One of the greatest joys of my job is not hauling each week’s shipment of new comics and graphic novels up to the second floor of the store to count, sort, and pull them. I’m the guy at the store that puts that order together every month, and no one knows better than me that 2007 saw a record number of new graphic novels hit the stands (hence why I don’t want to be lifting them…). Now though, there’s proof. According to ICv2.com, there were 3314 graphic novels released in 2007, a figure that’s up 19% over 2006′s 2785 books.

Almost all of them are awful.

Seriously, I don’t usually come right out and say this sort of thing (inference is a blogger’s best friend) but man there are a lot of downright horrible graphic novels released every year. By that I mean all of it, Superheroes, educational books, “art comix”, tie-in books, licensed books, shitty adaptations of shitty movies. Manga, especially manga, which despite being cherry-picked out off of a tree that includes some _truly_ wretched material, is often terrible thanks to its formulaic blandness. Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga was not funny, it was a warning.

Almost every manga in print, in English, is better than the awful, awful movie-pitches-masquerading-as-a-graphic-novel that make up more and more published books. Man, I LOVE comics, and I can think of no greater insult to the medium than for it to be a comfortable slum for movie and TV writers between projects; adaptations of works that have already failed out of Hollywood. I know that the “Hollywood Game” of generating material that might be optioned in Tinseltown is what pays for my open-bars at the San Diego Comic-Con every year, but… ugh. I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees: stop printing vehicles for Sheia Fucking Lebouf on my goddamned trees.

I’d take a hundred noble failures, poor, deluded creators who’ve poured their heart and soul into truly terrible works of crap, over one more transparent plea for a Hollywood producer’s attention.

Not that I want another hundred noble failures of course. I’m kind of getting sick of the noble failures too. And of the creators with more marketing plans than actual talent; no number of press releases in my inbox will teach you to draw or write. And licensing… fuck. You know, I know the Udon guys. They fucking LOVE Street Fighter. Love it. Eat, sleep, breathe, own all the games, the toys, all of it. They are fully invested in producing Street Fighter comics, and they want to make them as great as possible. If you as a publisher or licensor do not possess that level of dedication (and the talent to match), then why bother? Why are you wasting all of our time? Slapping together an extra 48 pages with a movie, cartoon, or toy line’s logo on it takes less creativity than being a mime. And you’re wasting the Lorax’s trees.

So yeah, most of the 3300 graphic novels released in 2007 sucked. Godwin’s Law Sturgeon’s Law is that 95% of everything is crap, and that’s about right in this case. Of course, the fact that there’s a “Godwin’s Law” “Sturgeon’s Law” at all should tell me that this is no surprise to any of you, but I just feel like someone had to come out and say it: There are a lot of awful, awful graphic novels coming out these days. Whoever’s guarding the gate, be it retailers, journalists, “journalists”, whatever, I beg you; be discerning in your praise, don’t pass along PR without having vetted the project yourself, stand behind your recommendations and, if you can’t, own up to your mistakes.

- Christopher
Edit: I confused Godwin and Sturgeon.


17 Comments on “3300+ Graphic Novels? You better believe it…”

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  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Mar. 10, 2008: Another step toward the salvation of trees says:

    [...] “Seriously, I don’t usually come right out and say this sort of thing (inference is a blogger’s best friend) but man there are a lot of downright horrible graphic novels released every year. By that I mean all of it, Superheroes, educational books, ‘art comix,’ tie-in books, licensed books, shitty adaptations of shitty movies. Manga, especially manga, which despite being cherry-picked out off of a tree that includes some _truly_ wretched material, is often terrible thanks to its formulaic blandness. Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga was not funny, it was a warning.” – Christopher Butcher [...]

  2. Ole says:

    I think you mean Sturgeon’s law, not Godwin’s law.

  3. Mike McGee says:

    I think you’re thinking of Sturgeon’s Law. Godwin’s Law is that inevitably Mark Millar will be likened to Goebbels. Or something. I dunno, it’s early. And really: It’s not “Shia fucking Lebouf,” it’s “Shia Le-fuckin’-Bouf.” Everybody knows THAT, Mr. Bitter Comics Blogger Guy.

  4. Chris says:

    I think you are both right, and so I’ve fixed it.

  5. Chris says:

    Also, bad comics are worse than Hitler, so now we’re all right?

    - Chris

  6. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » News about stuff, most of it manga says:

    [...] Christopher Butcher surveys the graphic novel scene and concludes that Godwin’s Law applies there too: 95% is crap, and the manga is no exception. Choice quote: Manga, especially manga, which despite being cherry-picked out off of a tree that includes some _truly_ wretched material, is often terrible thanks to its formulaic blandness. Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga was not funny, it was a warning. [...]

  7. Tlonista says:

    T-shirt slogan summary: Bad comics make the Lorax cry.

  8. Lianne Sentar says:

    Hahahaha! I love you and your rage. I also think you’re right, as you usually are.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Could it possibly be that the average joe prefers “crappy” comics to “good” comics, or outside preferring, doesn’t make much of a distinction? And that as comics become more mainstream, the comics produced cater to this more average audience?

  10. Jones, one of the Jones boys says:

    Chris, I’m curious: do you think things are positively worse in “graphic novels” than in other entertainment media like ungraphic novels or movies? You seem to be suggesting that they are, when you talk about the Hollywood game–that a lot of these “graphic novels” are cynical hackwork, produced in bad faith, by people uninterested in the medium or their own stories. But then you seem to back away from that by citing Sturgeon’s law, as though comics were just another instance of the law. (After all, how many bookshops have separate sections for “literature” as distinct from the rest of the tripe they sell?)

    So, is it worse in comics, or is it just shit all over?

  11. Chris says:

    Jones- Actually, I think it’s considerably better for graphic novels than for other media, just because there were _only_ 3314 books released last year. I think that there were probably 150-300 good-to-excellent graphic novels last year, a huge middle section of mediocre crap, and an ever-growing bottom-of-the-barrel. Citing Sturgeon’s Law wasn’t backing away from anything, but maybe just explaining it?

    I do completely agree with “…when you talk about the Hollywood game–that a lot of these “graphic novels” are cynical hackwork, produced in bad faith, by people uninterested in the medium or their own stories.” I just think that cynical hackwork produced in bad faith knows no media boundaries, and is partly responsible for the “95%” in every medium…

    Granted, the fella who commented before you seems to think the average joe might prefer “crappy” comics, and I can only agree when I see the praise heaped on work that’s actually pretty mediocre stuff… I’m looking at the new book releases for last week as I type this, and it’s pretty awful. “Cable Classic”? “The Chronicles of Conan Volume 14″? The Now Comics “Speed Racer” Volume 2? Who’s buying this stuff? Why am I even ordering it?

    I don’t think “good” has to be synonymous with “elitist” either, I like my pulpy mainstream stuff as much as the next guy with any taste, I even fondly remember the Speed Racer stuff collected there from my youth, but am I ever aware that it is not good (it’s not even well-reproduced…).

    Getting back to what Mautner was talking about last week, how much of this is going to enter “the cannon”? How much of it will be in print in five years? Who’s ever going to re-read “X-Men vs. Apocalypse”?

    - Christopher

  12. Jones, one of the Jones boys says:

    Cable Classic has *already* entered the canon. It has the word “classic” in the title and Marvel wouldn’t lie to the consumer what are you talking about crazy person you are crazy. See also: New Mutants Classic (at least before Sienkiwhatever shows up).

  13. Bitter Matt says:

    Yeah, seeing “Cable Classic” seemed like some sort of signpost to me, too…

  14. Torsten Adair says:

    “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”–H.L. Menken
    “It’s not a crappy book if it sells.” Torsten’s Conjecture of Cynical Consumerism
    I sell books for Barnes & Noble. The new stuff, ordered by the buyer, is usually mindlessly shelved. Every week, I scan the database and see if there are titles of interest which were overlooked. I handsell every time I see someone looking at the graphic novels, seducing the innocent every chance I get.
    As in movies, some people are quote whores. Eventually, one hopes that the critics are critiqued, and those with taste are trusted more than the lickspittles.

  15. The Comics Creator says:

    Is there a site out there with a complete review listing of graphic novel releases?

    I think one of the reasons why there are a lot of bad graphic novels is that some creators believe it’s easy putting together a graphic novel story. They forego learning about the fundamentals of storycrafting and focus more on developing the art side.

    However, the longer the story, the more prone it is to narrative flaws. Art can be as pretty as possible, but it can’t save a poorly constructed and executed narrative.

    Great blog you have here. :-)

  16. Pedro Bouça says:

    Seeing this entry (many weeks after the fact, I know) got me wondering if Viz is EVER going to reprint/publish the missing books of Even a monkey can draw manga. I mean, that work NEEDS to get back in print!

    Chris, since you were able to get in touch with Viz on the Cat-Eyed Boy thing, would you be able to ask them that? Please!!!

    Best,
    Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

  17. Blog@Newsarama » Quote, Unquote says:

    [...] “There are a lot of awful, awful graphic novels coming out these days. Whoever’s guarding the gate, be it retailers, journalists, ‘journalists’, whatever, I beg you; be discerning in your praise, don’t pass along PR without having vetted the project yourself, stand behind your recommendations and, if you can’t, own up to your mistakes.” – Christopher Butcher, trying to build a metaphorical dam to cut off a flood of awful graphic novels [...]

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