So here we are, another year in the books. As we look back on 2011 (and iFanboy’s 10th year in existence), I’m back at the keyboard to provide my annual best and worst of the year list. Yesterday we celebrated the great things, in my opinion at least, that existed in comics in 2011. Today, we take a turn down the negative road.
Now, before I get to my list of the Worst Thing sin Comics in 2011, I do want to clarify why I do this list. Personally, I’m not a big fan of negativity, at all. I try to live a positive life and would much rather celebrate the good things. But sometimes it does help to take a moment and reflect on the bad things, the things that aren’t working, purely with the hopes that they may get better some day. So the intent of this piece isn’t to whine or gripe, but purely from a good place with the hopes to make things better.
So without further ado, I present to you my list of the Worst Things in Comics in 2011.
What would a Worst list be without SOME level of nitpicky complaining? Heh. But in all seriousness, Marvel Comics did a good thing this year with their third relaunch of the Ultimates line. Bringing in Jonathan Hickman to helm The Ultimates added a layer of strength and awesomeness to what Brian Michael Bendis was already doing with Ultimate Spider-Man, and the addition of Nick Spencer promised some youthful energy on Ultimate X-Men. It seemed like it was primed to be one of the best things of 2011. But then we saw the covers. I’m STILL scratching my head over these. Painted by Kaare Andrews, who I’ve been a fan of previously, these covers have been cold, lifeless and without any connection to the actual stories within the books, other than highlighting a specific character. Most recently, The Ultimates #5 featured Spider-Girl on the cover, and she was in the issue for 2 pages. The Ultimate line has always suffered from not so great covers, and I do truly believe that covers are important to a book in both selling the book and as a part of the story over all. Unfortunately The Ultimate line disappointed greatly in this category.
4. Marvel Comics: The House Is Running Out of Ideas
It really does pain me to include Marvel Comics as a whole on my worst list. It really does. You see, Marvel Comics is what got me into comics in the first place and the word “Marvel” holds a special place in my heart. But everyday I have to come to work and put my emotions and bias aside and approach things objectively and this is one of those times, because if you look at 2011, it was not a good year for Marvel. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Wait a minute, you RAVED about the X-Men books in your best of column…” And I did. They’re fantastic, one of the true bright points at Marvel right now. And there are other good things at Marvel, like Amazing Spider-Man & Venom, Fantastic Four and other things here and there. But they’re just glimmers in what’s been a down year when you look at everything. And what is everything? Let me break it down:
- Fear Itself – I know that Matt Fraction, Stuart Immonen and the entire team worked their butts off on this to keep it on schedule, but now that we’re a few months past the ending, it’s finally okay to admit that it was a failure. The story got too big and unwieldily and it became difficult to carry any weight. There were some great moments, but the major events, like Bucky “dying” and Thor “dying” were recieved with total indifference by the reading audience. I mean, the days Bucky and Thor “died”, NO ONE was talking about it. At my comic shop, Twitter, here on iFanboy, it just was collectively ignored. And maybe rightfully so, because not a month after the end of Fear Itself, they hit the reset buttons with those point one issues, destroying any weight or value to those stories.
- The Architects – What an embarrassing debacle this has been. I understand what their intent was, to highlight the main guys who are putting together the stories that we’ll read and love. But what it ended up doing was alienating the rest of the creators at Marvel, creating animosity towards the Architects themselves, while giving us way too much fodder for humor with a photoshoot that was part boy band and part…well, creepy. I’m a big fan of many of the writers highlighted, and it’s good to see Marvel promoting their talent. I just wish it was a bit classier, like Image Comics’ recently launched ad campaign.
- Digital Comics Pricing – While we should be celebrating that Marvel, after a year of testing and experimenting with digital comics, will be joining the ranks of same day as print releases, along with doing innovative things like offering download codes with print copies. It’s all a bit moot when Marvel continues to be the most expensive comics on the digital market. Other publishers have adopted the cover price for 30 days, then drop the price model with great acceptance. Why can’t Marvel?
- Editorial Vs. Sales/Marketing – Now I understand that Sales and Marketing is an important aspect of any business, but the thing that made Marvel the top publisher in 2000s was the focus on the stories. Top writers and top artists telling great stories. But as the years have progressed, and it was most notable in 2011, it felt like departments within Marvel other than Editorial were driving things. The need for events, character deaths and double shipping of titles became rampant. When a title like Alpha Flight gets announced as a mini, and then they make a big announcement that it’s now an ongoing, only to then cancel the book a month later, it makes you wonder just what exactly is going on over there. Given that aside from the few bright spots I mentioned above, I think it’s safe to say that the entire publishing line has suffered quality wise, which eventually (if not already) will affect sales.
Life is full of cycles and ebb and flow, and the comics industry is no different. Marvel was up for a very long time, after a period of being down rather dramatically. So it makes sense that they would dip down eventually. I’m sure they will work there way back to the top eventually, but given the recent trends, I’m not sure when. I also understand it’s been a tough year for Marvel, there have been layoffs and other organizational changes, and lord knows running a successful business is hard. Many assume that just because Disney bought them, it would be smooth sailing, but clearly that’s not the case. I’m extremely sympathetic to their situation, with many friends and colleagues employed there, and as I mentioned, I’m a fan of Marvel, so of course I want to see them off this list come 2012, but I’m not quite sure Avengers Vs. X-Men will be the answer.
I think everyone can agree that one of the negative byproducts of the DC Comics The New 52 Relaunch was the reaction to books like Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws and the question of sexism in comics. Personally, I stayed pretty quiet on the topic as it was developing, partially out of my desire to remain positive and also because others were making the points far better than I can. I’m not going to condemn any books that were published this year for being sexist here, rather I just wanted to lament the fact that this is an issue at all. I struggle to find the words to adequately express the need for equality across gender, race and whatever other types there are. Positive role models are important and while the comics industry has some great shining examples of steps in the right direction, the bad here always outweighs the good. But this issue goes beyond sexism as well as there’s a darker side to the question of gender in comics and I see trends and opinions developing that to be honest, upset me. Lines are being drawn between men and women and I don’t like that. Josh discussed this in an excellent column a few weeks back and it’s not an easy subject to broach. I know that my position as a white, middle class male makes it easy for me to comment, as there’s a certain amount of societal privilege that comes with that, whether I want it or not. But the combination of the approach towards gender and conversely a lot of the flag waving and cheering around gender that I see within the comics community feels is starting to feel uncomfortable. I think it’s awesome that women read comics. I think it’s awesome that women work in the comics industry. I have two nieces that I provide comics to because comics are a fun medium for them to enjoy stories in. I don’t give them comics to read because they are girls and we need more girls. I think it’s awesome that men read comics and some work in the industry as well. Now, I know this is a complicated issue and I may be over-simplifying a lot of it and much more could be said, but ultimately as someone who supports gender equality, I’d hate to see it go too far and become something that works against everyone involved.
2. We’re All Watching…Negativity & Embarrassing Behavior
One of the topics I praised in my post yesterday about the Best Things in Comics in 2011 was the positivity and enthusiasm from within the comic book industry, which is further heightened by the role of social media. But with that positivity there’s a flip side, and that’s negativity and the kind of embarrassing moments that come when people forget that social media is a very public place. It’s human nature to have disagreements, I understand that. But for years the disagreements and embarrassing moments in comics happened at cons, or at the bar in the hotel at cons, or in private. But as more and more creators and professionals flock to Twitter, those disagreements have sometimes moved there as well. We’ve seen some of our favorite creators get pulled down in petty disagreements and public sniping and honestly, it doesn’t help anyone. I’ve yet to have a disagreement come to a meaningful resolution within the confines of 140 characters and this is the one thing I wish that many in comics industry would learn. Have a disagreement or a problem with someone? Take it offline. Send an email, pick up the phone. But please, stop doing it in front of all of us.
And this doesn’t stop at the comics professionals either. As a member of the comics media, there have been way too many moments this year where I’ve cringed at a statement or exchange by another member of the comics media. And the rampant trend of copy-and-paste blogging and swarming like moths to flame whenever there’s a hint of controversy or “breaking news” (which is really breaking trust) doesn’t help anyone. Page views are important to us all, but not at the cost of others, at least in my opinion. I’m not saying iFanboy is innocent either, but we strive to be the best that we can be, and I’ll be damn sure that in 2012 we continue to.
1. Facing Facts – Sales Are Dropping
As great as 2011 was for the comics industry in both quality and sales (with a big surge thanks to DC Comics The New 52 Relaunch), if you take an honest look at the trends and data, it’s hard to ignore the truth. And that truth is that the audience and market for comic books is getting smaller ever year. There are upticks and trends like the DC Comics surge, Image Comics and IDW doing well and things like that, but ultimately, in the big picture, the numbers are going down. It’s tougher than ever to own and operate a comic book store and while we all see Digital Comics as the great hope, it’s still way early in the game. I don’t see a point where comics aren’t present in this world, but we have to face facts that things are pretty rough. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a comic book publisher, much less an independent comic book publisher, these days. We tend to focus on positive things and promoting books that are good because we want to see all the publishers and all the comics stick around. We get upset when books we like get canceled because we like them. Every book that I no longer read due to a cancellation from low sales is one less book that I find enjoyment from on a monthly basis and that’s sad. The less times that happens, the better.
We’re doing our part here at iFanboy to help, but that’s not enough. It requires you, the reader, to help. If you want to continue to enjoy your comics, you’ve got to do your part too. Pre-Order your comics with your local comic book store. Vote with your dollars. Tell your friends about the comics you like. Go to conventions. Don’t pirate comics. These are things we need to do and if I ask one thing of the iFanbase in 2012, is that you continue the great enthusiasm you have for comics and help us continue to celebrate these wonderful funny books.
And that sums up my Worst of 2011. Thanks for indulging me and here’s to a great 2012!