I stumbled across the Mascaras de TheKamisama blog this morning for the first time. What I found immediately interesting in his posts from the past week or so is that, as an experiment, he has plans for completely dropping out of the superhero comics market throughout 2008 and, perhaps more significantly, blogging about the experience. "So over the next two months I am going to start dropping a number of regular comics I get. All superhero genre books. The capes and spandex stuff. The genre that seems to make it's fans the most frustrated. I figure that if I took out all the negativity that this fan-dumb seems to cause, I might in turn become a happier person? If not, then anyone reading this will be able to enjoy the record of my decent into nerd madness."
What I find interesting in particular is that this is effectively a more formalized version of the same experiment I began earlier this year. For nearly the same reasons. Bottom line: superhero books aren't really enjoyable these days.
Now, obviously, that's a matter of personal taste and preference. Since there are well over 100,000 people in the U.S. buying superhero comics every month, there's clearly still a market for those books. But what I have to wonder is whether or not the anecdotal evidence of increasing disillusionment with marvel and DC is in fact evidence of a sea change of some sort, or if I just happen to be seeing patterns because of my own changed mindset/perspective.
Let's say you're at a party. Music going on in the background, lots of people talking and laughing about all sorts of topics. Aside from the people you're talking with at any given moment, the din becomes white noise for all intents and purposes. That is, until someone mentions your name. Your brain was able to isolate the sound of your name from the cacophony, despite the decibel levels being roughly equal. Your brain will naturally and automatically attune itself to things that are of particular interest to you.
With that in mind, then, is my perception that more people are questioning whether or not they should buy marvel and DC books a real change of some sort, or is it merely my attention focusing on like-minded individuals? Am I seeing a legitimate decline in message board traffic on some of the old superhero boards I used to visit, or am I misremembering older instances when traffic may have dropped?
I would like to think that my views aren't tainted that much, but somehow I doubt that's the case. Because I do take a look at monthly sales numbers which, even if they're not wholly accurate are at least somewhat quantifiable, indicate that sales are continuing to increase in year-over-year comparisons. Now, one could argue that a portion of that are due to gimmicks the larger publishers are resorting to (line-wide crossovers, for example) but that would really only be note-worthy if readers did NOT seem privvy to the fact that they were gimmicks. I don't think I've seen anyone who even claims to believe that all the "World War Hulk" extras were designed to be anything but ways to play off the hype of the main story.
Or, geez, how about writing out one of their oldest characters, only to bring back a new version of the character in an updated outfit? Captain America's the most recent victim, but haven't we already seen this with Batman (Azrael)? And Robin ("Death in the Family")? And Dr. Doom (Kristoff)? And Spider-Man (Clone Saga)? And... well, you get the idea. I remember thinking that the whole concept was trite back when they killed Superman. I mean, seriously -- they're going to permanently kill off one of their staple characters? I don't think so. Hell, marvel hasn't even been able to keep Bucky dead!
Honestly, I don't begrudge a company for using tricks like that. I don't begrudge them for the foil-holo-stamped-multiple-variation covers either. The publishers are/were simply responding to the tides of the market. So, provided they're upfront about it -- which marvel and DC, to their credit, are -- then the issue is really with the fanbase. Because for as much complaining and griping as you might see about "Oh, they ruined this character" or "They're just using this crossover as a way to suck more money from my wallet" the fans still buy it. They're acknowledging that their recognition of the situation by complaining, but they're also signifying their approval of it by laying down their three bucks per title every month.
It's an old trope any more, but the publishers are going to listen to the market. If you buy two zombie cover variants now, and you buy three zombie variants next month, and four zombie variants the month after that, it's a good bet that you'll buy at least a couple zombie variants the month after that. But if you didn't buy any zombie variant covers, and none of your friends bought zombie variants, it wouldn't take long for a publisher to realize that zombie covers aren't very profitable.
So, to TheKamisama and anyone else who's dropping superhero books in favor of something good, you have my support. I'll continue to make suggestions and recommendations from here, and hopefully expose you to something cool and/or different. I found very quickly that there's really a lot of good titles out there, and something for pretty much every taste. Let me know if there's any genres/themes/styles/oeuvres you're interested in, and I'll see if I can't point you in the right direction. Hey, maybe it'll help me find some new stuff, too!