We're two months in to 2012, and already there has been controversy after controversy in the realm of the comic book industry and the books put out. Some are arguments and problems that have been brewing even before we hit the 2010's, going back as far as the "Dark/Dork Age" of comics in the late 80's to early 90's, and as recent as the mid-to-late 2000's. After reading article after article, blog post after blog post, editorial after editorial, I decided to compile the points each made into what can be identified as the biggest and most prominent problems/cons/negatives/issues that are latched onto the industry that we (sometimes reluctantly) support. Perhaps I'll do a follow-up during the holidays, so I can make this a list of grievances in time for Festivus.
1. Creator rights and the ensuing legal wars that follow
Though this subject goes all the way back to before any of us were born, it still haunts the industry today, thanks to long-running struggles between DC and the Siegel/Shuster families and Marvel vs the Kirby heirs, and fiascoes as recent as the Gary Friedrich case and Alan Moore's denouncement of the "Before Watchmen" prequels. Camps can be easily divided into three: there's the people who support the companies, those who side with the creators, and those in the middle who just don't care or are confused. Whether you want to raise a banner for either side, are pro or anti-work-for-hire, ultimately the one thing to blame for this sword of Damocles hanging over the comic industry is this: the often-manipulated U.S. legal system. If it's anything that's truly suffered, it's U.S. copyright law, for being constantly rewritten and invoked in times where a company wants to keep its profits up, or creators (and sometimes their families) who want to reclaim what they believe is rightfully theirs. If Copyright Law were a living being, there's only one thing I could imagine it saying:
"I AM A HUMAN BEING!!"
Oh, US Copyright Law, how sorry I feel for you so.
2. Depiction of Women in Mainstream Superhero Comic Books
Next to creator rights, the portrayal of women of comic books--mostly the mainstream super hero output of DC and Marvel--is the most hotly debated topic among fans and industry veterans. Whether it be about how revealing or covered-up their costumes are, how intelligent or relatable, how fat or thin, how strong or weak, how sexy or "sexy" they are, this is a very, very divisive subject, one that may never be resolved, until someone takes radical action. And then there's the debate over solutions to the problem: 'getting more women creators', 'giving Wonder Woman pants', 'making the books appeal more to female readers', etc. etc. etc. No one has a clear answer without any counterpoints made, so I classify this particular scuffle as an "infinite issue", doomed to go on and one with no end. Finally, there's the debate over reader tastes: 'are men turned off or on by stronger women characters', 'will women readers not care either way', 'are women militant about seeing advancements in comics', 'will the mostly larger male fanbase oppose efforts to change comic stories', 'why aren't the MEN as sexualized'---it's a BIG headache. What's a good example of this debate in action? Look no further than this recent entry in Kelly Thompson's "She Has No Head!" column on Comic Book Resources' Comics Should Be Good blog:
Personally, the only reason(s) we are even having this problem/debate right now is because as our medium changed during the 1990's and the 2000's, characters were becoming more 'photo-realistic' with exaggerated features here and there, as an aura of 'cinamaticism' was added to comics in an attempt to make them more 'interesting'. The sheer fact that comics outside those in kid's lines lack that 'animated' feel as of late is downright disturbing. (There are some exceptions, I know.)
3. Events that leave little to no impact
Indie comics have become a toast of the fan community for those tired of the endless escapades of corporate-owned properties, and it doesn't help that we live in an era of 'writing for the trade', constant short-lived character death after short-lived character death, and events that clog the shelves with enough tie-ins to fill the Albert Hall. Nowadays, when one reader has gone through the death of a beloved character, only for that same character to pop up alive and well after a short period of time, you can almost always expect the following reaction:
It's possible that unless the major comic companies finally realize what fans truly want, we're going to keep seeing these for a long time--much to half the fandom's chagrin.
4. Comic Shops that aren't exactly "customer-friendly"
When most people think of comic shops, that sometimes rare, dying breed of retail outlet, some think of the smell of faded newsprint, dim lightbulbs, countless statues and busts, and one Jeff Albertson; though some shops have improved their atmosphere in recent years, the particular stereotype of the musty, faded store with the surly owner at the register still sticks out to those who aren't necessarily comics fans, and fans who are jaded from the once-in-a-while poor comic shop experience. All is not lost, however--there are those who have the sense to do comic shops "right", like one Michael Doll, owner of Green Dragon in Ithaca, New York:
5. A problem that pretty much speaks for itself:
Where ARE the children in all this, the audience that comic books were ORIGINALLY intended for? People ask what comics are good for kids nowadays, and 80% of the time they get referred to indie books. What about output from the Big Two? Sure, they have kid-oriented lines, but what about the stage where kids may want to get into the regular comics as they get older? Also good questions that have been debated heavily on various forums and websites. But I bet there's just one question that hasn't been asked yet: who in their right minds allowed the comic stories to mature along with the longtime readers, robbing the books of the ability that any product aimed for kids possesses, that of constantly adapting/reinventing itself to bring in the fresher, younger faces???
Eric Stephenson, the current marketing director for Image Comics, couldn't have summed it up better than this: "I don't think I need to tell anyone that it's a time of tremendous change for the comics industry." While he refers to the rise of digital comics and the need to support the direct market, you could debate the validity of his quote in light of the aforementioned 5 problems. I see people complain, chime in, snark or otherwise comment on these particular issues whenever they're brought up on various websites and blogs. To those who have done this a lot, I now pose this question to you:
If you have a problem (or 5) with the current state of the comic industry, what are you going to do about it THIS YEAR, and WILL you actually do it?