One interesting right-now litmus test for the industry’s obsession with superheroes: today Art Spiegelman won western comics’ biggest and coolest award: the Grand Prix at Angolueme. Today they also named the new movie Superman.
One is a comics news story, while one is a superhero movie news story tangentially related to comics. Which will get more industry press and the bulk of fan attention? I think we’d all agree it’s probably going to be the Superman story, although Art will do better than he would have 12 years ago, when Crumb winning the same award was I’m guessing mentioned by 1 US magazine three months after the fact.
You can work your tongue into knows lecturing *why* this is the case; it’s much, much harder to point out why it should be, at least in a way that’s not depressing. There is a bit of the reverse, in that people wrote me letters why I wasn’t covering Dan Clowes selling a movie version of his Wilson with more emphasis, and together both impulses represent the culture-wide obsession with the movies, but it’s certainly not as thoroughly conflated as movies and comics are with the superhero-centric stuff. Art Spiegelman just won comics for this year!
Point by point, pretty much in order:
(1) I'm not sure why anyone needs a "litmus test" for the American industry's "obsession" (though I wouldn't call it that) with superheroes. It's a foregone conclusion that most if not all direct-market comics-shops are dominated by superheroes because they have become (if I'm quoting Kurt Busiek accurately) "destination stores," where the customer seeks out a commodity in the place he expects to find it.
(2) "Biggest and coolest award?" HAH! Art Spiegelman never got his name on a bubble gum card, did he? You just can't get cooler than having your name on a bubble gum card.
(3) I would be more convinced that the announcement of the new movie Superman was not a comics-story if other-media adaptations never had any effect whatever upon the comics-medium. One can argue that they do not have as much effect as some have desired-- remember the days when eighties fans thought that the perfect BATMAN film would make "normals" respect fans? But fans have sseen I suspect PUBLISHERS' WEEKLY makes a fuss about it when a famous novel gets slated for A-list adaptation too, though I confess I haven't checked it out yet.
(4)It's nice to know that no matter what "Nerd Court" explanation for the situation might be offered, Tom Spurgeon's there to tell you it's irrelevant because It Ain't the Way Things "Should Be."
(5) Art Spiegelman did not "win comics for the year." He won for the sort of comics that the Angolueme judges happen to like; nothing more, nothing less. It's an admirable accomplishment but it doesn't define comics any more than the superhero books do.
(6) I find this a really weird argument from the guy who was (I think) the first one to make fun of the idea of "Team Comics."