Don’t worry—we’re going to bring you our picks for the most anticipated comics of 2017, but before we take a look at what we know is coming up, we wanted to spend some time discussing what we hope is on the horizon. As we trudge into an uncertain future, the comic industry continues to teeter on a precipice. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many direct-market shops are suffering from tight margins while major publishers continually double-down on reboots, relaunches and incentives to (temporarily) inflate sales. Companies like Marvel and DC are working out, in real time, how to balance representing new, diverse audiences with satisfying the deep strain of nostalgia that drives the bulk of the industry. The items on our wishlist range from goofy fan requests to dead-serious calls for better industry standards. If comics truly are going to be for everybody—and attract and maintain a consumer base that reflects that hopeful assertion—some things need to change. Let us know on Facebook and Twitter if there’s anything we left out, and let’s keep our fingers crossed that the industry continues to improve in 2017.
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Accepting Superheroes as Social Justice Warriors
From the very beginning, comics have sought to reconcile the world we hope for with the one we have, sometimes to profound effect. In 1939, Superman fought for the working class. In the '40s, Captain America socked Hitler in the jaw. In the '50s, Batman became the highest aspirational ideal for parenthood. And in the '60s, the X-Men campaigned for the civil rights of the hated and feared, although the "campaigning" usually commenced with bouncing lasers and hurled snowballs.
There are a handful of modern comics that attempt to address the big issues we face as a society, such as Ms. Marvel, but the truth is that these books are few and far between. Whether the alt-nerd-right chooses to believe it or not, most—if not all—superheroes are by their very nature "Social Justice Warriors." So where is the social justice? Where are the comics that tackle the decline of the middle class? Police brutality? The plunder of black life? Gender inequality? Transphobia? What does Spider-Man or Superman or heck, the Punisher, think about all of what's going on in the world today?
Comics and the characters who occupy their pages are uniquely positioned to provide these answers. But those answers will never arrive if publishers refuse to acknowledge that the questions exist in the first place. Jakob Free
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The 21st century has seen Nerd Culture go mainstream. Images of the basement-dwelling outcast, while still prevalent in some circles, are no longer the overriding depictions associated with the modern nerd. Now everyone and their mothers can tell you who The Avengers are, including scribes at The New York Times. And while the quality of mainstream reporting on the world of comics has grown organically with the yearly uptick of attendees at San Diego Comic-Con, there is still a dearth of thoughtful writing and criticism.
How many subtweet chains must we decipher after a sensationalist, gossip-sourced "article" has been published? And why is it that sites can't be bothered to proofread grammatically disturbing, TMZ-level "scoops"? Why do outlets that fail under this criteria still receive exclusives and advertising (yes, publishers, you're part of the problem)? How many times will the quote unquote critics at the preeminent industry news sites forget to mention the artist of a particular comic book? And lest we seem holier-than-thou, we admit that we've had our own journalistic struggles—ahem, #CapGate. We can all do better.
The truth is that we need to demand more from industry outlets. We need a higher standard of writing, a broader coverage of the wildly diverse comic book market and more accountability from writers whom we can trust. We need to reject sensationalism, ignore anonymous sources, diminish the power of rumormongering and accept fewer hot takes. We need to vote with our clicks. Anyone with a blog can write about comics, but it takes real skill to write about comics critically. 2017 should be the year when we all decide to raise the bar as both writers and readers. Jakob Free
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Better Professional Conduct on Social Media
When social media was still small enough that Snapchat wasn't even a twinkle in Evan Spiegel's eye, early adopters compared Twitter to a cocktail party: you weren't included in every conceivable conversation, but you could overhear all of them. Twitter has slid right past a gathering of quasi-adults with drinks to become a frat-house hazing event with no security...and white supremacists. One problem is that industry Tweeters often forget the audience isn't solely their friends, and it seems to be a particular issue with Marvel writers, too many of whom seem to confuse "public" and "private" just as frequently as they confuse "critique" and "bullying".
Social media, Twitter in particular, has been a major boon for many comic creators, particularly those who self-publish or work on webcomics and anthologies. Artists have been discovered by larger publishers because of the portfolios they post and the followings they earn online. But a small population of professionals who use social media to berate, mock, harass or outright threaten readers and critics thrives as well. Many of those people are already marginalized in the community, including fans and critics of color, women, people with disabilities or LGBTQ+ folks. For some comic creators, tweeting any content criticism is the same as a personal attack. The problem is that many of those creators have massive followings online, and anything they interpret as an attack is answered by their fans with threats, doxxing and/or explicit images. This phenomenon is not limited to paid, professional reviewers and critics: scores of fans have stories about repeated harassment and invasive insults from professional creators in response to casual tweets. Some of these creators are so thin-skinned and prolific in their bad behavior that women are routinely warned not to write about them when they join the industry.
Creators who want a master-class on how to deal with haters should check out Gail Simone's Twitter. When criticized with justification, she responds with an apology and often a request for resources or information to inform herself more on the matter. When the target of actual attacks and harassment, she either ignores people or responds with such disarming charm and humor that her own fans don't turn their loyalty into something violent; more than once, her silly, subversive responses have turned into long-running memes. She's quick to admit confusion or lack of knowledge, and never takes feedback as if it's a mandate on her personal character.
Given that it's unlikely that publishers will step in, pros must police themselves and their colleagues, and cut out bad actors. Comics are for everybody, and no one should hesitate to voice disappointment or frustration with what they read for fear of getting threatened or booted from the industry. Caitlin Rosberg
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Fewer Female-Led Books with All-Male Creative Teams
Mainstream comic publishers have finally started to embrace the diversity that's been driving self-published work for decades. There are more women and people of color leading titles than ever before, and while there's a lot to be said for how well many of those books are doing, there's clearly still progress to be made. One of the biggest issues facing larger publishers now is that these titles are losing their luster as more and more of them are headed by creative teams that don't include anyone that looks like the characters.
A large percentage of books about young women and teenage girls have men in every position on their creative team, from the letterer up through multiple levels of editorial. This is obviously just as much an issue for creators of color, creators with disabilities and LGBTQ+ creators as it is for female-identified creators. Readers are being robbed of interesting and innovative work when publishers settle for surface-level diversity in comics that are all written by the same stable of middle-aged white dudes.
The chief objection readers raise when critics outline these points is that it's ridiculous to mandate that only women can work on female led-books—which is true. There are plenty of male creators who are more than capable of writing or drawing young women with respect and understanding, or even more complicated intersections of identity like girlhood and race or girlhood and gender or sexual orientation. But when book after book after book comes out with girls on the cover, often overtly sexualized, and only male names on the title page, the message that women are only welcome in comics when they're buying them—not creating them—couldn't be clearer. Caitlin Rosberg
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Less Crossover Interference at Marvel & DC
Tell me if this sounds familiar: you give a new DC or Marvel comic a shot, because it sounds intriguing. The first arc is tremendous: for example, the recent and terrific volumes of Detective Comics and The Ultimates. You're thrilled to be reading quality superhero fare that stacks up against the best creator-owned work. What could go wrong?
A crossover, that's what. "Monster Men" and Civil War II ruined—at least temporarily—Detective Comics (plus Batman) and The Ultimates, respectfully. Thanks, corporate overlords, for reminding us all that comics are nothing but a Ponzi scheme, and that a quality run is expendable.
I'm sure crossovers reel in the youngest and most gullible fans, but, when done so frequently, they cheapen the art form and reinforce the idea of comics as disposable crap. Look at the big picture, Marvel and DC. A great, un-crossovered run is the kind of comic you can sell forever in trades to people looking for a great story—like Hawkeye, Midnighter, Omega Men, Silver Surfer and The Vision. Please cut the constant crossover fodder and leave quality runs alone. Mark Peters
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More Industry Innovation
At this year's Golden Globe ceremony, cord-cutting prophets Netflix and Amazon netted three wins between The Crown, Goliath and Manchester by the Sea—and that's a low-win year. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos even walked the red carpet and received some gentle ribbing from host Jimmy Fallon. With Amazon company comiXology producing original content now, the new question is whether Bezos might visit the Eisner Awards at this year's SDCC. Or, on a macro level, How did it take this long for a comic technology firm with these resources to produce original, marquee comics?
Whether in traffic or sales, comic numbers pale when compared to movies, TV and prose. But why should they? What inherently makes the marriage of word and image so different from other communications strata? What's holding it back? The handicaps and risk-aversion may be complex, but it's painfully apparent that we need more than print copies facilitated by the direct market. That suggestion tends be interpreted as a slam against retailers and comic shops. We adore comic shops, but why don't we trust comics to support bigger audiences through multiple formats? Why does comiXology rely on the design of a print product that was never intended to be read on a screen? (Sorry all—Guided View and its fluctuating resolutions aren't doing anyone any aesthetic favors.) Be more than a digital library or a traditional publisher, please. Evolve comics.
I don't have the answers, but Bezos certainly has the budget and minds to ask the right questions. And there's room for an upstart to seep through the cracks—mobile-phone comic subscription service Stela may have faltered, but it was a rare breath of fresh air for a moment. Delight us with what we never knew we wanted. Everyone else is. Sean Edgar
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New Jobs for Adventure Time Artists
The announcement last year that beloved TV show Adventure Time would be wrapping up its run in 2018 is bad news for several reasons, not just because it reduces the overall amount of joy in the world. Sam Alden, Michael DeForge, Seo Kim, Jesse Moynihan and Kris Mukai are just some of the comics folks who've found regular work on the show, and that doesn't take into account the world of actual comics it spawned, which may very well continue after the show concludes. Believe it or not, making independent comics does not pay the bills for the vast majority of creators, and the paychecks the show cut its designers and storyboard artists helped them keep making other work (wonderful, adventurous, innovative work!) on the side. Sure, Adventure Time's success led to a slew of other shows that employed their own creators, many of whom also make comics, so it's not like the rug's being yanked out from under the whole industry. But we still hope its employees find good jobs, with health insurance, and that its finale isn't indicative of a darker future for artists. Hillary Brown
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Nutso Archie Crossovers
Archie Comics has shown a penchant for innovation and experimentation that DC and Marvel could learn from, twisting their timeless teens into ever-weirder versions. This often includes nutso crossovers, like the recent one with the Ramones—but that's not quite bonkers enough. We need more.
1994's Archie Meets the Punisher is still the gold standard of Archie crossovers and the primordial whacko team-up. But 2015's Archie vs. Predator may have one-upped it, thanks to the delicious contrast of Alex de Campi's splattersploitation writing and Fernando Ruiz's traditional Archie art. Archie vs. Sharknado mined a similarly violent, absurd vein.
Times are tough, and America needs something this extreme again. May I suggest:
Archie vs. Battlestar Galactica
Archie vs. Westworld
Archie vs. Dexter
Archie vs. Machete
Archie vs. The Shield's Vic Mackey
Archie vs. Darth Vader
Archie vs. The Raid: Redemption
Archie vs Archer
Don't disappoint us, Archie Comics. We need our Archie, and we want it weird, violent and batshit. Mark Peters
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There's reliable data to suggest that double-shipping comics, in many cases, is an economically viable strategy for publishers to increase their bottom line. And logically, double-shipping makes a certain kind of sense. Fans love Spider-Man, Deadpool and Batman—so why not give them what they want more frequently?
Let's step back for a moment and think about some of the other strategies comic book publishers have employed over the years. First and most obviously is the time-honored price hike. In 1969, when my father was reading comics as a boy, cover prices went up three cents, putting the price of an issue of Justice League at a whopping 15 cents. As the years passed, people like my dad stopped reading comics, along with thousands of others. But the prices continued to increase to make up for the drop in sales. Dollar amounts may have gone up, but unit sales and readership were unequivocally trending down.
Do you remember the variant market that led to the speculation boom and bust in the '90s? The one that almost destroyed Marvel Comics? How many Collectors' Edition Todd McFarlane Spider-Man variant covers do you have sitting in a long box in your basement? Have you cocked your eyebrow at Marvel's commitment of the last few years to both their proprietary Marvel Unlimited platform and the one owned by Amazon/Comixology? I'm no economist, but I believe they call that last one "channel cannibalization."
My point is that taking the easy road to a quick buck is all well and good for quarterly earnings, and double-shipping seems to have had at least some positive effect on issue sales, but what about increasing and retaining long term readership? What about brand maintenance? Most importantly, what of artistic fidelity? Very few human artists can maintain the pace required to double-ship comic issues. This leads to a slew of visually disjointed stories and trades on your shelf that, frankly, have too many artists in them.
I'm personally wishing for the day when "Single-Shipped" becomes a badge of honor on the front cover of a comic book. Jakob Free
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Socially Relevant Mutants
Whether or not there's some Marvel bigwig rerouting creative resources from film properties not owned by parent company Disney…something's not quite right with the X-Men. Marvel has always distinguished its publishing line by making relatable heroes—human gods with the same foibles as its readers. That vulnerability ranges from Jim Starlin's exploration of cosmic violence and faith after the ravages of Vietnam to Stan Lee and Gil Kane tackling drug addiction in Spider-Man.
The X-Men have evolved nicely as one of the most confrontational metaphors for sociological discord, nativism and racism. Creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used the ideological contrast between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X as the crux of Professor X's and Magneto's tension. Writers Grant Morrison and Matt Fraction escalated that paradigm to include transhumanism, sexuality and reproductive rights. It's a property that melds with its times, a fictional osmosis reframing towering debate through a lens of Kevlar and fisticuffs.
What does it means now? I have no clue. Talented writers and artists channel tales of big, blue Egyptian monsters, time travel and poisonous gas clouds. But in an era where the former editor of an anti-Semitic website is now a White House chief strategist and the president-elect called internment camps a "precedent," the X-Men are needed on such a bigger stage. The upcoming ResurreXion event is slated to reinvigorate the property with new creative teams and designs, though most of the attention has focused on costumes and teams that trade in nostalgia. Fingers crossed that these merry mutants reclaim their place as fiction's most relevant symbol of real-world hope. Sean Edgar