Although lacking in popularity for years, the mid-50s through early 60s brought back a resurgence of the superheroes. This in itself was not bad, especially since I like superheroes. But as the publishers wanted to cash in on this rebirth, all other genres within the comic book industry started to fade. The romance comics, the westerns, the hard-boiled detectives, the war comics and science fiction comics all started to pass by the wayside. The superhero was being driven by the market forces, which became to exist in the US comic book industry. Suppliers and consumers alike developed an obsessive preoccupation with superheroes, which ultimately became a detriment to the medium as a whole. By catering too much to the limited market of superhero lovers, a much broader audience became neglected. One analogy presented in the past was that superheroes are like really good desert. We all like desert, but who can eat it all the time?
Another concern with this market saturation was the aesthetic merits under the weight of the superhero longevity itself. This was not necessarily the fault of the genre itself, but of the market upholding its lone cash cow. The very nature of art of storytelling within the superhero arena, was greatly affected. We all have learned from the time we were young, the fundamental elements of storytelling. There is the beginning, a middle and an end. The telling of superheroes defies these fundamentals. There is a beginning, a continuous middle and NO end. The most obvious (and arguably most drama killing) story telling convention is that a leading superhero character can not die, at least, not for long.
Where is the sense of suspense in knowing the peril of the superhero against the super villain, will not last for long. Knowing that to sustain the market popularity, the hero must return issue after issue. While thrilling, it becomes and unconscious exercise in waiting to see how our hero survives. This does not command the drama as that of a character whose outcome you are uncertain of for any given issue. This leaves no ending to an otherwise great story line, and thus a paradox. How could our superhero characters continue, as we would have them, if they were truly to die?
Cognitive psychology has demonstrated that memory retention is stronger with beginnings and endings. We wonder then, how can a story be memorable if there is no ending? It can be theorized, that to keep comic books good, and this includes super heroes, they have to ultimately come to an end. It has been quoted before that all good things must come to an end. Would this help to keep the comic book industry on a more successful track? This can now only be to the speculation of each of us as individuals. Think about what your opinion is.
One of the easiest mistakes to spot in the comic book industry, but the hardest to avoid, was the creation of the Direct Sales Market. This was intended so dealers could purchase direct from the publishers, for a lower cost and in bulk. This in turn would allow the dealers to make their own profits. Not a bad idea. Isn't this how wholesale/retail transactions operate? Apparently though, this became the only method of distribution and eliminated mass venues and comic books were only sold through small isolated venues. What do you think would happen if Time Magazine, for instance, took itself off the newsstands and sold only through these small outlets?
Imagine, although pure profits for the publishers, turning a mass publication into a niche market publication. Who would deliberately do this? Who would be that crazy? Well, apparently the comic book industry did. Over 70 odd years they had managed to always make the wrong decision, by looking at the shortest-term results and throwing every egg into that basket.
And if all this is not enough, the final mistake made by the industry was to shift from Product to Personality. This entailed the move toward selling who was doing the book instead of what the book was all about. While a few bright lights in the comic book writing field shined and some over the short term prospered, can an industry in general, continue to be successful? If none but the most well know and successful writers can prosper, what would become of the bulk of the comic book genre, if this attitude persists? Many otherwise excellent magazines may go down the proverbially flaming tubes. Do keep this in mind.
Can the comic book industry be saved? Very possibly, but when the individuals in charge of the saving are as eager as ever to make the same mistakes all over again, what will the outcome be? They don't even appear to be cleaver enough to make new mistakes.
Dave Gieber, a former rocket engineer, has decided to take up residency on the Internet. He is the owner and editor of several websites, one of which was built around one of his childhood passions; www.comic-book-collection-made-easy.com . You can visit here to keep up to date on the world of comic books and comic book collecting. Feel free to sign up for my comic book ezine.