Ideaspace isn’t simply an infinite collective of dangerous ideas you know. The ethereal construct also serves as an intellectual space shared by those with proper access and common tendencies, a mental prison that we can neither see, taste, nor touch. The only sane response is to provide a form capable of containing the incoming data, as Ideaspace holds little concern for the activities outside its borders, wanting only to exist in the most interesting way allowed, countering stagnation with a change in the relative weather pattern, ensuring that the field and its conduits remain.
Perhaps I’ve been exposed for too long, but it feels different in here recently, electricity building in every surface and threatening to spark with reckless abandon. The notions are igniting when exposed to raw air. There’s hail and there’s lightning. It’s a good season for creation, as there’s never been such an assemblage of pure talent gathered together in one place at one time for one obvious reason. Are you beginning to understand? The space where the ideas are made is sending us a message, clear and undeniable…
Things are about to change.
The mainstream ink we’ve received of late is only a precursor, poised to become a mere footnote, if only appearing attached to the latest blockbuster movie release. The media is fascinated by dollar signs, and thankfully several of them have been attributed to the successful adaptation of comic-based properties, but don’t get it twisted…you better believe that if the money evaporates, so will much of our mainstream coverage. They are at this point merely curious about what happens here, but what makes a difference is whether or not they’re intrigued.
Marvel’s trio of releases (Daredevil, X2, and Hulk) stand to make an incredible amount of money before the year closes, but with reason at our sides, we must realize that movies alone are not enough. And please do not cite Tim Burton’s Batman as proof that they are. That was nearly fifteen years ago, and simply commenting that the industry landscape is radically different would still leave one guilty of a most terrible understatement. The old way doesn’t work anymore, and it’s time for something new. There exists no magic bullet capable of propelling ourselves back to the glutinous days of the early nineties, and why the hell would we want that anyway? Besides the money (which we’ve proven will eventually run out) who is anxious to operate in a creatively bankrupt environment supporting itself on mostly flash and no substance? This isn’t Hollywood you know.
The whole thing comes down to one sad realization anyway, the truth hidden beneath the well spring of optimism that will effectively bring us to our knees in this new millennium if we don’t acknowledge it before offering a proper response. The comic industry’s current state has less to do with cover process, distribution, or overprinting, and more to do with this simple fact…
The outside world does not respect us.
To average consumer, comic books are an illegitimate segment of pop culture, suited exclusively for children and young white males whose balls refuse to drop. It’s not so much that we’re treated disrespectfully, because that’s not it. It’s more that we’re almost completely disregarded.
In this new world of ‘It lists’ telling us what to eat, drink, wear, and watch…comics are simply not cool. Not to the overwhelming majority of people that don’t read them. An overwhelming majority that we’ve discovered must in some fraction become our new audience or risk eventual extinction.
For the sake of argument, and to dispel the hopeful but misguided notion that all we need to do is get the product into the reader’s hands, let’s suppose that the recent Daredevil opening was accompanied by a cross-promotion that saw every ticket sold paired with a copy of the recent 25 cent issue of the regular series. Contained within is the number for the comic shop locator service and perhaps even a coupon offering a discounted cover price for the next chapter of the story. Could this bold venture have led to an environment where the Ultimate titles easily shatter the 500,000 copy threshold, and where we don’t have to worry about Black Panther getting cancelled every six months? Sorry, but it’s just not likely.
A great majority of my week is spent working for a large retail chain bookseller, and when not spending half my shift writing on the clock, I’m interacting with a variety of readers, writers, and consumers with differing tastes and tendencies in the literature they frequent. There actually are three fellow employees among the enlightened, but for the most part, they’re not quite sure what to make of the ‘graphic novel’ section of the store. They know I’m in charge of running it. Some even know that its market share seems to be increasing by the month in many stores. Would they be caught dead with their hands on one? Absolutely not.
It’s the misconceptions that are bleeding us slowly. That we are not ‘hip’. That our fanbase is comprised of a largely virginal mass that would abandon this “hobby” with little hesitation if only they could get laid. That what our creators do on a monthly basis requires little skill or talent. That comics, graphic novels, graphic literature, or whatever buzz word we’re currently using, are not in fact an artform.
The adversary geared to destroy us isn’t Bill Jemas, Paul Levitz, or Mark Alessi…it’s a collection of beliefs that cast us in an unpopular light. We are fighting for survival against an idea…I hope you came prepared.
Exactly where these ideas originated from is irrelevant, almost entirely. Identifying one discernible cause for the current state of things simplifies the issue, ignoring what multiple variables are at play, and often results in the same tired circular dialogue we’ve had for years. It’s superheroes. It’s the lack of kids’ comics. It’s cover prices. No it’s not. It’s everything all at once.
Upon closer examination you’ll realize that the concept of the superhero is permanently laced into our shared consciousness, forming the backbone of nearly every pop culture medium. They’re on television, in the movies, and appearing in our videogames, draped in black trenchcoats and just enough gloss to fool the untrained eye. Normal people somehow by fate and circumstance performing extraordinary deeds? These are superheroes, they are everywhere, and their inherent meaning and stance do not vanish simply because they lack tights and a billowing cape.
The kids have seemingly disappeared and no one can figure how to sell them three dollar comics anyway. For a moment, let’s talk about the pricing explanation and something I’m calling the “perceived value.” Bought Daredevil #44 on Wednesday for the cover price of $2.99. Bendis and Maleev firing on all cylinders, as usual. Was the book more than worth it? Damn right. Could I convince a non-comics reader of that? Probably not, as their frame of reference is entirely different.
Entertainment Weekly sports a cover tag of $3.50 this week, with far more “content” per square inch, though I suspect very few of their readership finish the magazine cover to cover, instead reading the features that spark an interest, then ignoring the rest. So if Mainstream Consumer A buys EW but only reads and enjoys 60 percent of it and I bought Daredevil, and dug all of it…whose three dollars were better spent? It’s all perspective guys, if they are properly convinced that something within is worth their three bucks, then for their enjoyment three bucks you shall receive.
When considering the enemy, when considering what must be done, and the multiple factors in play to halt our progression, it seems hopeless. We should just let them roll us with their Joe Millionaire, Anna Nicole Smith, reality show flash-in-the-pan glossy blockbuster bullshit.
There’s only one thing though…
“…there’s never been such an assemblage of pure talent gathered together in one place at one time for one obvious reason.”
If we cannot get it done, then it never deserved doing. Creatively we are too strong and too stubborn to simply fade away, replaced by what will pass for “entertainment.” At the end of the day, this “majority” that doesn’t understand us, doesn’t respect us, and doesn’t acknowledge us only does so because it doesn’t know any better. It’s been conditioned to overlook our creators and our wares for too long, and anyone spending any degree of time floating through the ether of Ideaspace knows that the time has come.
It’s not a game…not anymore.
Killing any idea or misconception is difficult but what you must realize is that it comes down to this…any idea can be replaced, any idea can be changed. If a series of psychological attacks are aimed at destroying one bad idea, there’s only so long it can survive before being overwhelmed. When the mainstream scratches at our door, politely begging for entrance, intrigued by what we’ve been building in the last several years, you will know. That old ideas have died and been supplanted by something better. Because on the outside, it’s “just comics” but to us that just isn’t good enough. If you’re a fan, retailer, creator, or company that believes it’s “just comics” than get out. Putting it simply, you don’t deserve what comes next.
It’s the money that’s changing things. Movies shattering sales records. Periodic coverage in Newsweek, USA Today, The Washington Times, and Publisher’s Weekly. The acknowledgment of ‘graphic novels’ as a legitimate and financially viable segment of our bookstores, with Barnes & Noble dedicating an entire section of their website to them. Smallville the number one rated show on the WB. CrossGen Comics in schools. EW beta-testing a regular comics section. Individually, it’s nothing, mere blips on the radar, but combined, well combined it looks like the beginnings of change. It looks like someone is paying attention.
It won’t be long before they realize exactly what we’re capable of, and by then it’ll be too late. Their bad ideas will have perished in slow and horrible ways, murdered by repetition. Our patience will finally be rewarded. Because it has to all mean something. The CrossGen floor display that just arrived in my department has to mean something. The announcement that in six months time the graphic novel section will double its territory and be relocated to the front of the store has to mean something.
The only thing you need to ask yourself is, “are you ready?” And don’t just instinctively answer the question, take a moment with it. Think about the products and creators on our shelves and tell yourself I’m wrong, that the creative environment isn’t ready for this. Tell yourself that the future doesn’t belong to us.
I’ll ask you again. Are you ready?
Well all right then…let’s go get ’em.