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Monday, April 09, 2007

I'm An Old-Fashioned Comics Fan

(Previously posted at Komikazee.)

I loathe the day, should it ever come to pass, when comics will be found primarily on the internet, and cd-rom. A fairly negative statement with which to begin this column, I know. But, let’s face it, I’m on a quick downhill slide to 40 years old. I am fast becoming one of those “older fans” I used to chuckle at, with their love for the Golden Age and all the history that went along with it. These days, I spend more time reading old comics and publications dealing with comics history than I do perusing the new mags on the stands. I want to hold the comic book in my hands, smell the newsprint (or even the more pungent, slicker paper used today), and feel the weight of my ample purchase in the box my retailer generously donates to haul it out of the store. The thought of losing that is deflating, to say the least. All of that having been said, however....,

I believe the Internet is the last hope of comics ever having anything like the readership they enjoyed in the Golden or Silver Ages. I mean, I can read the writing on the wall. We’re living in the digital age, and the comics industry, which has already begun adapting, will probably end up having to make the information super-highway it’s primary vehicle for marketing it’s product. Exactly how they will do that I’ll leave to smarter folks than I.

Let me throw some numbers at you, to illustrate my sometimes-erratic thought patterns. William Moulton Marston, the man who co-created Wonder Woman under the pseudonym “Charles Moulton,” wrote in a 1943 article entitled The American Scholar that the number of comics magazines sold on newsstands every month was eighteen million. Past surveys which he termed “competent” had stated that four to five people read each publication, leading to the unbelievable (by today’s standards) number of over seventy million monthly readers, nearly half of which were adults! I think it goes without saying that any comics publisher today would envy a fraction of such a readership, even Marvel and D.C. Today, the Internet reaches far more than that on a monthly basis, with Google logging over two billion searches during December of 2005, according to Itworld.com. Even for those of us who could be considered “old-school” in our likes and dislikes of sequential art have to realize that for the comics biz to resist diving into the online world head first and whole-heartedly may be tantamount to placing the second foot in the grave. Nope, I don’t like it, but it’s hard to argue with the truth.

The possible silver lining of such a scenario, however, would be that a large upswing in readers would result in the securing of a trade paperback/back issue market. And, if the above numbers were even partially realized, lower prices for those collections would most likely be a reality through mass-marketers. My local Wal-Mart has dabbled in the stocking of Ultimate Spider-Man trades, always offering them at a discount. (Various Marvel and D.C. trades are also available for reduced prices on Wal-Mart’s web site.) Also, I recently purchased Tokyopop’s Airbender at the retail giant. With a cover price of $7.99, I picked it up for $3.94. As an aside, Manga is seeing a substantial gain of new readers all the time, due in some part to the use of television programs for kids and adults alike.

Yep, it would seem the use of electronic media is essential for the growth of the medium.

And, in case you’re wondering, I offer no apologies for plugging such establishments as Walmart when they sell comics, as that is one of the things that will HAVE to happen for the medium to have the market it deserves. Savvy retailers will adjust, adapt and prosper, just as the owners of specialty stores that deal in music, books, toys, models, etc., have done for years.

But, hey, maybe none of this will happen. I have no crystal ball and I’m certainly not a prophet. I’d love to be wrong about the Internet thing, but I’d sure like to be right about the larger readership! Whatever it takes, though, comics are not about the paper their printed on, but ultimately about the art form itself. However it happens, I’d like to see it thrive, and not just survive. Wouldn’t you?

Mark Allen