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4 Apr, 2020 15:27

As an independent comic writer, I won't cry as Covid-19 kills mainstream comics

As an independent comic writer, I won't cry as Covid-19 kills mainstream comics

If the coronavirus ends up killing off the comic book industry, it will be a grave they’ve dug themselves. While their authors push politics and bad-mouth fans, independents like me can finally seize the day.

Comic books have long been a mainstay of entertainment, and over the last decade have given the inspiration to some of the biggest films of all time. However, the medium itself has had its issues. Between fan backlash towards blatant politicking and books like Captain America, Superman and Wonder Woman seeing constant declines in sales, the industry isn’t an entertainment powerhouse in its own right. Comic book shops in the United States had been closing left and right even without the pandemic. The history of the mainstream comics industry is treated like the barely beating heart of a dying god. It’s more of a legend with a small amount of followers than a giant to be in awe of.

Covid-19 has proverbially infected the ability to ship comics as well, with the biggest distributor in the industry, Diamond, stopping all shipments for the foreseeable future. There has been some attempt at adaptation in the industry, with DC comics looking to continue digital distribution, and joining other publications in making current shipments returnable. However, whether or not this will have much of a difference is debatable, considering the availability of digital comics hasn’t stopped sales from plateauing in the past. Smaller companies like Valiant and Dark Horse are ceasing digital distribution for the time being or production entirely.

Writers within the industry have started to clamor for another Marvel/DC crossover in this troubled time for when the pandemic passes, assuming that the loss of business isn’t catastrophic to the industry. The problem is that with there already being dwindling interest in some of the biggest heroes, on top of the question of whether or not the industry can recover, this comes across as begging for one final big payday before Disney and Warner Brothers could shutter the comic book divisions entirely. Even though previous Marvel and DC crossovers such as Marvel vs DC and JLA/Avengers found success, they were over a decade ago when the comic industry was in a better place. At this point, many people aren’t interested because the current industry can’t make seemingly immortal characters interesting any more.

Arrogant authors, political nonsense

Some would even argue that it is these writers that have caused the problem in the first place. Many tend to run block bots against customers, or are openly hostile to any sort of criticism. Writer Mags Vissagio openly threatened potential customers, saying to “get ready for a baseball bat to the teeth.” Venom writer Donny Cates is openly hostile to modern readers as well, saying “F*** every single one of you while half-heartedly hoping people are healthy during the pandemic. This behavior doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in how focused someone is on their work, or whether or not this is the type of person you’d like to financially support. Beyond that, the current writer of Captain America is former Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is infamous for writing that 9/11 responders are “not human” to him. Not the type of person who should be writing a character draped in the American flag.

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On top of that, there’s constant attempts to cater to a fanbase that doesn’t exist, or drench their work in partisan politics to the point where they come across more like propaganda. There’s been comics like ‘The Unstoppable Wasp’, ‘America Chavez’, and the upcoming ‘Gotham High’ that are going for the young adult novel audience, not having the sense to realize that the audience doesn’t buy comics and doesn’t care for them. The same for all the other demographics. They don’t think for one second that maybe if you’re selling superhero comics that you should focus on superhero comics. As for politics, when you have a female Thor complaining about feminism, adding bad body positivity narratives to ‘She-Hulk’, and using ‘Captain America’ comics to either call Trump voters Nazis or Russian bots, it’s a wonder why people don’t read these comics. The former was done in the event Secret Empire, and the latter during Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run on Captain America. People check out pretty quickly, and the writers are too busy stroking their own egos to notice.

Let comics be comics

The answer of what the fans really want seems to come within the direct market. In the land of crowdfunding, many individuals have found success. Industry veteran Ethan Van Sciver (Green Lantern, The Flash) brought a rebirth to his Cyberfrog franchise. His next book, ‘Cyberfrog 2: Rekt Planet’ has already raised over $400,000 with previous campaigns totalling over $1 million. Earthworm Jim creator Doug Tennapel has had three different campaigns hit six figures in sales. Former Marvel artists Art Thibert and Jon Malin have each had over six figures in success across their campaigns as well. YouTube personalities such as Richard C. Meyer and Raging Golden Eagle have had massive success as well. (Full disclosure: I am friendly with many of these creators.) Even smaller names such as myself and others have found success in it as well, with many devoted comic fans desiring new ideas from both industry veterans and new names alike. 

This is part of the reason I wanted to get into independent writing and publishing from the get-go. I thought of someone like Todd MacFarlane creating ‘Spawn’ back in the 90s, realizing that you need to have a desire to make change if the industry won’t change by itself. Something has to exist to give the fans what they want. Fans want fresh stories, superheroes, and fun. It’s not something that’s difficult to provide if you have a desire to tell those kinds of stories. The writers that I’ve mentioned may have that ability, or they may not. It’s hard to tell when you’re being propped up on the proverbial husk of a dying god. I’d rather be part of the open market, and see what the reader wants. From what I’ve seen, they want action. They want drama. They want epic adventure. Lo and behold, they want comic books that want to be comic books instead of slice of life nonsense or DNC pamphlets.

It’s safe to say that the future of comics is up in the air as of right now. It’s entirely possible that digital sales pick up and keep Marvel and DC afloat. On the other hand, it could all collapse, and the characters spawned by those brands will move full-time to other media. It’s already an age when industries have to adapt to a digital world to survive, and the pandemic has put the need for evolution in stark perspective.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.