Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

May 30, 2017

Another Weekend, Another Thinkpiece On Marvel's General Woes

This time it's the Atlantic and the writer Asher Elbein. I might be reading some of these multiple times as they progress from personal site to professional site, or it may be that they all cover roughly the same points. Basically, the article indicts either excessive flourishes of modern superhero comics publishing or the core of it, and where you see the core ending and the excesses beginning probably says a lot about your point of view. I generally agree with this article and others that for its sales Marvel publishes too many comics for the market, has maybe their thinnest talent base since the early 1990s, made some general narrative decisions hastily and clumsily, backed away from some of the positives of their basic digital/print strategy without engaging a compensating alternative, should probably have a company policy or at least guidelines about public statements on social media from contracted talent, smothers promising titles by adding spin-offs, has a relaunch problem of debilitating proportions and seems unwilling to consider some of the tools that might turn things around for them.

imageI'm also sympathetic in that running a comics company has to be freaking horribly difficult, a hundred times more so today with historical shifts in audience makeup and delivery systems, 20X that in an era where media rights are crucial to the best creators, and 10X even that if what one hears about the necessity of Marvel Publishing making a profit quarter to quarter run true.

I think there's a way to restore greater health to the Marvel publishing line that is a mix of policies big and small, and that will take time that I bet the company still has (they probably don't have much more than that). We'll see if they happen. Usually they don't and something is found that alleviates the need for incremental change. Those sorts of "hand calmly on the shoulder, new solution stepping in" episodes probably won't last forever. The things that scare people about underperforming big companies is that 1) actual jobs are in the balance for a field that has a lot of talent operating in a financial danger zone, 2) at some point there could be a drastic, earth-shaking move at one of the companies that isn't just moving a highly-paid managerial team to expensive offices on the other coast but more along the lines of firing everybody and licensing two dozen comics titles to Ross Richie, and 3) the Direct Market so useful to a lot of comics publishers really only comes alive under the soft caress of three or four of them.

I hope everyone holds it together. I don't care if comics continue to be successful as they have been recently if all of the money being flushed upstairs from the body of the industry means things rot from the bottom up. I want sustainable careers and a vehicle for art that matters on every scale with which it engages. I still think that's possible. The key is reinvesting in talent. It's 1976 all over again but this time it's how creators benefit that's the issue, not comics' literary and cultural value.
posted 7:55 am PST | Permalink

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