So, are the readers the real editors like Stan Lee always claimed?
Well, yeah, in the broad sense of things. you decide whether a book lives or dies by deciding whether you'll purchase it or not. The fact that so many readers buy X-Men or Spider-Man or Superman or this year's unwieldy crossover helps the publishers determine whether they'll do more or less books featuring X-Men or Spider-Man or Superman or if there will be an unwieldy crossover next year.
Some years back, the quality started slipping on the unwieldy crossovers that were popping up like pimples throughout the industry. There were too many of them and they were getting increasingly less special, so publishers stopped producing them at such a frantic pace. You hated having runs of your favorite books interrupted in order to accommodate yet another unwieldy crossover every few months, it seems. The readers spoke - the publishers reacted.
When it became apparent that readers weren't going to support five Superman titles, DC axed a couple of them.
When a Spider-Man book or story loses its steam, it's terminated as well. When readers reacted negatively in record numbers to "The Clone Saga," the powers-that-be revised their plans. When readers rejected the retroactive revisions in "Spider-Man: Chapter One," it was all but ignored in the months that followed.
As popular as the X-Men are, they've left a tangle of terminated titles by the trail over the years. From "X-Men: The Hidden Years" to the "New Mutants" to "X-Force" to "X-Factor" to "Bishop" to "Cable" to "Jubilee" and dozens more, mutants have taken a tumble by the truckload. As much as we all equate the X-Men with success, Marvel's merry mutants have had far more false starts and failures than Nova, Sub-Mariner, Prez and Aquaman combined.
If you guys respond to gimmick covers, you'll get gimmick covers by the carload. If you wake up tomorrow and start buying Westerns or Romance books, everybody will start pumping out Western and Romance books like crazy.
So, yeah, in a way you really do call the shots.
But only in very broad terms.
If you decided tomorrow that you don't like my lettering on "Savage Dragon," you can't force any change on me. You can write letters, sure, you can bitch about it, sure, but your real power comes when you decide to buy a book or not buy a book. If my funky lettering is enough of an obstacle that you just can't bring yourself to purchase "Savage Dragon," your only option is to stop buying the book. You can't make small editorial changes. That has to come from us.
The thing is, there's no real consensus out there. For every reader who says he likes something there are others who insist that they don't. Editors aren't going to fire an individual creator if they're getting support from a large segment of the comic book buying community. A short while back a number of readers (accompanied by a legion of trolls) jumped on the "I hate Chuck Austen" bandwagon and badmouthed his work to beat the band. But as long as readers continued to purchase the books he produced, there was no reason for publishers to show Chuck the door.
There are other, far-less talented creators that are far more deserving of your ire, who are, apparently, loathed by millions and whose work is routinely ridiculed, but they too will continue to find employment as long as enough readers show up to "watch the train wreck."
As long as you show up to watch the train wreck, they'll keep smacking trains into each other. When you buy a comic book your voice is heard and what you're saying is, "Hey - make more of these."
You can't please everybody.
That much I know. And fans don't really want what they say they want anyway, so it's a real guessing game trying to figure things out if you're trying to appease the funnybook-buying Gods.
Fans were not exactly clamoring for Fantasy books, but they sure bought a lot of copies of Joe Madureira's "Battle Chasers." Fans were not exactly clamoring for crime fiction, but they sure bought a lot of copies of Frank Miller's "Sin City." Fans bellyache and bitch and complain that "all the publishers put out is superhero books" and yet look at the top 100 - they're almost all superhero books and when people try to do something other than superhero books, readers don't support them (the exceptions being "Battle Chasers" and "Sin City").
So, you say, you want big names on the off genre books, but that's not entirely the case either. When George Perez steps away from superheroes to do something else -- as he has several times -- most readers ignore it. When Jim Lee strayed from superheroes to do "Divine Right," most readers could not care less. Frank Miller's "300" was not exactly a huge success when it came out.
Determining what it is that you want is no easy task.
And, again, you can't please everybody.
Take this column, for example. I think of it as being a place where I can pretty much say whatever strikes me at the time. I generally don't mull things over a whole hell of a lot before I type them out. It's pretty stream of consciousness stuff. If I decide to write a whole column about how hidden tracks on CDs are a pain in the ass because listeners have to endure long periods of total silence and, frankly, that gag hasn't been clever since the Beatles stuck "Her Majesty" on the end of "Abbey Road" - Ican do that. But some folks have gone out of their way to get bent out ofshape about something innocuous that they intentionally misinterpreted in order to get all fired up! It's simply impossible for me to write much of anything without getting somebody's knickers in a twist and if I did manage to pull that off on a regular basis, chances are folks would stop reading this altogether because it was "too boring."
While I haven't exactly been "taking requests," there have been several instances where fans made suggestions that I've followed up on. A fan suggested having Rapture fight She-Dragon and that seemed like a dandy idea so I did it in "Savage Dragon" #23. Another was bemoaning staged events at Marvel. He was complaining that Marvel would create these cool new realities like in "The Age of Apocalypse" and then ditch them and go back to the old, boring reality. He wondered why nobody ever created a new reality and then stuck with it. So, I created a new reality, stuck with it, and destroyed the old reality and that upset more than a few readers, who would have preferred that I not "forever alter the world that we knew" and get back to the old world that readers were familiar with from day one.
But I made the effort. I gave it a shot and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
"Taking requests" is not always the best option. It was suggested that I have Dragon run for President, but that didn't pan out the way that I would have liked thanks, in part, to people in the Republican party in the real world who carried out the villain's plot that I had concocted for my comic book. With the election having been stolen once more (who says a sequel needs a new plot?) in Ohio, due to hacked voting machines and discarded ballots, the plot that I'd set in motion for my fictional reality had been played out in the real world and it took the punch out of my yarn.
"Yeah, yeah - your side lost, get over it." I hear you say, but that's like having a neighbor steal your car and tell you to "get over it" on a much grander scale.
In any case, it made for a few rocky issues of my comic book.
The lesson here is that you can't simply take every suggestion and run with it or you're going to get yourself into one hell of a bind. And there are some suggestions that, simply put, aren't terribly good ideas to begin with.
And while we'd all like to do work which a large audience responded positively to, that can't always be the case. For every fan pleased as punch that Brian Michael Bendis is writing a million books, there are others out there bellyaching about it. There will always be vocal trolls out there spreading their negative opinions about absolutely everything. Badmouthing every creative change in every book, crapping on every announcement, mocking every book, pooh-poohing every story line, ridiculing every movie based on rumor and a two-minute trailer and shouting down anybody that attempts to do something positive.
These trolls that seldom leave the comfort of their parents' basement don't represent the buying public. They seldom purchase anything, but exist instead to rain on others' parades while contributing nothing of any worth or value. Often these vocal nitwits are perceived as being the audience to those not paying attention and that's a real mistake. You see, there's no pleasing these counterfeit fans because they aren't fans in the first place. At best, they're voyeurs, getting their rocks off reading comics that they downloaded off the Internet for free, but as often they simply don't read anything other than press releases and posts from their fellow trolls, bickering about the state of the industry. You can't please these folks because they don't buy comics regardless of what you do to appease them. So these guys demand the return of a favorite writer to a favorite book and praise the editors when it happens - that that doesn't mean they'll actually purchase these books when the time comes. We've seen the triumphant return of writer after writer on book after book and time after time the triumph ends in tragedy as those books rot on the shelves. These guys don't follow through. (Which is not to say that every person that posts on a website is a non-reader, mind you, but often those that post the most, buy the least).
Is there a solution?
But it's going to take some work on the part of you, the faithful readers who actually plunk down your nickels to purchase these pulse-pounding periodicals on a regular basis. You need to let your voices be heard. And I know, I know - you have a job and a life - you don't have the kind of free time that a basement-dwelling, freeloading troll has, but if you want the kind of comics you want, it's important that you speak up and lend your voice to the chorus of real fans out there willing to share your opinions and let us all know what you'd really like to see and read.
Right now, the only voice of yours we can hear is that of your wallet and that voice has been made clear enough but, like I said, it speaks in the broadest sense. It tells only part of the story. It's time you take back the Internet - spread the word of books you love and shout down the trolls that don't purchase anything but speak the loudest. Got a favorite book? Tell people about it! Go from message board to message board and let people know. Be intelligent and articulate and get the word out that comics are great and can be great. Comics are worth reading and it's up to all of us to spread the word!
You are the real editors! We exist to feed your hunger. We want to produce the kinds of comics that you want to read, but you need to tell us what those comics are! Your silence isn't helping! We want you to be engrossed and involved and entertained and enthralled. We want you to be coming back for more month after month. We want to make more good comics. We want to be able to continue to make a living doing the work we love to do.
There are good books coming out and plenty of good ones in the works. There are tons of cool new stuff and tons of cool old stuff getting collected into trade paperbacks. It's the best of the old and new! It's a great time to be a comic book reader! But it could be even better if we all let our voices be heard and let those calling the shots know who's really calling the shots and what we'd really like to be reading.
But that's just one fan's opinion. I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong.