Newsletter #40: And Now for Something Slightly Different (Part 2)

Some thoughts on the current state of the comic industry and the larger cultural landscape

  
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Continued from Wednesday’s post on my personal goings-on and the latest items on my work docket:

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Newsletter #39: And Now for Something Slightly Different (Part 1)
Listen now (10 min) | Hey guys, it's Scott. I'm gonna try something a little bit different with this post, and I'm going to use it as a template going forward. What I've realized is that people want a few different buckets of things from me in this newsletter. And bear with me, because I'm still learning how to use this, and I love it—spending a little less time on social med…
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Lastly, I wanted to give a couple thoughts on the industry, because it's something that's been on my mind. I had a really good set of conversations with James Tynion IV and Tyler (who runs this site) and a bunch of friends just about some of these seismic shifts within comics and how they relate to bigger, almost tectonic shifts that you see happening across the cultural landscape. And I think sometimes I look at comics through too tight a lens. And this is something I'll probably devote a Thursday post to go into some more in-depth thoughts on, but I look at comics through the lens of comics a lot of times. So, there are things happening on a big megalodon-level with Marvel and DC when it comes to their corporate relationships, which have changed a lot in the last five or six years since I was a big part of DC where Warner Bros. was acquired by AT&T and then AT&T has now moved them to Discovery+, and Disney has acquired Marvel, all this different stuff.

So, I think I look at it a lot of the time through that, in the lens of what's happening with retailers and what's happening with the economics of printing and shipping and the speculator market and all that. All those things are key, that is what comics is, but sometimes you take a step back and you see things happening and you wonder if it's part of a bigger paradigm shift. So, for example, one of the things that I think the pandemic has really expedited is the way in which conversation about things is decentralized.

I read a piece about Red Notice and how it had more views than Avengers, for example. And yet it was like a non-event as a movie on Netflix because people saw it, talked about it, and it's done. And I think about tentpole things now like, for example, Spider-Man: No Way Home, which we're all looking forward to. But sometimes I wonder if there was this peak, like a zenith of tentpole, giant circus, franchise culminations right before the pandemic. There was Star Wars, which has years and years and years and years of buildup, and then there's the Marvel Cinematic Universe—years and years and years of build up, and those things culminated in huge ways. I love the way the MCU culminated. I had issues with the way that Star Wars culminated… not because I loved or hated any of those movies in particular—in fact, I thought both Force Awakens and Last Jedi were great movies. I just came out of Last Jedi saying, “they're never going to be able to make a satisfying third movie,” because those two movies are sort of antithetical to each other. And whichever one you like more, you're going to be disappointed with the third one, because there's no way to bridge that gap. You have to go one way or another, and I think backpedaling or trying to do something that would umbrella both of them together happily is going to make a lot of people unhappy.

Anyway, my point isn't an analysis of that franchise. My point is more to say, there was this explosion or peak of franchise culminations, and event things even more than that, that we all talked about—these water cooler things that were like, “we're all in this tent, we're all thinking about these things.” And then the pandemic hit soon after, and in a lot of ways some of the things that were happening behind the scenes, both with music, with television, the decentralization of network, the decentralization of channels, everybody finding their niche shows, that began to happen in a huge way very quickly with film and TV. You see it where there are these events, Tiger King, or whatever, but you kind of talk about him for a minute, and then they're done. And for me, it's almost like in comics, some of the things I've been thinking about in a way that's more comic-based, I wonder if there's also an influence from a larger cultural landscape.

And the thing I'm talking about is, again, the decentralization of the conversation, or what is the main arena of comics. And again, there's no judging about this. In fact, there's a lot about this that makes me happy and excited, there's other things that are concerns. But even five years ago, it was Marvel and DC in the ring with Image over here. And there were these big publishing personas as well, there was like Joe Quesada and Tom Breevoort over here, and then over here is Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. There was more a sense of competition, a sense of the oxygen being eaten up about comics from those two. And then Image was Brian K. Vaughan and Greg Rucka and Robert Kirkman, and there was this centralized feeling to the way people were in a conversation all the time.

And on Twitter—I think a lot of it has to do with people moving away from Twitter—creators from Donny Cates and John Hickman and James and me and Kelly Sue, a bunch of people. And there’s that feeling of how we're not in the ring necessarily engaging in the same way about the same things. There's not the same huge event feeling about DC and Marvel. And that's that's not disparaging at all. In fact, a lot of the things that both are doing right now I think are great and exciting and a better way forward. It's more about finding your neighborhood of stuff that you love within the whole matrix of stuff they're putting out.

So, again, I'm just looking at it objectively and thinking about it as part of a bigger cultural trend and wondering what you guys think. Do you feel in some ways that there's less of a centralized conversation not just about comics, but about anything? And do you feel good or bad about that? For me, I love the idea that my kids are finding all of these things that are their own without the Top 40 pressures or the narrowness of the scope that was there when I was younger. On the other hand, I think there's a lack of a massive topic, massive energy feeling to it. So, it's almost like the world of comics is more diffuse. There's a lot of really exciting things, there's more voices, there's all this great stuff happening, and there's also less of a centralized conversation in some ways.

I'm just curious about how you guys feel about that, what you think about it, is it something that you think about as a facet of a larger cultural trend? Or is it something you think about as much more specific to the mechanics of comics? Because you could make those arguments too, that it's isolated and it's more about what's happening in comics economically between the speculator market and the corporate ownership of Marvel and DC, and the paper shortages and the drive towards indie stuff in different ways because of streaming, the demand for content and how that's bolstering a lot of the indie world, there’s that. So, there's a whole set of reasoning and thinking about why comics in an isolated way is what it is now. I'm just thinking about it a little bit from maybe 30,000 feet above that in a abstract way, in a conceptual way, a cultural way. Just thinking about, is it part of a larger decentralization and diffusion of that main conversation in a good way?

Superman vs The Amazing Spider-Man (1976) - Cover by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano

For me, I think of it in a good way. I think of it as something where it's going to lead to more voices, more exciting books, more ways to find your own stuff. But there are aspects of it I do wish they would bring back, like I do love the Marvel/DC rivalry, for example, and I do hope that comes back in a way. But anyway, your thoughts on my thoughts? I hope this is helpful. Let me know in the comments! Say your stuff, I will read it! Comments, comments, comments, please, and I'll talk to you soon!

S

P.S. I just had an absolute blast last night on Stegman and his Amazing Friends with Ryan Stegman, Donny Cates, Chip Zdarsky, and even some of you guys! It was over two hours of surprisingly deep conversation on working in the biz and a lot of the topics I touched on in this post. I’m hoping to be back on there sooner rather than later, so stay tuned for the next time that’s happening! Until then, subscribe to Donny & Ryan’s and Chip’s top-tier Substacks for all the incredible content they’re offering!