Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends, Once More

8 Truths the Comicsgate Gang Really Needs to Accept for the Sake of Their Own Happiness and Mental  Health


1. Diversity — however you want to define the word — is not the reason why comics aren’t selling the way they used to.
Another day, another controversy. This time, it’s Captain Marvel — or more specifically, it’s the fact that the star of Marvel’s latest big-budget film said some things about employment diversity in Hollywood that made a few people angry, which of course has led some of those people in the Comicsgate camp to rev up the old outrage machine again over how diversity pushed by progressive types is “ruining” comics.

It’s a talking point accepted as gospel by people who argue mainstream comic publishers (and Marvel in particular) have lost their way in recent years; i.e., that the number of comic books sold every month is going down because publishers insist on putting out “politically correct” books instead of “telling good stories,” and fans are rejecting these offerings by the “social justice warrior” editors and writers. The only way to save comics, they say, is to stop alienating these fans with stories starring characters that fans like them don’t want (read: women, non-white, LGBT), and to leave the political messages out of their stories. Do more of the stuff we want, they say, and watch those sales numbers go back up.

The problem is that belief is based on the assumption that declining comic sales is a recent thing, and that this decline in sales is solely (or at least mostly) driven by fans upset by finding politics in their stories. While it’s possible that some fans have stopped reading comics for that reason, there’s simply no way those fans can account for what has been happening in the business over the past several decades.

Since the books cited in these discussions are typically superhero books (and just the North American ones at that), let’s take a look at the top-selling superhero comics of 1969 compared to 40 years later, before the current crop of Comicsgate critics were complaining about “politically correct” stories ruining their fun:

Average monthly sales of superhero comics:

1969
1. Superman (511,984)
2. Superboy (465,462)
3. Lois Lane (397,346)
4. Action Comics (377,535)
5. Spider-Man (372,352)
6. World’s Finest (366,618)
7. Batman (355,782)
8. Adventure Comics (354,123)
9. Fantastic Four (340,363)
10. Thor (266,368)
11. Incredible Hulk (262,472)
12. Daredevil (245,422)
2009
1. Blackest Night (140,667)
2. Captain America Reborn (108,240)
3. Batman and Robin (106,835)
4. Green Lantern (103,579)
5. Old Man Logan (93,744)
6. New Avengers (85,526)
7. Green Lantern Corps (83,042)
8. Dark Avengers (79,662)
9. Batman (76,936)
10. Uncanny X-Men (73,523)
11. Amazing Spider-Man (70,118)
12. Ultimate Avengers (68,539)

That’s quite a difference over 40 years, to go from top-selling titles hovering around the half-million mark to the biggest books moving just north of 100,000 units. (It gets even more dramatic if you go further back in time to when issues of books like Action Comics or Captain Marvel Adventures regularly sold more than 1 million copies per issue.)

Sales figures at Comichron.com show month-to-month sales today aren’t any better than they were in 2009, with top-selling books like Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy and the recently relaunched Captain Marvel — getting an obvious bump from this month’s film — hovering around the 100,000 mark. (Though it has to be said that having a hit movie doesn’t always guarantee higher sales; Wonder Woman was one of 2017’s biggest films, but the number of Wonder Woman comics sold in North America have gone from 200,000 units in 1965 to just north of 50,000 today).

So what caused this declines? That’s a whole other list in itself. Changing retail conditions, tighter distribution costs, rising prices tied to higher material and production costs, changes in the ways artists are paid for their work, a dose of corporate mismanagement, the commodification of “geek” culture, a shift in consumer preferences to digital media and trade paperbacks, more intense competition from other media channels for our limited attention…

The bottom line is there are a lot of social, cultural and economic factors working against the humble comic book, just as there are many reasons why print newspapers and magazines are losing their appeal in these modern times. To pretend all of those things have little to no bearing on the situation just so you can create a narrative that pins the blame on a lady Thor or Mockingbird wearing a feminist T-shirt is at best naive… and downright dishonest at worst.

 
2. Comics have always been political.
When people repeating the Comicsgate line don’t want to be seen as attacking specific groups of people for “ruining” their comics, they often use language that boils down to “Comics these days are just too darn political.” If we can only get back to that golden age when writers focused on just writing good stories, they tell us, then their comics will appeal to a wider audience and more people will start reading them.

While it’s hard not to read “too political” as “giving too much space to people who don’t look or act just like me,” let’s be kind and assume this is a good-faith objection — that there are disaffected fans who are genuinely distressed by the idea of fantastical characters getting bogged down by addressing real-world political issues. “Come on! They’re supposed to be fun stories about guys in tights beating up bad guys and saving the day! Why do we have to drag politics into it?” Actually, the better question would be: when were politics ever not part of comics?

We could talk about the inherent political issues raised by the elevation of the superhero archetype (taking the law into your own hands, the individual vs. the collective, rehabilitation vs. retribution, etc.), or we could talk about how most of the creators of our most popular superheroes got into comics in the first place because of the social and political pressures that kept people like them from going into the more “respectable” arts professions.

But here’s the thing: we don’t even have to get into any of that because the not-so-shocking truth is this politics stuff is everywhere in comics from every era. It was a political act for Siegel and Shuster to sic their Superman on abusive husbands and crooked mine owners at a time when domestic violence and workplace safety were not seen as important issues. It was a political act for Simon and Kirby to have their character slug Hitler at a time when a lot of Americans openly supported Germany’s fascist policies. (Google “Nazis Madison Square Garden” to see what young Jewish lads like Simon and Kirby had to deal with long before the U.S. joined the war.) It was a political act when Kirby and Lee created a black superhero and a futuristic African nation at a time when many U.S. retailers refused to carry comics with black characters on the cover, and it was a political act when Don McGregor and Billy Graham sent that same hero to the Deep South to fight the actual Ku Klux Klan.

Wonder Woman promoting gender equality? Spider-Man debating campus protesters? Batman expounding on the dangers of guns? Bottom line: comics (like any art form) are produced by people with ideas about how they see the world and how they think the world should work, and there was never a time when the politics of those people weren’t a part of the comics they produced. We need to accept that as a starting point and move away from the idea that comics were ever “pure” of political content. Because they never were. And voicing the opinion that the comics or movies you first discovered as a child weren’t “political” only demonstrates how you didn’t see it the first time — and still refuse to see it today.


3. Your favorite writer or artist not getting a gig is not a freedom-of-speech issue.
This comes up whenever a writer or an artist who identifies with the Comicsgate movement talks about how they lost a job because of their political beliefs. Fans who accept this version of events then repeat the assertion until it’s accepted as fact that all the editors at the big comic companies are part of a leftist cabal that gleefully blackballs creative folks whose politics they don’t like.

Let’s put aside the more obvious self-serving parts of that interpretation of reality (“And I would have made them billions with my genius, if they weren’t so hung up on stupid politics!”) and focus on what these artists are actually claiming; namely, the billion-dollar companies that own the most recognizable and marketable comic characters in the world are turning away valuable, money-making talent like them solely because of their political beliefs. Be honest: does that sound like any major corporation you can think of?

Like any business, a publisher’s ultimate loyalty is to the bottom line. If a company believes the risks of working with Outspoken Artist X outweigh the benefits, or if it decides that it can complete a project with the help of an artist whose involvement won’t cause them the same PR headaches as X, then it will choose the less risky option.

In this context, it’s very unlikely an assistant editor at Marvel or DC is seeing someone’s Twitter feed and thinking, “Wow, I don’t like this person’s politics, so I guess I won’t give them the job.” More likely, what’s happening is that editor’s boss’s boss has looked at the cost/benefit analysis of having the company being associated with that person’s objectionable beliefs and decided it’s not worth the risk. (And not for nothing, but it’s worth pointing out this corporate reluctance to hire outspoken artists isn’t just affecting right-leaning talent; see also “James Gunn” and “Chuck Wendig” for two recent examples of left-leaning artists who were pushed out of cushy gigs after things they said on social media were brought to the attention of their employers. Maybe the real lesson here is “Don’t spout off on Twitter.”)

These artists who say they’re being persecuted professionally for their politics, their beef isn’t with “social justice warrior” editors handing out plum assignments to their “PC” friends; their beef (even if they don’t realize it) is with industry consolidation, shrinking markets for their wares, backroom bean-counters running the show, and people in corner suites who see artists as interchangeable, with little difference setting them apart except for how much they’re willing to accept in payment and how much of a hassle their employment might cause.

Now, it’s possible that at some point someone at one of these publishers told a complaining artist that he’s not getting the job because of something he said or did in the past. But what I think is more likely is that we humans as a rule don’t handle rejection well, and when it happens to us we jump on any explanation for why we didn’t get the job — especially if that explanation allows us to avoid facing the fact that maybe we’re not as indispensable as we think we are.


4. There is no more “bad writing” in comics today than there ever was, so let’s stop pretending that’s the real issue here.
Because most people know it doesn’t make them look good to rail against the existence of women, non-white people and others as the reasons why today’s comics are bad, you’ll often hear people in these Comicsgate discussions say what they’re really mad about is “bad writing.” And to be fair, I think there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the quality of writing in today’s mainstream comics, and whether that quality has had an impact on sales. The problem is that those discussions tend to get overtaken by people looking for validation for their more emotional opinions as part of something I’ll call “the Ghostbusters effect.”

Remember when that new Ghostbusters movie came out a few years back? Long before the movie even hit theatres, the internet was on fire with (mostly) white and (mostly) male commentators railing against the film’s very existence,  simply because the film had an all-female team of Ghostbusters. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me, either — but for whatever reason, there were guys out there absolutely livid at the idea of women Ghostbusters “ruining their childhood.” And then the film came out, and film critics who tried to focus on flaws in the film’s script or pacing found their lack of enthusiasm for the film co-opted by these guys: “A-ha! See? They agree the movie sucks! It’s a movie that stars women! Therefore, movies starring women suck!”

Like I said, there’s room for honest discussion about current trends in comic writing and whether those trends are hurting sales. “Decompression,” for instance, is the term for a form of storytelling that places a stronger emphasis on visuals or character interaction than plot, resulting in stories that move much more slowly (and typically take more issues to tell) than stories in Silver Age comics. Is this trend a problem for comic publishers at a time when media consumers are being conditioned to take in information faster? Are readers turned off by continuing storylines that force them to spend more money than they expected? These are valid questions. But as long as the Comicsgate crowd keeps insisting on turning every conversation about editorial issues towards their pre-conceived conclusions, it’s going to be difficult to have those conversations.

Also, let’s not let nostalgia cloud our minds to the fact that most of the comics back in the “good old days” weren’t all that great, either. Science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once proposed a law: “Ninety per cent of everything is crap.” The people arguing that all comics today are badly written are either refusing to see all the good books coming out now that disproves their point… or refusing to acknowledge the many comics from the “good old days” that were bland, run-of-the-mill or just plain crap. Either way, they’re not arguing in good faith.


5. New characters are written into existing books for reasons that have nothing to do with “pushing an agenda.”
From what I can gather reading their demands, the biggest fear of these Comicsgate folks is the slight chance that someone, somewhere is plotting to make them realize that people who don’t look exactly like them exist. Maybe that’s not entirely fair; as far as I can tell, it’s not the existence of non-white/male/straight characters they seem to object to, just the idea that comic fans like them should be forced to see them in prominent roles: “Hey, I’m all for equality, I just don’t want this X-Man I started caring about five minutes ago to get turned gay by some ‘PC’ writer with an agenda. Or some chick pushing Thor aside in his own book for a few issues before the blond dude inevitably comes back. It’s about honoring the character, you know?”

This is a hard one to unpack, because people who talk about these kinds of issues tend to run the gamut from “I don’t think it’s logical to cast black people as Asgardians” to “It’s part of a plot to destroy white men.” And then you have those fans who — good faith or no — object to longtime characters like Iron Man or Thor sharing their name with a woman or non-white character. So rather than try to unpack all of that, let me present a hypothetical scenario.

Let’s say you’re a young writer and a huge comic fan. You’ve just landed your dream job as an assistant editor at “Marble Comics,” home of all your favorite heroes. You can’t wait to get your hands on the characters you grew up with, but you’re also full of great ideas for brand-new characters that you’re sure will be a huge hit with readers.

Thanks to the joys of media consolidation, Marble is part of a larger entertainment corporation — let’s call it “Fizzney” — that bought the company a few years ago. Fizzney is enormously successful because it knows how to sell product, with decades of selling experience and an army of marketing professionals helping executives decide what to sell next. And what these marketers are telling their bosses is two things that everyone else in the entertainment business already knows: (1) international markets are growing faster than the North American market and (2) the face of the American consumer is literally changing, with demographic trends forecasting a far more diverse country than in decades past.

So. You’re a fresh-faced junior staffer at a once-mighty publisher that’s now a very small piece of a very large conglomerate. Your division’s revenues in relation to the larger company’s bottom line amount to a rounding error in the grand scheme of things, but you still feel pretty pumped about being there because so much of the larger company’s current box-office success is based on the books that your company published 60, 70, 80 years ago. You can’t wait to start pitching ideas for the company’s next big breakout character, and you get ready for your first meeting with your boss’s boss to pitch those ideas.

But before you get too excited, here are some facts to consider.

Fact: the people who bought your company bought it for the marketability of your legacy characters, not for whatever new characters you can come up with. (And they certainly don’t want to get into any development deals with someone who might insist on ownership of their characters, since they just spent billions securing the rights to characters that are guaranteed to make them money.) It’s going to take a lot of convincing for them to take a gamble on your untested idea — unless your idea has a connection to one of the established characters.

Fact: The entertainment business being what it is, the majority (if not all) of your company’s books printed are going to be part of a larger marketing plan — a plan in which your books support whatever big-budget films are produced by your parent company, not the other way around. No connection to those films means there’s very little chance your character will see the light of day.

Fact: Your parent company, looking ahead and keen on conquering foreign markets, understands the need to nurture characters that reflect the changing face of its audience — which means you and your company are under the gun to write new stories about established legacy characters while also finding ways to introduce new and more diverse faces into the mix.

Bottom line: the comics business is a business — the idea that editors with an interest in keeping their jobs would deliberately sabotage their company by placing their “social agenda” above their desire to stay employed is beyond ridiculous. Those writers and editors in the company I’m describing became writers and editors because they want to create, and you can believe a lot of them wish they could publish all the original characters they want, in as many new titles as they can put out.

But that’s not feasible because of the current state of the comic business, and they have to work within the parameters established by their corporate bosses. And when those parameters include both “Write stories about our biggest-selling characters” and “Write stories with more diverse characters in them” but no one’s signing off on printing more titles because the market won’t bear it… well, you end up where we are today: books with the names of the “big name” characters on the front but new and more diverse characters inside.

Blame it all on “liberals” with “social agendas” if it makes you feel better. But it won’t change the fact these new characters are introduced into books starring classic characters for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the writer’s politics.

It’s just business. And it always has been.


6. These attempts to sabotage movies and TV shows you don’t like are pointless and need to stop.
As I write this, Captain Marvel recently had a good opening weekend. Very good, in fact — as in, “$455-million worldwide opening weekend” and “third-highest March opening of all time” good. Last time I checked, it’s making serious Star Wars money, with $800 million and climbing in worldwide ticket sales. It’s probably not going to be the year’s highest-grossing film — all bets are on next month’s Avengers: Endgame for that title — but I think it’s safe to assume it will do well in the rankings despite the efforts of a lot of people who were trying to sabotage it.

If you’re reading this in the far-off future, you might not remember what all the hubbub was about. But basically it boiled down to this: some angry white guys decided Brie Larson said mean things about people like them (she didn’t), and they punished her for it by… rigging the scores on a popular movie review website. Yep, it’s as silly as it sounds. (Though not as silly as one proud defender of men-kind denouncing the film as feminist propaganda because Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is shown in one scene helping with the dishes. I’ll leave it to the famously profane Mr. Jackson to provide the appropriate retort to that.)

Not that Captain Marvel was the first target of these wi-fi warriors; they also went after Black Panther (highest-grossing film of 2018), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (highest-grossing film of 2017) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (highest-grossing film of 2015 and third highest-grossing film of all time) for various reasons that boil down to objecting to the existence of films that show someone other than white dudes being the hero. (And like I said above, they also tried to sabotage 2016’s Ghostbusters for having too many girls for their liking… but in all honesty, they really needn’t have bothered.)

I don’t know where I’m going with this point other than… are we done now, guys? Can we just admit this constant outrage-rinse-repeat thing is not having the impact on Hollywood that you might have been hoping for, and move on to other forms of protest? Or maybe — and hear me out here — we can stop with the online harassment and protests altogether? Maybe just not care about how these movies are doing and move on to more productive pursuits? Not because your viewpoints are outdated or wrong but because… well, what’s the endgame here? Companies like Disney have clearly found a formula that works; are you arguing that they could make even more money than they’re currently making by putting out films that only star white guys? Is making more money even possible for Disney right now? If that’s not your point, then what is it?

“Hey, why are we talking about movies here?” my hypothetical debate opponent says. “I thought we were talking about comics.” We sure are, friend. We sure are. And I can understand how you wouldn’t want us to talk about wildly successful films with diverse casts that appeal to a broad range of audiences in a conversation about how comics should aim for less diversity in order to survive. But until the Comicsgate gang can explain how making those superhero films less diverse and less appealing to audiences makes good business sense… maybe we shouldn’t go around demanding the same for our comics?


7. Nothing is stopping you from being the change you want to see.
Let’s suppose there’s a place you used to go to when you were younger, a place that you thought was the perfect hangout. The food, the music, the company — you have a lot of happy memories of going there.

Then — as life moves on — you stop going out as often as you used to, but one day you decide to stop by the old haunt for old time’s sake. You’re shocked as soon as you step inside: the place has a new owner and staff, the crowd you knew has moved on, the menu has gone vegan, the old jukebox and pinball machine have been replaced by Slam Poetry Wednesdays and meditation mats… it’s the same building, but everything else has changed.

What’s the rational response here? Do you throw a tantrum, call everyone in the place mean names and demand the owners change everything back to the way you like it OR ELSE… or do you shrug, enjoy that moment of nostalgia you’re feeling and find a new place to hang out that’s more your style?

The fact these Comicsgate people tend to choose Option 1 makes it hard for me to take their complaints about today’s comics seriously. Let’s assume that everything they say is true, that all the big publishers are run by social justice warriors churning out bad stories full of leftist propaganda that’s turning off real comic fans like them — you know, the ones who know how these superhero stories are supposed to be told.

If that’s the version of reality we live in… then what’s stopping these guys from showing us how it’s done? If they know what comic fans really want, then why aren’t they creating their own comic companies to put out these “good comics” that the Marvels and DCs of the world aren’t interested in making? Why do they instead keep insisting on crashing a party where they don’t feel welcome, to tell everyone else how this “partying” thing is supposed to be done? I’m starting to feel a bit rhetorical because I think we already know the answer.

To be fair, there are some Comicsgate types putting their money where their mouths are by creating their own comics through publishers like Arkhaven and ComicsGate (though the backers behind that one ran afoul of other Comicsgate types who objected to the co-opting of “their” term to produce comics specifically geared towards Comicsgate supporters; no, I don’t get it, either). I’m pretty sure I don’t share the same political views as the minds behind Gun Ghoul or Alt-Hero: Q (sidebar: so overt politics in comics is okay when they do it…?), but my hat’s off to them anyway — at least they’re not sitting around and moaning about how the big companies won’t let them play in their sandbox. No, they’re taking advantage of the internet’s ability to connect directly with their audiences, bypass the usual comic distribution channels that shut out smaller players in the past. So everyone else screaming about “progressive” comics… what’s their excuse?


8. This thing about “social justice warrior” being an insult? It’s got to stop.
Seriously, I will never understand how “social justice warrior” became a go-to insult for so many people who claim to be comic fans. “Social” means “needing companionship” or “of or relating to society.”  “Justice” means “fairness in the way people are dealt with.” “Warrior” means “one who fights in a war.”

That is literally the job description for every character who has ever put on tights to fight crime.

I mean, what’s the opposite of a “social justice warrior,” an anti-social coward who believes in special treatment for some but not others? Is that how the people who sneer at “SJWs” really want us to see them? Is it how they see themselves?

I kid, but not by much. I get how the label is typically used against people who are perceived to be virtuous only in online spaces, the “warrior” part used ironically to point out how those people supposedly never transfer their words to actions in the real world (although how the insulter knows that about someone else they haven’t met is a mystery). But seriously, guys. Enough is enough. Time to come up with some insults that are actually insulting. Or like I said, stop wasting time on insults and show the rest of us how it’s done.

8 responses to “Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends, Once More

  1. “8 Truths the Comicsgate Gang Really Needs to Accept for the Sake of Their Own Happiness and Mental Health”

    LOL, okay, this should be fun, lets see what you’ve got.

    “1. Diversity — however you want to define the word — is not the reason why comics aren’t selling the way they used to.”

    No one ever said it was. What people said was a problem is when a particular sort of person decides to co-opt things to shove boring ersatz characters down the throat of the consumer, based not on having a good story to tell, but to pander to some idea of representation.

    At which point they hide the fact that they can’t write, behind a thin smoke screen of “you just hate diversity”. To which the answer is “no hun, we’ve had diversity, long before you got interested in comics in 2014, diversity isn’t something you invented, it’s just something you use to hide your incompetence.”

    “That’s quite a difference over 40 years, to […]”

    Let me stop you right there. What happened 40 years ago is of no merit to the discussion of market forces today. This is a discussion of the contemporaneous comic book industry, what happened 40 years ago is as relevant to the current industry as what happened in Ancient Rome has to do with the GFC.

    “2. Comics have always been political.”

    No they haven’t. Being ABOUT Politics is not the same thing as being political. Because when people say they don’t want politics in their comic books, what they mean is they don’t want comics to be used as a bully pulpit for agitprop style propaganda.

    “3. Your favorite writer or artist not getting a gig is not a freedom-of-speech issue.”

    It is when they are being run out of the industry because of specific people who ran them out because they didn’t like their politics & yes, that’s exactly what happened.

    The end result is that we no longer have a vibrant industry of superstar creators in comics. Instead we have lacklustre creators who are willing to work for nothing, as long as they can use the comics as a platform for their own politics.

    “4. There is no more “bad writing” in comics today than there ever was, so let’s stop pretending that’s the real issue here.”

    LOL, no. There is significantly more bad writing today, then at any time in comics. There is practically nothing but bad writing these days & that’s not an opinion, it’s a demonstrable, testable, objective fact.

    Characterisation has flat lined, there is less diversity of character than ever before in comics, which is the result of losing the diversity of thought we used to have in the writers bullpen.

    Plots are mass produced, individual books practically don’t exist outside of company wide mandated directions & relationships within books are shallow.

    Nowhere is this as evident as it is with new female characters. Now every female character is either the ice queen or the squeezing fan girl, every female character now has to “loves the science,” even though they clearly are written by people who don’t know the first thing about science & so have their super genius characters making basic science mistakes that even a modern day high school student wouldn’t make.

    Every single one of them has to act “quirky”, and by quirky I mean that they all are identical in outlook & every quirk is dumbed down to “likes music from the 1990’s un-ironically”, which isn’t so much a quirk as it is a description of most human beings on the planet Earth.

    And of course every single female character is Best Friends Forever, with literally every other female character ever. Because god forbid if two female characters had a disagreement over a difference in point of view, how could we tell which one was right, if they are both female & females are always right.

    That would set up a precedent where female characters wouldn’t always be right on the basis of being female. And no SJW hack writer could ever accept that reality, it’d cause their head to explode.

    You are just going to have to accept that the writing, isn’t nearly as nuanced as it used to be, with writers forgetting how to write & with books being generated by committee doing the paint by numbers thing, rather than by a singular individual artistic vision, from someone with something to say & an understanding of the fact that entertainment is meant to be entertaining to it’s core demographic.

    “5. New characters are written into existing books for reasons that have nothing to do with “pushing an agenda.””

    That’s not an argument. The argument is that contemporary ersatz replacement characters only exist because a certain type of hack writer upon being given the keys to some of the worlds most successful IP’s, can only think of how they can ‘fix’ those IP’s by replacing them with cheap & nasty knock off characters.

    If these people had any skill as writers, they would simply make something new, but they know they don’t have that skill & they know the market won’t support it, so they try to replace beloved characters with knock offs & then get stroppy when they fail.

    And they ALWAYS fail, because these people can’t write. They lack that skill. It is beyond them to write something good.

    “6. These attempts to sabotage movies and TV shows you don’t like are pointless and need to stop.”

    They aren’t trying to sabotage anything, these consumers are telling you why they aren’t going to pay to consume the product in question. That’s not a flaw of free market capitalism, it’s a feature, one producers ignore at their own peril.

    There’s a reason why the saying “get woke, go broke” exists. Because it’s true. Because one can sprook an opening weekend like Captain Marvel did by claiming its activism, rather than entertainment, but you can’t maintain that audience. It’s not just a false economy, it’s the falsest of false economies & when it comes crashing down & it ALWAYS comes crashing down, it has a tendency to do so apocalyptically.

    Don’t take my word for it though, you need only look at Ghostbusters, Star Trek, Doctor Who, the entire comic book industry, etc. When they get woke, they inevitably go broke.

    “7. Nothing is stopping you from being the change you want to see.”

    You mean other that a concerted, deliberate effort to do exactly that? Like Mark Waid’s attempt to shut down a comic project because he personally did not like the creators politics, even though those politics had nothing to do with the content of the project, something which has resulted in Waid being sued for using Marvel & Disneys clout to destroy a project he didn’t like.

    Or how about the plague of SJW writers, editors & middle management like Sana Amanat, who actively stopped people from being the change they wanted to see, by instead of hiring people based on writing skill, hired people with no comic book writing experience to write comic books. People that didn’t even have related prose novel writing experience, let alone serialised prose novel writing experience.

    So yeah, that would be exactly stopping people from being the change they want to see.

    “8. This thing about “social justice warrior” being an insult? It’s got to stop.”

    It is an insult because it began life as a self given title lionised by the people that gave it to themselves. But said people were also utterly insufferable & so it started to be mocked for being the title taken up by known nothing moral scolds.

    It will remain an insult until the day SJW’s are no longer moral scolds, but since that will never happen, it will remain an insult. Because you people aren’t virtuous, you are by and large scum bags, who can’t stand it when people stand up to you. And no amount of etymological contortionism will change those facts.

    Okay, so now i’ve refuted every single one of your positions, what else do you have?

    • Hi Matthew,

      Thanks so much for the reply! It’s always great to find out people are reading these posts, and that I’m not just writing into the void. I think yours is also the longest reply I’ve ever received on a post, so again: much thanks.

      Truth time: I was a little leery about doing this one. Mostly because I want this space to be just a fun place to revel in all the awesomeness and silliness that comics can be, and I really had no interest in starting heated discussions with strangers about who’s more right in the never-ending debate of “comics aren’t good anymore and here’s why.”

      These are thoughts I’ve been thinking for a while, and after everything that happened around that Captain Marvel movie I thought, well, I can either chew on these thoughts forever or try to put them down in some semblance of order and see what other people think. That’s the neat thing about the web: lots of room for everyone.

      What I’ve got, Matthew, is a hearty offer to agree to disagree. You can take that for a win if you choose, but I don’t see anyone winning this debate…. or, frankly, anyone in the current comic landscape having much reason to feel like a winner. I try not to be a pessimist most of the time, but being a collector for as long as I have and seeing all the changes that the comic publishing, distribution and retail businesses have gone through over all that time… well, it gives you some perspective. And for me to say “it’s bad writing from SJW writers that caused all this” would mean ignoring all the evidence and data pointing to the other reasons for the industry’s decline that I’ve seen over the past three, almost four decades. And the history major in me can’t let me do that. Things aren’t great, and the reasons why have been a long time in the making.

      Some background: I’ve been reading and collecting comics since the early ’80s; pretty much as soon as I knew how to read, I had an Uncle Scrooge comic in one hand and an Archie digest in the other. I’ve been collecting (with a few breaks) since then, and I’ve had the pleasure to meet a lot of other fans and comic creators throughout those years. So these opinions I’m putting forward, you can take them or leave them, I won’t mind — but I promise you, they aren’t coming from an uninformed place. How the comics industry got where it is today involves a lot of economics and business history; for starters, the formation of OPEC and spiking oil prices in the 1970s have more to do with the number of comics being printed today than any supposed damage a legion of “SJW writers” could ever do.

      Let me put it this way. Let’s start from the position that everything you said was completely accurate, and that P.C. pandering and shoving things down fans’ throats is how the comics business got where it is today. Starting with that assumption, let’s wave a wand and remove every writer and editor guilty of these things, and for good measure let’s return Marvel and DC to the corporate structures they had back in, say, 1965 (the height of the Silver Age, before anyone was bought by Disney or Warner Bros.) and while we’re at it, let’s resurrect all the artists and writers who created the great stories that are no longer told and put them back in the driver’s seat. Everything else in the world stays the same, though, because we’re not turning back the clock here, just testing a theory.

      (I know it’s a lot of imagining for a thought exercise, but stretching our imaginations is what comics are all about.)

      Okay. So we’ve got the “right” writers and editors in place and they’re only producing “good” stories (as determined by an outside body of comic fans with the power to veto any story that’s too “woke” for their liking; we’ll worry about how to choose these fans later). For these “real fans,” these books are as perfect as comics are going to get.

      How do we account for the skyrocketing cost in newsprint, ink and everything else needed to print the books?
      What about the labor costs involved in creating, printing and shipping the books?
      Where are we sending the books for new readers to see them, since most comic shops from the ’90s are gone and regular retail stores won’t display them for the small profit margins they get?
      How do we find the legions of disaffected fans that we know are out there and convince them to put down their keyboards, game controllers, etc. and come back to the books?
      How do we reach younger readers and convince them and their parents that the $3.99 average cost for a comic is a way better value proposition than the hours of entertainment they would get from a YA novel or a video game?
      If we lower the price of the books, how do we convince writers and artists to accept page rates that makes it worth their while to work for us?
      How do we fix the current distribution system that puts too much risk on the individual comic shop owners and forces them to under-order unproven product and over-rely on a small pool of proven sellers out of fear of losing their business?
      How do we keep the Hollywood studios (who will still pump out superhero movies in our new reality as long as there’s money to be made) from dictating the content of our comics by introducing their own characters and storylines that fans will naturally want to see more of in their books?
      How do we enforce rules to keep writers and artists off social media and minimize their interaction with fans to avoid any controversies that might force us as publishers to make tough choices about working with them?
      How do we set up our payments and royalty system so that artists can feel free to create new and interesting characters without fear of losing creative control?
      How do we deal with the fact that people can now consider themselves “superhero fans” without ever reading a comic thanks to TV shows, movies, games, collectibles, etc.?
      Where’s the evidence that every movie-goer who saw Black Panther or Aquaman in theaters will pick up their books once we let them know they’re being written the “right” way without all those pesky political allegories or environmental themes?
      How do we keep our shareholders happy and expand into new markets and new audiences when so many of the current fans would rather be gatekeepers than ambassadors for the medium?

      And these questions are just the start of the kinds of how-do-we-make-this-business-work questions that comic publishers are dealing with today and will continue to deal with into the future (for however long the current business model has a future).

      Things are scary today for fans and comic artists alike. There are fewer chances in the big companies for them to find work, and bigger risks involved in becoming self-publishers. Uncertainty creates fear, fear creates anger. And when people are angry, when people feel like they’re not getting their fair chance or they were late to the party, that’s when they want something to blame.

      And personally, that’s where I feel we’re at now: a lot of fans and creators angry they missed the “good old days” and deciding it’s easier to blame “SJWs” and others with comparatively little power than the corporate executives who made the big decisions that brought the business to where it is today. History is messy, it’s confusing and it’s full of incomplete data, but it’s the best tool we’ve got for figuring out how we got where we are today… and the history behind our favorite publishers is more about bad deals and short-sighted marketing decisions than renegade writers taking the place down from within. Dan Raviv’s “Comic Wars” and Sean Howe’s “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story” are two great places to start.

  2. “What I’ve got, Matthew, is a hearty offer to agree to disagree. You can take that for a win if you choose, but I don’t see anyone winning this debate”

    There is no debate, this is a case of objective facts decimating your feelings about the industry. How you FEEL about the industry is not an accurate reflection of the economic & creative realities of the industry.

    “or, frankly, anyone in the current comic landscape having much reason to feel like a winner. I try not to be a pessimist most of the time, but being a collector for as long as I have and seeing all the changes that the comic publishing, distribution and retail businesses have gone through over all that time… well, it gives you some perspective.”

    Unfortunately that perspective is “wow, this industry isn’t going to last much longer, I wonder why that is.” The “why is that” aspect is what we are currently discussing.

    “And for me to say “it’s bad writing from SJW writers that caused all this” would mean ignoring all the evidence and data pointing to the other reasons for the industry’s decline that I’ve seen over the past three, almost four decades.”

    No one said that bad writing from SJW’s caused all of it, but the SJW’s in the company not adapting to the realities of free market enterprise IS the main cause & their inability to write what the consumer actually wants is certainly a major manifestation of that lack of creative & business acumen.

    So no, what happened 40 years ago simply isn’t of any import to the market forces that are affecting the industry today. The market is shrinking today because their is a nest of SJW vipers that got themselves in to non creative positions & then they specifically sought out non creators who echoed their political opinion, while running out ACTUAL creative people with a long track record of success on the basis that they disliked those people fopr having the wrong political opinions.

    “(I know it’s a lot of imagining for a thought exercise, but stretching our imaginations is what comics are all about.)”

    They sure are, these days we are constantly having to stretch our imagination & imagine the subpar garbage is readable.

    “How do we account for the skyrocketing cost in newsprint, ink and everything else needed to print the books?”

    There is no sky rocketing cost of newsprint, ink & everything else. This is one of those red herrings people throw out as a way to excuse the industries incipient collapse.

    The cost of those things were the result of inflation, not sky rocketing production costs. That’s why companies like Alterna, who print on classic news print still retain the much lower cover price.

    There is nothing stopping Marvel & DC printing news agency editions, at that lower cost. And even if they didn’t that is no excuse for the FLCS versions of the books having such exurbanite cover prices. Those prices are only as high as they are because Marvel & DC are functioning as clubs, rather than businesses, in which you have successful books, supporting the vast majority of UNSUCCESSFUL books.

    Because instead of working like a company & cutting failed titles, they are keeping those titles around, because those titles appeal to the specific political ideologies of very specific people in those companies.

    In reality the costs of production haven’t increased, they’ve decreased, as companies like Marvel has used cheaper & nastier inks for instance, that come right off the page, a well known problem with Marvel books over the last couple of years.

    ” What about the labor costs involved in creating, printing and shipping the books?”

    Also hasn’t increased, in fact the labour costs have declined, as companies, especially at Marvel have farmed out art duties to third world nations, to reduce costs (as well as reduced talent). A reduction in cost, not reflected in the cover price.

    “How do we find the legions of disaffected fans that we know are out there and convince them to put down their keyboards, game controllers, etc. and come back to the books?”

    Easy. You get them to come back by giving them a reason to. At the moment the output serves no core demographic, it specifically spurned it’s core demographic to chase an imaginary unicorn target demographic that simply did not exist.

    The result is the massive decline in sales of 20% across the board over a period of the last 2 years.

    It’s time to cut the fat, fire the people hired on the basis of anything but merit, hire the up and comers who want to get in to the industry & have paid their dues, as creators have done for years prior to this failed social experiment in hiring non-writers to write comics, stop farming out the work to other countries to avoid paying the standard page rate, bring back the old media incentive packages for writers & most of all, cancel the trash books.

    “How do we reach younger readers and convince them and their parents that the $3.99 average cost for a comic is a way better value proposition than the hours of entertainment they would get from a YA novel or a video game?”

    Again, this is easy. There are actually a couple of ways, but the easiest is simply to get those books back in to locations where kids are & to be something that is going to appeal to a target demographic of men & boys.

    The easiest way to do that is news agency editions, on standard news print, with partial return-ability. Do you know what the cover price on an Alterna printed book is? It’s not $3.99, it’s $1.50. A buck and a half, when you are at the shops, with your parents as a kid, as they shop.

    Heck some of the Alterna titles have a cover price of a single dollar. $1.

    That’s how you get kids back in to comics, by giving them a product they want, at a location that is convenient & at a price that is reasonable.

    “How do we fix the current distribution system that puts too much risk on the individual comic shop owners and forces them to under-order unproven product and over-rely on a small pool of proven sellers out of fear of losing their business?”

    By not flooding the market with subpar books, by making the first 3 issues of any new series returnable. Comic book retailers have been saying this for the last couple of years.

    “How do we keep the Hollywood studios (who will still pump out superhero movies in our new reality as long as there’s money to be made) from dictating the content of our comics by introducing their own characters and storylines that fans will naturally want to see more of in their books?”

    This actually isn’t a thing. I know you think it SHOULD be, but the fact of the matter is that while comic book fans go to see comic book movies, comic book movie fans who aren’t already comic book fans, do not go out of their way to seek out the comics.

    This fact can be corroborated independently by looking at the sales data, whenever you wish to. You’ll note that comics don’t suddenly have a sales spike whenever a related movie comes out.

    Because comics being adapted to film simply aren’t like prose novels being adapted, no one actually adapts comics, they adapt the IP, not the content.

    “How do we enforce […]”

    I’m going to stop you there, because these are simple technical issues, ones that have really easy fixes, ones that have been proposed thousands of times. They have nothing to do with the premise of comicsgate, even though it’s comicsgators (among others) who keep on pointing out that these easy solutions.

    “How do we deal with the fact that people can now consider themselves “superhero fans” without ever reading a comic thanks to TV shows, movies, games, collectibles, etc.?”

    They can consider themselves superheroes in other media fans, they are not consumers of comic books, & so have no bearing on the production or sale of comic books.

    “Where’s the evidence that every movie-goer who saw Black Panther or Aquaman in theaters will pick up their books once we let them know they’re being written the “right” way without all those pesky political allegories or environmental themes?”

    We’ve covered this already, they won’t pick up those books, nothing we do will have them picking up those books & as such they are simply not a comic books core demographic.

    They are another imaginary unicorn target demographic, that doesn’t show up.

    “How do we keep our shareholders happy and expand into new markets and new audiences when so many of the current fans would rather be gatekeepers than ambassadors for the medium?”

    LOL, you aren’t expanding in to a new audience, there has been a 20% decline in sales industry wide over the last 2 years. Any attempt to spread in to new markets has categorically & objectively failed.

    The people Marvel & DC want to be their audience, simply are not interested in being the comic companies audience. So Marvel & to a lesser degree DC decided to ditch their core demographic to chase after a target demographic that simply didn’t show up.

    You can call it gatekeeping, but it isn’t, it’s consumers telling the company that they are not interested in supporting this new corporate direction.

    That’s not a flaw of free market capitalism, it’s literally the point of free market capitalism. It’s the consumer saying “the market will not support this product”, closely followed by the market not supporting the product, hence the industry wide rapid decline in sales.

    Because no company is ENTITLED to consumers money, they have to have something that consumers are willing to exchange their money for & when they stop doing that and consumers say “we don’t want this”, that’s not gatekeeping, it’s consumer feedback. You ignore consumer feedback at your own peril.

    No one is gatekeeping, no one is stopping anyone from purchasing those products, it’s simply a fact that they are not being purchased in sufficient enough numbers to be profitable.

    And they aren’t being purchased because retailers can’t move them, because readers don’t want them. There’s a reason why Marvel had to liquidate 250,000 units of trade paperbacks last year, it’s because they couldn’t sell them to retailers, because retailers couldn’t sell them to consumers.

    It’s basic supply & demand, it you have significantly more supply then you have demand, then you have over estimated what the market will support.

    “And personally, that’s where I feel we’re at now: a lot of fans and creators angry they missed the “good old days” and deciding it’s easier to blame “SJWs” and others with comparatively little power than the corporate executives who made the big decisions that brought the business to where it is today.”

    LOL no, we are blaming the SJW’s because the SJW’s are at fault for the things they have done, that are the sole contributor to the decline of writing quality in comics, the SJW’s ARE the people in charge.

    People like Sana Amanat, who is “vice president of content and character development,” who not only utterly failed to create a single commercially successful new property, also hasn’t presided over a single noteworthy piece of content.

    She was then instrumental in hiring on a group of non writers, with no background in fiction writing, let alone serialised fiction writing for the comic book medium as writers, because they were the right colour, or had the right sexuality & most importantly the right political beliefs.

    You are just going to have to accept the fact that the decline in writing is the result not of things that happened in the 80’s, or business issues about distribution, but is in fact the result of the decline in talent which came with running off the good writers, to replace them with SJW picked hacks.

  3. Well, Matthew, you’re certainly passionate about your viewpoint, I’ll give you that. And regardless of who first came up with the term, I’m glad we agree “SJW” is something everything should just stop using, if only for originality’s sake.

    I’ll decline your invitation to accep the “facts” as you present them, though, and stick with the data that offers a clearer, longer-term assessment of the business than what you’re proposing. Because while I can see how it’s emotionally satisfying to target Group X as the source of all our problems, life is a bit more complicated than that.

    Cheers.

  4. “And regardless of who first came up with the term, I’m glad we agree “SJW” is something everything should just stop using,”

    LOL no, we really don’t agree. People will continue to use the term because it’s as accurate a hit today as it ever has been.

    “I’ll decline your invitation to accep the “facts” as you present them,”

    Ignore them at your own peril, facts don’t get less factual just because you dislike what they say. This is the exact lesson the comic book industry is currently learning.

    “Because while I can see how it’s emotionally satisfying to target Group X as the source of all our problems, life is a bit more complicated than that.”

    Again, no one targeted SJW’s as the source of all our problems, just the problems they themselves are responsible for & I think you’ve come to realise I’m right, which is why you’ve not even tried to rebut any of these facts, as they relate to their negative impact on the industry & the declining rate of quality in writing that accompanied the SJW’s influx in to the industry.

    You’ve essentially gone from “There is no more “bad writing” in comics today than there ever was”, to “well there is bad writing, there is significantly more bad writing today than ever before, that bad writing is by SJW’s under SJW management, but you can’t blame the SJW’s for their bad writing, because I’d prefer if you didn’t.”

    You are going to have to accept that no one is blaming them for everything, we are blaming them for the things they have objectively done. Those things are the reason why there is a 20% decline in sales across the board over the last 2 years, it’s the reason why Marvel had to liquidate 250,000 units of trade stock, it’s why cover prices keep on increasing to protect failed titles, it’s why we get endless ersatz characters rather than good writing.

    None of those things are attributable to the 1980’s. They are all contemporary issues, which are directly attributable to the SJW incursion.

    The 1980’s didn’t make the writing of 2017 bad.

    The 1980’s didn’t make Marvel SJW’s hire a group of non writers as writers on the basis that they were the right skin colour, sex sexuality & politics.

    The 1980’s didn’t make the industry run out anyone who didn’t exactly echo the regressive political position.

    The 1980’s didn’t make Marvel ignore their long standing hiring practices as to ignore the next generation of creators for the benefit of non creators

    The 1980’s didn’t make Marvel jack up cover prices to compensate for fully one third of their output being below the cancellation point.

    The 1980’s didn’t force Marvel to court an audience that didn’t want anything to do with them while directly insulting their core demographic.

    It wasn’t the 1980’s that did any of those things, it was people functioning under the auspices of social justice who did those things because their ideology convinced them it was a good idea to kill an industry to make it compliant with their ideology.

    There’s a reason why the saying “get woke, go broke” exists. It exists, because it’s true.

  5. Sure, okay. People with a demonstrated love for the medium they’re working in — or a need to pay bills, just like the rest of us — decided en masse to destroy the companies that would give them the best chance to make money doing what they love because “IDEOLOGY!” Makes total sense.

    Like I said, Matthew, if you need to take the win, then go for it. I’ve said my piece; I’m not here to proselytize or harangue.

    You want to believe yours is the only version of reality that’s correct, that’s your right. I’m aware there’s a lot of emotion surrounding this issue, but I will do my best to base conclusions on quantifiable data and historical precedence, not on who I wish to see punished for reasons TBD.

    Tell you what, though. Let’s circle back in 20 years, and if the historians writing the books about this point in the comic business’s history agree with your assessment, I’ll buy you a Coke. Deal?

  6. “Sure, okay. People with a demonstrated love for the medium they’re working in — or a need to pay bills, just like the rest of us — decided en masse to destroy the companies that would give them the best chance to make money doing what they love because “IDEOLOGY!” Makes total sense.”

    It actually makes perfect sense, firstly because they don’t love the medium they are in nearly as much at they love the ideology of social justice & grievance mongering, because they legitimately think their ideology is perfect & so in their mind they are “fixing” the medium.

    In reality they aren’t fixing anything, they are ruining good things, but trying to bring them in to their ideological world view.

    And because they think the ideology they subscribe to is perfect, they can’t accept the reality that people don’t want what these SJW’s want them to want, so instead of self correcting (as there are no more intelligent voices left in positions of power) they just keep on doubling down in to their ideology.

    Take for example Carol Danvers as Ms Marvel. Her title under Brian Reid was pulling in about 30k, to 40k as a matter of course. It was cancelled & the title was co-opted to become CAPTAIN Marvel, at which point it’s sales bottomed out.

    Now an intelligent, reflexive company, would see this fact & would say “fix or discard this property.” But not a company functioning under the auspice of social justice & grievance mongering. No, such a company see’s customer disengagement as a form of victory, because disengagement allows one to claim victory status, & so they relaunched the title, with EXACTLY THE SAME creative direction & creative team….. Then the book fails to find an audience again.

    This has subsequently happened a total of 8 times over a period of about 6 years, though with different creative teams, but the same dead end character direction, with the same fail state repeating it’s self over and over again.

    This is a prime example of the social justice & grievance mongering that is sinking the industry, because most of Marvels books are like this & increasing amount of DC books are following suit.

    Because, there is no reason to continue to follow an utterly failed creative direction, that lives below the cancellation point, when one can just not do that & instead return to the good version of the character that sold double the numbers.

    So, the question then becomes why do they continue to do something that has failed? It makes no sense if they love the medium, or need it to keep on being employed & you are right, on the face of it it makes no sense, until you take in to account the ideology of social justice & grievance mongering.

    Because once you take that in to account it makes perfect sense. They do it because they love their ideology more than they love the medium & that’s convinced them that they are saving the medium, while in reality they are the ones killing it.

    As for the diminishing sales, it’s a combination of their grievance mongering, where they can consider themselves the secular equivalent of the religious who are “doing gods works” & who see any disengagement or disagreement as evidence that “the devil is just throwing up road blocks so we know our path is the righteous one.”

    And they won’t get fired for their objective failures, because there is no one left in a position to fire them, they ARE the positions of power, they ARE the inmates who are running the asylum.

    “You want to believe yours is the only version of reality that’s correct, that’s your right.”

    No it’s not belief, it’s reality. What I am presenting is the only reality. Like I said; the 1980’s didn’t make the writing of 2017 bad. The 1980’s didn’t make Marvel SJW’s hire a group of non writers as writers on the basis that they were the right skin colour, sex sexuality & politics. The 1980’s didn’t make the industry run out anyone who didn’t exactly echo the regressive political position. The 1980’s didn’t make Marvel ignore their long standing hiring practices as to ignore the next generation of creators for the benefit of non creators. The 1980’s didn’t make Marvel jack up cover prices to compensate for fully one third of their output being below the cancellation point. The 1980’s didn’t force Marvel to court an audience that didn’t want anything to do with them while directly insulting their core demographic.

    That’s not a version of reality, it is objectively & demonstrably reality, that cannot be countermanded by complaints about what happened in the 1980’s, because they are simply not germane to the contemporary market force that is currently running the industry in to the ground.

    “Tell you what, though. Let’s circle back in 20 years, and if the historians writing the books about this point in the comic business’s history agree with your assessment”

    When historians write about this point in comic book business it’ll be in a book about the death of the industry, because comic book retailers can’t take another 20% decline over the next 2 years, let alone 40% over 4 years.

    If something does not happen in the next couple of years to turn the ship around there will be no more ship.

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