I keep reading how people are going to ‘fix comics.’ And it normally comes down to one of two things:
– If we go back to printing on Newsprint, comics will be cheaper and we’ll go back to “the way it used to be.”
– If we stop all this ‘diversity’ nonsense (which is just a commie plot to indoctrinate kids into not hating and fearing people for being different), and change all the characters back into white, heterosexual males, comics’ core audience of alienated white, heterosexual males will come flooding back and we’ll go back to “the way it used to be.”
They’re both nonsense, and here’s why…
The simple fact is that there is no single quick-fix solution.
The two big companies have spent DECADES creating the corner that they’ve painted themselves into.
(1) They saw that comics which adopted an ongoing serial format where large changes happened and characters grew and developed (Uncanny X-Men, New Teen Titans) were big sellers, so they moved everything away from a more episodic approach to a more serial approach. The problem with that is that it’s harder for new readers to just ‘jump in’ without needing to know decades worth of continuity.
(2) They saw that big events (Secret Wars, Crisis on Infinite Earths) sold, so they made them a yearly thing, and then twice yearly, and then quarterly, until every comic feels like it’s either leading towards a big ‘event’ or marking time until the next big ‘event’, not realizing that if an ‘event’ happens every other week, it’s NOT an ‘event’, it’s just that annoying thing that interrupts what you were reading with a lot of pointless noise.
(3) Combining #1 and 2, they saw that comics where big things happened (Dark Phoenix Saga, Death of Gwen Stacy) spiked sales, so they started trying to do it on a regular basis, not realizing that the reason these stories resonated so powerfully was that they DIDN’T happen all the time. Eventually, the laws of diminishing returns meant that fans grew bored with constant ‘shock’ events.
(4) During the speculator boom of the 1990’s, both Marvel and DC, seeing competition from Upstart Companies like Image, Dark Horse etc… began to flood the shelves with extraneous titles (5 Spider-Man Titles, 12 Batman Titles, etc…) in order to starve their competition of shelf space.
This has resulted in customers seeing SOME titles as ‘important’ and others as surplus to requirements, (e.g. is it a CORE title, or extraneous? Is it tied to continuity or the universe directly, or tangentially?) with the result being that some of the companies’ best comics usually fail to connect with an audience.
(5) With comics gaining ‘respectability’ in the 80’s, many new readers became uncomfortable with the idea of reading ‘kiddie-stuff’, so the companies began pitching their work at older audiences and instead of the vast majority of mainstream comics being aimed at a teenage audience, but accessible to all ages, they’re now aimed at an adult audience, accessible to teenagers, and inaccessible (whether due to content, price or need to understand and follow continuity) to young readers.
None of these problems can be solved with band-aid solutions like switching to newsprint, or pandering to people who see widening comics’ customer base as some sort of ‘commie plot’.
It’s taken DECADES for comics to train readers to approach comics in this way, and undoing it isn’t going to happen overnight.
(Also, a reminder. Anyone who complains that “Comics are pandering to…” is ACTUALLY saying, “Why aren’t comics pandering to MEEEEEE???!!!” This starts to become really obvious in these discussions.)