Home Retailing & Marketing But the kids DO like it!

But the kids DO like it!

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Yesterday’s ennui rant has gotten a little attention around the internet water cooler. It’s always an honor when Tom AND Dirk weigh in on the same topic! But a lot of the responses there and here seem to be missing out on the very complex web of sociological factors that have led us to this moment in time. It really is “The New Paradigm.”

For instance, yesterday I needed to clear a path through the book buildup and took a couple of boxes of books to the Strand for my mocha latte money. The young fellow who was taking the books out of the boxes, as these young fellows so often do, couldn’t help but be intrigued by the fact that I had so MANY graphic novels. “Do you work for a publisher?” he asked?

“No, I’m a reviewer.”

“For where? Wizard?”

“No I have my own blog. The Beat.”

A moment of silence, then, “Have you read Spider-Man: Reign?”

Whoa, didn’t see that one coming! “No. What did you think of it?”

“I read the first couple of issues. It’s got some good stuff. I read a couple of comics…just getting back into it.” (I had a lot of books so it was taking a LONG time to take them all out of the box so we had a lot of time to talk.)

I looked at this young fellow. His age wasn’t that clear, but he couldn’t have been much older than 25 or so. Here was a demographic subject who would have come of age during the bleak 90s, the era when we all thought there were no comics for kids. How? HOW had he discovered comics? What promethean meteor had descended on him?

“What comics did you read when you were a kid?” I asked him.

“Oh, probably Infinity Gauntlet, Secret Wars, that kind of thing. My father was a big comics collector.

Well, here in one swift stroke was proof of TWO theories! #1, the idea that Marvel heroes have usually had a broad demographic appeal. And #2, the idea that “We must breed a new race of comics readers! It is our only hope!”

Lately I’ve come around to the idea that the Grim and Gritty era DIDN’T kill off kid comics readers entirely, as evidenced by the fact that there are many people — male and female — in their early 20s who READ COMICS. I doubt that anyone has made a real study of what the gateway drugs are, but I would love to start an informal poll. I’ve heard GI JOE and BARBIE mentioned. Clearly SAILOR MOON was the gateway for the manga boom, and at least partially by extension the Bookstore Explosion. I think the number of child readers dwindled in the Dark Ages — and sales figures in the late 90s would back this up — but it wasn’t as drastic a purge as a lot of people feared. I think Bruce Timm and the Batman and X-Men animated cartoons did a lot more good than they are generally given credit for.

I think there are a lot of gateways now for younger 20-something readers. I think Alan Moore is a gateway, and Frank Miller is a gateway, and so are other authors from Brian Wood to Brian Vaughan to Bryan Lee O’Malley. I know from anecdotal field research that even Marvel and DC are gateways.

As I’ve frequently noted here, the comics industry has gone from the era of “We can’t” to the era of “How can we?” Publishers, creators, book editors, librarians, book buyers, comics shop owners and even bloggers are all engaged together in this “how can we?” game.

To return to my own empirical field research, it seems like every time I get on the subway I see someone reading a comic. Sometimes its a manga, sometimes JLA, sometimes Ultimate Spider-man. I suspect these subway riders are what I will call “recreational readers.” They are not fans per se, in the collector, plastic bag, Android’s Dungeon sense. They are the current incarnation of those regular folks who like to read comics because they provide fun stories and engaging art. That’s right, they read comics for fun.

I think Civil War did a better job of engaging these recreational readers than a lot of comics pundits would like to admit. Civil War is the Infinity Gauntlet of its day. It has characters people can relate to — Cap and Iron Man! — and a goal people can identify — dealing with superpowers in the post 9/11 world. I haven’t read more than a few pages, so I have no idea how the execution is, as Tom would say. I stand by my claim that I would rather read a Global Hobo mini comic, but in a world where we are all wondering “How can we sell more comics?” It could be worth figuring out what is appealing about this story. NOT because First Second needs to rush out a mini-series where Kampung Boy fights Missouri Boy over an ID card, but to see what makes this story engaging to recreational readers.

In yesterday’s comment section someone linked to this fascinating story from IGN where Joss Whedon explains why he can’t write Marvel Comics any more.

Whedon: You know… I think my Marvel time is winding down. That’s not to say there are no properties, but right now, everything is so connected that I can’t get my head around it. Obviously this is doing great business for both Marvel and DC, and bringing out some of the best writing, is some of this enormous event stuff. Identity Crisis was amazing and spin a bunch of stuff – that’s really cool.

But I kind of like it when the Hulk’s doing his thing, and Cap’s doing his thing, and you buy it once a month and get excited. Everything is so complicated that, you know, “Um… is… is Marrow?” and then, “Yeah we’re using Marrow! She’s part of the New Brunswig Avengers!” So you’re like, “Oh! OK, great, nevermind, sorry!” I don’t understand… And also again the workload.

There are definitely characters I like, but I have no idea if they’re going to be dead, rebooted, Ultimated or be wearing a black costume by the time I get to them. I was going to pitch a Fantastic Four story, I did pitch it, saw what they were doing and said, “Actually what you’re doing is cooler.” I wish somebody had just told me before I wasted all this time, but this is a cool story, and I think my thing doesn’t work in this universe as it’s progressing. So, not to go on, but I kind of feel like, “Ehhh, I’ll just play with my toys until they break… in about six issues… and then maybe it’s time for me to rest.”


Now I have no idea how much Whedon is spinning his story for the sake of funny lines, but if it’s remotely true, it’s sadly shortsighted on Marvel’s part. Joss Whedon is an immensely popular writer with a huge built-in fanbase, ASTONISHING X-MEN is one of Marvel’s best selling graphic novels on the backlist, and anyone who wouldn’t take a flyer on a Whedon-penned FF series being another backlist hit is throwing away sales. Neil Gaiman’s ETERNALS mini may not have been at the top of the charts, but I guarantee the collection will sell well for a long time. (I’ve seen skatepunks at Union Square reading 1602.) Have you never heard of ELSEWORLDS, wpeople?

At the end of the day in the spirit of “How can we?” I think we need to question all our assumptions. The audience for FUN HOME is not the audience for CIVIL WAR, thank God, and I’m not trying to say that the people spilling into the Android’s Dungeon to buy CIVIL WAR are suddenly going to get interested in AYA. We’ve proven many many times that just putting indie comics in the proximity of better selling superhero books doesn’t sell more indie comics. But the rising tide is lifting all boats. The important thing is for publishers to stop accidentally knocking holes in the bottom of the boat by telling Joss Whedon he has to write CIVIL WAR: BACK DOOR.

I haven’t given up on those quirky, creator driven titles because the reality is that they are going to be the comics that end up selling year in and year out to the new crop of recreational readers. I was a bit too old to read INFINITY GAUNTLET, but I read plenty of Jim Starlin books when I was an impressionable youngster. By today’s standards, this would be a quirky, creator driven book. EVERY comic is somebody’s first. The industry just needs to make sure these comics bear some resemblance to good storytelling and don’t just fulfill the need to bring someone back from the dead.

  1. I truly think that the now-ubiquitous presence of videogames in many homes also has a great deal to do with the continuing popularity of comics for twenty-somethings of both genders. While the connections may be more tenuous, videogames in many ways occupy a similar niche in the player’s mind and the cross-platform marketing only extends and strengthens this connection.

  2. “But the rising tide is lifting all boats.”

    If by that, you mean that in the long run more comic readers who are buying mainstream today will eventually buy indies tommorrow, I have to disagree.

    Through personal experience, I see the indies getting squeezed out more and more that there won’t be any at the store for that reader to buy tomorrow.

  3. I’m one of those casual readers you mentioned. I don’t have the time, the money, or the desire to delve too deeply into many storylines. I think Whedon hit the nail on the head when he said”Everything is so connected right now, I can’t get my head around it.” That right there is why I’ll never be more than a casual reader.

    I want to be entertained. I don’t want to be handed a story that requires me to do homework.

  4. The Beat said…

    I think Bruce Timm and the Batman and X-Men animated cartoons did a lot more good than they are generally given credit for.

    This is a keen insight, and not one that enough people point out. As a 21-year-old comics fan — both of the medium and of superhero fiction — I had no particular attachment to comics in 90s, though I read a handful here or there. But those FoxKids cartoons went a long way towards breeding a love for the characters, and enough of one so that when the Spider-Man movie came out and I really enjoyed it, I felt compelled to give comics another look and see where my favorite characters had gone. Relatively quickly, I spread out to indies — it was a pretty easy throughline from something like Gotham Central to Queen and Country , for example. And, by the way, it helped that as I was getting back into these characters, Bruce Timm shows were still on television, using the exact same continuity that they had ten years ago when I was seven years old.

    All of this, I guess, is supposed to be a repudiation of the genuine cynicism you sometimes see on comics blogs. Yes, movies and TV can be great gateways, and yes, someone who checks out the market primarily for superhero material can “graduate” to checking out Chris Ware or Scott Pilgrim or Finder or James Kochalka’s stuff or whatever else you want to name.

  5. Featuring large numbers of heroes, especially those who don’t normally appear together, always attracts readers. I’m one of those who loved Infinity Gauntlet and the often-overlooked Kree vs. Skrull War from about the same era.

    I grew up dismissing superheroes even as a gradeschool kid. Then out of curiosity I bought a Fantastic Four in which The Thing spent all issue fighting The Hulk. Unfortunately, this was a World’s Greatest Comics reprint, and I didn’t know what a reprint was. When I looked for the next Fantastic Four (instead of the next WGC) and found that the story didn’t continue, my comic book prejudice returned for several years and it took comic-book-addicted friends and the original Ghost Rider beating the crap out of the Defenders to get me to give comics another try in high school.

    So for me, multiple hero books were the gateway drug.

  6. I’m only 26 and I learned to read from comics. “The Transformers,” in particular. That and “GI Joe” were my bread and butter as a grade schooler. And like the lad you mentioned, “Infinity Guantlet” was a watershed moment for me and was the gateway drug for four of my closest non-comic reading friends who now all still buy comics in one way or another.

    So yeah, crossovers do work and they can be awesome — until you overdo them and they become tedious. As much as we all loved “Infinity Gauntlet,” (and believe me, we did love it — I can still quote half the book today) we had a lot less love for “Infinity War,” “Infinity Crusade,” and all the other diminishing-returns sequels.

  7. Being 25, I too grew up with comics.
    The story that really blew my mind as an impressionable youngster was AoA.

    Then I lost track of comics during the bad late 90’s but was slowly brought back in by Sandman, and happening upon a bunch of Preacher and Transmet in a quarter bin at a flee market completley by chance.

    So I came back.

    I too know many ‘recreational readers’ and I’m shocked by how many of them are reading 1602. To follow up on your union square skate punk thing.

    The Neil Gaiman name sells anything.

  8. I predict Webcomics will be the biggest gateway of all. That could mean original for the Web like ACT-I-VATE, A.D, Shooting War, etc or Webformat friendly intros to Miller, Moore, Morrison, et al … People spend a lot of time online. And its a helluva lot easier to get a non-comix reader to click from a site they are on to a webcomic then to get them to buy or even borrow a book. This is coming from an experienced proselytizer.

  9. Sorry to double post like this- but i was re-reading some of the comments and Patricks’ statment struck me as worth noting…

    “All of this, I guess, is supposed to be a repudiation of the genuine cynicism you sometimes see on comics blogs. Yes, movies and TV can be great gateways, and yes, someone who checks out the market primarily for superhero material can “graduate” to checking out Chris Ware or Scott Pilgrim or Finder or James Kochalka’s stuff or whatever else you want to name.”

    This is only speculation, but I wonder if the percieved (though perhaps not intended) snobbish nature of indie comics compels some shop owners to not order them.

    It is somewhat outlandish and presumptious to assume non-super hero stuff is better than super-hero stuff and that you must ‘graduate’ upwards to the greener grass side of people not in tights.

    When comic shop owners grew up on super heros, and still love super heros this snobbish attitude is insulting and annoying and does not compel one to order indie books.

    To say that Watchmen or DKR is not good becuase it deals with tights is silly.

    Indie comics (and especially fans of indie comics) could do more to try to find an olive branch of udnerstanding with super hero fans. Rather than always looking down at them.

  10. Michael you can replace “super hero” with “indie” and vice-verse in your comment and your statement would also be true.

    I believe a lot of the “snobbish” rep for indies come from “mainstreamers” looking through an issue of “The Comics Journal” (for example) as opposed to “Wizard” or “CBG” which cater only to the superhero crowd.

    You state: “Indie comics (and especially fans of indie comics) could do more to try to find an olive branch of udnerstanding with super hero fans. Rather than always looking down at them.”
    But couldn’t that also be said of the super hero mainstream fans who look down their nose at a B&W book or one not depicting fights and deaths of men in tights?

    And since the majority of Comic Shops are run by those who only read superhero books, they only cater to the superhero crowd. Isn’t that sort of a “snobbish attitude, insulting and annoying towards potential customers who wish to try something else?

    Last night I read “Fun Home” and then the latest issue of “Spider-Girl”. I enjoyed them both, because they’re both well done, professional pieces of work. Unfortunately I’m beging to realize that I’m an oddity in the comic reading world.

    These two factions (super hero & indies) are both snobbish and stubborn, unwilling and uncaring about trying something different than what they routinely buy and read.

  11. I grew up on super hero comics and loved them. I still love reading some of them, but I’m one who refuses to deal with cross-overs and big events because they screw everything up. I also love lots of manga titles, and lots of indie titles. I read almost everything (no hentai manga and no porn comics, though). And, as a librarian and a reviewer in library journals, I talk about a lot of the books I like. My older son (now 24) also grew up on GI Joe and Transformers comics and now reads mostly manga (although he also likes Death Jr.). My younger son (now 12) loves Johnny DC titles – he’s a big Teen Titans Go! fan – and such books as Little Lulu and Amelia Rules and the Hellboy Animated. They both pick up some of the indie titles I have. Runners by Sean Wang is self-published, therefore indie. No snobbery there – just out-and-out science fiction fun. Same with John Gallagher’s Buzzboy. And A Bit Haywire. And Oddly Normal. And Emily Edison.

    As to super heroes – I get lots of comp copies from various publishers because of my reviewing work, which means I get lots of deliveries from the various freight carriers. One day a DHL Express driver came to the house with a package from DC Comics for me; he looked to be in his mid-20s. He asked why I was getting so much stuff from them, and thought it was cool when I told him what I do. Then he showed me his right hand, and he had the Green Lantern ring tattooed onto his ring finger. I cried out, “Green Lantern!” Turns out he’s a comics reader and fan especially of GL – enough to have the ring tattooed onto his own hand. So – yeah, there are young fans of super hero comics out there, too.

  12. Does it really seem that outlandish to assume a hierarchy of tastes when approaching comics, such that superhero fare caters to less refined tastes with indie books catering to more mature tastes (generally)? We do this with all kinds of other storytelling media as well. You have summer blockbusters vs. introspective art-house drama. You have fantasy novels about swords, dragons, and princesses in danger vs. subtle, literary expositions of an everyday life and how a dysfunctional man learns to relate to a dysfunctional woman. Greg Rucka’s enjoyable Atticus Kodiak novels are never going to have the kind of literary street cred that belongs to Lord of the Flies, Grapes of Wrath, or To Kill a Mockingbird. Even Raymond Chandler, who is top of his game and well-respected for it, won’t ever rise to the same level of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dostoevsky, or Theodore Dreiser.

    This is not to say that one is inherently better than the other. More that certain things are accessible to those with less mature sensibilities (and so are more widely accessible, for even those of mature sensibilities can appreciate, enjoy, and love the wider appeal stuff—this is why something like 300 will be popular).

    So while it may be outlandish to presume the hierarchy, the presumption is not without precedent.

  13. Richard J. Marcej: “Last night I read “Fun Home” and then the latest issue of “Spider-Girl”. I enjoyed them both, because they’re both well done, professional pieces of work. Unfortunately I’m beging to realize that I’m an oddity in the comic reading world.”

    The idea that people don’t read both indies and superhero comics is another of those chestnuts of conventional Internet wisdom that I don’t think I buy into entirely. There are overheated superhero fanboys who don’t read anything not published by Marvel or DC, just as there are stereotypical indie snobs who will read anything BUT what’s published by Marvel or DC, or manga fans who won’t touch anything that’s not printed right-to-left. However, I also think these polar extremes are over-represented on the comics Internet. There aren’t many people willing to talk about TV shows or music in any great depth — see the discussion about “Spider-Man: Reign” that Heidi quotes in this blog entry. Boil that down to people willing to set up blogs or join and participate in web forums and it’s no surprise that the most obsessed points of view are the ones that get the most air time.

    The Internet is not the mainstream. If it were, “Snakes on a Plane” and “Serenity” would have been blockbusters and Howard Dean would be the President. Attempting to apply the Internet as a representative cross-section of the public at large or even just the people who read comic books is a dangerous thing to do. I’m another genre-agnostic comics reader who will read just about anything, but I’ve known lots of other superhero fans who also read indies or manga (or any other scrambling of those 3 pseudo-genres).

    Then again, most of the comic shops I frequent are also the anecdotal 20% that orders most of the stuff outside of the Marvel/DC section of Previews, so I admit that my perception may well be badly skewed as well.

  14. Richard,

    Yes, I completely agree. Both sides do this.

    But I guess the Indie scene is in more need of sales and friends in comic shop owners which is why i phrased my theory as such.

    And I think ‘The Dane’s assumptoin of heirarchy illustrates my point well. It’s all semantics and tastes and to assume that either is better or more mature or particualrly to assume that the audience is better or more mature is wrong and damaging to both sides.

  15. “The idea that people don’t read both indies and superhero comics is another of those chestnuts of conventional Internet wisdom that I don’t think I buy into entirely. ”

    I was making all my comments above, not reflecting what’s covered or said on the internet, but what are sold and available at comicshops. Backing up my statement that indies will be squeezed out of shops by the time the young reader of today gets into his 20’s.

    If you judged the comic readers entirely on what are sold and available at comic shops in the USA (I can’t say for Canada or UK) then you would think that indies, manga, etc… never existed. (and believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last six months checking out the shops of USA to come to that conclusion. Much to my dismay.)

  16. I was talking to my friend Frank about this, and he had something interesting to say. “When I had my comic book store, there was one thing I realized that the industry could never get around. No matter what I tried, my younger readers would always turn 14 and discover girls. Once that happened, they’d put as much distance between them and my store as they could, because it made them uncool. Sure, they would come back 7 or 8 years latter, but they still carried that shame (of liking comics) back with them. They’d have to justify it, with Scott McClowed’s book, or some other way. The point is, this meant that every three years I’d have to go out and find new readers to fill that gap in time, and it wasn’t easy.”

  17. I think I was 5 or 6 when SECRET WARS was coming out. I got into comics – the first I ever bought was an ALPHA FLIGHT with two different Sasquatches on the cover hitting each other in their hairy faces – because my big brother liked comics. He’s ten years older than me, so he got into comics by buying POWER MAN and THE CHAMPIONS off of the spinner rack at the grocery store in the late 70’s. He got his driver’s license, so once a month he would drive the two of us about 30 miles to the direct market shop and we would load up. Since he was so much older than me, comics was kind of THE thing we had in common. In the summertime both of our folks would be at work, and we would go to the comics shop, then buy a big bag of pizza rolls and sit at home, eat junk food, and read comics.

    These days he’s more interested in collecting statues based on the characters he read as a kid than he is in keeping up with CIVIL WAR. And he has a son who is about 13, and his son is peripherally aware of comics, but he’d rather play a SPIDER-MAN video game than read the comic it’s based on. But – I got my nephew a copy of the first NARUTO for xmas last year, and the kid LOVED it. And it’s not complicated why – it’s a fun little book that tells a whole story.

    And speaking of Joss – I picked up the first ASTONISHING X-MEN trade for cheap at WonderCon this weekend. Now, I dug Morrison’s NEW X-MEN run – but in retrospect, it might have been in a “I am now enjoying this comic book” kind of way. With ASTONISHING – I couldn’t put it down. It was fun to look at and fun to read, the way I don’t remember an X-MEN book being since I was eating pizza rolls with my brother. But I’m pretty sure there’s just as much nostalgia-done-well in that feeling as there is Joss and John’s storytelling abilities. ASTONISHING is a good mix of the two, but from my nephew’s point of view, NARUTO probably trumps it.

  18. Being one of the old-school fans that Astonishing X-Men really seems aimed toward, I can tell you this: as much as I enjoy Astonishing, in terms of sheer excitement and fun in storytelling, Naruto does indeed trump it. Both my wife and I burn through those volumes as soon as we get them. There are better books out there, but few that can carry sustained excitement and interest like Naruto can.

  19. For that informal poll: I’m a little embarassed at how young the girl I’m dating is (she just turned 21), but it’s entirely because she’s a comics fan. It was Robin that got her started. She calls him “Tim” and refers to him wistfully. I can never quite get a clear story about how she picked that first comic up, but that’s where she describes herself coming in.

    I still read the mainstream and I still like it and I wish it were a little broader (check out the new HULK-POWER PACK! Gotta love it) for the age range, but I think we’re doing okay. I think people will keep finding us. I like the events. Though I echo Whedon that it’s nice when comic characters are kind of all doing their own thing, too. It will slow down one of these days, and the events are doing great things sales-wise (I think Civil War was very well executed).

    I really wound down my comics involvement during one of the Infinities. I think I made it through Infinity Gauntlet but then there was the Infinity Whatsit and the Infinity Whosit, and I missed out on all those. That’s kind of where comics became a much less significant part of my life for a while. Where is Adam Warlock these days, incidentally?

    Now that I’m working near a comics shop again, I’m into comics full boar, once more. Lovin’ it.

  20. I read the Infinty Gauntlet too. I knew nothing of these superheroes before but each of the main players had these establishing shots and little backgorund info incorporated in the comic.
    It was a fun read as a story and one didn’t need to read any other comic if you’d want to understand the story or the character.
    That’s what a gateway comic should be.
    And that’s where Civil War and the Infinite Crisis failed today.

  21. “I read the Infinty Gauntlet too. I knew nothing of these superheroes before but each of the main players had these establishing shots and little backgorund info incorporated in the comic.
    It was a fun read as a story and one didn’t need to read any other comic if you’d want to understand the story or the character.
    That’s what a gateway comic should be.
    And that’s where Civil War and the Infinite Crisis failed today. “

  22. “I read the Infinty Gauntlet too. I knew nothing of these superheroes before but each of the main players had these establishing shots and little backgorund info incorporated in the comic.
    It was a fun read as a story and one didn’t need to read any other comic if you’d want to understand the story or the character.
    That’s what a gateway comic should be.
    And that’s where Civil War and the Infinite Crisis failed today. ”

    DING! DING! DING!

    I don’t know why it should be a newsflash that there are new and younger readers picking up comics. There are still companies that make buggy whips and people who buy them. But looking at the books out now, even compared to the “dark ages” of the mid 90s, I’m not sure how many people are really going to be brought into the medium by this stuff.

    Mike

  23. Michael Climak said…

    It is somewhat outlandish and presumptious to assume non-super hero stuff is better than super-hero stuff and that you must ‘graduate’ upwards to the greener grass side of people not in tights.

    Well, at this point I should clarify that it was not my intent to make it sound like that’s the progression everybody is supposed to make, nor that indie books are necessarily better than their capes-and-tights brethren. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with reading comics just to get your monthly dose of superheroes — I know people who only listen to pop music, or only read mysteries, or only watch comedy movies, and although I wouldn’t want to limit myself like that, I don’t begrudge people who do.

    Like Edward Liu, I read and enjoy both, and believe there’s a bit of a false dichotomy setup in the superhero vs. non-superhero camps. Of course, I also believe that people have the right to read what they want to read, and I’m against guilting anyone with accusations of “killing comics” or whatever for not picking up Nat Turner. A good chunk of Direct Market readers aren’t comics fans, they’re genre fans, and if not they’re not buying X-Men, they’re not — necessarily — going to pick up a copy of Love and Rockets to compensate.

    Leading into…

    Richard J. Marcej

    But couldn’t that also be said of the super hero mainstream fans who look down their nose at a B&W book or one not depicting fights and deaths of men in tights?

    And since the majority of Comic Shops are run by those who only read superhero books, they only cater to the superhero crowd. Isn’t that sort of a “snobbish attitude, insulting and annoying towards potential customers who wish to try something else?

    Well, this may get me in trouble with some folks, but I don’t believe this is really the case. I think you’re far more likely to find an attitude of snobbishness on the part of indie fans directed at superhero fans the other way around.

    Why? Because most capes-and-tights fans don’t regard underground or black and white books with snobbishness per se, but simple apathy. They’re just not interested. I don’t think it’s so much them turning their nose up as just not having that kind of taste, which is something different entirely. Some of them do, sure, but for the most part I don’t think things work that way.

    Now, with non-superhero readers, I think you’re much more likely to find genuine snobbishness, of the “why are you reading that tripe instead of *insert praised title here*?”. Similarly, I don’t think your average Dean Koontz reader is turning their nose up at Tolstoy, it’s just not their thing. But do Tolstoy readers sometimes regard Koontz readers with elitism? Sure, I think so. Maybe they’re entitled, maybe they’re not — the point about hierarchies of taste is valid — but there it is.

    And hopefully I didn’t offend any Koontz or Tolstoy fans — they were the first two authors to come to mind.

  24. I fully support and agree with everything in the last part of your post Patrick. (and the start too, i just wanted to point out the last bit).

    Indie Fans and Capes fans should find ways to get along and cross mingle.

    But because of the snobbishness i so often encounter on the part of the Indie-only fans i don’t trust thier recommendations.

    Thus my indie recomendations come only from Warren Ellis or Heidi, becuase I trust them and they’re usually not snobbish.

  25. I was going to say, “it’s strange, Michael, but I don’t experience any of that snobbishness that you’re talking about,” but then I realized that I don’t actually know anyone who reads indie material. I don’t really know anyone who reads mainstream stuff either. I do know a few kids who read Naruto, but beyond that, the only people I know who read comics are the people who read what I loan them (and so not really a fair survey).

    I think you may be right though, that those who seek out the stuff beyond what’s easily available have a tendency to feel as if they are elite, as if they are better lovers of the medium – evidenced, of course, by the fact that they seek out that which is beyond the easily accessible. I’d imagine that if you visited a Techno Music Appreciation Club and, when asked who your favourite artist was, responded that you really loved Moby’s Play – I’d imagine your credibility in that crowd would be ho-hummed.

    And I think that in some respect, they would be right to diminish your credibility – if all you had ever heard was Moby, some Apollo 440, and that Fat Boy Someone or Other. Though Moby is great and you might have FANTASTIC reasons for adoring his work, it will be hard for you not to seem ignorant if you are, in fact, ignorant of what else is out there. I think this is probably why a lot of indie-lovers may poo-poo the opinion of those who do not stray outside the boundaries of Marvel/DC fare.

    Again, I’m basing all this not so much on any observable reality (as I don’t really know any comic readers), but simply upon my own trajectory as a reader. I began with superheroes (Power Pack, X-Men, Micronauts, and GI Joe) and gradually filtered in more and more diverse reading experiences (European books, independent fare, and finally Asian books). I still read superheroes. Walt Simonson’s Thor is still amazing to me and I loved Bendis’s run on Daredevil more than is probably reasonable. But I have this whole other bucket full of comic experience to inform my superhero comic experience.

    And I think, if I had to guess, that is where the snobbery may come in. Readers of indie stuff, more than likely, have read piles of superhero stuff as well as the indie stuff they’ve grown to prefer. Most people who prefer superheroes may not really have that much experience with what all’s out there. Therefore, it may not be so much a matter of the indie-snob vs. the mainstream non-snob, but simply the well-read vs. the not-so-well-read. Just a guess. And of course, a huge generalization.

    That said, I read it all. Superheroes. Indie drama. Non-fiction. Manga. Eurocomics. So long as the book does a good job keeping me interested, I’ll enjoy it. I probably read less superhero stuff now than I did when I was in highschool – but that’s more a matter of a limited budget to spend on comics than any statement of what’s “better.”

  26. Comic shops are carrying plenty of indies, as are bookstores. It’s just hard to note from the issue sales because things are moving better in books than they are in individual issues. That “gotta see what’s next” sensibility works better with the hero books than with much of the indie work, lending to the serial reading.

    And yes, there is a genuine audience for the big crossover event. It seems to me that the weakness is that during these events, there are few mainstreamy superhero books for those who aren’t that audience. Everything gets ties up in these tales, which can be off-putting to those who just want to follow the character they’ve been grooving on.

  27. The first comic book I purchased with my allowance was Amazing Spider-Man #229, in 1982, which I guess would have made me seven years old at the time. I don’t remember what gateways led me to that point, other than that Spider-Man was sold on the magazine stand at my corner candy store and it was cool as hell. Everything came from that purchase.

  28. I’ll just repeat myself, but if you go onto message boards there are TONS of hardcore fans being pissed off. Civil War for example, has been panned by a large amount of the Internet.

  29. You might not expect someone to go into the Android’s Dungeon and pick up an indie book, but it happens. I wouldn’t have gotten into indies at all if it weren’t for the fact that my local shop carried them. Actually, it was reading Dark Horse Presents for the Aliens vs. Predator series that got me into Frank Miller’s Sin City and John Arcudi’s Homicide (great, forgotten book). From there, I knew comics were a lot more than just fantasy adventure stories. Pretty soon I was reading Cerebus, TMCM, Tale of One Bad Rat, and a bunch of really obscure indie stuff (some more rewarding that others).

    What held the industry back was a) stores not carrying indie stuff, and 2) not putting more of a variety into books like DHP. I miss that book.

    As far as what got me into comics in the first place? That would be Star Wars. Which led into Transformers/GI Joe, and the Transformers issue with Spider-man got me into Spidey. From there, I fell in deep with comics.

  30. I had a book of Bible stories in comic book forma when I was a kid, and I loved it. No kidding. It was called “The Picture Bible,” and what do you know, here it is on Amazon.com. I had forgotten about it for a while, but now I really think it is the reason sequential art storytelling appeals to me.

    I also had several collections of Peanuts comics that were favorites. After that, it was the standard drug for women of my generation who are into comics: Sandman.

  31. Indie Fans and Capes fans should find ways to get along and cross mingle.

    I think it’s odd that people with much different tastes should be expected to pal it up simply because they read stories that are done in a common medium. This is such a clubhouse mentality, and I think it’s one that keeps comics a niche industry. It creates a perception that even if your story is one that can have a more culturally mainstream or literary audience, because it is done in comic format, it somehow must be associated with superhero comics, which dominate the medium. Usually this association comes as being defined as “the Other” rather than being an independent entity, which is ironic to say the least.

    I mean, thank goodness that isn’t so. Why should an artist like, say, Alison Bechdel be expected to make nice with the cape-and-cowl crowd when they’re not her audience? Why should there be any emphasis on converting superhero readers to indie readers or vice versa? Personally, I wish that indie comics and literary comics (please note that I use “literary” not as an adjective of quality but of genre) could be free of the shadow of superhero comics and allowed to blaze a trail on their own merits, without the constant disclaimer that, “Hey, this comic ain’t about superheroes!” Thankfully, that is happening more and more. Perhaps someday we’ll have a market like the prose fiction market, where readers of thrillers and classics and new literary fiction and romances, etc. go about reading the books they like and don’t feel particularly compelled to think about each other if they don’t want to.

    Sure, there is always crossover, with indie comics that play with conventions of superhero comics and superhero comics that experiment with the sensibility of indie comics. I think that’s healthy and hopeful for the industry. But comics readers and artists should not feel compelled to do it.

  32. I don’t think it’s continuity per se, but that the stories are about the continuity. I’m 35, and I grew up with Legion of Super-Heroes… talk about continuity. But it was easy to pick up on because the continuity wasn’t the story. Right now, especially over at DC, the continuity has replaced the story.
    Another strike against single issues is that so few of them are designed to be enjoyed as single issues. By that I don’t just mean that they have continuing storylines; singles are a different style of writing. A good example of this would be Morrison’s first year on X-Men, as opposed to Whedon’s, wich, I think, are written for the trade paperback. Combined with the price on singles, waiting for the trade makes more sense.
    Also, and this is a dead horse, I know, there are damn few superhero comics I would allow my children to read. I’m not saying that we can’t have capes for older kids, or even for gownups, but I feel funny telling my daughter she’s not old enough for Wonder Woman.
    Finally, I’m not sure how much more editorial mandates storylines now than it ever did, but it seems quite a bit more overbearing than it used to be. When I think of memorable stories from my youth, I think of things like Englehart’s Detective, or Wolfman and Perez on Titans, or Moore’s Swamp Thing, not Millennium.
    And, as a side note, in my comics buying heyday, I would regularly leave the shop with a stack that included X-Men and Love and Rockets. Moderate doses of well-written crap is healthy, you know.

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