First, I don’t think it can be overstated what a tremendous impact Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison and Brian Bendis have on mainstream comics. Douglas Wolk points out that the 26 best-selling DC single issues were all written by Morrison or Johns, and if you look at the top of Marvel’s charts, Bendis rules the roost over there. In fact, taken as a group, Sean T. Collins points out that 65 of the top 75 best-selling comics of the year were written by one of three people.
I also don’t think it can be overstated how unhealthy this is, though I’m not sure who it says more about: the industry or the fan base. I’d like to believe that it isn’t the fault of the fans, that Marvel and DC are just shooting themselves in the foot here. Banking on three people for all of your output sounds like a bad creative decision and an even worse business model, and I don’t really believe that’s something fans want. Logic dictates that the more kinds of comics there are the better comics will be overall, and that the more people creating comics, collaborating with and challenging each other, the better the stories will be. If fans are that easy to please, that lazy, there’s nothing to stop companies from continuing that practice.
If you’ve cared about comics your whole life like I have then you’ve also cared about people who do not care about comics the same way you do, if at all. These people can be girlfriends, boyfriends, family, friends, what have you. It seems there’s always some struggle to, if not convert these people, at least convince them you’re not wasting your time and rotting your brain. But how is this done in an environment like that of comics, where some sort of special language training is required just to speak on the same level?
1. Identify your audience. Is this for your girlfriend who happens to love video games but won’t pick up a comic? Try Scott Pilgrim. Is this a gift for a pseudo-intellectual, scoffing at the idea of comics being worthy reading? Maybe Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is the way to go. Just like any other medium there’s something for literally everyone out there; you really just need to identify where that specific cranny is in the medium is and introduce it to them. My friend Jen is fairly well read, and has a thing for reading things she “should” read; important books. She didn’t necessarily have anything against comics she just didn’t know what to read. I introduced her to Watchmen and she enjoyed it very much. However, this leads me to my next point…
2. The shit you like and the shit they’d like might be mutually exclusive. Yeah, I am fucking really into Green Lantern. To me that book is the be-all, end-all of today’s mainstream superhero literature. But if my mother says she’d want to read a romance story and I give her an issue of GL where Hal and Carol Ferris go on a date… well she’s just not gonna get it, is she? I’m an established fan of the book, reading it in arcs. Even if I give her a trade paperback where that’s one of the chapters she’s not going to be into it. There’s a bigger story there that she isn’t privy too, and wouldn’t be interested in. If I gave Jen The Dark Knight Returns she’d think it was silly. I had an ex-girlfriend who I tried to get to read Wonder Woman because it was a comic about a woman, figuring she’d probably relate. Take it easy people. Starting out we need to walk on egg shells here or you’ll scare them away.
3. Be passionate. If these people really care about you they’ll care about what you care about, or at the very least respect it. However, you need to also…
4. Be smart about it. Passion doesn’t necessarily mean screaming in their faces. Talk about why you love comics, the specifics. Show them that its not just throwaway, kid stuff, not all of it. Make them see that this idea of comics is old and antiquated. Talk about how Maus won a Pulitzer, how Watchmen was on TIME’s 100 Greatest Novels of all Time list, and how Adrian Tomine draws covers for the New Yorker.
5. When all that’s done, beat them over the head with it. You did all the heavy lifting, now immerse them in it. Take your girlfriend to the comic shop on Wednesday, let her see if there’s anything she’d think to pick out for herself. See comic book movies on dates. I even took my friend Chelsea to Comic Con, and she recently sent me an email saying “I am now formally acknowledging my piqued interest in comics.” This goes along with what I said before: if they see how much you love something chances are they’ll start to have more of an acceptance and understanding of it as well
And hey, if all this doesn’t work… well, whatever. Its just a hobby, albeit one you’re passionate about. But she promised me that if you don’t make fun of her Star Wars collection she won’t make fun of your cartoon books.
Side story: my ex-girlfriend was pretty cool (my current girlfriend, much more so) but her brother loved being a real patronizing dick all the time. He actually used to say shit like that; “read any good cartoon books lately Paul?” The smug prick. Hope the recession fucked his shit up.
Speaking of the recession, Publisher’s Weekly has a story on Marvel breaking even for 2008, and how in 2009 Marvel forecasts that there will actually be a drop in sales. Maybe everyone feels the way I do, and dropped every book except for Captain America due to that complete failure called Secret Invasion? Say what you will about Final Crisis, at least there was a story there to confuse you with.