THE BIG TWO
WHEN WE THINK OF COMICS, we quickly divert our attention to New York, the birthplace of DC and Marvel. Some of us rarely allow our childlike imaginations to wander anywhere else, because lets face it, their characters have been branded into our brains and now legally own a piece of our childhood, and with good reason —especially as we’ve witnessed them rise to the glory of fame and filmdom. Who doesn’t remember a time from their childhood of going to the comic book store or even grocery store and reading through their favorite comic? Then somehow, our eyes lit up when we saw them take a lifelike form with an animated series, show or movie.
By the time it took on the life of the big screen, it didn’t matter if you even knew who the characters were anymore, people fell in love and became instant fans. At this point, the big duo’s characters were unstoppable, they’ve gained such popularity that they dwarf the very writers and artists that started to draw and/or write for them. I’m not talking about the famous originating creators like Stan Lee or Jack Kirby; no I’m referring to those that followed their path and claimed their own fame by simply creating stories or artwork for such iconic characters.
KEEPING IT FRESH
However, throughout the decades, we have witnessed the evolution and reinvention of our beloved characters, such was the case with Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, and even the retelling of all characters—to either correct past mistakes, accommodate to new character story lines or simply tell the stories with a new and fresh way—. In both universes we got reinventions such as, Marvel’s New Universe (1986 to 1989), Marvel Now (2012 – 2016), Marvel NOW 2.0 (Current), DC’s New 52 (2011) and then Rebirth (2016). On top of this we get the sudden surge of an issue number one’s epidemic flooding the shelves for the sake of sales (but that’s a different story for a different day).
Why jump through all the hoops? We know the intention is to keep the characters fresh, restructure the universe, or fix story flaws; mainly it’s to keep its fanbase on their toes with something new. But then, one character rebirth, after a sex change, after a race change we begin to wonder, how in the world will this writer tell it differently than the twenty others before him?
“the audience is being asked to attain a new super-power, and that is of elasticizing their imaginations beyond its natural limits.”
SUPERHEROS CAN’T REALLY DIE
Besides this, we have the godlike evolution of many heroes. You see, the longer characters are in production, the easier it is for them to become ridiculously more powerful. This is not to mention the different personalities and versions each writer decides to spin on the heroes through the many new titles, issues and films. Before you know it, you’d believe that these heroes are immortal and are suffering from multiple personality syndrome.
Even if they were to die, for many of us there is no sense of any loss; because if we’ve been keeping track, we start to figure out if they played a major role, they’ve already died and come back to life somehow in some way in some issue somewhere! Why kill off the character at all? Because it comes down to what sells, and if any character dies, but the audience was in love with them (especially any main character), we know there’s a Lazarus Pit lying somewhere in Ra’s Al Ghul’s backyard Jacuzzi, a dash of Phoenix force air freshener, or a lump sum of cataclysmic universe reversal, that can and will reboot the characters back to life. Not only is there lack of sensibility in their loss, but the audience is being asked to attain a new super-power, and that is of elasticizing their imaginations beyond its natural limits.
MORE DIVERSITY AND SPIN-OFFS
It’s no wonder that many have set their sights to new and uncharted territories. Enter the world of Indie Comics, and really there couldn’t be a better time for creators and readers to take a dip in the water! While DC is playing catch-up in the movie business, Marvel is changing up its main hero’s genders and races to up the ante (and they are instead complaining that “diversity” is actually hurting their sales, again another story for another topic). However, the point that seems to be drilled into or minds, is that you can only re-hash the same story so many times before it starts to morph into something that it never intended to be. The result is that in the process there is a distancing of long time, loyal fans.
What really makes a great story after all? Yes we can bring in diversity (and hopefully not blame a sales drop because of it), yes we can try to find a new spin off character based off an existing one, like the entire cast of a CW Arrow show, or bring in the same powers through a mini-me character, kinda like female X-23 (but one of the three blades is on her feet! What a twist!), but in the end originality starts to lose its meaning, and there is an opening for new players to come in and play ball. While the big duo is scrambling to find ways to make their characters new and fresh again, many are left wondering, whatever happened to the little guy with the big original story? Did they get lost in all the hype?
THE NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
What does the big two think the customers really want? Not to say that I’m not grateful of them, they’ve paved the way, set the standards and got their characters so widely publicized that isolated cultures know who they are. This is however the mainstream of what we all know and love, and at one time there was a narrow doorway for cartoonist to get their foot in the door with them. That was until the big two got chipped away just a bit.
“It’s in our time that artists and writers have gained other abilities and powers that they never felt they could never attain before; its a proof of how a species adapts to their environment and evolves with the age of technology.”
Eventually companies like Image comics, Boom Studios, Dark Horse and Vault Comics, branched off into their own ventures. Its became easy to see how a small cult like following could grow into a fairly large audience, and there is no need to mention the addicting stories that they produce. You don’t need to look through name brands necessarily as there are up and coming artists that are creating new stories. But somewhere along the lines even some of these studios feel the need to be mainstream and popular, how? By licensing mainstream characters and titles, perhaps losing the purpose of originality and identity in the process.
LAND HO’ MATEYS!
However because of the success stories of many now mainstream companies like Image and Valiant, many have gained the strength to stand up and say, ‘we don’t need approval any more, let’s do it ourselves!’ Fast forward to now, the times of needing a brick and mortar shops have now all but disappeared into instead only needing a website with a virtual shop, or some clever use of social media like Tumblr. Then when the fanbase is just right, the guy working from his basement is using an on-demand or local printer to hand out or mail copies to their loving fanbase.
It’s in our time that artists and writers have gained other abilities and powers that they never felt they could attain before; its a proof of how a species adapts to their environment and evolves with the age of technology. The ability to learn out of their comfort zone with a new set of skills such as being the “one-man band” or “one-lady symphony,” for creating their comics. This they do by acquiring the ability to code or upload in the digital or webcomic format, and even becoming their own sales force on social media.
Now is the time where any artist with half an imagination and a decent story, has the doors wide open to get their story known. Not to say they will be a success with half an imagination, but the opportunity is there and it won’t be long for many to shine blindingly bright, and they are. Creationists are facilitated with sites like Tapastic, Webtoons, Patreon, Comixology, Kablam, ComixCentral, Drive Thru Comics and even Kickstarter. Take a drive to smaller conventions like Staple (in Austin TX) and you’ll see the sea of indie comic book writers and artists that are growing their fanbases and making a name for themselves from . You may more than likely have to read through the obvious copycats and blends of known characters to find gems; but, they most definitely do exist!
THERE’S A ROCK STAR NEAR YOU
Let’s not miss what the indie comic scene has to offer; what is that you may ask? The very heart and soul from the type from creators that have proven time and again that not everything good has to be mainstream. Where is the proof you may ask? You need look no further than the success stories from the likes of Ryan K Lindsay, Reckless Hero, Dave Mercier, C. Spike Trotman, and Comichaus (which houses a list of successful cartoonists within itself).
If you look closely there they are, sitting behind an artist panel at your nearby comic convention. If you go ahead and take off all the glitter and sparkly glam from the mainstream pages you may be surprised. Once you take that eventful journey down the indie brick road, you may find that there are great stories that are as original in style and composition as the unique visionary telling it. Stories coming from artistic rebels that neglect to follow the standard mainstream format for telling a canned story that fits within corporate boundaries. These stories are universes suspended in childlike minds of creators—and we’re finally allowed to peek inside!
The endless hours and late nights spent by creatives are usually not done following riches, but, childhood dreams. Gone are the times of meeting deadlines for a newspaper syndicate or a major publishing company like Diamond Distribution; which at one time, was the only way in. The indie cartoonist finally has wings! The only real competition is the next great creator with the same hunger and passion. Now this is a crossfire we all need to be a part of! Between all the successful Kickstarter titles, Facebook promotions and Patreon comics, we the audience and critic will be watching, submitting a “subscribe,” or a “pay now.” We’ll be reading something new, something unique, something that can only be achieved with true creative freedom.