Comic book properties are really hot right now. New movies are being planned based off of characters from the “Big Two” publishers that are set to come out for the next five years and even beyond. The movie studios really want to cash in on the rise of popularity of this genre. But are the sales from blockbuster hits like Avengers and The Dark Knight Trilogy translating into comic sales for the companies that have been publishing the source material for more than half a century? My friend Kat from Comic Uno did a Topic Video over on Dark Avenger Inc on this subject and when trying to form a reply, I realized the 500 character limit of YouTube just wasn’t enough so I decided to write this in response to that video.
Comic book movies are considered a new thing to a lot of people, but they have been around for a long time, going back to the days of the serials of the ‘40s and ‘50s. People would go to the theater and watch the latest adventures of their comic book characters like Superman and Batman. Even back then the serials contributed to the comics with ideas and even in sales. Throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s comics made their way to the small screen on television. While the serials relied on the popularity of the science-fiction genre of the time, the TV shows used the sitcom format that emerged. Then in the ‘70s technology was finally able to make the world believe that a man can fly with Superman: The Movie. This new set of live-action comic book movies extended to the ‘80s, being dominated by DC Comics characters from the Superman and Batman franchises. With the ‘90s and '00s Marvel stepped into the game by selling the movie rights to their characters, such as Blade, X-Men and their flagship character Spider-Man. Today we have a brand new emergence that started with Iron Man. Marvel took the characters they still owned the rights to and started a shared universe under the Marvel Films banner. But does all of this really translate into comic book sales?
Like anything else, comic book sales have their ups and downs, and the success of movies and TV shows do play a part in the upsweeps. But there are other things to factor in also. The big comic boom of the ‘80s and ‘90s did affect the sales of comics, but at the same time comics were more accessible to the general public. During this period comics weren’t limited to comic book shops but were available in department, grocery, and convenience stores and even in pharmacies and newsstands. Parents could take their children to see Batman, and then while food shopping that week the child would see a Batman comic at the supermarket and beg their parent to get it for them. But due to the over-flooding of the market in the ‘90s and the increase in crime these stores weren’t making the money that made carrying comic books financially beneficial to either party and they stopped carrying them.
Comic books also have a bit of a stigma to them. While watching a movie like The Dark Knight Rises is considered OK, being seen reading a Batman comic book is looked at as juvenile. Let’s face it: as much as comics have gained mass appeal, it is still seen as a childish thing. Comics are to literature as Soap Operas are to TV. People read them and enjoy them but a lot will hide it and use family members like their children as the reason they have them. I think a lot of this stigma comes from things like the campy Adam West Batman. That also keeps the average movie viewer today from going to the Comic Book Shop and picking up an Avengers book after the movie.
I firmly believe if the companies put their products out there on a larger market like they did in the ‘80s and ‘90s they can get more sales for their tickets. We also have to look at how they're promoting their products. I remember going to see Batman Forever and at the movie theater receiving a free comic book. That was a great way to get people who weren’t into comic books into them. The books were free so they could say “they gave me this when I saw the movie,” and didn’t have to worry about people judging them.
I agree with what Kat said in her video about how even TV shows do bring in a few new readers, but not enough. Not all of them are really representing comic books on the screen. Sure the animated shows do an excellent job at this, but their target audiences are usually little kids who don’t have access or knowledge of the comics. For the adult demographics the companies give us live-action dramas. The shows tend to hide their comic book connections. Let’s take Arrow as an example: while the show tells really good stories, and uses comic book characters, it really does a bad job at cross promotion. Oliver Queen is there but he isn’t known as Green Arrow, or even Arrow within the show, but the “Vigilante” or the “Hood.” Someone in that 18-24 demographic who doesn’t know comic books will have no idea who this is.
This can also be seen on the big screen to a lesser degree, and more so with the DC properties. Where Marvel has embraced the unique world their characters live in within the pages of their books on screen, DC tends to try to mask them by making them gritty and “realistic.” We can take one example from each company. DC did very well with their Dark Knight Trilogy, that is undeniable but look at it as a whole. Aside from the first movie Batman Begins, none of them showcase the brand label of Batman, and now the newest Superman movie doesn’t say Superman on it at all, just Man of Steel. Now on the Marvel end of the spectrum we have Iron Man which like Batman is easy to fit into the real world, it doesn’t hide the fact that it is a comic book movie, even using the very colorful “Iron Patriot” armor that looks like it came right out of the pages of the comics. This can be seen throughout the Marvel owned movies. We can go even further and say how they planned their movies. Marvel took a big risk by deciding from the start to build a shared universe leading to the Avengers (and it paid off) while DC is playing it safer and seeing how Man of Steel does in the box office before committing to forming their own shared universe.
Comics in other mediums can help boost sales, but it has to start with the marketing. People who aren’t into comics didn’t know that Watchmen were a comic first. These companies have 90-120 minutes and beyond of what can be essentially used as a commercial for their products, but they can’t rely just on that. In my opinion if they start bringing comics back into other retail venues like supermarkets and newsstands again. I think if companies did that then theater sales will seriously boost comic book sales. You don’t believe me? Look at franchises like Twilight where book sales went up as did all related merchandise because it was easily accessible to the people who saw the movies in the theaters. If they get a little bit of it from those retailers and enjoy it, they will seek out the comic book shops in their areas for more.
That is how I feel about this subject. Now you can go to Dark Avenger Inc and see what Comic Uno has to say about this subject, then leave a comment for her there and let us know what you think in our comments. Also follow us on Twitter to know whenever we post more reviews, news and previews on Comic Frontline.