Robot 6

The ‘all-ages’ comics debate, Round 27

Franklin Richards: Dark Reigning Cats and Dogs

Franklin Richards: Dark Reigning Cats and Dogs

The fall 2009 edition of “there are no good comics for kids” chugged along this week as some of the central players took another stab at the topic.

Prominent retailer Buddy Saunders, whose Nov. 16 comments at ICv2.com added fuel to the current debate, returns to offer a hearty “Hear, hear!” to retailer Mary Alice Wilson’s support of his original assertion that “comics aren’t for kids anymore.”

Wilson points to the book industry’s ability to acquire and successfully market young-adult series like Harry Potter, Twilight and Percy Jackson & The Olympians, saying, “I just don’t understand how come if the publishers of books can figure it out, the publishers of comics apparently cannot.”

Saunders adds that, presumably unlike the comics industry, “the book industry isn’t content to marvel at the wonders of its own navel,” and seeks and sells “an incredible range of material aimed at every kind of reader, not just young males.” Who’s to blame for this shortcoming of the comics industry?  Why, the fans who took over the business!

(Tom Spurgeon offers some amusing commentary on Saunders’ shifting argument.)

With that, retailer Christopher Butcher wades back in:

At best Mr. Saunders is comparing apples and oranges (graphic novels and novels are both printed matter, but are different media). At worst, he’s brutally out-of-touch with both the graphic novel market and the market for teen/YA fiction. Simply, the market for YA and teen prose fiction is massive, with more books published for those two demographics than there are total graphic novels published in English every year, maybe 6-10 times the amount. ICv2 estimated about about 5000 graphic novels a year are published, and that’s for every age group. This site estimates nearly 30,000 books were published for ‘juveniles’ alone last year, and that may not even include material for teens. Mr. Saunders and his quotee are comparing apples to industrial watermelon farms.

Butcher goes on to note that, “while there has been a consistent build in the number of comics and graphic novels for kids (and their quality!) published in the last few years, that number still pales in comparison to how many novels for that same audience are being published, and to be honest there are dozens of great comics and graphic novels for kids, teens, and everyone in-between, that completely fly under the radar anyway, not finding the marketing support or sales they deserve in comic stores or ‘regular’ book stores.”

To make sure some of those kids’ comics don’t slip beneath the radar, blogger Johanna Draper Carlson chimes in with more than a dozen recommended titles.

Which brings us to cartoonist Chris Eliopoulos, writer and artist of the Marvel kids’ comic Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius, who suggests the problem — “a self-consuming marketplace and one that does not open itself up to the new or young-reader friendly” — could be addressed by major publishers creating divisions “that produces comic book-style children’s books that contain no super heroes.” (Granted, that might not sit well with those arguing, essentially, for more superhero comics that are just like the ones they read when they were kids.)

“They need to become children’s book publishers that compete with Scholastic and the other more traditional publishers,” Eliopoulos writes. “They need to aim to get all-ages books into bookstores and not bother with retailers. You want to buy the latest issue of Superman, head to your comic shop. Want an all-ages comic book that a parent can buy for their kid? Go to a bookstore. That’s the only way they’re going to find them.”

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“a self-consuming marketplace and one that does not open itself up to the new or young-reader friendly” -

I’ve been saying this for years, literally almost a decade: the market is not new reader friendly. Beyond that the actual places to buy comics, while beloved by fans are rarely receptive to new buyers. They’re labyrinthine, insular, and confusing, hell, they can confuse even me. No one thinks to focus on things new readers will be interested in, and there’s even a hostility towards those things (trades, as back issues make the shops more $$) I’ve never seen a comic shop focused on retail non-secondary market comics, no back issues, just trades and recent issues.

Personally, I think the dominant format is ill suited for consumption period, the pamphlet is now a dead form. It’s wasteful, it’s encumbered by advertising (when will they realize that this is not magazines, it’s books, you don’t see the new Stephen King book with 15% of it’s space filled with ads), it’s all so frustrating, it’s as if the people making the decisions did the exact opposite of what they should have at every turn. Hey, let’s focus on a small market and milk it to death. Hey let’s stick to a high priced, advertising supported format that makes our product look like throwaway junk. Hey let’s keep creating large unruly storylines that may please a core audience (but rarely that) and eschew any chance at reaching a public that is spending millions on movies and toys and all manner of stuff related to our properties.

It’s time to reshuffle, refocus and open the floodgates. Marvel and DC could make a ton of money if they sold their properties as one would, say, a novel. Put out an Iron Man graphic novel every six months. Put out a Captain America GN ever six months. Spider-Man and X-Men every quarter, etc. No more monthly pamphlets. Just two really good stories a year. I’d be perfectly happy. And with the amount of properties Marvel and DC have, you’d have 1-2 books a month going out. People could afford to get everything Marvel puts out, everything DC puts out. You could read Spider-Man, AND Superman AND have money to read other stuff. Instead of spending $100 a month on 30 flimsy pamphlets, you spend $80 on 4(2 from each company, just a guestimate) GNs from the big two and have extra to spend on some other stuff.

Instead…every time a movie comes out they rejigger something reissue old issues in trade format. Why not y’know, put out a nice shiny new Iron Man 128 page graphic novel when Iron Man 2 comes out? Sell it like prequel or sequel, tie it into the movie. Include an advertisement for it in the previews or in the credits on posters, this stuff has been done for non comic movie tie in novels. And when I say this I mean this is the ONLY piece of Iron Man fiction to come out in the month the movie comes out. It’s THE BOOK.

Both Marvel and DC overwhelm people with masses of movie tie in product. And it hasn’t expanded the market a bit.

Bet you that would sell better than any reprint, newly renumbered pamphlet or anything else they’ve done with movie tie-ins.

But no, same old, same old. You keep grinding that axe, ain’t gonna be there for much longer.

I’ve been looking into kids’ comics for a couple of months now, and Spurgeon is exactly right. When someone says “There aren’t enough comics for kids,” what they mean is “there aren’t enough super-hero comics that have a lot of over-the-top violence without much consequence.” And as far as that goes, it’s accurate. The Marvel Adventures line is great, but the stories tend to be a little too light and silly. I think the market could use a few more titles that are more self-contained, with shorter story arcs or single-issue stories, where character development can take a back seat to action and adventure set pieces.

So, yeah, could we use a few more monthly titles written at a fifth grade level that feature adults in high adventure stories? Yeah, maybe.

But there are plenty of original graphic novels that are being published every week. But since they’re from larger publishing houses, they’re bypassing the comic shops to a great extent, and because they’re not at the front of the Diamond catalog each month, a lot of retailers wouldn’t see them anyway.

DrunkJack — Let me argue against your point for a moment before I agree with you.

A problem that would have to be addressed by only publishing of trade-sized editions would be that the cost for the trade would have to go up considerably to pay the creators. That’s what the monthly comics do, and that is why the trades are priced cheaper than the total of the monthly comics.

And let’s use some round numbers for argument’s sake. Let’s say Marvel publishes 100 comics a month. For 12 months, that is 1200 comics. 6 issues per trade is 200 trades. Divided by 52 weeks, that is nearly 4 titles per week, not 1-2 per month as you suggest.(Also for the sake of argument, let’s say Marvel would not be content to reduce their output.)

Arguments aside, I think the future of comics will be complete stories in one book. No more monthly books. But I don’t know when that will happen. I’d suspect it’s going to take another decade or more before that happens, when another generation of comics readers has appeared.

Alan, shouldn’t that last word be “disappeared”?

DrunkJack – Couple of things to ponder on what you had to say…

“(when will they realize that this is not magazines, it’s books, you don’t see the new Stephen King book with 15% of it’s space filled with ads), it’s all so frustrating”

Comics are magazines. Not books. One of the huge benefits to this is tax reasons. You are not taxed for a single issue comic (as you are not taxed for magazines) you ARE taxed for trades (as you are for novels).

“No more monthly pamphlets. Just two really good stories a year. I’d be perfectly happy. And with the amount of properties Marvel and DC have, you’d have 1-2 books a month going out. People could afford to get everything Marvel puts out, everything DC puts out.”

Marvel publishes, on average 20 single issue comics a week. That’s week not month. Do you really expect either of the big two to switch their business model to that of something where they only sell one of two books a month down from 100 books a month?

I think that’s a big tax benefit in some regions, not others. I know magazines aren’t taxed in New York, but they are in Iowa, and seemingly everywhere else I’ve bought one.

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