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Revamping the medium


The NZA
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A while back, writer extraoridnaire Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Authority, Hellblazer, etc) did a column for Comic Book Resources, called Come In Alone.  His rantings went on in that online column for over a year, and after their completion, the best of them were put into a trade, and to date, it's one of the best books I've read on how revolutionize the comic industry, and perhaps even save it.  Ive decided some of this material needs to be posted here, along with whatever I can contribute, to help justify comics as a legitimate art form & hopefully spread the word a bit, the guy's got some great ideas; im gonna try to apply them here.  It should be noted, I'm gonna try to take this post somewhat seriously, so trolling will be censored.  Here goes.

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"This is a book about comic books.

There we go.  Lost half of you.

Gets worse.  This is a huge collection of a series of columns about the world of comic books written for a website.

...And there goes the rest.

So, it's just you and me. No, don't run away. I have whisky.

 

Comics are a small medium, these days.  Fifty-odd years ago, a comic book could sell 5 million without trying.  As I write today, it's taken all the marketing resources of one of the two major American publishers to get their top books to sell just under a hundred and fifty thousand copies.

I mean, its not quite the poetry market, but it's getting there.

These are sad numbers for what are a cheaply produced, relatively uncorrupted visual narrative medium.  There's a reason why this stuff used to sell 5 million a pop, same reason why the film industry now draws from the medium's creative drive, same reason the Pulitzer recognizes comics, same reason comic artists and writers are constantly hired into other media, same reason why your'e still here.

 

...I hate the fact that comics are treated as this bastard little medium that should hide in the dark in the corner, and I equally hate the fact that too many comic readers would rather hide in the dark in the corner than go out and join the general cultural conversation.  

 

Comics are the mass medium we go into on our own. We don't experience it in company, the way we do film, TV, or often music. You don't gather twelve of your friends around a comic, nor does your family huddle around it together in the evenings. And you normally can't dance to one, nor can you attempt to have sex in the toilets next door to one. Well, actually, that's not true. But you see my point. Comics aren't a group experience.

 

We all enter comics on our own. Moving into the fictional world of a graphic novel is not a group pursuit. It is the act of one reader, with one copy of one comic. We all come in alone."

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That should set things up...much, much more to come, again, on how to legitimize comics, how to actually get new readers involved for once, things that keep them stagnant, and more whisky.

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"And you don't experience them in the context of a cultural mainstream, either. When you pick up a novel, you know that many other people are doing it too, or have done. You've seen the reviews in the newspapers and other culture magazines. You're experiencing it in the context of a culture simultaneously experiencing it and conjuring general conversation about it. Of course, you also have the option of ignoring that conversation and entering the work "cleanly." But, hell, that's one more option than you get with comics.

 

There is not the public exchange of thoughts and commentary that we find with art -- or, at least, that we find with art in Britain. As I understand it, the American exchange of thoughts about art begins and ends with lawsuits, these days.

I can't pick up a newspaper and read about a new graphic novel or serial release. This pisses me off. I can't get anything on TV about them either.

... I create for you a world that you enter into as a solitary reader of a form cut off from the cultural conversation. You come in alone.

 

Okay, yes, here in Britain the Guardian newspaper usually covers the new PREACHER collection and the latest Gaiman, but that is, by and large, the sum total of it. Which is wrong. If I have to be subjected to reviews of poetry books with lower print runs than, God, I don't know, the semi-autobiographical THE LONELY DEATH OF GOT NO LEGS BOY by Speech Impediment And Skin Aberration Press out of Dogshit, Nebraska... then, hell, why not devote some space to an artform that, in cold commercial terms, puts more bums on seats?

 

....Which is why we're in the ridiculous position of people saying "I don't like comics", which is the same as saying you don't like music, or you don't like cinema, or books. When people do step inside here, we too often have nothing worth showing them.

 

We come in alone because, by and large, no-one else gives a toss."

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Some great points here: comics are, by nature somewhat and largely by marketing, an isolated area of culture.  I couldn't agree more with the "I don't like comics" quote: while the superhero genre sill dominates the medium, there's just so much out there, and even more that can be done...

Ellis expands on this point later, mentionin that the evolution of comic reading has closely mirrored cinema: gone are the days of "I only read Marvel/DC/etc", as that shit's the same as sayin "I only listen to Interscope records" or "I only watch movies by New Line Cinema" - its fucking retarded, you watch/listen to things according to their creators, not the goddamn label.

Point being:  More and more, comic readers are finding their favorite creative team of artist and or writer, and simply searchin the store for their particluar works, wherever they may be...this should be encouraged, and I think sections by creative team would be a great fuckin idea.

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Now, for some perspective - let's look at how comics fair overseas & see if theyre onto somethin.

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"There aren't enough comics.

 

Now you're all looking at me like I've gone mad.

 

No, seriously.

 

I was reading the excellent recent book on Japanese pop culture, JAPAN EDGE (Cadence Books, 1999) when this occurred to me. It was a point being made about the relationship between anime, Japanese animation, and manga, Japanese comics, and the disparity between their material. anime tends to focus on a couple of genres. There are around fifty anime tv shows, about fifteen original anime videos released every month, two or three anime films a year. manga cover pretty much any genre you'd care to name, and a few they invented, plus serious literary mainstream work. There are something over 200 manga magazines released in Japan every month. That is a vast amount of pages. Some of those manga anthology magazines are hundreds of pages long, with very little advertising space given up. anime production is fairly minimal, and takes place over a much longer time period per piece, in comparison to manga. manga has the space to consider the whole of fiction. anime tends to concentrate on what will work for the audience they know they have.

 

I've found plenty of manga to enjoy. I've found the majority of anime I've viewed to be mindless bollocks. Is this just my strange and cranky tastes? Is it down to the fact that manga ranges across the genres and concerns I'm interested in and anime doesn't? A little from column A and a little from column B, I suspect. And also a little of the supposed universal law that's only ever quoted by people who read too much sf in their youth: Sturgeon's Law. You may well be familiar with it. Sf writer Theodore Sturgeon is considered to be the first to have boiled it down to a physical law, though I've heard the actual percentage vary in various quotations. But this is the gist of it: 90% of everything is crap. Everything. Complete and utter pants, as the young people in Olde England say these days. Only ten per cent good stuff anywhere.

 

Which means that I find more manga to enjoy because ten per cent of the medium of manga weighs a hell of a lot more than 10 per cent of all available anime output. We're talking at best, fifty TV shows a year as opposed to hundreds of serialised manga instalments a month.

 

Commercial Anglophone comics are working against a massive drag factor in terms of breadth and purity of vision and other yardsticks of quality or cultural importance. A vast amount of the artform's energies are turned towards keeping the hundred or so company-owned continuing superhero comics alive. It's that appalling Simpsons side of the business, the dirty secret: it's the mass of people required to perform awful procedures on Mister Burns so that he can cheat death for another week. It's the hypnotic lie that has otherwise intelligent and talented people providing life support for old ideas, not for short periods to establish themselves in a harsh marketplace, but for years on end.  I mean, I'm sure Peter David has a fine old time on SUPERGIRL, but I have to be honest; watching him piss away his gift for dialogue and the inventiveness I've seen from him in person on thin little books that will never be seen again past the week of their release is a bloody waste.

 

....Which means we need more comics."

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Was just havin this discussion the other night with artisticcartoon:  Sony allows anyone & their mother to develop games for the PlayStation, and what happens?

Sure, a lot of unknown (and well-known) crap, but there's some fine diamonds to be found in the rough.  Increase the quantity, encourage diversity - even mediocre diverse books stand the chance of inspiring better work.  

The industry - and largely, the remaining fan base - are deathly afraid of change...but more on that later. Let's continue.

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And now, an innovative approach on how to save comics.  I swear, I'm goin somewhere with this: those special few that're still with me here, god bless ya.  One more massive post followin this one, then I'll try to incorporate more ideas of my own, should I have the time to refine them whilst procrastinating finals.

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"Comics don't need saving.

 

Now, Grant Morrison [writer of New X-Men, JLA and Invisibles, the book that, for all intents and purposes, became "The Matrix", so he's good] claims that a new boom is coming back. With his astrological charts, reports on sunspot activity, entrails of roadkill and a bloody Etch-A-Sketch, he can prove that a cycle of industry wealth and success exists, and that we're currently moving along the upswing of the curve towards a brand new peak, a little optimum. In just a few years, everyone will be all over us again, people will back truckloads of money up to our doors, we'll shift more units of THE LONELY DEATH OF GOT NO LEGS BOY in one week than Shania bloody Twain shifts CDs in a year, and we'll all live like kings.

 

But, to be blunt, Grant is on drugs.

 

No boom coming, folks. A boom, at this stage, would require access to a larger audience. And the only audience we have, the only audience we currently have the apparatus to reach, is those people prepared to walk through the door of a direct market comics store. And there aren't nearly as many direct market comics stores as there were during the boom. We have something like half the retail visibility of that we had back then.

 

Okay. I know what comes next. You've read my ranting elsewhere over the last few years, and you quote it back to me. We need to be reaching out to a new audience via new distribution channels. Newsstands, book stores, record stores. (I note that Tower is taking a new initiative with graphic novels.) Yes, we do. But the simple truth is that this is not going to happen any time soon.

 

Marvel and DC simply are not interested in fully opening up these distribution channels. They have too much invested in the survival of the direct market. They have had myriad chances to reopen newsstand dealings, and don't take them properly. hell, DC actively forced sales away from the newsstand into the direct market. Marvel killed my SATANA so that their entire line was considered wholly safe for sale in K-Mart and other family mass outlets. I've not been in an American K-Mart recently, but I have had royalty statements for the piece of all-ages work I've done for them since, and I've been following the company's general disposition. And this doesn't seem to have done them a whole hell of a lot of good, does it? I believe the Archie books are still peddling their dismal, retarded unreality in supermarkets and the like, but those people are the Enemy, to be vilified, hunted down and fucked to death.

 

...So it behooves us to bolster the failing direct market system if we want to continue selling comics in the current paradigm. And I'd like to, because I'd like to continue paying for my house and stuff. And that means changing the comics store culture.

 

That means getting rid of the talking Jar Jar Binks stand-up in the doorway. It means racking the T&A stuff somewhere else. It means focussing more on graphic novels than back-issue bins. It means displaying your comics in the window, not the bloody toys, and making your standalone floor displays out of comics and graphic novels, not those stupid pewter figures for pretending to be sodding elves in role-paying games with. It means talking to customers, not just standing idly by or peering over your till with an air of false superiority. It means talking to the people who work in and run the shop, telling them what you think works, telling them what you want to read. It means call-out sections where you rack by creator, and all the comics shops I know of that have tried it have discovered that it works very well indeed. Because people who don't come from the comics-store culture will walk into stores and look, not for a title, but the new Neil Gaiman, or the new Alan Moore, or the new Frank Miller.

 

Basically, if we're going to attempt to drive new potential readers into comics store, we don't want them retching from man-stench and cheap porno-manga the minute they get into the store. We need to provide a mature environment in line with bookstores and record stores. A sense of relaxed professionalism. An environment that's proud to sell its wares, as opposed to covering them up with miles of Magic boxes or brazenly (or sloppily) leaving the ugly and ephemeral mainstream stuff in front and hiding the good stuff in the back. Newsflash; if someone newly interested in comics enters a comics store for the first time, odds are good that they're not going to want this month's AMAZING FROTTAGE-MAN.

 

...This is the problem that needs solving. For every [legitmate comic book store], there are ten Scrotal Sac Comics that are really only interested in selling Spider-Man to the same forty people while paying the rent with this year's Pokemon. The number of stores that are unafraid to sell comics and make their packet by drawing new, non-comics-culture people into the store to show them the good stuff are outnumbered."

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Here, he's really onto somethin.  New fans aren't to be found because they cant be fuckin reached.  Comics arent on newstands anymore these days, and comic shops, while often few & far between, are many times hard to find, and in the cases of local shops like Alternate Dimension, they have but a few boxes of actual comic books, but an entire store filled with merchandise.  

If comic stores must be stereotyped as dirty, smelly, taboo, etc (which they fuckin well shouldnt be), part of me wishes theyd be in the same vein as the sex shops in coconut grove & the beach, where at least random people will pass & take a look, if even to giggle or buy gag gifts...its a start.  We cant do shit if we can't get em in the door.

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Christ, i hope even a few of you make it this far, as this here piece is the single, most concise evaluation on what needs to be done, somewhat reiterating previous rants, tyin up others...this will be the only one not paraphrased, so be prepared.  

The discussion truly begins here, if there is to be one.  If not, that's alright, I'll just keep talkin to myself....gotta get someone's attention eventually, or at least help formulate my own ideas from this.  Here we go:

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The Old Bastard's Manifesto

 

Best before 01/01/01

 

Management not responsible for incorrect expiry dates Management not responsible for your anger, your embarrassment, or your insufficient intelligence Management not interested in your response

 

Work prone to spontaneous mutation

 

Ideological freeware: distribute at will

 

ITEM ONE

This is the time. The Western comics industry is scattered, unfocussed, badly confused. Such periods are optimum for violent revolution. The Old Bastard says sharpen your axes, make your peace and pack your Rohypnol; we're going on a road trip to reclaim the comics industry and remake it in another image. Specifically, mine.

 

ITEM TWO

Pop culture is darkening again. Accept it and stop whining, or stay at home and continue to attempt to convince your aged mother that you're really not sitting in your stained, crunchy bed fantasising about Betty and Veronica. People who refuse to see what time it is are surplus to requirements.

 

Stop whining about what we're telling you long enough to listen to what we're telling you. Be an adult.

 

ITEM THREE

The graphic novel or album (or other more suitable nomenclature yet to be coined) is the optimised form of "comics." The intermediate form is the serialisation towards collection, what used to be termed the "miniseries". DC Comics did not become the No 1 publisher in sales terms because of all its ongoing titles. It became No 1 because of the massive and growing revenues generated by its graphic novels and albums. Comics are not "habitual entertainment" that need to remain static and require broadcasting regularly until death us do part. That's the comic strip, and even those are sometimes allowed dignified endings. Comics, like their related media of novels and cinema, must be allowed to tell complete stories. If you can't handle that, then you really need to be in another business. Those who support us will be rewarded by increased sales and given the gift of the Future. The people who attempt to stop us will be stamped on.

 

ITEM FOUR

Once, the characters were the most important part of a book to its audience. Then, the publisher's brand became paramount. Later, a schism emerged, where for every person who aligned themselves with a publisher, another aligned themselves with a particular family of books from a publisher. All these identification systems have pretty much gone the way of the dodo with the new century. But a new alignment is emerging. More and more stores are racking their books not by publisher, nor alphabetically by title, but by creator. Which makes sense. Do you go into a record store and look for the new long-player recording by your favourite popular beat combo by record company? Go looking for the Eels single in the Dreamworks section of Tower Records? 'Course you bloody don't.

 

No-one wants the creators to appear bigger than the characters. The publishers hate the notion that Grant Morrison could have been a more important thing to ACTION COMICS than the presence of Superman - that maybe the characters don't sell themselves and that the creators might have something to do with it.

 

People do respond to reviews and mainstream media features and fond memories by entering stores in search of the new Neil Gaiman, or the new Alan Moore, or the new Frank Miller. So rack them accordingly. Let people have a Neil Gaiman section in stores, or Alex Ross, or Will Eisner, or Grant Morrison. We might not be a grown-up medium yet, but if we dress like it, we might just bring it on.

 

ITEM FIVE

Fuck superheroes, frankly. The notion that these things dominate an entire genre is absurd. It's like every bookstore in the planet having ninety percent of its shelves filled by nurse novels. Imagine that. You want a new novel, but you have to wade through three hundred new books about romances in the wards before you can get at any other genre. A medium where the relationship of fiction about nurses outweighs mainstream literary fiction by a ratio of one hundred to one. Superhero comics are like bloody creeping fungus, and they smother everything else.

 

It's been the hip and trendy thing to do, recently, to say that superheroes are, you know, all right. And, if they're well done, I agree with you. There's room for any kind of good work, no matter what genre it's in.

 

But that doesn't excuse you from going out and burning out all the bad work at the fucking root with torches. It doesn't excuse all the nameless toss that DC and Marvel and Image and all the others slop out every month. If you want to read three hundred superhero comics a month then you are sick and you need medical help.

 

Rip from their steaming corpses the things that led superhero comics to dominate the medium - the mad energy, the astonishing visuals, the fetishism, whatever - and apply them to the telling of other stories in other genres. That's all THE MATRIX did, after all.

 

ITEM SIX

What you say on the net doesn't matter. What you used to say in letters pages doesn't matter. No-one's listening to you. Because whenever anyone asks you what you think, you ask them to bring the fucking Micronauts back. The coin of your uninformed opinion is unutterably debased. Come back when you have something worth saying.

 

ITEM SEVEN

Too much of the industry's energy is focussed on creating comics for children that children either won't read or won't find. The comics retail culture is almost exclusively an environment for adolescent males of all ages. Trina Robbins is fanatically devoted to producing comics for girls, which is great. We need more genuine fanatics. But Trina Robbins producing comics for girls that are then exclusively sold through the direct sales network for comics specialty stores is nothing short of retarded. Because girls won't know it's there. Mark Waid was frequently heard to complain that, in IMPULSE, he was writing a children's comics series that was only being read by forty-year-old men. Because here's the news; kids don't go into comics stores any more. Even the nerdy kids go down to the Virgin Megastore to rent some Playstation games, if they're not at home downloading some porn. "The kids" couldn't give a rat's arse about your shit. If kids get comics, then they buy, or get bought, comics off the newsstand. And comics publishers gave up on the newsstand a long, long time ago. hell, they gave up on kid's comics a long time ago. I mean, do you see a dedicated campaign to tell parents that there's a POWERPUFF GIRLS comic available in specialty comics stores? One of the perks of my job is that I get complementary copies of all DC books. My four-year-old daughter practically tears my arm off to get at the new POWERPUFF GIRLS comic. If anyone cared enough, mobs could be gathering at comics stores tomorrow in search of this work. But they don't. Evidently the POKEMON comics were shifting something like a million units a month at one point. Did you see those readers at your local comics store? Did you see those books listed on the Top 200? No.

 

So give up. Quit it. Work on making comics stores places that adults will go into. Adults are good. Many of them have jobs, and therefore have money to spend. Give them adult works to buy, the equivalent of novels and cinema. Understand that when you write CAPE GIRL or ZAP BOY, you are not writing for your fondly imagined child audience. It doesn't exist. You are writing for a forty-five-year-old unmarried man living in a one-room apartment who listens to Madonna and is probably masturbating over your work. I want you to hold that image in your head the next time you sit down to create one of these works. Your worst convention-nightmare fan, glopping away as he peers through thick glasses at your drawing of Zoom Woman.

 

Then go and do something better with your time. Because I'm telling you now, I'm out of patience, and if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

 

And who knows? In a few years, when we've reached the point where the majority of work in a comics store is suitable for readers over 10, then perhaps we might move to set up children's sections, as seen in bookstores the world over. Makes sense. Children's material is one of the most lucrative sectors in publishing. Once you've created a space that non-hobbyist adults are happy to enter, maybe they'll bring their kids in one day. And then we can begin again.

 

ITEM EIGHT

I am part of the problem. Fuck you.

 

ITEM NINE

This is the perfect opportunity to begin building an adult medium. The industry is in flux, the direct market is in trouble. We seize on times of change and bend things to our mighty will. Make the change.

 

ITEM TEN

It begins.

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'Nuff said.

My ideas/variations forthcoming, here's to hopin some of you have comments/questions/complaints/input.

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Umm, can't say much other than I agree completely.  He's being a bit idealistic, but if the industry gets that desperate, I think something along the lines of what he wants can happen.  If comic stores looked more like Barnes and Nobles and less like my room on a bad day, people would go in.  And if the first thing they saw was different sections for comedy, action, drama, superhero, and manga stuff, they might look around.  The mere fact that there's three sections apart from typical superhero comics should be enough to peak one's interest.  hell, and once people had respectable and easy to find comic stores to buy stuff from, if I were the publishers, I'd launch a "comics are art" advertising campaign.  Almost like public service announcements that would make a big deal about the fact that comics are not just a bunch of cartoony superhero stories.  Another thing that could help would be movie translations.  And I don't mean stuff like X-men and Spiderman, but stuff like ghostworld.  If a bunch of non superhero books became good movies, eventually people would walk into a comic store to get the book, then maybe see some of teh author's other works, and get some reccomendations from the store employee.  Or, people would simply notice the fact that a lot of the movies they liked came from comic books and they had no idea, so they'd pass by the new improved store to check it out.  Eliis is dead on, if comics are going to be anything other than a niche market, the industry has to move away from the obvious moneymakers and think long term.  Sure, action figures all over the store will make some quick profits, but having a new generation of people hooked into comics will certainly be more valuable.

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I agree with what Ellis and Junk've said and now should be the time, a lot of comics movies are about.

 

Ghost World and From hell have been thru cinemas, with stuff like Constantine and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen being made. And on the superhero front there're some very successful films coming out that aren't immediately associated with comics like Blade (which amazes anyone I tell that it was a comic) and the Matrix. Even the superhero movies nowadays are done well, like X-men, and hopefully so will X2, Spiderman, Batman:Year One and others be.

 

Just as Marvel have gotten recognised creators like Ennis, Bendis and Morrison to write titles so as to bring in more customers (to their own products) so have the makers of these movies gotten directors like Ang Lee, Stephen Norrington, Darren Aronofsky, Bryan Singer, Sam Raimi, etc. People who are fans of these directors look at this and think, "if these creative types are into comics, maybe there's some good stuff to be found", although some'll just think, 'sell-out'.

 

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is there's a lot of talent around today in mainstream comics and mainstream comics movie making. Both industries are at their strongest creatively for some time, at least in the mainstream, where as opposed to a few years ago, many people aren't gonna go pay to see Steven Seagal kick people in the face for two hours or settle for re-hashes of re-hashes in comics, because they have alternatives that're a lot better.

 

Unfortunately in a contradiction to the solution, all the good creators in comics seem to have gone to superhero books, as above Ennis, Bendis and Morrison, Frank Miller doing DK2, Alan Moore's ABC line, etc. I don't mean that as an insult to the books they're writing, I'm buying many of them, but good creator or not most people won't see past the title and new customers will be lost.

 

 

Really what's needed is for the comics industry to not diminish the amount of hero books cos I do agree wholeheartedly with Ellis above, but to promote new independent alternative works, just as new directors are found thru the Sundance and other festivals so do comics need to find new comics creators. DC's Vertigo imprint is one such breeding ground for talent although many of the writers there have already gone thru UK's 2000AD, but I'm a comics fan and I can't even name another such publisher. I'd buy stuff like Eightball or the new Brian Wood 'Pounded' but I can never find the stuff. Without some support from the big 2 publishers, the future of the comics industry is gonna pass by unnoticed.

 

 

Hmmm, I've rambled a bit and lost my train of thought, but I think I made a point....maybe?

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All good points so far, thanks you guys.

To emphasize Item 6 on The Old Bastard's Manifesto, Ellis did a run on usenet (internet chat spots, like this one, only far more troll-ridden) posts about the future of comics, how it was threatened at the time by the new idea of Marvel's Ultimate series, and how the "hardcore" fans simply want stagnation, that the idea of change or evolution in comics is hitler itself. Take a look.

PS that bit bout not postin just Warren's stuff? Twas a lie.  MY ideas will try to follow each thread if theyre not up here.

 

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This is the sound of the enemy. Listen:

 

"The entire point of the Ultimate line is to reclaim the mainstream media with comics. If they even gain a fraction of the goal, the readers of regular titles will be dwarfed in comparison. That's a VERY dangerous thing for us."

 

This is an excerpt from a posting found on the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks, devoted to discussion on the topic of Marvel Comics' X-MEN family of comic books. I choose not to source the poster because frequently the posts are identified by email addresses only, and I don't want to be responsible for someone mailbombing some poor bastard to death - and because so many of the opinions flow together into one. I excerpt the posts in application of "fair use."

 

The above post was made in connection with the announcement of Marvel's proposed "Ultimate" line of comics. It was made by a fan of the current X-books. And it stinks of fear.

 

For those of you unaware of industry machinations: The Ultimate line is an attempt by Marvel to reintroduce some of their core characters and concepts to people who have no interest in entering at the wrong end of a forty-year-long soap opera. In the words of Bill Jemas, Marvel President Of Publishing And New Media, "What we've done with the Ultimates… is swapped out the traditional backstory and replaced it with a new, self-contained year 2000 context. These characters that we grew to know and love as teenagers are teenagers again, dealing with year 2000 issues."

 

This idea is being kickstarted at a time where two high-profile Marvel-based big-budget movies are expected within the next year to eighteen months. It seems that, for once, Marvel has gotten organised enough to capitalise on its ownership of or participation in major commercial properties, perhaps finally feeling the sting of massive missed opportunities like MEN IN BLACK and BLADE. Jemas again: "The Ultimates will be our most comprehensive, focused, well-financed imprint in the Marvel Comics line. We'll have our biggest and best media push in our history, which includes the X-Men movie, behind this. We'll have a fan interest in our characters at an all time high, and we're going to leverage that demand to fuel growth in comic book readership. That's essentially what the Ultimates are all about - comic books targeted to new readers."

 

A-ha. Comics targeted to new readers. We know a song about that, don't we, children?

 

"We've all heard comic book publishers sing this same song - they want to bring in new fans, but the truth is that the collective efforts of publishers and distributors in the comic book business to bring in new customers have failed. Readership continues to drop, and stores continue to suffer financially, as have all the business that service the comic book business."

 

So driving brand new footfall into the comics stores is a good thing, and that seems to be the intent here. A hundred thousand UNCANNY X-MEN readers is not enough. Jemas adds, "A very good core-market book, almost by definition is not going to be accessible to new customers. The fans love the complexity, and the new fans are baffled."

 

So far, interesting. I have serious doubts that releasing new iterations of Spider-Man and The X-Men is the smart way to bring in new readers to comics, but at least they're trying something. There's at least the strong implication, backed up by common sense, that the core market - the regular direct-market X-Books - will be protected and are certainly still desired. But check this out:

 

"I'm not saying that the new line will replace regular continuity right away with just a few titles, oh no. But if they can't raise the readership of normal continuity, which I can't see how as long as titles such as the Spiderman books are unreadable, then why continue them if Ultimate is successful? That's a disturbing thought, but it's a very serious one down the road if Marvel continues to try and save a dying industry by supplanting stores with better made books to draw people the lesser ones of old. Think about it and read the figures Marvel is hoping for with Ultimate. Scary stuff."

 

This is one of the many comments of a similar nature currently to be found on the heavily-patronised rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks, in response to Jemas' annoucement.

 

These are the enemy. These are the people who like the comics culture just the way it is; stunted, marginalised, dying in the dark. These are the people who don't want art from their comics. These are people who can barely stand intelligent entertainment from their comics -

 

"We're losing the characters we've come to know and love. I'd rather read junk about characters I know and love than well-written stories about characters I do not care about."

 

-- and there's a hundred thousand of the bastards. They are the dominating population. And here is their voice;

 

"I'm pretty good at determining what I like and don't like, even before I see it, read it, listen to it, etc. I can probably count on one hand the number of times my gut instinct has been wrong..."

 

Understand that Jemas is talking about saving comics. I might not agree with his ideas, and I remain aware that he's really talking about saving comics for Marvel - and the last time Marvel tried a stunt of this ilk they ended up concentrating all the financial power in the industry into Diamond's hands - but at root he's talking about obtaining a new audience and pushing new people with wallets into the comics store environment. Which is precisely what I've been banging on about here.

 

And the online conversation - which is to say, the only broad-based, massively multiparty conversation possible at this juncture - is led by people terrified that their fantasy life-surrogate is somehow going to be subtracted from their lives by the agency of people who haven't read comics before trying the medium out for the first time.

 

"It is my purely subjective opinion, hence it cannot be wrong."

 

Some people talked about leaving the medium if the X-Books family was truncated or deleted. One comment following these statements of intent was:

 

"Neither of you will be alone, but because we would do this I don't think Marvel would cancel our books."

 

Our books. Our medium.

 

When someone explained that these books would initially be written by the excellent Brian Michael Bendis, a popular writer whose profile is quite high right now, the reaction can be typified by the following post, made in all sincerity:

 

"Wasn't he the actor who starred in Dream On on HBO a few years back. I think he's married to Madeline Stowe."

 

And, when someone suggested that this newsgroup isn't an accurate representation of the comic-buying public to begin with, someone else made the truly chilling suggestion that:

 

"Yes, this has been said, but a part of me thinks it is somewhat of an accurate representation. There aren't many comic-buying people to begin with. We may be the majority of what's left..."

 

Think about that. The one ray of hope here is that Internet opinion has historically not represented the groundswell of audience opinion. In a broad generalisation, the Net-capable has tended to split between the "Spawn fukkin rools" group and what Mark Waid called "the forty-year-olds on Compuserve." The fresh produce of the American education system and ageing conservatives, basically. But the actual buying audience is shrinking. And the number of people with Internet access is climbing massively.

 

So what if these people are the majority of the remaining readership?

 

"I'd rather read junk about characters I know and love than well-written stories about characters I do not care about."

 

This is why my sermons occasionally become hate rants. Because I've seen this kind of person up close. And there are more of them than you think. And make no mistake, they are the enemy. They are the people who like things just the way they are. They want comics to remain defined by sick little family-surrogates with spandex fetishes. To them, this is all the medium needs to be, and anyone who says otherwise is evil and to be shunned. Comics must remain the small world that they hide within.

 

And if you don't act, they win.

 

I wrote The Old Bastard's Manifesto for a reason. I've written columns on activism here for a reason. Damnit, I wrote the Counter-X books as contemporary no-baggage jumping-on-point comics for a reason. Because of people like this. Because if they win, everyone loses. If they get to continue to dominate the comics culture, then we're fucked. Tolerance is no longer an option.

 

Today's CIA has been brought to you by the letter X and the emotion Hate.

---------------------------------------------------------

 

That bout sums it up, tomorrow ill post on his solution to "saving superheroes", also quite brilliant.  Ive decided the last flood was a bit much, ill try to space out these rants a bit & get some more response....im honestly just happy to have em up here tho.  Ive yet to fully read Scott Mcloud's Understanding Comics, but i cant recall the last time somethin was as up-front as Come In Alone.  Ellis is quickly joinin the list of my favorite writers.

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Well, IrishCowboy TM, those're some very fine points you & Warren've made there.  

I too am a big fan of comics, and as a legitimate visual narrative, i agree it's a shame to see comics portrayed as "a bastard art medium, who's expected to fuck off to the corner" and alla that.

Not to mention, in your last ingenius post, you outlined how the very fans themselves - the hardcore audience, whom many books seem to be applein to, the "Micronauts" crowds - are unwittingly helpin bring about the death of comics.  

In this regard, what would you (or Ellis) have to say on the superhero books themselves?

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Goddamn, that's a fine question.  Fortunately, master scribe Ellis has somethin to say on this topic as well.

 

---------------------------------------------------------

 

I received, the other day, a request for a future column. The writer likes my work, he says, but what he really loves is the famous long-time corporate-owned characters, like Superman and The Batman. He requested that I write a piece on how we might save those "icons", and how we might bring new readers and quality to the mainstream books of this type.

 

And I'm sorry, but the answer is: fuck 'em.

 

Letters like this - and I get an awful lot of them, I'm not singling anyone out here - presume that all the new characters and stories myself and my peers create from nothing but the world around us and the filters and notions peculiar to our own minds mean exactly nothing. They presume that the only characters worth telling stories about were invented in a previous century and we should stick to them or go away.

 

Am I the only one who finds that a little odd?

 

Think about that in terms of literature. Tell Nick Hornsby, Toni Morrison, Iain Sinclair or Maxine Hong Kingston that this new idea of theirs is pretty good, but what the medium really needs is more Fu Manchu novels. Tell Neal Stephenson he can fuck off until he decides to behave himself and write the Hercule Poirot novel the prose business needs to bring new readers back.

 

Fuck the old corporate-owned characters. They can look after themselves. They are artificially supported by the corporations during periods where no-one is buying them. You think they're all doing that for the creator-owned works that are building the medium's future? Marvel would keep their core characters in print even if the sales were so low that it'd be cheaper to phone the audience to tell them what happens in each issue, but they shot Epic dead without blinking.

 

We don't owe these old characters a living. They are not the infrastructure without which the Western medium would collapse. If you subtracted the Superman comics from DC's schedule tomorrow, about fifty thousand people would notice. (If that.) And the Superman apparel and merchandising machine - which is where the actual money in the Superman trademark is generated -- would roll on without noticing. hell, the WB Stores don't even sell Superman comics.

 

So why does it matter if we put quality creators on these books or not? They'll still be published anyway. SUPERMAN editor Eddie Berganza could fire all his artists tomorrow, dig up Don Heck, fill him with reconditioned old Disney animatronics, and have him draw all the books. And they'd still be published. They ain't cancelling the Superman books. In real, corporate terms, no-one gives a shit if Joe Kelly and Jeph Loeb are writing them, or if Mark Waid and Grant Morrison are writing them, or me and my dad are writing them. Same with The Batman. And Spider-Man. And all those other old comics characters that we're supposed to be beholden to.

 

Frankly, the creative community is not a slave race designed solely to service old copyrights. And I'm getting a little sick of people assuming otherwise.

 

Revisiting company-owned concepts because you've got that story in your head and you can't get rid of it any other way is fine. Frank Miller going back to The Batman because he wants to and because he thinks it will be fun is something I have no problem with (and I'm sure he's breathing a sigh of relief right now, that someone he's never heard of thinks it's okay for him to do whatever he wants). But there is a core assumption in the remaining audience that That Is Where We're Supposed To Be, and that pursuing original creator-owned projects is either an indulgence for prima donnas or biting the hand that feeds us.

 

Let's get one thing very clear; this business is not going to be "saved" by everyone putting their combined weight and creativity behind concepts and characters owned by corporations. Because corporations aren't in it to save comics. They're in it to save themselves.

 

In which regard: I've also had a lot of mail asking me to express my opinion of the new Ultimate books forthcoming from Marvel. For those who've missed this news, Marvel are launching a line of comics featuring rebooted, cut-down versions of their core characters, stripped down and remodelled for a modern mass audience. These books will evidently be aimed outside the core market, at people who don't ordinarily read comics. The first two projects will be ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and ULTIMATE X-MEN. The writers assigned to these books are hugely talented and treasured acquaintances of mine, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar. Presumably I would have been phoned if I'd changed my name to Elvis Ellis or Stanley Josef Stalin. Which I have considered from time to time.

 

Mark - who is, make no mistake, a very intelligent man who's been working in and studying this business for a very long time - is convinced that the Ultimate line will "save comics." That they will capture a whole new audience whose purchasing power will trickle down from the Ultimate books into the medium as a whole. That they will entice, train and addict a brand new market to supplement (and probably eventually replace) the old. These are books designed to supply the distilled essence of these old concepts, not the old, stale tangle of forty years of subplots and backtracks and re-sets. Readers, says the plan, will be able to come to the work with innocent minds and clean hands and be able to understand and get a complete experience from these books from the very start.

 

No.

 

Understand, I'm aware of my stance here. I'm the bad old man. I'm old Miseryguts standing in the corner muttering "It'll never work, you mark my words, it'll all come to no good in the end, just you wait and see" and pissing sourly over myself. I'm the horrible doomsaying old git whom nobody likes.

 

But no.

 

The Ultimate books will not save the comics industry. They will be excellently written. And while I'm not overly fond of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN artist Mark Bagley's work, ULTIMATE X-MEN artist Adam Kubert is a terrific action illustrator. They will be good superhero comics.

 

And there's the problem.

 

The new brooms at Marvel are doing a good thing. Their good intentions are, it must be remembered, more corporate than philanthropic (and last time Marvel tried a big power-concentrating exercise, remember, it crippled them and poisoned their name and made Diamond the biggest power in comics) - but they're making this move for the right reasons. We need to go out and find a new audience and drag them into specialty comics stores (in the near term).

 

But - and this is a big but - this all assumes that a mass market wants to read superhero comics. And if that were true then millions of people would have poured out of the cinema after BATMAN into the nearest comics dealership and bought the shop. If this were true, in fact, then the industry slump would never have happened, because there would be lots of people brought in by movies and breakthrough books like DARK KNIGHT and WATCHMEN who were still reading superhero comics.

 

Addressing this problem by amassing the resources to do really good superhero comics doesn't seem to me to be a solid solution.

 

It's true that 99% of the audience for THE MATRIX really didn't know that what they were seeing was at the root of the superhero genre. And that film showed that the tropes of the superhero genre can be made accessible to a mass audience. But dressing the X-Men in MATRIX-y black leather is a long way from delivering the same kind of accessible experience. (And, apropos of nothing, I've read what I believe to be the final draft of the X-Men film script before they took it on the floor, and while the first half rolls along pleasantly if unchallengingly, the second half is frankly buggered.) Superheroes are ultimately difficult to take seriously. And a mass audience wants, on some level, to take its mass-market violent action entertainment with a degree of seriousness.

 

And what we're talking about here is a virgin who can run up walls after being bitten by a nuked spider and a bald rich single old man who lives in a big remote house with his leather-clad "students."

 

No, I'm not playing fair. Neither does anyone else in the real world.

 

I hope the Ultimate line is a big success. I hope it makes my friends very rich, so that I can beg change from them once me and my family have been put on the street by my shortsightedness. I personally look forward to reading my friends' work on them. I hope it brings a ton of new readers into the Western medium, eager to explore all it has to offer.

 

But no. A Marvel comic is not going to "save comics."

--------------------------------------------------------

 

As per usual, pretty insightful stuff...hope that answers your question. :D

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That is some heavy stuff right there. I agree with a lot of what he says. I am admittedly a relative newcomer to the comic world, 2000AD being my introduction followed by Preacher, and so I sort of remember what I thought before discovering comics.

 

The main problem being that from an outsiders point of view, comics = superheroes. Myself I'm not a fan of X-Men, Manga, etc, never have been, but since discovering a different direction that comics can take, Ghost World being the best example, I've been engrossed in this new medium.

 

Transmetropolitan was the next step for me and I'm always on the look out for new stuff of a similar vein (always wanted to try out Sin City but don't know where to start?). Until comics get more exposure in the media (WE LOVE YOU THE GUARDIAN! ), it is not going to change and the publics view of all comic-readers will continue to be smelly, unsocial men.

 

Also glad to see KoS and Junk mention Ghost World and Eightball in their posts. I'd like to think I had a small part in helping them discover the world of Daniel Clowes.

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  • 1 month later...

Argh, lost track of this one, its got such damn potential.  He made some other fine ponts - if i can find em - on manga; how prevelant it is, how wide the genres are, how the Japenese people see it as just another storytelling medium, etc.  I'll dig it up later, inisightful stuff for those who read all this.

Ive been throwin around the idea of this "relaxed professional" comic shop for down the road if/when ive got $, so i was meanin to ask you folks what ya thought a good name'd be...?  Now that i think bout it, i'd go with "Hondo's" for the hell of it, such a fine name, but youre welcome to convince me otherwise.

Just wanted some more discussion here (god, i love The Old Bastard's Manifesto), so uh, who's with me on Hondo's? Cmon, get in on the ground floor! Here's some other possible ideas:

-Incorporate more culture, make it a coffee shop as well, with trades lyin about, perhaps even a small stage for local bands at night...sound interestin?

-Alex Ross & Glenn Fabry painted art about, with sections by genre & creators like Ellis said, rather than label.  

-No soliciting by non-bathing folk.

-A good downtown location, where it'd be exposed.  You walk into bookstores, dont you? Here in the grove, again, specialty shops like the sex one get curious folk alla time; whether they buy or not, they come in & look plenty.  No reason not to have that here.  

More to come...while id love to please friends & fanboys, this idea's evolving into an actual comic/graphic novel shop, one that really looks like its hosting a visual art medium, not just action figures, hentai & eight thousand "Superman meets big-titty girl" books.  (My analogies pale in comparison to Ellis', i still love "Xavier's School for Horrible Sexy Mutants" and "The Lonely Death of Got No Legs boy").  

So, whaddya'll think?

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I think it's a fine idea and it's bound to happen eventually.  The best way to go about it wound essentially be to overdo it.  Make it a wanky artsy-fartsy sort of place with a coffee shop and make it absolutely clear that comic books are regarded as ART.  Have good art on sale like paintings, and display none of the usual stuff people would expect.  If they want superman, they'd have to ask, and whoever was working there would push you into the direction of something great like Kingdom Come if you did ask about it, not just hand you the latest crap issue.  The store could regularly have authors and artists making appearences and panels to discuss their work.  NOT SIGNINGS, only panels, so people would see the thought that goes into comics, not just a bunch of dorky looking fanboys lined up for an autograph.  With a good, stylish presentation, it would attract plenty of people... comics are a visual medium, so the store would look great from the outside with great art being displayed on the windows.  People would at least walk in.  There should be some pamphlets at the door describing the place and it's goals.  If money ever allowed, there should be a sort of musem section in the back, showing off not only rare stuff, but milestones in comic book history, like the book that's the reason for the comic code and stuff like that, with full descriptions under each item that people could read.  The name of the store would have to be something kind of artsy.  It would have to make it clear that comics are a form of literature, I don't know how that would work out.  All I know is that it should be much easier for teh comic industry to get started again than any other.  With all the great art available, there is no excuse for a comic store to look anything but incredible, or at least interesting.  Most comic stores now look like crack houses, you can barely even see through the windows.  People go to bookstores to feel smart, and go buy movies for pure dumb entertainment, the comic store should be a good blend of the two.

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Hmm...yeah, were pretty much agreeing here, tho i think if done properly, signings could work; of course, after a discussion panel like ya said.  Gaiman does em all the time, but yeah, he gets lotsa goth freaks haunting him at his novel readings/signings as well, havta be careful there.  

More Ellis wisdom to come; for now, that's me & Junker investing in Hondo's, the legitimate comic/graphic novel store (needs better description, granted) if we fall ass-backwards into money?  Cmon, i know more of you'd be interested & have suggestions.  Im still gettin over how great an idea it could be to simply arrange the books by genre & creators, like music & movies, rather than just their respective labels.

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This all sounds very cool. Not too sure about trying to do so much more with it like the museum, etc, but keeping the essential idea of a shop and adding extras like special visitors and coffee would be excellent.

 

Just to say though, my local comic shop is great. I've been into a few nasty ones but this one is very cool. Much more spread out and the people that work there know their stuff without becoming rude or snobby along with it. When I asked the guy about something called 'Transmetrosomething', he took me over to the section, filled me in on the background of the story and had a sort of "you'll like this if your into this" type" approach, rather than trying to sell me as many comics as possible.

 

Oh yeah, live bands would rule as well.

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I'm torn between 'the comic shop sounds cool' and 'comic shop sounds like Ellen' (the book shop in it, not that it sounds gay)! If I can think of anything I'll let you know, genre/creator sorting sounds cool.

 

Hey MLB, sorry to say I haven't read Ghost World (probably will do) or Eightball (my point was that I couldn't find it in the shops). Don't be totally down on superheroes though, there are some good ones, look for recognised creators.

 

Ennis writing the Punisher is hilarious, I think both of his runs are collected in trades. Ellis's run on 'The Authority' is very good, Grant Morrison's 'New X-Men' run is good too. The 'Ultimate Marvel' comics I've read so far are good, they're restarting established characters with contemporary situations, personalities, etc., 'The Ultimates' (Avengers update? Don't know the characters too well.) is shaping up well at the moment.

 

Pick up 'Punisher - Welcome Home Frank' and you'll see what I mean.

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Again, id agree the superhero genre dominates the comic book medium, and that's an odd and not so great thing.  Drama & other such genres are a niche market, where they shouldnt be.  I also think it interestin how Ellis points out that Manga (Japanese comics) dont run into this problem, neither do many Euros, just us Americans.

But yeah MLB, Punisher is Ennis & Dillon again, light-hearted, violent, fun stuff...definitely worth checkin out.

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Sorry MLB, I'd misread a previous post of yours, Yeah superheroes dominate comics, I didn't start reading comics till Preacher (haven't stopped since), at the time I didn't realise the opportunities the medium afforded (like movies but without budgets, or censorship). More non-superhero stuff'd be cool, Transmet is about the best non-superhero book around at the moment, we need more drama, satire, politics and smoking cats!

 

Manga's cool, I don't read much but I'm reading Lone Wolf and Cub (Samurai manga), and Pulp magazine, mainly for Uzumaki ('Spirals' - horror manga) and my current favourite comic of any kind 'Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga' (a comedy guide to becoming a famous artist, I can't really explain it to you, I'll have to try and scan a page of it). The fact that so many genres exist in manga, they don't have the superhero problem, it is a little bizarre though that there's 'Salaryman manga' and 'Mahjong manga'!

 

 

Btw, I'd only recommend the Ennis/Dillon Punisher's MLB(Punisher vs Al Capone :ill: ).

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  • 8 months later...

An interesting retail idea for comics, courtesy of Comic Book Resources.com, which woudl be pretty cool if only they had half this much retail interest...

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

It's a time in the not-so-far future. You're at the local mall. You stop into the book store and walk up to the Marvel/DC kiosk. There's a computer there with a database listing every comic the two companies ever produced (both before and after their merger) that they still own the rights to. Every single issue. Every graphic novel. Every promotional comic.

 

You pick SLAPSTICK #1-#4, remembering a few cheap laughs in a time before DEADPOOL became AGENT X, or X-FORCE became X-STATIX. It's Len Kaminski and James Fry, with Terry Austin on inks. They're comics tucked in the back of a long box in storage somewhere that you can't be bothered sorting through to get to. You select those four issues, instead, out of a little walk-up booth somewhere at the local mall.

 

You choose between paperback and hardcover format. You choose which of the four issues' covers you'd like to be the cover of your new made-to-print book. The rest will appear on the inside as pin-ups in the back section of the book at the check of a box.

 

If you're on a budget, you can even choose between black and white (line art or shades of grey reproduction), or full color.

 

You swipe your credit card through the machine, push a button to indicate you have no further orders despite the list of other similar titles that might interest you (the aforementioned titles, plus FRED HEMBECK and/or SERGIO ARAGONES DESTROYS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE, a whole run of WHAT THE--?!? Issues, or THE FANTASTIC FOUR ROAST), grab your receipt with your order number, and head down to Best Buy to scan the shelves for the recently-released STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES DVDs to kill some time.

 

Nah, I'm just kidding on those DVDs. They're still not out, despite what the rumor mills say. George Lucas' myocardial infarction prevented that from ever happening. On the bright side, it also prevented STAR WARS, EPISODE III from ever defiling the name of that once great movie series any further.

 

A couple of hours later, your book is waiting for you at the local mass market book store. $10 brings you a few good laughs.

 

Then you wake up.

 

It's still February, 2003. You realize that CrossGen is the only company equipped to come up with such a scheme, but they don't need to. Most every combination of reprints you could want from their titles is already available.

 

Except the hardcovers.

 

Dare to dream.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Ill give him this much: A store set up with electronic kiosks (inlcuding quick-acess to the first few pages or so as a demo) might run a lot more smoothly in way of archives than dozens of fastly-aging longboxes that are often cumbersome to reach in & go through, all the while bending the crap out of other issues in search of the one you want.

Maybe a combination of both: lots of stores these days keep an electronic database on their inventory (as well as what they can transfer from other stores), why not let customers access this? I know, in movie & music stores some do but they prefer you look through & buy more, i just think of such a thing were set up right it might add something to the store, could even have good recommendations add-ins based on your search....

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I gotta say, a system like that would get alot more customers out into the market. The biggest pain in the ass about comics is hunting down what you want to read, specially if its hot or getting old. And the older hot issues up in price to something only a collector or real hardcore fan would pay. I'd definitely be getting more comics if that format ever came about.

 

:D

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  • 6 months later...

"Buddy Scalera is a freelance comic book writer with credits at Marvel and several independents. He is the publisher of Visual Reference for Comic Artists and Necrotic. "

http://silverbulletcomicbooks.com/buddy/

 

Forget The Kids... Market Comics To Adults

 

By Buddy Scalera

 

Forget the kids. Seriously, it’s a lost cause. Forget ‘em.

 

If we continue marketing comics to kids, we’re surely doomed.

 

First, a very quick background. Hang in there, this has a point…

 

Most creators, publishers, retailers, and other industry professionals grew up reading comic books. We remember buying comics on the newsstand, and then later at specialty shops. It was a great time because comics – compared to other forms of entertainment – were cheap.

 

And everyone at that time knew…comics were for kids. Period.

 

As the 80s rolled in, a new wave of creators helped comics mature. Vertigo and the independent comics offered some sophisticated literature, which expanded dramatically in the 90s.

 

The mass media followed our industry lead. The new mantra became: “comics aren’t just for kids anymore.” (Many articles started off with the obligatory “pow, bang, comics aren’t just for kids anymore” lead. While that was cute for a little while, it’s just downright annoying now.)

 

Note that in the last paragraph, I say that the mass media followed OUR lead. That’s right. Us. We. The industry professionals. They listened to our message which was, if you were paying attention, “pow, bang, comics aren’t just for kids anymore.”

 

The good news: our message got through. Yay.

The bad news: our message got through. Uh oh.

Want to know WHY that’s bad news? Well, it’s clear that parents stopped buying comics for kids.

 

As a father, I don’t buy products for my daughter that are clearly marketed toward adults. I buy my kid products specifically designed for children like Barney, Elmo, and The Wiggles.

 

That’s where the mixed marketing message screwed us up. We wanted the rest of the world to respect the art form of comic books. So we reconfigured our marketing message to attract adults, which it did. Many more adults are aware of the fact that comic books are often written for mature minds.

 

But we still hear many people say that we need more kids reading comic books. WRONG.

 

We LOST a generation of kids to video games and the Internet. And they’re NOT coming back to comics. They have enough distractions.

 

My idea (I told you there would be a point to all of this) is to market comic books to adults, almost exclusively. That is, emulate mass-market publishers and book retailers. Turn comic books into an adult hobby.

 

If you walk into Barnes and Nobles, you can assume that MOST of the books are written for adults. There are sections for Business, Health, Fiction, Automobiles, etc. Then there is a SPECIFIC AREA for kids.

 

And yet…people walk into a comic book store and assume that the products are mainly for kids. And that they have to look for the product geared toward adults. This is wrong.

 

Kids don’t have money. Yes, yes, I know, kids have some money, but not compared to adults who work full-time jobs. Adults control most of the big cash in the real world, so it makes sense to market your products clearly and consistently to them.

 

Let’s stop marketing comic books half to kids and half to adults. Let’s market comic books to adults. Let’s get more adults reading good, intelligent, mature stories. Then let’s rope off a section in the comic book store that is geared towards children.

 

Market dirty books to adults, and kids will want them.

Market automobiles to adults, and kids will want them.

Market R movies to adults, and kids will want them.

Market Rated-M-for-Mature video games to adults, and kids will want them.

And….

 

Market comics to adults, and kids will want to read comics.

 

Look, it works for big publishers and mainstream bookstores, it will work for us. People make their decision based on where books are racked. Unless otherwise specified, most new books are marketed to adults. These books are racked in the main part of the store. This is true for fiction and nonfiction. If a new Stephen King novel comes out, you know that it’s probably intended for adults, right? If a new book on business etiquette comes out, you know that too is intended for adults. Same with politics, science, history, etc. All racked in the main (or adult) part of the store. The mainstream retail bookstore is an adult environment. Family friendly, yes, but definitely designed, decorated, and marketed to adults with adult prices.

 

Books specifically geared toward kids are racked in the children’s section. Plain and simple. It’s an easy purchase because parents know that they can trust that section of the store to carry age-appropriate stories. The children’s section of a mainstream bookstore is designed, decorated, and marketed with colors and displays for kids.

 

Mainstream retailers know that you need to market product separately for children and adults. The marketing message of Toys R Us is much different than Starbucks.

 

And yet comic stores must straddle the line and market the EXACT SAME PRODUCT to both kids and adults. Imagine how a 35-year-old man may feel when he’s buying the same comics as an 11-year-old boy.

 

As a child matures to pre-teen and teen stories, a parent gives the child some latitude to select their own books. Often, these books come from a line of books marketed specifically to the teen bracket.

 

As the teen grows into his or her adult years, not only do they graduate primary school, they graduate to adult literature. They want to read adult books, not censored, watered-down, “safe” books. They want the “good stuff.”

 

We see this in Hollywood too. Kids go from Rated G, to PG, to PG-13, to R. Getting into an R film is a big deal for most kids. They WANT to see the adult films.

 

Given a choice, most teenagers would rather go see Terminator 3 (Rated R) than Spy Kids (Rated PG). Why? Well, duh, if you’re a self-respecting teenager, the only reason you’re seeing Spy Kids is as a babysitter. You go see Terminator 3 with your friends. Because that’s how we market and advertise those films.

 

But comic books…gee…we want to market comic books so that an 11-year-old boy, a 20-year-old guy, and a 31-year-old man can buy the same issue of Avengers. All three age groups may enjoy the Avengers story…but the 31-year-old and the 20-year-old don’t want to be perceived as immature for reading a story aimed at an 11-year-old boy.

 

Stated more simply, the 11-year-old boy may want to emulate the maturity of the 20-year-old man by reading mature literature. But the 20- or 31-year-olds do NOT want to be reading stuff geared toward 11-year-olds.

 

Again, if we marketed comic books specifically to adults, we would start to remove the stigma for older readers. It would be okay for that 31-year-old guy to read comics in public. It would be assumed that he was reading a mature-level comic.

 

And if someone saw that 11-year old boy reading a comic, people would assume that the kid was reading either ( a ) something appropriate to his age or ( b ) something beyond his age.

 

But marketing the same product to everybody is not working. Hell, even Harry Potter – proudly read by MANY adults – is still marketed to kids. Adults may choose to read Harry Potter because it’s the “in” thing. But I doubt many of those same people are running out to read Sweet Valley High.

 

That is, adults don’t want to read ALL kids books, just Harry Potter because it’s special.

 

Marvel and DC now publish books that are generally adult, yet accessible to teens. For some reason, we persist in marketing these comics to kids. As a result, a huggggge majority of adult readers assume that they have outgrown comics. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Barnes and Nobles on a Saturday night. Lots of adults browsing and buying books. Adults can be seen buying books for themselves and for their kids, but they’re probably not the same books.

 

Let’s market comics to adults. We’ll continue to make comics for kids, but let’s make kids want to graduate to adult comics. Let’s create the mystique that better, more mature comics are just around the corner.

 

The kids reading Harry Potter today are going to graduate to Sweet Valley High, then to books by Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz, and others.

 

With comics, we can guide kids through the same path. A kid today can graduate from Archie to Batman Adventures to Avengers to Batman to Daredevil to Vertigo and other mature books. It’s a natural path and they can continue to read kid-safe titles, if they want.

 

But for now, forget the kids. They’re off doing other kid things. Let’s concentrate on making comics into an adult hobby by changing how the rest of the world perceives this form of media. Repositioning comic books as an adult art form will extend an invitation to adult shoppers.

 

Most importantly, adults interested in comic books will find themselves surrounded by other adults….rather than children.

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Well, New X-Men is a perfect example of a book that isn't directed at kids, although I'm sure quite alot of kids'll pick it up, more than likely because of the fact that it's the X-Men as opposed to the great writing and art. Same deal for Amazing Spiderman.

 

Didn't DC do a thing for kids (I'll be fucked if I can remember the name of it) that featured non-continuity tales featuring D.C. characters in the WB animated style. Maybe Marvel should follow suit and do it too. If there was a book like this, even an anthology ala MCP (which would also be easier to get done and could actually get some top writers in) for kids, maybe their parents, older siblings, uncles, aunts, babysitters, great great great great grandmothers or whatever'd pick 'em up for the kids and try and get 'em into comics.

 

That being said, I can't really see it working unless it was cheaply priced $2 or so, and if that were the case getting any real talent on board may be hard. It'd probably end up like Marvel's past "Star" and "Disney" titles.

 

Anyhow, that probably made no sense so I'm gonna quit while I'm behind...

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Nah, ya got the idea - DC had/has (?) that WB line based on the cartoons, i know the Justice League one was still goin a lil while back, not sure how well tho - 2T if youre ever realllly bored, read through this therad, lotta good shit in here, courtesy of Warren Ellis. He makes a comment about direct marketing - last year, Powerpuff girls were huge. There was a comic, but no advertising, whereas that stood to sell rather well, even with lil girls, perhaps.

But i agree - market it for the older kids and the young ones wanna jump on. When i was young, i didnt really wanna see Power Rangers, i wanted to see Die Hard, ya know?

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Man this guy is like a foghorn through the haze.

 

I remember that article posted about the texan guy who got arrested for selling an adult comic. We have to pick a direction. Either comics can be kids stuff (in which case I'm getting off) or it can be whatever the writer/artist want it to be.

 

This is a definite western bias. In Japan gray haired men read sex comics on the subway. Right next to little girls reading romance comics.

 

You don't think Akira was created with KIDS in mind, do you?

 

The good news is that I think the process is inevitable. The core of comics readers left are adults and we will continue to demand things like Vertigo and Marvel Knights and expect that level of realism in our Superman and Spiderman books soon enough.

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