Vincent S. Moore Presents:
Comics For The People
Welcome once again to the Omnium Gatherum, folks.
Sorry to have taken a month off, but there are big doings at the secret headquarters that required my attention there rather than here. But I’m back with more blather and babblings.
One of the events that took me away from the computer desk occurred last Sunday.
It was the West Hollywood Book Fair, a fine all day event promoting books and book reading of all kinds, along with writing and other associated arts. The day was perfect for it, with the weather being warm without drifting into the realms of scorching that can happen here in sunny Southern California.
I was there, with one of my 10 Worlds Studio partners, in association with The Antidote Trust, a coalition of likeminded self and small publishers brought together for cross promotion and support. So that meant the day was not as difficult to endure as can it be at any convention. With the long hours spent at the booth, watching potential customers/readers passing you by, encouraging those wandering eyes to peruse your work in the hopes of enough sales to justify the costs and man-hours devoted to being at one’s booth. With a gathering of folks that will watch your back and help sell your stuff, it made the day pass quickly.
All in all, it was a good day, with modest sales and familiar faces seen and spoken to, connections made and the odd young comics hopeful inspired and encouraged by those who have passed through one or more thresholds along the artist’s journey.
Yet, one issue, one concern still nags at me and at some of my studio partners as well.
That issue is, how do you get more attention and more people to buy your comics?
More importantly, with comics of all kinds reentering the general public’s consciousness, how does any comics creator and publisher tap into that and benefit and thrive?
See, with all the comics based movies landing at the movie multi-screens and at the top of the box office take, comics have emerged from their seeming banishment from America’s Pop Cultural landscape that began in the 1950s. Comics are everywhere. This is exclusive of the rise of the rising sun of manga in America’s malls, where the mallrats have made tiny and thick black and white Japanese comics volumes king at the registers of bookstore chains. The rising tide of manga has helped to bring American comics further into bookstores by default; the movies, particularly this year, have brought American comics along even further. As has the recognition of prestigious book awards. American comics, the superheroes and the art comix alike, are beginning to be loved by their fellows once again.
But how does that growing love and interest help the struggling comics industry?
Sure, the bookstore chains are opening concept graphic novel stores to capitalize upon the increasing hunger for manga and graphic novels. But what does that do lately for the comics shops? Working in one, I know I don’t see too many of those so-called Joe Six Packs or Janey Soccer Moms come through the doors all that often. And I work in one of the neatest, cleanest, most accessible stores in California, if not the whole country. So it is open for anyone to enter. Yet few of these newbies to comics ever do.
Just as few of the people that walked by the booth at the WeHo Book Fair actually bought anything.
And, before some of the usual naysayers get up and running and wanting to comment as to why those average people aren’t buying comics, I will add this: by comics, I am not making the mistake of thinking that superheroes stories are the only kinds of comics; by comics, I mean comics of all kinds, superhero and science fiction, detective and horror, fiction and nonfiction.
What I saw that Sunday was plenty of people walking by The Antidote Trust’s booth as well as our neighbors selling their comics and only a few buying comics.
To some extent, I could probably chalk up some of the slow sales to the economy. When times are tight, the cash in one’s pocket can resist the desire to leave said pocket mightily. I understand that. I also know that when times are tight, the entertainment industry tends to be one of the few businesses that does well, if not better. Because people want and need to forget their problems, if only for a few minutes or hours. When I was young, one of the reason I got into comics was tight money. Comics were a form of entertainment I could buy, keep, and return to again and again, to keep me from feeling as if I were deprived of anything. Even with today’s comics being far from cheap, a nicely sized trade paperback can entertain for more than just the couple of hours it may take to read it.
So, discounting money or the lack thereof as a factor, what led to the slow sales?
Perhaps there were simply too many options offered to folks that day.
Again, this was a book fair. So there were books and bookstores of all kinds in attendance. If you were a reader of some note and devotion, you would have been on the outskirts of heaven that day. I even hated being there to work a booth as there were many booths I wanted to check out for myself. Even the meager amount of money I brought that day would have ended up spent had I not opted to stay with the booth most of the day. So people were buying books- that I did see.
Could it be that, despite comics and comics culture being everywhere, the general public just hasn’t been exposed to comics long enough to get into the regular habit of buying comics?
That might be the most likely culprit.
The superhero movie vogue is not even a decade old yet. And movies based on other comics may not spark in the mind of the general consumer their link to comics and the possibility of similar kinds of stories being available in that format. I do know that it is a small number of people (based on a very unscientific poll I took) that come out of a superhero movie wanted to learn more about that character and are willing to read the comics themselves. Digressing for a moment, I think Marvel made a huge mistake in not putting out a comics adaptation of the Iron Man movie. I say that because in the days following the premiere of the movie I had a number of requests, including those of an educator willing to buy multiple copies, for such an adaptation. Maybe such adaptations have sold for shit in the past, yet such books could serve as a bridge between seeing the movie and reading the regular comics. However, I know such a view requires seeing comics as a worthwhile business unto itself and not as a research and development idea factory for Hollywood.
And maybe that gets to the heart of the matter.
Maybe the general public, not counting those fans of manga, knows at heart that any comic worth the reading will more than likely end up as a film. Why be bothered with going to a comics shop or stop by a comics booth at a show when you can wait for the big screen debut of that comic book thing you saw on a table or shelf? Why get into the habit of reading comics? That’s something strange people like the Japanese or the Europeans do. That’s not necessarily something that good Americans do. Only those strange and weird Americans known as geeks read comics regularly. So why should the average person in America pick up the habit of reading comics?
Because that is what will help keep the comics industry, as it current exists, alive and well and thriving.
Because the increase in comics buying by the general public will show Hollywood that its investment in the comics industry is worth continuing and will increase such investment.
Because the American comics industry at this point in time is the most diverse that it has ever been. So growing the numbers of readers will eventually help nearly everyone. Now, part of me wants to say that one thing that will bring in more readers is creating the kinds of comics that will attract readers. But, I can’t rightfully say what that is anymore. With more people in the mix on the reader end, who’s to say what will be a hit and what will be a miss? If the recognition of the cognoscenti brings more people to reading the comics published by a Fantagraphics or a Top Shelf, then that’s great. If big budget box office smashes bring more people to Marvel and DC, Dark Horse and Image, then more power to ‘em.
The important thing here is getting more people to read comics.
So, how do we comics creators do that?
How do we take advantage of the rise of comics?
How do we lengthen and strengthen this second Golden Age of Comics?
I’m not sure how, but I think it will be a lot of fun finding out.
That’s all for now, folks.
I’ve been a very bad monkey and haven’t updated my blog in months. I will get on that shortly. If what I have planned of that outlet does what I think it will do, I will get a lot of link love and hate going. Just what I need, eh?
Thank you again for stopping by to read this column. Even though I don’t get any comments and haven’t received an email in months, I know people are reading. Or, I hope so. Marc hasn’t dropped me yet, so I guess someone is reading this old thing.
Everyone take care. See y’all next time, here at the Omnium Gatherum.
Vincent S. Moore
Copyright 2006- 2010 Marc Mason/Comics Waiting Room. All rights reserved