Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Comics and the Mass Media - No Laughing Matter

As I mentioned the other day, I got the Resurrection comic from Oni Press during Free Comic Book Day. I was surprised to see that the comic featured a back-up tale about Tek Jansen, a creation of Stephen Colbert, the late-night comedian/fake newsman. What really surprised me though, was that I did not know about this until I got to the comic book shop and had the comic in my hand. Why is this in any way relevant? Because it got me thinking of the relationship between late-night TV, comedians, and comic books. Hit the jump to read more!



The Colbert Report

In case you are not familiar who Stephen Colbert is, here's a quick rundown: Stephen Colbert used to be a correspondent for Comedy Central's Daily Show, a late night "news" show that concentrated on the stupidity of politicians and other members on the media. Colbert proved to be pretty popular and earned himself a spin-off show, The Colbert Report, that struggled in it's early years, but eventually developed a rabid and loyal fanbase that is now known as the Colbert Nation.

The Colbert Nation will literally do anything that Colbert asks of them, whether it is to vote for him to choose NASA's name for a space module or edit wikipedia pages so they say elephants aren't in danger of extinction anymore. More importantly, people, items or websites mentioned or appearing on the Colbert Report always get the trademarked "Colbert bump", which is similar to the Oprah bump that sees the aforementioned topic's popularity rise for a short period of time after the show because fans will be interested in learning more about said people/items/websites.


Tek Jansen

Tek Jansen is a long running joke within the Colbert Report that originally started as novel he had supposedly written, but then became an animated short series and, eventually, was published as a comic book by Oni Press.

The main character in the series is basically an oversexed, more muscular and more confident version of Colbert as a cosmic secret agent James Bond-type that goes around the universe killing aliens and having sex with women.

What I've been wondering is why Colbert didn't promote this issue, especially on Free Comic Book Day of all days, when literally any one of his Colbert Nation followers and viewers could have been informed of its existence and prompted to head to their local comic shop to acquire a copy. This would have definitely been in the spirit of FCBD and resulted in getting new people to go to comic book shops to check out material they otherwise would ignore.


Colbert & Marvel Comics

Stephen Colbert is a self-admitted nerd, often proclaiming his love of fantasy novels, like Lord of The Rings, and making comic related jokes on his show (The Daily Show does this as well, although to a lesser extent), and has a working relationship with Marvel Comics.

Colbert is also on very friendly terms with Marvel's Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada, who has appeared several times on the show to promote certain big events at Marvel, such as Civil War and Secret Invasion. As a matter of fact, Colbert was awarded with Captain America's shield following his death and a lot of Marvel comics carried faux-election promotion material (such as bumper stickers and banners) for Colbert's short bid in 2008 for the United States presidency.

Quesada informed Colbert that in the Marvel universe, his presidency bid did not fail early on and continued all the way to election day, where he was a third-party candidate and won the popular vote, only to lose the electoral vote to Obama.


The Colbert Bump Applied to Comics

Remember that Colbert bump I mentioned earlier? Colbert appeared in one issue of Amazing Spider-Man, which was also, coincidentally, the final chapter of the New Ways to Die storyline. The issue also carried an "incentive" variant cover that featured Colbert on the cover in a homage of Amazing Fantasy #15 drawn by Joe Quesada.

According to Diamond sales data, Amazing Spider-Man #573 sold better than the previous one by around seven thousand copies (Amazing Spider-Man 572 sold ~75,000 units and 573 sold ~82,000). Additionally, Quesada appeared on the Colbert report to promote the issue. Was this another example of the Colbert bump or just a coincidence because it happened to be the end of a highly publicized storyline with high-profile creators? Maybe it is a little bit of both, but I think the appearance of Colbert and the mention in his show certainly helped the sales.

This brings me back to my original thought on why wasn't the Tek Jansen comic or its availability as a free comic on Free Comic Book Day mentioned at all on Colbert's own show? Wouldn't it have benefited Colbert himself, his comic, and the industry in general? Sadly, it is not the only case of comics being forgotten in late-night TV shows.


The Daily Show

Wyatt Cenac, one of the correspondents of The Daily Show, provided a short story about Luke Cage for this month's issue of Marvel Assistant Sized Spectacular. Again, there was no mention on the Daily Show of his appearance as a guest writer or the fact that he is part of a contest with the other stories that were also part of the Assistant Sized Spectacular to see which one gets an extra chapter.

The story in question was a tale of neighbourhood politics and how Luke Cage prefers not to get involved with politics, which would have been a nice fit for a political/social-commentary-heavy comedian involved with The Daily Show.

Wyatt Cenac has turned out to be pretty popular (he is my second favorite correspondent, second only to John Oliver) and I am sure lots of viewers would have checked out this comic and voted for him if they had known about it, so it puzzles me that he did not mention it on his own show.


Neil Gaiman & DC "Promotion"

Neil Gaiman is another well known comic creator that also appeared on the Colbert Report, but there was no mention of the fact that he was at the time writing Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?. To be fair, he was promoting his prose novel, The Graveyard Book, which had recently received a Newberry award, and there was no mention of the Coraline movie either.

However, it does make me wonder if DC can even promote their comics on Comedy Central. Comedy Central is part of the media giant Viacom and DC is (as Kirk pointed out in last year's post about what he thought DC was doing wrong) a part of the AOL Time-Warner corporation, who are bitter rivals in the international media market. Marvel, because it is not owned by a parent company, can work out whatever promotional deal benefits them the most without fear of conflicts. Comedy Central's late night programs have high ratings among college and high school students, one of the biggest demographics among comic book readers, so the possibility to promote comics through this channel could certainly help publishing companies.


How to Promote Comics on Late Night Television

But what could be done to promote comic books more in late night TV shows? These two particular shows always have prose writers when they have a new book out, so it wouldn't be that big of a stretch to have comic book writers appear on the show to promote new series or even new collections of stories they have written. Because of the political nature of the shows, however, most of the writers that they have are non-fiction writers. Although that is not set in stone, as proven by Gaiman's appearance on Colbert and various other instances.

Hugh Jackman has recently appeared in the Daily Show (among other shows, I am sure) as a means of promoting X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which he just happens to star in. If they can have the person that plays Wolverine as a guest on the show, couldn't they also have as a guest, either as a secondary guest or at a later date, the creators that are currently writing the Wolverine comics the movie is based on? Sure, neither Jason Aaron, Mark Millar nor Daniel Way would have the mass appeal of Jackman, but I think they would still provide an interesting interview that would be relevant to a popular topic, such as said Wolverine movie.


Final Thoughts

With dragging sales numbers across the board, new types of promotions could really make a difference for comic book companies. Maybe the late-night shows fear (and rightfully so) that having comic book writers as their guest would not be a big enough draw or not be of interest to their viewers when considering how small the comic book industry is compared to the book, TV, or movie industry. When you consider the kind of people that a movie draws in, even the lowest performing movies probably have a bigger audience than the highest selling comics of the past decade.

Obviously, I am not a comic book or TV insider, so there could be more at work here than I don't understand. But just as a viewer and a reader, I really wonder why there isn't more promotion of comics in TV shows that have the same target audience. Maybe one of you, the readers, knows why this is and I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.


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20 comments:

Andrenn said...

This was a really great post. I myself was surprised that Wyatt Cynac didn't mention the Assistant Sized Special. I love the Daily Show, not a huge fan of the Colbert Report but I still watch it every so often and I admit whenever Quesada is on I check it out. I would love to see writers coming onto The Daily Show and Colbert Report talking about their books.

Matt Ampersand said...

Andrenn, I'm glad you liked the post, and that I'm not the only one that thinks it would be a good idea to have them on the show.

Sebastian said...

Fantastic work. I see this one took some legwork.

I was a little iffy when I heard the Weekly Crisis was changing up the format, but it has definitely delivered. Thanks, guys!

Matt Ampersand said...

Sebastian, thanks, we always strive to provide as much information as we can. Of course it's not all me, Eric and Kirk always help me with the articles.

Ramon Villalobos said...

While agree that this does benefit sales, every time I watch one of these appearances I get the weird feeling that comic books are being exploited. Joe Quesada comes on the show grinning and kissing Colbert's ass, drawing pictures for his book, handing him Captain America's shield, making him president for a couple days or hours or however long that lasted... That kind of annoying sycophantic pandering is beneficial for sales and further turning Marvel into the company du jour for thirteen year old boys who are, let's face it, the only people who would be susceptible enough to think Quesada's appearance on Colbert is enough to warrant buying a comic book.

But is that necessarily a good thing? After the industry puts out movies like Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Watchmen to make comics look cool or even *gasp* sophisticated to the general public, what is there to gain by making the popular perception of comics be that they are for socially awkward prepubescent boys?

I know, I know, "if young audiences don't get into comics how will the medium sustain itself?" Well, I'm not sure, but I get the feeling like marginalizing the audience. Because that's what it does. Comic book fans are no stranger to being label, it was not too long ago that comics were for children, then for punk teenagers, then for forty year old men in their mother's basement. And just because that whole "geek chic" thing is popular NOW doesn't mean that's how people will remember comics a few years from now.

But maybe I'm just over reacting. Though I've gotta say, I'm a bit shocked by your exclusion of Big Bang Theory in this post. They are not only discuss comic books, but on network tv, and during primetime. Oddly enough, they can generally be seen discussing DC comics like the recent Battle for the Cowl argument.

Matt Ampersand said...

Big Bang Theory? I can't say that I am familiar with that show, but I never watched much in the way of cable outside of Comedy Central (plus some Discovery and History Channel). Is it a relatively new show?

Ramon Villalobos said...

It has been running for about two seasons now. It's on CBS.

I'm also a little surprised you didn't mention anything about Harvey Pekar who used to have a regular guest spot on David Letterman when David Letterman was more popular than he is today.

As cool as it would be to see a comic writer (or artist) as a guest on a talk show, I don't think the vast majority of people that watch those shows would particularly care all that much about the comics. Like I said, Pekar was a guest on that show for a good stretch and he still only got big notoriety after someone decided to make a movie about him and his work. It's the same reason they don't put authors of prose writing on late talk shows unless they are hugely popular, the general public wants to see people on TV on their TV.

Matt Ampersand said...

Well, I never really watched Letterman, which is why I never knew he was on the show. Otherwise I would have definitely mentioned it.

Ramon Villalobos said...

It was awhile ago so I guess it may have been a little irrelevant to the topic. I'm more surprised that you mentioned Wyatt Cenac's not shilling his comic on the daily show when Reggie Hudlan is President of Entertainment over at BET and he writes Black Panther. Yet never once did they ever reference it at all on the channel to my knowledge.

Also, no mention of Alan Moore on the Simpsons? That was fairly recent, fairly well publicized, and pretty inconsequential as far as comic sales I would imagine. I just don't think audiences in general respond to seeing comic writers on TV.

Matt Ampersand said...

Well, I don't watch BET, so I wouldn't know if he promoted it or not. I do remember some rumors about him possibly producing a Black Panther animated series, although I think that never came to fruition.

And I can't believe I forgot that Simpsons episode! It also featured the author of Maus and Ghost World.

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