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Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Comic Crisis: Some Companies Will Live. Some Will DIE!

This is a very long post. It is pointless covering this subject anymore because....well "because".  So I'm letting it all out and that's it.

Someone gave me a copy of Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. It was actually Mr Paul Ashley Brown dressed as Dr Strange…which was kind of odd because the last person I’d expect to come through the toilet window while I was, uh, “contemplating the universe” was him dressed as Dr Strange.  “By the hoary hosts of- phew! Aw seriously give it a flush, mate –here!” and he went. Never even heard him open the window due to this bloody tinnitus.

My recollection might be a little bit “off” there as I slip in and out of reality so much. People keep telling me “You need to get more sheep!”  I don’t even have any sheep to start with??

Anyway, I got the book and dived straight in.  Cover-to-cover in two days. Now, I expected to hear all these terrible stories about Stan Lee but, despite Howe obviously digging, all I learnt was that Lee was the showman who promoted and made Marvel Comics what it was but away from the camera and media he was quite a sensitive person who did a lot of favours he has never really been credited for.

Above: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and John Romita Sr. Apologies -no idea who the bald fella is!

Artist Joe Carter who drew the Human Torch. “Joe who?” Well, Joe was actually the very meek Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman who had been reduced to begging DC comics for work.  Howe tells of how Mort Weisinger, who Seigel worked under, once said to the scripter: “I have to go to the can –mind if I use your script to wipe my ass?” That is how comics treated people. It may not have worked out but Lee gave Siegel work (pp. 45-46).

Lee tried to get stories dealing with politics and Viet-Nam, drug abuse and much more through.  Some battles he won and others he lost because Marvel “higher ups” deemed them too political (p.112).  At one point Lee even stated: “The comic book market is the worst market that there is on the face of the Earth for creative talent and the reasons are numberless and legion.” (113) and when Lee was told to fire people he called them in one at a time and after they left he could be heard wretching and throwing up.

People like Alan Moore love to attack and claim preposterous things about Lee because Lee is the highest profile person associated with comics you can attack to your insipid little circle of acolytes and get lots of attention.  Facts do not matter. If it were not for Lee and Kirby, who set up all the Marvel groundwork (and both were maltreated by Marvel) people like Moore, Ellis, Morrison et al would be shelf-stacking in Tesco.

And as I’ve gotten off the point –I know there are some people out there who don’t like that because they have to read and use their brains, but I type what I think.  Could get messy!  Where was I….

Right.  Why was Marvel such a success but DC dragged behind? The first “Black” person did not appear in a DC comic until the 1970s and I believe that was due to Kirby (I’m sure someone is not going to bother to correct me if wrong).  But at Marvel Bill Foster appeared in Avengers #32, September, 1966.  Stan Lee listened.  He read.  He saw what was going on in the movies and on TV. That talking to fans is the difference between the two companies. Lee once said that the fans are the people who keep Marvel Comics going. Someone at DC once referred to comic fans as “the schmucks”.

Above: Stan Lee in 1968

And, of course, despite all the continuity and long running stories, Lee made the point that “every issue of a comic is someone’s first comic” so it was written and put together so that long time readers or new ones could jump on, read and enjoy and that was how you hooked the new reader and made him a Marvel fan.

I once watched Lee on UK TV and he noted that “the threat of death to a hero has to be there or what’s the point?”  Facing an evil super villain with a death machine had to involve a life-and-death struggle and, in the case of a character such as Spiderman, there was also the concern about aging Aunt May –lots of little things thrown in so that the character was human, had faults and weaknesses.  Now, after Captain America (let’s say the Steve Rogers one) is literally decimated by billions of bullets he sits up and looks out at the reader: “Remember, guys: I’m dead. Sam will take my place for a few issues and then I’ll be rebooted back into the book!”

Movies and comics.  As Howlermouse pointed out in his video, movie execs are making the decisions.  It does not help that “Yes men” are running the comic side. Way back when Disney purchased Marvel I predicted all of this –starting with the firings at Marvel UK (Panini).  Disney has to control every aspect of its operations and comics it does not really like or understand because it is “movies that make cash!” And merchandising of course.

Fox and Sony won’t give back Spiderman, X-Men or Fantastic Four and it was clear what Disney was going to do. Those companies were pissing in its family friendly alligator and snake filled pool. 

“Fantastic Four is going to get axed” –“Hooper you are a moron. Marvel would never cancel a flagship title!”  Yah-boo-sucks. 

“I think that Marvel Comics would definitely start getting rid of the X-Men because it is not MC any more it is Disney” –insult.  Insult.  Suddenly the X-men are being killed off and now sent into space and out of the MCU?

Now, The Inhumans are the new ‘mutants’ –which is what I wrote way back. 

Let me make it clear that when  those rumours started was when I realised that Disney had moved its people into Marvel (later documented) and Marvel Comics was finally dead. 
We are talking about crapping on The X-Men and then kicking their asses out of comics. The three books that helped make Marvel and had a solid and loyal following were The Fantastic Four, X-Men and The Avengers. If you have watched any of the Comicbookgirl19 X-Men Epic History videos you will see why the X-Men was such an important title. Lee, Kirby and others pulled in social issues left, right and centre under the guise of “mutant issues” but in stories that were fun, gripped and pulled you in.

But another company has the movie rights and is screwing it all up and won’t give them back.  Disney gives “the finger”!

Fantastic Four…that title brought so many people into comics. It had elements of science fiction, monster comics and even B-movie horror mixed in with super heroics. But, guess what? A movie making company other than Marvel has the rights and are screwing things up and won’t give back those rights.  Disney gives “the finger”!

Now it seems that the Sub-Mariner, and if there was one Silver Age character that got me into Marvel it was he –via the old UK black and white reprints as he went on his Gene Colan drawn quest to once again become King of Atlantis.  When I found the odd Marvel Super Heroes comics in newsagents shops I discovered that “Subby” was a Golden Age character. Guess what? After years of building up the character it turns out some other mother humper has the movie rights so guess what?  Apparently they had Namor’s head cut off.  He’s dead.  Well, as dead as you get in comics…maybe more so until movie rights get back to Disney then it’ll be a Band-Aid and “all better now, thank you”.

I remember the Red Skull holding the Cosmic Cube while Captain America and the Falcon ducked, dived and fought their way through a jungle with killers on their trail. Can you guess how desperate I was to get that next issue?  Even at that young age I was willing to carry out a contract killing to get it (that is not an admission of any killings, okay?)  Now? I could not give a flying, blue winged turd what happens in the current Captain America…whoever it is.

That third title. The Avengers.  Come on, like the Justice League it was a case of the top characters combining forces.  Okay, as I wrote in another post (do I need to start inserting “* see the Amazing blog post titled----“???) the Avengers had far more characterisation and better stories than the JLA which is why they were probably such a big hit. But I still love those old JLAs.  But the movies were hits and made money and so Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and The Hulk became –The Avengers (movie universe version which is more like The Ultimates version).

But they started off with science fiction elements and those elements became more pronounced in the movies.  Basically, Disney is keen on sci fi and so the Marvel movie universe has built on that.  And that meant the comics had to change.  So the Avengers became a massive sci fi titles with space invasions, dimensional incursions involving the destruction of parallel Earths and more.  Done before but now it was full on science fiction. 

The point was that the Avengers were heroes who combined together to fight a foe a single hero could not defeat.  Look at the original battle with a super powered Count Nefaria or Graviton –those stories showed heroes (in the case of Wonder Man it was facing up to his fear of death) going toe-to-toe and getting the crap knocked out of them and New York.  Today, that would be “sorted before breakfast” as a sideline story.

But Disney has the movie rights so the Avengers can live.  They make money…via movies and merchandise not necessarily the comics.

Science fiction…Guardians of the Galaxy!  No, not the ones from the 1960s comic with the interesting storyline and who became embroiled in Avengers history.  Gimmicky dumb stuff in which a gun-toting, talking raccoon and a big tree thing run around to a pop music sound track and dumb-asses spend a fortune on the first appearance of the real Guardians of the Galaxy in comics and…throw internet hissy-fits and rages because “This comic cost me a hundred bucks and I was ripped off!” and it had nothing to do with the movie.

Here’s a prediction: soon, very soon, in a cinema not so far away, Star Wars will cross over with the Avengers in movies. Two big money-making franchises combined. The very thought sends convulsions of ecstasy through Disney executives (some may never recover). of course some fans do not like the idea cross-over even if you "keep those events in comics nobody reads"!

Falling sales.  Well, yes.  Long term fans have had enough.  They are speaking with their wallets and purses. Sales are plunging.  Are Disney executives asking “Why?” No, because they do not care.  “Don’t talk to your piggy-bank” is their slogan and if they need to dump all the comics so what?  All the movie money is there.

Here is another thing.  The internet. The most crooked place you can find. Back in the 1990s and into the early 2000s I’d see time and again on my Yahoo groups links to get the latest Marvel and DC titles scanned.  Independent comics –scanned same day. I stopped those links. I pointed out that every company, especially Independents, depend on every single sale. No one cared.  “If I read the scan and like the comic I’ll go buy it” which is still theft.  “I’ll just take this money out of your pocket and if I don’t like it I’ll give it back.” 

My books I did with Art Wetherell and Dave Gordon for Fantagraphics Eros line –illegal downloads now stand at over two million. If I had a £/$ for every download I would be very happy. No one cares that someone had to write and draw the books. “F*** you!” is the attitude from illegal scanners and the downloaders –why should they go pay for a book?  It’s a reason none of my books are available as downloads. You want to steal from me you pay and then do the work first!

What I never understood was that a Marvel, DC, Image or other company’s comic that was out that day was scanned and online before comic book shops closed. I’m not talking about a few titles.  I am talking EVERY Marvel, DC and Image title fully scanned including ads online on new comic book day. Every week.

It does not take a genius to ask “how are they getting all those comics scanned and online in one day?” Think about it.  If it was all Marvel titles you would need to look at people within the company.  Ditto DC or Image. So either you have a ring of illegal scanners working in each company or some leak at the printers –or hacking into those companies to get online files. Or someone involved in distribution.  Remember, these comics were out on release day. On going to a comic shop once I was told that the story in a certain title was a bit complicated but very good.  It was 10:00 hrs and I asked how he’d had time to unpacvk books, stack shelves AND read the comic in question?  “I looked at it online before coming to work today”….

Distributors and companies knew this was going on.  I’m guessing it still is. This is the point: thousands of people were reading free comics every week.  There was even a forum at one point where you could go to get specific runs of titles or links to download sites.  Not one download site.  Not two download sites but a dozen.  All fully loaded with new titles and one closed and the files were uploaded to another site under a new account name. All there on the same day with centre spread pages as one and, in a lot I saw, no staples?  No folds at the side of page 9 or 10. Perfect page scans.
“If I read the scan and like the comic I’ll go buy it” How many using that phrase actually purchased a copy of any comic? 

File share sites were closed down by the FBI because Marvel and DC were big bucks. The smaller Independents were, if you go by what they were claiming, were treated as third rate and no one took much notice.

So we have Marvel that Disney have killed off, who will not listen to fans but will insult them –you don’t talk to piggy-banks.  DC which is going the same way. Because they are headless chickens and are jumping on any fad or craze where a cent might be made. Neither has a Stan Lee or even a Roy Thomas overseeing what goes on.  They don’t care.  Quick buck and go. Or “He was a fan favourite let’s put him ‘in charge’ and see what happens” but it didn’t work.  Solution? “He was a fan favourite let’s put him ‘in charge’ and see what happens” If it is moldy and smells something rotten then, guys –it has gone off.  “This steak has mold on it.  Let’s try it!”

We have the movie people in charge of comics so screw continuity or fan following of 50 plus years. You don’t talk to piggy-banks.  “We can’t have the film rights back? **** you –we’ll cancel the characters and comics!!” Stamp foot, cut your nose off to spite the face.

We have the illegal scanning and alleged comic ‘fans’ who are ripping off creators -do not give me that “Well, the creators already got paid so it’s the big company we’re ripping off!” Use your brain: creators got paid. But the comic ain’t selling? Those creators get fired.  If you are reading all your comics online and not buying any comics you are helping kill the industry. Sales fall.

A comic book company ‘think-tank’ session.

“Are gays popular?  Okay, we’ll make that character gay now”

“Are Blacks popular? We’ll make that character a Black then”

“Muslim! Muslim! Muslim! It’s all we hear. They must be popular.  Let’s make the character a muslim!”

“Teenage Disney princesses are popular –right? Let’s make this character a Disney princess style super hero!”

“Guys.  Guys….listen. I just had an idea.  I orgasmed. Let’s make the character a black, muslim teenage Disney princess…ooooh..oh…sorry. Another orgasm. Thinkof the money!”

“Oh guys..ohhh…uuh…okay. Look, the character has been a while male for over fifty years…oh.. Let’s make the character a black, muslim teenage Disney princess. OH JESUS! JESUS! Ooooohhhhhh.”

The comic book company ‘think-tank’ is now to become…. a black, muslim teenage Disney princess!

You are detecting a note of sarcasm, right?

Above: Okay. I screamed. A little.  Then came the nausea.

For Marvel Comics there is no hope.  It is dead. It is an ex-comic company. It has ceased to be.  Might sound better in your head  if you imagine John Cleese from “The Dead Parrot” sketch saying that?

DC…well, if you actually say “That character has been a white man since 1943 and now you want to make him a black woman?” you get called a “pussy” or “racist” because that shuts you down (they think) and fans around you will say nothing because they do not want to be called a “racist” or “pussy” do they?  And challenge themonline and you’ll have DC and Marvel editors cut into you.

Insert “Dead parrot” quote.

And SJWs…would they call it racist if you objected to the character Sam Wilson, the Falcon/Captain America or whatever, being rebooted as a white man? A pale skinned, blond-haired and blue-eyed Sam Wilson?   Or making the Scarlet Witch a male character?  T’Challa, the Black Panther –what if he were made a white man? Pandering to these people –the SJWs who probably do not read comics and scream at anyone objecting to a major change of a character as a misogynist, sexist, racist or bigot….they ain’t the comic buyer.  Some spineless morons are changing things and losing all their regular fans because they are wetting their pants and waiting for SJWs to tickle their bellies.

I have seen one business after another fail.  Shops close.  In modelling, gaming, crafting and many other areas because the people owning those companies would not listen to customers.  You buy what they decide or you can **** off. Every business does the same thing and start with “You just can’t get that any more”/ “Apparently its in a shipping freight somewhere.  Call back in a week”/ “Well, the distributors just will not handle products from that company but we do have this which is not what you want or even need but you can buy it” and when that fails and you point out the product is still available, still listed online by the company and in a catalogue and the distributor does have the item in stock (and I have been through this and seen others go through this)?  “Well, why don’t you go and get it off the internet then?” 

I used to go to what was, in the 1970s/1990s the model shop in Bristol. As a youngster I met many of the old model making and wargaming crowd in there. That stopped after 2009.  The last remaing two of that old group (the rest had all given up and travelled to other towns to buy or went online…or were dead) were in the shop and the two longest serving staff were there.  Customer: “You are hardly stocking anything to cater for the long time customers.” Staffer: “No. That’s how it’s gone –it’s the new customer looking for motorised vehicles or remote controlled aircraft/drones”
Customer two: “This place has gone so downhill.  We’ve been coming in here since the 1970s…” Staffer two interrupting: “I told you the shop was shit now!”

I’m standing there looking in almost disbelief. The shop is now part of a national chain and its reputation is bad where ever it is.  Order things. Never turn up. Not once.  Not twice –but five times. They out-rightly lie to customers because that is what they are told to do. They do not offer products that sold VERY well for decades but just new gimmicky things. And they tell customers, in a crowded shop, that the business is crap.  One of the staffers told me the other day “We’re just taking pay cheques til the shop closes.”

This is what Marvel and DC are doing.  Quick cash gimmick and screw the old fans who kept them in business. 

In the 1990s Marvel had more problems. I’ve mentioned before how art never really suffered but stories and scripts were dire.  The “writing standard” was not really a standard and The Avengers was suffering as were other titles.  So the heroes were killed off.   

And so they decided to reboot. “Fan favourite” Jim Lee (who is always pulled in when the shit gets heavy because just saying “Fan favourite Jim Lee” makes everything better and sunnier.  Go on. Say it: “Fan favourite Jim Lee” See? Let’s not forget “Fan favourite Rob Liefeld” and other “fan favourites” and The Avengers was…”awful”.  Captain America….I won’t even discuss that nor the Fantastic Four. How bad was the collaboration of the greatest and hottest “fan favourites” in comic book history? Well, it sort of faded out within a year.

But then came Heroes Reborn –great writers and artists and The Avengers, Fantastic Four and other titles began soaring high again.  But then someone decided to kick Busiek and Perez off Avengers and we saw “Avengers Disassembled”/”Dark Reign”/”Secret Invasion”/”Return of Dark Reign” (I think that was a “thing”?) and it all went into one huge shit heap.
Movie success!

Sorry, went full circle there.  But reboot, reboot, reboot. I gave up after Dark Reign. There was no emotional investment in the characters any more.

Above: NorthEast Comic con flyer.

Here is how Marvel Comics could be saved but there are insurmountable odds against it –ie: Disney.  Yes, it would mean a “reboot” but back to the continuity and characters of the pre- Avengers Disassembled period.  Bring in old writers and artists who know the characters and what the fans like and really can write and draw.  As far as I am aware, neither Marvel nor DC is currently(?) employing George Perez (the fan favourite) or John Byrne.

Yet, according to DC comics Perez is “One of the most popular artists working in comics over the last 30 years, George Pérez's resume contains a who's-who of the most popular characters in comics. From his co-creation, with Marv Wolfman, of THE NEW TEEN TITANS in the 80s and his work on CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and WONDER WOMAN to his mega-successful JLA/AVENGERS, George's work has thrilled comics fans for over 3 decades.

You get the creators back but you have someone who also knows the characters and the fans and can oversee continuity (something Stan Lee has almost obsessive over but it worked) and, here is a point people do not like and certainly the money men do not; you slash back titles.

Five or six Avengers titles with 5-6 variant covers (and I do know people are out there who do buy every variant cover).  Either cut back to one Avengers book in regular format or offer –and Disney can do this with no difficulty- a double sized monthly comic at a non rip-off cover price.   Or, if you want to kill comics off completely just release a certain number of graphic novels each year.

Remember old titles like Tales To Astonish  where you had two featured strips like Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner (with his head still attached to his body in those days)? Well, character titles could be published that way so a Marvel Action featuring Captain America and Thor, Tales To Astonish featuring another two characters and so on that’s already four books combined to make two and cutting costs in half.  Core titles such as Spiderman or The Avengers would remain as such.

DC could do the same.

But it will not happen.  It cannot because they are both movie-making franchises now and not seen as comic companies. 

I notice more bloggers have dropped even more DC and Marvel titles this week.  Some are down to one title and may think about dropping that one.

I know this has been a long post.  I’m the one sat here getting enflamed haemorrhoids  typing it! I can’t add anything more to the current debate.  To me DC comics is dead. For me, Marvel Comics died about a decade back.  I still find it almost unbelievable that I write and say that.  The twenty year old –well, even the 45 year old- me would think that impossible. The younger me would probably thump me in the teeth and yell “Make Mine Marvel!”

But that is it.  Wertham couldn’t do it. Comics overcame him and his mad cult.  The Comics Code Authority could not do it.  Recessions could not do it. At a time when comics should be selling better than ever it is the comic companies –Marvel and DC- who are cutting their own throats and fans shout out “We can save you!” and the response? “Get us a sharper knife, f**k-wits!!”

Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and Image (just search the blog for Image Comics) know what they are doing.  They know how to stop all of this.  They just do not care.

Go spend your money on Independent Comics –colour or black and white.  They need your money.  They will talk to fans because most used to be/still are comic fans and they know from the comic book greats that the fans are the most important people in the business.

Now go get eye-drops!

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