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  1. #1
    Mild-Mannered Reporter
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    Default CBR: Tilting at Windmills - Jan 20, 2011

    This month, Brian Hibbs discusses Patton Oswalt's recent Geek Culture rant/dissertation, deciding the actor didn't go far enough, especially with regards to the role of today's day comics industry in pop culture.


    Full article here.

  2. #2
    More Donald than Charlie stealthwise's Avatar
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    I agree with much of that, and it frightens the shit out of me, because really, if it does become a "formless mass," then what's the point of it all? Do we just eventually become undiscerning, brainless consumers of whatever media is out there, or do we actually become as selective as you mention (in regards to Watchmen and Maus, etc)? A lot of people I speak with about stuff like this tend to just go in one way or another, either mindless absorbing whatever new reality show/sitcom/crapfest primetime game-show is on, or they become extremely picky about their choices and ONLY watch the half-dozen or so things that they like.

    It seems like a very odd and frustrating proposal for someone trying to make a living off of selling entertainment and media. (Which I think is where you were heading with that, but never quite nailed it, imo.)

    The biggest lament for me comes from the beginning of your article, with the loss of the shared movie experience, and the Saturday Morning Cartoons. I think I'm slightly younger than you (grew up in the 80s), but I remember that same feel, that same desire for everyone to take part in watching (or in the case of comics, reading) the same thing at the same time to get together and talk about it afterwards. Nowadays the closest we get to that are hit films like Avatar and Toy Story 3.

    I don't think that there's a means to "turn back the clock" at all, and don't know if there's necessarily any solution to the issues that are arising, other than to pretty much embrace it and try and figure out what it is that people are getting out of their entertainment these days. Is it mostly escape/comfort? Catharsis? A means to fill spare time?

    There are obviously franchises (brands) out there that have devoted fanbases/audiences, but why are they still successful? Is it just the marketing and cross-promotion with McDonald's? The cool toys? The spinoffs? Nostalgia? Seems like a follow-up may be in order. :)
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  3. #3
    Senior Member Trey's Avatar
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    Another great article.

    The formless mass. I definitely don't see that being a problem for experienced otaku like myself. We can separate every single piece of pop culture we come across and we usually do it before its even available!

    Lets look at Battlestar Galactica and the Chicago Bears. Both are huge passions of mine. Yet I do not own much of anything from both franchises. I just have the season 1 set of BG and 1 jersey i got for Christmas. Not even a coffee mug! I can also definitely buy all the other trinkets/posters/books, but here is the thing:

    Enjoy your pop culture in its pure form. Would you consume diluted drink?

    Don't buy the bedsheets. This allows me to "consume" the pure drink of numerous pop culture stuff.

    The only dilution I get is reading/discussing the stuff in the Internets and with friends.
    "Calm down, call Batman." - Greg Capullo

  4. #4
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    Course, "available forever" means different things.

    Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern -- their early issues are all available in cheap paperbacks. Want a cheap paperback of Plasticman's first appearances in chronological? You're SOL.

    But they're public domain. Punch up digitalcomicmuseum.com and there they are.

    I'd honestly rather have them in print; I don't get them from Digital Comic Museum by choice, I do it because there's no alternative. For DC, that's a lost sale. (Though I understand the economics at work here and that the number of people clamoring for Plasticman reprints most likely do not justify the cost of producing them.)

    Then there's stuff like Jack Kirby's 2001 series, which was recently brought to my attention. It's likely never to see print again, not just due to a general lack of interest but because it was a licensed book. Unlike 1940's Police Comics, it's still under copyright, but obviously that doesn't mean it's not available on the Internet, it just means those torrents are illegal. Again, I'd love to have a physical copy, but there aren't enough people interested in it to justify Marvel going to the trouble to reprint it.

    Is anybody going to care about Civil War in 10 years? Well hell, two days ago I saw a trade of the Clone Saga priced at $40. And I still regard the Clone Saga as the worst comic story I have ever read. (Part of me thinks that maybe OMD is behind the reevaluation of the book -- as bad and unpopular as the "Peter Parker is a CLONE!" device was as for making Spider-Man single again, it was actually a damn sight better than the Mephisto solution. And hell, the Clone Saga had a bunch of A-list talent on it -- Slott, Bagley, Romita Jr., off the top of my head.)

    But I think you nail it in the bit about "Marvel Zombie" becoming "[Franchise] Zombie" becoming "[Character] Zombie" becoming "ex-reader" -- this kind of thing is a good way to wear out a welcome. Sure, stories like Clone Saga and Onslaught may come to be fondly remembered despite the fact that they're actually awful, but overall readership of mainstream superhero books is down. Something fun and original like Marvel Zombies gets run into the ground, while something fun and original like Thor: The Mighty Avenger gets cancelled before the trade or the movie are released despite its crossover appeal.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Trey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stealthwise View Post

    There are obviously franchises (brands) out there that have devoted fanbases/audiences, but why are they still successful? Is it just the marketing and cross-promotion with McDonald's? The cool toys? The spinoffs? Nostalgia? Seems like a follow-up may be in order. :)
    Great points.

    The key to franchises are being first in. Its absolutely true. But it has to be first in a "collective archetype."

    space travel/adventure: Will anything ever compete with Star Wars/Trek, in terms of size and scope?

    vigilante superheroes: Batman

    time travel androids from the future: can a new idea compete with the Terminator franchise (irregardless if you think the last movies were horrible)?

    The Cape may be a very good story (don't know), but it will never surpass Batman. And that's the rub. Experienced otaku will not even bother with The Cape. At least that's my thinking.
    "Calm down, call Batman." - Greg Capullo

  6. #6

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    Kids still have a shared experience. It's just not Saturday morning cartoons, it's Black Ops. They play it together from separate homes then talk more about it the next day at school.

  7. #7
    Watcher Dr. Orlando's Avatar
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    I would love to be able to watch cartoons on a Saturday morning with my boys. Unfortunately, I think the only exposure they may have had to Bugs Bunny comes from seeing some underpaid kid in an oversized Bugs costume walking around at Six Flags. They know Star Wars from Lego Star Wars on the Wii, and Clone Wars books they get from Scholastic Book Fairs at school.

    So what do we do? We pull out my DVDs and watch Fleischer Superman cartoons, or Bullwinkle, or George of the Jungle (the original Jay Ward version, of course). A viewing of the Original Trilogy is scheduled for the next weekend that we don't have a soccer game, or a basketball game, or a swim meet...

    I admit that I've given up watching TV like I did 10 years ago, which was already sporadic. But I remember the days of the Fall Preview Issue. TV was what you did every night, as soon as you could clear the table. Nowadays, any program I've had any interest in seems to be pulled, preempted or otherwise abandoned to the whims of the networks. I realize cable has made the big three (or four) more nervous about sustaining their programs in the face of finicky ratings, but unless it's got 'CSI' or 'L&O' in front of it, you can't count on it. So that glowing box in the corner is more monitor than receiver now, because my programming is better than anything anyone else is trying to push at me.

    People may point at Netflix or DVRs as hastening the demise of television, but truth is, it was already dying of Balkanization. Comics is just another media headed in the same direction. It's all consumable entertainment, I guess - disposable for the most part, and so I shouldn't feel so attached. My kids will find their own substitutes, and if they want to get sentimental with the old man, we can always find it for sale at the iTunes store...

  8. #8
    Great White North Brian from Canada's Avatar
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    Mr. Hibbs, you are a grumpy old man.

    There are really two issues at play here.

    The first, which Mr. Hibbs — like Mr. Oswalt — describes but does not identify, is not a complaint about the availability of material but rather a nostalgia for the time when decreased competition created value. Saturday morning cartoons are perfect example: never mind that most of them were incredibly repetitive, poorly animated and pathetically patronizing to its audience, what made them special was the fact that only three networks existed on the dial… and they had a lot more programming to sandwich in to their stations.

    But since the advent of satellite, and the plethora of cable stations, that's changed. Now, we can have entire channels dedicated to animation and — if that does not suit the audience completely — diversify it further.

    The same might be said for home video. Mr. Hibbs has it wrong, though: home video existed shortly after Star Wars. I can distinctly recall watching both Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back on home video before seeing Return Of The Jedi in the theatres. But it wasn't a common thing — Batman by Tim Burton was the first actual affordable home video offering. Before that, movies were a lot more expensive (some going for over $100) on VHS or Beta, which meant you had to rent them.

    The overall effect, as Mr. Hibbs correctly points out, is a world where the nostalgic no longer have to rely on memory alone. The scarcity isn't there in the same way. Now, it depends if your local big box retailer has the season on DVD, or do you have to order it on Amazon or eBay. Now, you have the ability to purchase your childhood and make it accessible to your children.

    But there is a negative side to that too, and it's one Mr. Hibbs is definitely guilty of: comparative nostalgia.

    By this, I mean that things we feel have value from our nostalgia may not only be losing it by the difference in time — the "bad cheese" factor if you will of anything that's not as polished as today — but those same thing are losing it by the presence of availability to new audiences. Today's kids aren't nostalgic for the same things we have because they have easy access to them and we've made it so. What they're nostalgic for are the things they had as kids and don't have regular contact with.

    (I'm a high school teacher, and I hear kids all the time wishing for the cartoons THEY had as kids five years ago.)

    Which brings me to the other factor at play. And this, I don't see Mr. Hibbs able to comprehend because, as a retailer, he's far too close to the situation. And that is the transformative difference of having everything.

    What do I mean by that?

    I mean that, like the television industry learned a few years ago, the accessibility has transformed the way new audiences — new people in the marketplace — are able to interact with the material. In the case of television, the availability of a program being broadcast, first regular and then via timesharing, PVR, online, iTunes, and finally DVD, has meant that today's kids no longer feel the importance of watching it when it's broadcast.

    The same can be said for the music industry. There's no impetus any more to rush out and buy the single. You can now download the song from iTunes, but most kids are willing to just download it free from the artist's website or through a third person source (i.e., illegally) because it's there for the taking. As a result, the "charts" are skewed badly by radio stations locked into format playlists and not really reflective of what audiences are listening to.

    In other words, an artist like Lady GaGa is played on the radio from the list generated by what's played on those lists, but the audiences she would normally have been going after have her on their iPods next to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, U2, etc.

    And that's important. That's vital. That explains EXACTLY what Axel Alonso is saying about Marvel.

    Pre-1995 comic audiences knew what was important by: a) cost of back issue, b) continuous referencing, and c) reprint availability. When the trade paperback said "Greatest x stories ever told," you kind of believed it because there wasn't a lot of contradiction.

    Post-1995, however, all of the stories are available — or close to it. If you can't find it in trade paperback, you can find it on the Internet, or some recap of it. And you can also find discussions of how important the issue is, whether it's in continuity or not, and a host of other trivia which was left to the dedicated fanzines in years past.

    And for those post-1995 audiences — just like with television and movies and music — those products have to count to be consumed. Otherwise, they will just access them at their convenience if they have down time from other things vying for their attention that DO count… by box office, by awards, by word of mouth, and by scandal.

    Mr. Hibbs hasn't gone far enough with this idea at all: If the comics audience are getting burned out by the continuous push for making it count, it's not the fault of the audience and not the comics themselves. It's the fault of the overall marketplace which has made everything available all the time WITHOUT keeping a mechanism to assist new products in that transformed marketplace.

    And just as the digital industries are scratching their heads as to how to deal with torrents and downloading — the scourge of pop culture industries that contradictorily actually increases their brand value — so too has comics come to the point where they need to develop new ways to make stories count. The crossovers work for now, but the individual stories need something else too… and we're nowhere close to where we should be on this.

  9. #9
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    What an eye-opener! Thank you Brian.

    I was about to post a piece on my website about the foundations of the X-men universe (or, as you would say, the X-men brand) as can be seen in the Lee/Kirby issues from the 60s. Reading your piece made me realize that there is another way to approach or value these early X-men: As stories written as if the X-men brand did not exist. It counts not because everybody (or most everyone) says it counts, it counts because its good even when viewed apart from its place (or lack thereof) in the greater Marvel universe.
    Check out my take on the Legion here . . .

    http://www.comicsrecommended.com

  10. #10
    out chasing comets Kevin Street's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Brian from Canada View Post
    ...If the comics audience are getting burned out by the continuous push for making it count, it's not the fault of the audience and not the comics themselves. It's the fault of the overall marketplace which has made everything available all the time WITHOUT keeping a mechanism to assist new products in that transformed marketplace.

    And just as the digital industries are scratching their heads as to how to deal with torrents and downloading — the scourge of pop culture industries that contradictorily actually increases their brand value — so too has comics come to the point where they need to develop new ways to make stories count. The crossovers work for now, but the individual stories need something else too… and we're nowhere close to where we should be on this.
    I know this is an older thread, but you make such a good point I felt the need to highlight it. This, the need to come up with a way to make new comics/novels/songs/shows/movies "count" more than older versions of the same, is the central problem of culture today. I don't know the solution, but today's overproduction seems like exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.

    The way forward for comics (and other entertainment industries) may be to have fewer, but better books published. If the big two cut their lines in half it would be hard for a while, but sales on the remaining books would probably increase. I don't know, maybe one title for each character or group. The readership would have to be retrained towards different buying patterns, though.

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