Marvel Politics: Making Money is Art

By Kevin McVicker

“What,” he says holding HIS prized Marvel character’s latest fictional escapades flipped open in his hands, “What are they doing to him?” He turns to the next page still shocked with the sucker punch like blow that occurred when a new writer came on board and decided it was time for an update, “I can’t believe this! Why are they doing this to him?” He finishes perusing the issue before closing it, placing it back on the shelf, and then grabbing an issue from the back of the stack unsullied by oils and acids from random people’s hands and tucks it neatly under his arm as he continues to browse this week’s latest selection.

mmmm

He sees another selection of interest and picks up the front copy with obvious marks on the spine from the previous patrons patrolling for prized picks. As he opens the issue and begins to look through it he utters with disgust, “They already did this fifty issues ago. When are they going to do something new to make this character interesting again?” He places the issue back at the front of the stack, and again slips the back copy under his arm next to the previous pull.

 

He continues to do this until he has collected his weekly selection, at which point he makes his way to the counter and places the stack down with the same number of boards and bags. He pulls out his wallet slightly begrudgingly as he hands the man-behind-the-counter the money for the transaction. They make small talk about the one Marvel comic he didn’t pick up which the man-behind-the-counter thinks he should also pick up, and depending on whether it is the week he was paid he may oblige the man-behind-the-counter’s opinion.

 

When the transaction is completed he will leave the store and the man-behind-the-counter, and he will go home and prepare his prizes. Each issue after it is read thoroughly will be lovingly bagged and boarded even with contention in his heart about the subject matter in said issue. Each issue will be organized and placed in its right place by a hand that both cherishes this book and feels disdain for its contents. Both the rut of one beloved character and the abusive alterations to another make him question they who are controlling HIS characters. The Marvel characters that he has grown up with and the Marvel characters that he loves are the characters he cries with when they hurt, laughs with in their joy, and continues to buy their stories.

 

Next week, and next month the cycle will continue.

 

Far away in a large and scary city, a group of men sit around and discuss HIS prized characters. The ones he loves and has grown up with are the focus of a conversation with marketing specialists and corporate bigwigs who have a job to do: make more money.

mmm

They know next week, and next month the cycle will continue, but how about in five years or twenty years? Can his cycle continue forever? No, everything dies even his habitual cycle of purchase and pack away. As faithful as he is, and as faithful as he has always been; his cycle is not forever. They know this better than anyone. They have seen the swings and shifts, the climbs and the dips.

 

They sit now with a structured presentation made glossy and brimming with those key marketing terms. The hot words that make them sound “in the know.” The presentation says it is time to shift the paradigm to attract key demographics that are low hanging fruit. A change in this character to attract them will increase sales to such-and-such percentage and a change in this character will increase sales to such-and-such percentage, and the overall net will increase profitability by such-and-such. Isn’t that what it is all about? Fidelity to the stock holders always takes precedent.

 

Someone wiser in politics than the rest will ask about the loss in readership due to these changes although they know the answer. A marketing expert will claim that the rise in sales for the first three issues after the change goes into effect will more than make up for any lost profits due to the disenfranchised reader. This is also THEIR character to do with as they see fit, not HIS character and the decision is made. Not a decision made by Marvel fans or by writers and artists, but rather by marketing experts. Then again as Andy Warhol said, “Making money is art.”

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Next week, and next month the cycle will continue.

 

In another part of the country the writer gets his directions. Or possibly better put, he gets his formula. “Make C happen to character X and B happen to character A,” he’s told by editorial staff directed by capitalists instructed by marketing experts. So within the confines of these narrow directives the writer crafts a tale the best he can for he too also cherishes these characters which is why he wanted to write in the first place.

 

The writer writes and crafts and composes a symphony of a tale, pouring himself between the allowed structures and preconceived plot. He makes it work, and he makes it his own voice. He does everything he can to make it something in which he is proud.

 

With the story complete he returns it to the editor who admonishes him, “That’s going to conflict with this other writer’s story, or that doesn’t gel with the overall direction we wish to go, or make character X more C!” The writer is beaten, but needs his paycheck. This is how he survives after all. It is just a job and his boss wants him to do this.

 

The writer writes until he gets the approval he wants, the approval he needs: a paycheck. In the back of the writer’s mind he tells himself this is just a job, this is just another paycheck, and with enough of these I can create what I truly want. He listens to the editor who listens to the capitalist who listens to the marketing expert. Like Andy Warhol or Stan Lee said, “Making money is art,” right?

mm

Next week, and next month the cycle will continue.

 

Again he stands before the comic rack with trepidation. Has the writer ruined HIS cherished Marvel character again? He flips open the latest issue, sighs in disgust, puts the book back on the shelf, and grabs a copy from the back of the pile. He places it gently under his arm and walks to give the man-behind-the-counter what little money he has made.

 

Next week, and next month the cycle will continue.