As 2012 winds down its final few hours, the minds of comic fans will be shifting to what big changes await the medium and the industry next year. But before we dive fully into 2013, a look back at the sometimes triumphant, often tumultuous year that was.
The past 12 months were a strong one for comics sales, but almost everything else in the industry was up for debate. Aside from the regular seesaw fan debates on which companies had the best titles (or movies, or TV shows), there was also the epic struggle between a renewed interest in creator-owned comics and a reinvigorated debate over the contractual battles fought between creators and the owners and executives of DC and Marvel. Meanwhile, more and more creators flocked to the web either to financially stand on their own two feet or sometimes just put their foot in their mouth.
When all is said and done, CBR New identified ten major news stories, trends and happenings that will most define comics in 2012. Read on below for a countdown of our top news stories of the year from the battle over Before Watchmen to the strings of comic comebacks that hit the stands and from the proliferation of gay superheroes to the celebration of one of the medium's absolute best series.
10. Social Media Misfires & Makeups
Twitter, Facebook and various other social media platforms have been a fact of life for the comics industry and society in general for years now. But 2012 saw more shake-ups, metldowns and distractions online than ever before as a savvy readership and occasionally even savvier creators took to the web to call out and mouth off like never before.
Some comments struck a larger nerve. Artist Tony Harris' Facebook post about the proliferation of "Fake Geek Girls" at conventions which not only earned him the ire of many fans (and the support of some as well) but also stoked the fires of the discussion around geek culture's "boy's club" tendencies – a debate that had already been rolling in video game circles for months. Causing even more concern was the word of death threats reaching "Amazing Spider-Man" writer Dan Slott on social media – a reminder of how quickly the overblown rhetoric of online debate can tip into scary, illegal areas.
It wasn't all bad news, though. Comics often found ways to use social media to push back against the worst actors in the landscape such as when Mark Millar and company teamed up to take down a vicious online bully or when bigoted remarks by anti-gay groups surrounding DC's outing of Green Lantern Alan Scott led to the creation of more support groups for equality in the medium. And of course, social media occasionally made for real publishing news such as when "Batgirl" writer Gail Simone announced she'd been fired from the DC title only to see fan response online help reinstate her position within a matter of weeks.
But if there was one superstar of the social media landscape across the year, it was Image creator Rob Liefeld. Whether he was using his Twitter account to quit DC Comics in spectacular tell-all fashion or starting up mini feuds with the likes of Scott Snyder and Tom Brevoort, Liefeld put it all on the table over the year – earning cheers and jeers for his brutally honest nature but never backing down from his opinions.
9. Kids Books Make Big Business
The past decade of direct market publishing has seen a rise in the number of comics published specifically for younger readers, but before 2012, those books rarely rose out of the lowest tiers of the Top 300 sales chart. That all changed with the publishing of KaBOOM's acclaimed "Adventure Time" comic, which teamed the post-ironic Cartoon Network series equally popular with Elementary students and college kids with a bevy of top level indie comic talents like Ryan Q. North. The book's multiple sellouts were one of the surprise publishing stories of the year and paved the way not only for multiple spinoffs but also for IDW to capture their own share of the kids crossover market with a Top 20 sales performance for their "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" title.
8. Valiant Leads The Comeback Pack
2012 was the year where you could call it a comeback for scads of classic comics concepts and series. Sure, the nostalgic bent of the market and its fans means relaunches and rebirths happen in comics throughout any year, but the wide range of announcements and launches that hit in 2012 revealed a more enticing (and often more successful) range of options than the standard revival movement. DC's announcement of a new "Sandman" series by Neil Gaiman left his longtime readers salivating for more stories in 2013. On the other side of the coin, longstanding indies got some more high profile relaunches as ElfQuest returned to new stories via A-List blog Boing Boing, and the late Drew Hayes' "Poison Elves" found a future home at Ape Entertainment.
But the biggest (and maybe most unexpected) comeback of the year came with the return of Valiant Entertainment. Though the properties that once dominated the '90s comics scene had been free of legal hurdles for a number of years, 2012 saw their true reintroduction thanks to an injection of capital and an acclaimed creative lineup that meant big sales and great reviews for a market player on the rise.
7. Comics-Inspired Media Won't Slow Down
Every year, someone adjacent to comics culture declares that any day now that the comic book movie bubble is about to bust. Well, every year except 2012.
Between the box office numbers for Marvel's "The Avengers" and Warner Bros. "The Dark Knight Rises" alone, more superhero films and comic adaptations were guaranteed to be cranked out by movie studios for at least another five years. But so long as such efforts remain as well received as these (or "Amazing Spider-Man," or "Men In Black 3"...), comic films are going nowhere.
Meanwhile, comics continued their conquering of TV in 2012 as AMC's adaptation of "The Walking Dead" continues to grab millions and millions of dedicated viewers even as it keeps rotating out lead creative personnel. Add to that the numbers The CW's DC-inspired "Arrow" has racked up and the fact that shows from "S.H.I.E.L.D." to "Amazon" to (dare we dream?) "Powers" remain in development, and it seems as though the comics media footprint will only grow and grow from here on out.
Of course, no discussion of comic movies in 2012 can help but be marked by the tragic shooting at a "Dark Knight Rises" screening in Aurora, Colorado. As senseless and shocking as the attack was, the response of the comics community was every bit as heartfelt and heartening. From fans who spoke out against the violence and with sympathy to the victims to creators and retailers who rallied to help contribute to the cause, the collective community took what was a very dark moment for our culture and made it a bit brighter.
6. "Love And Rockets" Hits 30 Years
Though the Wednesday crowd spent a good part of its year debating the back and forth of various superhero relaunches, one of the crowning achievements of the form took a victory lap for 30 years of consistently jaw-dropping comics. And while many fans of Los Bros Hernandez's ongoing opus worried whether "Love And Rockets" would get its proper due in a culture too often tipped to the capes and tights set, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez's continual string of sellout signings, packed convention panels and major media profiles showed why the worry wasn't needed.
"Love And Rockets" hitting 30 years wasn't just an occasion to celebrate great art or an excuse to re-read one of the greatest comics ever. It was proof of how far the medium has come in the past three decades. When "Love And Rockets" launched, it was an underdog publishing project amidst waves of science fiction and fantasy retreads. Today, it leads the vanguard of adult, sophisticated, artful comics projects that reach new readers through any number of sales and distribution outlets.
Work as important and as beautiful as Los Bros comics doesn't need any favors from diehard superhero fans to survive and thrive. And it doesn't need meaningless "indie" or "alternative" modifiers tacked before its description as straight up "comics." It never did.
5. Digital Gets Bigger...And Smaller
While past discussions of digital comics and digital distribution focused on whether or not the web would hurt the traditional print sales outlets for comics, 2012 was the year where that debate was (at least temporarily) laid to rest in favor of some new frontier breaking. On the sales side of the equation, what little information has been made public about how comics do revealed a robust and growing market. From comiXology's announcement that it was the third highest grossing iPad app this year to Robert Kirkman's reports of growing digital sales for "The Walking Dead," digital sales seem to be ever on the rise. Combine that with DC's strong print sales for their already high-charting digital first efforts, Marvel's extension into its Infinite Comics format and comiXology's upcoming partnership with Andrews McMeel Publishing, and the proverbial pie will only get bigger and bigger in 2013.
But perhaps the most creatively exciting expansion in the digital space over the past year has been the ways creators have taken the technology into their own hands. Though they operate on a smaller scale than the traditional publishers, digital has empowered many to take risks that would have been impossible even five years ago. With his Thrillbent site, Mark Waid has both taken creative risks on his own ideas with little thought to the financial restraints placed upon print comics while also expanding the discussion over what digital comics can do that is unique to their format. Chris Roberson and company's launch of Monkeybrain Comics carved out a new space for creator-owned work that seems more and more to connect with readers. And as comiXology expands its self-publishing options next year, the expectation for profits to start catching up to the proliferation of creative work is high.
Meanwhile, digital funding efforts for comics of all types grew by leaps and bounds in 2012. Crowdfunding website Kickstarter technically became the 4th largest publisher of graphic novels in America this year, funding a large amount of comics by established creators like Jamal Igle, Paul Jenkins and Amy Reeder. The biggest Kickstarter projects – like Ryan Q. North's astonishingly successful Hamlet-inspired book – rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars and have the potential to reach just as many readers eventually. Despite some complaints against the practice, crowdfunding is a part of comics that won't go away anytime soon.
4. Disney's Star Wars
A few years ago, the phrase "Disney buys LucasFilm" would have been a reality warping bomb for the nerd set. Yet coming after moves like the House of Mouse's absorbing Marvel Comics, Nickelodeon's purchase of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the massive reorganization of DC Entertainment to bring it closer to Warner Bros., the fact that the Jedi Knights will now call Disneyland home is a less shocking yet still significant move.
At this early stage in the game, it's hard to tell exactly what the LucasFilm purchase will mean. It's doubtlessly an extension of the trend of major media companies to shore up as many bankable properties to exploit as possible (to a lesser extent, see also DreamWorks bid for Classic Media this year). But if rumors hold true that the deal means Marvel will take over the publishing of Star Wars comics from Dark Horse in two years time, this year's sale will prove an important point in the future shaping of the comics market as a whole.
Until all is known, fans will just have to subsist on a daily stream of 12,000 rumors as to who might possibly someday maybe be involved in what could be the potential story of what is conceivably the next Star Wars trilogy. Maybe.
3. Gay Characters Make Their Mark On The Mainstream
In a year when the President of the United States stood up in favor of marriage equality, gay characters hitting mainstream comics was the most zeitgeisty trend imaginable. From DC's outing of Green Lantern Alan Scott in the pages of "Earth 2" to Archie's continued proselytizing for Kevin Keller and from Marvel's "Astonishing X-Men" wedding to Buffy The Vampire Slayer's anti-bully boy slayer, the increasing profile for gay characters in comics made headlines across major media outlets and racked up big sales.
Whether this trend will continue into 2013 remains to be seen, but for now, it's comforting for many a comic fan to know that their lives will be reflected on the four-color page more often just as their love is accepted by society at large.
2. The Year of Creator-Owned
Without a doubt, the feel good comics story of 2012 was the rise of creator-owned comics. Superstars like Robert Kirkman, Mark Millar and Eric Powell reveled in their status as champions of comics owned by their artists, and the feeling spread far and wide.
Image Comics – still the most visible and vocal publisher dedicated to creator-owned comics – celebrated its 20th year with perhaps its most expansive period of growth and sale success since it started. "The Walking Dead" was the undeniable juggernaut of the publishing world. Its trades and hardcovers dominated bookstore and online sales as its TV show adaption gained millions of fans, and its 100th issue was the sale surprise of the year (followed in second place by the hefty bump post-100 issues got in the direct market). Meanwhile, Image announced title after title from big name comic creators including Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and more as many of them declared publicly their plans to distance themselves from work for hire in order to fully explore the benefits of owning and controlling their own work. Many other publishers have been working hard to follow suit ever since.
Yes, there was a slight dark side to the proceedings. Legal disputes between Kirkman and original "Walking Dead" artist Tony Moore cast a pall over the franchise's success, and for every creator begging off work-for-hire with a smile on their face, there were ones like Chris Roberson who took his talents elsewhere in protest of what they saw as ethical abuses perpetrated by the Big Two. Still, in terms of creative and cultural significance alone, the momentum gained by the reborn creator-owned movement was second to none.
1. Alan Moore, Jack Kirby And The Modern Face of Mainstream Comics
Despite all the good vibes generated by creator-owned work, it's undeniable that there were more arguments had, teeth gnashed and ink spilled over creators who felt betrayed by the corporate publishers they once worked for.
The year started with the expected but still shocking news that DC Comics would move forward with a series of "Before Watchmen" prequels against the wishes of writer Alan Moore. The move sparked a fierce and lengthy debate in comics that stretched from traditional message board and blog arguments to interviews and panels with "Before Watchmen" creators. Detractors of the move considered the new comics an affront to the legacy created by the medium's most acclaimed writer and a major ethical lapse by DC's executives. Supporters argued on behalf of the legality of the move based on Moore's original contracts and spoke up for the company's goals of expanding their fictional universes as a creative endeavor more important than the will of any one creator.
Soon followed the heart-wrenching news that longtime Marvel staffer Gary Friedrich had been ordered to pay $17,000 to Marvel in damages over his continued attempts to secure rights in "Ghost Rider" for himself. Despite a string of statements and explanations from Marvel that this judgement wasn't as bad as it sounded and wouldn't impact the ability of creators to sell original art featuring copyright characters, the damage was done. From there on, the entirety creative and fan communities were on notice for how far the media giants who own their favorite characters would go to protect and exploit their copyrights.
Things reached their peak around Marvel's release of it's "Avengers" movie. A billion-dollar box office success, the film included no above title credit for Avengers co-creator and comics legend Jack Kirby, nor did its profits include any royalties for the Kirby family who are involved in a bitter legal battle for rights to the Marvel heroes with Disney. Desire for more credit for Kirby led to a multitude of creators, critics and readers calling for a boycott of the film or of Marvel product in general.
And while emotions on all these issues remain raw, little has directly changed because of the battle. "Before Watchmen" was a sales success. Ghost Rider's latest film rolled out with little fanfare in the mainstream media for Friedrich's plight. Marvel continues to rake in untold amounts of money from the Avengers and other Kirby heroes as his family await their day in court.
But while the mechanism of making and selling comics and related products hasn't changed, many of the attitudes and expectations surrounding them have. As noted above, creator-owned comics mean something different and perhaps more vital now than they have in years. Meanwhile, corporations are working to exploit "IP" and the concept of "fandom" over purely creative endeavors more than ever before. When we look back on 2012 years from now, we may look at it, at the very least, as the point where comics as a collective community finally looked itself in the mirror and saw the truth of what it had always been.