I blame my upbringing, personally.
I’m a child of Britpop, and so whenever I think about comics publishers other than Marvel or DC, I tend to think about independent music labels of the 1990s that put out the bands that I liked: Superior Quality (Never mind the Bluetones, I loved Mover. Which made one of me), Cooking Vinyl, Fierce Panda, Deceptive and the like. It’s an entirely different business, of course, but back in those days, the inherent snobbery of being young and into white-boys-with-guitars-pretending-it’s-the-1960s music meant that being indie was cool and not “selling out” and so you paid attention to record labels. The indie that everyone loved, of course was Creation Records, home to Oasis (Of course, but more importantly for me, the home to Teenage Fanclub and Primal Scream and Super Furry Animals).
Creation seemed, at one point, to be the ideal record label: Small enough to not be a Corporate Giant (Whatever that actually means), but fat enough with Oasis-related income to be able to support all these other bands and less-successful acts. It seemed like a surreal example of everything working: A band breaking through to a mainstream wider than than just music fans, and through their success, elevating the potential for success of those around them. I think about Oasis, and Creation, and I think, why can’t that happen for comics?
And then I remember that it already has.
Almost, if not all, of the breakout comics since, what, Sandman (?) have come from publishers who aren’t Marvel or DC: Bone, From Hell, Hellboy, Tank Girl (You scoff now, but back in the day, before the movie soured that particular wellspring), Fun Home, Persepolis, Scott Pilgrim… All of them have come from the comics’ equivalent of an indie label (And, as much from personal tastes and biases, as any cold hard facts, I’d argue that Oni Press is the Creation Records of the comic industry, which makes James Lucas Jones the Alan McGee, which is meant as more of a compliment than it may sound), which leads me to two thoughts:
Firstly: What happened to the Big Two? Post-Sandman, did the material go elsewhere (due to rights issues, maybe?), or did both Marvel and DC decide to focus on less mainstream-friendly work after a certain point?
Secondly: Why are all of these breakthrough books still considered, if not novelties, then rarities? Why don’t non-Big Two publishers have more standing and pull in the industry when they’re the ones putting out the books that new readers want to read?
The depressing answers are, of course, “The Big Two saw more money in concentrating on finetuning their superheroes” and “Because the comic industry en masse wants to read superheroes more than anything else,” but I’m choosing to remain positive and hope for some other explanation. Is it my imagination, after all, or have we finally found something worth reading comics for?
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