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That’s not how comics should work

March 19, 2010

The more I find people vocalizing their dislike or complaints with “popular” comic book writers, the more I feel comfortable stating that the comic book industry believes that name recognition is the same thing as popularity.  This is so far from the truth.  The reason they can get away with saying this is because people buy comic books by people they know, but 1) they’re not exactly being asked about their satisfaction level, 2) if they’re buying a title, what else are they going to buy but current issues in the title anyway?, and 3) it’s difficult to be a comic book fan who isn’t capable of dialog on current storylines and issues.  Are people more likely to buy a comic because they know the name of the writer?  Probably.  But significantly?  And compared to the people who would self-describe as “I was going to buy it no matter what”?

Do you do any real market research, major comic book companies?

I figure that for me there are four tiers of comic book writers:

-the ones I really enjoy, whose work I will go out of my way to read/buy (see: Gail Simone, Brian K. Vaughan)

-the ones I don’t know (obviously, I have no examples of this)

-the ones I’ve heard of and have liked/haven’t disliked in the past, so that I am more inclined to pick up their work when I see it (Sean McKeever, Jeph Loeb, even people like Devin Grayson, whose work I don’t always like, fit into this category)

-the ones I don’t like (Grant Morrison, Mike Carey)

But comic book readers don’t just read on an authorial basis, as they would for, say, novels.  It’s more like episodic television, where if you want to continue with the characters and storylines, you don’t get a choice of whose work it is.  Buffy fans are pretty big on this one, because they got so involved with the show, they knew things like who was writing what and, to a point, how they were going to feel about the episode before they watched it.  I can tell you off the bat not only which episodes I most enjoy, but who wrote them.  I don’t do this with every show, but I have been known to do it on occasion for other shows–if you read anything I’ve written about Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, you know that I cringe when I see Michael Angeli’s name on my screen because I think he’s got women issues that you can see from all twelve planets.  And probably the 13th one too.

But there were times when I said “Oh, Rebecca Rand-Kirshner wrote this episode of Buffy?  It’ll be good, but everything will be a bit too shiny for me.”  And I’ve also said that Rand-Kishner did her best work on Gilmore Girls, because it was a great fit, show and writer.  But I didn’t feel comfortable skipping a Buffy episode–or a Gilmore Girls episode, or a BSG episode–because of the writer, due to its episodic nature.

Comic books are episodic and, as I said before, they create an online and offline dialog between fans that oft-times requires current knowledge.  You don’t often opt out of a storyline because of the writer, because it all ties together.  (Or it’s supposed to, anyway.)  Comic book geekery has also always been open to criticism.  But the companies don’t respond to that criticism, in part because it’s easier not to, and part of THAT is being able to say “But people buy it!  They must like it!”

Bull.  And they know it’s bull. It’s lazy and it’s what keeps me a casual reader.

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