The comic book business superficially reminds me of horse racing. There are favorites to bet on, pre-race positioning, big business and talents that explode out of nowhere. But comicdom goes a step further and historically wants to keep the fans from trying to race. Really, though, supers comics are getting stagnant with only a few exceptions. How may times does [insert major comic character] have to die or whole universes be in dire jeopardy in order to get readers to buy comics? Maybe it’s time for that to change by making a better product.
I’ve got a lot of gall, don’t I? Tom Spurgeon just said in an interview that “Whenever I hear someone say with such great, shaken-fist certainty that “Marvel needs to do this right now,” I think of how much money the people at Marvel have made in recent years up to and including this Disney deal and it occurs to me the sound of their solid gold shoes clanking around is going to drown out any vocal criticism.”
So me demanding that Marvel, for example, create a better product may seem foolish. They are the professionals, after all. So using my inside voice, I just want to ask where Marvel would be without the paneled basis of its gold shoe empire? With all respect, won’t a great product sell better than a simply good enough product? How can the fans be provided with the best of comics?
The answer is in the fans. “Woah, there” I can hear you saying, “You’re saying the answer is in webcomics, aren’t you?” Webcomics stand to benefit as much as everyone else, though some vehemently say that webcomics (or any comics without editors) are lacking – to put it mildly. While editors can be invaluable, can you look me in the eye and tell me that you agree with every editor approved villain or hero? But let’s not flog a dead horse because it’s not just the editors that are responsible – creators and fans have some culpability, too.
You know how the Zuda competition calls for original intellectual comic property and the winners may get printed? I happen to think Zuda’s audience-peer voting system is a good way to find out what readers think is good. In this case, of course, the audience is primarily restricted to online readers and those who are aware of Zuda – but the principle stands. And this principle of drawing on fan creations is something that has been around for a long time. Every once in a while, Marvel or DC will have some kind of fan creation contest and the winner gets a toe hold into the industry.
I have this theory that Marvel and DC could get some very strong comics if they embraced fan contributions. Now, I realize that readers glom onto particular names that rise periodically in the comics world and flock to those people. I also realize that these people’s reputations are promoted and hyped in order to maximize the sales of books. Even if the big two go down this path I’m on about, I don’t see the creator glamorizing ever stopping. But ride on with me a little ways more.
This fan contribution approach would have Marvel and DC seeking out the best of the best of the best work that is being done. More often than you would think, there is a more interesting slant given to a character or property than came from the original canon.
But what is canon for a given hero anyway? Here’s a fabulous quote from a comment on a Beat article by Dave Roman about canon in today’s superhero books…
“I’ve been thinking a lot about how franchises like Spider-Man, Batman and X-Men have been written by so many different people and re-imagined “officially” in countless ways with “elseworlds” and “ultimate versions” and “brand new days” not to mention kids versions of superheroes vs. their less all-ages counterparts. Which is the REAL version?” Who gets to hold the reins?
And don’t get any comic fan going on the difference between comic canon and the comic movies that are based on them. Pick any comic movie and there was furor over some mistreatment of it, right? Now imagine that they were going to make a Sandman & the Endless movie… the complaining would fill the internet no matter what the movie ended up looking like.
And I ask you what is the real difference between actual comic pages, fan drawings, con sketches of corporate characters, unfinished fan sequentials, sample comic pages, fanzines, fanfiction and fan comics like this one? Or this one or this one? Or let’s blur the lines a little further and move away from the standard comic look. Is there a difference between all of these works because of their creator’s status or perhaps only the con sketches involve money changing hands? That’s untrue and deceptive to say the least. Money changes hands using these valuable comic properties all the time. So why give fan works the snub?
I don’t like to raise an objection without offering some positive solution. I know that Marvel has gone partway into this direction while DC has come at it from the other. Is it so inconceivable that Zuda opens up another category of fan comics and has a separate competition for a different DC character each month? The best/most-popular could be bundled as an anthology by year or by character over several years. Something similar was done with some success for Marvel’s Strange Tales #1 and even Wednesday Comics to a lesser extent. Now let’s see interesting creators working on regular books, not just one shots or a short series.
This even solves the biggest valid problem, which is protecting the ownership of the property. If you provided an approved place for comic creators to post the work, they might just do it where you can profit from it too. Shocking thought, huh? It also focuses the eager talent available on the internet and potentially creates great product. Some comics already have ‘caption-this’ contests which shows it works on a smaller scale.
It doesn’t stop there, either. Let me throw in a quote from Torsten Adair’s comment on the previously linked Beat article…”Anyway… the future is wide open. Imagine what happens when Print On Demand technology intersects with comics. Imagine a motion comic (animatic?) that teaches you to cook, or change the oil in your car, or to learn Japanese. Imagine an AI hooked up to a Spider-Man comic, where you decide the style of drawing, the locale, the villains, and then post it on Marvel.com. (Like Machinima, but with comics.) Imagine DC creating a property which uses a Creative Commons license. Imagine… ”
See? We don’t need to live in 20 odd pages that only consist of certain kinds of stories told only by certain people. You could look at the available media soup that we have and easily conclude that once the right mix of handheld services comes together on the right portable gadget, we’ll be watching videos/tv/movies, reading books/comics and playing games on it. We’ll also soon be remixing all of these things together. There won’t be different media types, just content available on various media.
Maybe I’m crazy but doesn’t it seem like a good idea for comic companies and creators to stop trying to corral fan works by ignoring them at best or prosecuting them at worst? Why not provide a new trail we can travel together as businesses, creators and fans?