Joe Moviegoer Still Isn't Reading Comics Either


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The biggest story in comics in 2009 was the near-simultaneous restructuring of Marvel and DC under new corporate management, allowing both companies more direct access to the film and television divisions of Disney and Warner Entertainment—and, quid pro quo, giving Disney and Warner a better view of next year’s potential blockbusters.

Some people hailed the move as cynical—selling out to a mercenary film world where the comics as a medium are less and less appreciated, seen only as story mills for action movies. The hoped-for resurgence of comics-reading in the wake of Iron Man and the like has not occurred. We have yet to discover how to get people who like comics as an idea to like them as a fact, and buy them.

A few weeks ago I complained about this same problem with regard to literary people who think they’re comics fans.

I ran into a Jeeves type just the other day—Seattle has lots of them. When I told him I write comics and live in Columbia City, he professed a great love of R. Crumb and of “transitional neighborhoods”, which, as far as I can tell, is Jeeves-speak for black neighborhoods on the verge of being colonized by white people and Starbucks.

I have more sympathy for movie-goers who like Iron Man, but wouldn’t know where to buy Fraction’s books if you threatened them with death. I think a lot of the time they simply don’t know where to find them. Movie-goers have a healthy tolerance for pulp and smack talk, so they might actually like reading comics if they were given half a chance. So the question, to me, is not whether the reorganization of Marvel and DC will result in more comics-based movies—I think that’s a given—but whether the corporate higher-ups will return the favor by putting movie-goers in closer proximity to books.

But that’s not the whole solution to the watcher vs. reader gap either. Back when I was wee, the X Men did PSA’s about smoking and drug use, and Death and John Constantine warned pubescent gothy readers about the perils of unsafe sex. Comic book heroes were in the extraordinary position of fictional moral authorities--pictures with word bubbles above them that young adults were more likely to believe than most living, breathing authority figures.

Today, however, the vast majority of comics are unsuitable for readers under 16 or 17. Not because of gore or sex, but because they’ve gotten cynical—the protagonists are darkly conflicted and often no more heroic than their enemies. Postmodernism has left its stamp on comics as emphatically as it has on literature and high art.

Well, I am bored with postmodernism, and I have a radical idea: we should make comics that appeal to a wider segment of the population than 18 to 35 year olds who find disembowelment jokes hilarious. I mean, I’m in that segment of the population, but I recognize that’s pretty niche even for niche. I think there’s a reason SCOTT PILGRIM and MOUSE GUARD went from modest indie books to international phenomena overnight. People are ready for the return of the heroic narrative, even if the heroes have emerged from the past 20 years of nonlinear darkness somewhat goofier and more down-at-heel than they went in. That’s all for the good.

We will wait and we will see. I’m hoping the union of comics and movies will turn into more than just a marriage of convenience, and benefit comics as well as the Hollywood machine. I hope, too, that comics will find a way to be more things to more people, so that when this new audience is finally delivered, it has a wide range of things to read.

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  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom Mar 3, 2010 at 3:08am

    I am soooo there with you on most remarks!
    I think even Marvel realized that the dark period since Avengers Disassembled has gotten a tad out of hand and is now reverting back to Marvel Heroic Age to not lose fans due to all that cynical storywriting!

  • James Wortman

    James Wortman Mar 3, 2010 at 4:02pm

    Agreed. I'm all for the return of the "heroic narrative," as you put it. We need genuine escapism in our comic books!

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