Welcome to comics THORsday! Today we’ll take a look at comics from a publishing perspective. We’ll also take a look at what happens when publishing companies adapt their comics to different markets. We’ll use superhero comics to do so.
As we saw last week, comics are volumes of juxtaposed images ordered in a sequence with a certain narrative. Comic volumes are fixed by sheets of bounded paper. But, we can also find them digitally as well. Comic books and graphic novels are marketed in a different way. Comic books tend to be serial, having many volumes, while graphic novels tend to be self contained.
In the US, monthly comics have around 30 pages and volumes are slim, with a thin paper cover. Pages are fixed by sheets of bounded paper. The same can be found in Spain. Marvel superhero monthly comics seem to use the same pattern.
We can see the same publishing pattern: similar type of paper, similar bounding, and similar cover disposition. However, when we take a look into the inside, we start to find differences.
Issues in the US have plenty of ads in the pages throughout the comic book.
However, in Spain, you won’t find some ads till the very end of the comic book, usually the last pages along with some writings from the publishing company. You will not find ads throughout the comic book.
Comic books can also be collections in paper back, closer to what graphic novels are. Their covers are made in thicker paper, and they include several volumes of the comic books. On the left we can see Loki Agent of Asgard, US edition. On the right, a Spanish “graphic novel” for Legendary StarLord. Superhero comics tend to be published in much thicker paper than their US counterparts, similar to graphic novels.
US collection comic books paper are softer, while the Spanish version of them is thicker and more durable.
The Spanish version of Legendary StarLord has thicker covers, and larger. You can even find surprises there too, along with some ads.
In this version of Legendary StarLord we can even find a bookmark that you can use when reading the comic book, which has a little bit of “graphic novel” aura.
Hard cover comic books are often mistaken by graphic novels, since graphic novels tend to have better paper quality. Their covers are really thick and durable. While in the US you can find Marvel hard cover collectible comic books, in Spain I could only find the Wizard of Oz, and other titles, but not all of them. Marvel Superhero comics tend to be published with the in-between quality of the monthly comic books and the paperback ones.
Though you can find DC superhero comic books in hard cover easily, you cannot find the same pattern with Marvel. In fact, not all titles from Marvel are published on a monthly comic book manner.
When you go to Panini, the publisher who publishes and sells Marvel comics in Spain, you find out that some titles do have monthly comic books like in the US while others not. Titles like Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor or the X-men, find their monthly equivalents in Spain. With some differences, these comic books make it to the shelves every month.
However, other minor titles like Loki Agent of Asgard and Legendary StarLord can only be purchased every now and then, when all the comic book volumes have been collected to create a collecting paperback comic book in the US.
It is not only that publishing patterns might vary a little bit, when they are published also varies. And this influences the closures that audiences make in both countries. While in the US can enjoy their favorite superheroes monthly, Spaniards need to wait during months before they can read some titles.
Another surprising fact is the titles that can be found monthly in Spain: most of them are connected, in one way or another, with Marvel superhero movies. Another interesting issue is how comic books are published: the quality of their covers. While Marvel uses an in-between quality for the US paperbacks, DC tends to use hardcovers for many of their titles.
So, what makes a comic book a comic book? What can these publishing differences tell us about the audiences and their possible closures when reading the comics?
We use the term comics as a general word that wants to define the medium of juxtaposing images in a sequence. A comic book is a general term to define a medium which places side by side images in a sequence and that has the shape of a volume, a collection of pages that are also connected in a sequence with a certain narrative. Publishers might market comic books are “graphic novels” to elevate their status and have more sales. Depending on the country, publishing practices might vary, and culture might influence how a comic book might be published.
For example, as we’ve seen above: in the US monthly comics are usually filled with ads throughout the comic book. However, the same practice in Spain could result in less sales. Spanish are used to find ads at the end along with some words from the publisher.
Today we are going to learn something else about comics: the closure. The closure is the process by which readers apply their own experiences and culture background when understanding the encapsulated images that are found in sequences of panels into events. So, not all people will closure the same comic in the same way, even if they belong to the same culture. An easy example would bee a geek who has hardships will make closures about Spiderman that an old rich executive won’t make.
The process of closure in comics also varies when translations are made. For example, in Legendary StarLord we find that, while the translation from English to Spanish is quite okay, the stressed words change the pace of meaning. Let’s take a look at some examples.
StarLord (English): Do you wanna stay with me? Like, out here in space?
StarLord (Spanish): ¿Quieres quedarte conmigo? Ya sabes, aquí en el espacio.
The stressed word in the original comics is “space” but the stressed word in the Spanish translation is “stay.” What characters stress in one version and the other is quite different, to the point that the tone, pace and dynamics of the comic book change. Hence, closures for American readers and Spanish readers are different, just from the very start.
When we have comic book between our hands, we sometimes forget that they are also cultural vessels that travel worldwide. While closures at home can vary according to some parameters, closures made abroad can drastically change their meaning, or their tone, even the intention of the authors can fade away.
But the influence of American comics is undeniable: even the publishing methods are being introduced in markets such as the Spanish one. Comics are a vessel for cultural imperialism as well. Like Hollywood movies, comics are also exporting worldwide a certain point of view: that belonging to the US. The cultural hegemony is felt not only by exporting cultural vessels like comics, very much as they are, but also by creating deeper influences.
In the world of Spanish comics, a world deeply influenced by the Franco-Belgian bande dessinée, we found no Superheroes like the American ones. Instead there were traditional heroes like Captain Thunder, a 12-century knight who travelled the world to enforce justice and freedom. However, in the 70s, a parody of Superman appeared: Super López. Super López is not like the American Superheroes: he is a disaster. His looks are those of an average Spanish man, who has one of the most common surnames in Spain: López. The comic mixes DC and Marvel Superheroes creating an unlikely universe: the Supergroup (the Avengers equivalent) is composed by Super López, the Wizard (parody of Dr. Strange), Captain Hispania (parody of Captain America), the Tin-guy (parody of Iron Man), and so on. Their stories are all making fun of Superheroes adapted to the Spanish audiences. Audiences who didn’t care much which publisher crafted the Superheroes in the first instance. This parody of American Superheroes has been so successful that it is still being published and it has also been published in other European countries.
In spite of this influence, can we find a real counterpart of the American Superhero in Spain? Is there any ‘American-like Superhero’ out there? Can we talk about a deeper cultural influence? The answer is: yes.
Around 6 years ago, two Spaniards created “Ibéroes,” what we can consider a true Superhero comic book, made in Spain. Its Superheroes follow a similar pattern of that of American Superheroes, with a very Spanish origin. In fact, the word of the comic is composed by two other words mashed into one: ‘ibero’ meaning Spanish and ‘éroes’ meaning heroes.
- We’ve discovered that comics are a particular kind of sequential art, volumes which juxtaposes images in sequences, encapsulating them in sequences of juxtaposed panels and pages with a certain narrative.
- We’ve also seen that graphic novels tend to be longer volumes than comics, which are self contained. While comic books tend to last several issues, graphic novels tend to last just one. However, many publishers an authors tend to use the word “graphic novel” for marketing reasons or to give more value to their work.
- We’ve seen that the process of closure is the one by which the reader understands the events into the comics according to their own background and culture.
- We’ve also learnt that audiences can make different closures depending on their backgrounds. To belong to the same culture does not guarantee that everyone will end up making the same closure. However, it’s pretty easy to see how audiences from different cultures do close comics in a different way.
- We’ve also seen that comics, as a medium, can become vessels of ideas that can travel worldwide becoming tools of “cultural imperialism.”
- We’ve also discovered that publishers might not publish comic books in the same way in different places. They are somehow adapted to new cultures, even if changes are minimal.
Coming next: History of comic books in the US.
Recommended readings & Sources:
- The Power of Comics, history, form & culture, by Randy Duncan and Matthew J. Smith.
- Marvel Comics: Avengers, Infinity, Loki Agent of Asgard, Legendary StarLord, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Emerald City of Oz.
- Spanish Comics: Capitán Trueno, Super López, Ibéroes.
- Mirror for Humanity: A Concise Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, by Conrad Phillip Kottak.