They've Got Your Number

By | Friday, February 22, 2008 7 comments
I like marvel editor Tom Brevoort. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders and approaches his job, more often than not, based on serving the needs of good storytelling. He'll be the first to admit when things go amiss, and is able to speak intelligently to whatever criticisms or general nastiness gets thrown his way.

He made this post on his blog recently, in which he actively solicits criticisms. But there's one bit that stands out for me, and I haven't seen it picked up yet by any other bloggers:
I hate it when letter writers invoke some version of, "Guess I'll be buying more DC books now" as if this implied threat is somehow going to get me to turn around on everything I'm doing. We both know that, in general, it's just not true... you're not going to suddenly like a whole bunch of titles you weren't even thinking about a wek [sic] earlier just because you're pissed about something in a Marvel book.

He's right, of course. There are easily hundreds, if not thousands, of people who claim a threat along those lines. (And I'm sure editors at DC get a similar stack of complaints, with people threatening to go buy marvel comics.) And, by and large, those very same people continue to buy Amazing Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men month after month, proving with their wallets that they're just ranting for the sake of ranting. These readers prove, time and time again, that they really don't care about quality storytelling so much as simply seeing the ongoing adventures of a given character or characters.

I don't know that it's an issue unique to the comic industry, but it's one that seems to drive the business more than other industries. Tom is essentially acknowledging here that they know your habits are more significant than your convictions. You're going to keep buying Hulk or Iron Man primarily because of one thing...
Both marvel and DC have effectively established themselves as clubs. Stan Lee really did a lot of powerful work in this regard back in the 1960s, but it's considerably more formalized today. The primary reason readers continue to buy marvel comics is to say that they buy marvel comics. It's a status symbol as much as anything else. The club of marvel; price of admission: buying as many of their comics as possible.

"I read every book they put out. I know more continuity than you. I'm more important."

That's probably not a thought process most fans formally run through, but that's what it boils down to. They want to be a big fish in a small pond, and absorb as much information and trivia as they can. It raises their cultural capital within their group -- whether that's Moon Knight fans, or marvel fans, or superhero fans. The more expert they can prove themselves, the more prestige they garner within that clique.

And, if I'm being brutally honest, that's part of the reason for this very blog. That's my ego at work, making me believe that I have something worthwhile to contribute to the medium. The major difference being that I'm trying to play in the pond of "All Comicdom" instead of "The Marvel Universe."

And I think that difference is significant. From a practical point of view, each of us a finite amount of resources with which to procure comics. As a company, marvel (and DC and Dark Horse and everybody else) wants to garner as much of that as possible. So if you've devoted yourself to marvel comics, then you're going to drop whatever you comic allowance is on their products. Even if you switch from Captain America to Thor, they still get the same chunk of your change. Their business model is largely predicated on the fact that you're going to continue giving the same amount of money every month, and it's largely irrelevant on which titles you actually buy.

But in committing myself to the entire medium, I can (and do!) spread my money around. A little does still go to marvel and DC, but it also goes to Image and Dark Horse and Viper and Oni and Red 5 and Tokyopop and Viz and Slave Labor and Antarctic and Avatar and... The possibility that I may choose to send my money to one company over another fosters competition, and tends to improve the overall quality of all the material.

But an empty threat coming from someone who ALWAYS spends the same amount of money on the same company does little besides reinforcing their belief in the their business model. Comics are a business. Like all businesses, comic publishers are out to make money. And, if they know they can feed you whatever dreck they want and you'll keep coming back for more, they have no reason to try anything but what they've already been doing.

By all means, if you see a problem in a comic, it's usually a good idea to point it out to the creators and publishers. But if you point out the problem, but no one attempts to correct or improve on it, then your opinion is clearly not being considered. The publishers and creators have every right to ignore you but, if they do, it might be worth asking yourself if that's a relationship that's really worth continuing. After all, who wants to be in a relationship where one party ignores the other? That's the very definition of a toxic relationship.
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Swinebread said...

Invest in good stories not characters that can be suddenly and drastically changed by the whims of corporate management.

Mickey said...

Hm, I feel the string of successful comic book movies have diluted the clubiness of Marvel and DC nowadays a bit. When I encounter new readers in my local shop, many have been turned on by the X-Men, Spider-Man or Batman franchises and have come seeking additional material. These new readers seem much more open to whether the book is from Marvel or DC.

Anonymous said...

"The primary reason readers continue to buy marvel comics is to say that they buy marvel comics. It's a status symbol as much as anything else."

While this might speak to your own reasons for being a longtime Marvel zombie, I'd dispute how readily it applies to other people. Amongst superhero comics readers I know personally, no one fits that bill.

So many posts like these seem to come down to the same thing:

1. I used to be immersed in superhero comics
2. I discovered the world of non-mainstream comics
3. Poo on those crappy old superhero comics I used to think were so great!

It is possible to find a happy medium, and enjoy corporate superhero comics for what they are, instead of trashing them for duping you for so long. But the price of admission to the enlightened/pretentious/Journalista crowd seems to be a requirement to sneer down your nose at anything mainstream. I guess that's why you don't get many Marvel/DC apologists these days.

People wonder why comics never break out as a mainstream art form in America. Maybe the fact that it's one snobby little clique being substituted for another?

Anonymous said...

As a matter of fact, the internet is perfectly lousy with Big Two apologists, Anonymous. And you may think the effect of corporate branding is overstated, but I'll just feel free to disagree with you about that.

Also it's probably worth pointing out that in Sean's case, we have a guy who didn't "discover" non-mainstream comics and then disdain mainstream ones as he got hipper and hipper, but a guy who was driven away from the current mainstream by recent editorial policies and directives. That happy medium you speak of...well, it's all right for you, but what if I didn't like Civil War, or something? What if I thought it was stupid, and annoying? Do I still have to enjoy it "for what it is" in the same way I still enjoy my old Spider-Man comics for what they are? But the difference is, you see, I do still like those old Spideys. But I don't like this new stuff at all.

One more thing: how are comics not a mainstream art form in America, for heaven's sake?

Unknown said...

Invest in good stories not characters that can be suddenly and drastically changed by the whims of corporate management.

Yes. I'd also say this:

"Invest in good stories, not in the name brands of writers, since even the best of writers can turn into a talentless hack simply by having too many people heap unconditional praise on his work, especially when it's joined by reflexive financial support of the same."

Supporting good writers is not the same as supporting good stories, because good writers can always go bad. See also: Far too many of the most well-known and popular writers in comics right now.

Unknown said...

One more thing: how are comics not a mainstream art form in America, for heaven's sake?

This assumes that there is such a thing as a "mainstream art form" in America anymore.

Sales of theater tickets, CDs and books, and even ratings of television shows, have all been in a steady decline for at least the past decade or more, and yet, more people are consuming more media than ever before.

Comics are still, in many ways, a niche market, but increasingly, so is everything else.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking like, For Better Or For Worse and Peanuts, but I take your point, Kirk.