This past weekend was comics' great secular holiday, with the premiere of the most long-awaited movie in years along with the annual Free Comic Book Day. I'm not sure if my experiences are typical, but this weekend really showed how much comics have grown in peoples' perception. The excitement about Avengers was palpable as every theatre showing the movie was packed with excited fans, while from all reports; the comic shops were jammed with people on Saturday for FCBD.
Once again, these are the best of times for comics. Our favorite medium is getting more and more popular all the time as it captures the imaginations of old and young people all around the world, as comics become embraced as a medium that people want to read. And with the continuing growth of digital comics, I can't escape the feeling that even better times are yet to come.
That said, I don't want to throw cold water on this wave of euphoria, but I do have a relatively small concern: that comics are perceived as a monolithic collection of super-hero action stories rather than an incredibly diverse and vibrant medium that can produce work that is as complex and varied as the material we can find in most any other artform.
One of my favorite people to hang out with his CB writer Zack Davisson. I like Zack because he's funny, and tall, and he's a good writer and who has a great way of getting along with people. I also like Zack because he's damn smart.
And one of Zack's favorite smart, insightful statements is that "manga is not a genre." Zack lived for several years in Japan, and even has a Japanese wife, so Zack brings real freight and authority to that statement. Manga is not a genre. There are literally dozens of different genres of manga, from the grossest pornography allowed by Japanese law to chaste comics about soccer; from samurai epics to quiet romance. It's only in unimaginative America that we see manga as a genre.
Part of this comes from the fact that only certain manga have been translated into English, and we only have seen a small percentage of all the manga that is produced each year. The manga apparently come as a virtual tidal wave in Japan; an inescapable tide of comics that are read by nearly everybody in that society.
I mention this because American comics also often face this sort of treatment, especially now that Avengers has premiered and, as expected, has broken all the box office records.
Avengers has been great for giving our medium a lot of attention from non-comics fans, and oh by the way was a terrific flick too (wow did Downey steal every scene he was in – what a terrific actor).
But there's a problem there, too.
Ask any stranger or friend how they feel about comics – your cousin, that guy from work who's nice to talk to sometimes, the girl who sits behind you in English class – and almost invariably they'll almost immediately bring up something about super-hero comics before they talk about anything else. They'll have a fairly informed opinion about comics. And much of that time their opinion will be dead wrong.
Because they confuse genre with medium. They confuse all comics as being super-hero books. They assume that the continuing adventures of Peter Parker or Tony Stark are all that comics are and can be.
And that's part of what comics are about. A good part, a major part, a fun part, but just a part of it.
Because by treating comics as a genre, by limiting comics to just one segment of its entire spectrum of content, we're selling the medium short.
Comics are awesome and incredible. You can do almost anything in comics – and one of the essays that I'll get to in this column at some point in the future will be about how comic books aren't just a great artform but are actually the greatest artform, an infinitely malleable place that allows for an insanely diverse set of content to be produced cheaply and in a way that is true to the individual creator's personal vision. We saw that diversity on display yesterday at FCBD, where comics of most every genre and style were on display. Any time you see comics by Carl Barks, Howard Cruse and Geoff Johns sitting happily next to each other, you can see how wonderfully diverse comics rally are.
The fact is, you can do almost anything in comics, and present material that suits every age group, intellectual level, level of experimentation, and nearly every other category.
It's important that we continue to get that story out, that we let our comics-loving friends know that comics aren't just about the Avengers and Batman and even 30 Days of Night and series like that. I think some people get that message – and having comics available in apps like Comixology and on Amazon and Nook and iBooks makes that message even harder to escape.
It's also important for comics shops to embrace that diversity and make material in all shapes and sizes and genres available for the tremendously wide diversity of fans out there. The smartest shops, like Arcane Comics in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, really get this. The owners of that shop work very hard to provide a large and diverse collection of graphic novels in every conceivable genre available for fans. I have no doubt that this has got to be an expensive proposition for them, but it's exciting to know that there is a comics ship at which I can buy Animal Man, Angelman, the latest Jacques Tardi collection, a Marvel Masterwork or a great comic for my kid. The comics market wants and deserves more stores like that, which show what comics can deliver in all of our insanely diverse glory.
Comics Bulletin has always been all about the diversity, and I'm proud that we're continuing to embrace that diversity on this site. I take great pride on our embrace of all aspects of comics art. We're good friends with Image and Fantagraphics and Archaia and even Bluewater, but we're not beholden to any of them. We care about presenting the tremendous depth of the artform, of presenting the full diversity of material from the smallest small-press comics to the slickest member of the DC New 52.