Opinion: The Other Two of the Big Four and Further.

 

This article is not a damning of the big two comic companies, because Lord knows I’ve been a hardcore Marvelite since the day I got into comics, and will continue to be for a lot longer, but I don’t think that you could argue that, at present, it feels like our fandom is being taken advantage of, or even exploited, to squeeze every last spare dollar out of us.

Marvel's Fear Itself 'event'

Contrary to many fans’ beliefs, you can’t really get too angry at them, because at the end of the day they’re running a business, and that besides they’re still putting out numerous books of a very, very high quality. But at this point lots of the schemes they are using to extract our money are more knowing, cynical and generic in a kind of ‘we all know the score, so live with it’ type way.

Not being a big DC reader, I can only really speak for Marvel (though I’m sure it applies to both companies), what started out as relevant ‘events’ with lasting consequences, such as Disassembled, House of M and Civil War, have, over the past few years, degenerated into enjoyable but overblown affairs (that could have easily been done as a story arc in a single title) with few lasting consequences, designed specifically to have us buying as many books as they can get us to (which we often do, but that’s on us). And between bigger ‘events’, smaller ‘events’ are now getting the multiple book treatment. The stories were fun, but did we really need ten spin-off books for Shadowland, Chaos War and Spider-Island?

On top of this there have been unreasonably large price increases, switching of numbering systems by making one character’s book another character’s (which is particularly harsh on completeists, and promises to make the future back issue market incredibly hard to make sense of), ridiculous amounts of pointless reboots, titles running bi-weekly, .5 issues of titles rather than annuals, which usually kick off a new storyline, so have to be purchased, and probably a few other things that I’ve forgetting about.

Marvel's Spider-Island crossover

 

Times are tough, financially speaking, and though we all know the nature of business, it just seems a little unfair to be bombarding the fans in such a manner, and one would have thought that the big companies of such a niche medium should be sensitive to this. I worked in a comic shop for a number of years, so from experience know for a fact that when the consumers are tight on money or become disillusioned with mainstream comics, they don’t reduce the amount of comics that they buy, they cancel all of their titles, and so everyone looses, and that’s a sad thing.

Unfortunately, so many people think that Marvel and DC are a reflection on comics as a whole when that simply isn’t the case. Quite a contrary in fact, other companies know that they can’t compete with The Big Two at their own game, so find their own angel in the marketplace.

You only need to look at the next two big companies to see what else is available to you. Image and Dark Horse, though no competition to Marvel and DC, have their fair share of popular titles but without the need to take all of your money off you. Their books mostly stand alone, rarely crossover and run the length and breadth of genres.

Dark Horse's Hellboy

 

Dark Horse has quite a number of popular characters and titles, both licensed and of their own creation which include Hellboy, Sin City, Star Wars, Buffy, Angel, Mass Effect, The Last Airbender and the collected characters of Robert E. Howard, along with lesser known characters with a dedicated fan-base, such as The Goon, Usagi Yojimbo, Umbrella Academy and Empowered, and also publish some of the best manga available in the west.

As mentioned, it is a rare occasion when any of Dark Horse’s ongoing books actually crossover, and what’s more, rather than electing for lots of ongoing books, even their most successful characters are represented with waves of stand alone mini-series’, which means you don’t even have to follow the characters full time, you can just follow your favourite creative teams. And what an eclectic bunch of creative teams they have. Take the Conan books for example, one story arc will be written by a classic

Dark Horse's Conan The Barbarian

Conan writer, such as Roy Thomas, and the next will be by indie darlings such as Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan (Demo).

There’s no better representation of the talent at Dark Horse though, than is freatured in their recently rejuvenated anthology title, Dark Horse Presents, which for $7 gives you a hundred pages of great stories by hot talent like Steve Niles, stalwarts like Howard Chaykin and Neil Adams, and up and comers like Carla Speed McNeil. It has no bounds to the genres it uses and stories it tells and it’s as meaty as six of your average comics but for one third of the price.

Image Comics, on the other hand, has very few properties that could be classed as popular amongst the average folk (apart from The Walking Dead). Some of their characters have certainly had a decent shelf life on the racks (see Witchblade, The Darkness, Savage Dragon and Spawn) but of late the company has made it their purpose to introduce immerging talent and books with

Image's Morning Glories

a new spin on genre heavy fare such as crime, sci-fi and horror, with a massive selection of ongoing titles and mini-series, which all come out as collected volumes that over the last few years have created an impressive library of graphic novels.

Many of Marvel and DC’s new talent were farmed from Image, which makes Image’s books a must for any that see themselves on the cutting edge of things. Indeed, thanks to the ongoing success of The Walking Dead, I would be very surprised if such books as Invincible, Morning Glories, Green Wake and Cowboy Ninja Viking don’t get the TV or movie treatment.

Look slightly further a field, to the indie and small press companies, and you’re virtually garneted to find things that will suit your tastes, and these are the guys who deserve, and could really use your support. IDW and Dynamite produce a whole range of licensed books by recognisable creators, with IDW especially catering material for comic fans that have hung in there for 25+ years. Avatar is the home of the offbeat material of such fan favourite creators as Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis and David Lapham (they also fund free webcomics, first with the excellent Freakangels and soon

Avatar's Freakangels

with a spin-off from their sick, twisted and marvellous book, Crossed). Oni Press, besides giving the world the über-popular Scott Pilgrim series, also produce the brilliant genre books, Wasteland and Sixth Gun, as well as a whole host of original graphic novels. Archaia publish beautifully presented books that are suitable for the whole family. Rebellion are doing a great job of re-presenting the vast array of sci-fi material originally published in 2000AD… Honestly, the list goes on and on.

I guess my whole point is this; if you’re really getting sick of how the big guys are doing things, or you don’t think you should be wasting your money on comics that never come to an end, don’t throw it all in. It is now and always has been a great medium and one worth supporting, so get yourself one of those big-ass Diamond Previews magazines, give it a good look and see what else there is out there for you. Maybe you’ll find something that doesn’t require you buying a handful of other books just to stay in the loop.

Oni Press's Scott Pilgrim

Richard
A UK based Contributor; Richard Reynolds splits his time writing articles and interviews for Fanboy Confidential with running his own comicbook shop, Ground Zero Comics, as well as sticking his thumb in far too many pies, including illustration, writing and filmmaking, he also consumes fiction in all its forms like its going out of fashion.

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