Comic Fodder

Follow the Creators, or Follow the Characters?

When I was growing up on a steady diet of comic books, I devoured anything that came my way. War, westerns, super heroes, Gold Key stuff at the bottom of my uncle's trunk, I read every comic I encountered. Like a fine wine that ages, I gradually started to discern which comics were to my particular liking. This became of sudden importance when the parental allowance ran out and it was time to go buy a comic on my own; in order to make sure I had enough left over to pay the rent, I had to start making choices. This is about the same time I had learned to check the credits, something I now tend to do before I read any given story.

Brian Bendis does things the same way. In a Newsarama interview, he expressed a problem catching on to complaints from fans on the net, because if he didn't like a creative team, he would drop the comic. The moment his favorite writer or artist left a series to a new one, Bendis would follow, leaving the old series without a thought. When Bendis struck gold and became a Marvel writer, the fans would protest his treatment of certain characters, but here's the thing that perplexed him: the upset fans would refuse to leave. Mr. Bendis finally hit on the realization that some people had a favorite character or favorite team, and they were sticking around forever, much like a ton of us stick to a certain sports team or religion (although there are some people I know whose religion is their sport, but that's another issue). For Bendis, ��it was years before I got it, because I was the guy following the creators, not the team.�

This explains a great number of rankings on monthly comic sales charts. We've seen a ton of examples for things to go the way Bendis expected them to go: a new creative team starts on a magazine, and new readers check it out. It's great stuff, and word of mouth sends it to the top. However, there are almost as many titles that lead the sales charts that don't belong in that position. Fanboy collector habits generate inertia with certain titles, and can sometimes last long after a given creative team has left, and the new direction is obviously the wrong one. The price of comics can help shake some of these habits, and eventually, even collector fanboys can have a realization that they don't really need that transplanted-Hulk story where Erik Larsen pit Wolverine against Galactus, and it's better to use that money for something more worthwhile and accept a hole in your Wolvie collection.

The X-Men were the greatest "inertia sales" prize holders, with a reputation for being the standard-bearers long after the quality of the book had dropped. To some extent, they still carry some of that with them. Looking at the most recent charts, some other titles come to mind that are not the greatest in quality, either story-wise or art-wise: Deadpool. X-Force. JLA. Almost anything with Batman in the title gets to crack the top part of the list just by having his name attached, regardless of actual quality. I tried to develop this list as objectively as I could, setting aside whether I liked a particular title or not, and just did research on historical sales inertia, and the current reception of the individual book. For example, the Justice League of America has been a top seller for DC ever since the relaunch, but feedback has been consistently negative, and the more I looked into the nooks and crannies of the internet, the worse things got. I was forced to conclude that sales on the book were good due to inertia sales, and not because of the current creative team. But those fans are still out there, and they keep buying their book, even though they know they're gonna get mad after reading it each month.

I went through a change, maybe call it a regression, when I got my first big promotion at work. I had been following favorite creators like Kurt Busiek, Mark Waid, Warren Ellis, etc., to whatever had their name on it, but as soon as I had cash to burn , I went and picked up the rest of my characters. For years, even if the comic was horrible, it had to reach a certain degree of horrible to jar me out of my automatic purchasing habits. I mean, I ignored the fact that Chuck Austen was ruining some of my favorite books for years, even as I looked on in disbelieving horror at him being handed successive favorite titles of mine to mangle every six months. I had no idea how anyone could offer him the reins to another book, let alone a prestigious book, yet I continued to keep each one on my pull list, reading it first and tossing is aside like so much dross.

It is only now, with the price increase, that I am going back to join Bendis and follow certain creative people more than a character. That means saving a few bucks, probably not ranting about the destruction of my childhood heroes as much as usual, but also not getting a regular dose of some of my favorite colorful characters. I notice that Bendis and I tend to follow writers, but I imagine there must be a ton of people who like to follow their favorite artist around. There are a group of people who buy any comic with a cover by Alex Ross, and often don't even bother reading the story inside. They are simply Alex Ross collectors.

Not one of these decisions is better than the other from a personal perspective, and I figure a big company comic executive might not care as much why people are buying as long as they continue to buy it. However, I can't help but think that inertia sales are still bad for the industry as a whole, and might come back to bite the business in the rear somehow.

What about you guys? Drop me a note and let me know if you like to follow a writer, an artist, or a particular character, no matter what they do to it!

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

I own every issue of the Fantastic Four, which answers one of your questions already. However, for most other titles, I buy when the series is interesting or appealling to me, and this completely depends on the writing and art quality.

As a result of the huge price increase, I do skip many Marvels that I would have bought anyways (such as War of Kings, as I love the creative team but can't afford the series).

So, the price increase has caused me to be more discerning about what I buy---though I buy some $2.99 titles that are mediocre, at best....

Good subject, Travis!

-- Posted by: TonyJazz at August 21, 2009 4:17 PM

I'd say a writer will get me to try a series, but that doesn't mean I'll stick with it. I certainly have my favorites, and Morrison did the impossible by getting me to read X-Men again, but I also didn't make it through "The Filth", and just can't get excited by SeaGuy.

I honestly don't get the "Author X can do no wrong" fans. But I also feel the same way about filmmakers and musicians. Not everything is golden. That doesn't mean its awful, but it may not be their more notable work.

As per titles:
I have four or five that pop to mind immediately that I pick up "no-matter-what". A few that I'd have to see what would happen if a truly egregious team were assigned. Sooner or later, I suppose, we'll find out.

But, yes, the $3.99 price point is certainly changing what I'm looking at when I consider what I'm picking up in a week.

-- Posted by: Ryan at August 21, 2009 5:32 PM

Absolutely. These characters will be around for years, but I prefer certain creators' takes on them. It's also easier on one's finances to find a creator whose style you like and stick with them; in my case, it's Geoff Johns.

-- Posted by: James at August 23, 2009 10:59 PM

There's always been collectors who follow both characters and creators. When I was a young fan, Neal Adams issues were guaranteed sales. Still love me some Adams art, but I'll pass on his own Continuity stuff.

Guaranteed Buy - Creators : Paul Pope, Howard Chaykin, Geoff Johns, George Perez, J. Michael Strazynski, Brian Wood, Bill Willingham, Moebius, Geoff Darrow, Robert Crumb, Steve Ditko, Steve Rude, and more I can't think of at the moment

Guaranteed Buy - Characters : Jonah Hex, Micronauts, Nexus, American Flagg, Dreadstar, Azrael, Doom Patrol, Bizarro, Dr. Doom, Godland, Swamp Thing, and more I can't think of at the moment

-- Posted by: hondobrode at September 14, 2009 12:11 AM

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