Retailer John Riley of Grasshopper’s Comics has a piece at ICv2 called “Sharpening the Sword–Where Are The Villains?” which suggests that since we’re living in grim times, the pervasive grimness of superhero comics may be hurting sales over all. He spends a lotof time on Marvel, where he says “It seems that the current Marvel Universe is bogged down in some weird Orwellian dark age where the heroes aren’t heroes, and the villains just aren’t important.” Towards the end he also passes along an anecdote:
I had an interesting related experience a few weeks ago here at the store. I brought my seven year-old son in to work with me. He wanted a Webkinz (sold in the store next to mine) and I told him he could work at our store to earn the money to buy it. So I sat him down with bags and boards and a few hundred “reader copy” silver age comics and told him that if he bagged and boarded all of them he’d earn enough money for the toy. Well, it took him hours. But not because he was going slow. No, it took him hours because he read every single cover and had about ten questions to ask me about each book! He was totally captivated by them and I let him choose a couple to take home.
And all the time he was doing this he walked past the new comic rack at least twenty times and never gave them a look.
We could certainly believe that the kid was more interesting in the old comics just because he was holding them in his hand, not just walking by them, but there is something that feels accurate about this anecdote. A friend of mine showed up to an event the other night in a retro-style t-shirt he’d just purchased from Target — on the front were the heads of Wolverine, Captain America, the Thing and Thor — the heads were all from the 70-early 80s period — they were in fact the ones that had been used as the corner cover symbols. We had a good time trying to guess who had drawn the heads, but it also struck us that it was the retro look of the characters that made them to classic. It’s hard to imagine that a t-shirt with contemporary licensing art of these character would sell as well — or seem as cool.