A Tale Of Two Publishers
interview with Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley
highlighted for me one of Marvel's biggest problems. Their idea
of diversifying comics is to do multiple versions of Spider-Man for
different target audiences. Yet more often than not, the same
readers end up buying the various versions of the
character. Aside from the failure to reach new readers, the
"multiple versions of a
single character" approach can end up backfiring in another way:
creates confusion about what audience the character is intended for.
Consider this exchange between Matt Brady and Quesada:
NRAMA: Exactly, but still, it seems that when a
Marvel comic that does push the envelope comes out, one of the quickest
responses a pundit that the media dusts off for the occasion drags out
the "comics are for kids" argument and that Marvel shouldn't be
publishing such material.
JQ: There's no question where I stand on this issue. Sure -
Marvel needs more all ages titles. We have very few, less than 10% of
our line can be classified that way. Not at the exclusion of anything,
but just because this is good content that can help grow our business
and industry. Just look at what Harry Potter has done for prose fiction.
Can you imagine the outcry if Harry Potter were featured in a novel
with "adult situations"? And it wouldn't be because prose fiction is
for children, but because that property has become so strongly
associated with children (even if adults do enjoy the books as well).
Similarly, I think Marvel has become so associated with its superhero
characters -- characters that are already perceived as children's
material -- that the publisher itself is now seen in the eyes of the
general public as being "for kids." And Marvel doesn't do
much to disabuse people of this notion: Unlike DC, Marvel doesn't
have distinct, well-branded imprints such as Vertigo to act as
firewalls for "edgier"
projects. Marvel's idea of a mature line is to have some of its
more obscure characters swear and engage in anal sex. The fact
that the characters are obscure does little to insulate the MAX comics
from controversy, perhaps because at one point all the characters
appeared in the "regular" Marvel Universe and everyone still remembers
In contrast, look at DC. I've already mentioned Vertigo, but even
with lines such as the much-maligned "Focus"
(which has been lampooned as DC's "New Universe") DC takes
care to brand the books so they stand out from the regular superhero
titles. The covers for the Focus books feature eye-catching
artwork from Tomer Hanuka and a distinctive trade dress:
It's also instructive to look at the two companies and how they respond
when they decide they want to go after new customers. Marvel
decides to redo
old superhero stories
with some newer, flashier
forms an alliance with the publisher of European comics
Marvel reminds me of the proverbial carpenter whose limited tool set
causes him to see every situation as calling for the same
response. "We need comics for younger readers?
Superheroes! Comics for older readers? Superheroes!
For people who think superheroes are stupid? Superheroes!"
I'm not saying that all superheroes by their
nature are for kids only. I don't think anyone would read Astro
and think that it was intended primarily for
children. But I
do believe that Marvel's superheroes are thought of as being for
kids. Why is this so? A big part of it is probably
historical accident: Since kids were the ones reading Marvel
superheroes when Marvel first started out, the association between the
product and the audience stuck over time. And the fact that
Marvel licenses its superheroes for all kinds of merchandise aimed at
kids probably helps reinforce the connection. You probably don't
see many bedsheets or breakfast cereals featuring characters from
Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov
I'm not saying it's a bad thing that Marvel's superheroes are still
thought of as being mainly for kids. Often times good stuff aimed
at children will be enjoyed by adults as well, like with the Harry
Potter books or the Pixar films.
I'm not saying I'm against darker takes on classic characters. I
enjoyed Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns
as much as
comic fan. And I don't think Watchmen
affront to the memory of the Charlton characters.
All I'm saying is that maybe there's a reason why Marvel is repeatedly
the target of the "comics are for kids" line of thought whereas DC can
put out stuff
and The Filth
batting an eye.
Live by the superhero, die by the superhero.