A post from my old Marvel blog about the cyclical nature of the audience’s response.
I was tickled to discover that I’d made the top of somebody’s kill-list. You know the ones, the “what I’d do if I miraculously ran Marvel with infinite power over everything” lists that fans like to make, especially when they’re upset about something. I don’t think I’d ever quite managed to climb all the way to number one before, but there I was.
And I take that as a sign that I’m doing something right somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love Marvel’s fans as a general bunch. But I’m also seasoned enough to know that there’s absolutely no pleasing everybody. Pick the best, most classic comic book story you like–if you put a post on the Internet saying that you love it, somebody will come along before too long who doesn’t feel the same and reply that it’s overrated, or just plain bad. That’s the nature of personal taste–nothing is ever universally popular.
And among the more battle-hardened fans who post online the most frequently, there’s an almost inverse-ratio: The books they seem to love the most tend to be the ones tottering on the brink of extinction, and the ones they’re the angriest about are the ones that sell in droves. This phenomenon may be caused by something as simple as the fact that these hardcore readers have read more titles for a longer period than the average, and so they’re looking for something that feels fresher and more unique to them. The “same old stuff” just doesn’t cut it anymore.
The difficulty these fans run into–and this is a cyclical thing that seems to affect each generation. I can remember hearing fans complain in this selfsame way decades ago about the books then–is that the curve of reader experience doesn’t begin and end with them. What’s the “same old stuff” to them is new and fresh and exciting to the generation of readers who came into the hobby after them, and while anybody can argue about how good something is, the fact that it’s successful is a bit more difficult to navigate. (“Define successful!” I hear those angry readers say. And I tell them that the job, ultimately, is to sell comics, and to do that by making comics that people want to read. So yes, we’re largely talking about sales here.)
Years ago, I thought SECRET WARS was a big steaming turd, and I stopped reading with the third issue. But there’s no way to argue that it was extremely successful. I can certainly take issue with the quality of the story, the quality of the writing and the artwork and so forth–but that’s a personal response, as the story relates to me. Objectively, there’s no denying that SECRET WARS continues to sell like gangbusters two decades later in collected form. It’s one of our best-selling TPBs over time, just below MARVELS. So was SECRET WARS a success? I’d have to say so. And it’s astounding how changes such as Spider-Man’s black costume wrought by SECRET WARS, which was going to destroy the character forever, are now considered classic moments in Marvel history. But the passage of time will often do that.
In the big picture, it’s nice to be popular, but it’s better to be successful.