Why Comic Books are Making a Comeback

In the past half-decade, we’ve experienced the avalanche of superhero movies pouring into theaters. The Avengers, Deadpool, Ant Man, Captain America: Civil War, and handfuls more have grossed billions at the box office, a feat for any film let alone a film in the dying era of movie-goers. The comic book industry, scored by deficit and sinking engagement in recent years, has had a massive spike in readers since the release of these blockbusters. This month marks the industry’s best-selling month since December 1997.

 Deadpool brought in $135 million it first weekend (image courtesy of Dealine) 

True, much of this surge comes from the hype that follows hit movies, but there’s more than just a ripple effect at play here. The Washington Post cites just a few reasons why comics are on the rise. First and foremost, they’re more accessible (hello internet downloads). After Amazon purchased ComiXology, the largest online platform for comics, sales rose by roughly $20 million. Bolstered by a growing online community of buyers, retailers also began setting up more comic book shops, growing their store numbers by 4% in 2013 alone. But a major contributing source, according to WSP, is an influx of new talent – and talent emerging from unlikely sources.

Novelists like Margaret Atwood are riding the trend (and their literary clout) with debut graphic novels, pushing comics into even greater popularity. Social critics and magazine writers are also propelling the trend and delivering searing topical reads as they do so. Atlantic magazine writer and author of Between the World and Me (psst check out our podcast!), Ta-Nehisi Coates, debuted his 11-issue series, Black Panther this year. The new surge of interest has offered us “a sort of Trojan horse” for more critical content to slip in alongside the classics and hum-drum of traditional comic plots.

Image courtesy of Time 

Along with the introduciton of new writers and comics, the old guys are getting a makeover too. You’ve probably noticed that comics have warmed up to the word diverse, fashioning a female Iron Man and promoting some bad-ass heroines amongst other alterations. This progressive shift goes hand in hand with the emergence of the “Black Panther” comics and comics for a cause in addition to a thrill. But whether or not the rising popularity has encouraged diversity or the other way around is up for debate.

It’s important to look at a larger history of comic books beyond just the past few months and the recent litter of diversity-championing news. The household names – the Supermans and the Ms. Marvels of the comic universe – are evolving characters. We’re happy to see the familiar names shifting to fit a more progressive reality, but even in the 80’s diverse characters were already being churned out by Marvel. Destiny, a known adversary of X-Men, is just one example of a comic book character that breaks the mold of sexy strictly-hetero characters.

Image courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

A blind oracle with the power to predict the future, Destiny is a queer figure with a female love interest named Mystique. Destiny and Mystique (what a pair of well-matched names) were originally intended to be Nightcrawler’s biological parents. However, under Comics Code Authority (CCA), a regulation that censored explicitly gay characters, the idea was turned down. Despite the presence of atypical characters, external regulations often stunted much-needed diversity.

This opens up yet another reason for the surge in popularity. The codes set in place by the CMAA (Comic Magazine Association of America) – an organization that banned zombies and vampires from the books in the 50’s – also gave a slap on the wrist to publishers that endorsed what they called “sex perversion”, sexual abnormalities, and illicit material. It wasn’t until the past decade that Marvel abandoned the CCA. 

The record-high sales we’ve seen this month might not last, according to some. Initial sales can often be misleading and first issues tend to sell better than the rest. Still, the fact that the surge isn’t just about our classic heroes anymore, but about diversity and a peeling away from decades of censorship, offers an optimistic outlook for continued sales. Comic-book fans should rest easy knowing there’s more to the upshot than movie success alone. 

Featured image courtesy of Hollywood Reporter.