God Save Freddie Wertham.
Fredric Wertham was probably the best thing to happen to American Comics since Jack Kirby.
Bear with me on this. As much as the inception of the Direct Market saved the American Comics market from total collapse back in the late 70’s, it also created an insular buying effect. The people in charge of the shops were (and still are, to a degree.) conservative men who mainly operated under the mentality of ordering what they and their friends wanted to read. Rather than expand the market by supporting work beyond capes, the ‘I like Superheroes and so do all of my friends.’ approach soon led to the odd circumstance of Horror, Westerns and such becoming a non mainstream concern, driving away everyone except superhero fans by lack of choice
There are too many comics knocking about. The last 30 years of mainstream comics has got us to the point where some shops are literally buying them by the pound. Ask a retailer this: ‘I have a full run of X-Force. Would you be interested in buying them? Oh, except for the Pete Milligan ones.’ Watch as the hope and joy drains from their eyes. They’ll retain the expression, but a twitch will start by the eye. A small flutter of the eyelids as the thought of grading that lot again.
They’ll probably say no, though. You can replace X-Force with X-Factor, Superman, Spider-Man, Spawn, whatever. There are blips, maybe a couple of hundred comics are worth some money since everything became easy to get hold of. It is even simpler now anyone with an internet connection can have an extensive comic collection within hours all safely stored on their hard drive, thus saving loft space, back pain and endless arguments with whoever you live with regarding exactly what you plan to do with these things.. And it’s not like most of them are worth anything, anyway,.
So, here’s my three point plan to save comics. American Comics, i mean. Other markets appear to be doing just fine. 1st: Make comics Offensive. Offensive to Real people, I mean. It’s so bloody easy to offend comics fans these days that Superior Spider-Man appears to be structured purely to try to make Peter Parker fans cry. Which is a good start, but not quite the levels we’re looking for. I mean, offending comic fans? All I’d have to do is ask Rich to run this piece with the headline ‘Hawkeye, Young Avengers Cancelled?’ or ‘Batgirl Fired By DC Over Creative Differences.’ and Twitter’ll be a hotbed of what Steven Wacker accurately refers to as ‘impotent rage.’ in minutes. What we’re looking for is the degree of white-hot, nostril flaring, vein in forehead throbbing anger that leads people to form Facebook Groups demanding that these disgusting, lurid, amoral comics be literally burnt in the street.
Archie publishing an openly gay character, annoying the numerically challenged One Million Moms..
And my particular favourite, Frank Miller’s Death Row Marv being recontextulaised as propaganda for a pro death penalty lobby by various British newspapers,
(Also a massive thank you to Alan Kasim who tells me that there’s an episode of UK chat show ‘ Loose Women; where the cast are downright incensed by the Titan reprint of All Star Batman being stocked next to The Beano in Tesco’s. If anyone has any evidence of this, PLEASE get in touch.) We’re getting there. But I think we need something downright unnecessary to happen. I say we give Johnny Ryan control of DC and S.Clay Wilson the top editorship job at Marvel. For at least a year. I have read literally thousands of comics in my life, and Johnny is the only person who has made me throw up in uncontrollable disgust whilst reading one of his issues. Imagine what his work on Wonder Woman would do to the general public once Titan start reprinting his issues. Imagine what S.Clay Wilson would do with Lockjaw, Sif and The Impossible Man. Let’s face it, we crossed the line back when Superboy-Prime started burning Mr Mxyzptlk’s face. It has to be the Avengers and Justice League at the helm of this wave of destruction. For better or for worse, those franchises are comics in the public eye.
What we’re building towards, really, is this:
We need to make the general public want to burn comics in fear of corrupting the children again. All those comics from the 60’s that sell for crazy money now? They’re not worth that much because they’re the 1st appearance of Paste Pot Pete or The Shocker or whoever. They’re worth that much because Frightened Parents were so convinced by Fred Wertham’s failed attempt to convince Congress that ‘Da Kids’ were going to become Pinko Commie Scum from exposure to Dick Grayson’s naked thighs and Phantom Lady’s tits. That’s why these things are so expensive. Partly because of their history, yes, but mainly because they’re so scarce.
Think about it. Let the general public do the conclusion jumping thing that they do with the likes of Call Of Duty or GTA.. Let them have comic book burning rallies. They feel like they’ve saved a generation. We’ve cleared away endless long boxes of stuff that nobody wants. We’ve reached as good as it’s going to get, in terms of comics being an acceptable artform in the public eye. Not that all of us actually wanted that nor felt the need to start barking ‘MAUS! SANDMAN! WATCHMEN! LEGIT ARTFORM! WAAH!’ every time someone questioned why we were reading a comic in public. I was never particularly inclined to take the opinion of a populace who thought that Strictly Come Dancing here and Robin Thicke were good seriously enough to say anything beyond ‘Because I like them.’
We’re at the top, and it is rubbish. It is rubbish because there aren’t any excuses left for how badly comics sell. I talked about The Walking Dead last time. If I have this right, DC have had three Batman and two Superman films out this century. Marvel have had about, what? 20 films? How many partwork magazines featuring chess pieces, lead figurines, graphic novels? How much material has been reprinted and sold through W.H.Smith’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble? How many more excuses can there be left now? The public can’t be any more exposed to the material being offered than it has been and they clearly, simply do not give a toss. As noted comics historian and the man behind the amazing Taboo anthology, Stephen Bissette pointed out to me when I ran this on my wordpress for feedback purposes, there was a point when comics had a Golden Age of sales that not only didn’t involve any superheroes, but when Martin Goodman tried to relaunch the likes of Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America in 1952, and those books bombed.
You can argue that yes, there is Internet, Xbox One, Youtube, IOS, etc that competes with comics for the reader’s attention Except how much of that media is taken up by the franchises that are meant to be the front end of the industry? Agents of Shield is on the telly. The Videogame world bites their collective nails every 2nd Christmas waiting for the new Batman: Arkham game.Again, the public have been shown the material and like it. They just don’t like the form.
Step 2. Make them cheap, trash again. Get rid of the glossy paper, the computer colouring, and whatever else that goes on that means an issue of Avengers costs more than a pint. Who picks up a comic and thinks ‘Ooh, feel that paper quality. I’ll have that.’? Noone except comic fans who think being overcharged for something makes them discerning patrons rather than suckers for a cardboard cover.
This is my mate Cherry Zombiie. (People in the UK, you can book her for shoots here.) <a
The release of a new Marvel film turns her Facebook status updates into a plethora of joy like a child at Christmas. She loves Marvel so much she has a tattoo of Zombie Iron Man Her boyfriend is nicknamed Hulk-Boy. Despite this degree of devotion, she doesn’t buy the Iron Man comic on a regular basis because she can’t afford them. This is a problem. She has a regular job and loves the material, but to keep up with a month’s worth of Marvel is beyond her to the point that she gets a stack of comics as a birthday present. Cherry isn’t particularly bad off, it’s just that the cycle of ‘Comics go up in price. Wave of readers leave. Prices of comics go up to keep the book profitable despite readers leaving.’ has pushed her out of being a regular comic reader. Simple. (She has said she will happily take donations of Iron Man comics from people feeling sympathetic towards her plight, though. Get hold of me via Twitter and I’ll pass them on.)
We need to make comics a terrible, offensive thing again. Right now, we’re simply treading water, waiting for those two or three bad films that sink Hollywood’s interest in all of comics. Fans turned Pro talking to Fans wanting to turn Pro. We can have faith in simple human psychology, because as nice, and reasonable as we might like to tell ourselves we are, carefully checking all our entertainment against the unwritten and ever shifting rules of decency, the truth is many of us read each tweet telling how awful, how inhumane, how indecent and awful GTA V is or those offensive Crossed covers are and think ‘Really? THAT bad? That sounds GREAT! I have to see this.
One final element to the mix. DC are on the right track, also, by suggesting earlier this year that some of their product might not be available. Remember the rage and panic over their 3D month? What really drove those sales in September? Was it really you wanting to read a comic featuring the Joker mucking about with a monkey with a Magpie effect cover, or was it that there was a chance that you wouldn’t be able to buy it? That drove you to queue up outside comic shops on the off-chance you might not be able to buy a Batman comic in 2013. What’s the one thing everyone wants?
Scare the general public into thinking comics are as dangerous as a 70’s BBC Celebrity.
Print them on the toilet paper you got at Primary School to bring the cost down.
Keep scaring the regular fanbase into thinking they might not be able to buy the comics unless they queue up before the shop opens.
Rip It Up. Start Again.
(Additional edits and suggestions via Will Morgan who runs Fantasy Advertiser these days.)
(I’m still on Twitter where you’re free to talk to me there, rather than my getting drawn to into the misunderstanding and righteous indignation quagmire that is the comments section. Also, Give Fantagraphics lots of money. You’ll probably get the best book you’ll read this year out of it.)