Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Temple


In this new story by the author of The Tao of Humiliation, a photograph heightens the mystery around a strange childhood memory. ♦ 

The retrospective exhibition was in honor of forty years of my father’s documentary photography, in tribute to the breadth and seriousness of his interests. Some of those in attendance were the same people I had met at his funeral. We were now celebrating what the exhibition catalogue called “a life dedicated to an art of consequence.”
       A window behind us was open—the heat was bad—and early evening gusts sent napkins fluttering on the table against the wine glasses. After a while I was ignored, and grateful to be able to travel the room and look at my father’s photographs at my own pace.
       I was staring at a sequence in a corner of the gallery when I saw it: my temple. It had to be my temple, although just a corner of it was visible. There were the same pink, winding staircases and, in the foreground, the same pool that I had seen all those years ago. The background was fuzzy, but clear enough—I too find it hard to believe, but it is true—and there you can see a woman leading a child by the hand, and I am that child.
       There I am, walking toward the pool, my hand held by that woman, although at first it appears that two children are holding hands and walking together until you look closely. And in the foreground: the pool that held both my father’s and my attention.
       In the photograph nothing at all appears on the surface of the pool but, horrifically, piles of children’s sandals.

I remember the temple with such clarity because that afternoon I lost my father. It was while searching the grounds for him that I came across a long line of flowering bushes, like a tunnel of bushes. When I gave up trying to find my father I returned there and crawled under the branches, breathing in drifts of pollen that smelled like nutmeg. Around me, white and yellow trumpet-shaped blossoms hung, and underneath my bare feet the ground was as smooth and cool as talcum powder. Through the branches I could see if my father came near, while I imagined I was invisible otherwise.
       From my hiding place I watched a man and a girl in the distance, most likely his daughter. The girl walked behind her father, although the two of them appeared connected, as if roped. Every few feet the man turned to make sure his daughter was there. Watching them, I was sick with envy, although I wanted to call what I was experiencing a word that I respected: heartache. My father’s—and my own—experiences convinced me that I didn’t deserve to complain of envy, given the nature of the sufferings we witnessed everywhere we traveled.
       Only a week earlier I had heard the word heartache when a British woman applied the term over dinner to how much she missed her children, and it was a word that made sense to me. It seemed like a medical condition; I had heartache, as if there was a space where my heart should be and that space ached. When I was bored after trips and came home to my dolls I peered into their arm sockets or the creases at their necks and envied how clean and simple their bodies were. Often I wished that human bodies were like that.
       Right after the daughter and her father passed out of sight, scratching noises flittered inside the branches around me. The scratching grew frantic. Whole branches thrashed as if an animal was trapped and fighting to get out. In panic I scrambled to the opening through which I had crawled. It was then that I heard my mother’s voice.
       I saw the woman’s flowered dress first, flowing over her knees. The woman pulled me up by my arm. When I stood I saw that her face was broad and bunched with gray knots. She had my mother’s voice, even something like her intonation. But she spoke in a language I didn’t know. Nevertheless, it was clear she was scolding me.
       By then, my mother had been dead for almost two years.
       A small crowd gathered around us. The men wore clothing like my father’s—dark pants and short-sleeved shirts that breathed in the moist heat. The women were swathed in long dresses like silky banners that shook in the breeze. It was as if the men were the background from which the women emerged like brilliant watery flowers.
       The woman scolding me was hardly taller than I was, although the power rolling off her was immense. She pressed her face to mine without looking into my eyes. She smelled like old onions, and vaguely like an Australian woman my father and I had met at a hotel that month. I twisted in every direction to find my father.
       Soon the woman and I were passing into the bright sun, and then into shadow. I was passive, limply accepting the disorienting whims of an adult as inevitable. I had a habit of taking off my sandals and running barefoot no matter how many times my father warned me to do otherwise. Soon my feet started to hurt. None of the people followed us. Now it occurs to me to wonder if she had lied to them, saying I was her child or that she was in charge of me.
       When at last the woman let my arm go, we were at a temple.
       The walls glowed in the late afternoon light, pink staircases curling on the outside walls. I was spun around and pushed forward. The woman’s breath beat against the back of my head. Then, just beyond the tips of my feet, the temple pool flickered. As I stared harder, shadows crawled in the pool. Miniature breastplates that tiny soldiers might wear were moving just past my feet.
       I wondered if I was dreaming, if I was really seeing what was there. The clouds moved off the sun and then I thought I understood. I was looking into a pool of turtles. The pool was filled with turtles, turtles stacked upon turtles, shining as if polished. And below them there had to be more turtles upon which those turtles crawled. So many turtles squirmed in the pool that it was impossible to see where one turtle began and another ended. Some turtles, like horseshoe crabs on the beach, were upside down and looked blown out from inside.
       The woman pushed at my shoulder, shooing me forward. The pool turned black and white like pixels. I knew that I could fall forward and never stop. I pressed my feet hard into the earth. I stiffened, holding my ground.
       It must have been a long time before my blouse moved softly on my back as if it had been pinched and lifted. There was a breeze, and I knew that, at last, no one was behind me.

That evening the lights from the parking lot shot through the edges of the window shade in our hotel room. My father lay sleeping in a narrow bed against the wall. He had a tendency to whimper in his sleep—my mother used to complain to him about it—and so he kept on the television to cover the sounds he made. The walls flickered as if we were in an aquarium. From far below on the walkway a radio jeered. I remember not being able to sleep and feeling I didn’t deserve to sleep. Who was I to complain? Nothing had happened to me, really. And yet I felt that my life had been changed.
       Never once did I tell my father about the woman who took me away. Somehow I thought he knew and approved.

At the reception for my father I endured more strangers’ curiosity as well as the kindness and sympathy of some well-meaning acquaintances. And then, after everyone but the curator left, I asked to be alone with my father’s photographs. The curator allowed me the privilege with such courtesy that my eyes stung.
       For a long time I studied the final image in the sequence. There was so much horror in the world, why would my father have set up his own tableau? Or was I the one who misremembered everything? Never did I see children’s sandals in the pool.
       Did my father see the truth whereas my imagination betrayed me, or protected me?
       As you must already know, I’m incapable of recording truth as my father did. To capture a child’s face numb from terror. To let the shrubs behind that child fade off into the background while the child’s eyes demand to be looked into.
       My father often said that reality was worse than whatever he could capture in a still image. On that afternoon so long ago, had my father been dissatisfied with how little he could find as evidence of a greater truth? Had he planted images upon duplicate images to suggest—to horrify—to illustrate what he knew to be true and to make us imagine what we could not witness? Had he created an art of consequence? Had he faithfully documented a dimension of the truth that would otherwise remain invisible?
       I stared into the photograph of the temple pool, knowing what I might find among those children’s sandals—given that the transformation would have been so easy for him, so convenient for him. How could my father be guilty of manipulating both the visible and the invisible worlds?
       I told myself again that my own life was slight and safe compared to anything my father had witnessed. Whatever I discovered about the photograph, it would not change the fact that my father had created an art of consequence.
       Still, I looked at the temple pool until my heart jolted as if it had been stuck for years. Could I even remember my sandals? Didn’t they resemble any child’s sandals? They were ordinary, weren’t they? Brown and scuffed and ripped near where the heels rub and worn away there into small pale circles. Why should my sandals be in the temple pool?
       And yet, of course—of course they were.

       "My Temple" from The Tao of Humiliation, copyright 2014 by Lee Upton, BOA Editions, Ltd,
  • About the Author
    Lee Upton is the author of the forthcoming collection The Tao of Humiliation—winner of the 2nd Annual BOA Short Fiction Prize—as well as twelve other books including the novella The Guide to the Flying Island and a collection of essays on writing, Swallowing the Sea. She is Writer-in-Residence and professor of English at Lafayette College in Easton, PA.

    Sunday, March 23, 2014

    Humans of New York: Boundless Community


    How a photoblog documenting the Big Apple and its inhabitants became a social media and publishing phenomenon.  ♦ 
    Twenty-nine-year-old Brandon Stanton is the brain and heart behind Humans of New York (HONY), a storytelling photo series through which he documents the unique human experience each day. Stanton began HONY in 2010 after he lost his job as a bond trader in Chicago and moved to New York with the will to catalogue its inhabitants through photo. Initially, he planned to collect 10,000 photographs and post them on an interactive online map, but his project quickly evolved beyond that. After about a year, Stanton started adding captions to the pictures he uploaded. He found that many of his subjects were willing to talk to him, and he realized that these conversations were even more valuable than the photographs.
           HONY is a creative, emotionally-honest photo phenomenon that has sparked hundreds of spinoffs worldwide. It began humbly with Stanton following his passion for photography and sharing it through Facebook. In an article in the Huffington Post in which he shares his Facebook story, Stanton explains how HONY grew out of social media. After losing his job in July of 2010, he traveled to various cities taking pictures and sharing them through Facebook albums for his friends and family. In his journey, he realized that those paying attention were most receptive to his photographs of people. So, when he arrived in New York in August, the city’s people were his focus. He spent the next few weeks adding to his multiple “Humans of New York” Facebook albums. Inspired, Stanton moved to New York permanently to take photographs, soon cataloging thousands online, but at first gathering little recognition. Eventually, he created a Humans of New York Facebook Page and moved his photographs there from his personal profile. Support for his project grew slowly as he improved his content with storytelling captions and proved himself reliable by consistently uploading new photographs every day. Today, the page has over three million likes.
           Stanton posts photographs not only to the HONY Facebook Page but also to his blog, Twitter, and Instagram. HONY thus allows for an interactive experience because of its expansive digital identity through multiple social media sites; the project promotes collaborative writing as people comment on photographs in response to descriptive captions, putting a spotlight on the lives of real New Yorkers and sharing their words in a place where a boundless community can participate in the conversation. Depending on the nature of the story, some captions inspire conversation and others debate, bringing together voices that wouldn’t otherwise intersect.
           Stanton’s blog is sustained by social media but rooted in his willingness to approach strangers. In an interview with CNN last October, Stanton spoke about the importance of giving off a natural and genuine energy in talking to people. His boldness—his bravery, even—fosters insight into what we all wonder at some point while wandering in crowds: What’s his story? What is she thinking? Is that person happy? His blog digs at these questions through a population of ever-diverse subjects: hard-working dads, starving artists, activists, loving couples, college students, toddlers “in microfashion,” and others. His Featured Portraits page offers a selection of particularly compelling photographs that, when coupled with even the simplest caption, can capture the story of a moment in time or a life.

    _________________________________ “When my husband was dying, I said: 'Moe, how am I supposed to live without you?’ He told me: ‘Take the love you have for me and spread it around.'” __________________________________

           As a twenty-two-year-old Ohioan who has only ventured to the coveted New York City on high school orchestra trips, seeing and reading about real New Yorkers is fantastic for two reasons: One, the New Yorker is demystified as I find out that problems plaguing the Big Apple look a lot like those we have in Ohio, and two, despite my will to work like a machine, I see that I am only human. Stanton uplifts the human experience in sharing his photographs and conversations. He clarifies people who are misunderstood and unheard, and in doing so he breaks the silence; he celebrates the unique by giving individuality a digital home. In this way, a woman doing a project on women who creatively wear the hijab enters the same space as a man studying atomic processes to make more efficient solar cells.
           New York City works well for his project because of high pedestrian activity and the developed public transportation system; people are everywhere. But humans in other places would capture the spirit of the project, too. In fact, in 2012, Stanton traveled to Iran. His blog has an Iran Page devoted to the photographs and stories he collected there, a compilation that uplifts the Iranian culture and works to debunk the presuppositions Americans might have regarding the people; he speaks to this effort in this section of his blog, urging that there is a difference between a people’s government and the people under that government. 
           With millions of people watching, Stanton also takes opportunities to promote good causes through HONY. Recently he used the site to tell the adoption story of an abused dog named Phyllis, linking the story to Susie’s Senior Dogs, a group which works to match older dogs in great need with loving owners.
          HONY’s presence through social media is powerful. It has engendered a rich digital storytelling community that is both fueled and sustained by humans and their context. The project is for the curious; the project is for the good. And the project continues and grows. Last October, St. Martin’s Press published the Humans of New York book, containing 400 of the photoblog’s best portraits; it is a #1 New York Times Bestseller. In December, Time put Stanton on its list “30 Under 30 World Changers.” And next year, Stanton will publish a children’s book called Little Humans.

  • About the Author
    Holly Jeric is a senior English Education student at Miami University. She is currently seeking a teaching position, but her plan in the interim most definitely involves watching old movies, trying out new recipes, and rereading the books she already loves.

    Friday, March 21, 2014

    A Definition of Author Platform


    Unsure what an author platform is or why you need one? Publishing and social media guru Jane Friedman demystifies the concept and explains the benefits of platform done right.  ♦ 

    Platform is one of the most difficult concepts to explain, partly because everyone defines it a little differently.
           But one thing that I know for sure: Editors and agents are attracted to authors who have this thing called “platform.”

    What editors and agents typically mean by platform

    They’re looking for someone with visibility and authority who has proven reach to a target audience.
           Let’s break this down further.

    Visibility. Who knows you? Who is aware of your work? Where does your work regularly appear? How many people see it? How does it spread? Where does it spread? What communities are you a part of? Who do you influence? Where do you make waves?

    Authority. What’s your credibility? What are your credentials? (This is particularly important for nonfiction writers; it is less important for fiction writers, though it can play a role. Just take a look at any graduate of the Iowa MFA program.)

    Proven reach. It’s not enough to SAY you have visibility. You have to show where you make an impact and give proof of engagement. This could be quantitative evidence (e.g., size of your e-mail newsletter list, website traffic, blog comments) or qualitative evidence (high-profile reviews, testimonials from A-listers in your genre).

    Target audience. You should be visible to the most receptive or appropriate audience for the work you’re trying to sell. For instance: If you have visibility, authority, and proven reach to orthodontists, that probably won’t be helpful if you’re marketing vampire fiction (unless perhaps you’re writing about a vampire orthodonist who repairs crooked vampire fangs?).

    What platform is NOT

    It is not about self-promotion.
    It is not about hard selling.
    It is not about annoying people.
    It is not about being an extrovert.
    It is not about being active on social media.
    It is not about blogging.
    It is not about your qualifications, authority, or experience, although these are tools for 
           growing or nurturing a platform.
    It is not something you create overnight.
    It is not something you can buy.
    It is not a one-time event.
    It is not more important than your story or message (but hopefully it grows out of that).

    Platform is not about bringing attention to yourself, or by screaming to everyone you can find online or offline, “Look at me! Look at me!” Platform isn’t about who yells the loudest or who markets the best.
           It is more about putting in consistent effort over the course of a career, and making incremental improvements in extending your network. It’s about making waves that attract other people to you—not about begging others to pay attention.

    What activities build platform?

    First and foremost, platform grows out of your body of work—or from producing great work. Remember that. The following list is not exhaustive, but helps give you an idea of how platform can grow.

    Publishing or distributing quality work in outlets you want to be identified with and that your target audience reads.

    Producing a body of work on your own platform—e.g., blog, e-mail newsletter, social network, podcast, video, digital downloads, etc—that gathers quality followers. This is usually a longterm process.

    Speaking at and/or attending events where you meet new people and extend your network of contacts.

    Finding meaningful ways to engage with and develop your target audience, whether through content, events, online marketing/promotion, etc.

    Partnering with peers or influencers to tackle a new project and/or extend your visibility.

    [Side note: Some people have an easier time building platform than others. If you hold a highly recognized position (powerful network and influence), if you know key influencers (friends in high places), if you are associated with powerful communities, if you have prestigious degrees or posts, or if you otherwise have public-facing work—yes, you play the field at an advantage. This is why it’s so easy for celebrities to get book deals. They have “built-in” platform.]

    Platform building is not one size fits all

    Platform building is an organic process and will be different for every single author. There is no checklist I can give you to develop a platform, because it depends on:

    your unique story/message
    your unique strengths and qualities
    your target readership

    Your platform should be as much of a creative exercise and project as the work you produce. While platform gives you power to market effectively, it’s not something you develop by posting “Follow me!” on Twitter or “Like me!” on Facebook a few times a week. Use your imagination, and take meaningful steps. It’ll be a long journey.

  • About the Author
    Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has more than 15 years of experience in the publishing industry. She is the co-founder of Scratch Magazine, all about the intersection of writing and money, and the web editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review. She speaks frequently at industry events and writers conferences around the world. Find out more here.

    Thursday, March 20, 2014

    Wearing Books


    Out of Print Clothing celebrates the art of cover design and lets you wear your love of books on your sleeve.  ♦ 

    In 2010, the online store Out of Print Clothing made its debut in the fashion market based on a simple idea: selling t-shirts designed with book covers from classic novels. The store has amassed considerable success since then and has expanded to stock other literary clothing and accessories such as sweatshirts, baby onesies, tote bags, notebooks, jewelry, and more. But why is it that people are interested in purchasing apparel and accessories that incorporate famous book covers? And what does the company's success say about the state of the book industry?
           On its website, Out of Print describes its mission as one that "celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion. Our products feature iconic and often out of print book covers. Some are classics, some are just curious enough to make great t-shirts, but all are striking works of art.” They also describe their partnership with the nonprofit organization Books for Africa while expressing their commitment to expanding the availability of physical books worldwide, by donating one book to a community in need for each product sold. The company’s mission statement also recognizes the importance of physical books and likens their products to the books they represent: “Each product is treated to feel soft and worn like a well-read book.” Out of Print even recognizes their connection with the new digital age of the book industry: “It’s unclear what the role of the book cover will be in this new era, but we feel it’s more important than ever to reflect on our own individual experiences with great literary art before it’s forever changed.”
          These snippets outline Out of Print’s values regarding its products, but these also speak to the specific audience the company has in mind: not (just) fashion lovers but book lovers, the kind of consumer who’d equally appreciate the art and tactile feel of books as much as the literacy outreach that’s part of the company’s focus. Indeed, the most prominent factor drawing in customers seems to be that simple love of the source material, as customer Kayla Shinabargar admits: “I just really love books. And now I can wear them on my body.” Courtney Johnson expressed similar thoughts: “I buy them because I like books.” The love for certain books is so strong for these customers that the desire to buy Out of Print clothing is a gut reaction, a visceral need to own anything associated with their favorite books. In other words, owning a shirt, necklace, or tote bag makes them feel more connected to the story that they know and love, and thus makes the item valuable in its own right.
      Many people who buy things from Out of Print also consider their own audience when making their purchase; the products, after all, are meant to be seen in public, so it makes sense that this would have an effect on why people purchase the items they do. Some use the t-shirts as a conversation starter, looking to find people with similar literary tastes, and some take it even further, as customer Melanie Espinoza explains: “The books that mean the most to me sort of become a part of who I am. The characters become friends and the story is part of my life. So I find wearing a picture of a book cover or a quote from a book is like showing the world who I am without me having to say anything.” This communication through fashion goes deeper than simply expressing a feeling about the book the shirt depicts; it’s meant to imply something about the character (no pun) of the consumer.
      One also wonders if the success of Out of Print furthers the perception of physical books and their art as, increasingly, “novelty” items, as remnants of the past, given a publishing industry that’s steadily advancing toward becoming more and more digital  But the company’s success seems to have more than nostalgia behind it; these products remind us of the importance and beauty of physical books and their design, which is a welcome thing for book lovers everywhere.

  • About the Author
    Samantha Coman is a longtime book fanatic and current English Literature major at Miami University of Ohio. When she isn't reading or writing, Sam enjoys dancing, singing, making (bad) puns, and volunteering.

    Wednesday, March 19, 2014

    ‘The Betrayed Confidence Revisited’ by Edward Gorey


    A new collection of postcards from art publisher Pomegranate highlights the weird, wonderful world of Edward Gorey.  ♦ 
    A picture can truly give you more than a thousand words, especially if it leads you towards reading an entire series of books. My history with Edward Gorey began long ago when I was very young and not reading much beyond an occasional comic book.
            I was in Ohio visiting my Grandmother and she suggested I use my abundance of free time to explore the local library. I wasn’t particularly thrilled by this idea, but she was a hard woman to argue with, so off I went. In that small, one-story building, I ran my fingers along the spines of the books in the Young Adult section, looking for any titles that sprung out at me.
            Nothing was hitting the mark, but then I came across a book that was facing outward and on the cover was a drawing of three people standing in front of an open crypt. The book was The Chessmen of Doom by John Bellairs and the artwork was none other than Edward Gorey. The mind-bending amount of lines, the precision of the pen and ink, and the eerie gloom I felt while looking at it made it impossible for me to leave without it. And so my affinity for his work began (along with Bellairs, whom Gorey would provide a great deal of work.)
           Edward Gorey (1925-2000) was an artist with no equal. There are precious few, if any, examples in which someone could mistake his work for someone else’s or vice-versa. His illustrations were incredibly distinct in their detail and perception of the world. Through him you can always see the fright, the morbid realities and even the humor in fatalities. They were intense, morose, and yet playful and whimsical in the same moment.
            Forgoing the modernization of the world around him, Gorey’s art stayed very much in the Victorian era, with many of his characters living in the high-brow, stuffy elite levels of society, which would make their fates even more ironic. He also pushed the envelope with his The Gashlycrumb Tinies, in which he created one panel for each letter of the alphabet and inside was a picture of a child (whose name started with the appropriate letter) dying in some odd fashion. To this day my favorite is, “N is for Neville who died of ennui.” (I had no idea what ennui meant at the time, but it stayed with me all the same.)
    Images ©The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.
           The Betrayed Confidence Revisited is a collection of ten series of postcards illustrated by the elusive artist. He was not a huge fan of long letters, but postcards were an absolute fascination for him. You can see evidence of that by the annual exclusive postcards he would create for National Postcard Week each year.
           Gorey also was a master of vocabulary and seemed to enjoy playing with words and letters to a great extent. A large number of the sets were issued under the pseudonym Dogear Wryde, which is an anagram of his name. Reading through the captions and taking in the essay at the beginning of the book by Edward Bradford (the bibliographer of the Edward Gorey Trust) will undoubtedly increase your vocabulary.
           In one series, titled What Ever Next? all you see are still life moments. Seemingly plain on their face, but it leaves you with a haunting illusion of what could possibly proceed it. In one of the more memorable ones for me all you see is a rope hanging in an otherwise empty frame. It’s abstract and impactful.
           I could go through each series one by one glowing about their talent and effect, but as I showed the book to some of my friends, they all stopped on the same page, gasping at the same card. “Is that…I mean…really? Oh wow, it really is.” Included in a series called Tragedies Topiares, there is a postcard titled ‘le Viol’, which according to Google translates to ‘rape.’
           Pictured is a woman on the ground, scrambling back from a shrubbery shaped like a man jumping on top of her. The detail of the garden-attacker is, how can I put this, anatomically correct. There’s really nowhere to go once you’ve talked about a woman being violated by a bush.
           All in all, The Betrayed Confidence Revisited is a must-have for Gorey enthusiasts, like myself, but can also act as a beginner’s folio into the wealth of work waiting for them from this irregular and irreplaceable genius.

           This book review originally appeared at and is reprinted by permission of the author.
  • About the Author
    Luke Goldstein is a writer, painter, and creative personality who holds a side infatuation with organization and efficiency. He has worked on both sides of the entertainment industry, creative and technical, and enjoys both. Follow his reviews at Blogcritics or visit him at

    Tuesday, March 18, 2014

    Why Marvel's Winning


    As comics' biggest rivalry crosses mediums in the quest for market dominance, there are a number of reasons why fans are making theirs Marvel.  ♦ 

    Spring 2014 is a good time to be a comic book fan. Marvel and DC’s longstanding fight for comics dominance has now spread into an all-out battle across different entertainment media: both companies are putting out new books (featuring new or revamped characters and storylines), both working on live-action, big-budget film adaptations, and both churning out full-length animated features and television shows based on their properties—DC, in particular, has had critical and fan success with animated adaptations of graphic novels such as New Frontier and The Dark Knight Returns. Nevertheless, there’s a definite sense of Marvel pride right now. The Marvel/DC debate has been compared (jokingly?) to the Mac/PC debate—you just tend to be one or the other—though a number of longtime DC fans are switching sides these days, and without a hint of guilt. Statistically Marvel has had the edge for several years: in March 2011, before Marvel NOW but after DC’s New 52 was launched, Marvel owned 39.63% of comic sales to DC’s 27.62%, and while Marvel’s share has gone down since then, to 34.09% as of January 2014—the result of smaller companies such as Image Comics, which owns The Walking Dead, cutting into sales—DC’s share has remained second-place, with 28.06%. But Marvel’s supremacy has to do with more than just sales figures; the company has taken on the feel of a full-on media force. So the question is not if Marvel is winning—in terms of market and public perception, they are—but why?
      As a fan, it's easy to see how growing discomfort with DC Comics began around the launch of the New 52, when DC erased all previous storylines and cancelled all ongoing titles in hopes of getting new readers. The thought was that if they restart the books and relaunch the characters, more people could read their titles without the confusion of decades of (storied) history. Old fans were upset that their favorite characters were being shelved and their favorite storylines gone forever . . . though it turned out that these weren’t completely gone, but instead were just being redone, recopied, making lifelong fans more even upset because storylines were being made that they'd already seen, just not as good this time around. 
           As if tensions weren’t high enough, there was also the fact that, with the New 52, DC's female comics creators went down from 12% to 1%. Fans were upset, rightfully so, and DC didn’t exactly handle the situation correctly; instead they brushed off comments about the treatment of females, disrespected their female fans, and even straight-up said that they were targeting white males from the ages of 18-34. When they did tease certain characters coming back, they'd simply reintroduce them with different hair or eye colors, which apparently, to DC, counts as character development.

    This is when I, personally, switched to Marvel. I found characters I loved that were being treated correctly. Shortly after I made the move, Marvel came out with Marvel NOW, following in the footsteps of the New 52. Instead of an utter retcon, Marvel NOW was a reboot of the titles, without erasing the history and storylines, and an opportunity to create new storylines instead of simply rewriting (or rehashing) old ones. Countering DC’s benching of female characters, Marvel decided to release several big female-led books such as Black Widow, Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, and Elektra. The perception, at least, is that Marvel hears its fans' concerns, whereas DC ignores theirs to launch a contest to draw Harley Quinn naked in a bathtub committing suicide (this is an actual real thing, guys). In fact, Marvel’s editor-in-chief Axel Alonso has said that the focus of their female-led books is on their protagonists as women "with rich interior lives, interesting careers, and complex families," not on their bodies in skimpy outfits.  

      However, it would be incorrect to say that the only reason people are reading Marvel is because they’re more progressive than DC. The books that Marvel puts out are unique. The Hawkeye series by Matt Fraction questions what a superhero book should look like. The minimalistic style took off in this book, and readers do nothing but rave about it. Easily one of the most popular ongoing titles at the moment, Hawkeye has the ability to bring in new readers because of how different it is, how it takes chances in the medium. It has brought former comic readers back to the fold, and graphic novel readers are even intrigued by it. As for myself, I’m easily buying five different Marvel comics monthly, though I haven’t bought a DC comic since 2012. I can probably guess what’s going on over there, though. I’d guess Aquaman is still hated, sidekicks who’d matured into their own heroes are back to being sidekicks, and there’s gore, bad art, the same old storylines, and plenty of bad writing. DC is sticking to the tropes, while Marvel is pushing the envelope for what a comic book should be.
      As well as what format it should be in. Marvel Unlimited is Marvel’s online subscription service that takes the shape of Netflix. It’s behind six months, but you pay a monthly (or yearly) fee and can read anything on their site. Granted, DC is the one who brought around the online revolution of comic books by offering same-day print release for digital comics, but Marvel makes it easier to read their comics online, let alone in digital form. You can read DC comics online, but they do not have a subscription system in place. You can buy books, but not have access to their entire online library of books. 

    The expansion into other media is also helping Marvel. DC has only two ongoing cartoon adaptations at the moment, and one is a spinoff of the old Teen Titans cartoon. A year ago they had both a Green Lantern cartoon and a Young Justice cartoon, though these have been cancelled because the audience was not what Cartoon Network and DC had in mind. (It was mostly female viewers, and they were afraid that females just weren’t buying the merchandise the way boy viewers would.) There’s also an age issue in play; older viewers, which both shows had a lot of (me being one), would not go out and buy toys. Marvel, on the other hand, was bought by a company that instead of being happy with its demographic, wanted to reach out to other demographics – I’m talking, of course, about Disney. Disney is traditionally marked towards girls, so acquiring Marvel was a step toward diversifying its audience, in the hopes of pulling boys into their demographics. There’s currently an Avengers and a Spiderman show looking to do just that.
    Need I even mention the cinematic universe? Marvel has had The Avengers, two Captain America movies, three Iron Man movies, and two Thor movies in recent years that have done ridiculously well. (As well as four Spiderman movies, the X-Men movies, Daredevil, Elektra, and the Hulk movies that everyone likes to pretend didn’t happen.) DC has had three Batman movies, a Green Lantern movie (complete flop), and a Superman movie. They are, in typical DC style, now retconning the Batman movies and casting Ben Affleck as the new Batman (so wrong). DC is attempting to counteract the Marvel cinematic universe with one of their own, but they’re in the awkward position of playing catch-up. The only movie we’re guaranteed is Man of Steel 2 which will feature Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman all at once, instant universe. A Justice League and a Wonder Woman movie are both rumored, but DC likely wants to see how this next installment plays first. Before taking any big chances on a whole series of films. Like those other guys did.
    I think ultimately why Marvel is winning is both something they’re doing well and something DC is not doing at all: Marvel is willing to change its approach to accommodate and respond to an ever-changing demographic, while DC is stuck in what they think comics should be, what they have been, and not what they need to be going forward. Once they change that mindset, then maybe it’ll be a fair fight, but until then it’s Marvel: 1, DC: 0. 

  • About the Author
    Kelsey Kimbler is an aspiring creative writer with a completely healthy obsession with comic books. She has a passion for female superheroes and their character arcs. She is a longtime fan of comics and in 2012 started Miami University’s comic club Comics Ink. On the creative writing side, her fiction has been published in online literary journals Happy Captive and Eunoia Review.