Comics’ Bipolar Episode

Two-FaceRecently, a barely interested acquaintance was doing that thing that barely interested acquaintances do and offhandedly asked me, “So! How’s the comic book biz doing, or whatever?”

I gave the automatic response you give so you can move on without doing a spontaneous presentation on Batman continuity– “Just fine; how’s whatever bullshit you care a lot about?”– but long after the conversation was a memory, I found that my mind was still lingering on how I would best answer that question seriously. How, in fact, is the comic book biz doing? Or whatever?

There doesn’t seem to be one easy answer. From where I’m sitting here at iFanboy HQ (in a windowless boiler room, on a folding chair under a leaky pipe) it looks like the zeitgeist is somehow heading in two opposite directions at the same time. Of course, we as a group are constantly pioneering innovations in the field of disagreeing with one another, but even when the snit over whether DC is better than Marvel breaks out for the eight millionth time the opposing teams seem to be in the same ballpark. Lately, it seems like no two people are watching the same game.

On the one hand, obviously, you have wild and almost overwhelming enthusiasm for DC’s New 52. People are talking about it everywhere you look (assuming you limit where you look to a very specific set of niche sites on the internet which, let’s face facts, is a safe bet) and people who were never previously big DC readers are taking the bait, dipping a toe in, and mixing metaphors to beat the band. I have a friend (a lady one!) who wasn’t reading comics a year ago who today is counting the hours till the next issue of frickin’ Swamp Thing comes out and can’t stop raving about how great it is to read Scott Snyder on the iPad. The books are flying off the shelves, the discussion is lively, and the posts are Buzzable. The masses are energized. This is the dawn of a golden age.

On the other hand… maybe I’m imagining things, but it seems like lately there’s also been a lot of chatter about malaise. Like, I’m-going-to-cancel-my-pull-list-entirely-and-just-watch-more-TV-level malaise. Letter column and podcast alike have featured burned out readers whose weekly trip to the shop has degraded from treat to habit to chore, and you may have noticed that even the creators seem tetchier than the New Yorkers in Ghostbusters 2.

Moon Knight is of two (dozen) minds about thingsI may be projecting here, to some extent: I don’t mind telling you that a month or two ago, I was quietly eyeballing the exits around here myself. It just felt like I had seen it all a hundred times, and had a thousand flavors of the same three arguments, and even new books I tried seemed like they were new in all the same old ways. If that makes sense. (Okay, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t invalidate my feelings.) If you think it bums you out to say, “Right now, I never want to look at another comic again,” imagine saying it while you have this job.

I can’t remember a time when I was hearing about this much excitement and this much ennui at the same time, occasionally from the same people within a matter of days. It feels like everyone’s heart is on a pendulum. Comics have gone off their meds.

The really interesting part will be seeing whether the glass changes from half full to half overwhelming as the New 52 continue their Sherman’s March across the month of September. Having fourteen new books to talk about at once has been rejuvenating, electrifying even, but before we even hit Week 2 I’ve already heard a couple of murmurs of fatigue. I can’t help wondering where the excitement level will be by the time we hit book fifty-three, to say nothing of when the #2s start a’rolling in.

Am I imagining this severe disconnect, this wild vacillation between giddy anticipation and utter disaffection? Am I just listening to the wrong people? Have I started taking Fear Itself to heart, or just spent too much time reading the tie-ins? Exactly how full is the glass, as far as you can tell? This seems as good a time as any to take an informal poll and see what the mood is actually like, aside from my own fevered imagination. I’m not looking for you to whip out a sales chart and prove the State of the Industry here, mind you; I’m just trying to take the emotional temperature of the room.

How are Comics doing? For you?


Jim Mroczkowski, with the help of Netflix, is mourning the end of “The Larry Sanders Show” thirteen years after everyone else.


  1. My uneasiness and excitement are tied together. DC and Ultimate Marvel were completely unknown at a point. We’ve only begun to see the tip of the iceberg, and it could go bad, good, or somewhere down the middle. The newness of it all brings excitement, yet the fact that I have no clue how much I’ll even enjoy all this newness brings trepidation.

    For me I guess I’m leaning towards glass half-empty, but it’s looking up again. I’m going through a transition in taste and it’s left me uneasy. I used to be real into straight up super heroics, and I find after years and years of it, I’m starting to want more from my comics. That means my pull list is beginning to shrink in on itself and things are getting chopped left and right. The act of cutting tons of books over the past few months has left a bad taste in my mouth, but as I’m starting to see my tightened pull list roll in ever week I find I’m really enjoying every book being 4 stars or better. The more I get used to my awesome pull list the more my comic excitement really grows.

    • “Transition in Taste.” I like that…back in the day (mid to late 90’s) I wouldn’t pick up a Marvel or DC title for anything. I was strictly “bad girl” or horror book…the nastier the better. Now, I have come back to what I loved as a kid, reading mostly super hero titles…and I’m LOVING it. Glass definately half full.

  2. For me? Comics are doing great. Aside from the tremendous excitement over the DC Reboot, there are new writers like Scott Snyder out there who are really kicking ass and giving us great stories to accompany the beautiful artwork some artists are delivering. (I’m thinking American Vampire, right now.)

    Also, with most books back down to $2.99 this year, it’s a little easier to pick up some new titles to try out…

  3. I’m at a weird place with comics right now. I’m actually buying more comics then I think I ever have before because of the new 52. At the same time part of me doesn’t want to do physical books anymore. I may switch to all digital very soon . . . except for the fact that its much cheaper to buy physical books if I order online . . . man that’s retarded.

  4. I have been reading comics since age 7, but the excitement of heading to the local comic store at my present age 31 often feel jaded. My pull list is not as large as it was before and often i am not connecting with the new art that is out there or the writing, but i feel that the core books that i have stuck with have not let me down. Now I can say without hesitation that this DC relaunch has sparked new admiration and intrique of the DC universe in what was an otherwise benign interest. I have found that am feeling the excitment of a 7 year old again. Racing to the comic store on my 10 speed huffy, ripping into my comic folder, reading all the new titles in a dingy corner next to a Thor cut out. I can only hope that this excitement remains. What is on the horizon looks promising and as long as there are interesting stories to be read and characters to care about, my dedication to comics will remain steadfast.

  5. DC has really sparked my interest in comics again. So far the relaunch for me is 2/3 (with Swamp Thing and Action Comics really entertaining me) and we’ll see how this batch of books come out. Marvel is still doing a lot of things wrong but I’m sticking to the CONSISTENTLY good books like Thunderbolts or Journey Into Mystery to ignore the ‘architects’ or events bullshit.

    I do worry that I won’t be able to buy comics in the future though because of said relaunch. My DC purchases have doubled from last month and with 2 jobs (that pay fine, but it’s really pushing it) I don’t know how much more I can keep this pace. I’m kinda hoping some books are good, but not good enough for single issues purchases, so I can drop that budget a bit.

    I worry about money a lot if you haven’t noticed.

    • I agree with you. DC’s plans have really worked. My DC purchases and interest have increased as well and I’ve enjoyed many of the titles I’ve read so far.

  6. I’ve seen this in two different lights, both from my personal pull list, and from behind the register. Since our shop opened up a year and a half ago, and I started working there maybe 8 months or so ago, I’ve seen Box Customer’s come and go. Most of the customer’s who leave, or close their box, are people who have been reading for a long time, only read DC and Marvel, and are unwilling to try other things. Our top 20 Box Customers (Reserved for Anyone getting 15+ monthly titles) Have not changed since the store opened, and each and everyone one of them get titles from at least 5 publishers, except for Box 1, who gets every DC title and every Variant cover and needless to say cannot afford anything else. But we have some customer’s who get many more indie books than “Big 2” titles. I think that right now is the best time to get into comics, with so many publishers putting out accessible easy to jump into stories, and so much outside of the superhero world to read, the industry has something for everyone. Glass definitely half full!

  7. DC’s 52 re-boot is the best thing to happen to comics since Superman died.

    I was at the Law Library the other day, waiting for a Bill book to come in. To pass the time I pulled out my Justice League #1 comic and started reading. One of the Librarians, an older man that I talk to often and know that he has absolutely no interest in comics, asked me if the new JL was good. I was taken aback by his question – this guy was the LAST person on Earth I expected to inquire about the new JL. I told him it was okay. (perhaps I should have praised it more, maybe he would have picked it up. Sorry DC)

    • That’s great! The other day, I was at my local comic shop and ran into a co-worker who I thought would never like comics. I just don’t talk about my hobbies at work. Surprising to find out who’s interested in comics, no?

  8. I’m excited for the first time in quite a while – I swore of both Flashpoint and Fear Itself earlier in the year because the early issues did little for me. I was getting bored of superhero comics to a staggering degree. But the new 52 intrigued me (aside from Grant Morrison on Batman, I wasn’t reading anything from DC). The opportunity of a ‘fresh start’ appealed – clearing the table and starting again. Obviously the table isn’t as completely clean as it could have been, but the four books I’ve picked up so far (JL, Animal Man, Swamp Thing and Action Comics) have all been excellent in their own individual ways. I’m actually excited to go the store every week, when recently I’d cancelled my pull list and rarely ventured into town with the specific intention to buy books

    As for Marvel, I just changed what I was reading. Bye-bye directionless X-Titles, and bye-bye huge events I didn’t care about. Hello Moon Knight, hello Uncanny X-Force, hello Daredevil (new and old). Plus I’ve finally gone back and started reading Bendis Ultimate Spiderman, which I’m loving a dangerous amount.

    I’ve managed to come to a realisation (an obvious one, but one that it took me a while personally to get to due to some misplaced sense of my simmering fanboy rage) that just because there may not always be as many comics coming out right now that I’m digging, there’s always plenty of recent/older stuff that’s knockout quality as long as I go looking. Money is always a factor, but if I’m poor because I’m buying the books I don’t like, I have only myself to blame for my empty wallet; if I’m poor and entertained, so be it!

  9. I read and collected comics over 15 years ago and the DC New 52 has drawn me back in. As a publicity stunt, it definitely worked on me and now I’m trying to learn what the industry is all about these days. However, now that I’ve been picking up a few comics here and there I have to say I’m pretty disappointed. I’ve done as much research as I can and only picked up comics that people seem to say are the ones I should be reading based on the writers and artists. Some of the art has definitely piqued my interest, but only a small percentage.
    On the writing side, I have to say I’m pretty unimpressed. Either everything is written out in such detail that it feels like you’re being hit over the head or it’s so sparse that it’s completely confusing. My assumption is that people are writing with an over arching story-line that requires you to buy the next comic to learn what’s happening, but there isn’t anything drawing me in to even find out where things are going.
    I still have my hopes up and will continue to search for something that grabs me, but so far, color me unimpressed.
    Based on what Vumbo said, it looks like I just need to find more indie books.

  10. My excitement level is high, but I buy very few books due to financial limitations. I save myself for the best tpb and digitals. Less is sometimes more. Don’t binge !

  11. I really resonate with what you were saying especially the part about “looking for the exits”. I’m pretty blah on comics right now. I like reading my stories, but i’m not getting excited for the medium which makes me wonder how much longer i’ll stay on this ride. Maybe its the designer/art director in me, but i see the same logos, covers, layouts and art styles over and over again. Its gets boring. The typography and design quality (esp for covers and ads) is not remotely close to being in the same galaxy as other forms of literature and entertainment. Sure there are subtle differentiations between artists and writers, but there is a lot of going back to the well and a lot of conceptual repetition.

    Advertising should be stealing ideas and visuals from comics (thats what happens when you are doing something fresh)…and they’re not because the medium has become a touch stale and repetitive. I like my superhero books, but i don’t like how homogenized its all becoming and with the prices…it gets easier to drop stuff.

    This providing a monthly fix of the same and endless event cycle can only sustain for so long. I’d like to see more experimentation within the medium. I’d like to see it get less incestuous and look towards artists, writers, illustrators and designers who aren’t full time comic creators to breathe new life into the art form. I’d love to see a different sized (dimensions and orientation) comic book…I’d love to see innovation and new ways of telling stories in mainstream books. I’d like to see publishers fully embrace the current digital world instead of talking about it as an abstract idea that’s a decade away. There are some creators taking steps, but its a slow evolution.

    I really do think that the problem with declining comics readership has as much to do as putting out a safe, repetitive and stale product as it does with lack of advertising and direct market paradoxes.

  12. I hear you, Jim. I’ve been feeling off about monthly issues for about half a year now. I really hate reading only part of a story every month. A decisive beginning, middle, and end is so much more satisfying of a read. When the New 52 was announced, I was actually relieved. Suddenly, I had a jumping off point for many of the titles I felt a bit trapped into buying. That’s a stupid way of thinking, I know. I could stop buying the things I didn’t really like at any point but I felt trapped by the pre-order system. I kept getting things for months that I wasn’t enjoying because I’d bought them ahead of time, sight unseen. The New 52 let me change things up.

    Personally, I’m much more excited about the amount of older material that DC and Marvel are putting out in collected editions. There’s so much cool, old stuff out there waiting to be found again. That really makes me excited.

  13. I’m feeling a bit off with comics at the moment. I’m thinking of cutting my pull list down to a bare minimum of titles that I feel need my support in order to continue, and trade-waiting everything else. I don’t think that’s a problem with comics, though. More that I’m just not quite comfortable with the level of money I’ve been spending over the summer, and I’m going back to university soon, so I’m going to have to start paying for food once again.

  14. that’s pretty scary. great moonknight pic

  15. Marvel needs to freaking stop with the constant events, that is what is burning readers out! Enough already Marvel! You’re ruining the industry by flooding the market.

    • I never though i would say this, but i completely agree. marvel’s stories as of late are at best a 2 of 5 for story. they just dont bring the though provoking or inovative touch that i have been seeing with the DC books and vertigo line.

  16. Comics are doing wonderfully, for me. Creator-owned comics are getting better and better, and Image is constantly putting out my favorite books on the market. I’m reading three monthly DC books for the first time ever. I have a ton of creators I like and follow. The quality of comics are spectacular, and they continue to get better. I keep adding to my pull list way past the limit of how many books I should be getting, and yet I keep getting more excited, not less. I’m caring less about Marvel, and the sales still aren’t great, but I’m loving comics right now, and in terms of quality, no medium has the sheer quantity of quality that comics have. I’m loving them, and I will continue to be optimistic about them, and enjoy the community here and other sites. There is nothing funner to talk about than comics, and I hope to be doing so for a long time.

  17. I’ve definitely got ennui, and have for a couple of years now. But it’s not “I’m so tired of comics” ennui. It’s more of a “Hey-this-issue-is-getting-pretty-good-oh-wait-it’s-over-after-22-pages-and-I-just-paid-four-bucks-for-one-sixth-of-a-story” type of ennui.

    I can get stories everywhere and anywhere, full awesome stories, for a fraction of what comics cost. Hell, “The Dark Knight” was a better Batman story than has been in a Batman comic book for, like, ever. And I’m too honest and respectful of artistry to pilfer comics digitally. AND I’ve realized something that has never bothered me before, now bothers me: THESE ARE STORIES WITHOUT ANY ACTUAL ENDINGS. Which is entirely the point, I know. Because they need to get us to buy more comics. But… that’s a lot of money for one-sixth of a story that when its over won’t ACTUALLY be over, and disposable income is not something I have a lot of these days.

    So if that’s ennui, consider me ennuied.

  18. The DC “New 52” has made me realize something: I thought I was getting tired of comics. I would buy my books every week like I have been for basically my entire life, but my motivation to read them just wasn’t there. i’d flip through a couple, read some here and there, but for the most part, they were just piling up. I thought “maybe I’m just sick of comics after all this time?” then I realized, it isn’t comics i am tired of. it is most MARVEL comics.

    For the last few years, Marvel has just sucked the life out of me. Marvel has most of my favorite characters, which is why i was buying mostly Marvel books. But as i was reading them, it was just one depressing story after another. it seems like every month is just “what character can Bendis and company take and totally destroy the life of this time!” The stories were just so damn depressing. I would read them, and I was just not having any fun.

    Now, I obviously know without problems to overcome, there isn’t much of a story. but the thing is, they don’t seem to overcome anything anymore. There are no real victories. There is just scraping by and surviving until the next huge disaster strikes. I don’t want to see my heroes get beaten down, only to then get beaten down some more, then get some tiny little victory that is barely acknowledged before they are getting beaten down again. The Marvel universe is a damn depressing place these days, and the real world is depressing enough. I read comics to escape from my problems. I read comics for fun. And Marvel just isn’t fun any more. And when marvel DOES put out a fun book, it just makes me realize how much i don’t enjoy the other books. I read Mark Waid’s new Daredevil title, and say “WOW! I freakin LOVED that comic! I can’t wait for the next issue!” then I put it aside and pick up the Avengers, and i want to stab myself in the eye for shelling out 4 bucks for this comic. I didn’t enjoy. Yeah, it has characters that i love. but those characters barely act like themselves anymore,a nd they don’t do anything I want to read about. they sit around and talk,then Spider-Man makes some jokes, then whatever D-list group of characters bendis wants to try to make cool this month show up and kick their asses. That isn’t fun.

    When the DC Relaunch was announced, I decided to try some of them. There are certain characters in th DCU I really enjoy. But I also said i was going to try some new books. Books featuring characters I know nothing about, just to get something fresh. And i have been loving it so far! These books remind me why i love comics so much. Last week, for the first time in a long time, i read a stack of comics and I had FUN! My love of comics has been renewed by this program.

    So for me, the New 52 is the best thing to happen to comics in a very long time. i’m glad the sales loom strong and the reviews have been mostly positive, because these are the kinds of comics i want!

  19. I’m really enjoying collecting comics right now due in good part to the community provided by iFanboy.

    That said, i tend to enjoy change, so the new DC is good for me. Marvel, on the other hand, draws less of my attention. It ebbs and flows, though.

    Overall, I’m content with the state of comics and hopeful that the new direction of DC will help renew general interest in comics and sustain the public’s attention. At least for a little while.

  20. Lol Larry Sanders was a great show, i miss it alot.

  21. I’m actually pretty excited about comics right now overall and more excited about superhero comics than I have been in a while. I think my favorite part about the new 52 is that the two books generating the most buzz are “Swamp Thing” and “Animal Man.” Who saw that coming (other than Ron and Conor)?

    Also, those were the first two comics I bought online and you know what? It’s pretty neat. I’d prefer to buy the actual printed comics, but it’s kind of nice to know that if you can’t find it in the store, you can just buy it online. I don’t want comics or comic book shops to go away, but I do hope same day digital release becomes the new status quo.

  22. Hey now!

  23. I’m enjoying the few DC Comics I’m getting right now. Was pleased with OMAC, even. My brother can afford to buy more comics than me so we switch and read each others. He enjoyed OMAC and my copy of Swamp Thing as well. He liked
    the appearence of Superman in Swamp Thing (He’s a long time Superman afficiando).
    I like some of the Marvel stuff like the Ultimate line and the Hulk,Thor,Avengers, and Spiderman comics.
    Personally though I think Spider Island ranks down there withe Spider clone saga……

  24. The DC relaunch has me more excited about mainstream comics than I’ve been in quite some time. Some of these books have generated a level of excitement in me that I haven’t felt since I first started reading Marvel and DC and the best one’s feel more like independent comics. The move to a digital format has been a positive one for me. I have dropped every comic which isn’t released same day digitally which is most of Marvel and dropping those books has been surprisingly easy. It’s made me realise which books are really worth reading. Someone said earlier that they are not tired of comics they’re tired of Marvel comics. I think that is true for me too and I didn’t realise that until I stopped buying most of them. It’s not that Marvel aren’t doing good comics, they are but they just seem to be telling the same kind of stories that they have been for a while now. DC on the other hand now have a lot of variety in their line and that has me feeling excited for mainstream comics again.