How Sudden Comic Death Syndrome Strikes and What You Can Do About itA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: David Fairbanks
They took your life apart
And called your failures art
They were wrong, though
They won't know
It shouldn't really surprise you, considering that I devote chunks of my free time to writing for Comics Bulletin, that I'm pretty passionate about comics. I can complain a lot, but at the end of the day, I love the medium so damn much. I dabble in other nerdy hobbies somewhat, but I like to think I balance out the more geeky passions with music. Music's a big one for me; luckily my favorite record store is literally next door to the local comic shop.
For those wondering, the double-whammy of a Tuesday music release followed by a big Wednesday for comics is just as painful as you imagine. No new music for me this week, but I did have some posters I figured I'd pick up after the Wednesday funnybook pilgrimage.
I'm sure many of you have done that thing where you say you're only going into the comic shop to get bags and boards and then come out with a nice hardcover of something you love, right? If not, at least humor me, because I left the record store with two albums I already owned. Elliott Smith's Either/Or and XO are two of my favorite albums and I just could not pass them up on vinyl.
What's the point of this rather long introduction to an article where I'm supposed to be talking about comics? Well, there's two:
1) People who are passionate about something will usually spend a fair bit of money on it, whether it's the film buff who can't refuse buying a new Criterion Collection DVD, the gamer who pays to have his Warhammer 40k army custom painted, or the music lover who knows that vinyl just sounds better. Comics fans are no different. They want to spend money on great comics.
2) The quote at the top is off of XO, from the song "Tomorrow Tomorrow." And though I'm sure Elliott Smith didn't intend it that way, it's mostly what's wrong with how the Big Two approach comics, specifically the linkage of failures and art.
You can thank Scott McDaniel, the artist/co-writer of the recently canceled Static Shock, for cementing this in my head. See, he felt the need to clear the air about John Rozum's accusation that his ability to write was directly hindered by McDaniel and their editor, Harvey Richards. I'm a bit biased in favor of Rozum; the guy seems to generally be pretty swell and has shown himself to be a solid writer, which runs pretty counter to what Static Shock became and what McDaniel has said.
In case you didn't hear about McDaniel's response, this is the relevant bit to this column:
"To me and Harvey, the best chance for STATIC's survival was to plan big, exciting stories. Create solid story that QUICKLY grew to important and dramatic climaxes for Virgil and Static. There was no time to play it safe, or to do slow-burn stories. Time was our enemy. We needed something nearly geologic to upset the repeat of history in order to keep the book alive.
John dismissed this information, and our strategy, entirely. In his opinion, Harvey and I were too concerned with sales and gimmicks and not legitimate story."
The emphasis there is mine, as that's the point that I realized that there were creators at DC comics who were more concerned about how many units they sold than making a quality product.
Let's bring it back around to Xombi now, a critical darling of a comic that averaged about 10,0000 units sold each month. I suppose in this case, it's DC calling art a failure (so the opposite of Elliott's song), but it isn't hard to tell just how wrong they are. And if they don't get their shit together soon, they're not going to realize it until it's too late.
I'm not about to say that Hawk and Dove should be put on the same platform as OMAC or what Static Shock could have been. Books that are mediocre to bad with dwindling sales should be canceled to allow other books a chance to shine. But there needs to be an allowance for comics that may not be doing too hot but are some of the best work being produced by the Big Two.
Sad as I am to see the Kirby throwback, OMAC, go (and I never thought I'd say that about a DiDio book), I don't think we lost a lot this time. And if, as I'd posited in my Xombi write-up, they had delayed Xombi until the relaunch, we'd probably be saying goodbye to it right now.
So why am I complaining? Is it really over the two more issues of Xombi we could have gotten? C'mon now. Much as I would've dug those comics, I'm more concerned about the big picture.
We are participating in an industry that actively shuts down creative books that aren't popular enough.
And I get it. Warner Brothers and Disney have money to make (though we're fooling ourselves if we think that comics are much more than an IP farm for them). So how is it that indie comics can survive and release volume after volume on such low print runs?
Or how a comic that gives away its content online can break over half a million dollars in funding for their Kickstarter?
More importantly, how can DC and Marvel afford to not be looking at these business models and ask what they're doing wrong?
I'm a pretty big believer in providing constructive criticism, rather than just pointing out the faults in something and letting other people deal with it. So here's my fix for DC and Marvel to release good comics that don't sell well.
Use your damn imprints like you should.
By the end of Xombi #1, I knew it was going to be canceled, because it felt like a Vertigo book (it's a pretty telling sign when the cover quote for the trade compares it to The Invisibles). Truthfully, it needed to be under the imprint, because Vertigo loyalists frequently will try other Vertigo books.
Do you know why?
Because a great deal of the mature readers stories attract just that: mature readers who are interested in good stories. By putting it under the main DC banner, you lost that potential and instead marketed it to superhero fans who, by and large, like their cape books pretty damn traditional (I say this with my fingers crossed in hope that Animal Man and Swamp Thing don't dwindle into the danger zone).
But you know what's better than canceling a series if you're insistent on it not belonging in one place or another?
Have someone else publish it.
I didn't really expect to be advocating any business decision made by Tokyopop, but the deal they struck with Image to publish King City should have been scrutinized by Marvel and DC.
I'm sure there are plenty of reasons why DC doesn't want "Image Comics presents DC and Milestone's Xombi" on the stands, but it's money they would be receiving now that they aren't.
I gave two alternatives besides the one I'm fondest of: DC had all of the Top Ten selling books for January; sometimes you can afford to have something that's great but underperforming.
I promised I'd talk about Marvel a bit, but there's not much that I can think to say. They have a history of canceling books sooner (sometimes even before they're published, like with the Nick Spencer/Becky Cloonan Dr. Doom book) or condensing a miniseries into an oversized one-shot (Brian Clevinger's wonderful Captain America: The Fighting Avenger). But at the same time, they gave Jeff Parker how many different volumes of Agents of Atlas?
And don't forget my earlier points, either. If something is good, people will eventually buy it and if you don't realize this, you're just lifting yourself up out of the noose you crawled into years ago. You'll live a while longer, but it certainly won't be much of a life.
I feel like this has been more than a little angrier than I intended. In return, here's some adorable bears.
(ganked from sailorsandshipwrecks.tumblr.com)
David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books, and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.