The No-Longer-Important Reader

By | Tuesday, April 13, 2021 1 comment
Tales of Suspense #52
I think that, at some level, most comics readers realize that the comics they read are commercial ventures. It's not about the entertainment, but that you're willing to pay for that entertainment. There's nothing wrong with that, and it almost certainly wouldn't work under a barter type system.

When someone starts a comic, it's often under the goal of telling a story they feel is important, or trying to say something that no one else is saying. That doesn't pay the bills, of course, and so they look towards ways to monetize what they're doing. If they're talented enough, they're able to find enough people to give them enough money to live off. If they're extremely talented, they're able to find enough people to give them enough money to live off month-after-month for years on end.

At what point, though, does it stop being about the art? For Martin Goodman, it never really was. But he wasn't the one actually crafting the stories he published. For Jack Kirby, it wasn't until he was in his late 60s and early 70s that he really started concerning himself about much besides the stories. Jim Davis? He was thinking in terms of commercialization at least as early as 1978 when he launched Garfield, and likely much earlier. (Check out my analysis of a 1979 photo of him that I did last year.)

On the flip side, look at some of the webcomic artists who aren't making a living off their art yet. Their stories might not be crafted as well, or look as polished, but they're passionate about them and will certainly tell you all about it if you show the slightest interest.

So when does that flip take place? When does an artist start thinking about their work at a financial level instead of capital-A Art?

More to the point, is it necessarily bad when they do so?

Obviously, that flip occurs at different times for different people. But my guess is that it's generally around when they start viewing individual readers as unimportant, that's when it's worth noting. When they're pleased and touched by every fan letter they get, they're still looking at their work as Art and the pleasure comes from having connected with someone via that Art. When they get to a point where "your comments are appreciated" and they're more impressed by the volume of messages overall without much concern for individual notes, that's when the business switch has occurred.

And while there's nothing wrong with that per se, I think it's important, as readers, to recognize when that occurs. When Stan Lee and Don Heck were working on Tales of Suspense #52, I'm pretty sure they still cared about readers thought and paid attention to the letters fans wrote it. That's part of how/why the direction of the book proceeded forward the way it did. As to whether or not your opinion matters on the (perpetually?) upcoming Black Widow movie--I think it's safe to say Marvel doesn't care all that much. Because whether you see it or not, whether you're interested in it or not, there are going to be hundreds of thousands of others who happily plunk down some of their hard-earned cash to see it.

So let me ask you this: is it worth complaining about an MCU movie where your opinion doesn't really matter to the people making the movie? On the flip side, how much impact do you suppose you have when you tell a largely unknown artist how you really like the webcomic they just started, and how you're interested in seeing it develop along certain lines?

Something to consider as you decided where you focus your critiquing energies.
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Matt K said...

I never need to see Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, again, but one line was worth preserving in memory I think: "the internet is a communications medium which brings people together to share pornography and bitch about movies."

I think that for a lot of people, the opportunity to participate directly in something (bitching about popular culture) as part of a group is much more important than whether or not their individual bitching can influence anything. To be perfectly honest, looking back this feels very true about my own years of participating in comics fandom online comments sections and message boards.

To your point, yeah probably it's possible to have both in the fan community for e.g. a webcomic which is big enough to have a community of active fans (who can be anywhere in the world of course thanks to the internet) but small enough that a creator will take interest in individual fan reaction.

But we live in a world of McDonald's customers.