It’s been a long time since the birth of the comic birth industry. At first it was a tiny and unassuming thing, a project that people only got involved in because they loved and believed in what they did. And while these noble intentions have remained among many of the creative individuals still involved with the production of comic books, the industry itself has taken a turn for the worse.
DC and Marvel have both been consumed by larger companies who seek to exploit the recent popularity of comic books among the mass consumer market. Smaller, independent companies still exist, but they are rarely heard from when it comes to the larger, money-making projects. And if they get too big, the larger companies are always there, waiting to cannibalize them if they can. As a result of the corporate entities taking over everything they can, artists are suffering.
Copyright issues have always crept into the news here and there. If you know where to look, you can find problems between artists and industry owners happening all the time. It’s nothing new, the exploitation of the creative mind for profit. What does seem to be a new phenomenon is the prevailing view among company management that these very artists that create their properties and craft excellent comic books are now disposable commodities, easily replaced by any number of other talents.
This has created a trending movement of artists and writers jumping ship from the “big 2.” Despite the prestige that working for someone like Marvel or DC (or both) can bring, the artists are unhappy that they are no longer considered an important part of the creative process. The focus has shifted from creating works of art to manufacturing marketable products, preferably things that can also break through to other mediums, such as film. And though the best artists could come up with brilliant properties, the industry still holds on to its old characters and stories and simply reboots them when needed. They look no further than the names that have high value, thus condemning the creative process.
So the question arises of whether we, as comic book fans, are supporting this commercialization by continuing to buy comic books of our favorite characters regardless of how the artists are treated. Is it a bad thing to keep reading X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman or any of the other big titles we grew up with? Has the mainstream popularity of comics steered them away from their origins as alternative forms of entertainment? Are we now nothing more than consumers, taking whatever they have to throw at us? And how much longer will this go on before the storylines become so bad that we finally give up on our long-standing, comic-reading tradition?
Personally, I can’t justify giving money to Marvel or DC anymore. They are working against the art form and the artists who put their blood, sweat and tears into a title to make it the best they can. Soon enough we shall see the best leaving for smaller companies and old favorites settling into patterns of mediocrity. No doubt big money will keep many people from choosing integrity over independence and there will always be something decent coming from the “big 2,” so they’ll continue to survive. But I see a sharp rise in independent companies coming and a revitalization of comic book storytelling in the form of new titles and new characters. I will be sad to see my old friends go, but better than watching them die a slow death at the hands of those who would turn them from works of art into dollar signs.