The 2010s in comics, webcomics, and graphic novels

Comics have seen numerous changes over the 2010s. Some of them left something to be desired, especially from Marvel and DC Comics, the traditional “Big Two.” But overall, I’d say this has been a strong decade for comics, with things ultimately in a stronger position than before.

Thus, since the decade’s at an end, I feel it’s time to look back over comics highlights from the 2010s.

2010s comic milestones

Marvel as a Walt Disney subsidiary (2010s)

Marvel logoDisney’s $4 billion purchase of Marvel in the fall of 2009 just missed my cut-off for this list. However, spending its entire first decade as a Walt Disney subsidiary does qualify. While longtime rival DC has been owned by Warner Brothers’ various parent companies since the late 60s, the other dominant superhero comic publisher being bought by Disney was still surprising.

Marvel’s comics business, despite fears to the contrary, doesn’t seem to have changed as much as expected. (It’s still the top selling direct market comic publisher.) That said, late in the decade’s seen some wrestling of control away from its very problematic CEO, Ike Perlmutter. I expect the 2020s to see bigger changes for the House of Ideas, since I assume Perlmutter will eventually leave the company (he’s in his late 70s).

Marvel’s movie business, the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” of course is the much bigger success story. The MCU has dominated blockbuster movies for the 2010s, and defined the decade’s superhero craze.

Chicago’s C2E2 comic con launched (2010)

Chicago’s C2E2 comic convention started in 2010. I went back then to the inaugural show, as my first-ever comic con. In retrospect, I wished I’d done a lot of things differently; still, I went every year until I moved to Seattle.

Granted, there’s lots of comic cons, but between the personal aspect and that C2E2 has become the most popular comic con in the Windy City, it seemed worth listing.

The death of the Comics Code (2011)

The comics industry’s longtime self-censorship code, the Comics Code Authority, finally met its end in the 2010s. Granted, it’d lost most of its teeth by that point, but the last few remaining users (DC Comics, Bongo, and Archie) finally gave it up in 2011, rendering the Code defunct.

DC, like Marvel, opted for rating its books based on age appropriateness. However, both companies’ ratings criteria often feels questionable, or points out their lack of kid-friendly books.

DC Comics’ New 52 reboot (2011) and Rebirth retool (2016)

Justice League (2011) #1 cover
“Justice League” #1 (September 2011). Art by Jim Lee.

It wouldn’t be DC if they didn’t try to boost sales/make their continuity supposedly “easier” to understand with a wholesale reboot, and that’s what they did in the 2010s. The New 52 reboot in 2011 was of the “Crisis on Infinite Earths”/”Zero Hour” wholesale variety, with most of the line’s continuity rebooted. Batman and Green Lantern, their top sellers, were mostly spared (big surprise). Unlike the “Crisis” and “Zero Hour” reboots, the decades-running numbering on even “Action” and “Detective” were restarted with new #1s.

While it briefly boosted sales, the reboot ultimately proved unsuccessful. The New 52 largely engaged in the worst aspects of 90s comics: “extreme” elements; ugly new costumes (especially Superman’s); longtime favorite characters erased; and questionable or unpopular storyline ideas (Superman and Wonder Woman dating?!) or origins (Wonder Woman’s origin became violent, grimdark, and embodied enough straw feminist tropes Fox News could’ve written it).

Sales soon plummeted, leading DC to launch “Rebirth” in 2016, a soft-reboot that reinstated more classic elements and backpedal or undo the worst New 52 changes. Superman vastly improved—his marriage to Lois came back, along with a new addition, a son (Jon Kent).

DC Comics changed its logo (2012, 2016)

DC changed its logo twice in the 2010s. The first time was to the somewhat-ugly-looking “peel” logo in 2012. The second, and longer-lasting one, was to a plain-looking logo reminiscent of their mid-70s logo. (I assume it’s meant to be more readable on internet devices.)

The second one’s been better received so far, though plenty of fans still miss the classic and decades-long “DC bullet” logo.

Comixology bought by Amazon (2014)

Comixology became the dominant digital comics vendor in the 2010s… not to mention bought out by Amazon in 2014. So far, its business model hasn’t changed much, aside from closer integration with Kindle ebooks/Amazon’s log-in system.

Archie Comics’ relaunch (2015)

Archie #1 (September 2015) cover
“Archie” #1 (September 2015). Art by Fiona Staples.

Out of the major longtime comics publishers, Archie’s probably changed the most over the 2010s. New ownership a decade ago and slumping sales/relevancy led them to try numerous new ideas or modernization efforts, from Kevin Keller in 2010 (their first openly gay character) to “mature readers” takes on the characters (the horror line, etc.).

All this led up to a reboot of the Archie line in 2015, with more modernized writing, storytelling formats, and art styles. (The classic-style stories are relegated to the digests.)

DC Comics moved to southern California (2015)

DC Comics moved from its home since the 1930s, New York, to southern California in 2015. It’s mostly a sign the comics publishing aspect isn’t as important to Time Warner (now WarnerMedia) as the characters themselves (to turn into movies, TV, etc.).

Action Comics #1000 (2018) and Detective Comics #1000 (2019) released

The long-running “Action Comics” and “Detective Comics” hit their 1000th issues in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The landmarks also coincided with Superman and Batman’s 80th anniversaries.

Mad magazine and Vertigo shuttered (2019)

Mad magazine #550 cover
Art by Mark Fredrickson.

Longtime humor magazine “Mad” finally went defunct in 2019, with DC stating it’s switching to mostly reprints.

Vertigo as a label’s also been dropped, with DC moving its mature reader content to a new (and more superhero-friendly) “Black Label” branding.

Comic trends over the 2010s

Digital comics are growing

Digital comics saw growth through the 2010s. That’s probably in part to the launch of the iPad in 2010, plus a wave of similar tablets (and more recently, “2 in 1” laptops and tablets-with-keyboard-attachments). Reading comics digitally became much easier, and on a screen that’s bigger than a smartphone’s. Digital comics also started to be released on the same day as paper comics. Comixology even offers some comics (most non-DC/Marvel ones) as downloadable DRM-free backups.

While digital comic sales have been fairly flat over the past few years, digital subscription services have taken off. Marvel, DC, and Comixology offer such services, with differing additional benefits.

Diversity improvements

The Magnificent Ms. Marvel #1
Art by Eduard Petrovich.

Overall, diversity in comics improved over the 2010s, likely aided by alternate avenues to comic creation like webcomics. There’s now more comics than before featuring non-White characters, LGBTQ people, etc. Granted, harassment, racism, sexism, etc. are still problems in the comics industry, especially with the rise of “Comicsgate” (the similarly racist/sexist cousin of Gamergate in the video game industry).

While the Big Two still need improvements in this category, there’s a few noteworthy improvements. The two most prominent superhero characters created in this decade are Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), a Muslim teenager and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants, and Miles Morales (Spider-Man), a biracial teenager (and star of the Oscar-winning “Into the Spider-Verse”).

Webcomics and other creator-owned comics are also strong

Webcomics and creator-owned comics have also grown in the 2010s. Besides a traditional blog or website, there’s other resources for putting webcomics online. Webtoon is one such popular site for webcomics.

There’s also a growth in crowdfunding means. Patreon, Ko-fi, PayPal, Kickstarter, and other sites offer ways for creators to raise funds for their comics.

The dominant comics of the 2010s: Kids’ comics, manga, and graphic novels

"Drama" graphic novel
“Drama.” Art by Raina Telgemeier.

Comic sales are noticeably up over the 2010s, with sales rising above $1 billion. This is largely thanks to the dominant comics trends of the decade: kids and young adult comics; graphic novels; and manga. Not so much superhero comics—while they still dominate the direct market (and movie theaters/TV), the “Big Two” made up about a fifth of 2018 bookstore sales.

Raina Telgemeier might be the most prominent comic creator of the 2010s; her graphic novels (“Smile,” “Drama,” etc.) have been mainstays on best-seller lists, and are well-liked.

Other graphic novel genres and age targets have also made a splash in the 2010s, such as “March.” Trade paperback collections also sell well, including “The Walking Dead.”

Finally, manga’s still popular, with “Attack on Titan,” “My Hero Academia,” and other best-sellers drawing attention.

Conclusion

While there’s still a lot of improvements to be made, comics overall at the end of the 2010s are in a strong shape, producing plenty of excellent stories. Superheroes include such highlights as “Ms. Marvel” and “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl”; webcomics range from “The Nib” to “Check, Please”; and graphic novels cover multiple genres (“March,” “The Backstagers,” etc.).

As for the 2020s, I expect things to continue along the same path, with a continued strong presence of kids’ comics, manga, and non-superhero genres. I assume the Big Two superhero publishers will still be chugging along as usual (with another wholesale reboot, comic price hike, etc.). However, like in the 2010s, most comic innovations will come from outside of DC and Marvel. The generation that grew up reading Telgemeier, “Dog Man,” and “My Hero Academia” will have different expectations (and bring different experiences) for comics as a medium.

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