Saturday, March 06, 2004

Diversifying Marvel 

Alexander Danner at Sequential Tart has written a great article called Diversifying Marvel. He makes a pretty compelling argument and I think I have to agree with him.

The first point he argues is that we shouldn't be looking to Marvel for diversity. That Marvel has been and is a niche publisher and it has worked out well for them, and that expecting them to branch out past their speciality is asking for trouble. He compares it to a publisher of Eastern spirituality books who decides to try making spy thrillers, or going to a neurosurgeon to get you sore throat looked at. That it may actually be more destructive to the industry since while the effort will probably be flawed (because of the above), it'll also get a lot of attention (since the company is big), and then could cause problems for people trying to do similar generes outside of the company.

He uses Derek KirK Kim as a theoretical example, but I can think of some examples already out there. If it wasn't for manga being so popular with girls lately, I'm sure that the failure of Trouble would have been yet another example cited by fans and the industry to show that girls don't like comics...

So, the problem with the industry isn't that Marvel isn't addressing the mainstream. It's that the industry keeps treating Marvel as if it is the mainstream. It isn't. Marvel is, and always has been, a niche publisher. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's an odd quirk of the comics industry that our most successful publisher happens to be a niche publisher, but that's not a problem that Marvel itself can or should attempt to fix. What the industry really needs is for Marvel to stick with what it specializes in, while true mainstream comics publishers — like Oni in print or Modern Tales online — work toward reaching the true mainstream audience.

He then goes on to mention what he feels are the real issues of Marvel, mostly relating to confusion on what audience various titles are targetting. He gives an example of Peter Parker: Spider-Man which sounds like it is trying to deal with some mature issues with little action, but at the same time waters it way down, leaving you with something unappealing to either group..

What Marvel really needs to do is draw lines between which books are meant for adults, which are meant for young adults, and which are meant for children. And even more importantly, the editors need to make it clear to each of their writers which audience they ought to be writing for. Obviously, the MAX line is targeted at adults, and the recently announced Marvel Age line is geared towards kids, but the vast majority of Marvel's main line exist in a muddled middle ground that runs the gamut from early YA to edgy adult fare, with little to no indication of what's what. Even the writers seem unsure of who their work is meant for — as illustrated by the abovementioned issue of Peter Parker: Spider-Man. Worse, the target audience of their books seems to change every time the writer does — with little official guidance, each writer brings their own vision of who the audience should be, so that a book that was previously suitable for young readers can become far more adult without any warning.

But he cites Ultimate Spider-Man as an example of things being done right, in that while it isn't necessarily breaking new ground, actually seems targetted at 14-year-olds and "In other words, it's a *healthy* adolescent male power fantasy, which is a far different creature from Marvel's usual fare." He also that Alias is a good example of something aimed at adults and not constrained. I haven't read Alias, but I did enjoy the first volume of Ultimate SM that I read. It reminded me a lot more of the kind of thing you'd see in Shonen Jump, something with a lot of action and a focus on a kid trying to deal with life and grow up..

I almost didn't read this article, but am so glad that I did. On the one hand, I'd love it if Marvel was suddenly amazingly diverse 20 genres all with great quality, bit I think a lot of the actions lately seem counter to that and I think I can respect the fact that they just want to do their own thing. But it is a difficult thing since several companies make up so much of the industry and we're so used to looking at them AS the industry. With the focus on proprietary characters and work-for-hire and lack of Epic, it is very much its own entity instead of an all-purpose publisher and I guess that is ok really. It seems like we are getting more alternatives as time goes on, and supporting those will probably do much more for diversity in the long run than trying to change an entity into something it isn't...

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