A post from my old-time Marvel blog discussing the oft-invoked fan belief that good sales are hardly a mark of quality material.
Bouncing off of yesterday’s topic, let’s talk about that perennial conflict: sales versus quality.
It’s a typical argument that you hear around the blogosphere (and not just about comics, but any other kind of entertainment)—that the best-selling and most popular work isn’t of the highest quality.
It’s almost impossible to quantify what makes for a quality comic book. As we proved here many months ago, pick out any great title and you’ll find somebody that doesn’t like it, who thinks it stinks. And the reverse is true as well. There are books that I’ve put out over the years that I know are absolute excrement, and yet, when I go to conventions, there’s inevitably somebody who’ll bring one of these dogs up for me to sign.
There’s a general premise that we in the business all agree to abide by, even though we really know it isn’t true at all: quality books sell. And part of the reason that we cling to this belief is that it’s about the only guidepost we can believe in. We all want to do projects that appeal to us, and we want to believe in a fair universe where works of merit will find their audience and become successful (and works that are lacking in merit will be scorned—that doesn’t necessarily happen either.)
Part of the difficulty is the plain simple fact that not every comic book is for every reader. A book that appeals to me won’t necessarily have that same effect on a twenty year old, or a teenager, or a kid. And vice-versa. And there are sliding tastes as well. The comics I loved as a kid still hold some nostalgic appeal for me, but I can see their flaws and shortcomings much more clearly from an adult perspective. And what I want out of a comic book reading experience these days is much different than what I would have desired a decade, two decades, three decades ago.
There are some formal elements of quality that you can measure. Facility of language. Draftsmanship. Storytelling. But you can have the best-machined comic book in the world and still not have a hit. And as we’ve often seen, you can have a comic book that’s sorely lacking in one or several areas, but that still possesses some intangible magic that makes it a hit with a large readership.
Sales, however, are the ultimate barometer. They’re like Darwinism at work—no matter how much you may love your well-crafted pet project, if it can’t sustain an audience, then it’s going to meet its end. This is a populist viewpoint, rather than an elitist one, and doesn’t speak to the quality of the work so much as its overall appeal to the masses. But since my business, when you get right down to it, is to sell comics, this is a crucial concern.
I’m not sure what all of this leads to necessarily, other than an acknowledgement that sales don’t necessarily equal quality, and vice versa—and that sales trump quality, at least from a publishing sense. Best of all, of course, is when you have both.