I got the Bachalo Spiderman book I missed last week, and I really like Bachalo and it was pretty good but that is not what I want to talk about this week. I want to talk about the fact that I did not pick anything up this week, and about the state of the comic book industry generally. This is based off of a talk I had with Brad last night.
With All Star Superman and Casanova on hiatus I do not have any books to really GET EXCITED ABOUT except for All Star Batman which comes out too infrequently. Not that there are not good books being published, especially by Fraction, but there is nothing coming out now that I await with breathless anticipation, as in the past I waited for The Authority, certain arcs of New X-Men, Planetary, and Dark Knight Strikes Again, and recently Fraction's Iron Fist - perfect meetings of concept and art and writer.
Someone asked Joss Whedon is he would continue to write comics or go back to TV and he said something like "I want to feed my children solid food." I do not know what the pay rate is in the comic book world -- does anyone know what comic book writers bring in on an annual basis -- but it does not seem to be enough. So you get talented guys like Bendis, who was a writer I was once very excited about what with Powers and Fortune and Glory, spreading themselves thin writing six books a month with minimal content. I do not think Bendis is untalented, or greedy: I think he has bills to pay and and I can respect that, though I dropped his books a long time ago. I think the smart move for guys like Bendis is to isolate a portion of their genius in books like Powers, so that they are consistently (if infrequently) making something perfect, make their other books to pay their bills, and look to smart fans to see the difference between the two. I lost interest in Powers in part because I think Bendis did -- he took imaginative energy away from that book and spread it thin and I stopped following him. Warren Ellis did the same thing with Planetary -- it was clear that he had lost a lot of interest in that book, especially in issue 26, but he never focused his powers in quite the same way again: it is not that Ellis is a bad writer, but again, he has spread himself thin. I can see the brilliance in lines and pages and issues, but never in whole runs after Planetary 14.
Then there is the movie industry, which has turned comic books stepping stone rather than an endpoint. Mark Millar whose work I quite liked for a long time, especially Ultimate X-Men, now writes movie scripts in comic book form (Kick Ass) when his writing does not just totally dip into mean, abject unpleasantness (Kick Ass again), and occasional total boredom (Fantastic Four). Frank Miller now splits him time between comic books and film.
Alan Moore retired, though before he did he struck the right balance between works of total genius (The first two League books, Promethea) and additional, forgettable stuff (Tomorrow Stories, much of Tom Strong). Over and over again he would return to stuff dripping in nostalgia -- like his thousandth painstakingly perfect rendition of some silver age tone and form -- but this never interfered with he best works (except maybe in the last volume of the League, but that may be a special case).
Grant Morrison is planning on retiring from superhero stuff except for Batman. I do not know if he is serious about that, or what his independent post-Final Crisis books will look like (they may be brilliant, as We3 was). But for now a b-list story from his JLA run has been elevated into some kind of major crossover event (because again, that is how you pay bills), which was not a complete disaster until it turned out the book needs fill in artists well below the caliber of JG Jones, including a fill in for the entire last issue. As we discovered in Final Crisis four J.G. Jones is doing a LOT to keep this book afloat, and when he leaves the story -- already maybe wonk-y --just sinks. And then you get stuff like Final Crisis: Submit which can serve no purpose other than to just add a little money to his pocket: the story is not bad necessarily but it is completely uninspired and unnecessary, especially as part of a book that prides itself on jumping past major moments in a maybe interesting way (jury is still out on that). His Batman RIP story is similarly maybe pretty good, except that it can be hard to tell behind the pencils of Tony Daniels. I once felt bad for Morrison and his trouble with artists, but now I think that often outside of Quitely he considers himself done when he finishes a script. The industry has been working out how to get the most out of Event Crossovers (Spin Offs? A 12 part story that runs through four books over three months?), but Seven Soldiers got closest to something really great. Seven Soldiers had a lot of potential -- though it tanked the ending -- but the format was exactly right: you get seven guys putting four books out in whatever time period (I forget how long Seven Soldiers lasted), and because the books have an odd relationship, the different styles become an asset rather than a detriment, and in any case can have a kind of internal consistency in their own titles (disregarding Mr. Miracle). Matt Fraction et al. did something similar for a while on Iron Fist where the brilliant David Aja was allowed to handle the main story, but a monthly schedule was kept up because of isolated flashbacks drawn by other artists so Aja might only be drawing 16 pages a moth or something.
Meanwhile guys like Bachalo and Ashley Wood languish without a writer to match their talents; Mignola does not even draw Hellboy anymore (though at least he found a suitable replacement). Brad told me that a lot of the best "comic book artists" do not even draw comics: story-boarding in Hollywood pays so much more.
I have no idea if this is practical -- and even if it was my voice is hardly going to make it happen -- but I want to see writers and artists who can recognize in their own writing the difference between works of genius and stuff to pay bills; I want that distinction subtly communicated to discerning fans like myself through a lack of fill-in artists and a willingness to let the book come out rarely as long as it is just right; and I want the film industry and the comics industry to get some kind of symbiosis going, rather than the film industry interfering with comics and comic book writers when certain trends strike Hollywood; and I want comic book writers to be paid more. Hell, double the price of Casanova and All Star Superman and All Star Batman. I will pay it just to keep those books just the way they are, and I will buy any books a writer puts out as long as that writer has one work of absolute greatness coming out on some kind of regular basis.
I am not asking any writer or artist to do a better job than they are doing right now; I just want to see what we have redistributed differently. The comic book industry has a lot of talent, and someone needs to be making sure a handful of books are perfect 10s, while the rest of the books are 4s. Because right now I am seeing too many 6s, and it is leaving me unsatisfied.