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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pushing Comics

(Originally posted at Komikazee - Edited from original version.)

Gotta tell ya, I feel pretty fortunate. I’ve heard a lot of guys talk about trying to get their wives or girlfriends into comics, to no avail. Even Michael Vance, proprietor and co-writer of Suspended Animation, of which I’m fortunate to be a part, can’t get his wife of many years (for my own health, I won’t say how many) to take any interest in his love of comics. However, in our seven short years of marriage, I have managed, not only to convince my wife to try some of the four-color fare, but have actually been joyful witness to her becoming a fan of the likes of Ultimate Spider-Man, Runaways, Fantastic Four and Bone. Yep, it gives me great pride to say she is now a bonafide comics fan.

What’s the point, you ask? Just this: Don’t give up hope when it comes to making new fans. Some folks seem to have a defeatist attitude about the medium, as if it’s destined to end soon, due to a lack of readers. I’m much more positive on that front. First of all, there always seem to be new readers popping up on message boards, asking about some of the “best” stuff out there that they should read. Encouraging, to say the least, to direct those individuals to material that we believe will help strengthen their new-found passion. Not only that, but according to Michael Lavin’s site, Comic Books for Young Adults, the average age of comic book readers is 25. That tells me that a lot of new blood has come in since I was that age. So, again, don’t give up. In fact, consider “planting” comics where there are “captive” readers.

A couple of years ago, I took a small stack of comic books and deposited them on the magazine rack in the waiting room of our family doctor. With the office manager’s permission, of course. What’s interesting is that, after several months, most of those comics remained. And, while all of the superhero material had been relegated to the toy box in the children’s play area, there was still one issue of Henrik Rehr's two-issue mini, Tuesday, (scroll down after clicking the link) on the rack. Frustrating, yet hopeful, at once. Encouraging is the fact that the well-worn Rehr work had obviously been read and re-read, and had continued to be replaced on the rack for the next person’s reading enjoyment/interest/curiosity. Ample evidence, at least to this comics enthusiast, that adults are willing to engage in some forms of sequential art. On the more disappointing side, it would seem that many still equate superheroes with the trappings of childhood. Ironically, my wife and I even spotted our doctor and his wife at a viewing of The Hulk when it hit movie theaters a few years ago. Admittedly, however, it was probably a patron who tossed it in with the toys, rather than the doc.

All of this is simply to say that there are, without a doubt, new readers yet to be enticed out there in the world. They may just be waiting for us to give them something they’ve never seen before. Allow me, however, to throw some cold water on the hopes of many: Comic book movies, in my opinion, bring in few, if any, new readers. Movies and comics are two different mediums, with little in common. For instance, when I see a great western on the big screen, I don’t rush out to investigate Louis L’Amour novels. A sci-fi movie blows my socks off? No Isaac Asimov works for me, thank you. Oh, I’ve read him, but I’ve never been convinced to do so because of a wonderfully-done movie of the same genre. I watch movies for the sake of the movie experience, and that’s where it ends. And it’s not just me; I don’t know ANYONE who has begun a comics habit due to seeing a great comics-related movie. Maybe you do. If so, great!

If we’re going to increase the number of readers, I think it’s going to be largely a grass-roots effort. All of the above being considered, however, to me, it doesn’t really matter whether the fan base grows, or stays the same over time, just taking on enough readers to keep the business afloat. I enjoy the medium, and that’s what’s important to me. Who knows, maybe what will bring in more fans than ever before is current readers just having a good time, and not looking over their shoulder to see who has spotted them reading a comic book. Not bending over backwards to explain the medium’s merits and worth, but simply saying, “Yeah, it’s a great book. You ought to read it, sometime.”