From a content point of view…comics have never been better. Creators are being allowed to perform acrobatics without noticeable safety nets, and the readers are benefiting from a new age of Wednesday offerings splashed with vibrant colors, pressed on attractive paper stocks, and supported by inventive stories and beautiful artwork. It’s almost sufficient in justifying the slowly expanding hit the bank account takes on a monthly basis.

Well, I’ve got news for you…it’s not enough.

Though I’m quite impressed with 75 percent of the industry’s output, there are a few nagging inconsistencies which could stand some improvement, and would only make this misunderstood industry that much prettier. It’s time to think out of the box and abandon the fear that diversity and radical changes will set fandom aflame. When the smoke clears I promise they’ll get over it. We’ve survived needless crossovers, hologram covers, and blatant gimmicks involving the meaningless deaths of characters we know are scheduled for resurrection. We can survive this.

Here’s how we save comics ladies and gentlemen.

 

Put the Asses in the Seats
Borrowing a phrase coined from Marvel’s Joe Quesada, “You’ve got to put the asses in the seats.” How do you put them there you ask? You have to do interesting things with the characters they no longer care about, and perform miracles with the ones they do. What the power companies have to realize is that…we’ve seen it all. Every plot twist, every red herring, every supposedly shocking development…we’ve seen it before and then saw it again six months down the line. There’s an established recipe that will provide the audience with a tale that’s satisfying to both mind and eye, and while the instant gratification of a Wednesday stash that was worth the money you shelled out for it soothes the cynical spirit, you have to wonder what more could be done.

There are characters and concepts released on a monthly basis that are a consistent display of stagnation, the storytelling equivalent of a hamster spinning in his wheel. The concepts do not even pretend to progress on any conscious level, and we’re left with the same hero fighting a different villain every month with larger set-pieces and a higher body count. Listen to me very carefully…this is boring.

This is not to insinuate that everyone out there is recycling the same old garbage in different packaging, but you know who you are. The majority of Marvel’s recent output is delivering variety at several levels, and those cats at CrossGen are not playing around. Sure, they started off quietly enough, giving us a handful of truly standout titles, but their recent offerings have been golden. You hear me? Golden. The list of CrossGen books that travel home with me increase on a monthly basis and with the addition of Chuck Dixon, the man that made me want to write comics, into the equation…it’s evident these people are after all of my money. And as long as they continue to deliver the level of quality and on-time shipping I’ve come to expect from them, they’ll receive it with minimal complaint.

What I’ll also continue to do is frown disapprovingly at books so secure in the permanent nature of their copyrights, that they have little incentive to ensure that something particularly interesting happens every few months in their titles. I’m reading Green Arrow now, I’m reading the Legion now, hell…I’m even reading Iron Man now. Why you ask? Because the creators did something to turn my perceptions of the characters upside down, setting my curiosity ablaze and subsequently equally sales.

The sales on X-Men and Spider-Man were quite impressive before Joe Quesada emerged from the darkness with his giant broom, but the new EIC didn’t rest on his laurels, believing that no matter how quickly his company’s flagship titles continued to put the readers to sleep…they would continue to clutter the stands. Are they really going to cancel Spider-Man and the X-Men? Hell no. Does that mean Marvel should’ve continued to allow the content in these titles to remain trapped within the bowels of mediocrity? Would that really make any sense? A company’s flagship characters deserve the best approaches money can buy…anything less is an insult to the audience.

 

Keep the Asses in the Seats
People pretend they don’t enjoy radical departures, but they do. Drastic changes are seen for afar with scorn and abject skepticism, but therein lies the point…they’re bothering to look again. This can work to the advantage of any creator determined to elicit change and free a character from the viscosity of their circular adventures. Fandom will anticipate your eventual failure, providing you at least one opportunity to knock them on their ass.

Case in point…X-Force. Fans couldn’t wait to pick up Milligan and Allred’s latest offering, and dismiss the changes within, supporting their pre-established decision that Rob Liefeld should be allowed to return to the legends he created. Instead they were shocked by the presence of genuine originality and an approach they had never considered. And they told their friends, who told their friends, all of which ignited the flame of Marvel’s latest hit. They came to hate and to criticize, but they fell in love instead. These are the chances that companies and creators have to be willing to take to ensure their product is worth the money we pay for it.

Put the asses in the seats, show them you know what the hell you’re doing, and they’ll remain there. It’s really that simple.

 

Be Bold Enough to Shatter Conventions
One aspect of comics that remains frightening similar from CrossGen to Marvel to Image to Oni to DC is the formulaic cover design. Company insignia in the upper left corner, logo on top, creator names scrolling down one side. The cover is the factor that will serve most influential to a consumer that hasn’t decided whether or not they’re going to provide a company with the extra five dollars they have in their pocket for the weekly shopping spree. Imagine if a title’s cover design was so innovative, so shockingly provocative, that the decision to buy was made almost instantaneously.

Excusing Planetary and Wildcats, both from Wildstorm coincidentally, I cannot recall a title that consistently reacts to its readership by changing the way we’re allowed to view its covers. Abandon convention and perform some degree of insanity. Tradition can be successfully modified while remaining both legible and functional. Force an audience to at least give your work a second look on the stands, if only because the book sticks out like a sore thumb among the landscape of customary design.

Do something, do anything, just refuse to accept that what has come before is the only way it should come.

 

Be Responsible Enough to Offer Accessibility
You’ve got your all-star creative team kicking ass and taking names, while the press is buzzing about the innovative cover design you’ve implemented, but for some reason or another, Consumer A misses the first issue of the new revamp. He picks up the second issue because of the excessive hype and by the time he reaches page ten…he’s completely lost. Why you ask? Because you people didn’t bother to inform him of what’s come before – a necessary component in the complete enjoyment of his comic reading experience.

This has become a pet peeve so forgive me…but why in the hell isn’t every comic included with, at the bare minimum, a paragraph summarizing the previous issue’s events? It’s called accessibility ladies and gentlemen. If you don’t explain to the reader what the hell is going on, this will be the first and only time that they bless you with their cash. An inexcusable offense that can only serve to cripple one’s efforts at attracting new converts.

There is no reason, and I mean NO reason that I shouldn’t be able to grab any book on the stands and have a reasonable idea what is occurring within. They say that every comic should be written as a person’s first; due to their serialized nature, sometimes that’s unfeasible. The least a company can offer is a small blurb relating what has come before.

Sounds simple enough, but not everyone is catching on. Marvel had a beautiful fold-out cover design several years ago that addressed all of these concerns and then some, but it proved too expensive to continue. But they gave it an honest shot…can everyone out there say the same?

With the above corrected, all we have left is to reestablish newsstand distribution and experience the level of respect this industry deserves.

There is magic contained here, and we only need to cast the correct spells to showcase the inherent power of our artform.

Now get busy….

Peace,
Brandon Thomas

Next time: We discuss issues of diversity, and ask with fond remembrance…Whatever Happened to Quantum and Woody?

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