Who Reads Comics?
Last week, I asked if comics still matter in the broad pop culture landscape.
Now, I know that the kneejerk reaction is that they absolutely do. And I agree. I know that there are even blogs out there that write about comics, like https://www.flashbackcomicsandgames.com/, so there are definitely people who still love them. I am not disputing the quality of today’s comics – only their impact.
They don’t dominate our cultural conversation anymore, outside a few outliers like the whole “Captain America secretly was always a Hydra agent” kerfuffle of a few months back. (Spoiler: He’s not Hydra and never was. Red Skull just used Kobik, a sentient Cosmic Cube, to make Cap believe otherwise. Yeah, it’s confusing for me, too.)
First of all, comics are not easy to find – physically. Niche comic shops aren’t exactly a staple in every shopping mall the way GameStop is. And if you aren’t interested in superhero comics and would prefer independent titles like Sex Criminals, The Fade Out or Bitch Planet, it’s even harder to just stumble upon and pick one up on a whim.
So, point one: They don’t exactly saturate the market.
I’ve discussed before how difficult it is to get into super-hero comics, given that there are way too many alternate universes, reboots and world-changing events to know where precisely to start.
People aren’t dumb, as the prosperity of complex, sprawling shows like Game of Thrones can attest. People still remember Gendry rowing off into the fog, and that was three years ago (and they still ask when he’ll be back). But there’re also clear entry points to the series – season one, episode one; or the first book, page one – and an obvious path of progression to the present day.
The comic system is intensely user-unfriendly because there is no system. I can’t just say, “Start with Captain America No. 1,” because that could refer to perhaps 20 different series.
So, point two: Mainstream comics have no road map for newbies.
These two factors make it hard to be a casual fan. If you really want to get the most out of comics, you’ve got to be pretty devoted to them by necessity. That’s the only way you can understand where something like Marvel Zombies fits into the continuity, or why Rebirth is different than DC’s New 52.
But that very devotion comes with backlash – which is why I think comics have fallen to the wayside.
It’s just not cool to be too dedicated. In other words, commitment is the epitome of the uncool.
We want to be part of the “cultural conversation,” but we don’t want to actually keep it going. Everybody loves Star Wars, but nobody wants to hear why you think it was a travesty that Disney killed the Extended Universe with The Force Awakens. Pokemon Go was fun, but a distinct minority of people will carry that renewed love into Pokemon Sun and Moon next month.
This is how it’s done today: Turn on your TV, absorb the 13-hour show, and then move the hell on. Love something, but not too much. The next thing is always coming. There’s not really room for comics in a world like that. Staying afloat means not diving too deep.