RANDOM FANDOM™ with Locusmortis – Creativity versus Corporatisation

In several editions of this column I’ve gone over some of my history with buying and enjoying comics. I hope I’ve been able to shed some light on what comics mean to me.

More than a year ago, I started boycotting Marvel Comics over their treatment of Jack Kirby, his family and other older creators like Gary Friedrich and the late Don Heck and Dave Cockrum. Increasingly though, it’s not just creator rights issues causing me to become disillusioned with Marvel and DC– but how they are treating comics as an art form… And I firmly believe we collect and read an art form worthy of being considered on the same level as Television, Film, Literature, Sculpture, etc. If the French can call comics the 9th Art, why can’t the English-speaking world acknowledge this too?

Bakuman: If you’re not reading this, you should be

A few days ago I got a package of comics in the post. As usual, I read the manga Bakuman first– in this instance, it was Volume 12. In case some of you haven’t been reading the book, Bakuman (by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata– the creators of Death Note) is the story of friends Akito Takagi (aka Shujin) and Mashiro Moritaki (aka Saiko) and their quest to be published in the top Japanese manga magazine Shonen Jump (with current sales of two and a half million copies a week)– and to have one of their stories adapted as an anime.

Anyway, I was reading through it and two scenes really struck me. The first is on pages 54 to 56: The two protagonists are sitting on a park bench, reminiscing about what they were like in school and how they used to dream about becoming mangaka. As the pair talk, they witness a group of young children nearby– running around pretending to be the characters that Shujin and Saiko created in their latest manga. The second scene takes place on pages 66 and 67– where their young assistant Shun Shiratori shows his sample storyboard pages to Shujin (the writer of the pair). Shujin gives Shun an honest appraisal of the pages, plus some constructive and encouraging advice– much in the same vein as Shujin’s editor Hattori had given the duo in the early volumes of Bakuman.

Then, like a eureka moment, it suddenly struck me I was reading a comic with actual character development. When the book started, Shujin and Saiko were 15-year-old boys. By Volume 12, they are 20 years old– having matured and grown both physically and emotionally… And have learned enough from their mistakes to pass on their knowledge.

Spider Man-Whore

Then, like another bolt of lightning (I wasn’t seriously injured or anything, I’m just dramatising for the sake of a written column!), I remembered some conversations on Inveterate Media Junkies about how Spider-man has devolved and regressed as a character… From being an adult to his current man-boy status, where he is like a whore version of Archie Andrews– hooking up with virtually every available female in the 5 boroughs of New York… And losing just about every bit of significant character development he’s had in the last 30 or so years.

As we all know, Marvel’s Joe Quesada wanted to get rid of the Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson marriage. In an epic piece of fanfic realisation, he wanted Petey returned to the character he was during Joey Q’s childhood (with the extra sluttiness, I guess).

Coincidentally, Peter Parker’s regression also suits the corporatisation of mainstream comics– which has really taken root within the Big Two in the last few years. Corporations don’t want change, they just desire to keep pumping out cans of Campbell Soup and Heinz Beans. Creativity, progression and change don’t really matter and are only necessary when profits start falling. Then they simply change the design of the can, with hopes that consumers will think their products are new, different and improved– when it’s really just the same old soup in a new packaging.

Amazing Spider-man Can Does Whatever a Spider Can

Peter Parker is the most obvious and egregious example of this, but its the same for pretty much every character belonging to the two corporate giants. Over at DC Comics, you’ve got an even more epic regression with Hal Jordan and Barry Allen’s resurrections– which effectively resets them by a quarter century (or so) as well. With Disney in charge of Marvel and Paul Levitz shunted out-of-the-way at DC by Time Warner Execs, brand management has become the priority.

Editors, writers and artists are not really guiding the characters’ fates any more. Virtually everything they do is now controlled at the corporate level… And with characters becoming brands to be exploited, you’ll get the illusion of change– but nothing much will actually ever happen. If you want Campbell Soup by the truckload, they’ll be more than happy to give it to you… Just as long as you don’t want too many different flavours. That’s inconvenient and costs them money, which they want to take from you but don’t want to use to promote pesky, less popular products.

Don’t get the impression my increasing disillusion with Marvel & DC means I’m disillusioned about comics in general. Far from it, in fact– my comics budget is maxed out every month with independent books, manga and European books. If you’re getting fed up with the same ol’ Soup and Beans, then there’s lots of stuff still worth getting out there.

Bakuman is just one of many such books and there are many, many more. When you find some, don’t be shy– tell the rest of us about them!

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18 Responses to RANDOM FANDOM™ with Locusmortis – Creativity versus Corporatisation

  1. Insideman says:

    I almost put this pic in your post, LM.

    I often think this is how Marvel sees Mary Jane:

    • Locusmortis says:

      I’m amazed they didn’t have her shacking up with osborne or something so as to really stick the knife into the Peter/Mary-Jane fans

      • Insideman says:

        I agree. The image above says it all. I really feel Marvel only trots out Mary Jane to whore her out when they think they can make a buck. (Good example: The Jackpot character– making fans think it was MJ for months.)

        Don’t even get me started again on Gwen, Norman and the twins.

        For fuck’s sake. When will it ever end?

  2. ed2962 says:

    Another thought provoking article.

  3. wwayne says:

    Spider Man and Black Cat were the leading characters in one of the most beautiful story arcs I’ve ever read. It is rather short (it starts in Amazing Spider Man 226 and ends in the following issue), but every single panel of it is pure awesomeness.
    In that period Spider Man had started to become more and more similar to Batman: the series passed from a sunny setting to a dark one, Peter started to cooperate with a female version of Commissioner Gordon (Jean De Wolff), and, most of all, he developed a detective approach he never had before. His relationship with Black Cat was a part of this project: Black Cat is Marvel’s Catwoman, so the affair between her and Peter deliberately reminded of the one between Batman and Catwoman.
    This magic period ended with the death of Jean De Wolff. She is one of the Spider Man characters who should have been employed more and in a far better way, along with Eddie Brock, Cletus Kasady, Betty Brant and so on.

    • Locusmortis says:

      Thats exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about, characters being allowed to grow and mature and learn from their mistakes. I’m not as familiar with Spidey stories from pre-1988 so I had to do some checking on it, its no surprise to see its from one of my favourite writers Roger Stern

  4. J. says:

    One thing I found interesting in Bakuman as of late was the crossover between the two manga that Eiji Nizuma was working on, Crow and +Natural. At first the 2 manga were getting a lot of votes from the readers and were very high in the rankings. Then only after a just a couple months or so of the crossover their ranking started to fall because the readers were getting tired of it. Editorial steps in and tells Iwase, writer of +Natural, it would be good to wrap up the crossover.

    Here in the States that’s all the Big 2 publishers have been doing for more than a decade. Crossover after crossover after crossover. I’ve been saying this for years but no wonder the industry is in the shitter. I know that a crossover in manga is a lot more difficult to do but the fact that the readers were already tired of it after a couple of months says something about that industry (even though I know Bakuman is mostly fiction).

    • Locusmortis says:

      Bakuman may be in large part fiction (real life just isn’t that interesting usually,) but there is a core of truth, its just been amplified very considerably. I’d love to know if Nizuma is even tangentially based on someone real though

      The crossover was interesting alright, it did feel like the editors in Japan have a better understanding of their readers than Marvel and DC do. As we’ve seen many times Marvel editorial seems to have a positive disdain for their readers, especially those readers who have “betrayed” them by dropping their product and having the audacity to speak out about it.

  5. “my comics budget is maxed out every month with independent books, manga and European books.”
    Independents in many areas of media (music, books, comics) seem to be the last haven for new ideas. I think your insight is spot on about how large corporations grab onto what they feel is a safe marketing formula–which includes story and character manipulation–then repeat it ad (think double entendre!) nauseum.
    Well said!

    • Locusmortis says:

      Thanks H, Even up to fairly 10 years ago the business of writing, drawing and editing comics was left to the comics people, now so much of it is being dictated from corporate level which has a tendancy towards doing whats been seen to be successful before. I feel that the current situation is more than just people on the internet complaining, theres a heartfelt swell of people who are concerned and uneasy about how things in the creative industries are going. I think it also can tie into things like the Occupy movement and anti-globalisation protests and the like.

      With the comics, film, music, tv and book business being mostly sewn up by mega-corporations, most of the exciting stuff is being done by musicians self-releasing stuff, indie comics and book companies etc, its up to us as consumers (those of us who care about quality and diversity) to not only spend our dollars/euros/whatevers wisely but to make our opinions known.

  6. Matthew Guy says:

    I have been off the Spidey can of soup since the first arc of Big Time ended. I tried 1 year of DCNU don’t to just 8 titles now & even w/ indies I am on a low title count these days around 15 a month. Saga, Fatale, Fables & Fairest are great reads in my stack on a monthly basis. However like Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, I will revisit Spidey for a quick visit starting w/ issues #698-700 since Hickman’s FF is ending soon. I just want to see what has & hasn’t changed in Parker’s life. Waid’s Daredevil still grabs my attention every month and is by far a top notch read in its own right. As always thanks for sharing your insights & views Insideman..

    • Matthew Guy says:

      Edit:
      down to just 8 DC & Vertgo titles monthly.

    • wwayne says:

      I love Ed Brubaker, as I love any comic that has the “pulpy noir feel” his works usually have. Despite all this, I’m not enjoying “Fatale” very much. I bought the TP, and I immediately thought it was rather hard to understand its plot, so I stopped reading it after some pages (and this is something I never do, both for comics and novels). I was very tired when I read it, so maybe it depends on this, but I don’t think so.
      Can you list the DC & Vertigo titles you are reading?

    • J. says:

      Actually, Locusmortis wrote this post, which he does about once a month. Ian was the one who posted it. :)

      • Locusmortis says:

        Hey yeah, I missed that first time round, thanks for pointing that out Jose! I don’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted by that! :P

        • Matthew Guy says:

          Oh, sorry about that LM. As for the titles I am reading currently reading from DC/Vertigo are — Superman & Action (I’m a Superman fan for 30 years), Batman, Batwoman, Justice League. When Justice League International ends after the annual I will switch over to the Tony Daniel free Detective Comics for the creator of Chew taking his chance at writing the other mainstream Bat book. From Vertigo, I read Fables & Fairest monthly & get the deluxe editions. In trades I get Scalped & get American Vampire in HCs. plus the Fables spinoff books.

          • wwayne says:

            I’m a western fan, and the western comics/novels/movies I enjoy most are the ones which tell the story from the point of view of the Natives. Also, I loved Aaron’s run on the Punisher. For this 2 reasons, Scalped is a comic I will surely read in the future. Now I can’t, because of my narrow budget.
            The New 52 comics you are reading are very good, but you are also missing some wonderful DC titles, like Blue Beetle and Animal Man.
            What makes Animal Man so special is the way Lemire deconstructs the superhero mythology. For example:
            1) Superheroes tend to monopolize the attention of the reader, while Animal Man is constantly upstaged by the supporting characters of the series.
            2) Superhero comics usually don’t give much importance to the private life of their main character (they tend to focus only on the “costume on” part); in Animal Man, on the contrary, the private life of Buddy is the main theme of the series. In fact, it is rather infrequent to see Buddy with his costume on.
            3) Buddy is not perfect, and is not perceived as perfect by other people: in fact, in the 11th issue, when he tells his wife “It’s going to be okay”, she replies “Don’t give me anything of that superhero crap, Buddy.” That cut and thrust perfectly enlightens the philosophy of the series.

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