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  1. #1
    Invincible Member Digifiend's Avatar
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    Default Gerry Conway: "Cancel all superhero comics!"

    Gerry Conway, former Punisher writer, wants all superhero comics cancelled, and the publishers to do graphic novels and kids comics instead.
    https://bleedingcool.com/comics/puni...perhero-comic/
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  2. #2
    Marvel's 1st Superhero Reviresco's Avatar
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    I love Gerry Conway's work, and I agree with _some_ of his analysis of the history that brought the industry to this point. However, his solution betrays a lack of knowledge of various attempts by the publishers and Diamond, and the present retail situation.
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  3. #3
    Extraordinary Member Holt's Avatar
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    That's a very sensationalist reading of what he was saying. His actual explanation of how we got to this point was very well reasoned, imo.

    For a variety of self-enforcing reasons, publishers have defined the primary audience for mainstream comics as, in effect, long term fans and potential collectors. Hence, fan-oriented naval gazing continuity, tri-annual "events", reboots, collector-oriented variant covers, etc. Every single one of these marketing ploys is designed *solely* to appeal to existing readers. Even reboots, ostensibly intended to offer "jumping on" points to new readers, actually require familiarity with previous iterations to provide interest. New readers aren't welcomed by the existing creative strategy at the two mainstream publishers— if anything, new readers are actively *discouraged* by the publishers' frantic pursuit of motivated, existing readership. The clubhouse is closed. Stay out.

    Publishers, of course, will disagree with this analysis and say they're always trying to provide on-ramps to new readers. But any serious look at what they're offering, in the main, reveals a decided tilt— in fact a massive tilt— toward privileging the existing readership. And this makes sense, in a way, because of a cultural creative shift in the editorial direction of the publishing houses that can be traced back to the era I'm from— the late 1960s, early 1970s.

    In the mid 1960s, around 1967, DC Comics offered a weekly tour of their offices during the summer. I went on the tour (and like others, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman among them, became a regular). At one point I had a conversation with then-editor Julie Schwartz. We were talking about a Green Lantern story, and I made some fanboy comment about what I hoped would happen. Julie paused and looked at me. "How old are you?" "Fourteen," I said. He snorted. "Too old. You're not my reader." And he walked off.


    I later learned that at DC (and also at Marvel) in the 1960s the commonly accepted view of the comic book readership was a kid (undoubtedly male) between the age of 9 and 13. What today's book publishers would call Middle-Grade Readers. This makes sense. If we're honest about it, the basic, root appeal of superhero stories is to that part of ourselves that lives in a pre-sexualized, pre-adolescent dream state in which anything is possible. It's the world of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Like "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (or Philosopher's Stone if you want to be pedantic), young adults and adults can enjoy superhero stories too, and even want those stories to evolve and mature, just as the Potter books evolved and matured. But. But. But Regardless of what appeal the first Potter book might have for older and existing readers…its primary readership was intended to be, and remains, Middle-Grade, 8 to 12. And the same used to be true for comics, particularly superhero comics. Until my generation came along. Yeah, we Boomers f**ked it up, as usual.

    When I and my cohorts replaced the creatives who'd given the comic book business massive success in the 1960s, folks like Stan Lee and Julie Schwartz, we brought with us our Boomer self-obsession. We didn't want to create comics for kids. We wanted comics for *us.* That's the origin of comic book superheroes' shift from Middle-Grade readership in the 1960s to Young Adult readership in the 1970s, and Adult readership in the 1990s and beyond— the refusal of Boomer creatives and editors like myself and others to Let It Go. We redefined the readership comics were aimed at— coinciding with a shift in distribution that allowed that redefinition to stick. The result is a dead end for comic book publishing as a business. How would I change this?

  4. #4
    Astonishing Member cranger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reviresco View Post
    I love Gerry Conway's work, and I agree with _some_ of his analysis of the history that brought the industry to this point. However, his solution betrays a lack of knowledge of various attempts by the publishers and Diamond, and the present retail situation.
    He is working the presumption the current industry is a dead end. I don't think he is overlooking the things you listed (he probably blames them) but I do think the problem is what he has presented is an end goal with no suggestion of how to get there. Plenty of people come up with product ideas, but the successful ones come up with ideas to get people to buy their product.

  5. #5
    Extraordinary Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    Gerry Conway has become that Old Guy Shouts at Sky meme from The Simpsons.

    It's not that he's completely inaccurate, or invalid, but his ideas and suggestions is extreme, and unworkable. Were it to be implemented would not in any sense bring about the turnaround he wants.

    As for the historical sketch he traced:
    -- I don't think it's true at all that Stan Lee wanted just kids to read his book. He was trying throughout his editorial to target a more mature readership and was thrilled that Marvel Comics were popular with college kids, and hence his many lectures on campuses. So this idea that boomers ruined it, that's giving himself and others a little too much credit. It was inherent to Marvel's brand in the '60s that comics grow up. Stan Lee kept trying to get sophisticated types involved with Marvel, so I don't think it's fair to say that he was the same as Julius Schwartz (and considering that Schwartz was a creep at DC, not sure we need to be refer to him).

    -- Marvel Comics' sales were pretty strong and big in the '80s, between the direct market and the bust (skimmed over by Conway, not coincidentally, because this was when he Wein and Wolfman left Marvel for a decade plus, so yeah not easy to acknowledge how cool the party got when you left). This was the decade of SECRET WARS'84, the one comic event that did more to rope in new readers than anything since Kirby left. This was the era of Claremont and X-Men, MacFarlane and Jim Lee. It was Marvel's corporate relationship with artists and driving them to Image, which created problems.

    -- This idea that continuity is somehow a barrier to new readers is dubious. The fact is that any long running series or stuff gets continuity. Neil Gaiman's The Sandman has continuity, as does SAGA, as does WicDiv. Game of Thrones the TV Show, was the biggest thing on TV and it was a very continuity heavy series. If Continuity was such a big turnoff how come Claremont's X-Men did so well in the '80s, or Hickman now. Or for that matter Lee-Kirby in the '60s. Continuity in the intensified way was introduced by Lee-Kirby when before it wasn't in any case the norm.

    -- The fact is that when comics were at its biggest market share across the board in the '50s, superhero was not the dominant genre. In a free marketplace without censorship and other forces fencing stuff, superheroes fell out in favor of EC Comics, Donald Duck Comics, Pogo, and so on. So Conway's essay suffers from a sense of entitlement about the superhero genre=Comics. The truth is that the superhero genre isn't inherently going to always be a big mainstream thing.

    -- The larger point that Conway skirts is the fact, that ultimately comics writers and creators need to unionize to negotiate better deals for them now that their stuff is valuable IP stuff. The attempt at reformism at trying to keep the ship float isn't going to improve stuff for them.

    That said...I do in fact think bringing comics to Walmart, Target, Costco is a very good idea. Changing the distribution model for comics is important, but cancelling all superhero titles and existing events is overkill.

  6. #6
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    The problem is that, as he says, the big two superhero companies have been dominated since the '70s by grown-up superhero fans who did everything they could to make superhero comics more "mature." Stan Lee and Julie Schwartz thought of children as their primary readers (though Lee in the '60s was also building a teenage audience and even tried to reach adults from time to time). Kevin Feige makes his movies for family audiences. But most superhero comics for decades have been aimed at a shrinking number of superhero comics addicts, and that has bled into everything - the art, the writing, the way stories are structured and told. You can't just reverse that by deciding to try and reverse it. It will really take a major rethinking, not just of distribution, but art and storytelling.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Holt View Post
    That's a very sensationalist reading of what he was saying. His actual explanation of how we got to this point was very well reasoned, imo.
    Exactly.

    His reasoning is very sound here and I largely see a lot of sense in what he's saying.

    And what's happening in the market today pretty much bears out what he's positing here.
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  8. #8
    Marvel's 1st Superhero Reviresco's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cranger View Post
    He is working the presumption the current industry is a dead end. I don't think he is overlooking the things you listed (he probably blames them) but I do think the problem is what he has presented is an end goal with no suggestion of how to get there. Plenty of people come up with product ideas, but the successful ones come up with ideas to get people to buy their product.
    Yes, I agree, that's the presumption he appears to be working from. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that presumption -- people have been saying that for decades -- but I can see where he's coming from.

    I do think he's overlooked some things in his solution. For one thing, Marvel at least, has had, and still has, a focused line of simplified comics aimed at kids. Marvel Age, Marvel Action, etc. And it has an overpriced line, the main line, for adults.

    The idea of getting comics into other places than comic book stores isn't new and has been tried repeatedly with no success. Conway seems to be ignoring the fact that there just isn't the retail space for comics, or anything printed, for that matter, that there was before the direct market. He seems to be ignoring that's the whole reason we have a direct market, and it's the direct market that saved Marvel and DC back in the 80s and 90s.
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  9. #9
    Marvel's 1st Superhero Reviresco's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Username taken View Post
    Exactly.

    His reasoning is very sound here and I largely see a lot of sense in what he's saying.

    And what's happening in the market today pretty much bears out what he's positing here.
    What's happening today is because of Covid, the shutdown, and DC's attempt to do away with the comic book stores.
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  10. #10
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    To be fair, there’s a reason why so many adaptations and reboots exist.

  11. #11
    Better than YOU! Alan2099's Avatar
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    I wouldn't agree with everything he says, but I feel he's more right than he is wrong.

    Comics have suffered for a long time because of people wanting their stories about super powered people in colorful tights to be more mature.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reviresco View Post
    Yes, I agree, that's the presumption he appears to be working from. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that presumption -- people have been saying that for decades -- but I can see where he's coming from.

    I do think he's overlooked some things in his solution. For one thing, Marvel at least, has had, and still has, a focused line of simplified comics aimed at kids. Marvel Age, Marvel Action, etc. And it has an overpriced line, the main line, for adults.

    The idea of getting comics into other places than comic book stores isn't new and has been tried repeatedly with no success.
    Conway seems to be ignoring the fact that there just isn't the retail space for comics, or anything printed, for that matter, that there was before the direct market. He seems to be ignoring that's the whole reason we have a direct market, and it's the direct market that saved Marvel and DC back in the 80s and 90s.
    Part of that issue is WHO is being used.

    If all those attempts are gpoing to be the ususual suspects. That kid is not going to have a hissy fit if he sees a book with Carol, Panther, Black Bolt, Miles or Widow. Unlike the adults who get offended.

    You know what you get with 20 X-Men and Batman books? Books collecting dust on shelves and discount bins.

    There is retail space-what some stores do is be SELECTIVE in who gets it.

    I'll give you an example-excluding Barnes & Nobles-do you know how hard it is to find a black male lead novel that is not thug life or sports at places like Wal-Mart and Target? I've had to online order thsoe books.
    And this is an issue I have seen with Marvel and DC books. It's not books like Moon Girl, it's books like Thor, Dr Strange and at times Supoerman.

  13. #13
    The Future is Now WebSlingWonder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Digifiend View Post
    Gerry Conway, former Punisher writer, wants all superhero comics cancelled, and the publishers to do graphic novels and kids comics instead.
    https://bleedingcool.com/comics/puni...perhero-comic/
    I just want to point out that you really didn't expand on his points, Digifiend: you, like always, came in with a sensationalist viewpoint trying to drum up posts. That ain't cool at all.
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  14. #14
    Extraordinary Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    This thing about complaining about comics targeting a mature readership and this being a problem, i.e. abandoning their audience or growing up with them is that it's so vague as to be meaningless.

    Because depending on when people place the start of decline, it can amount to a kind of low-key gatekeeping. People hankering over the Silver Age for instance and about the maturity of comics are at times dogwhistling for a simpler time when comics were macho, sexist, racist, without any guilt about changes.

    I am not saying Gerry Conway is behind that, he's a left-wing guy, but without that clarification it can create problems.

    Like is Conway blanketing the entire X-Men run which took off in the '70s and 80s and increased readership and sales, and brought in a really diverse group of young people in readership, as part of this "downward trend" to maturity?

    And again, comics readership were as high in the '80s as before, but people are assigning blame for changes in the 90s that happened because of marketing and distributing to a tendency that manifested before.

  15. #15
    Benefactor / Malefactor H-E-D's Avatar
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    Hes not wrong.

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