I’ve been busy lately, sorting and boxing up well over a decade’s worth of comics. Having spent extended periods of time in 4 different towns in that stretch, it’s quite a pile to sort (10 long boxes and counting), but it’s interesting to see physical evidence of your buying patterns over the years.
It’s clear I’ve had an aversion to event tie-ins that goes back a long time. I can see my Detective Comics run coming to an abrupt halt when crossovers loomed and there are a lot more stand-alone mini-series I’ve filed. And trust me, it’s more time consuming putting an assortment of mini’s into their own piles as opposed to throwing all the Daredevils in a stack and then putting them in order.
And as I’ve been bagging, it’s clear my comics consumption has really been dropping off in the last few years.
I’ve had conversations with various store owners over the years that amounted to “are you really buying less than when thing were at their worst, ~’99-’01?” The answer to that is “absolutely.” And it was really instructive how my buying habits are different. A lot of it comes down to missing titles and authors that aren’t as prolific (or aren’t working on properties I have any affinity for).
There are a certain number of titles currently on hiatus that I’d still be buying if they would ever come out. Powers (yes, I know there’s supposed to be a new issue out soon… Powers is a lot like THB was, back in the 90s. If you find a new issue, it’s a happy accident), Astro City and Queen & Country all fall into that category.
There are a certain number of writers I used to pick up regularly that aren’t as frequent any more. Alan Moore was doing regular work for Awesome and then Wildstorm/America’s Best towards the beginning of my sorting zone. Priest/Christopher Priest/Jim Owsley is out of comics. Len Strazewski is out of comics. Steve Gerber died. Dwayne McDuffie died. Denny O’Neil retired. Greg Rucka is doing less comics work than in years past. JMS has been doing more movie scripts and his DC work, in general, has been a serious disappointment. Ed Brubaker appears to be down to just Fatale. Paul Jenkins, who was a frequent name on covers I was sorting, hasn’t been particularly well-utilized in recent years. I’m still annoyed with Marvel for cancelling All-Winners Squad: Band of Brothers roughly halfway through the story. For that matter, I’d forgotten how much Brian K. Vaughan used to write. Ulimate X-Men, Mystique and his wonderful Doctor Strange: The Oath. Still, it’s not exactly a new item that writers (or artists, for that matter) who’ve made the rounds for a couple decades can have trouble lining up work.
Am I just not finding new muses? That’s not really the issue. It’s more like I’m not finding new muses who are working on properties I’m happy with, which is also to say, working on properties that aren’t getting plotted by editors and shoveled sideways into a crossover, as things increasingly starting to be, circa ’05. I’m still waiting for the second volume of Jeff Parker’s Interman, and just can’t warm up to the whole “Red She-Hulk” concept.
I see my run of Marvel’s Ultimate universe slowing down as creative teams were replaced and coming to an abrupt halt when Ultimatum hit. But there are tens of thousands of people who would see the same thing there. I’m in good company. My intake of DC’s New 52 starting getting culled at a very steady rate starting about 7 months in. Marvel Now has been more of a jump-off point for me than a jump-on point, based on my sampling of relaunched titles. I buy more Icon titles than Marvel titles, assuming everything comes out on time. (I’m looking at you, Bendis.)
And yes, I do find myself reading more Image, where the chains of Events aren’t tying things down. Valiant and Dynamite’s expanding pulp line are where I find my superhero (ish) attentions drawn towards.
I’ve had people try and tell me that this is a function of aging, except my old comic circle in Chicago all ran into many of the same problems with the current output about the same time and there was a 10-15 year age range there. This wasn’t “hit 35 and move on to something else.”
The changes in my buying habits have coincided with DC and Marvel being held closer to their corporate parents. Price hikes causing me to judge the content of a book more closely. The tendency to manage the publishing schedule and Events with an eye on quarterly reports does seem to be an issue. That in turn causes a change in the type of story delivery and it seems like the Big 2 might not want your business if you’re not on board for, a minimum, frequent crossovers for “families” of books. (Think Batman or X-Men crossovers.) It also cuts down on the instances of individual voices on extended runs as plots get handed down from above and the individual voice is crammed into the issues between Events.
What do I mean by individual voices? Azzarello and Chiang/Akins have a distinct voice to their Wonder Woman. Mark Waid and his cadre of artists on Daredevil. Mieville/Ponticelli on Dial H. The individual voices are a little rarer at the moment, between the crossovers, Marvel’s relaunch and DC’s frequent reshuffling of creative teams. And yes, Axel is name checking individual creator vision at Marvel, but that universe is still getting plotted out by a small circle of writers and editors at retreats and they still look to be having Events, so we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.
Yes, it’s been an odd 2-3 years for comics, with DC and Marvel both feeling the business need to do their own flavors of relaunch and the independent scene finally catching a long overdue surge. I’ve always been a proponent of buying off the shelf, not the pull list, so you’re making an active decision with your purchases. Even so, I’m a little surprised with what I found while I was sorting my collection. You might also find it instructive to take a look at how your buying habits have changed over the last few years. Especially if you’re on autopilot with a pull list.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.