I didn’t comment on it at the time -- I rarely comment on anything in a timely fashion these days -- but a little exchange that took place over at The Engine struck a chord with me and after some ruminating here’s where I got to.
The post in question is this one wherein an **ahem** enterprising young soul attempted to pimp his superheroes forum for all those of mind to discuss this genre of writing. Capes and tights are a verboten topic on The Engine but before the lead bouncer could pull the plug Larry Young had this response:
“Don't take this the wrong way, but if you're starting out in comics, why would you do a superhero story? The superhero audience is already being well-served by Marvel and DC, so that audience really isn't going to care about your characters or situations, so that's a non-starter, and Marvel and DC aren't going to hire you because even if your comic is The Best Superhero Comic Ever, well, they've already got their comics scheduled out for a while and best of luck, etc.”
The idea that Marvel and DC “own” the superhero market, lock, stockings and cowl seems unassailable from a 10,000 foot view, but obviously there is some room around the margins. The success, however relative, of titles like SPAWN, ASTRO CITY, THE AUTHORITY, PLANETARY and INVINCIBLE show that superheroes can find an ongoing audience while existing outside the mainstream universe of the big two. And yes, I realize several of these are published under the Wildstorm imprint, and are technically DC publications, but if the logic is that people won’t buy a non-DC/Marvel book because they don’t care about characters or situations outside of same, how are these different? How do they have any kind of audience? The answer is that these books have succeeded due to their creative teams and that people will buy non-big two superhero comics so long as they are done really, really well.
What does this mean for Bob and Jerry Comicreator and their fresh new take on the genre? Will GadgetMan and InfinityGuy find an audience on the order of SPAWN, ASTRO CITY or INVINCIBLE? Not likely unless Bob and Jerry happen to be industry pros who’ve already spent years cutting their teeth on other projects, and establishing their superhero cred at Marvel or DC, or more likely both. Or I suppose they could be like Robert Kirkman who seems to have simultaneously put the lie to Young’s premises that readers aren’t interested in superhero books outside the mainstream universes and that writing these books won’t lead to work at the big two. But I’m willing to set Kirkman’s success aside in an exception-that-proves-the-rule sort of way. On the whole, I agree with Larry that for young comic book creators there are less bullet-ridden and probably more gratifying paths to sequential success than capes and tights. But the fact is, there is a path, it might be a difficult one, but it’s there nonetheless.
Let’s assume for a moment, just for fun, that the comic book industry is a growing one. That it’s not just all these wonderful independent graphic novelists and manga creators who are attracting a crowd but all aspects of sequential storytelling are on the uptick; that it’s not just a bubble, it’s a trend. And then you go to the movies and you see it’s not just 18-to-34-year-old male geeks exiting Fantastic Four and Superman Returns and Batman Begins and you go home read the reactions to this and then read that something with as much charm and potential as this got no traction at DC and then you reread your own comments about Marvel, and you finally start to think that maybe there is a market for superheroes outside the big two, providing they were done really, really well (and different), of course.
Of course, now I’m talking more about me than you. You probably don’t think like this because you’re smart enough not to hit your head against that wall, even hypothetically. But I’m not as smart as you and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to find out that I have a hair-brained scheme or two just waiting to hatch. In Part II I’ll lay these out, or maybe Part II and Part III. We’ll see how long-winded I get.
Go to Part II