By Todd Matthy
As a life long comic book fan I’ve had to constantly deal with people who look down upon the medium saying it’s only “for kids” or “nerds” and other juvenile statements. But when I read Tim Marchman’s article from the May 25th edition of The Wall Street Journal, and his condescending and scathing remarks about the medium I love, I could no longer stay silent. So, Mr. Marchman here’s your receipt.
In a book review for “Leaping Tall Buildings”, Tim Marchman, a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, takes the comic book industry to task for failing to capitalize on the box-office domination of films like Avengers and The Dark Knight. The problem is he probably spent an hour browsing a comic book store to do his research. There are so many inaccuracies in his article that one wonders why he is a Knight-Wallace fellow. His statements are so inaccurate that I can rebut them based on a cursory reading of his article.
Mr. Marchman starts his indictment with how, “the upper limit on sales of a superhero comic book these days is about 230,000; just two or three series routinely break into six digits,” as opposed to twenty years ago when “hot issues of Spider-Man and X-Men sold millions.” This is true but it’s not for lack of trying on the part of publishers. The reason comics boomed in the early-mid nineties was because a) they were much cheaper and b) speculators. With early appearances of Superman and Spider-Man selling for six-figures up to a million dollars, speculators started buying comics in the hopes that one day they’d have a million dollar comic that could put their kids through college. Kids bought into the hype too. And when demand was up, the publishers supplied. They even added a few gimmicks while they were at it. The vast majority of people who bought those comics probably didn’t even read them. They bagged, boarded, and locked them away, fearing a thumb smudge would be the difference between a Ferrari and a mini-van.
Another false statement uttered by Mr. Marchman is comics are “for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop.” Have you visited a Barnes and Noble lately, Mr. Marchman? There are shelves dedicated to graphic novels. How about the comic books in the magazine section? What bookstore did you go to? He then states, “the people who produce superhero comics have given up on the mass audience, and it in turn has given up on them.” As a former Marvel intern, I know for a fact that they are ALWAYS looking for new ways to bring in the mass audience. It is this search for a mass audience that led to the proliferation of trade paperbacks/graphic novels, publishing initiatives like DC’s “New 52,” the annual Free Comic Book Day on the first Saturday in May, and the rise of digital comics and digital distributors like ComiXology. In addition, Marvel creates $1.00 reprints of essential first issues, gives freebie primers out to comic book stores, and includes recap pages at the beginning of everyone of their comic books so new readers can get acquainted. He goes on to state Marvel and DC’s “notions of new ideas involve sequels to comics that came out when New York Mets announcer Keith Hernandez was a perennial MVP candidate.” To which I bring up, again, “The New 52” and “Ultimate” lines the latter of which gave us Miles Morales, a brand new Spider-Man.
Then there is his indictments Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Quesada, Grant Morrison, and Dan DiDio, major writers and publishers at Marvel and DC, who he blames for “the failure of the big publishers to take advantage of the public’s obvious fascination with men in capes.” I’m going to answer name by name.
Brian Michael Bendis, a writer for Marvel, helped reinvent how comics are told. He is the quintessential “write to the trade” writer, where each single comic book is a chapter in a six-part story arc that gets collected as a graphic novel. He also writes his characters dialogue as though they are real people having real conversations. Finally, he was behind some of Marvel’s most original and bestselling storylines during the past ten years like, the outing and jailing of Daredevil, the creation of Miles Morales, and the destruction and reformation of the Avengers.
Grant Morrison, a writer for DC, is one of the most innovative writers in the history of comic books. In his six years writing Batman he’s revealed that Bruce Wayne had a son, sent Bruce Wayne on a journey through time, put the Batman cowl in Dick Grayson, and created a world-wide team of “Batmen.” Pretty fresh ideas that are selling pretty well.
Dan DiDio is the publisher of DC Comics and is behind the “New 52” publishing initiative that re-started all of DC’s super hero comic books with brand new number ones. An act that not only propelled DC to the top of the charts but has brought both new and lapsed faces into comic book stores.
Finally, there is Joe Quesada, former Editor and Chief and Chief Creative Officer for Marvel. There is no one out there who has done more to raise the public’s awareness of comics than Joe Quesada. Whether recruiting Hollywood and literary talent to write for Marvel, finding young and international artists, and just plain breaking the rules in terms of what you can and cannot do with the characters, Joe Quesada’s leadership brought Marvel back from bankruptcy and created a such a strong awareness of the Marvel brand, they can fund the creation of their own movies.
Finally, perhaps the biggest flaw in the entirety of Mr. Marchman’s article is not once does he mention, Stan Lee. Yeah, ‘Nuff Said.
Tim Marchman’s article “Worst Comic Book Ever!” is a misnomer it should’ve been titled “Worst Comic Book Article Ever!” It is a poorly researched, condescending, piece of verbal effluvia that has no place in an issue of Weekly World News much less The Wall Street Journal. And if you disagree, Mr. Marchman feel free to email me at email@example.com and we can continue this conversation. Until then, consider yourself rebuked.