Welcome to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.

The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to panel@silverbulletcomicbooks.com and we’ll add them to the list…

This week’s question comes from Sylvain Lebleu and is as follows:-

“Do fans really want change?”

with the qualifer from ourselves as follows:

Although this is still perfectly valid for other series – as a creator, when you throw a curveball by maybe killing or retiring a popular character, by having a situation you know will shake up the status quo of your book, are fans receptive to this, or do they just want to read ad infinitum the adventures – for wont of a better word – of comfortable and familiar characters?

Donna Barr:

They’ll take change and like it.

The proper hiearchy in this art form is (from level of importance down): art – artist – readers – retailers – distributors – publishers. Then the ruck like editors, agents and reviewers. Things you clean off your shoes.

I’ve had characters wake me up at night and gleefully tell me JUST how they’re going to die (I think they want better actor’s scale for dramatic parts), and I’m going, “You are NUTS! I’ll be hanged! By my gonads! (And mine are internal, thank you, it will take some work).”

And of course I go ahead and make the change and do the do and everybody weeps and wails and calls me names and HOW could I do that, and I am a thoughtless bitch, and I helped them get over the biggest crisis of their lives — and then they’re whining, “But when’s the NEXT issue out? Why isn’t a 64-page book done by ONE SINGLE PERSON out NEXT week? WAAAH!!!!”

Bunch of druggies, just wanting the next fix, and I am the only supplier. So if I decide to mix aspirin or Draino into their nose-candy, they will snort it and and ask for more.

Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once.

Vince Moore:

Yes, the fans really do want change, and no, they don’t. Let me explain.

A few years ago I was researching a story. I was focusing on a favorite topic of most Americans, self improvement. So I was immersing myself in self help books and tapes. And of course I couldn’t skip the works of Tony Robbins, that grinning face many of us see haunting our late night TV. In one of his tape series he talked about what he had determined as the basic human needs that drive all of us. One of those needs was the need for certainty, for our environment (whatever it is for each of us) to provide a steady set of stimuli that we respond to and gain enjoyment from. One of the other needs was for variety, for our environment to provide us with different stimuli. By now you should see the inherent contradiction in these two needs. Robbins mentioned it as well, but said that we humans need to have both certainty and variety, so that we are balanced within ourselves. Now for each of us that balance is achieved differently. Some of us want more certainty than variety and others the reverse.

All of this is to say that the fans do want change. But what that change is, is different for each of them. Some want lots of change, new characters and new dynamics all the time. Others only want to change some of the side characters in a book. And still others want no change at all.

That’s why there’s no real formula for what succeeds in comics and what doesn’t, short of just plain bad work.

And I think this is true no matter the genre. While most of this could be aimed at superhero books, I’m sure it also applies to other genres. It may not be likely for Seth or Chester Brown fans to like any suddenly happy stories from them. Or those who like sweet romance shojo to sudden want to see hentai by the same manga artists they love. In a generic sense, people read what they read because it strikes certain chords with them, most often the same chord over and over again. Maybe from a few different angles sometimes. But most often the same thing in just different guises.

Vince Moore is the writer of Platinum Publishing’s upcoming book, Kid Victory & The Funky Hammer.

Alonzo Washington:

Most fans don’t want change. They are trapped in the matrix without choice. Most don’t even know that a red or blue pill exist. It’s up to creators like me to free their minds. Zo Out!

Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man and a noted black rights campaigner.

Alan Grant:

I think it was Stan Lee who claimed that fans want the illusion of change, rather than change itself. I think that statement could be refined to: “publishers want the illusion of change, rather than change itself.”

Comic books are published for profit. If a character or series is successful, the publisher wants to continue it for as long as possible, with as many spin-offs as possible. The last thing he wants is this money-spinning hero killed off, retired, or sidelined…*no matter what the fans–or for that matter the writer–might think*.

From my own experience, I’d say that fans generally are receptive to change. They actively want it. But they want it done properly. John Wagner and I received a lot of brickbats for our careless killing of Judge Giant in “Judge Dredd”. We deserved them, as we failed to give him a hero’s death.

We killed off Johnny Alpha in “Strontium Dog” because we didn’t want anyone else ever to write the series. The fans wanted more Stront. The publisher obliged.

When I tried to tie Anarky more deeply into the Batman mythos (Anarky #8), by having him discover the Joker might be his real father, I was told privately by a senior DC official: “Anarky will never be the Joker’s son. You can write the story, but someone else will write the sequel showing it just can’t be.”

Go figure.

Alan Grant is maybe most famous for his Batman and Judge Dredd work, and his classic EPIC series The Last American is due out imminently from Com.X as a trade for the first time.

Michael David Thomas:

The unfortunate and short answer to this question is “no.”

The longer answer is worse. Fans want the same, but different. Plot A, twist B. Joe Ezterhaus made a short but lucrative career out of milking what the public wants and feels safe with: sex and violence. And for the love of God, he made two movies from the same plot, but with different actors.

But I digress…

I believe the first time I read the following idea, it was on Steven Grant’s column (Master of the Obvious or Permanent Damage, I don’t remember) on Comic Book Resources (www.cbr.cc): The first season of any new show is about severe and sudden change over the course of the episodes. The characters are very different at the end than they were at the beginning. Subsequent seasons are about the illusion of change without messing with the core success of the show. I think this principle works well when talking about comics.

Name me a comic that has not maintained status quo despite spikes of what would seem to be monumental upheaval. The last moment that upset status quo and hasn’t been corrected was the Death of Captain Marvel. Everything else seems to have been reversed or hypertimed or whatever.

Scott Summers, 41 years later, is still a passive-aggressive mess who can’t articulate his feelings enough to get what he wants.

Peter Parker is still living hand-to-mouth and Mary Jane is the love of his life.

Superman still works at the Daily Planet and loves Lois Lane with all of his big Kryptonian heart. And he has a cousin, a dog and a teenage protege.

Batman doesn’t know how to get over it and beats his head against the wall trying to clean up the most corrupt city in America. Talk about martyrdom…

This is the same reason that licensed characters and concepts are so appealing to comic book companies or to fledgling publishers (Devil’s Due, Dreamwave, etc.). Instant name recognition and built-in audience.

As fans, we don’t want change and we don’t want new. Change means that we would have to be pulled out of our comfort zone and, by God, we will not be given that. We want the same old, same old, repackaged and reformatted for our times.

And the new titles that do make it (Preacher, Transmetropolitan, Invisibles) are flukes. Until the fans make the transition to accepting new material (and buy it in droves) and real change in comic book stories, we are going to be subject to the “new” take on Batman, Captain America or Superman ad infinitum.

Michael David Thomas works at Dark Horse Comics, trading hats between front desk reception, lettering and proofreading.

Jesse Leon McCann:

Fans will accept change if it makes sense continuity-wise, if the change hasn’t been done a gazillion times before, and it’s not a change for the sake of change only, without a solid story behind it. Period.

Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently editing the fourth Simpsons TV Episode Guide for Bongo Comics/Harper Perennial, and writing stories for DC Comics’ Looney Tunes and Cartoon Cartoons.

Vito Delsante:

My heart says yes. No fan of comics wants to read the same story over and over again. No one wants to see nerdy Peter Parker for 40 years. They want to see the characters develop WITH them.

But my eyes say no. Look at the market. Superheroes rule. And I may be a part of that problem, sure. But I do what I can with the tools given to me. Once I get my own tools, look out.

Vito Delsante is currently pitching his creator owned mini-series, “The Mercury Chronicles”, with artist Jim Muniz. He can be seen in June’s “Batman Adventures Vol 2: Shadows and Masks” from DC Comics and in a forthcoming issue of X-Men Unlimited.

Brandon Thomas:

An overwhelming majority obviously doesn’t want change, if the sales charts are any indication. What’s become the most frustrating aspect of all this is that one very dedicated and very vocal portion of the comic reading public is doing everything in their power to publicize and hype the books that are attempting to push the medium’s boundaries in some way, and it doesn’t seem to be working. Not as much as it should be anyway.

But you know, titles like Hawaiian Dick, Rex Mundi, or Walking Dead will never bring home X-Men numbers, and I’m not sure they should (though I’m leaning towards yes) but there will always be an audience out there for books that aren’t just connecting the dots, and that audience is going to keep doing things to make sure as many people as possible know about them, even if those results aren’t monumental in scope. What it comes down to, and this is true of several branches of entertainment, is that sometimes you can’t be so concerned with giving the people what you think they want, that you forget to give them what they need.

Brandon Thomas is one of the writers of Spider-Man Unlimited #3, scripter of Youngblood, creator of Cross and long-time Ambidextrous columnist.

Donna Barr (again):

Excuse me?

WHO are you talking about?

Readers always want new an’ diff’rent an’ sparkly and fresh. They pounce on it like starving coyotes.

It’s EDITORS and the other Ruck who don’t want to work with the new or don’t know how, or are just too bone-ass lazy, who don’t want change because they they’d actually have to — gasp! — earn their paychecks.

The horror! The horror!

Fans want “change.” The Ruck want “changed.”

Donna Barr has books and original art at www.stinz.com, webcomics at www.moderntales.com, www.girlamatic.com, and has POD at www.booksurge.com Nothing she won’t try, at least once.

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