Martha Thomases: A Whale of A Comics Story

What do whales have to do with comics? I’m glad you asked.

According to this study, in times of trouble, whales turn to the post-menopausal females to lead them. They trust these elderly females to know where the food is.

Besides humans, whales are the only other mammals to live after menopause, sometimes decades longer. Males tend to die at 60, but it isn’t unusual to find a female whale at age 90 or more.

(For the record, but without any evidence whatsoever, I like to think whales would also respect a male who lived to be 90. Just saying.)

There’s a lot of money going into comic book companies lately. Valiant just entered a partnership rumored to be worth nine figures. That means at least $100,000,000. Another company, Black Mask plans to grow its audience, not just with comics, but with videos and movies. That kind of outreach isn’t cheap.

Reading these articles, I was once again struck by the way popular culture equates graphic storytelling with superheroes. Yeah, lots of comics have superheroes in them, but so do a lot of prose novels (like this and this for example). And there are successful movies based on graphic novels that have no superheroes, like this and this, again, just as examples.

But superheroes are considered to be a film category now, with seepage onto television (where it is often more successful, in my opinion), so the big entertainment money is looking for comic book properties to buy. And there are lots of graphic stories out there, in a variety of genres, that would make terrific movies. The challenge is going to be finding the best ones.

Which brings us to the post-menopausal whales.

Like other forms of popular entertainment, comic book publishers and fans are always looking for the next great thing. Historically, sometimes the next great thing is terrific, like the way the Beatles shook up pop music in the 1960s, or Alan Moore opened up comics in the 1980s. Sometimes, the next great thing is terrible, like Justin Bieber.

Most often, we don’t know which new thing is truly great until it has a chance to stand the test of time. A by-product of looking for the next great thing is that, too often, these same people fail to consider the possibility of failure when making their decisions. A few years ago, Jerry Ordway wrote about being overlooked despite the hundreds of millions of dollars his work had earned, either directly or indirectly, for Warner Bros. At any comic book convention, if you go to Artists’ Alley, you’ll see lots of other professionals, all successful at one time and still possessing awesome skills, who can’t get work.

Like the post-menopausal whales, these folks know how to find food in tough times. They know the difference between a good story and a bad story, and how to make a so-so plot into something thrilling.

If I were a Hollywood investor, in addition to my nine-figure deals, I’d hire a couple of these old pros.

(Ye Ed notes: The art, above, is of Black Lightning villain Tobias Whale. Get it? Whale! Look, trust me, you wouldn’t want to see my first choice.)