You can read it here. Go ahead… I’ll wait.
Here’s his reason for doing this:
We know where we’ve been—our favorite eras, our favorite characters, our favorite runs. We already know all of that. I’ve got a garage full of Silver, Bronze, Copper, and Modern Age comics and I love them.
But the medium of comics has never been more on the forefront of driving pop culture and as fans of this art form, we have a rare opportunity to take that interest to the next level and embrace an entire generation of potential fans who don’t read comics right now.
We can make a new Golden Age.
At BOOM!, we’ve carefully selected new projects in 2015 that we believe will help Push #ComicsForward. These projects will take on risky subject matter, introduce new characters from diverse backgrounds, and debut a swath of new creative voices to the industry.
So… an invitation to join the conversation, which, as many know, I’ve been having for … twenty-plus years.
So… here are my suggestions….
Wait… I should preface this by saying… while I’ve never really spoken with Mr. Richie (he’s a busy man!), I do respect what Boom! and Archaia are doing in comics, and I like him even more now that he’s pushing #ComicsForward and hoping to start a conversation. I’m not being critical, just constructive. Even if you don’t really care about this, go and check out what they publish. You’ll find a lot of good titles to read, no matter what interests you. (Also, thank you, Keith Giffen. I owe you a drink.)
1) Comics publishers need to think outside the comics shop. I understand how important comics shops are to the industry, but you’re preaching to the choir. If you want to fill the nave, you’ve got to go outside and spread the good word. I don’t think we’ll see another boom in comics shops, if only because it’s hard to set up a small business with the Internet overshadowing everything.
Most publishers know the entry-level stuff: EANs on the back covers of books, digital comics available for reading, sending out review copies and networking with journalists…
Yet… the comic book Direct Market is a pittance compared to the Book Trade! ($800 Million : $27 Billion) The American Booksellers Association has about 2000 members, which means that publishers could double the potential market just by selling to those smaller independent stores, which aren’t much different than comics shops. (Those owners are just as dedicated and passionate!) Of course, with bookstore distribution, those titles are also available to online retailers, and the bigger chain stores, which doubles or triples the market again.
But wait… What if there was a way for readers to sample books for free? Books which are curated by knowledgeable experts who have spent years and thousands of dollars honing their passion, eager to advocate and recommend titles to those seeking knowledge or fulfilment? A market, much like the Direct Market, which buys books on a non-returnable basis, so there is little risk to the publisher? What if there were THOUSANDS of locations scattered across this country, where a person could enter freely, without shame or trepidation? What if some of these places were in grade schools, or universities, readily available to students? Titles kept on shelves for years, sometimes forever, readily available to anyone, anywhere?
2) Comics publishers need to think inside the comics shop. How many shops are specialty bookstores? How many are hobby shops? How many are man caves? How many look and act like porn shops with posters covering the windows and a mostly male clientele seen exiting the store clutching plain brown bags of merchandise? (Hattip to Evan Dorkin.)
It’s been almost twenty years since The Friends of Lulu published their retailer handbook. (Again, go read. It’s got a great introduction by Neil Gaiman!) Most comics shops are aesthetically appealing to the general public, offer a welcoming environment, and even have some awesome employees.
All could do better. They have to, to survive in this marketplace. Every shop should have a dedicated section for kids and parents, with seating. (No space inside? How about a bench outside?) Stores should have a professional website, updated weekly (if not more frequently) with an e-commerce store. There should be weekly events to create community, and offsite events to promote comics and find new allies. If the bottom line allows, offer monthly promotions. Be creative! Or let the staff be creative!
3) “All Ages”. Ugh… This really could be a subset of #1 above. In book publishing, yes, you hope a title appeals to a wide audience. However, in the initial marketing to librarians and booksellers, every publisher knows the core audience whom the book to whom the book will appeal. Yes, lots of adults read “Harry Potter”. Yes, in the Eighth Grade, my friend was reading and collecting Stephen King novels. There are many classics, originally written for adults, which are considered suitable for a younger audience (Alice in Wonderland, Robinson Crusoe, Little Women…). I can sell Watchmen to a variety of readers using a variety of talking points, but when I do, it’s usually for one particular reason, based on the customer I’m selling to. (It could be someone looking for a murder mystery. It could be a fan of science fiction. It could be a U.S. Senator who was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.)
“All Ages” doesn’t work as a descriptor. I believe it was created to avoid the stigma of “comics are (only) for kids”, which is understandable. If we follow the spirit of “pushing comics forward”, we need to realize that there are a multitude of comics available for a multitude of different audiences, and that the most important audience of all is children and teens.
Hollywood does have an “all ages” designation: the G rating. But movie studios don’t promote the rating, and I was surprised how many popular movies actually had the rating. I think it’s a kiss of death, bringing to mind The Adventures of the Wilderness Family. (Don’t tell them it’s good for them!) So, yeah, go ahead and make a family-friendly movie that plays to all four quadrants (and sometimes appeals to none of them). But don’t be afraid to make something that has a more focused appeal.
Teens… that’s a pretty easy audience. The cool kids have mastered the leveled readers and have discovered that almost everything published barely exceeds an Eighth Grade reading level. Add in the illicitness of reading something they shouldn’t, and it’s hard to keep a teen, especially one with a sharp intellect, from discovering all sorts of interesting stuff to read!
Kids… that’s more difficult. How well does a child read? What’s the interest level of the child? Is it age-appropriate? Is it parent-appropriate? This is where the publisher plays an important role, by marketing the book properly to those most likely to be interested in the title.
Comics publishers need to look at their catalogs and figure out how to market every book they acquire. Many publishers specialize in certain genres, markets, and/or audiences. Others, like BOOM!, have a varied list. The smarter publishers set up imprints, to better brand their titles to readers and retailers. BOOM! offers: BOOM! Studios, Archaia (literary comics), BOOM! Box (alternative), KaBOOM! (kids).
4) I want to see more imports. If a German graphic novel can be marketed to roughly 100 million readers in Europe, why can’t that same title be marketed to readers of English? (Most publishers, if they have an international presence, will buy the English language rights for the entire world.) We’ve already seen the success of Japanese manga (thank you, Pokemon, for saving the American comics industry!), and there has been a slow trickle of French titles appearing each year.
What aren’t we seeing? Would you be interested in the true story of a serial killer of Weimar Germany, who loved young boys and threw their corpses into the local river, and who was an inspiration for “M”? How about a Japanese manga that reads as if Grant Morrison wrote a fictionalized biography of Bob Kane? Or maybe some of the manga that’s being produced in Germany and France?
5) I want to see more diversity. I love non-fiction comics. Partly, it stems from my curiousity, but partly, it was a defense mechanism against people who scoffed at comics. “See? I’m learning about the Trojan War! It’s one big crazy soap opera!” I truly believe that “applied comics” can be a great learning tool, even used to teach kids how to construct giant spaceships and adults how to build a loft bed. Also, it’s easier to convince librarians and educators to buy them… and once they buy them, students can read them!
I love that libraries have graphic novel sections, and promote those titles. But… I want to see comics mainstreamed in with the other books. So that when someone browses the cookbooks looking for vegetarian recipes, they find this.
I also want more varieties of fiction as well! The broader the variety of good and great graphic novels, the easier it is to recommend them to someone new! It can even be a new twist on an old story.
6) I’m waiting for The Enlightenment. Mr. Richie states, “We can make a new Golden Age.” The problem with Golden Ages is… we don’t know when we’re in the middle of one until it passes. Also, it seems to reek a bit of nostalgia. “If only we could return to those halcyon days…” which, of course, runs counter to the whole #ComicsForward ideal. Myself, I like to follow the art historians. Right now, we’re in a renaissance. A dark age has passed. Old works, long forgotten, are being rediscovered. Works from foreign cultures influence and inspire innovation. New technologies allow ideas to spread easily.
We all know what happened during the Renaissance in Europe. Da Vinci. Galileo. Luther. de’ Medici. Shakespeare. Machiavelli. The New World…
I love all the amazing stuff that’s being published now. It’s so easy to find stuff, or stumble upon stuff.
That’s great, but… The Age of Enlightenment. 130 years of amazing advancement! What if comics shops were the new coffeehouses? What if the decade of manga, the decade of mainstreaming, was obliterated by the decade of hypercomics? Kids innately learning the tools of cartooning, and making crazy experimental stories, shared online, maybe coalescing into comics circles, with an American Comiket or four, like MoCCA Fest being held in a convention center! Studios and communes and schools and workshops and retreats and summer camps!
Within the next ten years, I want to see an explosion of discussion, debate, philosophies, ideas! I want universities to offer degrees on how comics communicate ideas, and how that can innovate the transmission of data. I want comic books to be commonplace! Where it’s just another format, and people don’t even think twice about reading it.
7) I want more comic cons! Every city which has an auto show, a boat show, any type of consumer show aimed at the general public… should also have a comics show! I don’t care if it’s some local promoter, or part of a multi-city circuit. It can be a Comics Arts Festival, a Comic Con, or just something held at the local library or Lions hall. Or even a comics club that meets after school! It’s about making comics easier to find. It’s about creating networks and community. It’s about validation. It’s about celebration!
ALSO! If you’re an illustrator working in comics, you should be at arts festivals. If fantasy and science fiction illustrators can do that successfully, comics creators can as well. If you’ve got posters, t-shirts, and all that etsy stuff at your artist alley table, then you should consider renting space at arts fairs.
8) I want more comics evangelists! I love spreading the good word wherever I go. But I’m a weekend warrior, attending about ten comics shows a year. I’m not a circuit rider. I’m not traveling overseas (although I would love to!). We need more people out there speaking and talking and listening. We need more cultural organizations sponsoring cultural exchanges. We need friends telling their friends about great stories they have read. We need activists willing to testify about the inherent worth of comics. We need creators willing to visit schools (not for the faint of heart!) and talk to students and educators.
9) We’ve established a presence in school libraries. Now we need to convince the art instructors. I’m not in this sphere. I talk to librarians, but I don’t know many in the art education community, unless they’re also comics creators. If we can get art instruction in grade schools, we can encourage kids to be creative earlier. There are various “comics in the classroom” programs out there already, and comics clubs at schools have been in existence for decades. Do the national conferences discuss using comics? I’m fairly certain…all it takes is an art instructor/comics fan getting approval from an administrator to teach a class. Add in the encouragement from state legislation regarding multicultural education and cross-disciplinary learning standards, and comics fits in quite nicely.
10) We need more ideas. I can only think up so many crazy ideas. We need more people asking “What if…” and “How about…?” and “…and then what happens?” We need more thinkers and dreamers and doers. Got an idea? Share it below! Meet some friends for morning coffee or happy hour drinks. Maybe hold a mini comic con cocktail party! Compare and contrast. Discuss amongst yourselves. Just drop us a line when you do. Why should you have all the fun?! Besides, we’ll probably have a few suggestions of our own!
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!