Robot 6

Move over gramps, and hand me that copy of The Dark Knight Returns

Donald Sofretti's cartoon of Wonder Woman in her golden years

In some families, every child is given a Bible. In my family, every child got a copy of How to Lie with Statistics, which has given me an ingrained skepticism toward surveys of any kind.

So I didn’t fall out of my rocking chair when I read that someone has written a report stating that comics readers are an aging demographic and one out of four comics fans is over 65. At Comics Alliance, which has an interesting deconstruction of the contents of the report, commenter Robert Saggers sums up my thoughts:

Do I think 1 in 4 comic readers is over 65? No

Do I think 1 in 4 people who actually stop and bother to answer marketing research questions is over 65? Yes!

Surveys like this are fraught with peril. I started reading comics when I was 4 years old, but I doubt my mother would have let me talk to some guy on the telephone about it. And what, exactly, do they mean by “comics”? If you’re talking about superhero periodical comics sold in comics stores, then that number sounds a little more plausible, but not very — I think of the average direct market customer as being closer to 40 than 65, although that’s strictly anecdotal. But look at the numbers for Diary of a Wimpy Kid (the next book will have a first printing of 5 million copies) or Twilight: The Graphic Novel (first printing: 350,000 copies). Those don’t have a lot of senior appeal (other than as gifts for the grandchildren), but they outsell a lot of floppies. Someone at Comics Alliance speculated that the people surveyed interpreted “comics” to mean “newspaper comic strips,” which traditionally do appeal to older readers.

The report, titled Overview of the U.S. Comic Book and Graphic Novel Market 2009-2010, is available only to the readers of the Book Publishing Report, a monthly newsletter (one-year subscription: $695), so we don’t have an actual copy. But the online summary claims that the report “delves deeper into clarifying and personifying the modern-day comic reader, with detailed demographic comparisons to book buyers and the general population. The report also provides bestseller analysis of the three major segments within the comic industry — comic books, graphic novels and manga — featuring multiple listings of the top titles and publishers by both title output and total dollar sales, as well as sales forecasts for the coming year.”

That seems like information that anyone could get for free by reading ICv2 every day, but the report is clearly aimed at people who aren’t familiar with the comics industry. And with one chapter titled “Why Comic Books’ Best Days Might be Behind Them,” it’s not clear why they would want to start learning now. But that geezer statistic (what we call a “Hey Martha” in the newspaper biz) has already served one purpose: Getting folks like me to write about the report.

(Image taken from When Comic Book Villains and Heroes Get Old at Unreality magazine.)

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3 Comments

“Hey, Martha”… Geez, the entire Internet is built on “Hey, Martha” stories! “Hey, Martha, did you see this dancing cat video?” “Hey, Martha, did you read what [insert name here] said about [comic book title here]?”

I hope the industry DOES start marketing towards senior citizens and grand parents. Think tweens have disposable income? Consider the “S.K.I. Club”…Spending the Kids’ Inheritance. Think of all those presents that grandparents purchase for the grandkids… now picture those grandparents buying graphic novels for their grandkids… $$$…

Comedian Marc Maron (who I’ll recommend anyway, in any circumstance) once made the observation that if someone calls you on the phone or stops you in the street and asks you to take a survey, your logical response will be “Hell no, I have things to do” and thusly, the only people who are actually being polled are those rare, sad individuals who will actually stay on the phone and listen to survey questions. He has a point.

Someone in the Comics Alliance thread also mentioned the possibility that newspaper comic strips are being counted as “comics” and if that’s the case, the whole story suddenly starts making more sense. I would be shocked if anyone YOUNGER than 65 is reading the likes of BEETLE BAILEY, BLONDIE or Chris Sims’ personal favorite, FUNKY WINKERBEAN.

And yes, you did mention the bit about newspaper comic strips in your article. Mea culpa.

Sorry to double-post but it occurs to me that a better and more informative study would be how the different age demographics get their comics. I think people reading the paper, Wednesday warriors going to the comics specialty shop every week, people buying trades from a brick and mortar bookstore, people buying trades from Amazon and the newer audience for digital comics via iPad are all different markets so lumping all comics readers into one group doesn’t give much detail or useful information at all.

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