Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Practical Upshot Of Obama's Win As It Pertains To Comics

Yeah, I know. You're seeing a slew of personal opinions and analyses and whatnot about yesterday's presidential election, and you really don't care all that much about my thoughts. But, since it's still on my mind, this post is going to touch on that. But, hopefully, with a slightly different spin, as suggested by this post's title.

(Side note: I read the Occasional Superheroine's post on the subject while I was in the middle of writing this. I like to think we have very different takes on the topic.)

First off, I've been an Obama supporter for a while now (on the off chance you haven't figured that out). I don't think he's the Second Coming of Jesus or a resurrected JFK. I don't think the country will suddenly be a magical place once he's inaugurated. I just happen to think he's got some good foreign, economic, and energy policies. I happen to disagree with most of John McCain's policies, and I grew increasingly concerned about the seeming lack of forethought he kept using throughout his campaign. But I never thought he was a devil-spawn or anything like that.

I say these things to (hopefully) show that I approached the whole election with pragmatism, and that I'm not about to suggest that we're all going to get rocket packs on January 21. Race relations aren't going suddenly become a non-issue. The economy isn't going to magically pull out of its tailspin. He's not going to pull every American soldier out of Iraq. I'm certainly more optimistic now than I've been in the better part of a decade, but I'm think I'm pretty grounded in realism.

So what, then, does an Obama presidency REALLY mean for the comic book industry?

There are going to be some very UNhappy comic book creators. I don't know any myself, but there are undoubtably some creators who don't like anything Obama stands for and think the country is doomed to four years of absolute hell. That, I expect, though, will have less of an impact on their work since just about everybody, regardless of party affiliation, has had the failing economy on their mind lately. People were already in a sour mood and, while an Obama victory isn't uplifting for them, it likely also won't make them any more pessimistic. The crowd at McCain's concession speech (as well as the attitudes of Republicans I know) suggested disappointment, but no real anger or bitterness.

But in the short term, there are going to be some very happy comic book creators. The handful that I personally know were/are Obama supporters, and I'm sure are much happier as of late last night. I'm sure that's going to impact their work at least at a subconscious level.

Oh, sure, we'll see Obama make appearances in the comics like we've seen Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and G.W. (Offhand, I don't recall seeing George H.W. Bush in any comic.) Indeed, we've already seen Obama show up in Savage Dragon. But those appearances are largely immaterial. Generally, the story just calls for "The President" to make a cameo and it's drawn like whoever holds that office at the time because it provides an immediacy and topicality on top of the heightened level of importance. "Oh, wow! Iron Man is being ordered to stand down by the President himself? This must be big!"

But, more significantly, those creators who are more optimistic now because of Obama's overall approach will likely change their approach. Whether you agree with him or not, Obama's message of hope and optimism resonated with many people and that will infect their work.

Case in point: Marvel's Civil War. The White House, over the last eight years, has been characterized by deception, power-grabbing, polarization, preemptive attacks, alienation of ideals... And as more and more of this type of baggage was added to the country by the Executive Office, Marvel responded with Civil War. You can argue the book's degree of success on a qualitative level, but it's undeniably a reaction to what Marvel's creators were seeing in our government.

I know I certainly became more and more distraught over the state of America, at the same time I was getting more and more distraught over the state of the Marvel Universe. And it was precisely the fact that Art was imitating Life that I stopped reading Marvel comics. I heard enough unsettling news through news reports; I didn't want to see more of the same in my entertainment. The Marvel Universe, I think, was still a fun place in 2000. But it became a darker and darker place alongside America, both culminating into something really ugly by 2007.

I think Obama's presidency will affect comics in much the same way. The manner in which he leads the nation, if it follows the manner in which he led his campaign, will bring brighter, more optimistic stories. Will that mean I'm going to be picking Marvel comics again? Not necessarily -- the economy still sucks, so I won't be able to afford it for at least a while. But I'll probably keep closer tabs on their comics than I have of late.

But that's about all an Obama presidency is going to lend to comics, I figure. He can't wave his hand and suddenly have 200,000 more people head off to their LCS every week. He can't suddenly make paper and/or printing costs diminish to pass savings on to readers. Even the suggested economic stimulus package won't have that dramatic an impact on comic sales since people are still spending more on food and gas.

"Superman couldn't change what's in store for the U.S. economy. It's going to be ugly," Rich Yamarone, director of economic research at Argus Research, told CNN earlier today.

From what I've seen, just about all economists agree that the U.S. isn't going to do particularly well fiscally -- regardless of what measures are enacted -- until at least 2010. There's certainly things Obama could do to make things better or worse, but there won't be a wholesale recovery any time during his first year on the job. And even if things do show signs of improvement, I've also read of a possible "affluent deprivation" -- where people feel poorer, even if their wages are holding steady with inflation. Under those circumstances, comic fans will certainly hold on to their wallets a little tighter.

And while Obama has talked of hope, he's also made references to making sacrifices as well. For comic fans, that might translate as not buying the really cool character statue. Or being particularly choosy about which comics they purchase from month to month. Or being more apt to drop a book if it's no longer entertaining them. Or switching to online comics entirely.

The practical upshot is that Obama will have comparatively little direct impact on the comic industry. Ben Burnanke, who will remain in his post as Fed Chair until 2010, is more likely to have an effect on the comic industry for the next couple of years. Comics, after all, are a business and operate as such. Meaning they have to borrow money to generate income. That's what Burnanke is essentially in charge of. Obama's influence, by contrast, will be more ephemeral. Readers might get a vague sense of comics being collectively different in tone by 2012 -- but it's likely not something they'll be able to pinpoint.

"I think comics are more fun now than they were in 2008."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know. The Fantastic Four just don't seem as cynical as they were a few years ago."

And as much as I do enjoy a good dystopian story (there's some irony in there somewhere, I think) I'm looking forward to seeing creators putting their hopes and dreams back into their work, instead of just their nightmares.

5 comments:

Pj Perez said...

George HW Bush appeared as vice-president in Legends #2 and as president in Avengers #336, at least ...

Now might be a good time for me to bust out the longboxes for some presidential scanning!

plok said...

Naturally, W. appeared in The Ultimates.

WarmOtter said...

I believe HW also appeared in the Claremont / Lee X-Men #1...

And it's "Bernanke."

Sean Kleefeld said...

You know, I even looked up Bernanke's name to make sure I spelled it right, and I still managed to bungle it. :\

Nat G said...

Obama actually made a brief appearance in Licensable BearTM 4, close to a year before the Savage Dragon appearance. I just needed a presidential candidate for a scene.