Considering the current domination of mainstream cinema by the superhero genre, one might understandably imagine the industry that spawned this multi-million dollar franchise is one of the few right now with a guaranteed healthy future. Outside of its dedicated fan-base, most would come to that natural conclusion. Speaking as someone for whom the American comic book industry played a significant part in fuelling nascent childhood imagination, it’s not really one I’ve stayed in touch with much as an adult, so I pretty much thought the same. I’ve purchased the occasional graphic novel in recent years, though these have tended to be non-superhero titles, such as Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s breathtakingly beautiful take on erotica, ‘The Lost Girls’. I’ve no interest in the Hollywood incarnation of the superhero either, though it’s worth pointing out that this began in earnest when Marvel Comics was purchased by the Disney Corporation.
However, what has been a marriage made in money-spinning heaven for Tinsel Town accountants has helped kill the comic book, along with other crucial factors all-too familiar where most branches of entertainment and the arts are concerned. But let’s just backtrack a little.
The rise of the comic book as a cultural touchstone in the 1940s and 50s completed the triumvirate of creative outlets absorbed and transformed into a global phenomenon by American energy in the American century – the other two being cinema and popular music; as with those, the comic book industry was built via a combination of maverick visionaries and opportunistic shysters; the creators were usually ripped-off by the ‘dollar-signs-for-eyes’ philistines assembling the talent, but the coming together of these uneasy bedfellows worked. Indeed, the greatest and most durable products of all three industries – movies, music, and comics – appeared when the friction between art and business was at its height.
The nature of comic book distribution – which had mainly targeted newsstands and drug stores – altered in the 1970s as a large chunk of the traditional prepubescent readership didn’t grow out of the habit once it grew up. As well as a maturity of content in the actual product, the change was also reflected in the growth of the specialist comic store, something that increased in its importance to the industry throughout the 80s and 90s. By the dawn of the 21st century, comic book distribution had become something of a monopoly, in the exclusive hands of a single company recognising the profitable relationship between manufacturer and comic store. Independent creators may have been prized out of the mainstream market at the expense of Marvel and DC dominance, but the two giants of the US comic book industry were at least supplying product the reader wanted to buy. And then everything went tits-up.
In line with other creative industries faced with the perceived threat of the internet, the Silicon Valley manual was adopted as a business model; and this came with a political narrative. So, there was a swift sea change around a decade ago which has now bore extremely poisonous fruit that places the survival of the mainstream comic book industry in peril. And the industry did this to itself via the most demented act of hara-kiri ever committed in the name of diversity. Under online attack from the usual suspects, the industry dispensed with hiring on the basis of talent and/or merit and began to invite the very people that had been virulently critical of it to essentially take control. And we’re talking the nastiest, most extreme Identity Politics hardliners – men-hating radical feminists, fanatical far left cheerleaders and Salem-like finger-pointers who see racism everywhere; basically, the kind of people who think Antifa and Extinction Rebellion are freedom fighters and Trump is Hitler. And the mainstream comics industry put them in charge. Guess what happened.
As with most of these first-world activists, the majority emanate from a middle-class background of privilege and elitist university education, and have a compulsion to offload their white guilt onto everyone else; in the case of the comics industry, that includes the audience. Contempt for the readership has been evident from the off. The customer is always wrong where these enlightened souls are concerned; otherwise, why should the customer react so negatively to the wholesale rebranding of decades-old superhero titles to suit the new religion? Overnight, long-established and iconic male characters had sex changes or were suddenly gay or black or Asian or…you get the picture. The toxic masculinity of the white superhero patriarchy had to be eradicated. The narcissistic arrogance of the Woke writers and artists recruited by Marvel in particular has meant any justifiable criticism of their woeful output by those who can see straight through it is naturally ‘Nazi’.
Badly misjudging the audience that has kept the comics industry afloat throughout every economic downturn, the box-ticking minority have alienated the majority by using the comic book as a platform for preaching a political agenda that has nothing to do with what made the industry or what makes the public want to invest in it. Someone of a paranoid persuasion prone to conspiracy theories could discern a master-plan behind this, of course. They could cite what Identity Politics has already done to ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Star Trek’ and could also highlight the fact that Brits have nothing to be smug about by pointing at the appalling decline and fall of ‘Doctor Who’. Each of these long-running and successful franchises have lost their (largely, though not exclusively) male fan-bases as a consequence. After all, if one wanted to destroy, say, McDonalds, then make the president of the company a hardcore vegan and see what happens.
When a successful business prioritises those whose talent is mediocre at best but whose political beliefs chime with the consensus, it is flirting with disaster. But the situation is particularly poignant for the comics industry, as the monopoly employed by the sole distributing middle-man between manufacturer and store won’t accept a sale-or-return system, which means comic stores have been losing money at an alarming rate since this madness took hold; nobody wants to buy the useless new Woke titles Marvel and DC are churning out, and the prime outlet for the product is being run into the ground as a result.
Faced with a crucial link in the chain teetering on the brink of collapse, the industry’s reaction has been to bury its head in the sand and add further rich boys and girls for whom this comic thing is a nice little hobby to the payroll. DC has just published ‘Gotham High’, which is Batman retold as a high-school soap, penned by an author of ‘Twilight’-style Young Adult fiction, whereas Marvel announced a new, non-binary superhero team many mistook for a premature April Fool’s, featuring a duo called (I kid you not) Snowflake and Safe Space. The only thing that has prevented these wastes of paper being delivered to comic stores, where they would no doubt remain unsold, is a little virus by the name of Covid-19. The sole distributor has ceased all operations and the Woke crowd have created a hashtag advising everyone to ‘down pencils’. A pity it took the coronavirus to down them.
The crowd-funded independent creators whose product has an enthusiastic audience sell the kind of numbers that Marvel and DC can only dream of now; and one wonders if they deliberately hired such poison to kill off the comic book side of their operations so they could focus exclusively on the movie side. That’s not much consolation for the owners of comic stores as they watch their livelihoods go up in smoke, nor is it for those who once derived enjoyment from such toxic entertainment as movies, music or comic books. But, hey, the objective of the revolution has been achieved.
© The Editor