Sunday, January 01, 2006

Comics and the mainstream

Tom Spurgeon makes some points on why comics shouldn’t strive to be in the mainstream. I’ve addressed the ways I believe the form can become a major force in American culture in a number of writings. I’m not wholly in disagreement with is thoughts, but they afford me the opportunity to reiterate my beliefs by addressing each of his points:

1 & 2. That “comics” is and should remain a “secondary art form” relies on the false combination of the social artifact of “comics” and the structural form of visual language. Nothing about sequential images or the union of text and image inherently denigrates it as a lesser medium. It is because our culture’s only experience with this visual language has been primarily through the limited genres and industry of “comics.” If the medium — visual language — is to expand into the mainstream, it must step outside the association to “comics” through alternative genres and markets.

3. I agree that superhero comic companies have little to learn from manga… to an extant. The only successful way in which they can learn from the success of manga would be to fully adopt an alternative marketing and creative strategy, which is antithetical to their existing business model. While their model is profitable, actual comic books form only a small portion of their revenue, which largely comes from advertising and merchandising. This also leads to…

4. …the infrastructure problem that Spurgeon mentions, which is true. Because Marvel and DC have a niche audience, any expansion beyond their corporate products will always be a major financial risk. Again, the only real growth could occur if it cast off those restrictions, which of course is ridiculous for a company to do when they make money off them.

5. I am in full agreement that the status quo must be rejected in order to enter the mainstream, and that means rejecting most of the establishment of “comics.”

Nobody has to accept that this medium is a “secondary form” though. They only need to accept that the ways in which “comics” uses this visual language limits the chance for VL growth. The only real reforms to“maximize the potential audience” are through moving outside the “comic industry” audience that it currently has. “Comics” is a well that can only be tapped so far. By expanding beyond this model, the roof for maximal audience would be nearly unlimited.

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