Lately it seems that every week there is a story somewhere on the web about DC Comics, and how in one way or another they are screwing up. It’s so bad that there is website dedicated to the question, “Has DC Comics done something stupid today?” Being a life long DC fan, it has been upsetting, and frustrating. I want them to be good. I want to read great stories featuring some of my favorite characters. But for some reason DC doesn’t want me (and thousands of other comic fans) to be happy.
My old friend, and creator if the Indy comic, The Horsemen, Jiba Molei Anderson, addressed the issues that the “Corporate Two“, Marvel and DC, specifically the DC and their failings in recent years over at his blog, the Afrosoul Chronicles. I think he’s hit it spot on. The Big Two comic companies really don’t control their own fate anymore. Rather the corporate interests of their parent companies, (Disney and Warner Brothers) are what are shaping the editorial decisions at Marvel and DC. Of course when a company is spending 250 million dollars to make a movie based on an intellectual property (i.e. comic book) that they own, naturally they are going to want to have some control over that property. It’s completely within their rights to do so, but is it really in the best interest of the comics themselves?
The decisions that DC have been making over the past 2 years, seem to have had a complete lack of any awareness of their actual reading audience. Marvel’s success at the box office seems to have pushed their perennial #2 rival to drastic action to make the stable of DC heroes, some of them with 70+ year legacies, into becoming something “new”. This seems to be all part of an attempt at cross platform synergy, see the movie, play the video game, read the comic, eat the value meal. B ut how many of those people flocking to comic book movies are heading out to get the latest issue? The Avengers, sold over billion dollars in tickets worldwide, over 600 hundred million in the US alone. In April, 2012 The Avengers #25 sold about 65,000 copies, in May, after the movie came out, that went up slightly, to almost 68,000 , a 4% jump, not bad. But how many of those new sales were made by people who had never bought a comic before, and how many were just existing comic readers who decided to check out the Avengers title? FYI, as of April 2014, sales were below 55,000 for the Avengers flagship title.
Are publishers focusing on making books that they think the general public wants? Or, as Mr. Anderson points out in his piece, the big two are chasing after the possible, but improbable new readers that a film or TV show may bring in, at the expense of ignoring the “1000 true fans”. While I think that the “Mouse House” and the “Rabbit Hole” value the properties that Marvel and DC provide them with, they don’t have a grasp on either the medium, and the fans that support it. Fans now are more connected with their favorite publishers and creators than ever before, but at DC, it seems they have been less interested in what they have to say than ever before. Some say DC is trying. Others say DC is just trying their patience.
So, DC, if you’ll listen here are just a few things I think you could do to help you find your way back
1) Be Smarter
- I know it’s a competitive business. You are not just competing with Marvel, but
Image, IDW, Dark Horse, Valiant and dozens of indy press books each week. On top of that, you are competing with countless other media forms for our eyes, hearts and dollars. By retreating back to focus on your perceived core audience (i.e. white males over 30, single) you may feel secure, but just take a look across the show floor at any comic con. Comic fans come from all walks of life. And the films and TV adaptions ARE bringing new eyes to the industry. But when they pick up a DC comic, and see the stereotypical trappings, they are turned off. Respect goes a long way
2) Be More Diverse
- One of the things I thought you did right with the New 52 was your attempt to give us more than just superhero titles. All-Star Western, I,Vampire, Men of War… Now your line up is either Justice League, Batman, Superman, or Green Lantern for the most part. But I don’t just mean in your titles. You want to find new readers? Tell new stories. Find new writers and artists who have new ways of looking at the DCU. It’s great that you want to make your comic book universe more diverse, but don’t play lip service to diversity.
3) Think of the Future.
- I would also recommend trying to find a way to reach the family audiences with stories that can be shared. We old white guys are not going to be here forever. We, as a fandom, need to reach more young readers. We need your help. We need appropriate material to give our kids, our nieces and nephews, cousins, and neighbors. I buy 20 copies of a comic to give away on Halloween, if I thought it was entertaining and good for young readers, like I did with Tiny Titans last year. We need more, and not just tie in to animated fare (though that’s ok) but a DC book, set in universe, for all readers could serve as a stepping stone to the DCU proper. DC has an Injustice and Infinite Crisis video game tie-in comics with Madefire (the very cool motion comic app.) How about an all ages DCU book? That message is to all comic publishers, really.
4) Just be DC
- I have never seen a company that is both so proud and yet so ashamed of it’s history. This year you triumphantly touting Batman’s 75th Anniversary (like last year’s diamond anniversary of Superman). But for some reason, you get scared by the complex legacies of some of your characters. Even Wonder Woman seems to make Warner Brothers executives nervous. Embrace the brash and colorful nature of your characters. and your universe. Remember absurd doesn’t have to be silly. Batman aside, superheroes can be fun as well as exciting. Don’t forget the fun.