Saturday, October 21, 2006

There's A Lot More To It (Soap Opera Fans & Comics)

In a marketing move created to finally satiate the underground fanboy/stay-at-home mom demographic, Marvel Comics will debut their newest superhero on the CBS soap opera "Guiding Light."

News of the impending apocalypse to follow.

Marvel has also created a comic featuring characters of the soap interacting with superheros like Wolverine and Spider-Man. Perhaps, Spidey and Wolverine will find out they are actually amnesiac evil twins switched at birth!

The eight page comic will be included in upcoming issues of Marvel comic books like "The Amazing Spider-Girl," while the heroic episode of "Guiding Light" airs November 1.

Marvel and Procter & Gamble (which produces "Guiding Light") are joining their superpowers in hopes that soap fans will pick up a comic book and that Marvel addicts will tune in to the daytime series.

If they don't, then we can pretend it was all just a dream

[ Additional articles found here and here.]

I see this and my response is 'Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot!' There's so much WTF I'm not sure where to begin. I grew up on soaps. I started watching them with a relative when I was much younger and was upset at first that they were on screen instead of cartoons (this is what happens in houses with only one tv - some of us hone our 'huffiness'). I glared at those shows thinking everything was so implausible and impossible and stupid and that I could then and could learn further how to write better stories. Then I found myself caring about the characters and their arcs and to this day I still check in just to see what's going on with characters (people) I grew up with. Soap operas were one of the first things I consciously watched to learn how to tell a good story.

And I say there's no proof out there, outside of Runaways, that Marvel knows how to tell the kind of story that will fill soap opera fans with satisfaction. Emotional follow through is the bread and butter of soap operas. It's the reason that viewers will follow one character through romance after romance, diabolical scheme and nefarious plot. If there's a payoff at the end - a win or a loss, a growing and/or defining moment - then they'll follow. They're not in it for the improbable situations. Those situations only set up the emotional stuff. How can it not be obvious that the thing that draws soap opera fans to their stories are elements that Marvel (and DC) have failed to bring into their regular storylines; consistent emotional follow through.

Did no one at Guiding Light take aside the studio exec from Proctor and Gamble and try to explain to them just what Marvel would have to do to ever make soap fans who don't already like and follow comics, spend money on them? Or did someone try but they just weren't heeded? Because it's not difficult to think that someone said 'Oh, those women will buy anything that promises them some romance, as long as we stick in characters they already like....'

But even if they don't think that, even if I'm being unfair, it feels very much as if no one's paying attention to what women want in comics. It feels like 'someone' heard that women want comics and 'someone' thought there was a demographic that wasn't being mined. But no one bothered to find out what would make their premise work.

There are comics I don't like / can't follow/ or sometimes downright hate. A lot of the time they're the impossible team ups, the clashes of hero vs hero, the explosions, betrayals and whipping out of bigger tech or resurging power. And yet I'm currently adoring Astro City which has all those things happening, because all those situations are driven by the story, by something with emotional satisfaction - or rather the emotional satisfaction I like. I don't really know if other comic readers get the same kind of 'exhale and feel' from seeing Captain America whale on the Hulk, that I got when watching Steeljack deal with The Conquistador. Maybe what I'm talking about needs another set of words. But that thing, whatever it's called has a lot to do with getting those particular women to follow and be loyal to a character, a couple, and a show.

Now I can understand that this can be a difficult concept to accept if you (generic you) isn't thinking of things in that way. I've had personal experience myself with being in rpg situations with wild and fantastically improbably setups and coming to grief. I was going for a certain emotional follow through and thinking that the whacky or cliche situations that were offered up were just vehicles to set up the emotional pitfalls and pratfalls for my character. And then I learned and realized that for quite a few of the other players, the cracky moments in and of themselves were their kind of fun. They weren't looking for anything else. Those players and I were wanting to play in the same playground but we were doing it very differently.

Soap Operas and Super Hero Comics may look like the same playground on the surface. But the players are going at the game very differently. Yes, soap opera fans are primarily women. But soap operas have been catering to them for years, growing with them and becoming wiser to what they want and they know the trick to all those implausible storylines. Soap fans have watched Mob stories, immigration stories, alien visitation stories, evil twins, long lost loves returned from the dead, shipwreck fantasies, medical dramas, rape survivor triumphs and alcoholic declines. And they've followed all these things over years. So yes, sure, there's the potential that they could think of super hero comics as just another way to tell stories they like. But they've watched the diverse twists all following one common emotional theme. I could be wrong. But I think that Marvel can't begin to court this demographic if they start off by insulting their intelligence.

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