2012 in Review: State of the Union

By and | December 27th, 2012
Posted in Columns | 6 Comments

To close our group oriented 2012 in Review activities, MC Founder/EIC Matt Meylikhov and Associate Editor David Harper take some time to talk about one of the biggest trends in comics this year: the love affair with creator-owned comics, and the ongoing desire of all to trash corporate comics.

Matt and David discuss that trend, their thoughts on it, and how a certain article by Comics Bulletin fits in. Share your thoughts on the subject in the comments, and we hope you enjoy the read.

David: So Matt, we’re nearing the end of 2012, and it’s becoming obvious that maybe the biggest theme throughout this year is creator-owned comics being where its at. Through pieces like our own 2012 in Review, Creator’s Edition segment and the recent Comics Bulletin post about pouring gasoline on corporate comics (and, I can only assume, lighting it afterwards, unless their goal was to get them wet and smelly), people are either a) hopeful for the future of creator-owned comics (this being the happy, former side) or b) over the Big Two (this being the unhappy, latter side).

Sides are aligning Matt, and everyone is fighting over saying “I’m all about creator-owned and Spider-Man can go suck an egg!” This is something we’ve both watched from a distance with great interest, as we’re both fervent supporters of creator-owned comics, but we’re also fanboys in our own right. What are your thoughts on this movement?

Matt: Well, honestly I think it’s just a lot of meaningless posturing. That’s probably not the nicest things to say, but just in observations lately I’ve noticed a lot of people spouting the glory of creator-owned off the roof top… and then not really supporting it. Look at the amount of time your average site spends focusing on what drama happened over the weekend or which of the Big Two is doing what? I’ve said this before and I hate that I think it, but I think some of the support that creator-owned comics are getting is just the cool thing to do right now, and so are the pseudo-boycotts of Marvel or DC over one thing or another. It’s a striking number of people who damn things like “Before Watchmen” one minute as a bane to our existence, and then go read it anyway — because everyone else is reading it, right?

I like to see myself as more of an optimist, though. Maybe not part of either of the two camps, but if I had to pick one it’d definitely be the first one. I like being hopeful for the future of creator-owned comics, and I see absolutely no point spending any time trying to damn a different form of the medium. There are positive aspects to both and a good story will ultimately be a good story no matter where it comes from. I just happen to think creator-owned work needs more of the focus, especially right now when we’re so close to being at some kind of turning point in comics — that is to say, with the amount of people talking about it, whether they put their money where their mouth is or not, there has never been a better time to get creator-owned work in the public eye and to the levels of popularity it ostensibly deserves.

That’s a mouthful of a reply, though. How about you? What are your thoughts on all of this?

David: I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it was the “cool thing to do.” I think that’s the thing right now. Like Hansel, it’s so hot right now to nay say on corporate comics.

But I think that’s ridiculous, and that’s coming from me, the master of scarves (note: MC’ers always reference my scarves because of my love of indie books).

I do love my creator-owned comics – many of my favorite books, like Saga, Locke & Key, Invincible, Chew, etc. etc. are creator-owned – and when it comes to throwing my fervent support behind something, like you I support them. But that’s simply because they need more. The idea that because you enjoy creator-owned comics you should avoid the Big Two like the plague is asinine frankly. We’re not in a binary world, they are not mutually exclusive. Just because you love Morning Glories doesn’t mean you can’t also love Spider-Man.

Continued below

I think variety is the spice of life, and things like Wolverine & the X-Men and Thor: God of Thunder scratch different itches for me than Locke & Key or Saga. But all four are good books. Bravado in print saying otherwise, or that you’re deliberately not reading Big Two books because of their lack of risk taking or whatever, just rings up false to me. Why not just support good comics, because I can tell you what, the worst book I read in November was actually a creator-owned title.

Matt: The Walking Dead is my favorite thing to bring up in discussions like this because of how well it does. Like, The Walking Dead is the only creator-owned series that breaks into the Top 50 selling comics month after month, and I know a few people out there who buy the book and wave it around like a flag saying, “Look at me, I support creator-owned! Screw that Avengers fighting X-Men New 52 nonsense, because I have this!” And, I mean, good for you, and I’m happy you like comics, but so many of these things feel like people just want to show off. People do this a lot with Saga, too. Chew sometimes as well.

That’s kind of what bugs me here. It applies to everything, not just comics, but we live in a world where people think they deserve instant digi-gratification for their decisions and actions. Look at Reddit and all the “Look at what I did today, give me upvotes” posts (that I admittedly downvote like a grinch). This mentality that’s developed and become so outwardly prevalent over the last year where people need gratification with likes, comments, stars, favorites, retweets, reblogs, upvotes, etc. is a bit weird to me, because it has become this weird extension of elitism in  mediums that could honestly do without its presence. When this sort of thing is done for a company-owned property like Batman people snub their noses at it (“Oh, yeah, another Batman, great”) and when it’s creator-owned people applaud it like someone just gave to charity (“Oh, well done for supporting this industry, have a cake!”). We’re back to that mentality of “I liked such and such before it was cool,” the kind of behavior present in hallways in high schools as you lean against a locker and glare with a false sense of importance at someone who is different than you, and it doesn’t belong here.

That probably sounds harsh. I’m ok with that, I think. And Batman is a horrible example there, because everyone likes Batman. The industry is measured in Batman.

I guess I’m just a bit tired of creator-owned comics being used for personal agendas. You can have cake and eat it too, right? Look at Jim Zub: he is relaunching his book as “Uncanny Skullkickers” and “Savage Skullkickers” and doing his best to educate the fanbase on the realities of the market, and now he’s going to be writing a DC Comic. He has cake. He is eating it. He is also sharing it, so that everyone can have cake. The world turns, everyone is happy, and Zub gets to put out more good comics. (I assume, anyway. I trust Zub to do a good Birds of Prey story.)

David: I do want to point out that Saga is routinely Top 50 as well. It just didn’t come out in the month you last looked probably on Comichron.

But yeah, you’re exactly right. It’s like people want to draw attention to themselves. It’s more fun to say that you’re supporting creator-owned books – that is true. But at the same time, what about something like Hawkeye, or hell, even Avengers? Hawkeye is definitely well off the beaten path, with Matt Fraction crushing it each month with some of the best work of his career, with killer art from Dave Aja and Javier Pulido. Avengers #1 from Hickman and Opena this week…man, that does not even resemble a traditional Big Two book. It hardly even resembles a comic in many ways, with how cinematic Opena’s art is. Are we pouring gasoline on what they’re doing too?

I guess my question is why make blanket statements like that when it’s so counter-productive to the industry? I just struggle to see the difference between something like Hickman’s work on his creator-owned books and his Marvel books. Doesn’t he bring the same sensibilities to both?

Continued below

Those are mostly rhetorical, but for you Matt, I have this question: would you still consider Big Two books the gateway drug of comics?

Matt: I think there lies in the general fanbase of comics this weird disconnect between loyalty to a creator versus entitlement to a franchise. That’s not a new statement and I’m sure you’ve heard that thought before, but, you know, there are people who will buy Avengers because it says Avengers, and it won’t matter that Hickman’s name is on it. When he messes up the book they’ll be mad at him for ruining everything, but when the book goes well it’ll be because Iron Man and Cap are great characters. That’s something you only really see at Big Two properties. It doesn’t “matter” what Hickman brings, it only matters that he remembers that in Avengers v1 #75 Tony Stark said “I don’t like milkshakes,” so Tony Stark better not drink a milkshake in Avengers vWhatever #2.

Anyway, this might be weird, but my answer to your question is: no, I don’t think Big Two books are the gateway drug of comics. I think Batman is the gateway drug of comics, and Batman alone.

It’s not universal, obviously. We all come to things in our own weird way; my first comic I remember having – I kid you not – was an adaptation of the Old Testament in comic form my parents gave to me, and it was a transition from books like Berenstein Bears. But, you know, you look at the way people see comics now — as essentially fodder for blockbuster movies — and what do you have? You have a huge, amazing, record-breaking Avengers movie and this extremely well loved and critically lauded Batman trilogy, and only one seems to be working. Batman has never been more popular and graphic novels/trades with him are still selling like hot cakes, whereas Marvel still can’t seem to deliver a book that captures the attention of their film.

So, while I kind of hate to say this because I’m not a big fan of the character, but the comic medium is sort of surviving while attached to Batman’s cape, and I think the sales will show that point. You know, look at a review of your average Bat-family title, and then look at the sales of it — even a book that is critically decimated is still going to sell better than average, because kids just want to read about Batman.

Take that, creator-owned!

David: I’m not going to disagree with Batman being a linchpin of the industry. I mean…well, here’s a fun fact for you: did you know all sales estimates are based off a scale in which Batman is given a base score of 100.00 and everyone else is defined around that one number? Look at the index here to see it.

Batman is definitely the firebrand, but at the same time, I still think different things work for different people. My first comics were the old Transformers comics from Marvel. I was all about those, and they were my transitional books into X-Men and West Coast Avengers and then eventually the scarves started coming and they never stopped. But the point is, I think from a sheer accessibility/knowledge standpoint Joe or Jane Q. Reader are more likely to jump in with a book that has a known character than they are to be like “oh damn, I want that book that has like…five different formats that will describe the agony of life” or “What’s that book everyone is talking about where the guy welds underwater?”

And, as you said, the movies at this point are really kind of the new gateway, which makes the Big Two books the gateway still of sorts. But either way, I think the industry is an ecosystem of sorts: you have the big fish – the predators, with their exclusive contracts and their double-shipping – and then you have the glorious, tropical fish who are harder to come by and are often prey for the former, but man, how majestic are they? Not to get too circle of lifey on you Matt, but you need both to make this whole thing work.

Continued below

If you don’t want to read Big Two, that’s cool. If you don’t want to read creator-owned, that’s cool too. But clamoring for people to have the same taste as you is either disingenuous or self-defeating, and I don’t know which side is worse.

Matt: Haha, I did know that actually. A frequently repeated joke on MC’s podcast The Hour Cosmic is the phrase “measuring in Batmans.”

And yes, people will come with a character they recognize, and that character is almost always Batman.

I kind of see it like this: I think some people just don’t seem to get how sandwiches work. You can have peanut butter and jelly, but you can also have a sandwich with just peanut butter or a sandwich with just jelly. You can go crazy and have chips on the side if you’re a rebel. Different strokes, right? But where the disconnect occurs is that I think people have a hard time being on the inside looking out.

Take, for example, us. For you and I, the disconnect seems pretty easy: we’re looking at the big picture as fans of the entire medium and as people trying to understand the nuances, we have a “let’s all be friends” attitude and nothing about this is competitive for us. Our stake in this matter is that we want a form of entertainment, and that we want the same positive experiences we have to be shared by people we don’t know. That’s why we write about the things we do, and avoid writing about things we don’t like (not including right now, mind you).

But that’s not the case for everybody. There are people who are far more outwardly passionate than you or I, who care about things on a level that I don’t think I could ever fathom no matter how much I like comics. There are folks who both take and make things infinitely personal — this is theirs, and they alone “get it.” I’ve had people tell me my opinions on some things are wrong because I don’t get a character like they do, and I suppose that that may be true, sure. But when you develop that mentality about anything to the extent that you want to tell others to pick a side in a battle, I’d say that you’re hurting, not helping.

I mean, honestly, at this point we’re probably just as bad. We’re busy talking about what other people are doing wrong rather than setting an example of what we think is the right thing to do, which is to just talk about comics with only one agenda: to promote comics. Obviously you and I can’t see in other people’s minds, so what we may be referring to as disingenuous here could be the exact opposite of such, and I’d much rather believe that that’s potentially the case. It’s certainly a less jaded view point, and the Glass Half Full side. The internet is not a good place to judge character, especially when so many things can be misconstrued out of poorly phrased ideas in spur of the moment discussions – like this one.

But when it comes down to it, you said it: the medium as a whole, beyond the individual, needs a proper ecosystem to survive. I hate to sound defeatist about something I’d love to see as a reality, but if a comic shop opened up that refused to sell Batman, that shop would close. No two ways about it. If they said, “We will not stock this product,” the consumer would go somewhere else, and their grand gesture – no matter how well the intentions are – would just be a self-defeating action that ends their business. The opposite is true as well – a shop that only sells Batman will do alright, but they will still lose customers who can get Batman elsewhere in addition to what else they want. And the same can be said on a personal level for those outspoken to any particular “side” of this “fight.”

David: Yeah, you may be right that we might be just as bad, but isn’t the internet all about getting our controversial opinions out there? I think it’s funny that I just said liking comics of all types is controversial, but whatever.

Continued below

You brought up a good point, and maybe the biggest reason why the whole wave of creator-owned lust and Big Two hate can’t be something that ever really prevails: this industry is all dependent on retail. Sure, you can lust after Prophet and claim that you only read risk taking books that the creator-owned world generates, but for these businesses to remain solvent, you have to have the backbone that the Big Two sales provide. That’s why I think it’s just so short-sighted to want people to abandon ship on them – it would break the architecture of the industry.

That said, there are many avenues that we could go in the future. Things like Monkeybrain or Thrillbent make it seem possible that there are digital delivery ideas out there that could work. People like Karl Kerschl do well for themselves producing webcomics and then self-releasing print editions. In a lot of ways, the way of the future for creator-owned properties might be doing what Kerschl, Andy Belanger and Becky Cloonan are doing at Lounak Distribution.

Either way, we’re probably jerks for complaining, but you know what, we’re all in this together. I love comics, both in and outside of the “mainstream.” Support what’s good, support what you like, and promote that instead of saying “this sucks because it is made by a company owned by Disney” or whatever. I think you’d agree when I say we try really hard to promote books that we love more than we look to preach controversy and naysay on books we don’t like. I feel like that’s the way things should be. Alas.

Anything else to add, my friend?

Matt: Yes, that if people do not like what you and I say then they should pretend that Michael Buble and Josh Groban are singing our various comments, because then it might be more appealing.

But for real, I think there’s just one point we’re trying to make here, and that’s that as a whole we need to abolish this adamant disdain that people seem to carry with them. You and I aren’t strangers to talking about things we dislike (obviously), but I genuinely believe that a more positive approach to the medium will benefit everyone. We just published that article on how creator-owned comics need more support than they’re getting, and if for every single article someone wrote bashing something Marvel or DC did they then published an additional article talking about a creator-owned title that they particularly enjoyed and why people should buy it, we’d be much better off as a culture, as a general mass of people.

I mean, really, how can we expect to bring anyone new into this world if what they get when they come here is a lot of people arguing about how so much of it sucks?

//TAGS | 2012 in Review

David Harper


Matthew Meylikhov

Once upon a time, Matthew Meylikhov became the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Multiversity Comics, where he was known for his beard and fondness for cats. Then he became only one of those things. Now, if you listen really carefully at night, you may still hear from whispers on the wind a faint voice saying, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine is not as bad as everyone says it issss."


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