What better way to start a column on comics than to talk about MTV? When the network started out, its plan for programming was simple: play music videos and lots of them. But over the years MTV’s line-up expanded to include reality shows, award ceremonies, celebrity specials, sports… until the music videos needed their own separate channel, MTV2, to air on. Sure they’ll still show videos (or clips of them at least) during Total Request Live or late late at night, but for the most part you have to go somewhere other than MTV for “music television” these days.
Really this phenomenon is common on the cable television landscape. Cartoon Network used to be the place to go to watch classic cartoons, but more and more they are focusing on their own programming while the classic shows have moved over to Boomerang. Comedy Central started out showing mostly just stand-up routines and Kids in the Hall. Now they produce so many of their own shows that those stand-up specials are few and far between.
It’s not that what these networks do now is bad, per se. South Park and The Real World are very successful shows and have obviously become part of our cultural lexicon these days, but that’s not really the issue. The complaint is that these networks have strayed quite far from their original purposes.
So how does this idea tie back into comics? Well this is NOT the part where I start rambling about how they need to make comics the way they “used to be, back in the day.” I’m not against change; I’m against taking steps backward. In the comics industry, the biggest example of this phenomenon can be found in a magazine that promotes itself as the guide to comics but that is in reality anything but.
I’m referring of course to Wizard, the number one monthly periodical focusing on comic books. It is a magazine that is more often filled with juvenile humor than insight into the industry. There are fewer and fewer interviews or features each month, and when they do feature a book or creator, they only focus on what is already hot, the stuff already getting plenty of attention. They have to produce specials, like the recent zero issue or like Wizard Edge, to do what they’re really supposed to do: doing detailed features to enlighten their audience on quality books.
Not only is Wizard no longer really about comics, but now the company is branching out into other areas that take them even further from their stated purpose. For example, a while back they got into comics publishing. It seems to me this change in emphasis would present a potential conflict of interest when the magazine started doing stories on the comics they also published. The magazine at times has a tendency to be more promotional tool than journalistic enterprise anyway, occasionally making it difficult to distinguish between advertising and content. (Unfortunately this fact can be said of most comics “news” providers, so perhaps holding it against Wizard is a bit harsh.)
Wizard also formed a partnership with a company whose sole job is “grading” comics. It’s a great idea… if you think that comics are a way to make money. Basically the company proves what a comic is worth by destroying any value it has other than monetary, mounting it and sealing it in plastic so it can never ever be read again. If comics are art to you, then you are forever cut off from the literary value that can be found in the story. This move, coupled with the fact that the magazine devotes a great number of its pages to a monthly price guide rather than news, shows that Wizard is not the place to go for anything but the most superficial and immature analysis of comics.
Finally there’s the fact that recently Wizard has apparently decided they’d like to corner the market on comic book conventions. After buying out Chicago Con (which they renamed Wizard World Chicago), they then established Wizard World East in Philly. The success there drove them to announce Wizard World Texas, and reportedly they’re looking to steal San Diego ’s thunder next year with an L.A. convention.
Why are they establishing so many cons? Well it might have something to do with the immediacy of the coverage provided by their competition, Internet news sites. Often the information contained in Wizard is simply a rehash of stuff that you could have read weeks before on the web, and Wizard I’m guessing doesn’t like that situation. Did you notice how the websites had information on
San Diego as the convention was going on? But if Wizard runs the convention, they will have the scoop on any new books or creative teams announced there before anyone else.
The problem however is that they are potentially diluting the market. No comic book company is going to be able to afford to send editors, creators, interns etc. to each and every one of these conventions. Therefore, the resources will have to be spread out more, and attendees of a single convention will have less of a chance of being present for something special. Big events can help draw people in to comic fandom, but average conventions in which nothing of real import occurs do not.
Wizard could be a powerful tool for comics advocacy, pointing out the best mainstream books to newcomers and the groundbreaking indies to old timers looking for something new. They could interview creators seriously and in depth about their bodies of work and do instructive features on the history of the medium (or on various sub-genres of comics other than heroes, or on publishers other than DC, Marvel and Image, or really on any number of things). But instead we get the Mort of the Month and copies of Ultimate Adventures sealed in plastic and being sold for unreasonable amounts of money.