I've been reading comic books steadily since I was about 10 years old. The majority of those comics have followed the exploits of super powered beings in masks and flashy costumes. But I've noticed a trend developing these past couple of years. The percentage of superhero books in my weekly stack has steadily dwindled while my overall enjoyment in what I'm reading has increased significantly.
Now I love superheros as much as the next person. But let's be honest. There is only so much you can do with these characters that hasn't already been done. When you are writing characters that have existed for close to 75 years (I'm looking at you Superman), it's hard to find new and exciting situations to put them in. Occasionally you get something you've never been given before and it stands out. Sadly, more often than not, the stories are derivative and lack any real tension because you know the good guys always have to make it out safe and sound. But more than just being the same old thing, my tastes have changed because I've finally learned to see comics for what they truly are: a medium and not a genre.
Comic books are as diverse as movies, novels, and television shows, and yet their sales are dominated by one type of book. It's as though a large portion of the readership has a "superheroes or bust" attitude when it comes to buying their books. If a title doesn't have a cape or a pair of spandex pants on the cover they don't want to be bothered with it. I understand this. To a degree. Most of us grew up on superhero comics. It's familiar. It's safe. And there is nothing wrong with that. Read what you like. But do you always want the same thing? I love pizza but I don't eat it for every meal. After all, variety is the spice of life.
This imbalance appears unique to comics. You really don't see it with other forms of media. There may be certain movie goers who only watch action movies or romantic comedies, but on the whole no one genre overshadows the others. This is a good thing. It not only exposes viewers to something new and intriguing but it allows the industry as a whole to flourish. That said, it should come as no surprise that the comic book industry appears to be waning.
Walking into a comic book shop is no different than going to a movie theater, turning on your television or stepping into a book store. You'll see superheros, westerns, horror, crime noir, espionage, and hentai. OK so you won't see that last one in a movie theater (at least not one you'd like to go to) but you get my point. It's all there for the taking and yet so few people take advantage of it. And it has nothing to do with talent. The talent is there. For example, Ed Brubaker is considered to be one of the best writers in comics. His run on Captain America is legendary. Attaching his name to a book over at Marvel is practically a license to print money. Yet Brubaker struggles to get people to pick up his creator-owned work, Criminal. Now I don't know about you, but when I enjoy an actor's performance in a particular movie, I tend to check out their other work. Not so much in the world of comics. I find this strange. If you like their writing on one book it's not beyond reason that you will like them on something else. The same rule applies to genres as well as creators. If you like a police procedural on television you'd probably like one in a comic book. All you have to do is give it a shot.
The industry needs books that do not center around superheroes. That is how the industry that we all love will grow. We need a new Walking Dead or Scott Pilgrim. Something that will draw in new readers who wouldn't normally pick up a comic book. If you truly love comics then I think it is important to know that there are writers and artists out there releasing some of the most inventive, well-crafted books the industry has ever seen. Once I pared down the number of superhero books I picked up and starting replacing them with independent and creator-owned books I finally realized what I had been missing. I remembered why I love this art form and I started having fun again.
We all like what we like. And it's difficult to try new things when what you like seems to be working for you. But every once in a while it's nice to try something different. If you try something out and you don't like it, that's cool too. Not everything will be a winner. The quality has to be there. But open yourself up to new worlds and characters. Who knows, you may find your new favorite thing in the world.