New SUPERMAN EARTH one
When it comes to predicting the future of the publishing industry, there are two types of people—those who have no idea what is going to happen and those who pretend like they do. Given the number of changes taking place, the only thing you can be sure of is that the second type is always wrong.
That same sense of uncertainty is also true with the comics industry. Will digitization kill print comics? Will trade paperbacks kill monthlies? Are Web-comics the future? Are the big publishers on the way out? Are comics shops becoming obsolete or are they going to be more powerful than ever?
Back in the ’70s and ’80s, a lot of people seemed certain that the future would be found in the original graphic novel. For people like Will Eisner, the idea of creating a square-bound, non-serialized “book” that could sit on a bookstore shelf between Dostoyevsky and Faulkner was the ticket to respectability for both the artist and the medium.
As a result, there was a surge of graphic novels, both independent and mainstream. DC and Marvel even experimented with a few superhero books like X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, Daredevil: Love and War, and Arkham Asylum. The message seemed clear. Monthly comics would soon be extinct. Everyone would be able to identify the brave new world of the 21st century, not only by all those proverbial flying cars, but also from the abundance of original graphic novels.
That never happened. Sure, the original graphic novel has fared better than the flying car, but it hasn’t exactly transformed the industry. While it’s more common among independent art comics, even many of the most celebrated creators like Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware continue to serialize much of their work first.
I certainly don’t pretend to understand all the nuances of the industry—business and economics often cause my eyes to glaze over—but it takes an infrastructure to support such irregular or intermittent publications. In simpler terms, if an artist can’t secure significant advance money, there’s no way to just take a year off to create a graphic novel. A person’s got to pay the bills, and even Ramen Noodles cost money.
In addition to the business difficulties, the prestige factor of the graphic novel format has become largely irrelevant. As collections of serialized comics like Maus, Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Sandman have demonstrated, the book reading world doesn’t really differentiate between original graphic novels and trade paperback collections. At the end of the day, a book’s a book.
All of which makes DC’s “Earth One” series particularly unusual. Launched in 2010, the idea was to present accessible, out-of-continuity versions of the company’s most popular characters in stories told by top creators. Such an alternate line certainly has precedent—both Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe and DC’s “All Star” titles began with similar goals—but the Earth One books have one key distinction—they are published as original graphic novels.
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