The Comic Book Industry

A few months ago, I wrote a post called How Japan Is Taking Over, this one is a pseudo-sequel of sorts, so I recommend reading that before jumping in here. Good? Okay.


Now, in the previously mentioned post, I said this:


There’s also the factor of the intimidation that comes with comics. Speaking from personal experience, I find American comic books just hard to get into. Say I want to read a Spider-man comic. Well, I have to choose from the fifteen billion different Spider-man comics and make sure I know which version of Spider-man I’m getting into. On top of this, multiple comic series correlate with each other, so sometimes, to understand one comic, you have to read an entirely different comic series. There’s just no easy way to get into this shit without doing mountains of research beforehand. In comparison, I can pick up the first volume of One Piece and know I’m starting at the beginning of one story I can continue by reading volume 2.”


The ironic thing here is that I’ve actually gotten into American comic books after being burnt out from manga after reading too much of it. So now, I have a new enlightened perspective that’s honestly not that different from the one I used to have.


For the past six or so months, I’ve amassed a pretty profound knowledge of not only comic books but also the history that comes with them, and yet, for some awful reason, that old post I referenced still holds up. More than anything, I’ve just collected more evidence to prove my exact point. Trust me, the problems with this industry go way deeper than just a convoluted narrative.


The Night Gwen Stacy Died


Let’s take the quote mentioned above and put it into practice.


Let’s say you want to get into the comic book industry after watching some movies, cartoons, or whatever.


Your favorite is Spider-man, and you want to read the comics he originated in. Well, as I mentioned earlier, you can’t just pick up any random issue and start reading cause that would be too easy. You have a handful of options in front of you:


Option A: Latest Release


Unlike manga which is one story told by one guy from beginning to end, comic books are more generational. They usually follow one character or group of characters as the creative team behind them changes through the decades.


In modern comics, most series mark a new creative team or storyline when they soft-reboot into #1 issues. Essentially, each #1 draws a new story arc and is supposed to be a decent jumping-on point even if you’re not too familiar with the character’s previous history.


In the case of Spider-man, you could start with The Amazing Spider-man #1 from 2018 or the recent The Amazing Spider-man #1 from 2022, which features a different set of stories and creative team.


The problem with this one is that you have no idea what the fuck is happening regardless of it being a new storyline.


Take Spider-man 2018, for example; yes, you could theoretically pick this one up as a new reader and go from there, except it does a terrible job at explaining things to you. The book does recap a handful of things, but for the most part, it already assumes you know Peter Parker’s origin story; it takes you know Gwen Stacy was somebody important to Peter and then died; it thinks you’re already familiar with literally all of the villains of the Spider-man mythos which includes the weird ones like Hydro-man and Big Wheel. No amount of recap can sum up decades of lore.


And this goes for virtually every character. Some are easier than others, but what’s always consistent is that you have to do a certain level of research to familiarize yourself with the lore before reading, and who the fuck wants to do that? Comics are supposed to be entertainment, not homework.


This leads me to option B:


Option B: Reading Guides


Some people might look at the previous problem and say:


“Well, if things are so hard to understand in the middle, why not just read the beginning forehead?”


This sounds okay on paper, but the thing is, have you read those old comics? They’re not just bad; they’re ultra-mega-ass. They’re suitable for the time, but in our modern age, they are impossible to read with the vomit-inducing exposition and frankly, outdated practices as Mr. Fantastic over here can showcase to you.


So, instead of doing that, Option B asks you to look up on the internet all of Spider-man’s significant storylines and just read those.


This would include arcs like:

Amazing Fantasy #15

The Night Gwen Stacy Died

The Clone Saga

One More Day

The Other Clone Saga

Spider-Verse

The Rebooted Clone Saga

Civil War


And so on.


This seems nice enough to get to know the character better, but the problem with this one is that the story is nonexistent.


Let’s say you follow a reading guide similar to the one I just outlined; that means you would go from Peter Parker’s origin story straight into The Night Gwen Stacy Died. There is so much vital context behind this story arc that is necessary to understand it fully; without that knowledge, the impact the two issues make is entirely lost.


You go into The Night Gwen Stacy Died knowing that with great power comes great responsibility, then you learn there’s this guy called Norman Osborn who’s Peter’s best friend’s dad, who seems nice but not actually cause he’s the super evil Green Goblin but not actually because Peter beat his head in so hard he got amnesia and can’t remember he was a villain but not actually because the plot makes him remember. Then you learn that Peter has a girlfriend called Gwen Stacy, and oh, she’s dead now.


The subtext and nuance that makes stories enjoyable are entirely lost by following reading guides. By following Option B, you’re not reading for pleasure; you’re reading to know what happens. It’s like reading a history book, what happens is interesting, but the book won’t make you feel anything, which kind of defeats the point of reading comics to begin with.

You have to pick between the lesser of two evils with the immediate two options. However, there is a roundabout way to figure out where to start. And that leads me to:


Option C: Just Look It Up On YouTube


The comic books themselves might do a terrible job at explaining things. Still, you might be surprised at the amount of comic dedicated YouTubers out there that explain everything you need to know about a particular character and more. Channels like Comic Drake and Owen Likes Comics have helped me understand a lot of this dogshit and have made a difference in my enjoyment of comics.


Of course, this isn’t the same as reading and has the same problem as the Reading Guides, but what they have is enjoyable content that makes things more digestible and gives you a lot of knowledge you need to get into comics. From there, you can just read whatever run of the character you want.


However, even with people helping with comic accessibility, this shit is inexcusable. No wonder manga keeps dominating; comics are so annoying to understand it’s stupid. Suppose you’re somebody who doesn’t know anything about the medium. In that case, you’ll have to go through so much effort in researching and reading boring old comics just to understand the ones you want to read.


I’m not saying Marvel and DC need to reboot their universes every handful of years just to keep things accessible; I’m saying they need to stop assuming that everyone is up to date with everything regarding their worlds. Instead of relying so heavily on previous storylines, why not have new comics follow completely new adventures for the character that don’t necessarily require you to have read previous content. And if you have to bring up previous events, why not make it so that everything you need to know about it is immediately clear without extensive research.


Some comics do this already, such as Captain Marvel 2019 and Wonder Woman 2016, which only reference previous material when they have to and mainly focus on new stuff. While these comics are great, it cannot be understated the number of modern runs that still rely heavily on previous reader knowledge that it’s not even funny, and this needs to change.


There are more problems I can touch on in this section, but I’ll talk about them later in this post.


More Than A Single Issue


Real quick, let me give you some numbers.


You know Shonen Jump, right? The Bestselling manga magazine ever made. A single issue of WSJ in Japan - which features 20+ manga chapters - costs roughly 300 Yen, which is something like $3.00 weekly to keep up with everything happening.


In the west, this number is considerably different. Reading new chapters from Jump can be done digitally and for free. That’s right, by downloading the Shonen Jump app, you can read all new chapters free of charge and only need to pay $2 monthly if you want access to their back catalog.


Volume-wise, a single volume of Chainsaw Man which has roughly 8-10 chapters, costs me about $10, this can accumulate a lot with each passing book, but overall, it’s a pretty good deal.


Okay, now that we’ve seen the manga world, let’s see how comics tackle pricing.


Unlike manga which releases weekly in a magazine or digital form, comics come out as individual issues that are sold separately. A single issue of Wonder Woman costs me from $4 to $6. Now, DC by itself releases approximately 8-10 issues every week; if we put these numbers in a calculator and assume you want to keep up with everything happening in the DC universe, including niche series alongside the bigger ones, you’d have to pay every week approximately…

$40-$60

What the fuck?!


$40 to see the Joker become the UN ambassador of Iran?!


$40 to see Batman turn into fucking Bat-Baby?!


$40 to see Lois Lane transform into a black woman?!


Look it up! That ain’t no Photoshop! That’s a real comic!


$40 to keep up with just one publisher of weekly comic books is not an actual price; it’s a made-up number by a child trying to win at ‘who can say the largest number’ except even a child would hesitate before saying that!


Of course, there are reasons why it’s this expensive. You have to pay the writers and artists, you have printing costs, plus comics are colored and laminated, which ups the price even more. However, in our modern age, this isn’t a valid reason.


First of all, in a progressively digital world, physical issues are just a thing of the past; they’re only still around because that’s how things have always been, even though releasing comics digitally would lessen the costs of producing them by a considerable amount and hence make the books themselves more affordable. Heck, the digital issues cost the same amount as the physical ones! Why!? Why would I buy the digital ones if they’re the same shit? There’s no reason!


Why are comics so expensive, yet manga is so much more affordable? One might say that it’s unfair to compare the two; manga is, by nature, a lot cheaper to make. It’s in black and white, made in disposable paper, the production quality of a manga chapter doesn’t reach the same levels of an issue of an American comic. But I think it’s time we realize all the fancy things that come with comics, like laminated pages and printed individual releases are nothing more than that, gimmicks that were successful at one point but have since lost their appeal.


Now, I’m not saying comics need to turn into manga, but there are so many ways they could improve the distribution of these books. As it is, most consumers will be extremely cautious of what they buy and will only check out series they know they’ll like, meaning that a lot of experimental runs that might not be as appealing won’t do as well because people don’t want to take that financial risk on them.


What if you have magazines like manga instead of individual issues? It doesn’t have to be one magazine for all of Marvel or all of DC. You could have one magazine dedicated to Spider-Man, and there you have the newest issues of The Amazing Spider-man, Venom, Black Cat, Savage Spider-man, Spider-man 2099, Ben Reilly Spider-man, and so on. If this were sold at only a slightly higher price as a single issue every month, then not only would the reader feel like they got their money’s worth, but they also get the opportunity to check out a bunch of series they wouldn’t have otherwise. Sure, it might be an immediate financial loss not to sell each of those separately. Still, the appeal and interest of each series will grow will hugely impact volume and merch sales, creating a more considerable financial gain.


I get that the single issue is the way things have been for decades, but in our modern age, it’s a highly outdated anti-consumer medium that needs to fucking die if comic books want to survive.


Amazing Fantasy #15


As I mentioned, I’ve been reading a lot of comics from all across the ages, and I have to admit, as a storytelling enthusiast, English major, manga fan, and general geek, in comparison to most other stories, most of this shit fucking sucks.


Accessibility is a significant issue, but even if you manage to overcome that hurdle, you’re still faced with an industry with a noticeable lack of compelling and innovative narratives. Okay, maybe saying that all comics are terrible is a gross generalization, but the problems are still there.


This isn’t even something to blame the writers for; when they’re dealing with characters created decades ago, it’s hard to find ways to innovate. These characters have such a comprehensive and vast history that pretty much everything has been done already, and there just isn’t much to do with them that’s new and exciting.


This cannot be better punctuated than with Amazing Fantasy #15.


This image… this fucking image will appear in my nightmares.


For those unfamiliar, Amazing Fantasy #15 is the first issue in which Spider-man appeared. Because of this, it’s considered a classic and a critical issue in comic history, and if you didn’t know that already, don’t worry cause Marvel will make sure to remind you whenever they have the chance.


I have seen Amazing Fantasy #15 be referenced so. many. goddam. times. You cannot read a single run of Spider-man without seeing this cover be referenced at least once. And it’s not even just Spider-man; you’ll see it referenced in the Fantastic Four; in event runs, I’ve seen this exact pose be done in comic books that don’t even have anything to do with Spider-man.


A cheeky homage here and there is fine, but when you reach this level:











That’s fucked up. This is going too far.


It might seem weird to complain about something so small, but I point this out because it’s not just Amazing Fantasy #15; references to the Golden and Silver age of comics are everywhere.


Again, for those unfamiliar, the Golden and Silver age of comics was the time in the 40s and 60s when the medium was at its peak. Popularity couldn’t be higher as many of what are now considered classic superheroes were created. Trust me; you’ll know this if you’ve read as many comics as I have because the era is referenced everywhere in modern runs.


From references to the art style, previous character designs, poses, and even entire storylines.


By referencing the Golden and Silver age of comics this much, what the writer is telling me is that they can’t come up with anything new and compelling to do with these decades-old characters, so they resort to reminding you of a much better time in comics, back when they were a staple of American culture and weren’t just testing grounds for the much more popular and successful movies.


The comic book industry as it is now is just entirely forgettable. All the storylines that once made characters great have passed, and now their stories are just blatant repeats or uninspired storylines that only exist to capitalize on the franchise.


Writers can’t even take risks or try something daring as they need to keep the character in a blank slate for future creative teams. The stories they tell can’t have a beginning because the characters already have one, but they also can’t have an end as their stories must keep going for eternity. So, what ends up happening is that whenever I pick up a comic, I feel like I’m reading a never-ending second act.


Even something like One Piece, which has been in publication for the last 25 years, had a proper beginning and is headed towards an inevitable end which is a massive part of why the series is so engaging. The writer has a clear goal; all of these events, this story, have a purpose.


By removing this goal, you’re left with empty stories and characters; there’s no innovation, no experimentation, just constant references to a time when comics were better as they fade more and more into obscurity as manga takes over and the movies become even more prominent.


***

I acknowledge that for the last 3000 words, I’ve had a pessimistic look at comics and the industry. However, even I have to admit that I am exaggerating slightly.


So many talented writers and artists across this industry are still pushing the bar for what can be done with this inherently limiting medium and create something truly memorable.


Jason Aaron took Thor and gave him the most remarkable story arc he’s ever had by introducing antagonist Gor the God Butcherer who perfectly parallels the god of thunder, only to take things a step forward by removing the character of Thor altogether and replacing him with the much more compelling Jane Foster.


Al Ewing took Hulk and gave him an eerie horror run with art and storylines that feel straight out of hell, with some sections truly getting under my skin.


Jonathan Hickman took the overdone X-men and gave them a fucking country to run alongside an entirely new and fresh mythos to the team that expanded the possibilities of what can be done.


There’s also the case of indie comic book publishers like Image Comics and AWA who continue to release fresh and new titles that, while not all hitters, do have a considerable number of compelling comics.


However, for every innovation, there’s an equal setback as writers are prohibited from really going crazy with their stories by editors and a community that expect things to be a certain way.


Jane Foster became Thor, only to be replaced by the original just four years later.

Al Ewing gave a fresh new spin on Hulk, only for him to go back to a mindless monster punching big bad guys in Hulk 2021.


Jonathan Hickman created the extremely compelling Krakoa for the X-men, only for that storyline to go nowhere and subsequently ruined by unnecessarily extended runs.


Even though indies do try new things and genuinely try to innovate, their role and impact on the industry as a whole is so minor and inconsequential that not even my mythical local comic book store sells them as the more problematic Marvel and DC overshadow them.


Over the last few months, I’ve fallen in love with many writers and their fresh interpretations of characters, and it’s always highly unsatisfying to see said visions crumble. It further puts me off the medium and makes me want to read manga, which lets writers complete their narratives the way they want.


While I understand that retcons and changes to the lore are necessary for some instances, doing it to the point that comic books do is overkill. It makes it so that no matter what, no comic book will have the weight most stories do. There are no consequences, nothing is permanent, and this removes much of the weight that makes stories memorable.


What if, instead of constantly retconning things, we let the writers kill off a character and then let that character stay dead. Create some actual changes in this universe and force writers to constantly innovate by introducing new characters and interpretations of the world.


I believe that if we let these people go crazy with their stories and do storylines that give characters the endings they deserve, then comic books might find a resurgence. Maybe then, instead of constantly reminding us of the previous one, we can bring about an entirely new Golden age.

***

Thank you for reading all the way until the end of the post. If you liked this, then make sure to subscribe to The Lechuga newsletter and check out my link tree at: linktr.ee/adrianlechuga


What do you think about the comic book industry? I acknowledge that a lot of people will probably disagree with this. Which is fine; let me know what you thought in the comments. Regardless of what you think, I’m already glad you read until the end.

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