Floors sticky with X-Men comics.

§ October 15th, 2021 § Filed under publishing, question time, retailing § 7 Comments

So in answering Alan’s question about what the comic industry might have been like with the success of superhero (read: Marvel) movies, I completely missed the forest for all them cut-down-to-print-Unstoppable Wasp trees. Chris V points out

“I’m pretty sure that if the superhero movie craze was a flop, Disney would have never bought Marvel and Marvel Comics may be on the verge of bankruptcy by 2020, if not already bankrupt before 2020.”

Er, yeah. Marvel was pretty much selling office furniture to keep the lights on in the mid-1990s. There was a very good chance they would have been dead and gone without income from films, and as has been said, “as goes Marvel, so goes the comics industry.” The comics market as we know it might have survived, but almost certainly it would have changed drastically. Well, drastic for people like me working in direct market retail, not so much for all the manga being sold through regular bookstores I’d imagine. At the very least, I wouldn’t have that giant cardboard Groot standup in my store’s front window.

There was also a lot of talk in Wednesday’s comments about what Disney could and should do in regards to helping direct people going to their Avengers movies into stores to find Avengers comics.

There are a couple of things to note about that. First, there’s the thing I said in Wednesday’s post, and that I’ve said plenty of times before: reading serialized comics is pretty much a lifestyle choice. It requires coming to a shop on a regular basis to pick up each new installment. (Or, heaven forfend, if you’re getting them digitally, it requires accessing them on your tablet/phone/whatever and keeping up with them.) That’s not necessarily a habit that comes naturally to people who aren’t already in a comic book reading mindset.

The other issue is another I’ve pointed out from time to time, that for most folks, all the superheroin’ they need is about one movie every few months. They don’t need a regular print diet of of Thor when a Thor movie every few years does ’em fine. They might enjoy paging through a single comic as a novelty, but they’re not going to set up a pull list or anything.


…there is a non-zero percentage of folks introduced to comics via the movies who do become comic fans. I know. I sell comics to some. We’re not going to get an influx of millions into comic shops because people liked Ant-Man, but we’ll get a few people. And a few is better than none. Maybe some fraction of those will become weekly regular funnybook fans. Maybe some will just pop in to try out a graphic novel or two on occasion (or maybe even once). Or maybe they’ll just become aware there is such a thing as comic book stores, and they’ll know where to go when they need comic-related stuff (for gifts or whatnot).

Disney itself doing anything to directly help comic shops beyond not shuttering Marvel’s publishing division entirely and giving the IP to the merchandising department is, well, unlikely. Like I said in a comment in Wednesday’s post, they’d be more likely to open their own Marvel-exclusive comic stores. And by “more likely” I mean “when pigs fly above a frozen-over Hell.” Any cross promotion between theaters showing superhero movies and comic shops will have to be done on their own. I’m sure some folks have had success giving away comics at theaters, but I’m just imagining that much more stuff for those poor theater employees to clean up off the floors between showings.

A couple things Marvel tried to do to get some of that Marvel movie audience to pay attention to the comics: one was a short X-Men comic in the July 2000 issue of TV Guide:

…and I gotta be honest, I don’t recall that working very well, mostly just being derided a bit. And though I know I read it, I don’t remember anything about the comic itself beyond thinking “this probably isn’t a good introduction to the X-Men.” Ah, well.

The other thing Marvel did was create the “Ultimate” line of books, basically giving fresh starts (and the occasional goatee) to their mainline characters for anyone new to the medium.

I don’t know how many new-to-comics readers they acquired, or if they just gave already-committed Marvel fans more books to read per month.

This all sounds sorta bitter and negative, and…well, okay, maybe I am being so. But all this isn’t to say outreach via movies and such does no good…just probably not as much good as you think it would.

7 Responses to “Floors sticky with X-Men comics.”

  • Michael Grabowski says:

    Disney doesn’t even try to promote people reading Disney character comics, much less Marvel or Star Wars or any other. One would think you could find some in one of their massive theme park stores, at least.

  • Bill J says:

    You’d think they would at least add Marvel Unlimited to subscriptions to Disney Plus. No effort needed; just flip a switch.

    But after Marvel Unlimited’s recent disastrous update, I think it’s less of their standard disinterest, and more that the app would collapse entirely with any subscribers. Much less a hundred thousand people confusedly scrolling around and accidentally downloading full runs of Patsy Walker.

  • Don’t forget the 25 cent issue of Uncanny X-Men that Marvel released to coincide with the release of the X-2 movie. You know, the one written by Chuck Austen that started the story about the plot to install Nightcrawler as the Pope and featured exploding communion wafers…

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    The initial idea behind the “Ultimates” line may have been to create a line attractive and accessible to people who had not been following comics, but in practice the only concession in that direction was drawing Peter Parker to look like Harry Potter. Otherwise, these were the same sort of continuity-heavy stories being published in the main line, taking for granted that the reader had read every previous issue and was following all the other series in the line.

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    Also, shouldn’t Marvel have ceased publishing when it canceled the “Ultimates” line? Didn’t the name pretty much explicitly promise that this would be the last thing the company would ever publish?

  • […] its variants crossed over with our particular focus here at Progressively Ruinated. I mentioned in my previous post, there was some attempt at outreach by Marvel by including a short comic in a 2000 TV Guide […]

  • Glittery Skull says:

    Hey Mike,

    Long time, first time.

    I started reading comics with the Ultimates line so the number of conversions is at least one. Not sure if it warranted the investment if the number’s not higher than one.

    I’d loved the idea of reading comics, had read British weekly comics and had watched the x-men animated show, had tried reading the Crisis on Infinite Earths and Dark Knight Returns trades but could not follow them at all. I picked up and read the first two Ultimate X-men trades and the first Ultimate Spiderman trade whilst waiting in a Borders before I went for a job interview at a comic store. I was interviewing for an RPG/Boardgame role but figured I should know something about some comics too.

    I found them easy to understand, familiar (I knew who Wolverine and Cyclops and Spiderman were from the cartoons) but not the same stories I’d seen in the various animated adaptations. They were definitely my way in and now (eesh) nearly two decades in I’m still comics reading.

    Whilst the Ultimate line became tighly continuity driven, I’d argue that those early years are pretty excellent gateways into the process of reading sequential stories about punchy, kicky, angsty superfolks. The quality I couldn’t vouch for but as a habit former it was effective.

    It was the line wide reboots that killed it for me. Too little experimentation and too much winking at the mainline continuity. And too many bad comics written by Jeff Loeb.

    I still say that there’s a place for the Ultimate Marvel Universe and I’m sure that there’s a revisiting of it coming (it’s been two decades so all the fans are now jaded readers vulnerable to a nostalgia hit). But it’s very much just another alternate timeline.