The CBR News Staff is back with the second part of their analysis of the comic book industry trends of 2007. Our writers talk with and about many of the industry's movers and shakers throughout the year and read enough comic books to choke a wookie, so hopefully you'll find it enlightening as they share the trends and patterns they've noticed over the past twelve months.
In Part One, staffers discussed the most visible and controversial trend of 2007, the Crossover Event. With that out of the way, George Tramountanas, Dave Richards, Emmett Furey and Andy Khouri return for a look at some of the other important trends of the year, including the influence on comics of creators from outside the industry, the relationship between comic books and music, zombies and much more.
New Voices from Film, Television and Prose Fiction
Last year we observed an increase in the amount of mainstream comic projects authored by creators who've already made names for themselves in other mediums. This scenario has indeed achieved trend status and may be on its way to becoming a phenomenon.
Novelists are the most visible creators working in this trend, and Stephen King's Dark Tower comic project is the most popular of such projects. But beyond mere adaptations, we're seeing crime novelists like Duane Swierczynski writing crime comics like The Punisher: Force of Nature, and science fiction authors like Orson Scott Card writing Iron Man. But we're also seeing authors of different specialties embrace the medium as a whole. Jonathan Letham (Fortress of Solittude) is writing Omega: The Unknown, Brad Meltzer (The Book of Fate) wrote Justice League of America, Tad Williams (the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn fantasy series) wrote Aquaman, and Jodi Picoult (My Sister's Keeper) wrote Wonder Woman.
Authors like Richard K. Morgan (Altered Carbon), Charlie Huston (Already Dead), Denise Mina (the Garnethill trilogy), and Brad Meltzer have proven they can tell captivating tales in both prose and graphic novel formats. The trend will continue in 2008, with writers like crime novelist Duane Swierczynski bringing his unique voice to Marvel Comics' Cable.
Really, this door was opened years ago by television and film creators like Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon, and a host of other writers like Daniel and Charles Knauf (Carnivale), Marc Guggenheim (Law & Order, Brothers & Sisters), Allan Heinberg (The OC, Grey's Anatomy), Michael Green (Heroes) and Mike Benson (Entourage) have all tried their hand at the four-color world.
These creators have all managed to tell some fascinating stories, but their Hollywood day jobs often meant their comic work would be late. But so far, the stories they've told have been worth the delay.
Some people feel all these new voices coming into the field are hurting comics by taking away work from established creators. It's the opposite -- they're helping the industry. The competition from new creators inspires established creators to bring their A-game.
The best thing about new creators coming into comics is their potential to bring new readers with them. Want to get a skeptical reader interested in comics? Give them a graphic novel by a New York Times bestselling author like Brad Meltzer or Jodi Picoult. Or if they're a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, give them one of the Buffy: Season Eight collections or a book of Joss Whedon's work on Astonishing X-Men.
Indeed, the pop-cultural infusion of comics goes beyond novelists. We saw this year the comic book industry open its doors to influences from the greater pop culture community and its many diverse scenes. Popular comedians -- long known for their fondness for our graphic medium -- have even found their way onto comics store shelves in 2007. RENO 911!'s Thomas Lennon contributed to Eric Powell's The Goon: Noir anthology, as did Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn.
Actors Ed Burns and Thomas Jane have launched their own comic creations in Dock Walloper and Bad Planet, respectively. Film producer Jeff Katz has co-written DC's Booster Gold to enormous success, screenwriter John Rogers made Blue Beetle one of the publisher's most well-reviewed titles, Superman: The Animated Series alumni Alan Burnett is currently working on Superman/Batman, and, of course, Batman: The Animated Series writer Paul Dini has been writing Detective Comics for some time now.
Yes, the influx of writers from other mediums, film, TV and novel, is certainly trending upwards, and they have their licensed properties from those other mediums in tow. Joss Whedon's Buffy and Angel have both found new homes -- and a new audience -- as graphic novels, as have Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series.
There are certainly many upsides to this, not the least of which being the influx of readers who have never before picked up a comic book. On the other hand, it is somewhat disheartening to see licensed properties eclipse the sales of many of the medium's mainstays out of the gate.
This speaks to a potentially unsettling trend, the loss of the distinctiveness of the comics medium -- not just the types of stories, but also the way those stories are told. Besides the licensed properties competing with original comics work, the boon of comic book movies at the box office has resulted in a paradigm shift in the eyes of many would-be comic book creators: their comics, rather than the be-all-and-end-all, become a means to an end, the end, in this case, being a film deal.
And not only should creators get back to the idea of creating comics for comics' sake, so too should they focus on telling stories that are tailored to the strengths of the medium. Strengths that are slowly dying out as average mainstream comic books grow more and more to resemble movie storyboards. The language of comics, things like a more or less standardized panel size and grid pattern, and the efficiency and interactivity of leaving some things to happen in between panels, etc., has steadily been replaced by movie techniques like splash pages, cutaways and reaction shots.
I'd say that the continuing trend of decompressed storytelling in comics that many attribute to writing for the trade has as much to do with the medium's adoption of the language of film, both in form and in story length. A medium that was once all about one-shots has become all about story arcs. And don't get me wrong, I personally prefer serialized stories to done-in-one stories as a rule. I'm not saying there should be a return to the old ways to the exclusion of all else, I'm just suggesting that the medium might benefit from remembering its roots.
Books like Warren Ellis' Fell and Matt Fraction's Casanova, for instance, manage to embrace the classic comics' technique of a nine-panel grid while at the same time pioneering the ambitious Image Slimline format, a denser comics experience that's cheaper to produce and passes the savings on to the readers. So while I know we can't turn back the clock, and fully believe that we shouldn't were it even possible, I do think fans and creators alike could stand to be reminded about the things that made the comics medium distinctive in the first place.
Music & Comics
I suspect 2007 will be remembered as the year music really started to change American comics. Musician Gerard Way of the rock band My Chemical Romance created The Umbrella Academy, a Dark Horse comic illustrated by the esteemed Gabriel Ba. It's no vanity project, either, as fans will tell you.
Indie rockers Belle & Sebastian released a comic through Image. Coheed and Cambria's series The Amory Wars ties-in directly to their music. Rapper MF Grimm embraced comics even more fully, using the medium to tell his incredible autobiography in the Sentences graphic novel from Vertigo.
Even when musicians themselves aren't creating comics, the music they make fueled many of 2007's standout books. Indeed, whereas most comics have historically been inspired by other comics, we saw this year a great many comic books inspired primarily by music.
Image Comics has been leading the charge in this area, publishing work like Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie's Phonogram, a fantasy book about music. McKelvie's own Suburban Glamour also screams of contemporary music, much more so than any classic comics influence. Casanova author Matt Fraction has gone on record as to the influence of his iPod on the creation of that beloved title, and Image's PopGun, a humongous, 450-page anthology is billed as the ultimate comics mixtape -- adorning itself in music iconography and even featuring Madman on the cover listening to headphones.
Furthering the trend, 2008 will see the release of musician Tori Amos' Comic Book Tattoo, an anthology of stories inspired by her songs.
This marriage of music and comics -- in any of the forms discussed here -- is entirely good for the industry, as it's a flavor previously relegated to the most indie of indies. The union also brings with it much needed vitality. Books like Suburban Glamour and PopGun and Umbrella Factory speak a language known to far more people than even those superhero comics written by best-selling novelists -- the language of youth.
Andy totally hit the nail on the head about the rising trend of musicians and music creating and inspiring comics. A wide variety of musicians have been declaring their love of comics for years and we're starting to see a crossover. Anthrax's song I Am The Law was their tribute to Judge Dredd. Tori Amos mentions Morpheus and his creator Neil Gaiman in her song Tear in Your Hand, and provided the introduction to the hugely popular Death: The High Cost of Living graphic novel.
The Wu-Tang Clan have name-checked a variety of comic characters in a number of their songs -- they even had their own comic series. The RZA, the organizer and mastermind of the Wu-Tang Clan, had legendary illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz do the cover for his solo album Bobby Digital and included a chapter on comics in his book The Wu-Tang Manual.
So it should be interesting to see this trend develop more in 2008. I'm curious to see what kind of new ideas musicians might bring to comics. Imagine a kung-fu or crime series done by the RZA, or a series from the mind of author, spoken word performer, and punk rock legend Henry Rollins?
From The Goon: Noir to the robots-only 24Seven Vol. 2 to PopGun to Flight to Postcards to Marvel Comics Presents to Savage Tales to Awesome: The Indie Comics Spinner Rack Anthology, these short story showcases are here to stay. Not in recent memory have there been so many opportunities for comic fans to introduce themselves to new creative voices, nor have there ever been so many opportunities for new creative voices to find themselves said fans.
Can we call zombies a trend? Because, my God, has that been played out. Can someone tell me why I would want a zombie variant cover that has no bearing on the story inside?
This is not a new trend by any means; actually, this is a perennial one.
Possibly feeling burnt by fans for trying to explain the lateness of Civil War in 2006, Marvel has remained largely silent about late books such as Spider-Man: One More Day. Of course, it doesn't help when the late artist is the Editor-in-Chief as well.
When DC said 52 was going to be a year without Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, fans didn't realize the publisher was being literal -- of course, neither did the publisher. Delays of all sorts plagued most of DC's flagship titles. But instead of ignoring the problem, DC found an interesting solution -- publishing their books out of order. This comic strip by creator Michael Parkinson illustrates the DC solution rather well.
I understand the business logic behind DC's decisions, but the frustration from readers and retailers about this is huge. A retailer who anticipates selling 100 copies of a Geoff Johns/Richard Donner Action Comics issue gets their order thrown out of whack when it's substituted by a Fabian Nicieza fill-in (not that Nicieza isn't a fine writer).
The notion of Fan Entitlement was discussed in 2006's Year-End Round-Up, but I don't believe that applies here. My point is that lateness hurts retailers and does damage to our weekly comics industry. The trade paperback and graphic novel will always continue to exist (and hopefully thrive), but if we want our comic shops -- where we make our weekly visits -- to exist and thrive as well, we need comics on a regular basis.
Here is a trend that pleases the heck out of me. Publishers of all kinds are releasing both prestige as well as affordable collections of previously published material. And why shouldn't they? It's product that the publishers have already paid for, and if it's quality, they should want it around.
Image has the Hembeck Archive Omnibus and the Noble Causes Archive, DC is finally getting around to collecting Starman in order, and Marvel, who've always had their Essentials line, now has their cool Omnibus line as well (with Gerber's Howard the Duck coming soon!). Oni is doing us all a favor by collecting Queen and Country in an affordable format, and Dark Horse has thrown together their licensed properties (Buffy, Indiana Jones, and Aliens) into nifty, inexpensive packages.
Many of these series were items may fans were on the fence about, but these low-priced collections are impossible to say no to. A round of applause to all publishers out there for this!
Our CBR staffers have thrown out lots of ideas and observations from the past year. Whether you agree or disagree, it should be clear that our industry is continuing to change and evolve. Visit the CBR forums to contribute your thoughts and views on the trends discussed here (we'd love to hear them!), and come back soon to read our staff's Best of 2007 lists. As The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy would surely agree, they're our Best. Lists. Ever.
Now discuss this story in CBR's Community forum.