Has the industry been kind of depressing lately, or is it just me?

Maybe it’s the natural order of things, the electricity from a summer convention season of project announcements and exclusive signings finally wearing off. Though the Big Two appear to have called a mutual “time out” in building up their rosters, I almost wish there were a few more self-congratulatory press releases, flaunting the latest hires, welcoming us to the popular news sites. At the very least, it’d conjure a spark of life, that could ultimately lead to something a little different out there. Problem being, that “something a little different” is never as profitable as it deserves to be, so the real question is…should they really even bother?

The creators and their companies do their best of course, confronting the over saturation of superheroes in the marketplace when and where they can, and it would be an incredibly less difficult argument if the bastards didn’t sell. Or if many of them weren’t in the hands of the most talented writers that’ve ever worked in the biz. But they do, and they are, though despite this, Diamond’s monthly list of actual sales figures often leaves much to be desired, and even more to be explained.

Honestly, I’m excited at the prospect of a book like Ultimate Fantastic Four too, having no doubt that the writers will manage to apply a sufficient coat of gloss over the whole thing, but it’s still familiar characters and concepts in slightly unfamiliar environments. It’s fresh, not new, and though it’ll likely bring a more than inspired perspective, from where the industry is concerned, I’d be more excited to see the sure to be impressive sales figures transplanted onto books like Wanted, or Powers. Quick and slightly obvious examples, but both are capable of introducing an almost reckless sensibility into their stories, from the simple fact that the titles are populated with characters that can be placed in actual danger, because there’s no licensing agreement that puts him or her on underwear and cereal boxes.

Original, creator-owned works, like Rex Mundi, The Walking Dead, and DEMO (just to name a few) are titles everyone should be paying attention to, but when our Internet sites aren’t breaking news of the latest cancellation, creative departure, or company shutdown, they’re talking with a creator, a new “different” project looming, and the familiar impassioned plea, “put the X-Men down.” And it appears that in many cases, the cry is being ignored by fandom and retailers alike.

As guest columnist “j.hues” so adequately stated last week, this industry is particularly resistant to even its own buzz, and no one can figure out why. Barring the assertion that the Internet is, in actuality, the same eight people talking amongst themselves, the fact that The Crew only has one more issue, before it completes an abbreviated seven chapter run, despite writer Christopher Priest having one of the most supportive/fanatical bunch of fans on the ‘net, defies logic. It’s fortunate that we’ve been allowed the opportunity to construct, what we hope, is an enlightened clique of consumers, but can it mean anything when we don’t even listen to each other? The very real possibility that some of the retailers in this business, completely bypass or dismiss the ‘net as a viable information and marketing tool is unconscionable, but would certainly explain a few things. Rationalizing the inadequate sales of critically acclaimed books becomes easier that way, but if the retailers aren’t listening to what sensible message boards are out there, or the flock of available critics that have little reason to endorse things they don’t genuinely enjoy, then how in the hell does anything besides Batman or Spider-Man get ordered? Or have I answered my own question?

The latest issue of Entertainment Weekly ran another installment of its Comics section last week, spotlighting Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and a Hard Place, Dark Horse’s Conan, and Joss Whedon’s Fray, among other things. Now usually, a book of almost any kind, receives a some sales increase after scoring themselves a bit of positive press, but will the aforementioned titles experience any effect from this? Could a potential convert, casually flipping through EW, trying to find the Britney Spears article, be pulled into the short critique of DEMO, rush out to their nearest comic shop, and demand a copy? In theory yes, but then we get into the likely possibility that they won’t actually be able to FIND a comic shop, and even if they do, who’s to say the retailer inside even paid enough attention to know that one of the biggest entertainment mags just gave props to DEMO? No one’s even seen the figures on Brian Wood’s latest, but here’s a prediction…they’re not as high as they should be. There will be titles on the Previews list, that quality-wise, cannot even speak to or about DEMO, yet will outsell it two, possibly three times.

To hell with converting outsiders into the industry, if the faithful followers, the one’s that don’t need a major magazine to tell them that comics still exist, can barely support their own, either through lack of interest, or driven by some genetic imperative to possess a “complete” run of Uncanny X-Men, then why should they care? Finally being able to glance at the “actual sales” of the direct market has turned the low speed train wreck of the previous figures that only calculated pre-orders, into a high speed one. At least then we could look at the thing, and tell ourselves that our most under-ordered books were getting the play they deserved in re-orders, but now that comfort is thrown out the window.

Rex Mundi is selling what? Hawaiian Dick came in at what? Well, that can’t be right, Ed Brubaker has told nearly every comics web site at least something about Sleeper, and that’s all he’s moving? What the fuck, man?

Everyone claims to be looking for something new, tired of the same old bullshit, but that’s not true. They want Spider-Man, Batman, and X-Men, which isn’t the worst possible thing, to be brutally honest, if we weren’t pretending that we aspire to an industry that allows us to partner established properties with the next generation of characters and concepts, hoping to continually expand the market. Anything that doesn’t have tights on it has to be literally hand-sold by its creators, and even the books that are redefining that familiar genre aren’t succeeding. Eye of the Storm has been delivering superhero comics for adults for nearly two years now, and no one seems to care. Hopefully, a line-wide crossover (those things that fans claim to utterly despise) will drum up some interest.

The inter-company crossover probably would’ve saved CrossGen from being forced to “restructure” these last few weeks, their slow and agonizing dismantling played out in press release after press release. Regardless of your personal feelings about their output, the fact they were willing to experiment with genre, had excellent production values, and possessed an incredibly deep talent roster, can’t be disputed. Had they chosen to blend into the landscape a little better, we might not be having this discussion. They brought a different flavor to their corner of the industry with their books, and their philosophies, and the departure of new ideas always creates a vacuum.

But what to fill it? The avenues for creators to experiment seem incredibly vast, while simultaneously being very limited, as imagination gives way to cruel economics. It isn’t fair or even logical to encourage the kind of bold thinking that only becomes popular on the Internet, and is subsequently ignored by retailers that’d rather endorse another Spider-Man title, which almost sell themselves at this point. And to blame the retailer exclusively is also unfair, as people buy and support what they want to see, with a disproportionate amount of that material being a variation of something they’ve seen before.

I want the days of summer back when the pulse of fandom quickened at the latest exclusive signing, or upcoming project, waiting with bated breath as their competitor scrambled to answer back with a jaw-dropping response. The days when everybody was still in business, and looking forward to what the future would mean for their stories and their creators. Tomorrow, and next week, and likely the one after that, we’ll likely awaken to most of the problems plaguing the industry that see someone’s favorite title canceled before its time, or retailers fearful of turning to the back of their Previews catalog, and readers afraid to demand they do so, but when everything is all good vibes, it’s far more difficult to notice all the cracks in the ceiling.

Wish something would make me stop looking at mine.

Peace

Next (hopefully): Joe Quesada…

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