BDC also writes for Jackeduptales.com
Over the past sixteen years there has been an evolution in comic reading. The numbers from Diamond (comics top distributor) have went from $226.49 million dollars in 1998 for their top 300 to an amazing $442.6 million for last year! According to businessinsider.com just a couple of years ago domestic sales had reached $870 million leaving behind the bludgeoned and battered industry of 2000 which only raked in $265 million. The industry is revived! It grows to new heights every day. But with these new heights come new challenges and growing pains the comic industry never saw coming.
To understand the problem, we must look at what got us to where we are.
Back during the birth pangs of the modern comic era, comics moved from the cheesy kids medium to the thought provoking social commentary of the day. It took cookie cutter characters and breathed life into them; made them real. And, in this reality, we began to relate with the heroes. The medium had changed and, with it, so did we. We fell in love with these new gods and godessess of this modern Mount Olympus. But, unlike today, we all came to the stories and the characters the same way through the same medium: COMICS.
As expressed in an earlier article, comic movies and television shows aren't a modern concept. As far back as the 1940's we've seen our heroes hit the big screen and, especially starting in the sixties, we saw comic renditions of them come to us every Saturday morning. The seventies saw an increase in the marketing the medium to the kids through toys, action figures, games and many other bits of paraphernalia. This spawned a whole generation that absorbed most of their comic input from the television shows.
In the mid-eighties, the onset of the comic movie began to revolutionize the way we looked at comics.
For the most part, the comic movies of the past did not supersede the comics that gave them birth but gave them new sense of legitimacy. Unfortunately, the comic book as a medium began to take a nose dive toward the end of the nineties. The near bancrupt Marvel Comics began selling the movie rights to some of their characters to simply stay in business. This saved the industry on the short term, but cased confusion a decade later as the comic movie boom was beginning. This split in the ownership of movie rights may also be one of the catalyst that drove a wedge between comic book fans partially causing the culture clash to begin with.
The new comic movie boom has brought a new legitimacy to the medium, only the new Comic book movies are building a mythos all their own. Things that are happening in the movies are, for the most part echoes of the past. The only difference is the whole movie experience has begun with many new fans to dictate the comics and not the other way around.
With the movies need to reach a large fan base, comes changes dictated by unwritten rules of social relevance and PC mandates that almost make the end product unrecognizable to the original fans of the comic. The old school, unrelenting fanboy nation (Mind you, I'm not disqualifying the female fans of old here, just using a term. I don't' hate you, really, ladies!) finds itself overwhelmed by a virtual army of new fans of such a vast diversity and ages that what we have is a clash of comic cultures.
On one side we have the tried and true; those fans who have grown up with their heroes. They have gathered the tattered tomes of the vast library of their adventures and return to them time and time again as a sort of therapeutic spiritual ritual. They have memorize an amazing catalog of somewhat useless knowledge of forgotten and, at times, dead worlds. They come to the movies with a literal bible of continuity and judge them accordingly. The stories the comics tell are like the legends and myths told by campfires long ago. They are respected. They are repeated. And they are not to be tampered with.
On the other side are the newcomers to the old world. Without prejudice or preconceived notion, they come to the movie or television experience and consume the stories with the same veracity that the old school poor over their printed pages. Without question, they take in the stories translated for the shock and awe of the big or little screen and come away with no remorse and no list of grievances for nothing but the quality and entertainment value of that particular movie. There is no patience here. Any sign of transgression on the moral code they live by is dealt with immediately with no mercy. These 'new' stories must reflect THEIR society and anything that came before was expressed in error or, in the very least, in only a partial truth in an almost neanderthal crawl up the evolutionary ladder to the moral high ground of the modern age.
Sure, I'm being a little dramatic here. But there is a bit of truth here.
So, we live in the wake of this clash of cultures. The old-school and the modern and, it seems at times, neither the twain shall meet. But, of course, there are myriad of inbetweens; from the children of the nineties who grew up on the animated series on Saturday morning to those modern fans who actually take the comics of yesteryear seriously. My point is that there is a vast gulf between some fans of comic books today. They consume from a varied array of mediums and have a wide variety of experiences.
The result? A totally different view of the mass of comic media coming out today. So much so, that there is not simply one group vs another, but a mob of viewpoints with areas of agreement as well as moments of absolute war. So misunderstandings will continue. Those that cry for the purity of continuity with the past will continue to clash with those who want to change things to suit their sensitivities as well as their new society.
But, all in all, whether we like it or not, the comic-book as a medium will continue to morph. It will continue to be molded by a mass of outside influences and input from society and other medias as well. But is this not what it has always been? Have not comic books always been a reflection of the society it lives and thrives in? Have they not continued to evolve with society in their sophistication and message? All of this is true to some point.
In the end, it will be up to us, as the fans of comics and their various forms,functions and generations, to decide what it all comes to. And what it all becomes will look nothing like it was in days gone by, nor will it look like it does today. But we MUST find the middle ground to both honor the source material and develop a product that speaks not only to this generation, but all generations; leaving a legacy that will be remembered another 75 years in the future.
So NOT the end....