Who buys this stuff?

September 19th, 2010 by | Tags:

I don’t think that 4thletter is a unique site.  (Apologies to David.)  Sure, it has a bunch of writers who mix excellent taste with class and intelligence, but there are other sites which do that.  (Particularly the ones which hire me.)  At the same time, there are a lot of places more dedicated to comics news and comics commentary, than this site is.  Everyone who reads this post will be reading other sites, and will be commenting on message boards, and if they live in a big enough town, will have people they get together with to discuss comics.  What I’m saying is, add up everyone on this board and you cast a wide net, with a wide variety of tastes and preferences.

For all that comics tend to veer towards sex and violence these days, there is enough variety within them to cater to all these tastes and preferences.  Some comics are darker, some lighter, some for adults, some for kids, and so on.  What I’ve noticed, though, is that some comics will get an overwhelming bad reaction on every single site on which they’re mentioned.  Don’t get me wrong, there are individual defenders of the comics on each site.  But still, there are some which get a collective groan on every site and in every venue.  It’s almost common knowledge that these books suck.

And yet they’re still published.  More than that, they’re often so popular that they’re expanded on.  I don’t know how much of the comics community is represented online, but I can’t help but wonder, “Who buys this stuff?”  If every single forum I go to responds with contempt at the very mention of a certain character, book, or storyline, if the very idea of it is ridiculed in internet memes, if no one likes it; why is it so very, very popular?

Because often this stuff is flying off the shelves even as everyone on the internet denounces it.  I know it’s a cliche that the rage of net nerds is impotent and inflated.  I also know it’s a cliche that people often profess to hate something as soon as it has turned popular.  But I have to wonder how things get to be and continue to be so overwhelmingly popular even as everyone talks about how terrible they are. 

Have you noticed things that fly off the shelves even when those who are most passionate about comics hate them?

Have you seen who buys the stuff that most people don’t like?

Have you ever lied and said that you would never, ever buy that crap – and then gone somewhere incognito and bought that crap?

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17 comments to “Who buys this stuff?”

  1. I’ve never been one of those people who says she’ll buy one thing and then buys another, and if I say I’m not buying something I really will stop, but I’ve always wondered this too, and not even when I asked the FLCS guys would they have a good answer. Heck, it didn’t even make sense to me when I worked at an FLCS – I never exactly saw them flying off the shelves, but there they were in large numbers … and there they sold in large numbers, and I certainly didn’t ring ’em up in large numbers, so I have no idea.

    It’s one of those undying mysteries of comics, right up there with “So how many skeletons does Gary Groth keep stashed in his basement?”, you know?

  2. This is what I would like to know. Who bought Cry for Justice? What were people buying when they should have been buying Blue Beetle?

    It would be interesting if it turned out people who engage in online discussion/criticism tend to be more discerning in what they buy, but I suspect that’s not the whole answer.

  3. Well, I have a site too (portuguesec site, and now with tranlation to english), I have put the same question to me sometime ago and, now I think I know the answer!
    Who buys that kind of stuff is the averege buyer! That kind of buyer don’t search reviews in sites, and buy with clossed eyes, just because he/she likes the hero(s). In Portugal the last big example was the last book of Asterix: The gold Book. Is the worst book of all in the séries, and it as sold alone more than all the comics published in Portugal last year! It´s shocking!!!

  4. I see people buy horrible and crap comics every Wednesday. Big piles of crappy, internet denounced, badly ploted Big Event, traced art comics. And I just hold my tongue and try to feel glad that people with terrible taste and plenty of disposable income help my friends make their rent and feed their kids…

  5. Or if online love/hate meant anything then Serenity, Snakes on a Plane and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World would be three of the top grossing movies ever…

  6. I’ve a TV fan before I’m a comics fan, and there’s the same debate on TV websites. They think it’s a conspiracy that According to Jim had so many more viewers than Firefly or Arrested Development.

    Two theories: either the dedicated fans who post on these sites have different tastes (they’ve seen the same old stuff a hundred times and are looking for something different and challenging), or the online fan community comes up with a hivemind definition of what is good and what is bad and people who like the “bad” are ridiculed and driven out.

  7. Kids?

  8. I agree with Mecha-Shiva. The silent masses are out there reading blogs like this one, but don’t publicly admit their love for the universally panned books.

    For example, this thread from CBR: http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2009/12/10/top-100-comic-book-storylines-30-26/

    In short, “Identity Crisis” is voted #26 in the top 100 Favorite Comic Storylines by anonymous ballot, and all hell breaks loose. It happens all the time, especially when these user generated lists have Jeph Loeb in the top tens and twenty-fives.

  9. Well, the sites you frequent may have a certain leaning…which may be why you frequent them. I also agree that not everyone owns up to what they like- especially in a forum where that thing is highly unpopular.

    Heat have i bought that I blasted before…? I bought the Hush Absolute volume because it was pretty. I bought Spider-Man/Black Cat, Authority, Planetary and other books that I’d blasted for being obscenely late. But I admitted to all that at the times.

    I feel that some practices disrespect fans so I skip them until and unless I find a good reason to get them anyway. I try to vote with my dollars.

    I guess it is like some “bad” movies that I can admit are bad, but are still fun and, therefore, worth my time.

    Also, don’t forget about completists.

  10. As I started reading more good comic sites (read: not newsarama), my comic buying decreased. I started looking at what I was reading more critically and noticed that a lot of it felt as if it was a scheme to just get me to buy a shit-ton of books.

    Marvel seems much more guilty of this lately than DC (though there were a lot of BN tie-ins, none of them ever felt like they were essential, aside from the obvious GL and GLC), as it feels like you can’t get a big picture view without picking up all the damn books Bendis is writing (and most of them being $4 doesn’t help). So I stopped buying books that I felt were just “good.” Lo and behold, a great deal of Marvel books fell by the wayside. That’s not to say that DC only produces amazing stuff, but I think it’s that I was already buying the things I thought were amazing from them and not much else.

    I guess, to answer your question, it’s as most people above me have said. The average comics buyer. The guy that thinks he needs all of the tie-ins. I’m glad they exist, to a degree, because my comic shop owner is a great guy that needs to feed his kids and pay his mortgage. But the industry suffers because of this mentality.

  11. I think a lot of the online haters buy the books they love to hate. At least, they’ll buy the series for a long time before they’ll ever drop it.

    There’s exceptions, of course. Some of us can spot a stinker a mile away, and then at most we’ll only read an issue or two to confirm our opinions that the comics does indeed stink.

    But there’s so many comics readers who are intensely loyal to characters, to the point that they’ll buy comics for years no matter what JUST so they can keep an unbroken run of the series, or just because they feel the need to buy every single series or mini or one-shot associated with a “universe” that they love.

    This doesn’t only happen with bad comics; it happens with good comics as well. Many Bat-fans continue to dislike Morrison’s stuff, yet they buy every issue only to complain about it online. They’ve done so for years and will continue to do so for years to come.

    This really isn’t a question of good comics vs. bad comics, or critically acclaimed comics vs. critically deplored comics. It’s a question of how people on the internet are: people who write on the internet are more inclined to be such committed fans that they’ll buy a comic they don’t like, just so they can keep up appearances, and they’ll continue to spend time trashing it online.

    The question isn’t so much “Who buys this stuff?” but “Why are the people who write comic websites so likely to spend their time and money focusing on the negative?”

  12. Working in a comic book shop I generally take it as a given that online outrage means absolutely nothing in terms of what people actually buy.

  13. If “THE INTERNET” controlled everything, then every single book would become unreadable.

    Everything would become flooded with in-jokes, stupid references, and would be so convoluted that new fans would be unable to follow anything. It seems like the internet loves anime, Firefly, and Scott Pilgrim. I shudder to imagine a world where these are the only choices in entertainment.

  14. If the people who write comic book blogs were representative even in the slightest of the larger comic buying public then books like Agents of Atlas and Nextwave would sell more copies than X-Men.

    I really don’t have an answer to your question, but it’s an interesting one.

    At my old comic book shop (before my most recent move), the owner was always suggesting that I read this-or-that top selling comic. Meanwhile, I’m coming in and buying stuff like Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, Mystery in Space, Guardians of the Galaxy, and other stuff that probably wasn’t flying out the door (I’m not going to claim to be the sort of guy who reads a lot of totally out there independent comics–I do buy most of my books from the big two, just not stuff like Green Lantern or Spider-Man). I always wondered why he thought I’d want to buy the new Superman or something. If I were interested in Superman, wouldn’t I have figured that out by now?

    Not really trying to diss Superman here. Just saying that blog culture tends to cater to readers with slightly more esoteric tastes than the mainstream.

  15. I think the reality is simply that people who write about and discuss comics on the Internet are the exception not the rule. Their voice just isn’t reflective of the opinions of the entire population of comic book readers. Comic readers who are active on the Internet make up a small portion of the overall readership and they are the outspoken minority.

  16. @Frank Stallone: Everything would become flooded with in-jokes, stupid references, and would be so convoluted that new fans would be unable to follow anything.

    So … I guess “THE INTERNET” only controls Marvel and DC?

  17. In comics the internet does not count.