Welcome to the third and final installment of “Continuity, Inc.” If you read the first two installments you’re aware that I’m taking a critical eye toward how big business is currently affecting what makes it onto the printed pages at the two largest publishers in the comic book industry, Marvel and DC. In those instalments I was rather harsh regarding some of their current practices and how that is affecting the quality of what we are reading. This time around I won’t be giving you my impersonation of a doom and gloom soothsayer, but instead, I will be going over some things that I am very happy about.
The best trends in the industry right now seem to be happening outside of Marvel and DC. In my opinion, we are experiencing a true Renaissance of the indie comics publishers, a Renaissance that is being spearheaded by Image, in my opinion. And what is this all about, you ask? Well, it’s about the new push of creator-owned comics that seem to be cropping up all over the place. Things are so good that once dormant companies are coming back to life as if they jumped straight out of a Lazarus Pit. Valiant went live with new material in 2012, First Comics in 2011, and more recently the return of the Milestone characters is being planned with the upcoming launch of Milestone Media.
So what is it about the indie comics world that has it bursting at the seams with new, great work? It all started with a little company called Image. Not the first incarnation of Image, with all the shallow carbon-copy heroes that the founders cranked out at first, but what the company morphed into. Image has become a bastion for creator-owned material, a place where creators can take a great product and get the help they need to bring it to fruition. Image has been a boon to the industry by setting an example for other publishers to follow. As a result, we are seeing a wide variety of books that only fifteen years ago might not have made it to the shelves. The creators of Saga, a quirky, well-written, and finely drawn book, would have had a hard time convincing a company to give them a shot back then. This new diversity will be instrumental in keeping the industry healthy for many years to come.
While Image quietly chugged along, becoming the creator owned giant it is today, something else happened that would forever change comics. Something the benefits of which many people question. I’m talking, of course, about movies. With the initial success of the X-Men and Spider-Man franchises, Hollywood saw what comic book readers have always known: that if you do a comic book movie right, with great special effects, and do your best to stay true to the essence of the characters, they will be a success. Not just a success, but an industry-dominating success. Since 2007, four of the top grossing movies have been based on well-established comic properties: Spider-Man 3, The Dark Knight, Marvel’s The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.
In the past fifteen years, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that movies adapted from comic books, superhero or not, have exploded. And this trend doesn’t stop at the silver screen. Television has been swarmed by them as well, with The CW’s Arrow spawning a Flash spin-off (and soon, it seems, an ensemble show starring, among others, The Atom and Black Canary). Anyway you look at it, there’s no denying that the comic industry is a gold mine for Hollywood.
So how does this new multimedia paradigm affect the comic book industry? Well, for starters, it encourages the publishers to go out and find more content to add to their label. It forces them to take a chance trying to find the next Walking Dead that can eventually make its way to Hollywood. The influx of studio money is what’s behind the explosion of indie comics publishing, either directly or indirectly. True, much of it was already in place, just waiting for Hollywood to find it, but now that Hollywood is on board 100%, companies that struggled and might have shuttered their doors are finding an infusion of people willing to take a chance and invest in an industry that has been just waiting for someone to breathe new life into it.
Sure, superhero movies will eventually run their course. Either we will see fewer of them, or they might eventually go away altogether, but Hollywood gets so much more from the world of comics now than just people in tights. Take these movies for example: 300, Dredd (the good one), Ghost World, Wanted, Snowpiercer, Two Guns, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Sin City, Persepolis, Hellboy, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and so many more. The trickle of comic-influenced movies that began in the 1990s has become a torrent.
This inflow of money from Hollywood has also changed what it means to be a comic creator. Not long ago, creators who were able to make it to Marvel, DC, or Dark Horse could make a decent wage, and live okay, so long as they kept churning out the work. These days if you have a great idea, and can get your name onto the printed page, or online with enough exposure, you can find a new revenue stream that could follow you for years to come. This added revenue possibility for creators is another incentive for those who love comics to stay in comics, rather than jumping ship for more traditionally commercial work in marketing firms and video game design. It encourages writers to stick with the world of comics instead of becoming a copy editor for an online service. More creators means more content for Hollywood to buy up, which encourages more creators to try their hand at creating comics. It’s a cycle that feeds on itself.
There are some out there who bemoan the loss of the good old days when the cons were all comics, and not all the “invaders” from other forms of media. I will not deny that I wax nostalgic for it from time to time myself, but I would never trade what has happened to this industry and go back to the way it was.