Hey Kids! COMICS!

ImageThe New York Times has a really quite fascinating article on Karen Berger that’s pretty much essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in comics, and no, not just superheroes but comics as a medium and where the major companies are heading.

There’s a couple of sections which stand out for me. The first is this one:

Ms. Berger said she noted changes in DC’s priorities in recent years. “I’ve found that they’re really more focused on the company-owned characters,” she said. DC and its Disney-owned rival, Marvel, “are superhero companies owned by movie studios.”

This is probably the first time I’ve seen a high level employee (or ex-exmployee) point out what’s been increasingly obvious over the last decade that DC and Marvel have focused on pumping out titles featuring their superheroes at the detriment of anything else. Of course there are people who will point out the odd one or two titles which aren’t just superheroes, but on the whole DC and Marvel publish superhero comics to a decreasing marketplace.

Which brings me to the second part which stands out…

Dan DiDio, the co-publisher of DC Comics, said there was “some truth” to these feelings of a shifting landscape, which he said were industrywide. For comics published by Vertigo and by DC, he said: “There’s not a challenge to be more profitable out of the gate. But there is a challenge to be more accepted out of the gate.”

Mr. DiDio said it would be “myopic” to believe “that servicing a very small slice of our audience is the way to go ahead.”

“That’s not what we’re in the business for,” he added. “We have to shoot for the stars with whatever we’re doing. Because what we’re trying to do is reach the biggest audience and be as successful as possible.”

Again, this is the first time I think Didio has admitted publically that creativity, innovation and experimentation is a thing of the past, and that ‘servicing a small part of our audience’ really means ‘fuck you’ to a large a loyal audience of readers who would enjoy the experimentation of the Vertigo years. It is however about servicing a not much larger section of the audience with superheroes, or at least, how people think superheroes should be portrayed to a shrinking marketplace.

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So when your audience is teenage boys and middle aged men you end up with Batman fucking Catwoman on panel, or any of the dozens of other examples of DC fuckwittery which means they appeal to a smaller and smaller market. It’s all calculated to sell as many copies to as limited an audience as possible while ensuring they exploit as much intellectual property as possible, and if it’s sexist or moronic then great because a lot of the audience want that.

Never mind there’s a larger group of people who might want to read stories about Catwoman where she’s not just an arse and a pair of tits, or seeing Sue Dibny raped in a story which set the tone for the last decades worth of DC stories.

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There’s no joy in this. There’s just people trying to be ‘mature’ by being as sexist as possible while the buying audience decreases because superheroes aren’t fun and as children’s characters they should be fun. However this is basically DC telling us that it’s over for anything fun or different or experimental.

It’s all grim, misogynist rape and violence for here on in. I’m no prude, but when you make children’s characters deliberately inaccessible to children and most women then you’re really not reaching for the stars and trying to expand your readership because frankly, everyone is too scared to lose their job and take the leap that Berger has.

So I wish Berger well. She’s helped provide me with vast amounts of entertainment over the years, and I apologise for trying to chat her up at a UKCAC in the 90’s. My only excuse was I was exceptionally drunk…

Bitter Sweet Symphony part six/ The Great Bristol Comic Shop Wars

Go read the other parts of this series otherwise you might be a wee bit lost……

Part one. Part two. Part three. Part four. Part five.

We’re in the last two parts, both of which are relatively quick and to the point, so lets crack on…..

In early 1993 I moved down to Bristol to work at Comics and C.D’s on the Gloucester Road. The shop was owned by Chris Bacon and Maurice Pitman (known to most people as Marr) , who were a pair of characters I’d first encountered in my Neptune days through Neil Phipps who was a colleague there. Neil had worked for Chris when Chris owned a comic shop in Leicester which used to be in the underpass by the Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) around 1986. They ran a business selling comics mainly at comic marts like the Westminster comic mart which was utterly bloody massive in those pre-internet days when getting comics was a chore and a half, and they bought old stock from Neptune thanks to their connection with Neil.

After Neil left Neptune after a truly spectacular falling out with Geoff, I became Chris’s main contact there and continued to flog him whatever we were trying to clear, and when I left Neptune started helping Chris and Marr out at marts, not to mention travelling to Bristol to help tackle the massive amount of stock in Marr’s extension. In 1992 they decided to open up a shop in Bristol as Forever People on Park Street was really the only game in town. This didn’t cause any major problems as Chris and Marr were on good terms with Mike at Forever People plus Park Street and Gloucester Road had different types of shoppers compared with how things are today. If anything Comics and CD’s caused a little ripple at Plastic Wax but that passed, and they’re still around looking very much as they did back then.

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I moved down to Bristol around March 1993, and ended up having some great fun in the shop which was on Gloucester Road at a time when every shop on the road (which is one of the longest roads in the city) was an independent shop.

The shop was just past what is the Co-Op and is now a rather nice wee deli.

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I’ll go on about my time at the shop, the fun and games, more about Chris and Marr, that experience with half a roast chicken in a service station on the M4, late night drinking sessions and the fun and antics of 1993’s UKCAC, and of course the Vertigo signing session that spilled from the shop and cut a drunken swathe across Bristol before ending up with Jamie Hewlett drawing Tank Girl sketches for people at the Cadbury House pub.

The point is that things were again pretty cushy for me. Things were fun. Everything was shiny and fab! I was even at the shop when Chris bought Neptune’s remaining stock at a bailiff sale in Nottingham and we got their stuff from there to the shop, so all this stuff followed me around. In fact, when I moved back down to Bristol in 2000, some of it ended up in my garage in Clifton but I’m getting ahead of myself….

Then who should come lurching back into the picture waving at me but Mike Lake and Forbidden Planet….

As previously pointed out, FP were expanding across the UK in the wake of the success of sorts of FP Glasgow, and then opened in Cardiff, Nottingham and across the country but in a city where they had existing customers they were still avoiding opening. In Bristol they had not only us at Comics and CD’s, but Forever People who were one of the very first comic shops in the UK..

The attitude by now coming from FP was ‘fuck it’ so they opened in Bristol and promptly undercut both shops in the city. Comics and CD’s struggled on for a bit before Chris and Marr sold the shop to Mike Allwood who renamed it Area 51, which is still in Bristol, but a bit further up Gloucester Road in a much, much smaller shop.

Unlike the long, bloody and bitter war between AKA and FP in Glasgow, this was more of a  Audley Harrison-esque battle which was over before it really started. Chris and Marr retreated back into doing conventions and marts, not to mention selling wholesale to other dealers from the UK and US.

I moved back up to Leicester just before Christmas 1993, and that was the last I spent earning a living full-time in comics but would still continue to work for Chris and Marr for the rest of the 90’s up til the last major Bristol Comics Expo in 2008, though I did help Chris out at last years frankly disastrous Expo, but again, I’m getting ahead of myself…

The point is that the real world was trying to come crashing into my life and if there’s one thing about working in any part of the comics industry, you don’t interact with the real world much. Thankfully though working in the licensed trade is almost as unreal as comics but I really am bloody getting ahead of myself..

Next time: so what was the point of this series of blogs anyhow?