The Comics Industry Is Evil

I honestly don’t understand what is so bloody hard about this.

The Big Two, Marvel and DC for the uninitiated, have a long history of fucking over their creative talent. The business model has been an incredibly brutal form of capitalist exploitation from the very moment that someone realized that cartoon people talking to one another from panel to panel made more consumers buy a newspaper.

The fact that Gary Friedrich, and many other creators, had to sign away their rights to characters because they wanted the money they were owed is shocking. In terms of unfairness, it comes close to company scrip in the way it maximizes profit at the absolute expense of a fairly specializes labor force.

Do I have to trot out Kirby? Do I have to force you to remember Bill Finger, the man who created everything recognizable about Batman and his mythos and who was basically annihilated from history because of a contract negotiation that he had nothing to do with?

These are the famous examples. There are hundreds of creators who had the same thing happen to them. They are nameless, like most masses of workers, but they are still exploited.

Maybe this is why Greg Rucka’s anger with the Big Two makes me angry. At the top, I have to say this: I agree with him. I think the companies are exploitative. I am glad that he had an epiphany, finally, and realized that he should be doing creative work somewhere else.

But this line irks me:

You are seeing a grotesque Hollywoodisation of the two main companies. There was at least a period where I felt that the way they wanted to make money was by telling the best story they could; now the quality of the work matters less than that the book comes out. There is far less a desire to see good work be done.

The great conservative roar: there was a time, sometime before now, when things were rosy and beautiful. Things were good(TM) then, and goddamn it, if only we were back there now the world wouldn’t be such a shit place.

And this isn’t true at all. At the heart, the history of comics is merely a history of the economics of magazine distribution. The ebbs and flows of that history are marked by instances of heavy saturation around genres of product and then a severe cutback when that ceases to make a profit. The phenomenon of superhero comics, in its infancy, was no different than the twenty five magazines that spring up around a particular pop star when they get big (there are entire magazines devoted to Justin Bieber).

I don’t believe that there was ever a time when comics were about telling good stories. I think the fact that we have built a language that includes absolutely strange concepts like “retconning” betrays the fact that comic books published by the major corporations aren’t about stories. They are about pandering to a market, filling it with what it wants until it bursts, and them moving on to something new.

I would never make the claim that good stories don’t come out of that situation. Sometimes talented people come into the profit assemblage and do beautiful things (the British Invasion in comics, for instance. Or Hickman.). But mostly it is about making sure that you tell the most continuity-porn laden story that pleases the common denominator enough that they keep buying your product. Geoff Johns has made a career of this.

I don’t know what my broad point is. Maybe it is that comics from the Big Two are just devices to prey on your nostalgia. Just 24-page vampires, eating at your cash and your mind. If they tell you that it is good writing enough times, you start to believe it. And you forget that the Kirby estate didn’t make a dime on a billion dollar movie.


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