No, We Didn’t - Mythic Fiction, Superheroes, and Fact-Checking Whack-a-Mole

Here is a quote that has been making its way around the internets,* regarding Sunday’s Mythic Fiction panel:

"The panelists of Mythic Fiction in Comics included Bill Willingham, Kurt Busiek, Chris Roberson, Matt Wagner, and Dark Horse editor Rachel Edidin and they all agreed that superhero comics were a dying genre. They also all thought that it would be beneficial for everyone to allow the characters to lapse into public domain."

I’m not surprised it’s getting picked up all over the place: it’s a sensational soundbyte. Four really major writers, including one in particular who’s played a huge role in defining modern superhero comics (and one editor at an independent publisher that’s not known primarily for superheroes; I’m well aware that I’m more footnote than body text on this one), writing off the central genre of comics? That’s gold, man. Unfortunately, it’s also a massive misrepresentation of what actually went down.

Here’s what I recall** being said about superheroes: Bill insisted at some length that the superhero genre was dead because none of them stand for anything anymore; it’s worth noting, I think, that this is a drum he’s been beating enthusiastically for several years. (He’s wrong, but that’s a whole other, mostly irrelevant, conversation.) Other panelists, Matt in particular, talked about feeling initially like they had to work within the superhero genre—and, accordingly, outfitting their early works of mythic fiction in superhero drag—and agreed that publishers and the market at large had since grown more receptive to mythic fiction and other non-superhero genres. Someone (Bill again, I think, but might have been Matt) brought up that most myth is tied directly to the era and place of its creation, and that to remain relevant with the passage of time requires continual revision; and that this is a place where superhero comics have often foundered. I think Chris mentioned no longer working on big-two superhero books but don’t recall whether he gave context for that, or, if so, what; nor whether he was describing the current state of things for him or a long-term decision.

We did all agree that we thought it would be good if more superheroes were allowed to lapse into the public domain. That part is accurate.

Here’s what I remember saying about superheroes:

-That the comics market is—and for some time has been—diversifying to the point where superheroes are no longer the single defining genre, and that this opens points of entry to the medium that wouldn’t otherwise exist, which, over time, contributes to further diversification of market, industry, and readership.

-That I’m young enough to have come into comics well into that process: when I first started reading comics, I had access to a far wider range than folks who found the medium a decade or two previously; and new readers now have access to a still wider range of genres than I did.

-That many superhero comics arguably fit within or overlap significantly with the mythic fiction genre as defined by panelists at various points; and, relatedly,

-That mythic fiction in prose and comics are similar genres with distinctly different pedigrees: the prose genre is an offshoot of high fantasy and S&S, while in comics, mythic fiction evolved very directly from superheros; which contrast particularly interests me as a taxonomy nerd and an editor of both comics and prose.

*The original source was this Bleeding Cool article. To their credit, Matt and Rich were both very fast and very cool about correcting the quote as soon as I e-mailed them; unfortunately, by the time I saw it, it was already showing up elsewhere, and the Beat posted the original, uncorrected passage as their quote of the day—ironically, a couple hours after the correction had been made at BC. [Edited 4/3 - The Beat has since corrected their post as well.]

**It goes without saying that my memory is also fallible: it’s possible that people other than Bill described superhero comics as a “dying genre,” but I am certain that I, at least, didn’t.


  1. postcardsfromspace reblogged this from incogvito and added:
    I think the problem with the role superheroes have come to play in comics isn’t with the genre itself, but with its...
  2. incogvito reblogged this from postcardsfromspace and added:
    Read this. Not just because @RaeBeta is a friend, but because it brings up a good question: Where do we go from here?...
  3. koltreg reblogged this from postcardsfromspace and added:
    Hasn’t it really been rediversifying to reflect the market interest that other global comic markets have shown along the...