As I have been sighted as saying in more than one article, I believe Marvel and DC’s current business strategy, insofar as their comic output is concerned, is short sighted and leaves little room for any stories to make a lasting mark in history, despite their quality at the time of reading.
Due to both companies’ adherence to domination of the marketplace through over-saturation, it’s hard to recommend books to people before they’re outmoded and almost entirely out of context. It can be argued that things haven’t really been different since the 90s, but at least in the past Marvel’s Ultimate line wasn’t too convoluted and had a great lifespan in trade paperback form, ditto their Icon line, and DC always had Vertigo to fall back on, an imprint in which all the most popular titles barely ever went out of print.
The lack of consequential one-shots and mini-series has rendered the trade market with only a little more lifespan than their single issue counterparts, which would be fine if either company used a different business model for their previously mentioned mature readers/creator owned lines.
Unfortunately, Marvel’s Icon is just a home for Brian Bendis and Mark Millar’s creator owned work, with little room for anyone else (and even Millar moving on, but more on that later), and Vertigo, DC’s trailblazing imprint of original and mature material now, for the most part, being a place to keep the most popular in-house talent sated with their more personal work, a home for superhero properties that don’t fit in the oh-so important New 52 universe, and long running series that are trying desperately to reach the end of their run unharmed.
All this short sightedness would make sense if the companies’ were only making money on new material, but as well as their stalwart material hardly ever going out of print, they also constantly repackage it and resell it yet again. How many times has Sandman been sold? Or Saga of the Swamp Thing? The Dark Knight Returns? Call me cynical but I can’t see that happening with much of this barrage that we face.
I hasten to add that I’m still a big fan of Marvel. I pick up a great deal of their books, but it’s hard not to disassociate when faced with tri-yearly events, especially when fan and critical response to books like Daredevil, Hawkeye and Young Avengers, books that stand by themselves and make their mark through creative ingenuity, is so vastly positive. It’d be so nice to just take a year out and give all the books this kind of room to breathe.
DC didn’t fare so well, I lost almost all interest with the near simultaneous release of 52 books, and the few books I was interested in I left by the wayside after realising they had become part of some bigger crossover.
The biggest victim of this market grubbing silliness though, is Vertigo. Once a constant source of trades in my life, I now just pick up The Unwritten, and even that’s suffering delayed scheduling despite sufficient available material. Vertigo used to be the place where a ballsy new writer could take an original concept and be given a chance, as well as seasoned vets of the industry using it as a home for their most beloved personal ideas. Now, I fear, no more.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, companies like Dark Horse, IDW, Oni, Archaia, Dynamite, Boom Studios and Avatar have been able to ride the storm of DC and Marvel’s onslaught and find a comfortable place in the market for themselves, and against all odds Image have become the go to place for creator owned books of every flavour, grabbing, now that the opportunity has presented itself, all that made Vertigo great and running with it to the nth degree.
While it’s true that Image started life as a visuals obsessed hodge-podge, set up my money worshiping artists; by the early 2000s they were giving chances to visionary upstarts that would later command the industry, such as Bendis and Kirkman, to name just a few, which, in the case of Kirkman, paid off more than anyone could have imagined. Indeed the amount of money brought in by The Walking Dead may outstrip all but DC’s big three characters.
Writers such as Jonathan Hickman, Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction, J. Michael Straczynski, Howard Chaykin, Jason Aaron, Mark Millar, Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka, not to mention many-fold more artists, may have worked with Image to some degree in the past but whatever deal Image is currently offering seems to be enticing them over more permanently, and in a few instances has ensured that the creator is producing more books through Image than their work from the Big Two.
One can only assume that this rush to acquire both new and established talents is to plug the void left by Vertigo’s seeming disinterest in blazing new trails, especially as many of the books would have fit right in with the Vertigo of old; there is visionary sci-fi (Lazarus, The Manhattan Projects, Prophet), Crime and espionage (Velvet, Fatale, Thief of Thieves) and Vertigo’s favourite, genre defying oddities (Chew, Morning Glories, Five Ghosts) as well as every genre, sub-genre and bastardisation between.
The project that really illustrates this point better than any other though is the critical and fan favourite, Saga. A genre mash-up of the highest order, chock full of invention, stunning visuals, intelligence and mature content, Saga is the brain child of Brian K. Vaughn, a writer with a smash hit Vertigo book under his belt in Y the Last Man, and being that the book is everything that Vertigo once aspired to, we must assume that its home at Image means that either Vaughn thought he couldn’t approach Vertigo with it, for one reason or another, or he did and they turned it down. Either way, there’s something in that equation that’s broken.
It might be that my thinking is wrong and we live in such a time of plenty that no comic that comes along will stick in the comic buyer’s or public consciousness the same way that, say, Sandman or Preacher did, but if anyone’s capable of putting out such a calibre of books it’s Image, as The Walking Dead may just have proven.