Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Bane Of The Big Two

In the past year or so, I've managed to re-ignite a co-worker's interest in comics. He used to read various Batman and Spider-Man titles back in the early 90s, but left in part because of the frenzied collector, holo-foil, die-cut, 12-cover-variations garbage that marvel and DC started putting out. Seeing me bring back new comics every week coupled with some good comic-related movies and video games that he's seen, though, has piqued his interest again. He started borrowing some of the books I'd bring to read during his breaks, and actively asks whether or not the latest issue of such-and-such title has come in.

A month or three back, he started actively ordering TPBs from Amazon. He started with, I believe, Marvels and Kingdom Come primarily for Alex Ross' work. Over the next month or two, he quickly segued into Dave McKean and David Mack. Then on to Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons. He recently commented about being impressed with some of Ben Templesmith's work. Obviously, he's an art-centric guy, which is hardly surprising since he's a graphic designer by education and trade.

His last purchase from Amazon included Tales of the New Gods, a reprinting of a good chunk of 1997's Jack Kirby's New Gods and 2000's Orion. I hadn't actually read that particular series, so I could only tell him about the characters a bit. But he went ahead and purchased it primarily on the strength of Frank Miller's name being attached to it.

He brought the book in today and handed it to me, "Here. You can have this."

Turns out that he couldn't stand it. He got 15-20 pages into it and then started skipping around, looking for art that stood out for some reason. It was precisely the type of story he was NOT looking for.

"Wait a second, Sean! I thought you said he was an art guy? But he set aside the book because of the writing?"

Exactly.

Like I said, I haven't read these stories so I can't comment on their quality, but given the list of creators involved, I can't imagine that it's that bad. But I got the impression, from his comments, that it was all about continuing the adventures of the New Gods characters. He had no vested interest in the Fourth World beforehand, certainly, and these stories seemed to him to be written precisely towards somebody who was.

Think about that for a minute.

There didn't seem to be an issue with the storytelling -- he could follow along who each character was and how they related to one another. That would also suggest that the stories weren't so laden with continuity references as to be incomprehensible to a newcomer. Both of which (again, not having read these personally) are reinforced in my mind by the creators involved -- like their ideas or not, they generally all have proven themselves as solid storytellers. My co-worker didn't have a problem with the genre, certainly, as he's gone to reading a few superhero titles again.

So what was his issue?

As near as I can surmise, it was too fanboyish. It seems to have been aimed exclusively at the folks who just want to see Darkseid and Orion and Mr. Miracle and the rest of the New Gods. It's a placeholder. It was designed to get those people who must have all things Fourth World to part with their money. It's a pay-to-play option for kids who are already in the club.

It seems to me that it's not dissimilar to the industry's problem catering to women. The content of the material is designed in such as way that it not only keeps the existing customer base coming back (and make no mistake, in the publishers' minds, you are customers, not fans) and dissuade new customers from other market segments from trying their product. Now, granted, not every product is going to be suitable for everyone but when the vast majority of your product actively turns away customers -- my co-worker paid for the book, disliked it after only a few pages, and then gave it away -- it seems to me that you're shooting yourself in the foot. Yes, it's easier and cheaper to keep an existing customer than generate new ones, but if you don't generate new ones at all, then you're not going to be in business very long.

2 comments:

Pj Perez said...

It's interesting, because this reminds me a lot of my own experience. I was a huge comic fan and collector from the mid '80s to early '90s, and fell out of it mainly because of changes in my personal life, but also because at the time of the Image comics effect, my favorite creators (old- and middle-schoolers such as Buscema, Claremont, Byrne, Simonson) began to disappear from my favorite titles (and, indeed, the "big two" entirely for a while).

Over the next 15 years or so I picked up specific things -- Kingdom Come, Dark Knight Strikes Again -- but didn't think much else of the industry, especially since I completely lost track of my favorite Marvel titles in the wake of Heroes Reborn and DC titles after Zero Hour and all that nonsense.

But thanks to the magic power of the internet (blogs like yours included), a visit to ComicCon and easy access to my comic collection, I've started both infilling back issues and picking up VERY SELECT new stuff (X-Men, Captain America).

When I got divorced, I acquired my ex-wife's comic collection, since she had no practical use for it, and among the lot of romance and horror comics were tons of Jack Kirby '70s stuff, including New Gods, Kamandi, The Demon, Devil Dinosaur and more. And I've since filled in some of those titles via garage sales and the such. But when I tried to start reading New Gods, it was like trying wine -- everyone seems to love it, so I must be able to find one I like, right? Well, I read the first issue, then suffered through the second, then got halfway through the third. I couldn't get into it. Here are these Kirby classics, and beyond looking at his stunning art, the comics themselves held no interest to me.

Weird, huh? I tried Kamandi as well, and suffered the same effect. That's part of what kept me from buying new comics throughout the last decade as well: The characters and stories were so foreign from what I had previously known, I had no vested interest.

I find it funny that in my more tender years, I could pick up a completely new title such as Quasar -- crapfest though it may have been -- and totally be into it for 30 issues, but now I have no patience for such things.

Then again, it's hard to say what causes that. My friend is a big fan of the cable series "Six Feet Under." She had a DVD playing in her apartment one day and I casually watched whatever episode was on the TV, and became engrossed in the characters in less than 10 minutes. I've now watched all five seasons and consider myself a fan now as well. One of the series' stars, Michael C. Hall, went on to play the lead in the series "Dexter," which has received great reviews and was promoted heavily at ComicCon. So I figured it should be a no-brainer I'd like it, right?

Well, I started watching it via Netflix, and though I vaguely enjoyed the three episodes I watched, it was somewhat laborious and I have no desire to finish up that first season or ever watch the show again.

This could really be a psychological study worth doing. Too bad I have a sociology degree.

And yes, this just turned from a comment to a blog post. Damn it.

Richard Melendez said...

One thing to also consider is that maybe the New Gods just wasn't their thing. I always thought that Gaiman's Sandman was the perfect "gateway" comic series for folks who weren't necessarily into comics but love to read and/or enjoyed more literary works. So I presented Sandman to a friend who was itching to get into comics, but he just couldn't get into Sandman for some reason. After lots of questioning and prodding to see what he did/didn't like about it, it came down to the fact that he just couldn't get into the fantasy/horror aspects of Sandman. Perhaps it's a simiar situation with your friend? Desptie the talent on the book and his ability to follow along, it could be that the big epic Kirby-esque nature of the book wasn't his thing. I haven't read the book in question, so I can't really say what it does/doesn't do well. Just a thought...