Are Comics and Videogames Reading from the Same Page?

Bit of a tangent this time but part of my job as Clubs & Technology Editor here at The List is to review video games. And with the recent release of Rogue Trooper (another classic 2000AD character – I can’t seem to get away from it) for PS2, Xbox and PC landing in my inbox the other week it got me thinking about the links between comics and video games both culturally as well as straight comic to video game adaptations.

Some people still seem to have quite a snobby attitude when it comes to video games. ‘They’re for kids’ or ‘that’s not real art’ they cry. Sound familiar? Anyone else see parallels with Hilary Clinton’s moral crusade against Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Dr. Frederic Wertham’s hounding of EC Comics in the 50s? Funny how they didn’t mind the car jacking and drive-bys but add some pixelated sex scenes and all hell breaks loose. It’s the typical knee jerk reaction from the establishment when the kids get into a new art form/medium they don’t fully comprehend. They are happy to hear what ‘moral guardians’ have to say but have no hands on experience. We’ll look back and laugh at this in years to come much in the same way we think it’s preposterous that anyone ever thought Elvis would lead to the moral corruption of the US.

Like comics if you immerse yourself in the world and culture of gaming you soon realize how much talent is involved. Artistically and in storytelling. With many games series creating vibrant worlds (just look at Zelda or Final Fantasy, can you really say they are any less fully realized than the Marvel or DCU?). They create an immersive world with an added level of interaction. Rich stories abound across the medium and the level of storytelling, graphical art and gameplay has increased exponentially over the last few years.

Again like comics, gaming inhabits the same ‘geekier’ (for want of a better word) male side of popular culture. But, and this is a very crucial difference, video games have managed to pull themselves out of that ghetto, perhaps not entirely just yet, but they are on their way to being as accepted as television and, given time, film. I’ve been gaming since the days of the Sega Megadrive (I believe it was called the Sega Genesis over in the US) and the SNES but it was the Sony PlayStation that changed perceptions forever. Sony knew exactly what it wanted from its market: adult gamers. It’s a newer art form and I was reading comics for years before I picked up a joypad or the revolution in home computing. But video games are now earning billions and billions of dollars. That the games industry earns more that the film industry is a ‘fact’ that is casually bandied about in the media. While games are admittedly taking more than the US box office ($9.9Billion compared to $9.4Billion in 2004) these figures are skewed and give a false picture. The figure for the games industry includes console and hardware sales while the box office takings ignore DVD and video sales which approximately doubles the final figure. Plus we can’t ignore that the movie industry makes money off licensed games and the flow the other way – while it’s true films from Super Mario Brothers and Lara Croft to Resident Evil and Doom have made respectable cash – is few and far between. Video games based on movies in many ways have become just more merchandise, a technically advanced version of the action figure.

There are loads of video games based on comic characters such as Batman, Spider-Man and the Hulk. Many are based on the current movie adaptation (an adaptation of an adaptation if you will) but there is plenty of original fodder like Ultimate Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction or the X-Men Legends series. And there are loads of games that draw inspiration from the world of comics such as Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe or the weird and wonderful cast of Tekken. Now of course we have comics based on video games such as the Tomb Raider series, the Street Fighter Manga or Silent Hill horror comics.

Comics have never managed to quite break into the mass market even with the massive blockbuster films such as X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman Begins and Sin City, the medium is not raking in the cash in anything like the same way as video games. The release of the first issue of Civil War or 52 is not heralded across the global media in anywhere near the same way as the latest Tomb Raider or Halo release. Back in the 80s with Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns it looked like the mainstream beckoned for comics. It never quite happened though. Sure the profile was raised but it’s still a subculture, a vibrant constantly entertaining subculture, but a subculture none-the-less. Video games are reviewed in daily papers, lifestyle magazines and on TV, comics are lucky if they sneak into mass culture prominence at all. A lot of this is due to advertising and while Marvel and DC ain’t short of the odd buck, compared to giant conglomerates like Sony or Microsoft they are positively paupers.

I’m not saying video games are better in any way. I love both comics and video games in much the same way as I love music and film, these passions aren’t mutually exclusive. They are very different mediums that fulfil different needs, but there are perhaps more similarities than some would like to admit. Comics and their fans still have an image problem, perhaps there is something we could all learn from the route video games have taken to mainstream acceptance. Of course there will always be those that revel in the underground nature of comics, but I love comics and I wish more people would read them, thus attracting even greater talent leading to an even more exciting and diverse medium. I’m a huge music fan and while the likes of Mariah Carey and the latest American Idol wannabe top the charts, that music as a whole is so incredibly popular means that the kind of bands I love can exist on the fringes. There is an underground within music rather than the whole art form being underground. It is the vibrancy of the medium as a whole that means greater varieties can exist and make enough money to be viable and while there are some great independent comics out there about 90% of the industry seems to be based around superheroes. Sony seem to have been willing to change their content to fit the market they aspired to and not be content with the market that already existed. Change is good.

Next month I will look at the comics industry talent involved in video gaming and the best comics based video games out there.

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Also by Henry Northmore:

The Devil is in the Details: Examining Matt Murdock and Daredevil


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