The mob has spoken: Creators trump characters (mostly)

by  in Comic News Comment
The mob has spoken: Creators trump characters (mostly)

Our informal poll last week about whether it’s a familiar creator or a familiar character that draws readers to a new title received more than 100 responses. That makes it about as accurate as some of the regular polls tracking the U.S. presidential race these days.

In case you missed it, in extrapolating from Kurt Busiek’s similar poll, I asked for people to chime in on what primarily gets them to throw down their money for a comic: creators or characters. Of course, I laid out my bias right away, and not everyone’s answers were completely clear cut, so we’ve probably got a pretty significant margin of error. But I was pleased to see that the majority of commenters either put creators first, or considered both when making a decision.

Of the 112 responses at the time of this writing, 85 said they either put creators first or relied on some kind of mix of creators and characters. Of that group, it was evenly split on creators (43) and a mix (42). Just 25 said characters held more weight than creators. While a third option wasn’t given in my original post, it was good to read about other factors that influence comics purchasing. A handful mentioned concept, theme, genre and, I guess, marketing. And two said story, which I guess means they read comics in the store before paying for them.

A number of people observed that characters, specifically superhero and sci-fi/fantasy characters, first brought them to comics. As they matured as readers and/or grew tired of the cyclical nature of those stories, they followed specific creators whose work spoke to them, even if that was to creator-owned books or books at other publishers. Many indicated that after going elsewhere they still keep tabs on one or more of those original comics either by still buying every issue or occasionally trying story arcs with a new creative team. It’s another indicator for creators that the strategy of building an audience at Marvel or DC Comics and then drawing a percentage of them to creator-owned books works. Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker and Mark Millar, among others, have all used a version of this strategy.

Many readers cited specific characters that were the exception to otherwise creator-focused buying habits. That’s certainly the case for me: I’ll always check out a New Warriors comic because that was the first superhero book I regularly read. Similarly, I’m always keeping an eye on Transformers comics, even if I’m only occasionally actively reading them. Those characters (properties, really) come with a nostalgic trump card for me. Even if I know it’s probably not going to be very good, they have that soft spot in my heart that builds up a tolerance or forgiveness. If it’s bad, I eventually give up and wait to hear about the next take on the characters, but even if they lose me they still had me at the ever-important sampling stage.

One takeaway from this is that it’s OK to be pulled in by nostalgia, especially when reading those comics leads to other comics. There will always be the superhero versus indie camps, but the larger takeaway from this informal poll is that more and more readers seem to be able to enjoy a wider spectrum of comics instead of huddling in one corner. Partaking in that greater variety is a much more enjoyable place to be. After all, pop music can be fun, but I like jazz and blues, too. Big summer Hollywood blockbusters can be a kick, but I also like documentaries and foreign films. Comics have that same diversity and more. It’s encouraging that more readers might be taking advantage of such a flexible art form.