My inspiration for this particular blog comes from a memorable moment (which parodies the climax to the film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington") from the under-appreciated TV show "The Critic", which starred Jon Lovitz as cynical film critic Jay Sherman:
I decided to take that bit of advice of his and expand it (they just abridged his essay in the episode), and also apply it to the state of comic books today. We don't know whether or not DC's New 52 can be called a success just yet, or if it will last; we don't know if Marvel's recent layoffs and cancellations are a cause for alarm. We don't know if the return of Extreme Studios will affect any inch of the market. It is for these uncertainties that I give you these words; whether you choose to heed them or not is your choice entirely. Here is my say on the outlook of the superhero comic, before this year is out:
I am a comic book fan by choice, and until recently, I found myself contributing to conversations regarding many big changes occurring within both the comic book industry and within superhero comics themselves. It was in these dialogues that I found myself telling people what books were good, which ones merely stink, and which ones you shouldn't read near an open flame. Deep down, I know and you all know that whatever we say on message boards doesn't affect the way the industry works at all. Well now I am encouraging you, instead of merely commenting on certain topics (the Cat/RedHood controversey, etc.), to take up the burden of actually making a move to change the industry itself, so that it may thrive without the things that give you headaches, and continue to produce material that may be enjoyed by people of all shapes, sizes, genders, and ages. It's very simple--if you stop buying bad comic books, they'll stop making bad comic books. How do you tell if it's a bad book, without violating a comic shop's "no reading rule"? All you do is skim the book--if it's one thing college has taught you how to greatly do, it's to skim a book for the important details. Once done, that is where you make your decision--do you buy it, or let it rot on the shelf? If it used to be a television show, a film, or a novel, just don't pick it up. After replacement creative team number two, give it a rest. If it's a reboot of a classic, read the classic! It's easy! If you don't want to be dropped in the middle of a six-issue story, pick up and support only the done-in-ones. If the book's character doesn't stick to his or her roots, read one where the character does. If it's a book where the character makes a change for convenience's sake, ignore it. If an event comic doesn't pique your interest, for you know that it's likely none of the changes introduced will stay, don't give in to curiosity and buy the first issue; go with your earlier decision and avoid it entirely--don't even bother to pick up a tie-in issue. If it's a series that hasn't gotten that much attention, give it your attention. If one comic doesn't treat women, children, or minorities properly, go out and seek one that does.
If it's a spin-off of a main title, buy only the main title, unless you're interested more in the spin-off; if neither the spin-off nor the main title interests you, look for a title that does. If you're tired of the overexposed characters, go out and read the lesser-known characters, and give them a chance. Take advantage of the letters column now that it's been reintroduced--but don't frame your letters in the "typical" fanboy/fangirl manner, actually voice your concerns and your feelings on what about the book you take issue with, but in a way that sounds professional and mature. If it's a book that does not live up to the expectations of the creator's original intent, read a book owned by the creator, where there is bound to be more quality. If you aren't a fan of the creator on the book, look for a run by a creator you do like. If you've been following a book for a long time, and don't like the direction it is currently going, just do the hard thing and drop it--let go of the collector's instinct for the moment and move on to a better opportunity. If you can't wrap your head around a high-concept Grant Morrison title, go out and read a middle-concept Gerry Conway title. If it's a book where the original creator's legacy has been mismanaged, go out and read the one that honors that legacy. If the book is about the less interesting, original version of the character, read the book featuring a more interesting incarnation. If it's a character whose "definitive take" is up in the air, look for a character who is what CBR's Tom Bondurant calls an "ideal aggregation", where all the best pieces of the one character are put together in a well-written package. If it's a book that has art which over-exaggerates the physical depictions of a man or woman, buy and read a book where they are more proportionate and realistic.
If you don't like one issue that is bloody or violent or whatnot, look for an issue where the action is still there, just not as extreme. If a book that is high in quality is on the verge of being cancelled, support it so that it may escape cancellation. If you want more mini-series, one-shots, or original graphic novels, campaign for more of those--actually crave stories with a clear beginning, middle and end. If you want to see a character change and grow, make it known. If you want to see more children reading comics, work to make the medium less insular and confined--it is the fault of us, the fan community, for inspiring the people working at the comic book companies to write stories that reflect the tastes of an audience craving more mature and explicit storytelling, for putting more emphasis on giving the stories a flair of needing 'insider knowledge' to understand them--in other words, transitioning the comic book from a mass medium to a niche medium. If you want more diversity in comics, both in the stories and in the storytellers, don't sit back and let things unfold, make recommendations for ideal up-and-coming talent, and make sure that whatever diverse characters are implemented, that they don't come across as a gross stereotype. If you are tired of recycled storytelling ideas and characters, don't mope about the lack of new things, campaign for new ideas and opportunities. If it's a book that's using controversy to encourage hype and curiosity in order to gain notice, don't give in to the hype; ignore it, ignore any stunt the companies wish to pull--none of those work half the time, unless they are planned cleverly enough. If the books are interrupted by a dispute between creator and editorial, work to hear both sides of the story and try to help resolve the conflict, so that the book may maintain its quality and schedule. If you are disappointed by a book's late arrival or delays, drop the book and look for something that is timely and efficient, yet not lacking in quality--or for the opposite matter, avoid the rushed books and look for the ones that had great amounts of time and care put into them. In a more broader aspect, if you don't like how one company focuses more on marketing than on craft, buy the output produced by a company that manages to balance both. If you feel like you don't want to follow the character(s) in the comic book format, then look to the television shows and (the more quality-laden) films for entertainment, as they showcase, again, the 'ideal aggregations' of the characters you know and love (or hate). Finally, if you, the average comic book reader, feel your voice isn't heard, don't squabble with other fans over which character can beat who--put differences aside, get together, compare notes, and organize, to make your voices truly heard, loud and clear. You are the consumers, you have the money the companies want, you have the power to keep them afloat or let them sink into oblivion--I respect those at the companies who care greatly about their craft, but for the business side of the industry, we have to let them acknowledge the basic fact that without our buying power and our interests, no company of any kind can survive--it's the equivalent of taking all the blood out of a living being.
So people, the next time you are at a DC panel, or a Marvel one, or an Image one, and so on, don't succumb to the excited fan impulse, don't be afraid to speak your mind, as long as you don't come off as super-aggressive or super-assertive: tell them, tell the creators and editors that you want stories about people, not 22 or 28 or who knows how many pages of blood and guts and mindless TNA and unnecessary ads and awkward out-of-character moments for prices bordering on the $5 mark. People, it's up to you--if the comic book stinks, just-don't-buy it!