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CBF Thoughts – What Is Lacking In Most Comics Today? | Comic Book Fury

CBF Thoughts – What Is Lacking In Most Comics Today?

August 8, 2011 by
Filed under: Thoughts 

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It’s the question that gets asked a lot in today’s comic book market. Some brush it off, saying they like what they have and will take what they can while the market is still around. Others will give thought-provoking responses that prompt good discussion.

I posed this question to my Formspring account and of course, a lot of people gave their fair share of opinions. This morning though, Rokk from the Comic Book Revolution site gave me the most eloquent response that, with his blessing, I had to post here:

1. TOO MANY INDIE WRITERS/NOT ENOUGH SUPER HERO WRITERS:

Here is the problem. Just because a writer is talented in one genre does not automatically mean that he will be talented in another genre. People have this view that indie comics are of a higher quality than super hero comics and that indie comics are more artistic. Therefore, if a writer can write a good indie comic then he clearly can write something as “low brow” as a super hero comic. Wrong.

First, I would argue that indie comics are of any better quality or a higher form of art than super hero comics. Second, being talented at writing indie comics absolutely does not mean that the author will be any good at writing super hero comics.

What we are seeing are Marvel and DC signing successful indie comics writers and then asking them to write super hero comics. The results is less than satisfactory. What we are stuck with are super hero comics that are slow, dull and focus on the “normal” and “every day” aspects of life. They treat super heroes like just regular people and place them in normal regular life situations.

The magic of super heroes is unchained imagination, grand cosmic ideas and themes and a scope and stage that is epic. Unlike super hero movies, super hero comics have no budget. The writer has no limitations on his story. A good example of a super hero writer taking advantage of this would be Jack Kirby’s Eternal or his New Gods. Hell, any Jack Kirby title would be a good example of this.

However, the indie writer completely misses on this obvious advantage of super hero comics and instead focuses on our super heroes sitting around dinner tables engaged in idle chit chat. Or super heroes sitting around drinking Starbucks and reading magazines.

There are a few true super hero writers left, but not that many. Marvel has Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak. DC has Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi. Both companies need more true super hero writers.

It is no mystery why Marvel and DC are shedding readers. Super hero readers want super hero stories, not indie comics characters dressed up in super hero costumes.

2. DECOMPRESSION:

There is little doubt that decompression is killing the modern comic book. A single issue used to give the reader a satisfying and substantive read. There was plenty of plot progression and the stories moved at a lively pace. Now, readers have to purchase 3-4 issues just to receive the same amount of story content that they used to get in just one issue.

Decompression leads to readers simply becoming bored in their monthly titles. Stories have become so slow and plodding that readers quickly lose interest in the comic books that they are reading.

Another large problem with decompression is that it makes every single title unfriendly to new readers. No one is going to want to jump on a title full of slow six issue long story arcs. The advantage to one shot issues and two to three issue story arcs is that it is much more accessible for new readers.

Decompression also requires the reader to have to purchase multiple issues just to get the same amount of story content that they used to get in one issue. The fact is that comic book readers want to get a satisfying and full story with each issue not just a small sliver of a story.

Current comic book writers keep forgetting that they are not writing for television nor are they supposed to be writing for trade format. The monthly comic book format is a serialized style of story telling that requires a much more compressed style of storytelling with each issue. If this goal is not met then the comic books fail as serialized storytelling. And this is proven in the ever decreasing sales numbers.

3. INCREASED COVER PRICE:

Factor in the expensive cover price for comics and the problem gets even more complicated. From 1962 to 1995 the cover price of comics increased from .10 cents to $1.25. That is an price increase of around 3 and a 1/2 cents a year. However, from 1995-2011 the cover price of comics increased from $1.25 to $3.99. That is an increase of .17 cents per year. That is a massive year to year increase compared to the time period between 1962-1995.

The increase in the price of comic books from 1995 to 2011 far outstrips the rate of inflation in the United States. Using an inflation calculator, an item that cost 1.25 in 1995 would cost $1.77 in 2011 according to the rate of inflation in the United States. There is a huge gap between $3.99 and $1.77.

And that is where the problem is found. The average reader’s income has not increased due to the rate of inflation enough to keep pace with the rising costs of a single comic book. Therefore, a comic book reader simply cannot afford as many comic books in 2011 that they could afford in 1995.

By massively increasing the price of comic books far above the rate of inflation, Marvel and DC have reduced the amount of titles a comic book reader can purchase each week. Marvel and DC have simply priced themselves into extinction.

4. DECOMPRESSION AND INCREASED COVER PRICE:

Now we can see where these two factors combine to form a devastating one-two punch to the comic book industry.

In 1995, a comic book reader could purchase a single issue for $1.25 that offered plenty of plot development and story content compared to a current day decompressed comic book. In order to get the same amount of story content that could be found in a single issue, readers are having to purchase three issues of a modern day comic book.

5. SALES GIMMICKS AND PUBLICITY STUNTS:

The constant renumbering of comic book titles and the “big” deaths of comic book characters only to resurrect the dead character in a year or two is draining the comic book reader of their trust in Marvel and DC. Once a writer or a publisher loses the faith and trust of the reader it becomes an extremely difficult task to earn that faith and trust back.

Readers know a sales gimmick and a publicity stunt when they see one. Readers simply want good entertaining stories. The sales numbers back up the lack of long term logic behind sales gimmicks and publicity stunts only serve to deliver a one or two month sales bump and then sales numbers sink back to the previous numbers or sink even lower.

6. BIG EVENTS:

Much like sales gimmicks and publicity stunts, the “big event” has become a crutch for both Marvel and DC to try and artificially books flagging sales. But, here is the problem: It does not work.

Sales numbers show that the sales numbers for big events spiked for Marvel with Civil War and spiked for DC with Infinite Crisis. Ever since those two big events, the sales numbers for the subsequent big events have trended downward. In fact, it has gotten so bad that both Fear Itself and Flashpoint have been unable to break the 100,000 copies per issue mark. That is pathetic.

Also, having big events every single year completely robs the big event story of its impact on the reader. The big event then becomes something very ordinary and commonplace. The result is that the reader stops viewing the big event as something special and unique. Therefore, the reader no longer sees much need in buying the yearly obligatory big event. The reader knows that the yearly big event will lack any substance and will not present them with any real change to the comic book world that it deals with.

It also should be a smack in the face to both DC and Marvel that simply throwing big events at the readers each and every year is not a solution to their sales problem. What the readers are telling Marvel and DC is that they are sick of the endless and pointless big event tie-ins and that they are also sick of the shallow and dull big events themselves. What readers want are simply quality stories on the various individual titles.

Well……..what do you think?

Comments

  • Paul

    I think there’s one other huge facet missing here. Their cost.

    I’m not trying to justify their prices set for one issue, but rather expose the cost of the physical medium vs digital format.

    Printing and maintenance of those printers, shipping and external forces all add up. When its compared to renting out web and storage space, then allowing their readers to download almost instantaneously not only the current issue, but any back issue, their costs drop dramatically. They aren’t paying out of pocket for delivery – the user is. They aren’t paying for people to man those presses, trucks, etc. The are removed from the digital format. This in turn (hopefully)increases their profits.

    If they can make a much better profit margin, hopefully WB and Disney will be wise enough to re-invest in these stories and return to quality over quantity.

    But, being a cynic, I can’t expect Disney and WB to do that – their investors and their precious dividends matter way more than their customers.

    In fact, I’ll bet that we’ll more of the watering down of these plots, characters and quality plots, with more knee-jerk marketing, cheap plots and re-inventions occurring with ever more price increases.

  • Greg

    There’s an elephant in the room that you’re not mentioning:
    Illegal downloads.

    That’s at the heart of everything.
    Paul Cornell recently said from a quick, informal study he did, he figures there are 6 illegal downloads for every comic that’s sold.  So…

    What if Marvel and DC weren’t “shedding readers”?
    What if the truth of the matter was that the same number or more are reading comics, but just screwing companies out of their sales?

    If people weren’t illegally downloading comics and paying for them instead, WOULD prices still be so high?  I doubt it.  Would companies have to rely on gimmicks and events?  Probably not as much.  The biggest threat to comics right now are online thieves and pirates.

    If everyone went back to paying for the books they read, I think most of the problems you talked about would fade away.

  • Greg

    There’s an elephant in the room that you’re not mentioning:
    Illegal downloads.

    That’s at the heart of everything.
    Paul Cornell recently said from a quick, informal study he did, he figures there are 6 illegal downloads for every comic that’s sold.  So…

    What if Marvel and DC weren’t “shedding readers”?
    What if the truth of the matter was that the same number or more are reading comics, but just screwing companies out of their sales?

    If people weren’t illegally downloading comics and paying for them instead, WOULD prices still be so high?  I doubt it.  Would companies have to rely on gimmicks and events?  Probably not as much.  The biggest threat to comics right now are online thieves and pirates.

    If everyone went back to paying for the books they read, I think most of the problems you talked about would fade away.

  • Anonymous

    You make a good point and I’ve been making predictions that once this day-and-date digital initiative comes to fruition when DC’s re-launch happens next month, that could cut down on the pirating.  Sounds counter-productive, but think about what the music industry was like 10 years ago.  Music and CDs were getting expensive and the pirating was happening with that too.  Then along came iTunes and the rest is history.  Pirating is not all gone in music, but I think iTunes has proven that the right business model will convince people to pay.  And people do want to pay reasonable prices for their music.

    Will comics follow the same route for sure?  Hard to say.  We want to say yes because if you talk to people that pirate the books, they do it because they don’t like today’s prices.  Kind of a cop-out, but if that’s the majority reason for pirates, then DC is doing the right with their digital initiative.


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