Another year comes to a close and we’ve spent the better part of the past 3 weeks drowning in “Best” and “Worst” lists. You might be tired of these, but come on, you know that a year can’t officially start until I’ve weighed in with 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 2012. Today, we take a turn down the negative avenue.
Now, before I get to my list of the Worst Thing sin Comics in 2012, 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 2012.
Ah, the ying to my yang in the Best Of list. With every bit of praise, there comes a bit of criticism. Now, I absolutely do mean what I said about Kickstarter in my Best Of list, it has great potential etc., but as we’ve learned from Spider-Man about great power…there is a cost. That cost is a disturbing trend of Kickstarter being seen as the panacea, the solution in a vast wasteland that entitles everyone to get money. E-Mails and social media have now become filled with people driving awareness to their Kickstarter, which is fine, that’s what they need to to do to get the word out, but it’s become a virtual Market St. (San Francisco reference for those who didn’t get it), with people begging for money on a daily basis along with the mass amount of e-mail we receive seeking promotion. But that comes with the territory. It’s hustling and I respect that. The thing that irks me about Kickstarter is when it’s referred to as a”publisher” or a threat to the publishers. What it seems that people don’t understand is that the publishers serve a very important role in the grand scheme of things as gate-keepers of quality content. Kickstarter reminds me of my days as a music journalist in the late 1990s/early 2000s, when CD-R drives became affordable. We went from getting completed albums by good bands released by quality labels, to a deluge of blank CDs with sharpie written album names on the disc themselves. All sense of discipline went out the window, and the marketplace was flooded with sub-quality pop punk bands. What people didn’t realize was that the record labels were there to decided when a band was ready to record and release an album. There is an established system that works. Just because you can publish, doesn’t mean you should. It takes time and discipline to become good at any endeavor and Kickstarter changes that. This doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing, it definitely can be. But the dangers are there. I rarely make predictions, but my guess is 2013 will be filled with many angry tweets from people who aren’t getting what was promised to them by the Kickstarter projects they backed, or wondering if the project will get finished at all. It’s a slippery slope and I think folks need to be careful how they tread moving forward.
4. Variant Covers & Sales Shenanigans
Let me tell you a story. Every few weeks, I find myself in New York City. When in New York City, I usually try to pick up my books at Bergen St. Comics in Brooklyn, but sometimes I’m stuck in Manhattan and forced to go elsewhere. On this particular day I found myself in Midtown Comics. As I browsed the racks, I noticed something. On many of the titles, there was a tag hanging on the shelf to call attention to the fact that there was a variant cover available for that title. Now, variant covers are nothing new. They’ve existed for a long time and it’s a sales incentive for comic book stores to buy more books. I get that. But on this day, I went through and counted and 27 books of the 150 or so that came out that week had variant covers. I went to the front counter to look at these variants, and the cheapest one was $10.00, with the most expensive upwards of $150.00. Something felt fishy to me. Then I realized. What’s happened is is, we’ve created a collectible marketplace within the collectible marketplace. The comic book issues are truly worthless now, as they’re just a necessary evil in the pursuit of getting a rare variant. Now, if that’s the way people want to spend their money, fine by me. What struck me that day in Midtown Comics was what the effect it may be having on the industry in the long run. It’s great to see monstrous sales numbers for titles, but are they true indicators of the health of the industry? Or are they just because of the sales tactics of publishers? I’m not expecting to see sales incentives and variant covers go away, but I do show some concern when it’s artificially inflating the sales numbers. And when I think of the boxes of unsold comics sitting the back of comic book stores, just so they could sell a variant on eBay, I cry a little. I just hope the people behind the spreadsheets at the publishers are approaching these decisions with the long run in mind and not short term sales bumps.
3. DC’s Follow Through
Last year we applauded the balls of DC Comics in their relaunch of the entire line with the The New 52. There was tons of energy and excitement around DC Comics. Hell, I was buying more DC Comics than ever. Now, one year later, I’m shocked at how quickly things have deteriorated, and as we predicted, basically fallen back to the way things were before the relaunch. With very few exceptions, such as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo on Batman, there is little to nothing that excites me about DC Comics right now. All I see is a merry go round of head scratching creator changes and the sapping of any excitement there once was. We’ll never understand the inner workings of any organization, but from an outside perspective it’s baffling. If anything, you’d think they would look to Batman as the example and not the exception. Look and see what a dedicated writer and artist team can do when given the opportunity to plot and execute a story. Instead, we see things like Kyle Higgins being rotated with Tom DeFalco on Nightwing, or the whole Gail Simone insanity. The list goes on and on. I don’t mean to come down on anyone’s work too hard, but when I’m being told that Scott Lobdell is the guy to save the Superman books, I can only laugh. There is some promise with the recent announcements of Ray Fawkes and Jim Zub getting work at DC, but why do I think they’ll end up more like Mike Costa than Jeff Lemire? The tragic thing is that when we talk with folks who are doing good work at DC, you get the sense that they spend most of their time screaming at a wall. They want to do good work, and have great ideas, but there’s something about DC that deflates them. I don’t know if it’s editorial or some other internal factor, and we may never know, but it just feels like something ain’t right in Gotham.
In addition to the creative merry go round, it seems as if all the promise of The New 52 has faded. Sure, we’ve got clean slates and new continuity, but the same practices have reared their ugly heads. Crossovers and events. Senseless plot twists and changes. We see some gems of quality, like Animal Man, but for every gem or quality, it seems like there’s two crossovers (like the aptly titled Culling event). I understand it’s a business and DC is out to print comics and make money doing so, but when you have a near perfect gem like Snyder and Capullo on Batman, why drag everything down with an enormous line wide crossover? Much less twice in a row? Its almost like DC doesn’t believe in the idea of “just do good work” and will tinker and tweak until they’ve squeezed as much as they can. The emperor is definitely not wearing any clothes and it seems as if we’re all starting to realize.
2. Witch Hunts & Negativity
Last year, I applauded the positivity in the world of comics. It really felt like we were entering a golden age of community and unity within comics. The gap between fan and creator has gotten smaller with the advent of Twitter and other social media sites and it was exciting to see a wind of change come through. From what was once a very standoffish environment, fans, media types, creators, editors, whomever were all in a virtual town square mingling with one another. If only I knew how dramatic of a turn that would take in 2012 when human nature reared it’s ugly head as some people chose to not learn from the mistakes of the overly negative message boards of the past and poison the virtual town square we all were enjoying so much with their negativity and their need for attention.
What we saw in 2012 included things like public meltdowns from creators, throwing people other under the bus, and self-entitled media types leading witch hunts against anyone or anything that crossed their definition of acceptable. With social media, we all have soapboxes and audiences who listen to what we say. Unfortunately some people have chosen to use these soapboxes under the guise of what they consider to be right and just. I don’t want to take away the importance from the various issues that we’ve dealt with over the past year. Some of them are very serious and deserve discussion, but not in the way we’ve seen it transpire this past year (in my humble opinion). As opposed to mature discourse, we’ve seen immature approaches to real problems. I’m not saying the problems don’t exist, but I question the motivation of some folks as they work to make a name for themselves in the process. Numerous times I’ve had to log off of Twitter and Facebook, as have many people I know, because these attention starved narcissistic misanthropes steal our time on an hourly basis. That’s not a good thing.
Look, I consider myself to be on the right side of the majority of the issues out there. I’m supportive of all types of people, regardless of race or gender. To me, your actions are what define you. If you believe strongly in something, awesome. Go be a force of good and positivity and strive to change the world to be a better place. Trust me, sitting behind your computer posting passive aggressive tweets, coming up with a clever hashtag, or @ replying people to get attention is not the answer or helpful to anyone. Spouting off complaints about what you don’t like in the world doesn’t help anyone. You don’t like something? Get out there and do something about it. It’s high time many people take a step back and look at what they say and do and wonder what their motivations truly are. Do they want to change the world and fight for what’s right? Or do they just want to be noticed and gain more followers? Either way, I hope in 2013 people get their act together and realize that only through positivity and maturity will the world change, and their actions need to follow suit.
1. Shipping Schedules & The Creative Byproduct
It seems that as long as I’ve been buying comics, we’ve had the shipping schedules to complain about. “The books are late! The books come out too often! There are too many books! Why do I have to buy all these comics for this crossover?” The more things change, the more they stay the same. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t change. As I look back at 2012 and think about the shipping schedules, the thing that comes to mind is the creative sacrifices that have to be made, and it seems as if each publisher is wrestling with their own issues.
Over at Marvel, the subtle success of double shipping Uncanny X-Force led to what seemed like a line wide double shipping schedule. We joked that you could tell what books were in danger of being canceled by checking to see which ones were shipping monthly. Given that the majority of comic artists can’t maintain a monthly schedule, when they set a book to double ship, you just know it’s going to head into trouble. Now, that said, Marvel has been very good about rotating artists to arcs as opposed to switching around on single issues, but it doesn’t change the little bit deflating that happens when you get a book that you’re loving and it’s a different artist. Whether they want to acknowledge it or not, in this time of writers, the artists do matter and there’s a world of difference between the artist that gets us excited and the guy who just gets the job done. Then factor in the shipping schedule. Fine, a successful book double ships. If it’s good, I can deal with that. Have you seen the shipping schedule for Age of Ultron? It’s crazy. They’re shipping 10 issues in less than 4 months and that’s after Avengers Vs. X-Men‘s assault of 12 issues in less than 6 months, not counting the follow up mini-series AvX Consequences. Again, I understand it’s a business, but this feels like we’re being taken advantage of.
DC Comics on the other hand has been very good about sticking to their monthly schedule. Books ship monthly, come hell or high water. Which is great from a consistency aspect, but what suffers? You got it, the art. We get rotating artists, or what’s worse in my opinion, the legion of inkers. Too many times have I read a comic and wondered why the art was so damn inconsistent, its because there were 9 inkers on the book. I can appreciate the dedication to keeping the books monthly, but not when the faces of the main characters shift so dramatically like they did on many of the issues of Justice League,even with Jim Lee on pencils.
Marvel and DC are not the only ones who feel the challenge of this. Image has it’s own problem of keeping books on schedule. Nothing kills the momentum of a good ongoing book like having it disappear for three months. Meanwhile, the other publishers must know that in the race for connecting with an audience, putting out the best quality product is the most important.
The thing that gets me, is that it’s not impossible. Take Chew from Image Comics for example. For 30 issues, we’ve had the same creative team and it’s been fantastic every issue. I’ve had several people complain to me that the book has been late or ships every 6 weeks, but guess what? It’s good. I don’t care. Not once have I been dissatisfied with an issue of Chew. Same for The Walking Dead and Invincible. Kirkman and Adlard and Ottley deliver some of the best comics I read on a monthly basis. At Marvel, the addition of Samnee on art has made Daredevil both fantastic and dependable. It’s not impossible to get ahead of schedule and stay that way.
It’s a pretty simple equation. I think it’s safe to say that we, as readers and fans, just want the best comics we can get for our hard earned dollars. When a book double ships and is of lower quality, I’m twice as likely to stop buying it. When a book does come out regularly but drops in quality, I’ll consider dropping it. When a book disappears, I’m less likely to return to it when (if) it reappears. The commitment to us as readers from the publishers should be to give us the best quality books on a fair schedule that doesn’t feel like we’re being taken advantage of. My fear is that the decisions of 2012 will play out in 2013 as many people choose to take their dollars elsewhere, and then where does that leave us?
That sums up my Worst of 2012. Thanks for indulging me and I’m looking forward to an amazing 2013!