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Do happy readers buy fewer comics?

Writer Joshua Williamson believes so, and he calls it a "hard lesson" from working at DC

Image credit: Jamal Campbell/DC

If you’ve ever wondered just why your favorite characters can never catch a break for any significant period of time, there’s a very simple explanation: happiness sells fewer comics.

“Sometimes people get really angry and they spend money, which is the saddest thing,” writer Joshua Williamson explained during a recent conversation with Popverse. “But it's been the hard lesson that I've learned from DC. It's that when people are happy, they spend less. It sucks, but it is a pattern that I've seen in my time at DC.”

There’s no small amount of common sense behind this; superhero titles aren’t meant to be filled with stories of happy people doing happy things. The genre is inherently built on conflict and, since the advent of Stan Lee’s Marvel era, a fair helping of emotional angst. In other words, seeing your heroes hurt is part of the whole appeal of superhero fiction. Thankfully, Williamson understands that — and understands how to make that work, as well.

“I don't want to make anybody mad,” the writer of titles like Skybound’s Duke, and DC’s The Flash, Green Arrow, and Superman, said. “The thing is is that I would want to say, ‘First and foremost, trust me.’ It's not just about, ‘Oh, I want to piss people off.’ That's not what you're doing at all. What you want to do is you want to establish some kind of trust first and then say, ‘Listen, this is going to be a rollercoaster ride. It's going to be crazy at times. There's going to be some ups and downs and it's going to be nuts, but trust me to come on this ride with me.’”

He continued, “In any kind of story, the character kind of has to go through it. They have to go through hard times so they can reveal who they are. It's one of those rules of Pixar, they talk about this a lot. You root for them for trying. They have to try and they have to get kind of beaten up. Man, when you're watching anything, any movie, or reading a book, and the characters just get the crap kicked out of them, and then they get up and they're just like, ‘Let's keep going. I'm going to keep going.’ It's like Captain America saying, ‘I can do this all day.’ That's the stuff that you're like, ‘Hell yeah!’”

In other words: keep your readers (and your characters) on their toes, but don’t only beat them down. They’ve got to have a chance to get back up, every now and then.

Williamson’s full conversation with Popverse, alongside Duke co-creator Tom Reilly, will appear soon. Duke is released December 27, 2023.

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