COMICS: I'll never understand people's facination with redoing old stuff rather than coming up with new things. Darwyn Cooke has a huge new work coming out called The New Frontier which recounts the 50s era of superheroes in the DC universe. I have no idea if this book will be good or not. I'm sure old school DC fans (which, let's face it, is most DC fans looking at the books they publish in their main line) will love it. It's 384 pages so it has enough girth to impress just about anybody and I'm sure will end up on many Best Of lists for 2004. The problem is, why? Besides the money, which I'm sure will be very good, what posseses someone with the obvious talents of Mr. Cooke to spend 384 pages telling basically the same story that has been told literally hundreds of times before? I know he has a new "spin" on it, otherwise they probably wouldn't let him have this many pages to work with. A new spin though, is really just a new paint color on a old car. Or, to steal a less charitable phrase, putting makeup on a corpse. Besides oddities like the shot-for-shot remake of Psycho from a few years ago (which completely failed at the box office if I remember correctly), no one in Hollywood is looking at doing the 18th remake of Casablanca. Nobody is writing about how good Avery Brooks's performance as Fred Sanford is the best they've seen in years. A hell of a lot more people grew up watching Lucille Ball than gre up reading Green Lantern and nobody wants to see a new version of I Love Lucy with Lucy 'updated to modern times'. I understand that US comic book readers are by and large nostalgia fetishists; with nothing but basically the same characters to read for the last 40 years it's hardly suprising that the majority of readers left are the ones who grew up on those characters. What I don't understand is why creative people (leaving aside the money issue) would want to spend their time and creativity putting the shock paddles to old concepts in hopes of putting their own "spin" on it. If Darwyn Cooke had gone to DC and said he had a new, original project he wanted to do with the same page count and set in the same time period with his own characters, would they have said no? I don't know the answer to that, obviously, but I doubt they would have unless his original concept was too terrible.

Are creators locked into the rehashing of old concepts because of the publishers or readers? I don't think it's the readers (outside of the few hundred thousand existing stuck-in-neutral superhero readers, that is) because readers are embracing crazed original ideas in the form of manga like no tommorow. Are the publishers the ones who are fixated on retelling old stories? They have to keep their copyrights alive, that's a given. But that's accomplished with the monthly books. Does DC really think they need to put out new versions of Superman's origin story over and over again or is the creators wanting to "spin" it?

I know DC at least has a handle on original material, most of the Big Two books I read are original concepts and most of them are coming from DC. Marvel is a lost cause as far as original concepts are concerned. They're too deeply intrenched in the 'revamp and sell to Hollywood' business model to delve too deeply into new concepts (once you have people creating for you instead of rehashing, they're going to want to get paid for those concepts and Marvel doesn't want to share licencing revenue - witness the brick-by-brick destruction of Epic).

It's an interesting question, to me anyway as this little discussion with myself will testify. As a writer who would like to write comics and has no interesting in moving from corporate concept to corporate concept the way so many other creators seem happy to do, I'm always looking at this idea. In addition to having a hard time believing that genuinely creative people are happy working as cogs in a never-ending corporate machine to the exclusion of their own original ideas, I'm trying to get a handle on where the blockage is exactly so I can incorporate that into my career plans. I firmly believe the future of comics is with a mainstream audience in bookstores and that's where I'm focused right now. The problem with that from a career perspective is the lack of money involved outside the DC/Marvel hegemony. I'll probably be self-publishing at least one book in 2004 and I hope to work with so-called independent publishers like Oni but as far as I've seen, those venues do not a career make and I don't want writing to be sidework for my 'real' job that pays my bills. My dream setup would be a Warren Ellis style deal at DC where (until recently) he was signed exclusively with them to create original works. Not only because the money would be nice but I respect DC's track record on original concepts. They've got the core nostalgia line of books like Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, etc., but they've also got Vertigo and Wildstorm putting out really good (mostly) original concepts, even if some of them are dressed up as old books like Wildcats 3.0 and The Losers. Since I have yet to be published, however, I doubt any DC editors will be giving me any chances much less contracts. Anybody at DC who want to see samples of my work are free to email me though. :) You'll be seeing my name in print soon in any case.

Not sure if this makes much sense. My sympathies if you've read through this whole thing and you're not me. I'm sure I'll be posting more on this topic though as I work through my feelings on the matter though so be aware.

My thanks to Peter Siegel for the Sanford & Son analogy.