Friday, 2 January 2015

Comics Year in Review 2014

Or a look at this years reviewed comics and their genre distribution

It is New Years time, which means the time has come to take stock of what I've read and reviewed in 2014. I feel like I do a pretty good job listing favourite comics during the regular business of Atoll Comics, so with these year end posts what I like to do is take a look genre distribution in the Mainstream (Marvel/DC) comics and how it compares to the genre diversity of all the other comics publishers. This is because I think one of the most interesting and important differences between Marvel/DC and other comics publishers is the spectrum of stories that they publish. So just like last year, I am going to assign genres to all of this year's Top-ten mainstream comics and reviewed Creator-Ownederish comics.

The genres:

Comics don't automatically get assigned genres, and are infrequently sorted by genre in stores. Instead, they tend to get sorted by format (monthlies, tradepaperbacks, original graphic novels etc). So I'm going to assign my own genres to all these comics. For convenience (and ease of graphing) I'm also going to lump a bunch of genres together. To keep us all on the same page these are the genres I'll be using and a short definition of what I mean by them.

 An action packed story with elements of travel, journey, and discovery. Usually a bit light hearted. Think Indiana Jones.

Autobiography: A truthful, or semi-truthful account of the authors life. Think... well any autobiography.
Comedy: A sizeable percentage of the story is devoted to making the audience laugh or subverting the premise for comedic/absurd reasons. I'm using this in both the humour and satirical sense. Think: Superbad or Dr. Strangelove.
Crime: A story about criminals and those that live outside the law. Usually has heist and/or thriller elements. Think Drive or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or even Ocean's 11 (the original please).
Cultural: I'm using this as a catch all for a story that integrally features a commentary on some sort of cultural construction. Think District 9 and apartheid or The West Wing and presidential politics.
Drama: A story whose action is built around emotional tension and consequences. Think Sophie's Choice.
Espionage: About spies. Think James Bond
Fantasy: A story involving a supernatural element like magic. I'm going to use it in the context of historic, epic, or mythic elements. Think Lord of The Rings
Historic: Set in the past: actual or alternate. Think Gladiator or Band of Brothers.
Horror: Stories that endeavour to scare, frighten, or creep out its audience. Think The Shining, or if you're me ET.
Mystery: A story that is constructed around solving a mystery or crime. I'm also going to lump police  and law procedurals into this category. Think Law and Order.
Other: Something that defies easy classification. Like, well that's kind of the issue isn't it.
Science Fantasy: A story with fantastical technologies or a story set in the future with fantastical elements without regard for Scientific plausibility. Think Star Wars or Firefly.
Science Fiction: A story that features some sort of societal or technological thought experiment. Think 1984 or I Robot
Slice-of-Life: About the lives of characters in a texture of their everyday life kind of way. That's a terribly nebulous definition... but it works? Think Forest Gump.
Superhero: People with super natural abilities have adventures of some sort. Think Avengers.
Thriller: Excitement! Suspense! Action! Danger! Think Die Hard.
Travelogue: A story that revolves around travelling to a new place and trying to convey the reality of living or visiting that place. Think Lonely Planet.
Urban Fantasy: A story set in the present with modest supernatural elements. Think Buffy The Vampire Slayer or Ground Hog Day or American Gods.
War: A story set during a war and about people involved in the event. Think Band of Brothers or Full Metal Jacket.
Western: A story about the Wild West, cowboys, etc. These stories have their own kinds of genre tropes and narrative feel which goes beyond the subject matter which I think justifies them as having their own genre. Think True Grit or The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Mainstream (Marvel & DC) comics I've read in 2014:

So here are all the comics that have been in my Top Ten at some point during the last year. How this is going to work is each title is worth 1 point towards further analysis. Since many titles don't clearly sit in one genre, their 1 point can be broken up and assigned to multiple genres. So for a book with two genres, each genre will get 1/2 a point. Pretty straight forward, right?

So with this scoring system in place these are the books I've read this year and the genres I think they most belong to:

 Superhero (Analysis)

Avengers Assemble: Superhero (Analysis)
Batgirl: Superhero (Analysis)

Batman: Superhero

Black Widow: Espionage 
Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier: Espionage, Science Fiction (Analysis)
Captain Marvel V2: Superhero, Science Fantasy (Analysis)
Daredevil: Superhero (Analysis)
FF (2): Superhero, Adventure (Analysis)
Hawkeye: Superhero, Thriller (Analysis)
Moon Knight: Superhero, Thriller (Analysis)

Ms. Marvel: Superhero (Analysis)
Rocket Racoon: Science Fantasy 
Secret Avengers: Espionage, Comedy (Analysis)
She-Hulk: Mystery (Analysis)
The Movement: Superhero, Cultural (Analysis)
The Young Avengers: Superhero (Analysis)
Wonder Woman: Superhero, Fantasy (Analysis)

Which gives me the following genre breakdown for Mainstream comics:

Creator-ownederish comics I've read in 2014:

In the same period of time I read all or some of the following creator-ownederish comics. Again, each title is worth 1 point, and this point can be chopped into parts for titles that span multiple genres. Oh, and I've included links to all the reviews that have been published. Here's the list:

Air: Urban Fantasy, Cultural (Review)

Atomic Robo: Adventure, Comedy (Review)
Bad Houses: Slice-of-Life (Review)

Bandetta: Adventure (Review)
Big Questions: Other (Review)
Blacksad: Mystery (Review)
Blankets: Autobiography (Review)
Burma Chronicles: Autobiography, Travelogue (Review)
By Chance or Providence: Historic, Horror (Review)
Chew: Mystery, Comedy (Review)
Demo: Superhero, Drama (Review)
East of West: Science Fantasy, Western (Review)

Exit Wounds: Slice-of-Life (Review)
Fatale: Crime, Horror (Review)
Finder: Science Fiction, Other (Review)

Ghost: Superhero, Horror (Review)
God Is Dead: Fantasy, Horror (Review)
Goliath: Historic (Review)
Incognito: Crime, Superhero (Review)
Lazarus: Science Fiction (Review)
Leaving Megalopolis: Superhero, Horror (Review)
Mara: Science Fiction (Review)
Multiple Warheads: Science Fantasy, Travelogue (Review)
Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.: Superhero (Review)
Pretty Deadly: Western, Fantasy (Review)
Pride of Baghdad: Historic, War (Review)

Prophet: Science Fiction (Review)
Pyongyang: Autobiography, Travelogue (Review)
RASL: Science Fiction, Thriller (Review)
Rat Queens: Fantasy (Review)
Saga: Science Fantasy (Review)
Satellite Sam: Historic, Mystery (Review)
Scenes From An Impending Marriage: Autobiography (Review)
Secret: Espionage (Review)
Sex Criminals: Comedy, Cultural (Review)
Shenzhen: Autobiography, Travelogue (Review)
Snowpiercer: Science Fiction (Review)
Stumptown: Mystery, Thriller (Review)
The Manhattan Projects: Historic, Science Fiction (Review)

The Massive: Thriller, Cultural (Review)
The Property: Slice-of-Life (Review)
The Sixth Gun: Western, Fantasy (Review)
The Unwritten: Urban Fantasy, Cultural (Review)
Three: Historic (Review)
Transmetropolitan: Science Fiction, Cultural (Review)
Uber: Historic, Superhero, War (Review)
Umbral: Fantasy, Horror (Review)
Unknown Soldier: Historic, Cultural (Review)
Zero: Espionage, Science Fiction (Review)
Which gives us the following genre breakdown:

And if we compare the genre distribuitions between Mainstream (DC/Marvel) and Creator-Ownederish (basically everything else), we get the following:

This is the third year I've done one of these roundup/genre analysis posts. Go here for 2013, and 2012 can be read here. What this means is that I can pool my genre distributions (correcting for any repeat titles and redundancies) to increase the sample size of the analysis and maybe cut down on sampling bias a little. 

Over the past 3 years of mainstream comics I get the following genre distribution:

Over the same period this is the distribution for all the Creator-ownederish titles I've reviewed:

As always there are a ton of caveats with this kind of analysis. I read what I read, what I like and what I'm curious about, which means that the data isn't exactly an objective sample of what is being published. For instance, I am sure that the Superhero genre is under-represented in this year's Mainstream comics data since I just seem to be drawn to the more off-beat comics offerings from the Mainstream publishers. That said, I feel like this little analysis does a reasonable job of capturing a few interesting trends worth unpacking.

In past years the trend I've seen is that Mainstream comics have been overwhelmingly Superhero comics while non-Mainstream comics have a much wider genre distribution. You can see this trend reflected in the cumulative graphs. I still think this is a really interesting effect, in that it seems that Mainstream publishers are really focused on delivering Superhero comics to the exception of pursuing other genres. Creator-ownderish comics publishers seem to be interested in publishing all kinds of comics. Whether this is a result of them pursuing an underserved market, avoiding the Mainstream Superheroic stranglehold, or just creator interest is an open question. The trend is definitely there.

I've always felt this was important because Superhero comics are not for everyone. Pretty much all of the people know Superheroes are a thing and that they can read about them in comics. What is less appreciated by the non-comics reading public, in my experience, is that comics can also be serious Crime or Sci-fi, Autobiography or Literary Fiction stories too. Comics could probably reach a wider audience by catering to wider interests. Non-Mainstream comics appear to being doing that, and I think it's a really good, really healthy thing for comics.

What is interesting in the 2014 data is that the share of non-Superhero comics in the Mainstream category has grown significantly. Nearly half of the Mainstream comics I read this year were at least partially non-superheroic. Or put another way, the genre distribution of the Mainstream comics I read in 2014 is far more diverse. Now, due to sampling bias this might not be representative, but I'm really enjoying the genre variety in my Mainstream comics. I wonder if this is a sign that Mainstream comics, mainly Marvel, is trying to attract more new readers through genre diversification or if they are trying to attack the growing marketshare of non-Mainstream comics. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues in 2015.

Post by Michael Bround

Comics in review 2013
Comics in review 2012

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