My fellow comic collectors, I have come here today not to praise the comic book industry, but to bury it.
After an opening statement like that, I’m sure all of you are ready for a rant and I will definitely not disappoint you. But first, I would like to let you know what brought this rant on in the first place. You see, comics have been my personal passion for over 25 years and the recent crap that we have been subjected to is really making me question my love for a hobby that seems to be dying out. Now mind you, the characters themselves are never going to die out. Its the printed comic book industry that is in decline. “Event” fatigue, high prices, low quality, no new readers, and overall bad or non-existing writing is turning an industry that I used to love into huge mess. Now I know that some of the things that I’m going to say will be offensive and maybe biased and I want to apologize in advance for it but I feel it needs to be said. So without further ado, let’s begin.
Over the past decade or so, the comic book collecting industry as a whole has been in decline. New books are practically worthless and most can be purchased for pennies because no one wants them. To top it off, most comics can be found online for free. Why would you pay $3-$4 for a comic when you can just download it for free? (In case you’re wondering, I actually still pay for my comics. Stupid me!) Now you would think, with average print runs of less than 100,000 copies of any main character title, that these books would fly off the shelves and become high in demand. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. Even gimmicky covers that serve absolutely no purpose but to make you spend extra money to get them all have no future market value because of the new weekly gimmicky covers that keep coming out. This is what killed comic collecting in the 90s. People stopped buying books for the content and spent their money on the gimmick. (As my 50 copies of X-Force #1, bagged and 30 copies of Bloodshot#1, chromium, can attest to) When the value of these books collapsed, many people were left with a sour taste in their mouth. Which brings me to my second reason why the comic industry is declining.
No new readers. That’s probably the second biggest reason that the hobby I know and love is slowly dying out. It used to be a profitable hobby. You could buy a book for a few bucks and sell it within a year for twice your purchase price. New collectors were coming into the industry every day. Print runs ran an average of three times as much as today’s print runs just to meet the demand. Stores were opening up by the dozens in the 80s and early 90s because fans kept filling them every Wednesday looking for new books and poring through back issues, picking up old stories of their favorite heroes. No one cares anymore because you can download an entire character’s comic history in less than a day. Hell, you can buy a CD-Rom that has the same thing for $40. On top of that, the kids of today are so absorbed in the internet and MMORGPS (massive multiplayer online role playing games) like World of Warcraft that there is no time left for reading. Reading just isn’t interesting. No one uses their imaginations anymore. They don’t really have to when you have moving images on the screen that do the imagining for you. Parents try to get their kids to read but the kids are usually so absorbed in their Xboxes and Nintendo DS, that reading is too much work for them. (Trust me on this. I have two kids.) Reading is seen more as a chore instead of a reward. I wish that wasn’t true but it is. With no new readers, and with current collectors getting older and older, soon there will be no one left to purchase new books.
Which brings me to my third issue with the industry today. Price. Even if the kids of today wanted to collect comics, they simply can’t afford them. Comic book prices are beyond insane. When I started collecting comics in 1986, the average price of a comic book was 75 cents. Today, that price has skyrocketed to an average $3.50 per book. The actual inflated value of 75 cents from 1986 to today is $1.50. That means that in 1986, with my $10 a week allowance, I could buy 10 comics, two bags of chips (large), 3 packs of baseball cards, and still have enough change left over to play a few games of Donkey Kong in the arcades. With a $20 a week allowance today, I can buy five books, 1 bag of chips (small), and maybe 1 pack of baseball cards. Maybe. You would think the publishers of comics would understand that, but no they don’t. It’s all about the money. It’s all about getting every last dollar they can from your wallet into theirs. In order to do that, they make new and improved ways to get you to buy books without you realizing that the con is on. For example, let’s say you love Spider-Man. So you go to your favorite comic store, whip out $4, and buy Amazing Spider Man and you’re done, right? $4 a month isn’t so bad, right? Wrong. Spider-Man is bi-monthly, so that’s $8. Still not bad. But wait, there’s more. There’s his appearance in Fear Itself, and he’s part of the FF, and the New Avengers, and his myriad of one shots and crossovers and guest appearances. In total, there is probably over 15 Spider-Man related books a month. Now that price has jumped to $50 a month. God forbid you like Spider-Man and Batman. Now you’re spending over $100 bucks a month. Over-flooding the market with books that really have no overall purpose other than taking your money is another thing killing the comic book industry today.
These useless books lead into my next issue with the hobby we all love. Content. What is a comic book, really? In the purest sense, a comic book is a story with colored pictures that show you what you’re reading. That means the most important thing about ANY comic should be story and art. That’s it! Story and art! If either of those are missing, you have just thrown away your money. The best written story can make you hate reading it if the art is just so disgusting that you can’t stand looking at it. The best art in the world is nothing but pictures if the story behind it is weak or not thought out. (Now I know art is subjective and each person has different preferences, but you get my point) Many of the comics of today are severely lacking in both. Believe it or not, I blame the Trade Paperback for this. Today’s comics are all written in a specific way that gear them towards being reprinted as trades. What that means is a very slow start leading into a tension building middle leading to a resolution. All over the course of 5 or 6 books. Rinse, and repeat. What that means, is over the course of a year, the reader is only getting two unique stories. Four if you consider the fact that a lot of Marvel books are bi-weekly, which makes them even worse since the writers have even less time to plot out a solid story. (I’m generalizing but you get my point) Back in the good old days, most comics were self contained. At most the story took place over two issues. That meant that writers actually had to do their job and WRITE GOOD STORIES. Characters had to be developed monthly instead of bi-annually. Every issue had the same content that two or three issues of today have. To prove this point, please take a look at the following chart:
(I know its a generalization, but these stats are true for a lot of the books printed today. And yes I did count every word because I have no life!!) Look at those word and panel counts. Today’s comics have around half to two thirds the amount of words per issue from books printed 25 years ago, at three times the price. On top of that, the amount of panels per issue today is 80% of what was drawn back then. Of course the stories and art of today’s book are worse than those from 25 years ago. There’s less of them. It’s a lot harder to tell a story with 1,500-1800 words and 100 pictures than 3,000 words and 130 pictures. Of course it will take three or four issues today to tell the same story that one comic was able to deliver back then. It also takes me five minutes to read a single comic when it used to take fifteen. Basically, we are getting less content and paying more for it. And what is that extra money for, glossy paper? Who cares? The artists of the past are better anyway. I didn’t ask for a change nor did I want one.
Speaking of artists and writers, there we have another issue. I’m sick of all of the changes from year to year. It is rare that a single writer/artist will stay on a book for a prolonged period of time. They write/draw the title for a year and then jump ship for some new guy to take over. (This is generally true for most titles, not all) So while you, the reader, are getting accustomed to the writing/art styles and nuances of one writer/artist, and growing to like and accept him/her, suddenly a new person jumps on and completely redoes the book to fit their style. Its annoying and confusing and it makes us not want to buy the books anymore. Once again, the Trade Paperback is to blame because the more characters a writer/artist works on, the more trades they can have their work appear in and the more exposure they get to the general public. It shows the comic publishers their range and makes them more desirable to hire for an exclusive contract. Whatever! I can write six crappy sub par stories or draw six characters in the same crappy indistinguishable style too but it doesn’t mean I deserve to be called a writer or artist. (I can’t draw a straight line, by the way so I’m being really biased here towards the artists, but you get my point)
I have one final issue with the comic industry today and it is a huge one. “Events”. Event fatigue is a gigantic reason why the comic industry is failing. People are sick of hearing about huge monumental industry shattering game changing stories that will result in nothing ever being the same again EVERY YEAR, then having the story itself be crap or nonsensical and the ending being a HUGE letdown. With the exclusion of Flashpoint and House of M, I cannot remember any single event that had a lasting effect on the face of comics that wasn’t completely reversed the following year. These “events” are not events. They’re just another way to suck more money out of our wallets. Its bad enough that the stories are often disappointing. (Final Crisis and Flashpoint being prime examples) What makes these “events” even more insulting are the dozens of crossovers and one-shots that tie-in to the “event” that you are forced to buy but are just another way to make you spend more money. Every year! On useless crap that ends up having no actual relation to the “event” other than just a slight reference. Books that if they never came out, you, as a reader, would never even know or care. Its this repetitive formula that keeps on leaving a sour taste in the mouths of what few comic readers there are left out there.
So what, if anything, can be done to keep the industry from eventually dying out? Well, to begin with, better writing would be a great start. Like using more of those little things that stories are made of? What are those called? Oh yeah, words. Maybe telling more than two unique stories per year would help. Maybe having writers and artists sign a five year contract with a fat bonus that that they’ll receive at the end of it. How about less “events” like Fear Itself and Blackest Night with their 60+ crossovers and more “events” like Schism which stands alone by itself. How about a price reduction so people without six figure incomes can afford to let their children go out and buy some comics. Maybe we can do away with the gimmicky covers and focus more on making the interiors look amazing. Maybe even create a new character or two for new fans to grow up with. Finally, and this is really important, advertise your product so new fans (AKA Kids) are the target audience. Put ads on television and in magazines that kids read. Make a deal with all of the online games that allows for game codes to be included in comics. Then, if a child buys enough comics and redeems enough codes, they can get something cool for their games. Give kids under a certain age a guaranteed discount on any books across the board. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something to attract new customers. (Which is the ONLY positive thing about DCnU. At least a universe reboot makes it interesting for new readers to get into comics, which is what is currently happening at most comic stores worldwide. GO DCnU. Bring some life back into comics.)
Well, I’ve ranted enough. I hope the industry turns around and the hobby I love doesn’t die out, but without some sort of change and an infusion of new readers and collectors, I’m afraid that printed comics will soon join the 8-track and the record in obscurity. That’s my opinion folks. Take it or leave it.
More ranting @ acomicbookblog.com/tag/rant/