As the San Diego Comic-Con becomes bigger, flashier, and more concerned with promoting film and television, it might eventually alienate the comics fans who have made it the success it is today. ALSO: My top picks from the new titles announced at Image Expo!
Every year, the San Diego Comic-Con gets bigger and bigger—attendance has topped 130,000 in recent years—but ironically, for something that has “comic” in its name, it seems like the event’s promotional focus is becoming less about comics as time goes on.
Earlier this week, The Verge‘s staff posted an SDCC 2014 preview listicle entitled “The 31 Biggest Things To Look For At Comic-Con 2014.” Comics made the list, but just barely: The medium and art form from which the convention derives its name was listed under the “Everything Else You’ll See” subheading near the list’s end. Granted, The Verge is a tech and media website so it makes sense that its staffers would be more excited about things like Marvel Studios’ upcoming films and HBO’s Game of Thrones, but still. Am I the only one a little saddened that comics—I’m talking about the stuff that people read, not “superhero movies” or “superhero TV dramas”—seemingly no longer count among the “biggest things” at the San Diego Comic-Con?
I haven’t been to SDCC since the mid-1990s. Back then, the show was already huge and it already had a large film and television presence, but it was still a comics show, attended largely by comics fans. Now? Movie, TV, video game, and sci-fi/fantasy “super fans” dominate the floor at major conventions, at least according to the latest Eventbrite Research survey.
There are people going to SDCC primarily to glimpse celebrities, watch movie premieres and TV pilots, and snap up toy exclusives (to sell for silly money on the secondary market). Even the New York Comic-Con, located right in the heart of the traditional comics industry in Manhattan, has gotten caught up in this trend where it has become more of a general pop entertainment expo than a gathering devoted to comics. The last time I went to NYCC in 2011, the most highly-attended panel was the one for AMC’s The Walking Dead. Keep in mind that this was the same convention where Marvel first revealed its plans for an ongoing Avengers vs. X-Men series. Don’t get me wrong. The Walking Dead is a good show. I watch it. But I’d rather hear about the comic books than the television show when I’m at an event that’s billed as a comic convention. I can read about the show on a hundred different websites (including comic book-related ones, and we here at Geeksverse are no different).
As comics get drowned out by the buzz over all the shiny new films, TV shows, and video games that will again dominate the spotlight at SDCC, it seems like publishers are resorting to all sorts of shocking announcements in a scramble to keep up. In the lead-up to this year’s event, Marvel teased some big changes coming to its “trinity” of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man: Sam Wilson, the hero known as the Falcon, will succeed Steve Rogers as the Star-Spangled Avenger, the Norse Thunder God will be replaced by a Norse Thunder Goddess, and Tony Stark will be swapping out his iconic red-and-gold armor for a white-and-black ensemble that Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso jokingly describes as “the Genius Bar costume.” Not surprisingly, these changes were met by different sections of comics fandom with skepticism, enthusiasm, indignation, and pretty much every other emotion under the sun. But after the initial uproar died down, it seems like just about everybody savvy to the way these things work has adopted the view that these changes are likely temporary, timed to make the most of the mainstream media’s attention during SDCC week, for all the good that it will do in terms of actual comics sales. Whatever initial reaction fans had to the announcements, it seems to have given way to something that feels a lot like indifference and even cynicism.
For the past few years, there has been more and more talk about how comics are just becoming IP factories. It seems like pitches get picked up and published just as much for their potential to become films or TV series or toys/games as much as for their merits as comics, even as we’ve seen the rapid rise and the ignominous fall of “graphic novel to movie” publishers like Platinum Studios. What happened to making a comic to just make a comic?
The comic medium still has stories that only it can tell. I would argue that there are some properties that work best in the comics and graphic novel formats. Comics can be relevant again as a medium worth enjoying on its own merits. Comics can and should be more than just a spawning ground for ideas that will be adapted for other media.
Image Comics is getting my money
On Wednesday, Image Comics held its Image Expo conference and announced a raft of new titles set for release later this year and early next year, many of them from some pretty big names in the industry. After reading the descriptions of the books and their respective creative teams, I’m pretty sure that Image is getting a bigger share of my comics-buying budget in the coming months.
Recently I’ve noticed a trend in my comic book buying. My monthly reading used to be dominated by Marvel’s titles, followed by Image and DC, with IDW, Dark Horse, Valiant, Oni Press and a selection of smaller publishers contributing a book here and there on occasion. Lately however, it seems that more and more of my money is going towards Image purchases. I’ve all but dropped most of the Valiant books I used to read—the company started out strong but all the crossovers and event books it’s been putting out lately have really soured me towards the line. IDW, Dark Horse, and Oni Press stand stable. DC has all but disappeared from my reading list, and after the Vertigo imprint’s Fables and Fairest end, the only DC that I’ll regularly be picking up will be Vertigo’s Hinterkind. And Marvel? The big dog? All I can say is that it’s losing ground to Image.
Image Comics, when the company first came launched in the early 1990s, dominated my reading list. I read everything from the “Big I,” even the titles that were half-thought out and the ones that were just outright bad. Hey, I was young. Eventually though, Marvel steadily gained back my attention as I cut back on the Image surplus.
But these past few years, Image has really focused on putting out some solid books. Velvet, Lazarus, Manifest Destiny, Trees, Saga, Savage Dragon and others are all well-executed, incredibly entertaining, and featuring diverse styles.
After going through the list of upcoming titles revealed during Image Expo? There’s a good chance that 75% of my monthly reading moving forward will be Image Comics titles.
Let’s divide the new books up into the “Definites,” the titles I will definately be picking up as they come out; the “Maybes,” the titles that I’ll need to learn more about before I commit to purchasing them; and “Pass,” titles that I’m just not interested in checking out based on what I’ve read and seen.
Tokyo Ghosts by Rick Remender and Sean Murphy
Image Expo description: “A constable and his assistant in the New Islands of Los Angeles are the law—as described by the media companies who control the area. It deals with the digital lives and how they affect people. It’s also a lot of incredible violence and gore… “
Notes: Murphy is one of a handful of artists that when I see they’re involved with a project, it’s an instant buy.
Tooth & Claw by Kurt Busiek and Ben Dewey
Image Expo description: “It’s a big, sprawling high fantasy adventure epic about animal people… … magic is fading away, and their whole society is built on magic. One wizard, our warthog from the cover, is going to reach back into the past, to a time before magic, and bring the ‘Great Champion’ to the present so he can unleash magic again and fix all their problems. Things don’t go well… It’s a globe-trotting adventure where our hero and his sidekick end up having to save the world in a completely different way than they set out to. They have to challenge the gods themselves.”
Notes: The preview on CBR nailed this for me.
Injection by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire
Image Expo description: “Imagine five people for whom the world was not getting crazy enough, and decided to cause a way to make the world more interesting for them. Now they have to deal with the consequences.”
Notes: Their Moon Knight was incredible. This should be too.
From Under Mountains by Marian Churchland, Sloane Leong, and Claire Gibson
Image Expo description: “[From Under the Mountains] takes place in an isolated country, both politically and geographically. Our main characters are Elena, a daughter of a lord; Fisher, a disgraced Knight; and Tova. a runaway thief who’s from the lower classes. They’ll all become entangled in the struggle for power and political supremacy.”
Notes: The preview posted at Comic Book Resources looks interesting.
Valhalla Mad by Joe Casey and Paul Maybury
Image Expo description (via Joe Casey): “It’s about the price of immortality. I love Kirby’s Thor, and this was my opportunity to do my kind of Thor comic. There’s a famous splashpage of Thor in a malt shop, and I looked at that and said ‘That is fucking excellent.’ and based the whole pitch off of that.”
Rumble by John Arcudi and James Harren
The Humans by Tom Neely and Keenan Marshall Keller
Image Expo description: “Apart, they are nothing. Deemed by society as outcasts, misfits, losers, no good punks! But together, they are THE HUMANS! Follow Bobby, Johnny, and all The HUMANS as they fight and fly down the road to oblivion on a ride filled with chains, sex, leather, denim, hair, blood, bananas and chrome.”
Invisible Republic by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko
Image Expo description: “It’s a secret history of the rise to power of a revolutionary hero off on some little planet a long way away in the future. It’s all told through the point of view of his female cousin who was expunged from history because she knew too much. This is her memoir that lays out her complicated history that no one ever knew.”
Notes: I don’t consider Hardman an “instant buy” artist like Sean Murphy, but he’s pretty close to falling in that category. His involvement guarantees that I’ll at least give this book a shot.
Southern Cross by Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger
Image Expo description: “[A horror/sci-fi book] about a woman named Alex, who’s on board a ship called the Southern Cross, on her way to Titan, a refinery moon of Saturn. Her sister has just died, and the journey is the catalyst for what happens on the ship. It starts as an Agatha Christie style mystery, but builds and builds into something really weird.”
Descender by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen
Drifter by Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein
Image Expo description: “We live on a planet that’s not as infinitely scalable as we thought it would be. Eventually we’ll have to move to different parts of the galaxy. Space is often presented as this glossy starched reality, and that’s not really how a society is built. It’s about the dirty hands that build the future. The frontier aspect of ‘the new frontier’ that hasn’t been established quite as much in fiction.”
Intersect by Ray Fawkes
Out of a dozen newly-announced series, I could potentially be adding eleven to my pull list. Yeah. Not bad.
Image is publishing something for everyone. It’s a pretty good bet that these are not the only new books that will be coming out from Image Comics for the remainder of 2014 and the upcoming year, so chances might improve even further that the “Big I” will be getting a more substantial share of my comics budget.