Martha Thomases: Change

Green ArrowThe drugstore on my corner, Avignon Pharmacy, went out of business over the weekend. We should have known the writing was on the wall when the pharmacy was sold a couple of years ago and the store just sold skin-care, shampoo, bandages and stuff like that. Still, the place had been in business, serving the neighborhood, since 1837. They were the place that could get that hard-to-find lotion, or the medicine the insurance company didn’t know existed. I’m going to miss them.

Change is hard.

Change isn’t just hard for old people like me. It’s hard for all of us. As the link says:

“The problem is that change involves ‘letting go of what we know to be the current reality, and embracing new thought,’ said Jaynelle F. Stichler, professor emeritus at San Diego State University’s School of Nursing. ‘Even something as seemingly mundane as changing the brand of toilet paper can cause a reaction.’”

Superhero comic book fans can be especially traumatized by change. A lot of us (by which I mean, of course, me) fell in love with comics as children, and any change in continuity seems like an assault on our sense of reality. Which is kind of ridiculous, given that superhero comics have hardly anything to do with reality.

I’ve been reading superhero comics since at least 1958. The Silver Age heroes are my touchstones. I loved the original Supergirl because she tried so hard to be helpful and good, just as I did when I was seven and eight years old. I also like the sillier of the trick arrows in Green Arrow’s quiver.

This isn’t to say that I’m against all change. I immediately preferred Barbara Gordon as Batgirl over Betty Kane. I loved the vision of Batman created by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. I liked the Wolfman/Pérez Teen Titans more than the original. The Vertigo Doom Patrol was, I thought, much better than the earlier versions.

Maybe because I’ve liked some changes, reboots and continuity lapses don’t upset me. If a story has a plot that moves and character development along with an engagement with thematic issues that appeal to me, I’ll like it. If I don’t like it, I’ll complain, probably, but I’ll also go look for something else to like. Maybe I’ll check back in a year or so to see if I like it again.

See, here’s the thing I learned when I worked in marketing at DC: every title is someone’s favorite. Books (and characters) I loathed were loved by others, and vice versa. Since I am, generally, in favor of more pleasure, I thought all kinds of people should have the books they wanted.

Giving everyone something different to read might be good for readers, but it doesn’t necessarily work for publishers. Traditionally, corporations make a lot more money from one title that sells 100,000 copies than they do from ten titles that each sell 10,000 copies, especially when these books are only on sale for a few weeks. However, the marketplace has changed enough now, with the growth of trade paperbacks and digital distribution, so that a title that starts slowly can build to sustain a committed and profitable fan base.

The advantage to these smaller audiences is that, taken together, they grow the size of the market so that everyone profits. And by growing the market incrementally, publishers can be much more experimental than they can with big blockbusters.

The movie business has shown us, recently, that putting all one’s creative eggs in the blockbuster basket can ultimately shrink the marketplace. For decades, Hollywood went after the young adult male market as if there was no one else on the planet who wanted to go to the movies. And that worked very well for a while.

Until it didn’t.

The top three grossing movies of the year so far have female leads. A movie aimed squarely at the over-50 market, trounced all the other movies that opened against it.

Blowing things up and super-powers are no longer enough to make a movie a hit. While I enjoy this kind of movie personally, I rejoice at more choices.

The conventional wisdom, that women won’t go to see action movies, especially if they feature female leads, has been convincingly proven wrong, as the conventional wisdom so often is. It turns out that girls and women enjoy watching a woman face a challenge, especially if it involves more than simply romance. It may take a few years to convince the men who run Hollywood, but I’m pretty sure they’ll come around.

Because if there is one thing that doesn’t change, it’s the media industry’s love of money.