Who Reads Comics?
Do comics still matter? It’s a strange question to ask in the Age of Superhero Movies we live in. Comic-book heroes have never mattered more, you could say. Who really knew who Iron Man was before 2008? And now even Doctor Strange is a household name.
But my question was not whether superheroes matter. That’s not up for debate. They do. Sales of comic-related things are always on the up, whether that be Batman posters printed on metal for wall decor, or Superman-themed bedding. Fans of all ages are always growing. My question is do comics still matter?
I went to Amazing Hawaii Comic Con last weekend, my first venture somewhere other than Kawaii Kon in 13 years. The headlining guest was Brian Michael Bendis, who I rank third on my personal list of favorite comic artists (first is Ed Brubaker, the man who resurrected Bucky Barnes, and second is Matt Fraction of Hawk-eye fame).
Bendis is the great mind behind Marvel events like House of M, Secret Invasion and Siege; he wrote my favorite incarnation of the Avengers in New Avengers; and he’s also pretty much the creator of the Ultimate Marvel universe.
He’s a big deal in the comic world. He’s written a massive body of work. And yet, he’s probably best known in the mainstream today as the creator of Jessica Jones, mostly because she has a big-time TV show on Netflix.
When I arrived at AHCC at 2 p.m. on Saturday, it was smaller than I expected. The deliberately scaled-back convention filled only one room. The focus was pointedly comics, with little in the way of anime, film, TV or games to be found, though there was a large Pokemon contingency. The crowds were modest.
Several dozen people and myself attended Bendis’ talk with The Modern School of Film on three films that influenced him and his career. My main takeaway from this highly entertaining discussion is that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a seriously dark movie (both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were going through divorces at the time), that creators (or at least Bendis) try not to let film actors seep too much into their comic counterparts (but it sometimes happens in very odd ways, like when your illustrator doesn’t speak English and misunderstands your instructions) and also for every good thing you write, you also write a ton of crap, so just keep on going.
It was great stuff. I wish more people had come out to see him. In fact, I was really surprised more people didn’t.
But the truth is that Marvel can make a billion dollars at the box office, but comparatively few people are picking up the comics that spawned these heroes. Who is reading Civil War II right now (also written by Bendis)? Who knew that he killed War Machine in the first issue? Who even cared?
The numbers are like this: Last month, the best-selling comic book title was Harley Quinn No. 1, part of DC’s Rebirth event. She sold just about 360,000 copies across North America. Not bad. Very impressive, by comic terms. (DC, by the way, easily trumps Marvel when it comes to comic sales.) A total of 10.26 million books were sold across hundreds of titles.
In Japan, Weekly Shonen Jump, which serializes some 18 different comic series, sells 2.17 million issues every single week. Manga remains part of the pop culture landscape in a way that comics do not in America. We love our superheroes, but we don’t seem to care about their origins very much anymore.
Next week, I’ll try to figure out why.