“… I thought Marvel wouldn’t go for it because the movie was on the horizon but our publisher at the time said that he wanted the books to be very different than what was in the movie because the audience already saw the movie and they were probably looking for something different. Something that raised the stakes from what they saw in the theater. … It was a good choice. It also showed something above corporate thinking that I quite admired …”
— Comics author Brian Michael Bendis on editorial policy that Marvel comic books should differ from their movie counterparts. Read the full quote here, at Bendis’ excellent Tumblr blog.
- Is The Marvel Universe Headed Towards A Time Catastrophe? (buzzfeed.com)
- Exclusive Q&A with “Age of Ultron” Creator Brian Michael Bendis (kindlepost.com)
- Brian Michael Bendis on ‘Cataclysm’ & frustration with the comics press (thekillray.com)
There’s the part of me, as a longtime reader, that cringes at some of the creative licenses taken with some characters’ histories, powers and personas in the Marvel movies. But that same critical outlook is the one who scoffs when the studios play it safe. The rational part of me realizes these creators – of comics and movies alike – are in a pinch.
There are genuine storytelling necessities that are different if you are doing a feature film every two years versus a comic book every thirty days, and because of this (if nothing else) the tone and stories will differ between comics and film. I get that. What baffles me (and I may be taking Bendis out of context here) is that Marvel would deliberately set editorial direction to make their books “very different” from what a mass movie audience — possibly curious about comics for the first time — might expect when wandering into a comics shop from a movie theater. Aside from the Ultimates line a decade ago (which has long since collapsed into the same morass of tortured continuity and unwise line extension that encumbers Marvel’s main line), I can think of few substantial efforts to onboard movie fans to monthly comics.
It might be that the audience just isn’t there … that superhero comics are restricted to selling a couple hundred thousand copies a month of their top titles (with many selling only in the tens of thousands). But, damn, it seems to me there is a central dysfunction in any system that sees Avengers gross 1.5B worldwide while the comics top out at 100K a month.
“…a central dysfunction in any system that sees Avengers gross 1.5B worldwide while the comics top out at 100K a month.”
Does that really surprise you, though?
Movie theatres are everywhere. Comic shops are few and far between. (If I made a web of my regular haunts, form my home, work, and where I visit family, the only comic shops that still remain are those in the heart of Manhattan.)
Families, groups of friends, couples all go to the movies together, very possibily with at least one member of any group tolerating the film at best. (How many times have you been dragged to a chick flick?) You’re getting multiple receipts at the gate for what is essentially one entity (the family unit/group of friends). Even if everyone in my family LOVED comics, we don’t need 4 copies of the new Avengers book.
And also, people hate to read. TV (movies) is the lowest common denominator when it comes to leisure time. Watch and be told what is happening and how it sounds. Comic books and reading in general require the lazies to do a little work, cast their voices (if at all) and dictate the pace and mood.
These are all very oversimplified theses, but the main point is that movieland and the funnybooks are two totally different animals.
And I don’t think Bendis’ quote is suggesting what you see in Hollywood has NO PLACE in the 616. I still HATE black Nick Fury being shoehorned into the Marvel U. I think we’ve also got the Ultimate Spider-Man (TV) Power Man running around the Marvel U., too. Ditto the new Nova, so there’s some synergy there.
I agree that comics and movies are very different breeds, but are they SO different as to justify that delta between 1.5B box office and 1M sales for a chart-topping comic? Movies are certainly more accessible, but the comics market isn’t limited to comic shops (some of which aren’t all that welcoming to outsiders in any case) — I can get comics at the bookstore, or on my mobile device (and there are more cell phones that tooth brushes in the world, how is that for a factoid?)
Movie box office indicates a huge hunger for and mainstream acceptance of comic book properties — moreso than at any time I’ve been alive. Yet the comics market continues to target only to the customers it already has. It’s possible that comics are just doomed to being a niche market, but I can’t help but think there’s unexploited headroom here (and there are smart people who do nothing but think about this all day, I know … I am an enthusiastic amateur in this, the worst kind of critic).
So what’s the biggest factor? People can’t find the books? People don’t like to read? People can’t figure out how to buy an Avengers comic because there are fifteen different versions on the rack with perplexing numbering, dense continuity and cross-overs, and characters and situations that have little to do with the movie characters they love?
(All of the above, of course).
There won’t be a perfect solution, short of dynamiting the whole publishing arm of Marvel and starting over … but, sheesh, these movies provide a TON of heavy-lifting in the marketing of superheroes but it seems like most of the fish escape the net when it comes to comics. (And truth to tell … getting back to the quote … half the time I feel the publishers can’t even be bothered to put their net in the water).
In short, I would say, yes, movies and comic books ARE THAT different.
We could go ALL DAY with this, and truthfully, I wouldn’t mind that one bit. A couple more bullet points:
Comics are geared toward an OCD crowd: bagging, boarding, collecting runs you’ve lost interest in simply for the sake of completion, continuity stickling! The average person is not obsessive like this. They enjoy a 2 hour movie, talk about it on Twitter for 3 minutes and move onto the next thing.
I have sooooo many ideas why the comic market doesn’t grow, but I don’t want to write a book here.
These are the things comics have become. They aren’t what comics need to be; they aren’t even what comics have always been. This is just where we’ve ended up after decades of direct market economics grinding the business down to its present state. We wouldn’t even notice how wobbly things had become without counterexample of this entirely unexpected mass market attention.
Don’t get me wrong — I am a believer that “markets are never wrong,” and that things got to be as they are for a reason. At this point, the direct market playbook is the only one that works, and that means the things you describe — the endless collecting stunts and impenetrable continuity that appeals only to core fans. Those are they guys who actually buy the product, so the product caters toward them … and that made sense in an era where the dimensions of comic book appeal were fully described by the size of the direct market. But now the direct market represents only a fraction of the overall interest in this material (though is still the majority of the monetizing interest), which tells me … shouldn’t greater effort be made to at least put out the welcome mat for new and casual fans?
I expect things to change (slowly) under Disney. I can’t see Disney putting up with three or four different versions of S.H.I.E.L.D. across comics, movies, and TV any more than they’d permit five different versions of Mickey Mouse or Snow White … while Disney’s characters have a variety of interpretations across media, their core values and relationships remain fixed, meaning fans can come to them from pretty much any corner of the audience graph and get the right experience. Conversely, someone watching the new S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show next week, and then walking into a bookstore to buy a graphic novel, is going to be shit out of luck. Why is Maria Hill in charge? Why is S.H.I.E.L.D. hunting unregistered superheroes? Nick Fury is a ghost and Tony Stark is a dick? (Or whatever the continuity of the month may be, based on the era of the graphic novel randomly in stock at that particular time).
No matter how we fans spin it, that’s foolish and leaves dollars on the table. Disney’s fine with foolish. The other thing, not so much.
It’s interesting in a sad way to read Marvel’s and Bendis’ philosophy because it’s the polar opposite of the Disney way. If you release a movie, you need product in the stores that reflects and recalls and resembles that movie – books, toys, games, action figures, etc. Disney doesn’t release a movie that doesn’t have supporting product.
If you’re a fan of the Avengers movie and you’re looking for that similar experience and you know it’s based on a comic book, but then cannot find a comic, any comic, that resembles that movie, you’ll just walk away. The cash register’s closed.
I assume that Disney will work to change Marvel’s strategy about these things.
Looks like Marvel is trying to make it easier for movie fans to find their way back to the comics with their publishing plan surrounding Captain America 2 — a single, clearly branded reprint, versus a dozen trade paperbacks with no clear tie-in (story at ICV2).