Imagine, if you will, that a man walks into KFC in search of a beef burger. They do not serve beef burgers there, he’s informed that they do sell beefburgers at the McDonald’s across the road, but he insists that he wants a beef burger from KFC. Of course KFC don’t sell beef burgers, so he buys a chicken burger instead. While he eats it he complains that it’s too chickeny and not beefy enough, that it has mayo on it when he’d prefer ketchup, that if it at least had onions and maybe some mustard that would be something. Why doesn’t KFC at the very least include a gherkin? Still, our imaginary beef burger lover finishes his chicken burger and then complains to everyone he meets about the chickeny-ness of it, and how what he really wants is a beef burger. His friends all ask him why he doesn’t just go to McDonald’s, but he insists that he wants a beef burger from KFC. He goes back the next day, same thing, and then the next and the next and the next. Eventually someone at KFC realises that this guy keeps asking for a beef burger, so there’s clearly a demand for KFC beef burgers, right? So they start selling beef burgers at KFC…but this one guy is the only person buying them, because everyone else is going to KFC for the chicken, because if they want a burger they’ll go to McDonald’s.
Today Marvel announced The Death of Wolverine, a four part mini series which will kill off their most popular mutant. For good. No, honest, he’s totally going to be dead…just like Captain America, the Human Torch, Nightcrawler, Peter Parker…oh, wait, no…they all came back, didn’t they? We’re all familiar with this dance by now, and, indeed, we know that the execs at Marvel have asked the creators to provide a major death every quarter to boost their quarterly reports. Personally I think the writers at Marvel are generally doing a great job of telling interesting stories while satisfying the money men upstairs. That’s how corporate comics work, you’re as creative as you can be while also meeting the needs of those who run the global franchise that the characters you’re writing about are part of. News of Wolverine’s impending death was met with dismay from some comic readers. “I wish comic writers would get over this constant killing off of characters.” People complained that they’re fed up with endless deaths and resurrections.
Now, there are three things that are guaranteed to boost the sales of comics:
So long as people keep buying them, that’s what the Big Two comic companies will keep giving us. People complain of event fatigue, say they’re fed up with “meaningless” character deaths and are tired of the constant stream of new #1s…but the sales figures speak for themselves.
But, here’s the thing. There are other comic publishers out there. You have choices. You have options. Fed up with meaningless character deaths? Then stop buying comics that you know are going to include meaningless character deaths. Buy something from Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Markosia, Orang Utan Comics… There are people out there selling exactly what you want, why aren’t you buying it? Why are you insisting on getting it from a company that knows its audience and is giving it what it wants…when there are other companies out there that are catering to your needs? Essentially, why are you insisting on buying a beef burger from KFC when McDonald’s is just across the street?
Look, I applaud Marvel for their attempts to reach out to new readers and their increasing desire to cater to a wider audience. I love those books, I’m reading most of those books myself…but on the whole they’re selling really badly. Why? Because people go to the Big Two for what the Big Two traditionally does best, and if they want something else…well…there have been a lot of other companies giving them that for a long time. I want less sexism and misogyny in mainstream comics. I want better representation of women and minorities too. It’s coming, definitely, and the digital success of Ms Marvel proves that there can be a market for it (but there almost certainly isn’t a market for it in traditional comic shops and the digital side of the market hasn’t yet reached a point where digital sales alone can sustain a book). Nevertheless, it’s no coincidence that Batman is the single biggest selling comic at the moment, and the only comic that’s breaking 100,000 in sales every month. People go to the Big Two for traditional super heroics. As for character deaths and resurrections…how can you persuade the Big Two that people are sick of them when the impending return of Peter Parker is certain to give us the first comic to sell over half a million copies in a very long time?
However, if you want stories that aren’t based around crass marketing decisions, that are more inclusive, that better represent women and minorities…those books are out there. Why aren’t you reading them? Why do they have to have a Marvel or a DC logo on the cover before you’ll pick them up? There’s more to comics than just Marvel and DC and so long as you continue to equate “comics” with The Big Two you’re a part of the problem. You’re not fed up with comics, you’re not fed up with comic writers…you’re fed up with corporate comics. So try something else.
Ian D Sharman
Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Fandom Wanderers.