Superheroes And Comics
By Glenn Carter
(Note: I'm bringing this subject up again because there is a lot more I want to say and more I should say on this subject. I've given this issue a lot of thought since I last wrote about it and had a lot of feedback, some positive, some negative and I really want to set the record straight on this score...)
My point is this; the super-being genre dominates the comics world to an absurd degree.
It should be quite obvious to any fully evolved human being that this is never a good thing in ANY genre. It creates in the public mind an association between a genre and a medium to the point where the two seem inseparable to anyone not fully informed.
In the case of comics, it’s gotten to a point that is unprecedented in the history of any other medium. Put simply, no other medium has EVER gotten itself so entangled in a genre that it caters for that medium almost exclusively. I know there are alternatives but let's talk percentages here; at least 99% of all comics are superhuman comics. That to me is a ridiculous situation.
It is also a situation that needs to be addressed in order for comics to be validated as a media format. In order to make it OK to like comics. A medium that caters almost exclusively to a single genre is not going to have any initial appeal for non-readers that don't like the genre. You cannot expect these people to go into a comics shop with its shelves filled with superhero comics and NOT make the assumption that comics are not for them. They aren't going to carry on looking to find something they DO like - they'll just walk straight out the shop.
In fact, many people who DO read comics don't know there are comics that go beyond superheroes. How many people have read comics up to their teens and then felt like they've grown out of superheroes and have consequently stopped reading comics? How many potential long-term comics readers have we lost because of an assumption that comics and superheroes are inseparably linked? I've talked to a lot of people on this and the answer is that it is a lot more than you think.
How much of the market is the medium of comics missing out on because of the single minded catering of one taste and pretty much one taste alone? My estimate is that comics are missing out on about 90% of their potential market base. Comics are stuck in a genre trap because to have universal appeal a media must cater for a wide range of tastes. We all know that comics do not do that presently.
But now comics are stuck in a catch-22 situation in terms of possible solutions to the problem: because the current readership of comics is stuck on the superhero train many retailers won't stock unprofitable alternatives and many producers won't make unprofitable alternatives. However, the alternatives will not become profitable until the mass market realizes that comics are not limited exclusively to superheroes. And the mass market will not realize that until there are sufficient alternative titles on the shelves of the retailers for the point to become clear.
So, the question remains - What can we do to change this?
1. Comics readers need to seek out alternatives and need to hassle their retailers to stock more alternatives.
2. Retailers need to stop ignoring alternatives and ensure that not only do they know about them but that they also stock them.
3. Retailers need also to give alternatives to superheroes a prominent place on their shelves. Dump the X-Men feature that fills up a wall - put a Strangers in Paradise poster there instead.
4. Publishers need to ask themselves: Do we really need another comic about exactly the same character or group? If we cut down on titles that are simply duplicating what is elsewhere then more than enough shelf space will be freed so people can stock alternatives. Think about it: Do you really need EIGHT Batman titles? As for the X-Men, you have: New X-Men, Ultimate X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force and more besides and that is not counting all the damn spin-offs. The world would not be a worse place with only one X-Men title. It’s just being greedy to need so many comics about the same characters.
5. Publishers need to think about pushing alternatives and not superhero comics and about seeking out alternatives to publish.
Superheroes are like fossil fuels, they are not sustainable, they will not last and we need to find alternatives. If we do not, all that will happen is that comics will either stay on the fringes of a market or will die out altogether. I can conceive of a time in the future when superheroes no longer have any relevance and people cease even buying what has been the mainstay of comics for so many years. This will be the end of comics.
Willingly or not comics need to evolve.
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