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Tuesday, February 02, 2021 

Even in the UK, the comics audience is reportedly small

If you thought the audience for comics in the US was small, The Quietus has a report telling that whatever audience the UK has for the medium is even smaller:
There has long been a suspicion among those making comics in the UK that things should be better. The UK is full of avid readers of books, but many of these don’t read comics. Publishers and creators struggle to reach this huge potential audience. Recently members of the comics community have come together in a large-scale effort to address the question ‘if you wanted to change the comics industry, where would you even begin?'
I'm willing to suggest toning down overtly political scripting, since even in the UK, it's not healthy to obsess oneself with too much of the theme, and those writers who don't like Nigel Farage would do well to reconsider the harm they're doing by attacking him for being a patriot opposed to evil. And in terms of format for publication, maybe they should consider going for paperbacks and hardcovers, rather than almost everything in serial format. Why some industrialists refuse to take this advice is beyond my comprehension.

And then, the news site goofs when they allude to a certain artist who is quite political:
There’s a vast breadth of comics literature on every conceivable topic being published in the UK, and for every age group. Certain genres have had some success – graphic medicine (the use of personal stories in comic form to address issues of illness and health) has brought the medium to new audiences interested in healthcare. Some of the more literary genres such as autobiography and graphic journalism (think work by Joe Sacco or Daryl Cunningham) get some sparse coverage in the broadsheets. Yet many comics creators are familiar with the difficulty of explaining what they do to people they meet in day-to-day life: “Comic books - but for adults?” “Graphic novels - is that erotic fiction?”
My my, Sacco is their choice for a cartoonist to recommend, despite his lenient positions on Islamofascism and hostility to Israel? Well, like I said, if only they'd learn why it doesn't pay in the long run to take such a blatantly political path. Even cartoonist Cunningham, with his own leftist leanings on stuff like climate change and global warming, isn't somebody I'd consider a great recommendation. Comics as we know them can't be defined to the max by partisan politics, nor should anyone think that's the sole way you can appeal to adults. If there's adults out there over 20 or so who like adventure movies and sci-fi, the same approach in marketing should apply to comics. Why doesn't that occur to them?

They quote a UK research report, stating:
“In France a bestselling comic might sell 150,000 copies whereas in the UK the figure might be closer to 5,000.”

"The ecosystem here in the UK is unique: we don’t have the production and retail infrastructures of the US; we don’t have the social and cultural acceptance of France; we don’t have the nation-wide readership of Japan.”
If this is correct about France and/or mainland Europe, the sad reality is that they clearly aren't far behind in terms of how big their own audience is. But 5000 copies...yikes. That's definitely a tiny number, not much different from what you see in the US.
The UK survey identified four major problem areas with the comic industry as it currently stands: money, access (including the need to better support marginalised voices,) audience, and professionalism. Ultimately many of the financial issues tie in very closely with the ‘audience’ problem – the readership of comics desperately needs expanding if comics are to become a more viable business for publishers and creators alike. The popularity of manga in Japan is often held up as an example of something to aim for – where comics are read widely by all ages, not seen as a weird niche item read only by people who aren’t up to reading ‘proper books’. Many involved in the online debates wondered whether comics might be able to forge a higher-profile space for itself on the broader cultural landscape. Traditionally there’s been a hierarchy of art-forms with theatre, novels, and film being widely reviewed and discussed on TV and in newspapers, and comics rarely getting a look-in. It was noted that in Germany in 2008 a group of publishers took action to actively grow comics readership, co-operating to print 80,000 flyers to raise the profile of comics and demonstrate their importance as a medium.
Certainly, there's what to learn from how the Japanese market their manga, along with anime films and TV shows, many adapted from the former. One of those key strategies is that they usually don't go about overtly attacking real life politicians and political movements. There are plenty of products there where characters who're politicians are featured as cast members, and sometimes real life locations like the Diet (the Japanese parliament) could make appearances. But the difference is that the mangakas and animators rarely put labels like "liberal and conservative" into the scripts, and if they don't take that kind of rabid approach, I don't see why western comics writers and artists can't learn from the Japanese example and refrain from making such insane jabs at real life figures, as they've been doing at least since the early 2000s. Notice how they even allude to the social justice cliches of needing to support "marginalized voices", even though it's little more than a figure of speech for the exaggerated notion they must be given the "right", rather than the privilege, of writing corporate owned properties almost entirely, individual talent and merit be damned. And they don't consider that a lot of manga involving politicians, for example, still often emphasize adventure and comedy themes; it's not like politics take the stage front-and-center in manga.

That's not to say everything's perfect in Japan's offerings. Of course they too can make mistakes, like relying too many times on obnoxious "hentai" elements in some stories, and also jarring violence. But if there's an advantage in keeping most politicized themes to a minimum, and making adventure and humor the main name of the game, then why don't US-European artists and writers learn from that? Why don't they even bring it up in discussion? Why is it such a big deal to relentlessly attack right-wing politics, at the expense of entertainment value, and come to think of it, educational value? Unless liberal artists, first and foremost, are willing to address this without hesitancy, even the UK will never solve the problems. No doubt, just like in the US, there's people in the UK who'll admit all the political obsessions have long gotten way out of hand, and refusal to move away from that, let alone borrow a page from Japan to see how they could improve, is exactly why they'll never have a chance to boost sales of comics to better levels and find larger audiences for a long, long time.

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Manga in Japan can be very political, but those are not the manga that get translated into European languages.

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