Over at Uncanny Derek Presents, a friend of mine, Derek, discusses the age old conundrum, comic book acceptance. Take a second and go read his take, and give him some views while you’re at it. You’re back? Okay good. Now if you didn’t have time to read it (yet you have time to read mine? shame on you), I’ll let you know that Derek looks at how comic book’s are accepted as films, but not comics themselves. More importantly I think, why is it that comic book content, especially superheroes, are accepted as “cool” where reading this content in a comic book is “uncool.” I put these quotations because cool is a reletive term. Derek uses a great quote from Stan Lee to demonsrate how comics should be considered “cool” or acceptable. I was going to post a comment on Derek’s blog, but instead I’d thought I’d continue the conversation here and give some of my reasoning as to why there is still this disconnect between comics and acceptance.
Recently I read another blog over at Comic Book Resources, Tilting at Windmills, that was a response to Patton Oswalt’s Wired Magazine essay on the changing of geek culture (I really am giving you guys a lot of homework here, apologies), and in this article was a quote from new Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Axel Alonso, concerning the state of comics, which he says (and I am paraphrasing) that people are going into their shops on Wednesday and are buying comics that matter, comics that count. A comic that would count would be any comic that is apart of the whole, or a large scale story line. For example, when Blackest Night was running, there were a number of ongoing books that tied into that series, as well as a number of mini-series that were created to run along with it, expanding what was happening in the main event book. Not every person who buys comics needs to keep up with current affairs, but a fair number of people who purchase Marvel and DC comics, the two companies who sell the most, do want to know what they are reading matters. I do it, and it’s part of the attraction of comics, being apart of and knowledgeable of larger continuity. This though is one of the larger reasons why comics are not acceptable as say television or film is.
It’s ironic though, that when Superman frst appeared in Action Comics #1, he set off a powederkeg of sales that hadn’t been seen in the comicbook industry, which was mainly pulp comics at the time. By inflation standards, those sales today would astound anyone to see them. these where the books that a kid could run down to the corner store, not their LCS, which I guess it was, but you know what I mean, and buy a comic, read it ten times and then talk about it with their friends who also bought it. Next week same thing, and they read anopther fun story about Superman or Batman. Was there a continuity like there is today? Not even close. And it’s there that things get interesting.
I’m going to jump ahead a little bit and talk about one of the “best” and “funniest” sitcoms on TV in the past five years: Two and a Half Men. This show is a set of one liners that are rarely funny, with characters who can be shallow and idiotic for the sake of comedy, but you know what, that comedy was rated one of, it not, the top sitcoms for a long time. Many people wonder how that can be, and this is where I come back to the comic book purchases of yesteryear. When asked why Two and a Half Men did so well, a TV producer stated that you didn’t need to watch every episode to enjoy the show; if you missed one, you didn’t miss much. There are more reason than this as to why this show was popular; I’d say there format and one-liners made it easy to get in and out of, a show you can leave on the background if you wanted. I’d argue that comic books of the 1930’s and 40’s acted much the same way; it didn’t matter if you missed an issue, you still got the fun of Superman or Batman. Though I can imagine missing an issue of Batman might have left you out of discussion with your friends than missing an episode of Two and a Half Men.
Accessibility in content than can determine who reads a comic. Even for comic book readers, jumping on a new book can be daunting if they no nothing about that book. This does happen in TV too. When the final season of Lost aired do you think new people jumped on? Yea, but where they lost? For sure they were. Another reason though that comics are as accepted as other mediums is another form accessibility, accessibility in format; this works in two ways.
While TVs and film were around in the 30’s and 40’s, they weren’t as accessible as they are today. Not every family owned a TV, though most did own radios, and going to the movies wasn’t a weekly adventure, and taking the whole family probably wasn’t cheap. Comics though were available at every corner grocery store, and unlike TV or movies of that time, you had access to that comic whenever you want; comics then had more value a medium than it does now. However, once the baby boom ended and TV and film became more accessible to families, comics began to take a back seat.
The second format accessibility has to do with where you can get these different forms of entertainment. TV’s were in every home by the 70’s, more and more people were also visiting the cinema due to the beginning of the blockbuster era with films like Jaws and Star Wars (the later which turned into its own monster). By the 1980s, comic books weren’t as readily available as they once were. Many comic book readers had to go to a comic book shop to purchase their books, and by the 1960s and 70s, comics started telling bigger, more connected stories. in the 80s, DC was weighed down by almost 50 years of continuity they had a massive event that allowed them to start over from scratch. Yes people were reading comics, but they were the ones who had to look for it, and that hasn’t changed. Ask someone who is familiar with the city or town you live in and ask where their movie theatre is, then ask them where your LCS is. More over, movies seem to be the format of choice for entertainment. Why is that? obviously a number of reasons, but going back to my Two and a Half Men example, with a film you can sit down and watch for two hours then you are off doing something else. Even with sequels, there isn’t a lot to get caught up on. Films also have a tried, tested and true structure, so everyone knows what they are getting into. Films can be powerful and entertaining, but they can also be the most convenient medium to watch. More people are willing to sink $10 into to hours than $3 – $4 a month for who knows how long and keep up with a comic book.
Finally, comic books have entered our movie theatres because technology is able to recreate what an artist once drew, and when you have a wealth of content to base a film off of, well you’ve got a potential cash cow on your hand. More importantly though, and in his Tilting at Windmills blog, Brian Hibbs discusses the branding that has occurred in the past 10 years. It is no longer Iron Man the comic, or comics, but the films, cartoons, toys and other merchandise, and coming in 2012, the Avengers film will come out, not only furthering the Iron Man brand, but the brands of Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, the Avengers and Marvel. These brands are able to entice any number of audiences; kids and their cartoons and toys, summer action movie fans, comic book fans, TV fans and video gamers. Comics will still be the red headed step child of the brand, but ultimately, this is where the brand started, and as a fan, i’m glad a medium I love so much can spawn a franchise that can reach more people than they could with the comic. And with comic books being a niche market more than it has ever been, and with Oswalt’s proclamation that “Everything That Ever Was — Available Forever,” it’s nice to have something that is still kind of just mine.