This article on WonderCon does a good job of explaining why most people don’t read superhero comics, but their definition of “comics” as “superhero comics from the Big Two” results in hilarious false generalizations like this:
Almost no one talks any longer about comics being a sneakily artful way of getting kids to read. There is even some fear that the current waves of adult customers represent the last generations of comics readers.
You wouldn’t know it from the posse of librarians at the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference at NYCC last week, or the number of kids on the convention floor. I will grant that this is probably the last generation of superhero readers if the publishers don’t change the model, but the writer and interviewees alike seem to suffer from a peculiar form of tunnel vision. Look no further than their dismissal of manga as “only one slice of the comics business.”
What they’re not getting is that the comics business is made up of a lot of slices, and there are going to be more. The model is changing, as we saw at the ICv2 Conference, where the big news was that graphic novels now sell better than pamphlets. And at the NYCC All Ages panel, which I will be posting about soon, there was a lot of excitement about creating comics for kids. Contrast that with this:
Brian Hibbs, owner of the Comix Experience store in San Francisco, makes the argument that cultivating adult readers is better for the maturity of the medium artistically.
“The common wisdom, when comics were considered something for kids, was that the audience turned over every three years,” Hibbs explains. “You could tell a story, and three years later you could tell the same story again.”
Well, if you treat your readers with contempt, you get what you deserve. But I don’t think Bone and Amelia Rules are using that paradigm.
Superhero comics are legitimate and important to the people who make and read them, but they are only one slice of the industry as well, and because the price of entry (in knowledge, not dollars) is so high, it is becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the comics world, as this article explains very well. You can make a lot of money catering to a single group, and there’s nothing wrong with that. **cough cough yaoi manga cough cough** But don’t pretend it’s the only group that exists.
The first part of the ICv2 GN conference consisted largely of Milton Griepp presenting slide after slide showing that comics sales are growing, and the baseline for comparison was 2001. Finally someone asked, “What happened in 2000?” Here’s Griepp’s response:
I think the biggest factor was Tokyopop’s expansion of their authentic manga line and bringing in original material for girls. Suddenly there was huge growth in a business that was usually flat, and it opened up new opportunities for other categories as well.
Yes! Make comics for girls as well as boys, and you double your market share. In fact, graphic novel sales have quadrupled since 2001, which indicates a pent-up demand that wasn’t being met. No marketer can ignore that. If only there were a third gender to reach out to!
The market is deep in some places, but it’s wide overall, and it’s getting wider as different types of comics proliferate and bring in new readers. That’s why Joe Quesada’s comments about the upcoming Stephen King comic, The Dark Tower, irritated people like Kevin Church.
“[Joe] Quesada went on to say that publishing the Dark Tower comic book has been the coming out party for the comic book industry, noting that this project will be able to reach far out into the mainstream, and show that comics are a serious art form, and ‘an art form to be reckoned with.'”
I guess this means we’re forgetting that just in the last year or so, Fun Home was named Time’s Book Of The Year and that American Born Chinese was both nominated for a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature as well as winning the ALA’s Michael L. Printz award.
Well, you can’t forget something you never bothered to learn, but Church is right. Furthermore, when I think “literary merit,” Stephen King’s is not the first name that springs to mind.
From my vantage point at the Javits Center last week, the comics medium looked pretty robust. There was lots of excitement around new lines like Yen Press and Vertical’s manga imprint. The fangirls were hooting and hollering as CPM announced that their existing series were back on schedule. You couldn’t walk through Artists Alley, it was so packed, and the diversity of styles was impressive. Scholastic was getting a lot of buzz when people realized what their sales numbers were like. The superhero stuff was all there, but I pretty much ignored it, and I still had more than enough to keep me busy.
Oh, and one more thing: I write about manga, I read about manga, but I read other stuff as well, most recently Marjane Satrapi’s Embroideries. I’m quite willing to embrace other forms of comics, even superhero comics if one catches my interest. And that’s the attitude we need to keep the medium flourishing well into the future.
UPDATE: As always, Tom Spurgeon says it better.