Yesterday was an exciting day for Marvel fans as Disney announced a whole slate of new content during their Investor Day event, including lots of Disney+ original series. However, I saw lots of Facebook posts deriding any and all excitement for these announcements. Comments such as “comics are just IP farms for movies and TV now,” and “comics are selling out and becoming watered down,” and others in this vein. Such cynicism is not at all unexpected whenever other people are happy about something, but it did bring to mind something that often bothers me: superheroes are not the end all be all of comics.
It’s a common fallacy I see comics fans and comics journalists fall into all the time, including myself, and it was speaking to true comics experts and scholar that made me more mindful of it. Often when there are complaints of issues in “comics,” such as “there is not enough representation in comics” or “it’s a shame that creators aren’t credited properly in these movies and TV shows,” what we really mean is that these are issues in SUPERHERO comics. And superhero comics usually mean the Big Two of Marvel and DC. Yes, superheroes are a significant portion of the comics industry, but comics is so, so much bigger than superheroes, including graphic novels, graphic memoir, comic strips, manga, and more. So, we often make erroneous statements proclaiming that problems that plague superhero comics also plague ALL comics, and that simply (usually) is not true.
Lately, other genres of comics have been outselling superheroes. So, we really do need to be careful how we talk about such things and we need to be sure we aren’t painting the entire medium badly in broad strokes. Truly, what happens in comics happens in regular print too; certain genres (particularly speculative fiction and thriller), tend to have homogenous representation, tend to “sell out” and are scavenged as potential movies and TV shows before the manuscripts are even finalized, and other such issues. Superheroes is simply that genre for comics. But there is absolutely no shortage of comics where those issues do not apply (diverse representation, creators fully credited and monetarily rewarded properly, etc.), and those comics tend to get more literary attention. Comicdom is HUGE.
Please, just remember, before you talk about the problems with “comics,” specify if you, in fact, mean just superhero comics.