August 10, 2020

The superhero crisis begins with the cartoons, not the frames | Ka Boom blog


They call it the Fifth Generation. During a presentation of the New York Comic-Con, Dan Didio, co-editor of DC Comics along with Jim Lee, was uncovered with a long presentation of the timeline of the Batman, Wonder-Woman, Superman and company universe. Curiosities aside – the most striking without a doubt is that the first superhero, chronologically speaking, of this universe is not Superman, but Wonder-Woman -, the fundamental of the panel was the announcement that a Fifth Generation of the DC Universe will explode in 2020.

Only eight years after the last, the fourth generation of the New 52, ​​did the same.

Didio's reasons are condensed in this statement:

"We know that the important thing about comics is the feeling of immersion in the world, what is happening and how everything works together. When we see that universes are being built in the cinema and on television, we think that if we do not do it in comics , the place that inspired them, then it seems we would be failing. "

This statement, probably in spite of Didio, draws with amazing clarity the problems and insecurities that afflict American contemporary comics. To put it succinctly, he begins to realize that, as happened to George R.R. Martin with Game of Thrones, the original fictions that inspire the media more mainstream, cinema, television and videogames are inconsequential. He begins to notice the paradoxical harmful effect of having another cultural industry usurping, in the collective imaginary, the true representation of such heroes.

It is a problem that manifests itself first in numbers. The comics industry grows; Little, but it grows. Last year, 2018, peaked to date: almost 994 million euros, According to data from the main sector report prepared by ICV2 and Comichron; that is to say, much less than a single Marvel movie of great success and just over a third of what is achieved by this phenomenon called Avengers Endgame. That is to say, that it is a tiny industry by comparison, even at its maximum historical collection.

But that maximum also conceals other tensions. For starters, where the comic itself is sold. For every ten dollars that the comic book fan spends, nine go for physical formats and only one for digital. But the striking thing is that for the first time in three decades the acquisition of these physical formats no longer happens, mostly, in the comic-book stores of a lifetime. Now it is the conventional channels of the book (osear, Amazon and bookstores) that threaten this first position with an exponential growth as a pre-eminent sales channel. And what is bought most through this channel are graphic novels. And for kids, not for adults.

And where do we go to what and the heart of the matter; at the reason that two key generations for the history of DC have happened in just four years when the remaining three cover more than 80 years of history. This is: the staple. The staple crisis. In the great book 'Demanding Respect: The Evolution of the American Book', by Paul Lopes, a series of data is reflected in the sea of ​​enlightening. Before the censorship that withdrew horror and violent comics from the market, causing a shrinkage of the wild sector (half of what used to be sold was sold), the average sales figures of a successful staple comic were around 800,000 copies .

800,000 copies on average.


Cover of 'Action Comics # 1000', the best selling comic of 2019.



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Cover of 'Action Comics # 1000', the best selling comic of 2019.

Last year, the best selling comic was Action Comics # 1000, always according to Comichron data, happened with little of the 500,000. Returning to the book of Lopes, another passage, this time dedicated to the state of the industry in the early 90s, returns the same image again; the crisis of readers who are experiencing the comic in the last two decades:

"Artist Todd McFarlane had his own Spider-Man series in 1990 and his Spider-Man # 1 sold more than 2.5 million copies (…). The following year, Rob Liefeld's X-Force 1 sold 3.7 million copies and Chris Claremont and Jim Lee's X-Men # 1 sold more than 8 million copies. "

As we see, these are radically different figures. Of an order of different magnitude.

Solution? DC believes that the key is in a return to that concept of universe that popularized the comic and that now Marvel Entertaiment (which is the only one that really played well) replicates in cinema. I, by the information that I am gathering with the years of conversations with artists and writers of the branch, draw very different conclusions. The roundabout overdose stuns readers and artists because of the need to prioritize the great collective show to individual plots. As collateral damage, and outside the first sword of each collection, fewer and fewer series are maintained with a stable creative team, which reduces artistic continuity in a character who, as in television, needs maceration time to find the peculiarities of its flavor

So how do you eat that global record in 2019 if the comic is, in effect, far from reaching its best sales times? It eats like the trap that sustains the current cinema. It is eaten because the price of staples and tickets have increased gallopingly, which explains, in addition to inflation, that a movie, selling infinitely less than what was sold at the time of splendor in the halls, made much more money constant and sounding than in the past. The same goes for comics. If the rate of price increase is somewhat greater than the proportion of reader loss, the results are made up. But it is a makeup that does not resist the magnifying glass.

A few years ago, also for Ka-Boom, he was interviewing precisely one of the great legends of the DC Comics edition, Paul Levitz and posed to him this risk that the comic assumed, that of dying or at least seriously becoming ill of a success that, Although it seems its own, it is really alien. His response was as follows:

"The fact is that now, more than ever, we read more people and more diversity. If we beat those readers who are there, if we do not want to leave us, we will resist a future bubble of loss of interest of the multinationals. The Superman, Batman or Spider-Man comics do not think they will disappear. Even if a multinational is bored, he knows that if he licenses these characters he will win a lot of pasta. The real question is, do you retain readers? Because if you keep them, it's when you have a healthy business. Readers keep us alive. "

The answer, according to the numbers, is not flattering.

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