Edgier material may boost publisher's revenue today, but endangers future of the genre
In 1989, the average age of a customer at Joe Field's comic book store in Concord was 18.So the article also talks about the Identity Crisis case, but sadly, plays it all soft.
Today, it's almost 30. Moreover, Field estimates that buyers under 18 account for less than 20 percent of his sales.
Field's experience at his shop, Flying Colors Comics, is anything but unique. The comics business has learned to survive and grow by appealing to adults instead of kids. And that has opened the door to increasingly mature and edgy material, some of it within famously mainstream comics.
In recent years, for example, many DC Comics stories featuring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have been influenced by the 2004 "Identity Crisis'' miniseries, whose unsettling plot included the rape of another superhero's wife. Marvel Comics' recent "Civil War'' miniseries didn't address anything as controversial, but its themes were somber and starkly violent, with subplots involving fractured relationships among close friends and families.
The intensity of such story lines helps fuel events such as WonderCon, the annual comics and pop culture convention taking place Friday through Sunday in San Francisco. But WonderCon is almost equally about movie and TV attractions -- some rooted in comics, some not -- and that magnifies the challenge of getting kids to read.
"Comics,'' Field says, "are still a flea on the rear of the entertainment elephant -- including TV, movies, advertising and video games. Comics creatively dominate the other media, but they're far behind from a business standpoint.''Well, well, well. Looks like Meltzer is beginning to reveal his true face now. He couldn't care less if a child stumbled across this in a family house any more than if they picked up the next issue of Playboy. But most importantly of all, what this article otherwise fails to address is the one-sidedness of his story's focus on the rape. Nothing surprising, of course, given that this is a newspaper with a far too establishment-based approach. It's just like papers like these to avoid all the harder hitting questions about the corrupting influence books like IC can have, or the possibilities that it could.
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.
A recent article on that topic in Wizard magazine generally dismissed the idea that comics readership is headed off a cliff. But it also revived the debate about the impact and appropriateness of including a rape (albeit discussed, not shown) in a costumed heroes tale like "Identity Crisis.''
Brad Meltzer, the novelist who wrote that miniseries, said by e-mail that "the best part of comics has always been the mix'' of stories.
Even if young kids were the biggest comics readers, Meltzer notes, "I'd still tell the story I want to tell. That's the only story I should tell. Sooner or later, they'll grow into it, or make it themselves.''
Some recent research by DC Comics may include insights on readership by age, but the company declined to discuss its findings. And Field is among the shop owners who say retailers tend not to dwell on exactly who is buying comics as long as sales are growing overall.Well at least this answers something here. Money has once again triumphed over leaving the door open to all ages.
Manga, however, is only one slice of the comics business. Capitalizing on that niche interest, or creating kid-branded comics as Marvel and D.C. have done, strikes some observers as evidence of an oncoming crisis.How nice. This seller has "sold out" in spite of how he feels. All concerned should bear in mind that, as word gets out about how immoral, violent, corrupt and politicized comics have become lately, the more likely it is these days that even adult readership will drop. After all, the internet can shape things for the better, and those who take notice of this may not be very encouraged to read the medium.
Douglas Simpson, store manager of Paradise Comics in Toronto, raised an alarm in the Wizard story and said through e-mail that he believes the industry will "constantly decline" without younger readers developing a "common history" as comics fans.
"That a special line of books has to be produced for kids shows that even the major companies know their readership is aging," Simpson writes. "I am really convinced that the monthly periodical version of comics will steadily decline and that the trade paperback will be the only print survivor [of] comics."
Lee Hester, owner of the Lee's Comics stores in Mountain View and San Mateo, says comics have become a specialty market instead of a mass medium and that the trend is "to go more adult."
The danger of being unable to replace aging customers is real, Hester says. But the scales are somewhat balanced by understanding how to cater to his select market.
And there is a good point about nobody developing a common history in comics if all this keeps up, because the less the publishers respect continuity or any of the characterizations that make the heroes and villains alike work well, the less some of the audience may care about it either.