Welcome back 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 Beau Rossel and is as follows:-

“With the comic industry in the shape it’s in, and the advent of Manga and other genres of comics, what do you think will replace the superhero (if anything, feel free to disagree) as the fan’s choice for reading in the next 20-30 years? What kind of changes will have to be made to accommodate this and how will it affect the fan culture itself?”

Kev F Sutherland:

The only way I’ve ever found of predicting the future is to look back the same length of time, see how surprising the changes were that came about, and try and imagine the same level of surprise in the future.

So 30 years ago, which is when I started reading comics, the UK comics scene was big but boring, with 30 or so weekly titles, each costing a few pennies of pocket money, and none being that great to read if you were over 10 years old. However we had black and white reprints of Marvel comics issued weekly, and I devoured those. Of course my dream was to work for Marvel, but since only one Brit had ever done that (Barry Smith), it was bound to remain a dream.

I’d have predicted that Marvel would go from strength to strength, they were by then 15 years old and were really maturing, and I’ve have predicted UK comics would have stayed the same, they had been pretty similar in number and content for the previous 25 years.

The title most obvious to succeed in the coming decade – Howard The Duck. The country least likely to make an impact on the comics’ world – Britain.

And by that model I’d have been so, so wrong. A couple of years later 2000AD comic was created, a few years after that came Warrior, and suddenly Brit comics were way cooler than anything coming from the States, to such an extent that, 23 years ago DC came over here and started picking up UK talent. They started with Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore, and within five years had found Wagner, Grant, Morrison, Bisley, Gaiman, Ennis et al. Within a decade that number included myself and a hundred others.

Meanwhile back home the publishing scene withered on the vine, leaving only 2000AD and The Beano to be found on your newsstand. And if you’d asked me the above question five years ago I’d have said that’s the way it’d stay. UK comics were dead and the UK was now a net exporter of creative talent, plus our local comics shops were hardly selling any comics relative to the number of collectable cards and toys they were shifting.

Then came the self-publishing boom, the rise of Manga and the internet.

Now UK publishers like AP comics are leading the way in international comic publishing, on burgeoning shelves which have been moved back to the front of the stores on the strength of the manga boom. Ten years ago who’d have predicted half our superhero characters would have big heads and bug-eyes and look like a mid-Pacific hybrid? Who’d have predicted simple animation-like outline would have replaced fanboy-obsessible detail as a popular style, or that ultra-realist art like Trevor Hairsine could be more popular than the stylisation of Bisley? Who’d have foreseen the ability to ink on computer and possibly eliminate the inker entirely?

And who’d have foreseen the UK newsstands seeing the return of the
Marvel reprint titles, which are now almost as numerous as in my childhood thirty years back. Ok, in those days they were 40 pages long, black and white and cost 8p, now they’re 60 pages, full colour glossy, and they cost £1.40. Plus ca change.

So, my predictions for the future? Though I am bound to be wrong, I would say:

– There has to be a challenge to paper. How can it possibly continue to compete with electronic methods?
– The collector market can only get bigger. After all, stamp collecting’s not taken a knock in over 100 years.
– The UK will rise again. And fall again. And rise again as a home of great talent. Its own market will have 7 good years, then 7 bad ones, then 7 good ones etc…

Oh, and I predict a rise in the popularity of war comics. That one’s just a hunch.

Writer and artist on most genres of comic from (currently) The Bash St Kids in The Beano, thru Tarquin Hoylet He Has To Go To The Toilet in Viz, to Star Trek and Dr Strange for Marvel, plus Dr Who, Red Dwarf, Gladiators, Goosebumps and heaps more.

James E. Lyle (a.k.a. Doodle):

The very fact that the question includes statements about the “shape of the comics industry” and then mentions the “advent of Manga”, shows what I feel is a fundamental flaw in people’s thinking about comics in general.

Manga comics are no less “SuperHeroic” than standard American comics. We’re still talking about primarily Adventure stories, with strangely powered heroic figures battling the “forces of evil”.

Also, ask the folks at Viz comics how the “shape of the industry” is and they’ll likely tell you that they’re just fine! The problem with American comics as I see it is that they’ve mostly lost touch with what made them great in the first place.

After 9/11 many people turned to their childhood icons for some semblance of stability in a very scary world, only to find that most characters had become so wishy-washy as to be unrecognizable by the standards they once had. No longer pitting good against evil, most American comics now seemed unable to offer any solid foundation for the characters actions beyond “it’s what I do”. No wonder audiences have not warmed to them.

While a strange transformation has been taking place in most Japanese comics. It’s as if the creators of Manga suddenly realized that taking an absolute position on moral principles was going to make their comics more marketable. Even in those strips that attempt to present a relative world view, certain undeniably absolute statements were being made by some characters.

We can also point out the Manga books have better presence in the marketplace. Not only is Shonen Jump available in every grocery store and newsstand, they also have an aggressive video presence in their deal with FOX. By comparison, DC books are available mostly in specialty stores anymore, and DC has it’s video tie-ins on Warner owned networks that are primarily still available only to cable subscribers.

Think about it. You’re a kid who’s parents can’t afford cable. Do you watch Justice League? NO! You watch One Piece on FOX, because it’s more or less free. Can you afford $2.50 for 20 pages of colour comics of characters you rarely see, or would you rather pay $4.95 for 250 pages of black and white comics about characters you already know? (And as mentioned before probably have a closer world-view to your “middle American” values than those characters that used to embody those values).

Viz has succeeded so far because they would rather have sales than try to change the views of their readers’ at least so far.

So you see it’s not about Spandex versus Ninja gear. There’s plenty of spandex in DragonBall Z, and plenty of Ninja in Daredevil. The trick is meeting the common person where they are. American comics companies have got to learn this lesson if they want to compete again.

James E. Lyle is a cartoonist and illustrator, including co-creating titles Escape to the Stars, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and DoorMan, plus work on Fright Night, Cynicalman Sells Out, and the accurately-spelt Wiindows. More recently Lyle worked on Turok, the “missing” Paul Gulacy T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents, and DRASTIK #1.

Bart Thompson:

Wow… now that was a mouthful!

Well, I wouldn’t really call Manga a “genre” of comics since it’s just the Japanese term for “comics”, but I get what you’re saying and I’ll try and use the term as you implied. I’m really thankful Manga has really been embraced by American readers. Many people who wouldn’t read a comic book with superheroes, capes, and spandex are brought to the medium because of it. True, most Manga fans still wouldn’t be interested in superhero exploits, but it brings them to the comic stores and the comic conventions and any new fans we can bring for any reason is a good thing. Manga won’t replace superheroes in comics- I’m sure four color spandex adventures will dominate the industry for a while to come, but Manga shows how much the industry needs NON-SUPERHERO stories to survive. We need more science fiction, horror, fantasy, romance, and even westerns on a regular basis. Thing is a lot of these categories won’t be popular with the current comic readership and a company would not only have to have the testicular fortitude to start a company, launch comics within these genres, put out top quality product, yet not make anything and possibly lose money for about 5 years until their audience finds them. It industry needs this badly, but who will be the first to actually start this revolution? Don’t hold your breath. The creative minds that could pull it off don’t have the cash to do it and the pockets with the funds only see things in short term returns.

We’re making small advances… horror comics are starting to make a comeback in my opinion due to IDW and Ben Templesmith’s love of the genre and the money he made from the 30 Days of Night movie option (I could be wrong… he may not even own the company). What about the other genres? There are comics here and there that touch on the other story types, but not enough to bring new readers en masse.

Superheroes dominant or not, I just hope comics will be around in 20 to 30 years. We’re a dying industry and if we don’t take some major steps now to bring new blood into our fold comics are going to die with us. In Writers on Comics Scriptwriting 2, Brian K. Vaughan compares the comic industry to the movie industry in the 1970’s. Cinema was dying out because everyone wanted to be in on TV (pretty much like how most people turn to video games, movies, and music for entertainment instead of comics). Currently our comics are so good now is because like the cinema powers that be in the 70’s, they didn’t know how to bring their audience back so they let new blood in to do what they wanted and that turned things around. When an industry is dying, the creativity peaks. We’ve hit that peak and we have the potential to make comics an important industry again. If we do things right 20 and 30 years from now comics will be an accepted entertainment choice and the industry will go strong with genres of all types welcome and waiting. If we abuse it, we’ll only go back to the boom of the early 90’s, and I don’t think the industry can handle another glut so soon.

What can we do? Don’t be afraid to support something different. You can still buy your copies of Super-Bat-X-People, but don’t turn your nose up at new publishers or titles. Take a Wednesday or two and don’t just pick up your holds, pay, and leave. Actually go up and down the wall of new releases and flip through a copy of every new issue there. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Every 6 months or so, go through your collection and take a look at the comics you’ve accumulated. Pass some you don’t read anymore to a little brother, sister, cousin, niece, nephew, neighbor, or a sick friend. We need to stop hording our comics and hiding behind closed doors like Golem. Share your love of comics with impressionable minds!

Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics and creator of Vampires Unlimited, the Metamutoids, ChiSai, and Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs. Zombies. Lethal Instinct from Alias Enterprises in April Myriad from Approbation in May!

Gary Spencer Millidge:

I think the dominance of the superhero comic *has* run its course, due in no small part to the fact that movies can now portray them better than comics can. I have no idea how the market/art form will develop, or whether it will even survive (let’s face it, reading in general is going out of fashion), but I *hope* that the traditional superhero over dominance will be replaced by a general diversity in content. No single genre, style or format, but a wide range of subject matter, with different approaches, appealing to the widest range of the general (adult and child) readership possible, making comics a truly mainstream form of entertainment, information and art.

The traditional collector-centric specialist comic retailer as the major vendor of comics and graphic novels would gradually be superseded by multiple high street outlets – bookshops, record shops, youth culture stores and suchlike, as well as the blossoming online/mail order retailers.

My biggest fear is that the book market will overload and subsequently implode under the weight of the current manga fad (as what happened post Dark Knight/Watchmen to the superhero-glutted graphic novel market), rather than targeting different products to different audiences.

I certainly think that the growth of the Internet as a retail opportunity as well as a publicity venue gives a degree of optimism for the future of a diverse art form.

Gary Spencer Millidge is the creator of the weird and wonderful Strangehaven comic, of which issue sixteen is coming imminently….yay!

Stephen Holland:

I know nothing about fan culture, except what I read in Brian Michael Bendis’ letter colums. I’m sure it’s very exciting.

I’d be very surprised if there weren’t already several very excitable chat rooms full of fizzing young ladies (and adventurous young men) squealing about their favourite yaoi.

The seismic shift, as I’ve always predicted – and which here has proved to be true – will continue to be the acceptance of this medium as a serious art form amongst the Real Mainstream, so that so much more comicbook fiction and non-fiction will be bought then talked about, for example in The Guardian (last weekend it ran an exclusive Joe Sacco piece of comicbook journalism from Iraq) and BBC 2’s Culture Show, which recently showcased the heart-stopping autobiography of Marianne Satrapi (Persepolis vols 1 & 2).

These readers won’t be indulging in any “fan” activity, but they will be buying the books and – something I’m seriously contemplating – perhaps even instigating their own Comicbook Club similar to those proliferating amongst prose readers, where they meet and discuss a graphic novel each month… then get drunk and commit adultery.

Stephen Holland runs Page 45 in Nottingham with Mark Simpson and Tom Rosin. He can also be found, monthly, in Comics International. He’s considering starting a monthly Readers Club, not committing adultery. Obviously.

Donna Barr:

Girls always buy more product — and will buy more different versions.
Witness TITANIC. Manga is going to eat superheroes alive.

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…including writing a column for SBC at this link!

Kwanza Osajyefo:

I realized that manga was a superior product more that ten years ago, people can disagree if they want but it won’t make Tokyopop or Viz lose sales at Borders or get Marvel more self space are B&N. That stated, I do not believe that superheroes will be replaced but shrink and eventually locked into a niche much like shojo genre manga.

It is obvious that Marvel is doing their best to maintain the choir while their forays into “in-house” manga have sucked rancorous, possum, ass despite the well of knowledge that is CB Cebeluski and now Mark Paniccia.

DC being pinky toe of AOL Warner, simply (and smartly enough) “acquires titles for CMX. The focus is on Marvel, as I do not see them expanding but shrinking to their core properties as they are painted into a even more tiny corner of what is defined as comics.

The trouble with American comics is that he next generation of readers is already into manga and while they may identify Spiderman or Superman from movies, their library will mostly be dominated by manga. As current American comic readers grow older or tired of the superhero genre, the new readers are stepping in and demanding something else. To reiterate, this is mostly due to the larger number of manga genres, more creative characters, lower price point and faster output. Manga comes out once a week, comics come out once a month, it’s that simple. That alone keeps the readers, especially new readers, far more involved in the story. Price is also a huge issue, if I can get 8 comics in Shonen Jump for $5 why the hell would I buy 22 pages of Spider-Man for $3?

In the coming years two things can happen, either Marvel acquires a Manga company, or a Manga company acquires Marvel. DC is a part of the god known as Warner Bros and they have already invested in “authentic” Manga, so they are safe. Hope lies in the rest of American comics creators evolving in the following fashion;

– Stop wasting money on color; this will speed up production, lower costs and ultimately lower consumer prices.
– Anthologies: If you want to test out new properties, package it with already successful properties. (This is why Joey follows Will & Grace)
– Come to terms with the above. It’s not the end of the world it’s the start of a bold new world.
– Stop robbing customers with expensive, derivative nonsense that only focuses on muscular people, in costumes, fighting evildoers.

Kwanza Osajyefo is the founder of Funky Comics, home to Jim’s Ninja and a number of other forthcoming comic book properties.

Interesting question this week, my hopes for the industry are simply this – I hope that comics fans will embrace all genres of the art form much in the way that film is accepted. I hate all this bickering about superheroes being dead and manga being the way forward, I still believe that if you tell a good story when the idea will sell. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make it’s money back right away. Fan feedback is most important, let the larger companies know how they doing, give the smaller guys a chance too and let them know what you think. Have intelligent things to say about the comics you read.

We NEED your questions for The Panel please email to me at the address at the top of the page, I have creators on this panel waiting for the question that will spring them into action!

“The views and opinions expressed on the panel are solely those of the panellist who has written them. They do not reflect the views or opinions of silver bullet comic books or myself. Freedom of speech is great isn’t it – James”

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