Sure, the death knell for comic books has been sounded many times. I just know that it has been dead for quite a while now in my personal life, as I have not bought a first-run comic in years.
It doesn’t sound like I’m alone, either. In the month of May, there was not a single comic book that sold over 100,000 copies. Revenue from the Top 300 comics dropped 17%. This has been an ongoing trend. What’s to blame for this? I have a few theories. Here they are but please keep in mind these are only my musings and opinions.
Many will be quick to point the finger of blame at the Internet and video games. “Kids don’t read anymore,” grumble grumble and all that. While kids are more technologically oriented these days, I don’t believe that is to blame. Kids are reading. At least my students are. I continuously see them with books, thick books even, such as Twilight, Hunger Games, Percy Jackson, and the good ol’ standby of Harry Potter. Think what you will about any of those franchises, but kids are reading. And whatever gets them reading is a good thing in this educator’s opinion. Comics are in the reading mix, too…they just happen to be mostly manga. I can't blame them from steering away from today's current crop of mainstream superhero-fare. I remember when you had to read comics. There were narration boxes, thought balloons that allowed a character to internalize, and…well…actual words on the page.
Price and access could be a factor. I remember a day (damn I’m old) when comics were available in grocery stores, pharmacies, and newsstands. I actually begged my Mom to take me to the grocery store with her, simply so I could sit at the comics turnstile. You could get comics for 50 cents in those days. That price rapidly rose to a dollar, which still wasn’t too bad. Currently, you’ll pay close to five dollars for a single, regular issue.
Those factors and many others contribute to why kids don’t want to read comics. So who is still buying them? Old school geeks like me in my age demographic. Because of this, the major companies feel that they need to tell more sophisticated stories. A just point of view, but they have, in my opinion, extended that line of reasoning beyond the pale. The late 1980s is considered by many to be the beginning of the Dark Age of comics: anti-heroes, bloody violence, heroes with marital problems or addictions or the unbearable lightness of being famous. The audience was older so the writers felt everything needed to be ratcheted up a few notches.
Instead of being an escape from bleak news on TV and my everyday problems, comics became a constant reminder of those things. Yes, I am far older than when I was when I started reading comics, I have more responsibility, and I’m above the stilted, cheesy dialogue of that time. But I still need what I came to comics for in the first place: fun. Wonderment. The idea that the fantastic could happen. Heroes that espoused the finest ideals a human (or non-human could have) while still hampered by ordinary flaws. The comics printed by Marvel in the late 70s and early 80s are evidence, to me anyway, that you can tell an escapist story and still be intelligent. I’d argue thatComics of the 1990s was much the same way. Somehow or another, I didn’t put an issue down and want to slit my wrists over the swirling toilet our society has become.
So I’ll stick with all my old issues, the mangled but enjoyable copies from the quarter bins, and collected editions like Marvel’s Essentials and DC’s Showcases. I don’t necessarily begrudge the industry for what they’re writing now. I just don’t have to read it. And if they’re losing money, they need to look at all the reasons why.
And for a more eloquent critique of the "darker, edgier" cliche, please check TV Tropes. It's where I purloined that inspired piece of Smurf art.
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