2011: A Year of Changes in Comics

Geek Culture

It was an odd year for comics, especially superhero comics, as the way the stories were read became almost more important than the stories themselves.

That’s because “pages” became much more of a concept than a reality as DC Comics, Marvel, IDW, and Dark Horse all announced a move to same-day digital publishing of their monthly issues, available either through digital stores like Comixology or through the companies’ own apps.

While the other comic companies expanded what they were currently doing to digital, DC Comics went all-in on digital not only setting a day when titles would become available all at once digitally but revamping their entire universe to simplify it and attract those among the digital audience that hadn’t been in a physical comic shop in years. They did this through an all-out media blitz to major publications, including USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, and Maxim.

Whether they succeeded in doing so for the long-term is uncertain, and whether the revamped universe is actually simpler to follow and appeals to a wider audience than the old one is debatable but there’s no question that in the short-term, DC’s New 52 is a sales success.

Another era ended in print as the venerable Shonen Jump, which introduced many children to manga through the subscription service offered by the Scholastic Book clubs, ended print publication and will move to all-digital in March.

But whether digital or print, the stories still matter and I found some this year that reminded me why I love sequential art storytelling.

One of my happiest finds was at New York Comic Con in October as I discovered Mark Mariano’s graphic novels for younger readers and for teens. I’m not nearly as big a fan of zombies as many geeks, but Flabbergast was a zombie adventure story even I could love.

Among the new titles of the revamped DC universe were two fan favorites, Batwoman and Batgirl. The allure of these books were the protagonists and their creators, J.H. Williams and Gail Simone: Williams for his eye-popping art that first was featured in Batwoman: Elegy and continues to set the standard; and Simone for her return to a character, Barbara Gordon, that she says is her favorite. Fans may have lost Oracle’s rich history – and that’s to be mourned — but Simone seems determined to be true to the real-life struggle of the paralyzed and wheelchair-bound to walk again.

My favorite Batman story, Batman: Year One, was translated as well, in this case to a full-length direct-to-DVD movie. It made for excellent viewing and was a faithful adaptation of the story, which is about the parallel journeys of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon to bring justice to Gotham City, but I still love the graphic novel better.

At the beginning of the year, the future did look somewhat dismal for comics in general with slowing sales at the local comic shops. Now, though, and more than ever, the future possibilities seem endless if they can only be grasped.

I hope, however, that doesn’t mean leaving physical books permanently behind. There’s something more satisfying, at least to me, in holding paper pages of the art of Williams, David Mazzucchelli, or Darwyn Cooke in my hand.

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