So I came across this comic a few weeks ago from Non Sequitur:
And it had me thinking. In a lot of ways, it seemed a bit obvious in retrospect — and then watching the episode of South Park (a NSFW moral to the story here) with the Jonas Brothers really rattled it around in my head. Are comic book fans getting exploited for fantasy, whether it be power, sexual, or otherwise? Is this a willing symbiosis? Is it a fair one?
Now, there’s been a lot of discussion regarding the “fantasy” economy that we comic consumers seem to inhabit. Don’t believe me? The Dark Knight is the #4 best-selling film worldwide. As we reported several months ago, copies of Amazing Spider-Man with Barack Obama garnered enormous lines, and sold into third and fourth and fifth printings. With the recession as bad as it ever was, Heidi MacDonald notes that tickets for the San Diego Comic Con are still selling like hotcakes, and you know as well as I do that many participants are coming from outside the San Diego area.
So it’s obvious that fans are willing to shell out the cash — now the question is, looking how content producers respond. The “geek” audience has been widely coveted, with genre spectaculars coming out every May (like I discussed awhile back in Dial H for History). Radical Comics, meanwhile, has combined Hollywood and comics to create properties that span both mediums. Meanwhile, on the TV side of things, Comedy Central has been trying to mine that territory with Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire (not to mention Hugh Jackman going on the Daily Show tonight), and even Stan Lee himself was used to promote Who Wants To Be A Superhero. And let’s not forget the celebration of geek culture known as the Big Bang Theory, which recently hit Blog@ and the Mothership when it showcased Battle for the Cowl.
Now, one could certainly argue that fans are going to shows that are catered to their tastes (and a lot of people would agree with you). But I look at this a bit more cynically — I think the real hook that fans are falling to is that of validation and compulsion. Validation, in the fact that many can remember (I sure can, and I’m a pretty young guy) when their habit was seen as “uncool.” But now that comic book films are being fought over like oil fields for summer tentpole features, it’s a cathartic feeling to know you’re in the know when you’re waiting several blocks to get into X-Men Origins: Wolverine. You can finally explain the intricacies of the Weapon X program, and your friends will thank you for it!
All right, so perhaps I’m being a bit cynical on that front. But the other hook — compulsion — is the root of the “fantasy economy” I discussed earlier. We hear all the time about completists, people who must buy every issue of Action Comics or Amazing Spider-Man, no matter how much they love or hate it. There’s also the element of impulse spending, whether it be on a new title or hard-to-find collectibles. (I’ve been guilty of it myself — I have a prop Thor hammer on my TV, and it takes a lot of restraint on my part to hew to my $15-a-week budget when I buy books to review for Best Shots.) But if you’re a Batman junkie, and Warner Bros. is offering a high-profile, and POPULAR fix? Well, that’s what the movie studios and comic companies are anticipating — that readers will buy and buy across genres and mediums.
But here’s the real debate: is this fair? One the one hand, comics, even with the recent price hikes over at the Big Two, are still much more bang for your buck than a movie (and sometimes even video games, especially if you’re trying to keep to a budget). They are mass printed, and come out on a blisteringly fast basis compared to film and video games (and could certainly go toe-to-toe with some television stations). Does giving money towards these projects — no matter what the medium — help comics as a whole?
Indeed, there is that element of choice, which is the heart of this matter: if you love comics, you buy them, and hopefully you buy what you buy because you like the product and not because you feel obligated. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, I really have no answer as to the rightness or wrongness of the situation: only that it exists. I dig comics, and that’s why I write about them and, more importantly, buy the books. What do you think, Rama readers? Are we being targeted too much? Is such a thing possible? Sound off!