Gateways into Comics

Written whilst somewhat drunk.

With the industry suffering through a quiet crisis right now, and several creators start to talk about the fact that they’re struggling to make a living from comics, how can we fans do something to help out the industry? Well, as Comics Vanguard is a British website and none of the major companies ever release info about sales here, it looks like very little indeed. But instead of ending the post right there – which’d be a major anti-climax for you all – we’re instead going to look at ways in which British (French, Russian, Philippine, Brazilian; insert your nationality here) fans can push their Yankee friends into shops, and help the industry.

The way I first got into comics was through a ‘name’ writer, and so I’m going to assume that many other people were the same. A Joss Whedon fan, I decided to try his X-Men stories to see if they were as good as Buffy – this was around the time of season 4, I believe, so that’s not too far-fetched a thing for someone to do. I doubt anyone watching season 6 would behave in the same way. Marvel in particular have spent a lot of time trying out famous writers – next year they’ll be getting the writer of Dexter, Jeff Lindsay, to write a Dexter series, as a matter of fact. But the single problem which comes up time and time again is that these writers are not focused on the comics. Kevin Smith, Jon Favreau, Damon Lindelof – all ‘name’ writers whose comics have been plagued by chronic delays because they couldn’t get the scripts in on time. If you hire them, then non-comic fans will be more inclined to try out some books – but at the same time, don’t expect anything like professionalism from them. They may write clever stories, and know their obscure history, but it’s a difficult thing for the artist and company when their writer isn’t submitting anything.

So that’s perhaps a dead-end. On a different front — Wikipedia is unanimously the way in which people get their obscure information online. After grabbing Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, I found myself confronted with Cassandra Nova – a Grant Morrison character. Now, there is absolutely no way that a new fan is going to understand any Morrison character unless they’re being written by Morrison, so Wikipedia became my source of info. Written by fans with an admirable lack of bias, Wikipedia crucially features hyperlinks which allow you to indulge a side-interest whilst sticking to the central narrative. If I want to work out what happened during 52, and happen across a link to Tawky Tawny? I can do that, then go back to the main storyline at whim. Wikipedia is an incredibly useful tool for understanding comics continuity, and it seems mad that Marvel, DC, Image and other companies haven’t yet built their own effective databases for fans to get into comics. They’d be able to moderate the wikis themselves, keeping spoilers out of the equation if they want. This would also be rather useful for the writers, and save them from having to buy a stack of Exiles back-titles if they manage to score a miniseries with Blink in it.

However, by far the most common way for people to start picking up comics is through films, TV shows, and video games. Type in the name of any A-List character into google, and watch as it autocompletes in the name of their film. “Wolverine” becomes “Wolverine: Origins” or “Wolverine and the X-Men”, while Batman becomes “Batman Arkham City” or “Batman Dark Knight Rises”. Without being massively sexist for a second, every single female X-Men fan got that way through watching the animated series, ignoring Jean Grey’s tepid characterisation, and leaping straight into the world of Gambit/Rogue shipping. Every single female fan. People catch hold of a TV show on the fly, or have a crush on Andrew Garfield, or pick up a Batman game, and find themselves wrapped up inside the World of comic-books. After playing through Arkham Asylum or City, it’s incredibly tempting to want to find out more about these characters and locations, and the only place to do that is in comics. Throw a used DVD of Howard the Duck at one of your friends, wait a month, then check their bookcases. You’re practically guaranteed to find a complete Howard omnibus up on there, wedged between the Family Guy annuals.

The fact that the films, shows and games barely ever touch on anything remotely resembling comic-book continuity is the only sticking point here. A Michael Fassbender fan (and we’re all Michael Fassbender fans, correct?) can’t go into their store and pick up a comic with a young, attractive Magneto punching Kevin Bacon in the face. The film cites Beast, Angel, Darwin, Havok and Banshee as the first X-Men team: in the comics, that goes to Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Angel and Iceman. And Sage, if you’re a real continuity stickler. Arkham City does not exist in the New 52 – or in the old 52. Spider-Man comics don’t feature an extended arc in which Madame Webb goes completely insane and starts telling riddles and—oh wait, no, they do.

If you can get your American friends interested in the continuity of these other media, then it’s a surely-simple next step to get them interested in the comics. This is, above all, the best thing that can be done to help comics. Not only buy them yourself, but share them with your friends. Don’t be embarrassed about liking comics – at least you’re a fan of a quality product created by talented people. That’s more than anyone who likes football can say. The top companies can wait around all day for one of their titles to be turned into a successful show like Walking Dead, and then tie-in like crazy. But if fans share and encourage their fans to like the obscure books – spreading the fandom in a zombie-esque manner – then any book can become the next breakout title.


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