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A Canadian news article on comic books:


Before I get into the issues of comic stores vs. "newsstand" distribution (from my own childhood experience that would be "variety store distribution", newsstands were always things I'd expected to see in comics rather than real life), I'd like to address something about "comic book movies".

If Iron Man and the Dark Knight are "comic book-based movies", then are Gone with the Wind, The Lord of the Rings, Jules and Jim, No Country for Old Men and Sherlock Holmes all "book-based movies"? Are It's a Wonderful Life and Stand by Me both "short-story-based movies"? Are Casablanca and Glengarry Glen Ross both "play-based movies"?

And while there have been Green Hornet comics, Green Hornet is a "radio-based movie". He's an old-time radio character from the producers of the Lone Ranger. (Green Hornet's old father had the same name as Lone Ranger's young nephew, and there were slight allusions made to the family connection. The allusions have become more ambiguous in the spin-off media as the characters were eventually taken over by separate companies.)

Green Hornet and Iron Man and Batman-ad-infinitum are superhero movies. It's not quite the same thing. After all, Constantine, Persepolis, Ghost World and A History of Violence are also "comic book-based movies".

A friend of mine justifiably mocks me when I go see some crappy superhero movies just because they are based on a comic book. And I see the attitude online that suddenly comics are important and a person's comic buying habits are justified because a movie version out. The Spirit and Watchmen comics are important, highly-influential and damn good works of art. The really bad film versions are not. Will Eisner's Spirit comics - the Citizen Kane of comics, they were called as they pioneered many techniques back in the 1940s - are not any better because there's a film version. A love of comics is not made legitimate by films.

Okay, that was a bit wordy. It was not a vodka-fueled rant, however. It was possibly a coffee-fueled one.

Comic book distribution:

I'm not sure about the young'uns who read this. I'd love to know their experiences.

When I was a kid, I did buy comics at the variety store on spinner racks that did indeed have a sign announcing "Hey, kids! Comics!" at the top. I know such stores still have a few comics for sale ... usually on the magazine shelf now, and far fewer titles than I remember seeing as a kid. That was primarily the way I got comics. Okay, my mom did buy me a subscription to Spidey Super Stories (http://www.comicvine.com/spidey-super-stories/49-2702/) and later the Fantastic Four (right around the time they encorporated Herbie the Robot from the late 1970s cartoon). But mostly, it was weekly trips to various variety stores.

When I was young, reading comics was not strange, unusual or cultish. At least, not as much as it is today.

I first discovered comic book stores in the early 1980s, I can't remember when. I think I found one to track down an issue of the X-Men I missed. I'm not sure why I continued going to the comic book shops. It was probably just the assurances that I'd find certain comics without hunting around all over the place. (Also, I think they shipped to the comics stores before the "newsstands".) And Marvel started publishing a magazine called "Marvel Age" so I knew exactly when comics would be available. I'd go on certain days because I knew Uncanny X-Men #180 (to give an issue number from around the time I started going) would be available. Comics stores also sold imported goodies like Doctor Who Monthly.

Anyway, I remember when comics started to experiment and release comics only for the comic book stores. Titles like Camelot 3000, The Dark Knight Returns (which is truly better than Miller's follow-ups) and Watchmen showed comics were growing up as they were published without the comics code. It seemed to me that comics were growing up precisely when I was. Of course, there were many, many bad comics produced. Things that were just violent for the sake of being violent. At times, it seems to me that "grown up comics" just resembles everyone else's angry adolescence.

I do think that form of comic book store distribution - not so easily backlisted by the groups triggered the existence of the comics code - helped some very good comics get published. They insured that comics would be more adolescentized than infantized.

But that did hurt the old distribution channels. Comics do seem far more cultish now than they did. People seek out scary-looking stores (most comics stores I know look less inviting that porn shops) to get comics. For the average person unwilling to enter an ugly-ass store, it seems comic book have ceased to exist. I wonder if for the masses, comics are just things that strange people buy.

And yet, I look at all the manga that fills several shelves at bookstores. When I first started going to comic book stores, that's the only place you could buy manga. The now-defunct Hamilton branch of the Silver Snail is where I bought the Robotech Art book which introduced me to the world of manga and anime beyond the few Japanese cartoons I'd seen.

It seems at some point, comics became a niche-market. And manga, which had been niche in the mid-1980s has become more mainstream. I wonder what manga publishers have done right.

Date: 2010-09-10 01:26 pm (UTC)
deviouslint: (Default)
From: [personal profile] deviouslint
A random addition: a lot of chain bookstores around here also carry comics in trade paperback. Mind you, the selection is hit-or-miss, but I found Demon in a Bottle, for example, at a Borders, and often there's a small section of comics near the magazines, as you've pointed out. Until I was willing to brave the local comic book shop(s), I was limited by what I could get there - but I could get quite a lot of the things I wanted. Most of what I follow is pretty mainstream, of course, so I wouldn't be aware of what I was missing.

Also worth noting: though reading anime and manga is probably fairly mainstream, it's often considered cultish. And many readers (of many types of comics) consider it a bit "cultish" as an activity - for all the reasons you point out. I'm wondering about perception and self-perception as issues, and how that plays in to the continued isolation of comics (and the thriving comics-based communities on the internet).

November 2011

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