The term “manga” tends to be synonymous with comic books in the minds of people familiar with the long-established history of popular movie heroes like Superman and Spider-Man originating in comics. As of now, only a few comic readers remain loyal to DC and Marvel Comics, purchasing multiple copies of a series or reading them online. However, most comic book readers in America have already ditched their former passion for alternatives such as Indie comics and manga. As a former comic book fan, what convinced me to quit reading comics online was how all superhero comics show no real starting points and the lack of self-awareness shown by both companies when creating content that no one wanted. There are many reasons why other graphic novel genres from manga and other companies are beating the popular entertainment companies at their own game, which may minimize the sales of superhero comics to the point of extinction if both DC and Marvel refuse to learn from the success of other indie comics and manga or l address the complaints made by their fans.
Even though both manga and comics are parallel to each other by selling graphic novels, the management of companies and writers making those books are what determines how successful a series will be to contribute to business. Readers are effortlessly attracted to binge-read manga because they have a real starting point and the plot is coherent. The manga is written and illustrated by the same group or single mangaka. They become familiar with the writer’s techniques and the art style that contributes to the overall appeal that is made to impress. All they have to do is start in the first chapter. The dialogue matters just as much as the art in graphic novels. There is also the fact that manga has a wide variety of genres, whereas the big two sell mostly superhero comics, which are prone to common and repetitive plots. Comics also frequently swap writers, artists, color artists, variant cover artists, and editors every few years, as seen with many reboots that fans are hesitant to accept. For example, DC frequently hires new writers for various Batman books, leaving fans to hopelessly attempt to distinguish Batman #1 by Bob Kane and John Broome and Batman #2 by Tom King. Holiday specials are no better. Such issues perplex fans until they refuse to have anything to do with the series. Quality writing is a necessary tool for any piece of writing, be it an essay, novel, play, or TV show to keep the audience engaged and entertained.
The other unresolved issue modern comics face is how writers write the characters. Mangakas know their own creations like the back of their hands, which is how important aspects like character development and their personalities make relatable and memorable characters that feel real. A well-written character acts in a believable manner, is original enough to be distinguished from other characters, and is not replaced or pushed aside unless it’s necessary. Nonetheless, in the Marvel series “What If…?” Miles Morales (a black character similar to Spider-Man) is rewritten as Thor, another superhero. The issue with the plot is how it feels more like a race-swap rather than the author putting soul into their work. There are also racist stereotypes given to the protagonist such as eating fried chicken and almost all characters having fades. Being a person of color, LGBT, or disabled shouldn’t be what makes someone themself. Those minority groups aren’t seen as regular people with the potential to have interesting stories, because of something that shouldn’t affect how someone is treated. Minorities should not rely on hand-me-downs from more popular characters to prove a point. In addition, This series sparked outrage from fans because the comic is a massive downgrade compared to the original Miles Morales. It’s as if activists are being hired to write, not storytellers. While there will always be a critic as writers can’t please everybody, an author must do what they believe their story engages readers and keep it in their style of writing. Audiences must perceive re-written changes as reasonable and exciting to the plot if a series desires a general acceptance from fans to stay in business.
So how can comic creators bring their fans back? The big two can learn from Eric July, the founder of Rippaverse Comics, which had garnered more than three million in pre-sales for his first issue, Isom #1 only within months. According to July, the key to success is to simply keep politics away from entertainment. In his eyes, classic superhero action is valuable to the genre and attracted the attention of comic book fans. The neutrality of the company’s political stance and choice of appealing to fans instead of the general public affects how the plot and characters are written. This way, every single book published by the company matters and connects the plot of the comic series, without cheap reboots and resets. Users on the popular online discussion forums Quora and Reddit concur with the importance of writing quality. From the opinions of numerous comic readers on both forums, the most commonly mentioned issues about superhero comics are regarding how plots are written and the difficulties to keep up with a series. Comic reader Blue McCauley states, “Well, comics are, frankly, annoying to collect and follow. The industry just does not make it easy on their customers. Next thing is; if you want to follow a manga series, all you gotta do is follow the series. Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3, so on. Maybe they have a spin off or two, at most. Yeah, sometimes the longer running manga can number 40 volumes easily, but still. It’s not rocket science. You know where you are, you know where you’re going, and you don’t have to worry about missing any of the story.
If you want to follow comics…my God. Even if you just stick with one or two characters (say, Spider-man and Batman) you have to also track whatever teams they’re a part of, or whatever massive event may be going on in their universe across multiple titles.” The simplicity of how a manga series progresses over time has an actual ending and doesn’t immortalize their characters for lazy attempts at business, displaying how Marvel and DC have been reusing characters that are over decades old. The choice between comics and manga is to another comic and manga reader ShinbrigGoku, “Mangas are a lot more user-friendly. Comics from the big 2 (DC and Marvel) you can’t really jump into any story because there’s a huge amount of backstory for certain characters, if one a certain origin or event got recon, etc. Recently I got into manga but even as someone who loves comic books admits that getting into Superhero comics is a bit of a chore when most people just want to read a simple story. With Mangas, I see a #1 and I know that it’s the beginning of the story. With Superhero comics, when I see a #1 I’m not always 100% sure if it IS THE BEGINNING or they rebooted the series and they’re back at #1. I love both but it is easier to get into manga than comics.” Again, it’s very important for readers to know where they should start reading and why they should read. Comics series with multiple first issues would repel anyone if they read comics or not because chances are, it’s not worth reading some comics. Unless DC and Marvel step up their game and listen to critic reviews instead of repeating the same mistakes over and over again, the lifespans of their businesses wouldn’t look prosperous.
As seen with the success of manga in America, comic book companies must learn from their mistakes in order to keep up with the competition. In terms of business, they need to focus on what attracts their real audience to their work and have the ideas of the writer intersect to make acceptable content for their longtime readers. Authors should be more aware of how the storyline affects the interest of the audience by mood or thoughts. Engaging characters shouldn’t be politically correct but instead appeal to a group of people as an audience to preserve the purpose they’re written for.
This article originally appeared in The Pinion.
Photo credit: Susan Nguyen