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On the margins

A few days ago, in the course of talking about comics in Israel (which are somewhat of a fringe phenomenon), Amritas-sensei asked:

I still don't fully understand why indigenous comics have become a marginal phenomenon within the US.

He actually answers that question (though he seems to be unconscious of it) in this post, which reminds me of a couple of comics panels I was on at this year's CONvergence, and one from last year.
Continued below the cut...

The problem is partially that the big two, DC and Marvel, aren't really mass media any more. They're publishing for the benefit of collectors, the kind of people satirized by The Simpsons with their character The Comic Book Guy. They keep messing with the old superheroes, making them modern and relevant and "interesting", retconning and rebooting all over the place without stopping to think what they're actually doing to the iconic value of those characters. Meanwhile, just about every non-superhero comic line at DC and Marvel has been killed off. You can still find the Archie comics in paperback format at the grocery store, but I think those are mostly reprints...but that's about it. There are no other continuing series that don't feature superheroes.

Not only do they futz around with the characters, but the price of comic books is just nuts these days. For $3.50, you get about twenty pages of 4-color story once a month, and that's all, folks. In contrast, you can pick up a 200-page copy of Ai Yori Aoshi from Tokyopop for $10. Granted, the interior art is black and white, but it's outstanding art, and the color cover is pretty fabulous as well. Granted, you see a lot of short-run/special-edition comic books reprinted as graphic novels, but odds are of they didn't sell well as individual books then you won't see them as graphic novels.

Returning to the topic of the first paragraph, I think comics have also gone astray from their roots in that they have become (like so many other parts of pop culture) Hollywoodized and overly political. WTF have things come to when the current Secretary of Defense can be depicted as the Red Skull in the pages of Iron Man? Some folks no doubt find this appealing, but most of them probably don't buy a lot of comics to start with.The original target market for comics (teenage boys) has become increasingly conservative politically these days and isn't likely to be too amused by such plot devices, to say nothing of the notion of an America secretly controlled by Lex Luthor

So it is that manga and webcomics have become increasingly popular to American boys and girls while traditional comic books fade into a fringe medium. Manga and webcomics talk about ordinary people having extraordinary things happening to them, and even the robots turn out to be more human than machine. Kids like that; they feel they have more in common with Mahoro Ando than with Iron Man these days, and who can blame them?


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2005 11:47 pm (UTC)
Very concisely done. But don't you think that's also why more and more of youth (and me for that matter) are embracing Japanese culture rather then American? All culture today has been either politicized (If you are a conservative you are a goose step Nazi) or never reach past irony (we don't care, and you shouldn't either). At least, that's why I watch more anime then American television.
Jul. 14th, 2005 02:05 pm (UTC)
I think that's a big part of it, yes. Whatever defects there may be in Japanese pop culture, at least the mangaka and anime producers know their audience and address their needs instead of turning out the comic book equivalent of Hook.
Jul. 14th, 2005 03:08 am (UTC)
Gee, when I was a kid comic books were 15 cents. . . There was so much more to choose from back then, too.

But now it's almost strictly manga for me. Some I'm struggling to read in Japanese, since they haven't been licensed yet, and a couple I didn't like the English translations.

I avoid DC and Marvel at all costs, so when I choose an American comic, it's always a small press.
Jul. 14th, 2005 01:39 pm (UTC)
While I generally find retconning about as stupid a move as you can pull, it has been occasionally done well. Well, once. But really, if you want something darker, start a new line. Don't cut your old ones to shreds. I'm specifically thinking of Powers and Invincible here. BTW - you forget up-and-comer Image, and DC's Vertigo line, both of which have featured and continue to feature non-superhero lines (Anyone who argues that Sandman was a superhero comic should be drug out into the street and shot).
Jul. 14th, 2005 02:07 pm (UTC)
Yes. Starting with the kneecaps, and moving upwards from there.
Jul. 14th, 2005 02:12 pm (UTC)
I didn't forget them. I just don't think that either line is aimed at the young adult/high school market that comics used to be aimed at, and which they need to recapture if they're not going to go the same way as radio dramas.

In the same vein, Sandman certainly isn't a superhero comic in the traditional sense, but again that's not something written for teenagers - though certainly a lot of them have become fascinated by it and Gaiman's other stories of the Endless. You can't really compare it to, say, Dr. Strange on the one hand or Yu Yu Hakusho on the other.
Jul. 14th, 2005 02:52 pm (UTC)
Sorry. It was the 'there are no continuing lines that don't feature superheroes' statement. But while Vertigo may be outside the teen market, the good folks at Image have several other things ongoing that are aimed at young adult/teenagers market that aren't superheroes. They're now publishing Kurtz's PvP, there's Kirkman's "The Walking Dead", and they've published any number of Bendis' crime comics (although this skews older), Small Gods (slight psychic phenomenon, but again, more crime than superhero), Liberty Meadows, and more I'm probably forgetting. While the individual issue price can be high, their graphic novels are decently priced and their quality is outstanding.
Jul. 14th, 2005 04:00 pm (UTC)
I can't believe I forgot Liberty Meadows! Me, a devoted fan of the Monkey Boy! Oh, the embarassment!
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )



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