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Saving Peter Parker
2.1.2002 by Scott, every Thursday.

Hello everyone. I’m Scott and I’m a fan-boy. Thank you, thank you. I appreciate your support. I read, buy, draw and talk about comics an awful lot. Now I have the chance to write about them. Watch out ladies! come on, stand away from the fan-boy. I know you all want to scoop up a catch like a comic book geek, but I’m spoken for, sorry. It’s still nice to meet all of you.

First off, I want to talk about the comics industry and the danger that the industry is in. This seems to be the talk on the Net, lots of people are worried that the industry will collapse in on itself. Columnists, fans and even creators have ideas on how to save the comics industry.

The comics industry. Hmmm. Is it really in danger?

While sales are not as astronomical as they were in the early 90's, there is a steady fan base that reads and buys comics. The top selling book sells at least 100,000 copies each month, and usually the top five do as well (or they come pretty damn close).

So comics aren't doing as well as the top issues of the 90's, the 1,000,000+ sales of Spider-Man #1, Spawn #1 and X-Men #1. So what? These aren't the factors that caused Marvel’s financial woes. The collapse in value of their partner companies, Toybiz and Panini, dropped them into such a tizzy that bankruptcy action was taken. The publishing wing was able to hold it's own while the other aspects of the company floundered.

DC on the other hand, has nothing to worry about. It is part of a huge conglomeration of companies in the Time-Warner AOL loop. It'll be pumping out issues for years to come.

Image was one that people see as a failure, because if you look at the books it broke out with 10-11 years ago, almost none of them have stood the test of time. Nevertheless, the stuff they put out then, as well as the stuff they have now, is original and fresh, creator-owned and creator-driven stuff. (Check out "Powers" for an interesting read. It's like NYPD Blue meets The Adventures of Lois and Clark.)

There seem to be a lot of people saying the same sort of things are ruining the industry. Usually they are variants of these four ideas/complaints:

-The books are too expensive for kids (or for you)
-The cross-overs reduce interest in buying books.
-The books aren't geared towards kids any more.
-That specialty shops make getting comics harder than going to the corner store to pick them up.

1)The books are too expensive. Comics cost a lot to make. In order to be profitable, a certain margin must be met. Don't forget, everyone is taking a cut of the money you give for your comic book. The comic shop, the distributor (Diamond), the printers, the artists and finally the publisher. That's a lot of people cutting up your $2.50. There are ways to reduce these costs, but they affect other points of friction with consumers. I like high quality colors and paper, I don't buy books that look like crap, or that do an injustice to the artists work.

2)Cross-overs suck! Who wants to buy 6 titles to read one story? I'm not the biggest fan of huge crossovers either, but if every book I bought was a 22 page story, self contained, I'd get pretty bored, pretty quick.

3)My six year old can’t read the Authority! Of course the books aren't for kids! When was the last time you saw a mainstream comic geared for a kid? There are a few out there, but nowhere near as noticeable a percentage. There hasn't been since 1986. "But Scott," you say, "I remember those comics I read in the eighties as perfect for me, a tween or teen, and they're not the same as they are now." Neither are today's kids. Comics are grittier just as kids toys and games are grittier. Kids are smart enough to get into most (not all) comics out there today. The fact that very few of the writers have changed or disappeared is testament to the fact, that for the most part, the level of maturity in comics writing has remained steady for 15 years.

4)If they sold comics at the 7-11, they’d sell better! ...and cost a whole lot more. Corner stores don't want to buy comics without being able to return unsold copies, like they do with magazines, it's too risky to be stuck with 10 issues of Supergirl that no one will ever take off their hands, let alone pay for. If the comic publishers went back to that system, taking back unsold copies, it would cost a fortune and the consumers would end up footing the bill for it. That's it. Corner stores won't buy comics like comic shops do, and publishers won't sell books to them risk free.

There are lots of ideas you can suggest that would help the industry, but there are good reasons the majority haven't been put into action.

Comics aren't dying. Rainforests are dying. Comics are changing, they just aren't what they used to be. So they aren't what they used to be in the 60's, when they had a really young audience and were fun, short and quick stories. They aren't what they were in the 70's, socially relevant stories with a darker feel, an older audience and more realistic characterization, but still stuck on that campy edge. So they aren't what they were in the 80's, teen dramas and cross-overs like Crisis of the Infinite Earths or fall of the mutants. And they aren’t what they were in the 90's, holo-foil multi million sales McLiefeld splash pages with no content.

Comics are what they are now, and better than they ever have been.

Scott MacIver

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