Dear Comic Book Creators: MAKE IT MATTER

Superman Vol. 2 #9
Credit: DC

Our current COVID-19 landscape has changed our lives in many ways. One seemingly positive way? We now have a lot more time.

Time! That most precious of all commodities (especially in the publishing world). We’re always telling ourselves that if we only had more time, we’d do that one special thing. And now that we have time…we’re watching Tiger King again.

“If I only had more time” has been exposed, our convenient lie.

Comic creators and publishers have also told us that if only they had more time, they could do that big thing, that important thing, that grandiose thing! But that never seems to happen, either, unless you count Giant Summer Crossover XYZ as big, important, or grandiose (spoiler alert: No one does, though curiously, they all bought six tie-in books).

But hey. Hey. There’s really no excuse. As IDW has announced they’re publishing nothing for May and Aspen is on hiatus and Marvel is slowing their roll by 20%-30% and DC is doing whatever the DCs of the world do…time is in abundance. So here’s a modest proposal for what to do with your time, comic creatives and publishers:

Make it matter.

This is the perfect time to let your mind wander and come up with the perfect idea that will have impact, or turn up the gas on that back-burner idea you’ve had forever that you know people would love. Look, we don’t know for sure when the next damn issue of Batman or Fantastic Four is coming out anyway, so there’s not the all-consuming need to feed the assembly line and get pages to the artist, that specific gravity of comics since time immemorial.

Use this time. Breathe. And give us something special.

It’s been done before, to great acclaim.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Amazing Spider-Man #248 (1984) contained the story “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man,” in which Spidey revealed his identity to a 9-year-old superfan who was stricken with leukemia and had mere weeks left to live.

Superman #9 (1987) gave us “Metropolis 900 mi.,” John Byrne’s back-up story in which Lex Luthor dangles a fascinating and cruel moral choice in front of a small-town waitress.

• Marvel’s G.I. Joe #21 (1984) presented “Silent Interlude,” in which writer/artist Larry Hama told a totally silent story that inspired now-multiple generations of creators and showed the power that silence can have.

• Action Comics #775 (2001) was writer Joe Kelly’s justifiably angry response to yet another wave of overgrim “heroes,” and a powerful gut-punch of a statement as to why Superman and his unquestioning morality still mattered.

Credit: Marvel Comics

You probably know these books. Even if you haven’t read them, you’ve certainly heard about them. Look them up in your Overstreet, and guess what? Their back-issue value is even higher. Why? Because this is what makes comics great. This is the stuff that matters. This is the stuff that, even though it’s often filtered through a prism of capes-and-tights, is ultimately about humanity.

So give us human. We are all human beings, and desperately seek out human connections. Trust yourself. Be bold. If it’s important to you, there’s a good chance it will be important to readers. You can do anything, and now is the time.

Because guess what? The business will come back. This can be, should be, your moment of inspiration. Because if everything just comes back in the same way, what the hell is the point? This is your chance to make a first impression for the second time. Use it. If the entire business just picks up with part 5 of a seven-part storyline that people have forgotten about because it went dark 90 days ago…you’re fooling yourself. No one is going to come back with the same level of excitement.

Credit: DC

And comics will need excitement. It will need something different. It will need a human connection. The world has changed. Who is stupid enough not to acknowledge that change? We have time, but we also have a specific time, one characterized by the unknown, by the death of loved ones, by strife.

It’s in times of great strife that great inspiration, great creativity, and great impact can be found. Writer J. Michael Straczynski was a mere six issues into his run on Amazing Spider-Man when the events of Sep. 11, 2001 hit. Marvel asked him to use Marvel’s most everyman character to respond to the tragedy.

“I had a five-day deadline to get something written that would take the place of the next scheduled issue,” Straczynski remembers today. “I had no idea how to do it.  I knew the words needed to address that tragedy were in the dictionary but no idea which ones to use or in what order to put them. 

“On the next-to-last day I was in the producer’s trailer while shooting on location in Vancouver for [the TV show] Jeremiah when I took one last shot at it. And suddenly the words were just there, as if they were coming out of a radio, just that specific and clear and immediate. 

“I wrote them down as fast as I could – my laptop was at the office so I was hand-writing them on a notepad – almost like engaging in automatic writing. When I hit the end, it was less than an hour after starting. No editing afterward. What you see in the issue is what came out in that rush. I’ve never been on that particular frequency before or after, and I have no explanation for how it all came together.”

Great strife. The unknown. Inspiration.

Credit: DC

We have all those qualities again, now. The cloud of COVID-19 comes with the silver lining of an abundance of time: Publishers don’t need to feed the next issue as fast, and Giant Summer Crossover is definitely on hiatus. Our shared unique circumstance can be turned into a positive, but only if you take the wheel and do it

So do it. Do it, or you’ve wasted the moment. Do it, or you’ve let a 90-day lull lull you into submission. Do it, or you’ve let the circumstance win.

You have the time to hit a reset button in your head; to pause and reflect, and think about what matters.

So use the time. Make it matter.

—Similar articles of this ilk are archived on a crummy-looking blog. You can also follow @McLauchlin on Twitter.

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