What’s the future of comics? Periodical comics I mean. There’s been a lot of ongoing discussions, even here at The Beat by people more connected to the retail side of things about how we’re close to seeing a transitional shift in how comics are sold. I can’t claim to know what the future will look like, but Marvel Action Spider-Man #1 is as close as I could come to see what those transitional shifts will look like.
I brought my son to one of the better comic shop in the city, for him, maybe for me too. He’s gotten a Lego Spider-Man set at Christmas and he’s been obsessed with Spider-Man since. We got him a spider-man pyjamas, the cool Miles Morales one, for his bed time. I brought him to the store and allowed him to pick the comic he wanted. He grabbed the new Amazing Spider Man issue #2 ,but eventually settled on Marvel Action Spider-Man #1, it’s got all of the cool Spider-People on it. Peter Parker, Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy.
In Marvel Action Spider-Man #1, a teenage Peter Parker, already established has everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is doing an internship program at the Daily Bugle and have a chance to interview billionaire industrialist and superhero Tony Stark (A.K.A Iron Man). He wants to ask him tons of questions about being a superhero. He meets Gwen Stacy and Miles Morales, who are also part of the same program. Their meeting is interrupted by weird mutant dogs that Peter goes to stop as his alter-ego Spider-Man, only to find his two new friends may be more than meet the eyes.
It’s a perfect introduction to the world of Spider-Man. It’s fast-paced, action-packed, colourful, fun and engaging. There’s a real energy to the illustrations, It’s really kinetic, there’s a sense of flexibility, almost elasticity in the characters, particularly the Spider-people, movement is their thing after all and the artist Fico Ossio and colorist Ronda Pattison captures this really well. Delilah S. Dawson, the writer of this comic captures the way teens talk and manages to distill the essence of Peter Parker really well into this first issue. He’s a kid who’s constantly overwhelmed with life. He’s trying to help people as Spider-Man and it constantly interfere with his daily life. He’s got too much on his plate. He’s got an internship he wants to succeed at, he’s got a weird mutant rat problem he wants to solve, he’s got other Spider-people he’ll need to engage with. The comic lays out a mystery that I’d want to see more of. The creative team make you care about the characters and makes you want to see more of them. That’s a quite a feat in superhero comics.This was a good Spider-Man comics. It established a good tone and made me want to see more of this series. I was also happy to see problems solved creatively rather than with punching, it was fun seeing Spider-Man use his special powers in inventive ways.
This got me thinking about the future of periodical comics. This is a comic book specifically aimed at kids, as a Spider-Man comic should be, but it’s not a Marvel comics. IDW is publishing this comic, not Marvel. Marvel is licensing some of it’s characters intellectual property to IDW to make specifically “kids comics”. Heidi MacDonald, our editor in chief, talked about this back in July 2017 when the news broke that Marvel made a deal with IDW (you can read it here). I’m wondering whether this might be the future of periodical publishing. It seemed like every year, periodical comics sales are diminishing, even as sales of graphic novels (or collected editions of periodical comics) increases. As Brian Hibbs, Brandon Schatz and Danica Leblanc and others have mentioned, the old ways of the comics business are struggling, with 2019 a potential make-or-break year for many retailers, and this new initiative might be a way forward. Narrowing the comics field with a larger demographic in mind. Spider-Man is for kids, the Spider-Man comics should be accessible to all.
Marvel Comics has built something invaluable, a stable of characters that people know and love, but perhaps their view of periodical comics is outdated and broken. They seem to be getting by with an endles stream of crossover and special variant covers to keep themselves afloat, but this has a breaking point. Marvel could, theoretically, keep shepherding their IP’s into more valuable work. Outsourcing their IP to a company that still wants to make periodical comics while managing the brand and IP across multiple platforms (video games, picture books, TV, Movies, clothes, happy meal toys, etc.) might be a way to move forward. Periodical comics, single issues, or floppies, whatever you want to call it are here to stay, and so is Marvel Comics, but maybe Marvel doesn’t have to publish them in the future. Marvel has already said they weren’t great at making kids comics and there’s a corporate need to ensure readership expands. There’s also a relatively untapped demographic that IDW knows well and that Marvel isn’t connecting with. This partnership is a good way to get comics into kids hands and supporting a new generation of readers. DC Comics has it’s 100-Page Giant initiatives, Marvel has the IDW partnership.
I don’t know if that’s the future of comics. My son is too young to know, but he likes Spider-Man, and this is what he picked out of countless racks of competing comics and Spider-Man issues. Maybe it is though, time will tell.
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.