Alan Moore Vs. The Comic Industry: 1983 Edition
An essay written by none other than Alan Moore almost three decades ago demonstrates just how little things have changed in the comics industry over the last thirty years. Fans complained about the way things were compared with how they used to be, sales were falling, and Stan Lee was reviled as the man who (accidentally) ruined everything. Take that, people who say that the Internet ruined comics criticism!The essay, written by Moore for the late-lamented The Daredevils series from Marvel's UK office in the early 1980s, has received new attention after being shared on the Tumblr of Sean Howe, author of the upcoming Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Beyond being a chance to see Moore's writing at a relatively early stage of his career -- Before his Swamp Thing run at DC, even -- the essay (represented in two halves, here and here) offers a chance to see how Moore viewed mainstream superhero comics of the era:
You see, somewhere along the line, one of the newer breed of Marvel editors... maybe it was Marv Wolfman, maybe it was someone else, had come up with one of those incredibly snappy sounding and utterly stupid little pieces of folk-wisdom that some editors seem to like pulling out of the hat from time to time.
This particular little gem went something as follows; "Readers don't want change. Readers only want the illusion of change." Like I said, it sounds perceptive and well-reasoned on first listening. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most specious and retarded theories that it has ever been my misfortune to come across. Who says readers don't want change? Did they do a survey or something? Why wasn't I consulted?
If readers are that averse to change then how come Marvel ever got to be so popular in the first place, back when constant change and innovation was the order of the day? Frankly, it beats it beats the hell out of me.
He doesn't stop there, of course. Despite listing the many things he appreciates about Lee's writing in the early Marvel Comics, he concludes that the creator has "had an influence upon the medium which is as benign as it is poisonous," and points out that comics have moved away from what Lee did during his prime: "something wildly and radically different." And don't get him started on the sales figures:
Marvel's best selling title today is the X Men, or it was when I saw any figures. It sells something like 300,000 copies, and it is regarded as a staggering success.
Listen, in a country the size of America, 300,00 copies is absolutely pathetic. Back in the early fifties it was not unknown for even a comparatively minor-league publication like Lev Gleason's original Daredevil (no relation) to clear six million copies every month. Even in the early days of the Marvel empire, any comic that was selling only 300,000 copies would have probably been cause for grave concern amongst those in charge of it's production, and indeed it would have most likely been cancelled. These days, it's the best we've got.
These days, of course, 300,000 copies a month would be a runaway success. Okay, so maybe some things have changed...