The CBR News Staff is back with the second part of their analysis of the comic book industry trends of 2007. Our writers talk with and about many of the industry's movers and shakers throughout the year and read enough comic books to choke a wookie, so hopefully you'll find it enlightening as they share the trends and patterns they've noticed over the past twelve months.
In Part One, staffers discussed the most visible and controversial trend of 2007, the Crossover Event. With that out of the way, George Tramountanas, Dave Richards, Emmett Furey and Andy Khouri return for a look at some of the other important trends of the year, including the influence on comics of creators from outside the industry, the relationship between comic books and music, zombies and much more.
New Voices from Film, Television and Prose Fiction
Last year we observed an increase in the amount of mainstream comic projects authored by creators who've already made names for themselves in other mediums. This scenario has indeed achieved trend status and may be on its way to becoming a phenomenon.
|Stephen King's "The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born" was perhaps the most visible comics project by an "outsider," along with Laurel K. Hamilton's "Anita Blake" comics|
Authors like Richard K. Morgan ("Altered Carbon"), Charlie Huston ("Already Dead"), Denise Mina (the "Garnethill" trilogy), and Brad Meltzer have proven they can tell captivating tales in both prose and graphic novel formats. The trend will continue in 2008, with writers like crime novelist Duane Swierczynski bringing his unique voice to Marvel Comics' "Cable."
|Beyond just adaptations of their books, novelists like Brad Meltzer and Jonathan Lethem wrote existing mainstream comics titles|
These creators have all managed to tell some fascinating stories, but their Hollywood day jobs often meant their comic work would be late. But so far, the stories they've told have been worth the delay.
|Uniquely, Joss Whedon's TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" returned in comics form with new stories|
The best thing about new creators coming into comics is their potential to bring new readers with them. Want to get a skeptical reader interested in comics? Give them a graphic novel by a New York Times bestselling author like Brad Meltzer or Jodi Picoult. Or if they're a fan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," give them one of the "Buffy: Season Eight" collections or a book of Joss Whedon's work on "Astonishing X-Men."
|Actor/comedians Thomas Lennon, Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn contributed to "The Goon: Noir" in 2007|
Actors Ed Burns and Thomas Jane have launched their own comic creations in "Dock Walloper" and "Bad Planet," respectively. Film producer Jeff Katz has co-written DC's "Booster Gold" to enormous success, screenwriter John Rogers made "Blue Beetle" one of the publisher's most well-reviewed titles, "Superman: The Animated Series" alumni Alan Burnett is currently working on "Superman/Batman," and, of course, "Batman: The Animated Series" writer Paul Dini has been writing "Detective Comics" for some time now.
Yes, the influx of writers from other mediums, film, TV and novel, is certainly trending upwards, and they have their licensed properties from those other mediums in tow. Joss Whedon's "Buffy" and "Angel" have both found new homes -- and a new audience -- as graphic novels, as have Laurell K. Hamilton's "Anita Blake" series.
|Film and television writers and producers like "Booster Gold's" Geoff Johns & Jeff Katz and "Detective Comics'" Paul Dini made an impact in 2007|
This speaks to a potentially unsettling trend, the loss of the distinctiveness of the comics medium -- not just the types of stories, but also the way those stories are told. Besides the licensed properties competing with original comics work, the boon of comic book movies at the box office has resulted in a paradigm shift in the eyes of many would-be comic book creators: their comics, rather than the be-all-and-end-all, become a means to an end, the end, in this case, being a film deal.
And not only should creators get back to the idea of creating comics for comics' sake, so too should they focus on telling stories that are tailored to the strengths of the medium. Strengths that are slowly dying out as average mainstream comic books grow more and more to resemble movie storyboards. The language of comics, things like a more or less standardized panel size and grid pattern, and the efficiency and interactivity of leaving some things to happen in between panels, etc., has steadily been replaced by movie techniques like splash pages, cutaways and reaction shots.
|Television and film writers like Daniel Knauf & Charles Knauf and John Rogers have made hits out of existing Marvel and DC properties like "Iron Man" and "Blue Beetle"|
Books like Warren Ellis' "Fell" and Matt Fraction's "Casanova," for instance, manage to embrace the classic comics' technique of a nine-panel grid while at the same time pioneering the ambitious Image Slimline format, a denser comics experience that's cheaper to produce and passes the savings on to the readers. So while I know we can't turn back the clock, and fully believe that we shouldn't were it even possible, I do think fans and creators alike could stand to be reminded about the things that made the comics medium distinctive in the first place.
Music & Comics
I suspect 2007 will be remembered as the year music really started to change American comics. Musician Gerard Way of the rock band My Chemical Romance created "The Umbrella Academy," a Dark Horse comic illustrated by the esteemed Gabriel Ba. It's no vanity project, either, as fans will tell you.
|Bands like Belle & Sebastian and Coheed And Cambria produced comics directly inspired by their records|
Indie rockers Belle & Sebastian released a comic through Image. Coheed and Cambria's series "The Amory Wars" ties-in directly to their music. Rapper MF Grimm embraced comics even more fully, using the medium to tell his incredible autobiography in the "Sentences" graphic novel from Vertigo.
Even when musicians themselves aren't creating comics, the music they make fueled many of 2007's standout books. Indeed, whereas most comics have historically been inspired by other comics, we saw this year a great many comic books inspired primarily by music.
Image Comics has been leading the charge in this area, publishing work like Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie's "Phonogram," a fantasy book about music. McKelvie's own "Suburban Glamour" also screams of contemporary music, much more so than any classic comics influence. "Casanova" author Matt Fraction has gone on record as to the influence of his iPod on the creation of that beloved title, and Image's "PopGun," a humongous, 450-page anthology is billed as the "ultimate comics mixtape" -- adorning itself in music iconography and even featuring Madman on the cover listening to headphones.
|Indie creators are making more and more comics inspired by music rather by than other comics|
This marriage of music and comics -- in any of the forms discussed here -- is entirely good for the industry, as it's a flavor previously relegated to the most indie of indies. The union also brings with it much needed vitality. Books like "Suburban Glamour" and "PopGun" and "Umbrella Factory" speak a language known to far more people than even those superhero comics written by best-selling novelists -- the language of youth.
Andy totally hit the nail on the head about the rising trend of musicians and music creating and inspiring comics. A wide variety of musicians have been declaring their love of comics for years and we're starting to see a crossover. Anthrax's song "I Am The Law" was their tribute to Judge Dredd. Tori Amos mentions Morpheus and his creator Neil Gaiman in her song "Tear in Your Hand," and provided the introduction to the hugely popular "Death: The High Cost of Living" graphic novel.
|My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way created the popular "The Umbrella Factory"|
So it should be interesting to see this trend develop more in 2008. I'm curious to see what kind of new ideas musicians might bring to comics. Imagine a kung-fu or crime series done by the RZA, or a series from the mind of author, spoken word performer, and punk rock legend Henry Rollins?
|"Awesome: The Indie Spinner Rack Anthology" was one of several high-quality indie comics anthologies in 2007|
Can we call zombies a trend? Because, my God, has that been played out. Can someone tell me why I would want a zombie variant cover that has no bearing on the story inside?
This is not a new trend by any means; actually, this is a perennial one.
Possibly feeling burnt by fans for trying to explain the lateness of "Civil War" in 2006, Marvel has remained largely silent about late books such as "Spider-Man: One More Day." Of course, it doesn't help when the late artist is the Editor-in-Chief as well.
When DC said "52" was going to be "a year without Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman," fans didn't realize the publisher was being literal -- of course, neither did the publisher. Delays of all sorts plagued most of DC's flagship titles. But instead of ignoring the problem, DC found an interesting solution -- publishing their books out of order. This comic strip by creator Michael Parkinson illustrates the DC solution rather well.
I understand the business logic behind DC's decisions, but the frustration from readers and retailers about this is huge. A retailer who anticipates selling 100 copies of a Geoff Johns/Richard Donner "Action Comics" issue gets their order thrown out of whack when it's substituted by a Fabian Nicieza fill-in (not that Nicieza isn't a fine writer).
The notion of Fan Entitlement was discussed in 2006's Year-End Round-Up, but I don't believe that applies here. My point is that lateness hurts retailers and does damage to our weekly comics industry. The trade paperback and graphic novel will always continue to exist (and hopefully thrive), but if we want our comic shops -- where we make our weekly visits -- to exist and thrive as well, we need comics on a regular basis.
Here is a trend that pleases the heck out of me. Publishers of all kinds are releasing both prestige as well as affordable collections of previously published material. And why shouldn't they? It's product that the publishers have already paid for, and if it's quality, they should want it around.
|DC's "Fourth World" omnibus series and Image's "Hembeck" collection are part of a very positive trend in 2007|
Many of these series were items may fans were on the fence about, but these low-priced collections are impossible to say "no" to. A round of applause to all publishers out there for this!
Our CBR staffers have thrown out lots of ideas and observations from the past year. Whether you agree or disagree, it should be clear that our industry is continuing to change and evolve. Visit the CBR forums to contribute your thoughts and views on the trends discussed here (we'd love to hear them!), and come back soon to read our staff's Best of 2007 lists. As "The Simpsons'" Comic Book Guy would surely agree, they're our Best. Lists. Ever.
Now discuss this story in CBR's Community forum.