IF YOU WRITE A CHARACTER STORY, THEY WILL BUY IT!
What is happening in this picture? Superman fans will say it is Jor-El before the High Council of Krypton being judged for his radical theories about the planet exploding. Some comic reading fans may say it is them standing before the creators/editors/publishers of the new 52 waiting for another death sentence for some aspect of a beloved character But what may truly be happening in this symbolic picture, the creators/editors/publishers are standing before the corporate powers-that-be, not only at DC Entertainment but also Warner Brothers. It seems the comics are now using the hierarchy of their television and movie cousins. Creator/Editor/Co-Publisher/DC Entertainment Corporate/Warner Brother Corporate. The suits have taken over the stories and characters.
George Perez said at the Metropolis, IL, Superman Celebration “it is the writer’s responsibility to write a crackerjack story and to bring characters to life” The mindset of creating a legend to make money is a trip down the road to failure. Trying to keep up with the ‘new trends’ alone is a waste of resources and energy. Second guessing an audience is not the reason they show up in the first place. If a creator builds what they love, the audience will come. Especially if the creation makes them curious and makes them feel.
A writer scribes what he loves and is passionate about. The same can be said for an artist. The great thing about comics is the magic that happens when a writer and an artist collaborate and surprise each other. Exchange of ideas make the story better, makes the characters better. This magic allows readers to feel the creators’ passion and become emotionally invested in the characters and the story. This is art. This is creation.
In 1801, Eli Whitney designed guns with interchangeable parts. Previously, each gun was made by artisans and parts could not be transferred from one gun to another. The concept of interchangeability was crucial to the introduction of the assembly line at the beginning of the 20th century. This is manufacturing. Not art. Not creation in the transcendent sense.
On a grand scale, DC Comics apparently believes their heroes are interchangeable and has made them generic with the ‘relaunch’ of the new 52. But this is a major faux pas in their thinking. Each of their characters is unique. Their back stories, abilities, and relationships are what have made them popular for decades. And new readers are people with foibles and passions just like previous generations of readers. New readers are not unique especially in a world of iconic characters that have existed for almost 80 years. If a character is developed well and given a crackerjack story, then ALL readers will respond to it.
How does this look at eye level? What does assembly line manufacturing have to do with the new 52? Creators (writers/artists) no longer can be storytellers. The magic of storytelling and creative collaboration are a lost art. Of all the things DC Comics has tried to imitate from Marvel (their chief competitor), they have never adopted the Marvel Method of comic book writing. Plot synopsis given to artists to draw out and then have the writer fill in the dialogue and sound effects. Creators who started out at Marvel and are now working for DC still may practice this method, but DC still requires full scripts for more timely issues that do not allow an artist much input and writers have to conform to the ever changing wiles of a high council committee.
Picture an assembly line of workers doing their tasks methodically, routly. Who decides the product they produce? The workers? No. The Inspectors.
The Inspectors are a chain of command up the DC Entertainment ladder that extends into Warner Brothers. Creation of stories and storylines are now done by committee. And we all know how well committees do in deciding anything. Micromanaging art is a failed concept. For instance, a bean counter in a corporate office decides a character should change a hairstyle, a relationship, whatever because they feel it will bring in more money. “It will appeal to a new audience.” But in the comic book game, is there truly a ‘virgin’ audience? For several generations now, people from cognitive birth know these superhero icons and the basics of their stories and their thematic mythos. Batman is known in every country and Superman is a known entity in every household worldwide. Why change something that works?
Why do writers and artists have to be handpicked to contribute their voices and insights to these icons that have made billions for the corporation? In a perfect world, shouldn’t there be a line of writers and artists around the block who would give their first-borns for the opportunity to write Superman? No? No one writes or draws out of the sheer love of the characters? Those days are gone? Are Superman and Batman just products in a long line of consumables? No heart or soul behind them or portrayed for the curious mind or willing heart?
What do corporate types know about creating living, breathing iconic characters or their storylines? Nothing. They only look at the money they gain by selling a product – and it doesn’t have to be a good product or a product with any sense of potential longevity.
Corporate competition is killing the comic book industry. DC can’t take its eyes off Marvel. In fact, every move they make DC bases on what Marvel has done or might do. Look at the personnel now under the DC Comics umbrella. Most have worked for Marvel in the same positions they now hold at DC. So if a reader has experience at what happened at Marvel for the past two decades, then they know what’s inevitably going to happen with the new DC 52.
If DC took their eyes off Marvel and saw what a future could hold for them rather than focusing on their ‘competition’ then DC Comics might make some headway into saving the comic book industry.
Event after event without substantial character development is now killing iconic characters and driving away loyal readers – and will start to deter ‘new readers’ from continuing a comic book habit. Having characters waiting on the assembly line of story arcs for the big event to start is boring. There’s no emotional buy in. And where are the all-in-one (one shots) stories? Does every story arc have to last six months or more? Would a one shot give a creator too much control over the story? Done-in-ones were always character building and a complete story. But they are only one month’s worth of books. What the bean counters want is for readers to buy for multiple months even if the story suffers by stretching it out for no literary reason. And if a story is for a longer period of time, it gives the corporate talking head committee something to meet about and decide ‘maybe.’
Crossovers are even worse for readers. Characters are in stall mode for the big event, so a reader doesn’t really know them all that well and then the story leaks into other books the reader has never had any interest in reading. But in order to follow where the story is going, they have to purchase other books. In this economy, that’s asking a lot. Even the most ardent fan on a budget is going to think twice and not like being put in that situation. It could incur more ill will than enjoyment of reading comics.
Creators have their own set of problems without any say in what they are writing or drawing. Let’s say they pitch a story about Italian restaurants and are given the go ahead by the editors and co-publishers. So the Italian restaurants story begins its foundation, but someone in corporate decides that they can’t mention garlic or pasta when discussing the menu. Corporate has decided people don’t like garlic or pasta anymore. So the creators deal with that note from corporate and carry on as best they can. It’s opening day for the Italian restaurants who don’t use garlic or have pasta on the menu. But there’s another edict from corporate, make the story about Asian restaurants and the good news is, the creator can use garlic, but no chopsticks. This is the insanity of what is happening, most especially with Superman.
Corporate is not allowing what the creators and editors have done for decades because the suits believe they know what sells and what the latest trends are. What corporate doesn’t seem to understand is that these superheroes and their back stories and casts of characters are well established and timeless. Some of the best writers and artists who have generated huge sums of revenue for the corporation without its assistance are now being hog-tied and told that the suits know how to write a better story even though they’ve never created anything in their lives. The suits know nothing about ‘love for the characters’ or the passion about a great story idea. And that is what sells.
People are more discerning with their money since they have so many more options to spend it on for entertainment. Patchwork, soulless, too damn long stories are not going to compete with a strong character driven story of a superhero the populous know and love.
Corporate needs to allow the creators to create what they are passionate about. Editors need to create that freedom and stand up for their writers and artists against corporate ‘artistic’ intervention. Allow DC Comics to write comics. They are not films. They are not television. The great thing about comic book stories and characters is that they can play in those media with great success, but do not treat comic books like film and television. Allow comic books to be creative and produce living legends. Ones that cannot be interchangeable or easily duplicated.
Write a crackerjack character story and the readership will come and beg for more with their precious money.
And keep the bean counters out of the process!