Saving the comic book industry has been on a lot of people's minds, I think, especially considering the downward trend in sales for so long. I was thinking about this last night and putting my thoughts together.
First, in regards to what McCheese said, I don't think American comics should follow manga's lead. There was a weird thought for a while that you could boost sales just by putting books in manga format. This is an idea I hate. A week or two ago I was looking for a trade to buy at the comic shop and I thought I'd give Runaways a try. I decided against buying it because the first volume is only available in hardcover, which I couldn't afford at the moment, and a little manga digest. It just looked cheap, and the text was small enough that I had to squint to read it properly. That format works for manga but I think it's crap for American comics.
But that's not really the point. The point is that though the American comics industry needs to diversify itself, I really don't want to see it become like manga. Comic books are an incredible medium because they occupy a very special place in culture. They're not profitable enough to be focus-grouped to death like movies and they're not respected enough to be scrutinized by snobby intellectuals like literature. And so, comic books get to be as ****ing weird and brilliant and inventive as they want. When I look at manga, I see a medium that doesn't have the same position in it's culture so it functions a bit more like television or movies. Which isn't really a good thing. The girl in my senior class who wore a Naruto headband to school would sit around and read manga that appeared to be some kind of teen snowboarding drama. I can't imagine that this is a deep and insightful series. I'm not putting down manga, but I think that appealing to as wide of an audience as possible means that your industry is probably going to put out a lot of vapid crap. Comic books have always benefited from appealing to such a narrow audience of geeks, weirdos and smartasses that the kind of bizarre and complex stories that would never even see the light of day in any other medium are lauded and beloved. I don't want to see the comic book industry become an industry where The Invisibles or Promethea never even get published because they're just too 'out there' for any of the key demographics. (And I'm fully aware that there's tons of weird manga stuff, but Japan is Japan and America is America. Over here everyone throws a hissy fit over GTA and over there people gleefully buy tentacle rape video games.)
So what should the industry do? Don't try to appeal to kids, try to appeal to teenagers.
From first hand experience I can tell you that 3 out of 4 teenage guys will become instantly hooked on Y: The Last Man in a few pages. When I would lend my trades of it out to people, they would tell me that they had no idea that there were comics like that. Vertigo and Wildstorm publish so many books that the average teenager would eat up if they were just exposed to them properly. Popular belief is that teenagers have bad taste in everything. The truth is that teenagers can enjoy something with substance, but there needs to be a certain amount of flash to catch their eye. No one liked The Lord of the Flies when we read it in English but everyone went crazy for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Do you see the difference? Do you think The Dark Knight would be making so much money if it was a straight crime drama without costumes or gadgets? (Which it totally could've been.)
"The Vertigo Formula": The kind of realistic characters you might see in an indie book mixed with engaging stories and an eye-catchingly creative premise is exactly the kind of thing that could sell very well to people my age.
In practice, what could be done, at least on DC's end, is to absorb Wildstorm's non-universe books into Vertigo (since they all feel like Vertigo books anyway) and then just generally bolster the line. Bring in new talent and new ideas and try to beef up the line. It's a shame that Vertigo only puts out two or three books a week. They should be publishing a lot more than that. Vertigo should rival the DCU.
After that, start pushing the books in new places where teens and college kids will be exposed to them. Comics are ****ing cool, and it's the industry's responsibility to point this out to people.
I agree with what's been said about the superhero books, for the most part. Just less continuity, fewer events. Each title focuses on it's characters, there's plenty of interaction between titles, but everything isn't constantly building towards some earth-shattering event. That might do wonders.
When I think about the career I want in comics I think about someone like Warren Ellis. I'd love to get a chance to write the icons, but the thought of being like Bendis or Loeb, where you're practically writing the whole damn universe, makes me cringe. (Notice that writers who engross themselves in a universe like that don't necessarily benefit, creatively. (To put it mildly.)) Ellis writes a share of superhero books and a good deal of just about everything else. He seems to have made a great mainstream comics career writing whatever the **** he wants instead of just being the guy who's doing X-Men right now. He sells comics based on his own talent rather than people's interest in certain characters.
Overall, I feel like comic books are not lacking in great, diverse work, there's just not nearly enough of it. Nothing needs to be messed with, they just need to push the quality work they already have.
Crap, I just wrote a lot. Is there anyone still reading?
I realized while I was watching that video that with my new beard, I look kind of like Kirkman's long lost little brother.
I'm going to pretend that I am and claim the gigantic comic book fortune that I'm sure he has when he dies.