Spawn 200

When I was at the MSU Comics Forum a couple o’ weeks ago, I was asked a lot of questions by customers who really wanted to know the answers.  “What’s this book about?” was asked quite a bit as well as, “Did you do all this by hand?” and “What kind of pens do you use?”

One of the things I was surprised by the Forum was how conversational everyone was.  I was asked several variations of “What’s your favorite comic right now?” and “Have you read that one?”  The answer to both (and their various variations) was simple: I don’t really read comics anymore.

I take that back.  I’m stating to get back into them.  I just read Wilson by Daniel Clowes and Locas by Jaime Hernandez and they were both wonderful.  But I don’t read Spiderman or Hulk anymore (I was asked, “What do you think of the death in the Fantastic Four?”  I replied, “I read something about it on CNN”).

Why don’t I read comics – mostly superhero books – anymore?  Lots of reasons.  You could say that I find it laughable that I’m in the only business where the highest sellers are characters from 1963; you could say that with a job, a house, a family, and another job I simply don’t have time; you could say that spending $3-5 on a book that takes about seven minutes to read falls a bit out of my budget.  But you’d be wrong.

The reason I don’t read comics anymore is highlighted in the recent advertisement of Spawn #200.  The biggest selling independent comic in history has reached number 200 and to celebrate, the creator got a bunch of his superstar comic book buddies and had them make variant covers.  And they’re all amazingly mediocre.

I – and thousands of other comic fans – used to aspire to be Todd McFarlane.  His ink work was amazing, he somehow made everything look three-dimensional on a page without subscribing to any technical philosophy, and he wrote some fairly compelling stuff (the story arc about Wendigo being hunted as a child killer was interesting and the first few issues of Spawn were compelling on a “where’s he going with this?” level).  When he quit Marvel, McFarlane was getting over a million dollars per year to do Spiderman – something I definitely aspired to.  When he started with Image, he was making a good deal more than that.

Then he had other people start writing the book.  Then he had other people penciling it.  Before long, he had nothing to do with it.  He went where the money was, which ain’t in comics.

So for years other people worked on his creation, which he came back to from time to time, and month after month it got worse.  Why?  Because no story goes on forever.  Say what you came to say and get out.  If McFarlane really had a story that took 200 issues to tell, then so be it.  But he didn’t.  He had a kick-ass idea (a Faustian comic about a passionate man with unlimited power who somehow has to outsmart the devil) that could’ve gone in any direction but instead went nowhere.  Al Simmons shoots himself in the head.  The end.

And this is why I don’t read comics anymore.  No one of any merit ever sticks around.  Every story goes on forever.  Every creator sells himself out so that by the time he should be hitting his stride, he’s putting out mediocrity in a dozen different directions.

Click on any of the Spawn covers to see what I mean. Colacitti and I could make a better one any day of the week.

This character can literally do anything and McFarlane drew him holding up a sign. Click to enlarge

Running toward the reader. Compelling stuff. Click to enlarge

Angry flexing. Awesome. Click to enlarge

A different take on standing on a chimney. Click to enlarge

Surprisingly, Liefeld uses the space the best. Click to enlarge

Also standing on a chimney. Click to enlarge

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2 Responses

  1. You identify two key problems with popular comic series: inconsistency of authorship, and perpetual prolongation of the story. It’s an interesting point you make.

    I thought at first that it was the authorship problem, not the length problem, that spoiled comics. But I’m not really sure of that. In television, it’s pretty common for series to be authored by a lot of different people, under the general direction of one person. Even the best shows are usually handled that way. But it’s not very common for shows to run for a very long period of time and maintain high quality.

    (What’s a long time for a TV show? I don’t know. Seinfeld was brushing against it, I guess, with nine seasons. I can’t think of any show off the top of my head that maintained a consistently high quality of output for ten years or more. The Simpsons remains generally watchable after many, many years, but it ain’t what it used to be. How about soap operas? I’ve never watched any, but people seem to like them ok after decades of stories. Maybe they’re the mainstream adult equivalent of superhero comics. That, and professional wrestling, which is really just a soap opera with a visible audience.)

    I can’t think of a long series of novels that didn’t get crummy over time either. I may just be too poorly read in that arena.

    Hmmm.

  2. How about something like Savage Dragon? That’s pretty long-running, and authored by the same guy, right? I don’t know whether it’s any good, though. Never read it.

    There are tons of Japanese comics that persist under the same author for long periods of time, though it’s hardly worthwhile to raise the issue of Japanese comics on this website. Anyway, the longest-running manga I ever read was Dragonball/Dragonball Z, and that certainly got very hard to bother reading by the end. In fact, the latter bad bits outweigh the previous good bits pretty handily, but you since it takes about twenty seconds to read a comic that is nothing but fighting, it’s pretty easy to breeze through the crappy stuff. Hardly worth your while though.

    Anyway, regardless, there’s something very attractive about a never-ending story, even if you know it’s going to be terrible eventually, or is already there. There are just some times that you never want the story to end.

    Actually, as terrible as superhero comics are, I could see reading them, for that reason–just to have a constant, go-to narrative that I’m already involved and interested in.

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