The War Between Indie and Big Two Publishers
In the world of comics there have always been two juggernauts that have held most of the sales and readership. They’ve created some of the most memorable characters from our childhoods and from our popular fiction, and they’ve remained the ultimate sign of accomplishment when a writer or artist is brought on to handle one or more of their characters. I’m referring of course to Marvel Comics and DC Comics, which hold strong to characters like Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America, and Superman. But there are other publishers, artists, and writers out there who put out their own material alongside the hero books of the Big Two. These independent publishers and creators have more freedom to put out stories ranging from drama to romantic horror without having to worry about fitting it into the grander scale of the Marvel or DC Universe. Lately, however, there’s been some tension from fans over the big two and indie books. So much so that it’s almost like a line has been drawn in the sand and no one can enjoy talking comics with anyone else. So I beg the question – can’t we all just read and get along?
I grew up on superhero comics. I can remember taking my allowance down to the local comic book shop and dropping dollars and quarters on back issues of The Untold Tales of Spider-Man or one-shots of Batman and Detective Comics. But at the same time I was reading heroes who weren’t part of Marvel or DC. I often bought issues of Spawn from Image Comics, who, for lack of a better word, were more “indie” than the big two. But still, it was a superhero story about a man who had gone to hell and come back to be reunited with the love of his life, defying odds and saving the innocent. All I knew were the pages and panels of heroes and villains, costumes and monsters, and tales of science fiction in deep space. Imagine my surprise when years later I stumble upon the world of Japanese manga and find that you can tell ANY kind of story in comic form. I suddenly realized that drama, slice-of-life, and any other genre I could think of could be converted to pages and panels. Someone who might not like superheroes doesn’t have to worry about not finding a comic for them, because there’s a whole world of other genres out there for them to delve into. This revelation has been slowly spreading, but instead of bringing readers together it seems to be driving them apart.
Most indie books deal with dramatic, comedic, or off-kilter subjects and characters when it comes to the superhero stories of Marvel and DC. A book like Not Simple by Natsume Ono deals with the journey of a young man from England walking across America trying to find his long lost sister. No monsters, no superheroes, and no science fiction twists. It’s simply a drama from cover to cover, and it’s wonderful that way. So how could something like this drive people apart? Well, I guess you could say that it’s like people who think that the only good music worth listening to is the kind that no one else has heard of before. The music snobs who believe that the best stuff is the thing that isn’t in the mainstream and doesn’t have to do with power pop, rock, rap, or popular country. They like the things that are being released on small labels and are being played in small gatherings with other people who enjoy that same type of music. The same can be said about the diehard fans of indie comics who think that the superhero and popular books are just for people who don’t know any better. But the people who read superhero books are no better. They think that without superpowers or monsters that comics would be boring and no fun to read. It’s a basic fear of something different, and that has always driven people apart.
Both types of publishing can give way to beautiful stories. So I’m not here to argue one side or the other. I enjoy any comic book that’s good. Period. I don’t care what it’s about as long as it’s good. I don’t always like horror movies, but I love when they’re done a certain way and they’re good to me. I’d never go see a Friday the 13th remake, but I’d watch John Carpenter’s The Thing until my DVD player caught fire. And the point I’m really trying to make is this – don’t bash it till you try it. I don’t like every single superhero book that Marvel and DC puts out, just like I don’t enjoy every original genre or concept that indie publishers and creators put on the shelves or in stores. It’s all about embracing the medium as it is. It’s something all on its own, a mixture of art and text, that really can’t be mimicked no matter how hard Hollywood and TV land try.
So next time you see someone reading the type of comic or graphic novel you don’t normally partake in, don’t judge, just embrace the fact that someone else is trying to keep comics alive.