Peak Comics: A Look at the State of Being a Comic Fan in 2016

We kick off the year by sharing why it's a great time to be a comic fan

SKTCHD is and always will be a site built around research and hearing from the people who have the experience necessary to inform readers about the ins and outs of the comic world. I may act like it sometimes, but I don’t know everything about comics. I know a bit, but others know more. That’s why I turn to the people who have the expertise needed: those who make and sell them. It’s what the site’s de facto mission statement says, and it’s how things will be going forward in 2016 as well.

Besides today.

Today’s all about feeling. And as the year came to a close, a thought that had been on repeat about the state of comics, specifically from a reader’s perspective. That’s not often a prism I look through on here. Most of the time when I look at comics, it’s either a look at the craft or the business or somewhere in-between. But, in reality, that’s all I am: a fan of comics. And with 2016 looking like it could be a turbulent year for the industry, I wanted to start things out a little bit different. So here’s that thought.

We—the readers—are incredibly lucky.

I don’t think we talk about that enough. We are living in an unbelievable time to be a comic book fan. Arguably the best time ever. But to underline why that’s the case, I wanted to start with where I came from.

When I was a kid growing up in Alaska, I was faced with a question of access. We had two comic book shops – both under the same umbrella – and they were nowhere near me. My mom was encouraging, but even if I went there, my only options really were Marvel and DC. I wasn’t complaining, mind you, as I became a fan of comics during the halcyon days of the 90’s where the X-Men had Jim Lee and were a super powered Days of Our Lives while Batman had battle armor and Bruce Wayne had a broken back. Oh, and Superman was dead. So it was a pretty, pretty exciting time to be into superheroes.

Jeff Smith's Bone
From Bone #1 by Jeff Smith (colored version)

But, at least for this young reader, it wasn’t much of a time to be a fan of anything else in comics. I was reading Bone, this really cool comic I found that didn’t seem to have Wolverine in it. Outside of that, though, it was Image and Valiant at my shop. And during that period, we were talking about those two effectively being approximations of what came before them.

You couldn’t find comics in libraries, really (I looked). If you asked about comics in a bookstore, you would receive a snooty response about them only carrying Maus (or was it Mouse?). Grocery stores had comics, but they were effectively comic shops that had slower, less comprehensive inventory. Of course, as a young reader, I didn’t even have the ability to get to these places if I wanted to, no matter how much I tried to convince those around me I was a Transformer. For a comic fan that wanted more, options were slim.

That’s part of the reason we’re lucky. If you want to read comics today, it’s less of a question of where can you find comics and more of where can’t you find them. Comics are everywhere. Bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million are betting big on graphic novels and manga. Libraries have become massive supporters of the medium. Heck, you don’t even have to leave your house to read them. You can go on apps like comiXology, Hoopla and Marvel Unlimited as well as dig through the vast world of webcomics and have a lifetime of stories to read. It doesn’t matter how old you are; reading comics is easier than ever.

And even better than that, they’re better and more diverse than at any time in the past. While it’s no doubt that the latter point is one the medium is still working through, it’s easier to find great stories that aren’t just for one audience or of one type than ever before. Comics are for everybody, but they’re also by everyone, can come from anywhere and can be anything. Just look at my list of my favorite comics of 2015 if you don’t believe me. There are 25 comics that come from 12 different publishers ranging across an array of genres there. That’s incredible, and it doesn’t even include science fiction-esque release options like Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s Panel Syndicate endeavor. Comics are bursting from the seams of the Internet, and you don’t need to be at Marvel or DC to cultivate an audience.

Barrier #1
From Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin’s Barrier #1

And then there’s the quality of the work. While some might hem and haw at the idea of comics being better than ever, here’s what I’ll say to that: while there may be a lack of medium defining works (like Maus or Watchmen); the quality of the average comic is better than ever. Across the board, the work is more interesting and exciting and enjoyable and diverse than in the past. We’re inundated with so many quality comics that you could make a legitimate argument that the greatest issue facing the industry today is that there are so many good comics, it makes it harder for creators, retailers and publishers to succeed. Like television and its #PeakTV problem, comics are so good it’s almost impossible for even the best to find an audience or even be accessible to one.

While I hate to say it—as I know it means heartache for many involved—having too many good comics is something readers should be happy about. Finding a good comic to read no matter your age, gender or interests is a stunningly easy thing to do. I know from experience. I helped pick out comics this year as Christmas presents for girls, boys and adults of all ages. And you know what? All of them were hugely different, and the readers treasured them all. That’s pretty cool.

I have a lot of hope for comics going forward for all of these reasons. This could be a trying year for the industry itself, and it’s easy to see why. You can sense the growing pains from the top down. The medium has greater breadth and depth than ever, and that’s hard for many to adjust to. It will take time. But that’s a good problem to have, and one that—if everyone plays their cards right—could lead to a very bright future for all involved. I’m hopeful for that. But regardless of what happens, I think it’s important to remember as the year goes along that we are incredibly lucky. For everything wrong in comics, there is one thing they are getting mostly right: the comics themselves. I’m thankful for that as another year kicks off.

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I have a fairly sizable stack of books to get to, and they are calling my name.