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Monday, September 28, 2015

What’s Wrong at Marvel and DC?

Comics used to be fun at Marvel and DC. Readers used to be able to get 32 pages featuring a fantastic adventure where a hero saved the day and stopped the bad guy.

Then something happened to take the fun out of them. And Editors are still trying to figure out where they went wrong.

Was it was all the gimmicks? Or was it all the events?  Or was it just comics becoming popular in the mainstream?

Personally, I think the editiors and creators take comics at the big two WAY too seriously. And everyone who works at the Big Two just needs to dial it back a couple of notches.

Yes, comics have fantastic adventures. Yes, they feature larger than life heroes in brightly colored outfits. But the stories have lost that sense of awe and wonder that they had thirty and forty years ago.

And because they’ve lost that sense of awe and wonder at Marvel and DC they no longer have that unique energy that makes them feel special. They’re not an escape to readers anymore. Instead that distinct energy has been replaced with a seriousness that makes a comic feel like doom and gloom all the time. Instead of us aspiring to live a superhero’s life, they’re living our lives.

And no one wants to pay money to see their lives depicted in a fantasy.  Business 101.

The way I see it many who work in comics are just trying too hard. I don’t know if they’re feeling pressure from the competition like video games, pro wrestling and big budget movies, but there’s a sense of desperation in the comics published by the big two. As a fellow creator I just see it on the page. Writers and artists trying way too hard do anything to make that one moment that’ll get people’s attention. And because they try too hard what gets published are dull uninspired comics with no heart and no soul.

This is why we get heroes that fight each other instead of taking on bad guys. This is why stories go on and on for years instead of wrapping in three issues. This is why reading a comic feels like a chore instead of a joy, and why readers count down the days towards a comic being cancelled instead of anticipating buying the next issue.

Clearly most creators and editors at Marvel and DC’s publishing divisons are frustrated. Feeling the pressure from the movies, wrestling and video gams they’re throwing crap at a wall in the hopes of reviving interest in the medium. Only to make a mess in the process.

In this third decade of an industry wide-slump many are trying to find that one story that will change things. That one issue ssue that will get readers to notice comics again. And because they aren’t having fun, readers can’t enjoy themselves when they read comics.

So that’s why readers see all the deaths, gory mutilations and characters acting like complete sociopaths. Many who work at the Big two are angry about the state of affairs at their companies and it’s showing right on the page.

Unfortunately, because all their anger and frustration shows on the page all that does is alienate longtime readers and turn away potential new ones. It’s hard to get passionate about a comic when the creators clearly aren’t allowed to showing readers any passion.

Many at the big two in editorial are so focused on making that one big hit comic that they’ve lost perspective. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. And because the editors at the Big Two are trying to sprint to the finish line of a long distance race, they wind up with a short burst of sales on the first issue after an event is announced and then everything starts declining by the third. Because most creators rush, they wind up burnt out on comics in a few years.  

So nothing that lasts long-term. This is why o series can stay in print for any longer than a few months at worst or three to five years at best.

With Publishing being a marathon, an editor has to know that there are going to be boom periods and slow periods. And how to use the backlist (reprints of previously published work) from the boom periods to keep the company afloat during the slow periods. There are going to be books that are blockbuster successes, books that fail from the start to find an audience, and books on the bubble that with a little nurturing and support can turn into hits when readers discover them.

It takes a good editor to manage the catalog so that those titles which are blockbusters can maintain their audience and the ones on the bubble can find one. And it takes a good editor to know when to pull the plug on a project or to kill it before it even starts.

Neither Marvel Nor DC has had that professional to work in their publishing divisions in two going on three decades. And it shows in the products they produce. These days the products coming out of both companies have no structure, no organization, and no direction. Again, it’s desperate people throwing crap at a wall and hoping something sticks with readers. 

Both DC and Marvel need a seasoned publishing professional to lead the rebuilding of their brands. And they need someone who will bring back a sense of awe and wonder back to the offices to inspire the creative teams. Someone who will support creators and help them focus on crafting the best stories possible. Someone who will radiate the passion, enthusasm and heart to disperse all this negative energy from the last 20 years and make comics as accessible, fun and family friendly as YA and children’s fiction.

I believe that superhero comics can make a comeback. It’s clear audience like superheores since superhero movies make billions of dollars at the box office and sell billions more in merchandise. But the publications that led to these characters becoming popular in the first place can’t sell 20,000 copies in a month during one of the biggest baby booms in the last 40 years.

Kids should be buying comics like crazy. But because editors and creators are stuck in the past the readers of the future can’t discover the characters and what’s great about them.

Creators at Marvel and DC need a leader with the vision to dissipate all the negative energy around the brands and just create and publish great comics. Right now there’s too much negative energy at the top at both publishers and that negative energy is sucking the life out of the publications and at DC even the merchandising and licensed products.

Seriously, there isn’t going to be some magic comic that revives interest in superhero comics at Marvel and DC. No it’s not going to be some new costume, or some new story direction that gets readers excited about comics at the big two again. There won’t be a Fantastic Four #1 or an Amazing Fantasy 15 or even a Giant Sized X-Men #1 that brings the readers back. There isn’t going to be some event like New 52 or Marvel NOW that gets readers to rush back to see what’s so great about their favorite heroes. Audiences for comics get built over time and it may take years for readers to rediscover comics again like they did from the 1960s  and the late 1980s and early 1990s.

But the only thing keeping readers from rediscovering the characters in the big two are editors and creators stuck in the past when it comes to story models and even art styles. The days of the annual events and the constant gimmicks are over. It’s time to get back to basics when it comes to character design and storytelling so customers can easily remember their favorite heroes.  If I were running either Marvel or DC, there would be one universe, no gimmicks or events and there’d be a heavy focus on just telling great stories in 2-3 issue story arcs that are PG or PG-13 in terms of content.

From what I’ve seeen people still love Marvel and DC Superheroes and they’re just waiting for creators to bring back the awe, wonder and fun that made reading those comics a pastime for millions them twenty plus years ago. All their bullpens need are the right leaders to take the catalogs of heroes in a new direction for this new millennium.

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