My friend Don C. proposed an interesting theory to me last night when we were talking, he said that in his educated opinion (and he does know a lot about comics) the age of the Superhero Comic in North America was finished. That while there are still Superhero comics being sold, their future is as limited as their sales. (In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Marvel Comics were selling close to a million copies per title for their top tier, now they sell close to a million comics for their entire lineups!)
His thesis is that although it hasn’t become clear yet, Manga won. Not just in terms of sales, but in terms of being the comic form that captured the imaginations of the next generation of readers and creators. He sees superhero comics are largely running on inertia and nostalgia, and thinks that while they won’t disappear, that superhero comics will be a smaller and smaller piece of the North American comics landscape.
Now, this doesn’t mean all comics will become Manga, or even manga-wannabes (although the market does have a fair amount of both), but it does mean that a generation that sees comics as an open art form that can tell many different kinds of stories is now rising up. I myself agreed with this thesis when I thought about the current webcomics market. Those are the next generation of comic creators, and they’re producing slice of life, comedy, romance, drama, fantasy, sci-fi, and a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t fit into any one genre, but they’re not producing much in the way of superhero books.
Right now, part of the reason we’re seeing so much in the way of superhero movies is because the current generation (my generation) grew up in the great Bronze Age revival of Superheroes in the 70s and 80s. They’re the ones ruling the Hollywood roost, and they’re drawing from their formative reading years in what they’re producing. The upcoming generation grew up on Harry Potter and Manga, so what will they produce when they rule in the roost in 10 to 15? And will Superheroes still hold a place in that world?
While I love superheroes, I have to admit that for a long time I think they’ve been the thing holding back Comics as an art form in North America. Only superhero books seemed to sell, so that’s mostly what got produced, and people came to associate comics with superheros so tightly that I think it was hard to differentiate the two. Given that superhero books are inherently 14 year old power fantasies, it’s been hard for comics to break out of the ghetto society has placed them in. It will only be when we break the comic=superhero link that the art form of Comic Books will truly flourish and they will become an accepted medium in society as a whole.
As Don suggested, that may have already happened. We’ll just have to wait and see.