo imprint, so maybe seeing them falter would be a bit enjoyable…but at the end of the day, anything that hurts my beloved medium is just plain bad for business for everyone involved, myself included.

See y’all in the funnybooks folks…somehow maybe…

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