I know, I know! We have been arguing for such a long time that comics aren’t just for kids but the problem is that a majority of the comics publishers have neglected to realize that this is and will always be tomorrow’s adult comics fan. With the acceleration of the Children’s and Young Adult categories, the traditional publishers are dominating a market segment that for some reason, still isn’t registering with the folks who made it possible in the first place.The reason why comics are also for kids is because this is where we create reading behaviors. So many of us ‘mature’ readers discovered our passion for the act of reading via the first comics we could buy. These were the very cheap floppies you could find on the news stand, drug store, grocery store or the mom and pop corner market. We didn’t care about who wrote the stories, we didn’t collect them, we devoured them even before we made it to the register and then we read them over and over until we could buy some more.
I mentioned in Chapter 2 that All Ages is not a category listing in the traditional book market and that is quite true. In fact, All Ages is a financially damaging designation that comics publishers need to abandon as do the editorial staff and creators. Because it doesn’t exist in the book trade, which is worth billions of dollars more than the direct market, All Ages prevents a book from any chance of realizing true success.
Editorially, it is equally damaging because there are too many folks who think their story is All Ages when it really isn’t. Here’s the thing: writing for kids doesn’t mean dumbing down the dialog and pumping out trite crap. Kids are intelligent readers but they also like fact-based stuff like books about sharks, princesses, wookies, zombies etc. They just don’t care about the angst and over-sexualized characters who are struggling with the inner turmoil that the older comics fans get into.
Ironically, we are dealing with a situation where older fans, readers and publishers of the comics medium are trying to dictate what they think the kids should be reading versus what the kids want to read. Sound familiar? This mentality has been with us since the 1880s when a group of academics and publishing elite decided what classic literature is supposed to be. Dime store novels were an explosive new category in the U.S. market. Why? Because the average Joe could afford to buy a dime store novel. Reading, as a form of entertainment for the average citizen, began to grow.
Even before comics went four color in the Sunday editions of newspapers around the country, a new wave of European immigrants were learning how to assimilate into the culture of a new land. Even then the literary elites were looking down on the comics medium, declaring it unfit for consumption. It was entertainment for a lesser people. If you want real reading then you must read the classics!
There’s a great scene in the movie High Fidelity where John Cusack and his guys in the record shop berate a customer because he just wants to buy a record for his daughter. Even though they have the song they won’t sell it because it is ‘sentimental tacky crap’. So, instead of ringing up a sale, they have decided that the customer should buy what they deem ‘cool’ versus what he asked for. The customer leaves the store, frustrated.
Kids want and are buying stories like Bone, Archie, Smile: A Dental Drama, Amelia Rules! Ook and Gluk, and yes, they are buying Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The thing is, they aren’t buying these books at the comics shops; they are buying them in the normal retail outlets and they are buying them in the school book fairs.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is NOT A GRAPHIC NOVEL!!!! Well, I’ll say that technically and more importantly to the buyer in the education, library and retail market it now represents the graphic novel category for kids. The buyers are seeing crazy demand for it and according to some recent articles in the trades, the Wimpy Kid has generate [generated] more than $700 million for Abrams (Charlie Kochman is a freakin’ genius for landing it, too) and with those kinds of stories hitting the press you can bet the rest of the major houses are trying to find the next graphic novel series for kids.
I’ll leave you with two examples of brilliant marketing schemes that ensure a future for those companies. Disney and McDonald’s are both companies who have specific marketing campaigns that follow you from cradle to grave. McDonald’s has Happy Meals because little kids really don’t care about ranch style Angus burgers-they just want the toy and they may or may not eat the food. They do go back as teenagers and they do return as parents with little ones who will eat the Happy Meal while they eat the Angus Deluxe with Ranch Dressing.
Disney hooks you with the movies, toys and dreams of going to Disneyland or Walt Disney World. As a parent, you can bet you’ll be bombarded with special editions of The Lion King or The Little Mermaid every quarter of the business calendar. Eventually, your kids will lobby you long enough that you will cave and take them to one of the theme parks near you.
Don’t be afraid to write and sell to kids…just don’t call it All Ages because the district buyer in the Las Vegas Clark County Library System won’t be able to find an all ages title in the ordering system.
If you are a publisher or creator who is trying to figure out whether the book is for Children, Young Adults, or Adult readers I’d suggest contacting some great librarians who can help you out with that. It’s worth the time and the effort.
In the next chapter I’ll cover the launch of the campaign efforts and the machine that makes sure you see that book on the best seller lists-or gives it a helluva try.