The billion dollar comics

By David Osgar

What do the Royal Mail and Oscars have in common? Well unless the academy starts posting statues first class with a lot of “sorry we missed you” notes in actor’s letterboxes, the two organisations don’t share many similarities.

However, this month sees the two establishments promoting Marvel Comics as the Royal Mail releases a new collection of postage stamps featuring famous super heroes, such as Spider-man and Captain America, while Black Panther has been nominated at this year’s Oscars for best picture.

Such recognition shows how far comic book culture has now spread into our media. The Marvel films, however, have become something else all-together.

Kristian Barry is the owner of Comic Guru in Cardiff and says the film genre is creating a new generation of comic book readers.

“It’s a multi-media industry that’s been created from its source material… But it’s taken on a life of its own now.

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“As long as they don’t ignore what has come before and don’t try to reinvent the wheel, they’ll always find a way of propelling [comics] onto the screen and making them relevant to the modern age.

“It doesn’t matter how kooky the origins are, really, it’s how you make the emotion of the storytelling work for the audience. That storytelling was created in the 60s by Stan Lee… That’s his legacy.”

The legendary writer’s influence is undeniable, but he was not alone. Lee paved the way for relatable and important stories, working with comic artist and writer Jack Kirby to make Black Panther a culturally important character.

The significance of the first major African super hero earned critical acclaim. Not only did the comics act as the source material, their narrative structure is what has spoken to both audiences and critics.

“Comic books properly done are like soaps, it’s about the characters interacting, sometimes punching, but it can be emotionally driven… You like the characters, so you get involved,” notes Kristian.

At the moment, fans can only buy comics from specialist shops but will the success of the films change that?

“Every time there’s a new film, there’s a large spike in my business and some of those people do stay with us- it’s creating new readership,” says Kristian, who states it even helps original content, as evident with Black Panther.

“The Jack Kirby issues started selling, then some of the later runs… Black Panther is so much more in people’s view now. I’d say it’s an A-list character whereas before it was strictly a B-list one.”

With Marvel Studios combing storylines from different comics to give the audience what they want, it is evident the books will always be important. However, where the future for the two mediums is heading is hard to say.

“The problem is that we have movies based on the comics, but no-one’s serving the comic side of things so that the next generation of movies will have the material they need.”

It is clear a major hurdle for retailers is the lack of promotion for the material itself. In a billion-dollar industry, with little advertising for the books they are easy prey for critics to cite comics as niche material simply replicating what is popular in the films.

“I think the future of retail is very simple… We have to make it a social event, it’s a destination shop rather just somewhere you go to buy, it’s a place to go talk and meet people,” says Kristian.

Black Panther, Wonder Woman and of course Avengers all had a large social following and now these films are award contenders, hopefully that translates to more investment to be made in the material. Along with more support for the comic shops that love both the films and their books.

 

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