This is what happens now.
The raging debate and passionate finger pointing surrounding the Wildstorm cancellations have died down considerably, replaced by whatever the new headline of the week is, and that quiet acceptance of inevitability. The fact that everyone was compelled to speak on it is encouraging, evidence that there is an intelligently aware consciousness somewhere within the net’s ether, but I think CBR’s Steven Grant probably put it best, when he commented that it was too late for all this. The time for alighting message boards with talk of petitions and letters had passed us by without our knowledge, and as topical as last week’s installment was, that’s not what Wildcats and Stormwatch needed from me to survive. Hindsight affords us certain luxuries, and the relative ease in commenting after the fact is admittedly infectious, and something a lot of us, myself included first, are consistently guilty of.
As a measure of the industry’s intelligence quotient, the online community has a great deal of responsibility to shrug off the things that render it ineffective, and get back in the business of saving the world. Our greatest detriment is the tendency to elicit nothing more than increasing amounts of reactive thought, and no matter how formulated and widespread it may be, in most cases, it’s far too much, far too late. Especially when the “formula” that creates hit books is re-emerging with renewed passion and frequency, and not that I won’t be the first in line for Superman #204 this Wednesday, what I’m trying to figure out is…whatever happened to being surprised by the creative movements within the Big Two?
Rebelling against the inertia of familiarity is valuable time wasted, but I refuse to believe that we can’t have things both ways, with the comfortable blanket of established properties and superstar creators paving the way of forward progress and bold experimentation. Writing a monthly comic about a superhero cast in the mold of a corporation was an experiment, and it’s imperative that we figure out how to get things right, and help these books survive. Because regardless of what limited percentage of the reading audience is buzzing around in here, every topic is not completely without merit and warrants reflexive dismissal just because it can be discussed anonymously. Focusing on the signal, and clearing out the noise suggests something very promising…that we know better than the alleged “majority.” If there’s a vocal minority of consumers that’d rather read Stormwatch: Team Achilles than Venom vs. Carnage, that doesn’t make them wrong, but recent evidence is telling us that we’ll have to fight to prove the point.
My editor told me that he thinks I went a little soft on the retailers’ role in this last week, but I’m honestly not informed enough to reliably assign blame or negligence on their part in assuring that the same stuff that’s always been the most successful stays that way. Personally, I’ve also been spoiled by a few incredible retailers in my time, whose stores stayed consistently well stocked with any comic a growing boy would need, top 30 or bottom 30. What I am aware of is that every month we receive this phone book sized publication called Previews that’s filled nearly cover to cover with comics, and related merchandise. It’s difficult enough deciding what comes home with me, let alone having to worry about selling any of it to keep my lights on and my kids fed.
But there is that common complaint to address, that some readers couldn’t find these titles in the first place; hardly a recipe for success in an already crowded marketplace. Well aware of this, much of the responsibility has to be absorbed by the publisher, in making it as easy as humanly possible for the retailer to sample new product that might otherwise go unnoticed; but we shouldn’t underestimate our relevance in this trinity of retailer, publisher, and reader. All of us have access to Previews and the monthly ordering list it contains, so there’s little reason for this rampant inaccessibility often cited. If you can get online to tell Micah Wright that you couldn’t find his book, you can find that order code to pre-order the comic. Barring the unlikely possibility that your retailer doesn’t like making money, the book will likely arrive unmolested. Convincing the retailer that you’re not the only person that might actually pay money for the title is more difficult, but isn’t completely out of the question.
The actual process of purchasing a stack of comics takes less than five minutes, but I’ll easily spend about an hour in my shop every week, just talking with the guy that runs it. Granted, my boy Garrett is incredibly easy to get along with, and our sensibilities match up pretty closely, but the point is that you need to build some manner of relationship with the person or persons you buy your comics from. Creating a dialogue that extends beyond asking whether or not the new Ultimates came in, can often lead to mutual
recommendations, and a chance to garner increased attention for your personal picks. Even if this only amounts to a few more copies for the shelf, there’s a far better chance for them there, than in Diamond’s warehouse.
We’ve gotten to the point where just buying the comic every month simply isn’t good enough, and though this may sound somewhat demanding, you know what they say about power and responsibility. If we’re signing on and proclaiming to know better, than we need to act like it. Proactively campaigning for the good books it seems the “majority” can’t be bothered with, is much less worse than the alternative, bemoaning yet another cancellation on our favorite site, and reading everybody’s columns about it. They didn’t do enough, but we didn’t do enough either.
Personally, I wish I’d taken the time to write one single solitary letter to Wildstorm in appreciation of what they brought to the table. Yeah, I raved about Eye of the Storm in the column, yeah I told Joe Casey he was the shit, but that was the extent of my contribution. Haven’t written a letter to the editor of my favorite title in years, but if anyone deserved it, the decision makers at Wildstorm did, and bridging the gap between online support and “real” support is critical. The Internet helped save a company once, it put Mark Waid back on Fantastic Four, and it resuscitates Spider-Girl whenever she’s about to get the ax. The online comics community is the staging point for change, so what happens from here is entirely up to us. Next week there will be another set of announcements and developments to talk about, and ultimately distract us from the disappointment of these latest cancellations, but we can’t afford to let this stuff slide. Or we’ll only return to this point a couple months down the line, another title lost and a petition too late to save it.
We have to work with our retailers to bring books to their attention that are potentially overshadowed by the sheer volume of material coming out. We have to stop “waiting for trades” because if the book isn’t an immediate sales force, than the mythical collected edition will never see print. If there is a title on the stands that isn’t resting comfortably in the top 50, and you’re interested in giving it a shot, drop that extra Bat-book and get behind it immediately, otherwise you’ll be waiting forever. And when that’s settled, we have to tell the publishers why there’s a larger audience than they might suspect for books with something more to say.
The majority may be speaking loud and clear, but seriously, they’ve given us reality television, teen horror movies, and manufactured pop music…
When has the majority ever known what’s good for them?