By Darryl Ayo
What’s the word today?
I know you’re dragging your feet, kicking the dust, sucking your teeth like “this Ayo bum is a negative person, he doesn’t even LIKE comics, I’m not going to listen to his nonsense.”
Which is fine, I’m never afraid to piss in your cereal and rain on your parade. And you probably look at me like “if you know so damn much, what would YOU do if you were in charge of comics?!”
To that I say…
So, in your arrogance and bravado you have appointed me, Darryl Ayo, King of North American Comics. Well done. You will notice just a few cosmetic changes to the industry that we know and love.
1) Goddammit, I will MAKE these comics sell
So you have a handful of comic book companies, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, IDW, Archie Comics. I’d cancel their entire lines, shove ’em right into the waste basket. All these publishers do is cannibalize themselves and each other. I’d dump all superhero titles, all licensed titles, all of that. The way I see it, all of those licensed properties are worth about…four comics per month. So you take a DC Comics, for example. You can take all of this pretense of having a comic book for every jerkass character (inevitably, most will fail miserably) and fold these into a handful of titles. Let’s say…Detective Comics (company namesake), Action Comics, Adventure Comics and Strange Adventures.
You figure that there’s four weeks in a month, and four leader comic books that can cover the company property stuff. Same thing with competitor Marvel Comics, with venerable titles such as Journey Into Mystery, Strange Tales, Amazing Fantasy and…let’s say Marvel Comics (company namesake). What about the rest of the shelf, you say? I’M GLAD YOU ASKED.
You see, these comics will give all those interested in exciting legacy superhero comics the sort of “fix” that they need, while fulfilling either company’s true role as IP farms. As we learn from observing our Japanese neighbors, the benefits of anthologies are that the titles support one another and anthologies allow for subjects of similar interests to be bundled together. Which is all DC and Marvel really do.
Make it so.
2) Develop new stories, encourage new work: BE A PUBLISHER
I know that technically DC Comics, Marvel Comics and let’s say Archie Comics are technically “publishers,” but I believe that their actual publishing is secondary to their IP farming. And it’s sort of senseless to imagine that you can farm crops that don’t grow. Just tending to immortal crops that don’t grow, and can’t be further planted. It’s silly.
Nobody will create another Incredible Hulk because the last guy who created the first Incredible Hulk lost his creation (and all his others) and died not-wealthy.
However, in the real world, publishers put out work and don’t attempt to wrest copyrights and trademarks and intellectual rights from the creators. They just publish.
Hire creators to literally CREATE.
Make it so.
3) Beginning, Middle and End: the Vertigo story
The sketchy outline for how I would have these comic book PUBLISHERS operate is to run their series the way that DC Comics’ current Vertigo imprint tends to be run. That is: a writer and artist come up with a comic which is a complete story. A story that begins in one place and ends up in another. A story that once it reaches its conclusion will be finished and complete and wrapped up and gone forever.
Comic book people, I cannot stress this enough: your stories will not cease to exist if you stop writing. 1984 continues to sell copies decades after its author’s death. Heck, even in comics, The Sandman and Preacher continue to sell new editions of their collections and it has been over a decade since either of them has reached its natural conclusion. You CAN survive in this publishing game by moving on. The best fictional comics are stories that had an ending in mind, reached that ending and walked away upon completion. I cannot stress this enough–this should be the first point on the list: do serialized stories; do long monthly series; but make them something that FINISHES. Trust me in this, if nothing else, you will be better writers and the market will be stronger for developing the psychological capacity to move on from a single emotional beat in life.
Please for the love of Kirby, let stories end.
Make it so!
4) Regain the public’s trust
The Death of Superman was a big gimmick. So was the Death of Captain America, the Death of Batman, the Death of (Ultimate) Spider-Man and so on. That stuff is wack and beneath contempt. No more gimmicks. Just solid storytelling, beautiful artwork and at a reliable rate of speed.
On the note of “the public,” I’ll harp on that old saw (to mixmaster a metaphor) and say that comic books absolutely must get back into the public eye. I’ve recently observed that Last Man Standing, Barnes and Noble carries mainstream monthly comic books nowadays. That’s a good start. Comic book publishers are in the periodical sales industry. They got essentially kicked out of the newstands years back–well kick your way back in! This is America, we don’t get “beaten,” we wage decades-long futile wars! By hook or by crook, the major publishers need to get their magazines back into every place that sells Cosmo, The New Yorker, Playboy, The Source and Rolling Stone. This is where that small core of magazines that I listed in section 1 of this article will come in handy. Instead of trying to convince mainstream vendors of buying literally dozens of titles wholesale, the major publishers would be trying to sell vendors only about four. Four basic titles that would bring your Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men stuff to the public visibility level.
The other titles, the creator-driven comics that would make up the bulk of the marketplace in this world of mine would also be available for any vendor to order, but face facts: small news stands only carry a handful of magazines from any given genre. And that is fine! But using the anthology method, every individual title sold would expose readers to several of that company’s IP-farm comics. Everybody wins, basically.
Make it so.
I’ll admit that my list is idealistic and completely untenable within the current market and infrastructure of North American comic books. I know that. But the point is that these are just a few things that would be occurring in a healthy, alternate-reality version of our comic book industry. And in that alternate reality, we’d all have a lot less anxiety about this industry.
Or you know…I’ll have less anxiety about it. So make it so.