Porn ‘stache Guy Gardner has a look I can get behind.
I would also accept “mid-70s folk-rock band Guy Gardner”.
Comic Book Showcase - Episode 2: Death in Comics
It’s monday, and that means it’s time to release another episode of Comic Book Showcase. This time, we talk about the issue of death in comics, and what it means to us as readers and fans.
A tricky question.
The audience is ahead of us, in comics. It’s more ethnically diverse and gender diverse than the books we are publishing. I think anyone who has been to a con in the last five years can see that.
Yet, many recent attempts at diverse comics, even with great creative teams, have failed. Many wonderful books like Journey Into Mystery and others (and, well, the Movement), have not found an audience to sustain them despite lots of critical success and lots of love on Tumbler. Even some fan beloved books have had to be relaunched, like Captain Marvel and Black Widow.
I refuse to believe it is because the audience won’t support quality books with diverse casts, I just don’t feel that that is the problem.
So how do we take full advantage of this wider audience? How do we get these newer readers who are loving Batman and Walking Dead to try books that are more on the margins?
We have a dream audience now. How do we grow that audience and update the casts and titles to reflect that readership when new character are so much more difficult to sustain?
To be fair, I don’t think it was the fact that the Movement was diverse that made it fail to reach/sustain a larger audience.
And I realize the danger in reblogging directly from Gail Simone as I say this (because offering public critique on a published author’s work when you’re a nobody and they have a massive and vocal fanbase isn’t typically advisable), but while the book had strong characters and strong character development (sorely lacking, in the majority of other books, by the way), its arc was slow.
We didn’t learn enough about the characters fast enough, and the Cornea Killer story - which seemed as though it was going to be the big-bad primary plot arc ended up a secondary plot arc in a book without a major plot arc.
That took away from story momentum in an important way, which made the main draw of the book the characters, and not finding out what was going to happen next.
Christy Marx’s Amethyst - which I loved - was similarly flawed, in that the main draw was the world that Marx build around Nilaa, and the mythology of Amethyst’s world. Again, though, there was no momentum in terms of readers needing to know what happened next. It was all about the world that was created, and the intrigue of wanting to know more about that world.
As much as characters and world-building are key parts of a really great comic book, something big needs to be happening in that world and with those characters to string the readers along.
One of the challenges to maintaining readers facing an imprint like Vertigo, I think, is that the books aren’t tied to a main “universe” with a heritage. So world-building and character development are a given, but without a dynamic plot arc (and by dynamic, I mean - again - one with momentum) those books fall flat. Similarly, the Movement was set in a new city in the DCU (which is a good thing) and Amethyst was set in another world. It was incumbent upon both books to establish their settings - and both did that very well. It was making things happen - and not just things, but an overarching plot - in those settings that was an issue.
One of my biggest problems with the Movement was that there were no stakes for them. They were out to get the corrupt Police, which made the Police the ones who had to deal with a problem, which made relatively straight-arrows Captain Meers and Erik Yee the characters who had the most at stake (especially when Joe Whitt decided to declare war on the Movement), which made their story more compelling. Their conflicts were edge-of-the-seat reading.
Of course, Vengeance Moth and Burden had to deal with the Graveyard Faction at one point, but the motivations of the Graveyard Faction and the motivations of James Cannon, who hired them, were never much clearer than that he hated the Movement and wanted them dead, which is unusual for Gail Simone, because she usually puts a lot of time into explaining the backstories of her villains.
One of the benefits of Gail Simone’s strong character work is that the Movement’s individual characters (especially Virtue, Katharsis, and Vengeance Moth) have potential outside of their home-book. Katharsis could easily become an occasional, if unwilling, ally to Batgirl. Virtue’s connection to the Emotional Electromagnetic Spectrum makes her ripe for a supporting role in a Lantern book or a leading role in a Teen Titans book (which is unfortunate, given that the “New Teen Titans” book doesn’t appear to be all that new, and the most diverse character on it is a gay hispanic male, and everyone else is white (Or a beast-boy… or the daughter of a demon?). I don’t know where Vengeance Moth could fit easily, but I just want to see her elsewhere. So there.
Anyway, it’s not about the diversity. Sure, the thought of a super-team of teens where everyone is diverse in some way (Burden’s white-maleness notwithstanding) would certainly make more conservative-minded comic fans - which is a lot of them (in terms of resistance to change, not necessarily in terms of values) - recoil. It sounds gimmicky to them, whether it is in practise or not. A contingency of these people would not bother to give the book a try in any case.
Reader retention, though, is about what I outlined above: story momentum.
And then, I realized with horror that I hadn’t even answered the question:
How do we get more readers for books that encourage diversity in comics?
Well, first off, we don’t make it a big deal that they encourage diversity in comics. Yes, you want to let people who have been waiting for characters who they can identify with that there are some good ones in your title. But, above all - and this ties into everything I said above - your book shouldn’t be about the fact that it is diverse, it should be about how the characters who happen to be diverse, solve problems and mysteries and drive their stories forward.
Birds of Prey didn’t make Oracle an enduring character because she was in a wheelchair, it made her an enduring character because she was awesome. It was a book about three to five awesome women being awesome, and one of them happened to be in a wheelchair.
Story elements dealt with the issue, of course, and those were good stories, but the selling point of Birds of Prey was that they were a bunch of awesome ladies/birds fighting/preying on bad guys and bad stuff.
Secondly, organic crossovers. The age-old “LOOK WHO’S IN THIS ISSUE! PLEASE BUY OUR BOOK! WE’RE DROWNING!” crossover is… well, it’s an indicator that the book is floundering, not that I should buy it. If you’re going to have Superman show up for an issue (which is a mistake, since Superman only sustains his own awful book by virtue of his being Superman) then there needs to be an organic build-up to that appearance long before the first page of the issue.In all things, and above all, story. Comic books as an episodic medium are harder to pull off than a serial, because unless each individual issue is very strong, nothing brings you back to read the next issue except the promise of another very strong individual issue.
Titles like Legends of the Dark Knight and Gotham Knights pulled it off well, with short arcs or one-offs by different writers. An ongoing series by one writer who sets the stage and gives the characters small conflicts to deal with one at a time isn’t going to drive readers to the next issue unless each of those conflicts is closed off solidly in their individual issues, or unless each of those conflicts is tied to a greater, overarching conflict.
The comic-book publishing and consumption machines are on a trajectory that aims at trade paperbacks, just like popular television these days is heavy with continuity and cliffhangers and mysteries - and aiming its trajectory at DVD sales and Netflix marathons. That’s a move that was driven by consumers, who prefer to consume television that way. These days, it’s how we prefer to consume comics as well.
Simply establishing characters and then seeing what happens when they bump into each other isn’t enough to build the momentum, which is why shows like Dexter and True Blood got progressively worse after their first, seasons, which were based directly on pre-established stories which themselves had dynamic plots.
Now that I look at it, it does look like she’s daring us to watch her vacuum beast boy into her vagina…
I won’t go on too much about this, but I was on the twitterpants and encountered a twitter-battle between former DC Editor Janelle Asselin and artist Brett Booth (of whom I am not a fan, as you might have read elsewhere).
Ms. Asselin had written an article on Comic Book Resources heavily criticizing this cover art by Kenneth Rocafort. If you’re at all familiar with her opinions and beliefs, it wouldn’t be unexpected to learn that the majority of her criticisms are aimed at the depiction of Wonder Girl.
Short version: Those tits look fake. They look like they’re going to fall out of her top. She’s a teenager. That’s gross. And, as I mentioned above, she looks like she’s about to stuff poor Beast Boy’s head up her birth canal. (Perhaps with the help of that weird rope of pre-chewed bubblegum she’s whipping around)?
A lot of comic fans are quick to eye-roll when someone is outspoken about comic art failing to meet feminist standards (i.e. anatomically correct and not excessively sexualized) - especially when it’s women being outspoken.
That’s sad, dawgs.
A while ago, I posted this helpful cheat-sheet by Meghan Hetrick, and it’s pretty obvious that Rocafort didn’t use it.
In any case, it’s just a busy cover.
I think we can do better - especially if we want this book to appeal to women (or teen girls, at least).