One trend I continue to follow is the decline of “mid-tier” creative works, whether they be “mid-budget” movies or “middle tier” novels.
I touched on this just over two years ago when I was looking at the film Warcraft in particular and film budgets in general. At the time, I also noted how the erosion of the mid-budget movie and how a similar trend seemed to occur with “mid-list” authors.
Now, superhero movies in general are not likely to be modestly budgeted these days: they’re too tempting to be used as tentpoles by the studios. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has brought in over $7 billion. Disney’s not about to abandon using them as tentpoles.
But what about the the medium where these superhero stories first appeared: comics?
Now, going into the whole state of the comics industry, what the direct market is, and so on, is more than I can cover briefly or authoritatively. Suffice to say, fears regarding a dire fate of the comic industry have been around for a couple years, the direct market business model seems to be poised to change, and, well, stats back up the thought that the market is struggling (even with bright spots).
So all that made the article I read about Marvel comics editors advocating for different tactics recently at SXSW all the more interesting.
Parts of their argument is that comics –even if they aren’t as all-fired profitable as their big screen offspring– serve an important function as idea incubators. In a sense, they’re narrative R&D projects. Certainly, good periodic comic books and graphic novels aren’t the cheapest things to produce — many an indie creator colleague has made me aware of that. But they are a darn sight cheaper than bankrolling a $120 million tentpole movie. And in fact, just about all the tentpole movies owe some of their “genetic material” from the comic form.
Another way they could be thought of is as the “narrative farm teams” for some of the bigger budgeted stories. And, of course, I’m thinking of that mainly for the business folks to better reconcile the numbers. The creativity and storytelling on display in so many comics is not “minor league,” but bean counters usually don’t care if a comic book was emotionally impactful, just how many units it sold. So whatever keeps the presses rolling.