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The Middle Ground #3: Whatever Happened To The Mainstream?

by  in Comic News Comment

I keep getting caught up in thoughts about mainstream comics. I might be imagining it, but I seem to remember a movement some years ago that tried to rebrand certain indie publishers (Maybe just one publisher? For some reason, I’m convinced that it was Oni Press, but I don’t want to tar them with this brush if I’m wrong) as The Real Mainstream, or The New Mainstream, or some variation on that idea. The thinking, as far as I remember it, was that what we call “mainstream comics” – i.e., Marvel and DC – don’t really reflect mainstream pop culture, and that the books that do come from the publishers somewhat ostracized by the comics industry. Nowadays, of course, I’m not sure that you can really make the same argument.

It’s not that publishers like Oni or IDW or BOOM! or whomever aren’t continuing to put out material that’s in tune with whatever pop zeitgeist is out there at any given opportunity, because they are (Albeit with different methodologies; Oni by, for the most part, creating all-new series and stories that reflect or anticipate trends, IDW by licensing movies and TV shows like Transformers or True Blood. Sure, they sometimes swap – The very idea of Oni’s upcoming Yo Gabba Gabba comic makes my head spin as much as it makes my heart swell, I have to admit – but generally, it’s a relatively safe rule of thumb), but more that… Well, you can’t really discount superheroes as part of the popular culture conversation anymore. I mean, seriously: Who in the US isn’t at least considering going to see Iron Man 2 (International fans: I wouldn’t presume your desires, now that the movie’s been out in many countries for the last week or so)?

In one sense, I’ve got no problem with that, especially when the movies are as good as Iron Man (or, for that matter, the comics as good as Fraction and Larroca’s Invincible Iron Man). But on the other… Ehh. The problem with the increasing prevalence of superhero movies is that it reinforces the idea for non-comic readers that Comics = Superheroes and that, with the rare exception of a Maus or a Persepolis, that’s all they can be. Why wasn’t more made of The Losers‘ comic book origins, when that movie came out, for example? Why don’t many people seem to think of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World as a comic book movie? Because they’re not superhero movies.

I’m all for making the argument that not all comics are the same; I hate it when people ask me why I have no interest in seeing Kick-Ass or whatever when I read comics, not realizing that that’s like asking someone why they aren’t interested in The Notebook because, hey, you read novels, don’t you? And I’m also not complaining that The Losers‘ underperformance at the box office won’t make people expect failure for Scott Pilgrim just because they share a source medium. But at the same time… They’re comics movies! Just like Road To Perdition! And V For Vendetta! And 20th Century Boys! And and and… Well, you get the picture. There is a “Real Mainstream” in comics, and it’s full of wonderful material that would and should appeal to comic faithful and comic newcomers alike. But, as the real mainstream comes to resemble the comics mainstream, the idea of showing the outside world that there’s more to comics than just superheroes sometimes feels like it’s getting lost in the shuffle.