Home Retailing & Marketing The Ladies Comics Project wraps up — what have we learned?

The Ladies Comics Project wraps up — what have we learned?

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Over at She Has No Head, Kelly Thompson’s market research project The Ladies Comics Projects reaches its third and final part with another selection of women of varying ages and comics-reading backgrounds who give detailed thoughts about comics they have selected to read. Some express enthusiasm in continued comics exploration but others are just not that into it — but the percentage of each goes against the common wisdom, as Thompson sums up her findings:

But for one reason or another these comics didn’t seem to hold onto them the way they did to me. Why not? Motivation? Timing? Personal Taste? Access? It might be an unknowable question, but I think there’s a definitive answer to whether ladies in general are interested in reading comics and would with more frequency if they were more easily available to them. Of the 18* ladies that ended up participating about 33% felt compelled to seek out the story they were reading, and possibly more books beyond that. Another 38% were interested enough that if books were more accessible (i.e. loaned, recommended, available digitally or at bookstores, or even just lying around) they admitted they would probably read them – and I would add, that gives us a chance to hook them on something great. Only about 27% were unhappy enough with their books that they seemed disinclined to seek comics out more than before. And of those ladies, most admitted that it was likely the specific book they read was not a good fit, more than dislike of the medium as a whole.

One thing that struck me, regardless of the results of the actual books that were read and the reaction to them, was just the enthusiasm with which this project was met. The plain fact that over 85% of the women I asked to participate immediately (and excitedly) got on board for the project tells me that comics don’t have as bad a reputation as they once did with non-comics readers and that many women are open to them and interested. I mean, we could chalk their interest in the project up to my charm…but I’m just not that charming. And even if that was true initially (that I’m super charming), almost all the women I’ve solicited about a Phase II of the project have expressed interest. You don’t get on board for Phase II of a time consuming project if you didn’t get something out of it and maybe enjoy it the first time around.


Have we really reached the saturation point for comics readers in the US? (Knowledgeable comics folks peg the actual comics market as about 300K consumers.) Thompson’s figures suggest there is a potential to reach new readers — as long as publishers don’t do things to actively drive them away. You’ll notice that overall women wanted to read stories that featured strong women, or at least women characters. We suspect that that “strong women” as female readers often define it does NOT mean every character has to be a combination of Ripley and Lady Gaga. Rather, it means a woman as a REAL character, with motivations and an inner life, not blow-up dolls.

It would be really fantastic to conduct a Gentlemen Comics Projects, or Youngsters Comics Project as well. Market research companies charge five or six figures for this kind of thing, so people should pay attention to the results.

  1. I was thinking the same thing about a Kids Project. Although what I found particularly interesting were the women who liked what they read, admitted they could see themselves really enjoying comics in one form or another, yet indicating that they had no intent to pursue it further. I just don’t understand that line of thinking, but to each his/her own I guess.

  2. The results might have more analytical value if the readers’ opinions of the comics could be compared to consensus opinions about storylines.

    What would they think about “One More Day,” for example? A tragic romance or an unintentionally absurd plot and resolution? MARVEL DIVAS — would the heroines and their superficial situations be engaging enough to hold their interest, or would they want actual plots? Classic storylines from the ’70s — would they find them classic as well, or would they find the “compressed” material dated?

    Ms. Thompson was most interested, presumably, in whether women could be enticed to purchase current series, but getting their reactions to classics and bombs would establish baseline responses.

    SRS

  3. There should have been a bingo card for who would bring up “Brand New Day” first, and surprise, it’s Synsidar!

    Stan Lee is credited as saying “Every comic is someone’s first” (but God knows who really said it — probably 12 people.) Is the traditional comics periodical really a dead end for getting in new readers? That’s another important element that this survey touches on.

  4. I (a children’s/teen librarian) would be totally willing to do a Kids Comics project… however, getting single issues might be a problem, as my library can’t buy’em, and our nearest comic store is… not a place I would take my 9 year old.

  5. I think the a first issue should be the first issue for comics readers, unless the series is designed with the done-in-one model (The Brave and the Bold, Super Friends, one shots).

    How many copies of the various $1 comics were distributed by DC, Dark Horse, and Image?

    I would like to see this project repeated, either by offering complete issues, or by using a first issue, or a special, or the first story in an arc.

    And that cover comment? Why not use the story artist? Does it have to advertise the story inside? I love the upcoming “iconic” covers from DC… generic artwork which is lively, well-dressed, and catches the eye.

  6. @ Torsten:

    One of the factors in deciding whether I will read a comic is the art. And since I don’t necessarily follow who’s drawing what, or even who all the various artists out there are, I usually use the cover to get a sense of how the comic will look. So yes, I want the cover to be by the story artist and to resemble the interior art.

  7. Hey Meredith,

    Just curious why you wouldn’t take your 9 year old child to the comic book store closest to you. You said it isn’t a place you would take your child…care to elaborate?

    Also, if you do want to do a kids comic project, you may want to contact the very store you said you wouldn’t take your child.

    I am sure they would be glad to donate old, unsold issues. It would be good for your kids idea, as well as help promote the comic book store, as well as letting them get rid of some old stock.

    Sounds like a win-win situation. good luck.

  8. Hey, Mario — don’t be such a jerk.

    You have no idea what her local shop is like, but I’ve been in plenty of comic shops I wouldn’t want to take a kid to, including my own local store.

  9. Heidi, you raise an interesting point:

    “Is the traditional comics periodical really a dead end for getting in new readers?”

    I think as long as it is the foundation on which everything else is built, it might be. The price point now relative to trades is prohibitive to new readers. $3 to ‘try’ something out for someone who’s never read a comic? Too Much. Better for them to get one of those $10 first trades from Image or something similar — at least that’s my experience with new readers.

    Traditional floppies need to become the loss leader and trades the foundation. If floppies were $1 or so, it’s much easier for a new reader to justify ‘trying’ out something for the first time. Or simply ‘reading ahead’ of the trades once they catch up.

  10. “I’ve been in plenty of comic shops I wouldn’t want to take a kid to”

    As have I. I also don’t know what Merideth’s shop is like, but I travel a good bit for work, and have visited shops across the country. Some things I’ve found in comic shops that I wouldn’t expose my kid to:

    1. Billowing clouds of cigarette smoke.
    2. Loud, profane discussions of sexual activity (highly improbable, I might add, considering the individuals engaged in the conversation).
    3. Both R-rated and X-rated movies playing at high volume. You can add music with explicit lyrics played at high volume here, too.
    4. Large, wobbly piles of longboxes, loose comics, old toys, and well, basic debris.

    All these activities involved staff, not just customers, I might add. Presumably they might moderate their behavior if a woman entered with a child, but I wouldn’t risk it with my kid. You’d be better off taking your kid into a bar — they at least have regulations to follow and are regularly inspected.

    Disclaimer: There are many fine shops that I’ve visited throughout the US, and the number of slimy ones has been steadily dwindling. But they are still there.

  11. Hey… just remembered!
    Image/Top Cow just released “Top Cow First Look” a 160-page, $4.99 (yes…four dollars and ninety-nine cents) trade paperback containing SIX first issues!

    Vertigo pioneered this long ago, with “Vertigo: First Offences”, “Vertigo: First Look”, and “Vertigo: First Cut”. Given the new, strong class of series, it’s probably time for another collection.

    No reason why a publisher couldn’t do this sort of thing on a regular basis. Sell the single issue, pay for the production costs, then use that to subsidize the introductory trade anthology. Of course, it helps if all of the stories featured have a collected trade as well. Put it on sale on November, it would make a great stocking stuffer!

  12. I agree that the traditional monthly comic periodical may be a dead end as a gateway for non-comics readers. Not only for the reasons cited by Trevor, but also because I think the idea of getting a “chapter a month” of story is something that an adult comics newbie seems to find off-putting, if the reaction of the women in this project is any indication.

  13. In the past, there were several ways in which writers would work to make a single issue of a series accessible to new readers. One common narrative hook was to start the story with a fight between the hero and villain; several pages later, after the hero had been captured or the villain had escaped, there would be a flashback to the events preceding the fight.

    In a team book, it wasn’t uncommon (unfortunately?) for there to be a sequence. a couple of pages in, in which the team members would address each other by name as they discussed recent events. A related approach was to have the heroes go through training exercises in a Danger Room so that they’d display their powers and name each other and, sometimes, air personal issues which figured in subplots.

    Of course, there was also the labeling technique: Put the heroes in a meeting room and have a yellow box with the hero’s name next to each one.

    As I recall, Shooter, as E-i-c, was adamant about making sure that a new reader could get into an issue of a Marvel comic, to the point that writers would complain about how strict he was in enforcing the policy.

    If comics are thought to be less accessible now, there might be several reasons. Over-reliance on the recap page; an absence of flashbacks that explained how events came about; a lack of plot progression to capture the reader’s interest or, simply, incompetent plotting. In CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #2, Heinberg spends 19 pages having the characters talk about a variety of things and discuss their backgrounds; then, in the last three pages, Quicksilver tries to kill Magneto by throwing pieces of wood at him; the wood hits a woman who looks like Wanda; the impaled “woman” falls down and her face comes off; the heroes jump to the conclusion that the woman was a Doombot, and then jump to another conclusion: that Wanda has been captured by Dr. Doom. If Heinberg had submitted that script 35 years ago, he might have gotten it back after it had been put through a shredder.

    IMO, the best way of recapping events in previous issues was to have someone recall them in an unforced manner. In AVENGERS #144, which started with several Avengers loose within a Roxxon plant, on the second page, Englehart had the Vision recall events from the past three issues in the space of five panels, which explained how the heroes got to be where they were more concisely than any prose recap page would.

    SRS

  14. I do think referencing a comic book released almost thirty-five years ago as the way forward for the comics industry is probably a large part of our problem.
    This is hardly a new observation, but I think comics, more than most other media, suffers from the belief that the ideal comic book for new readers is one similar to whatever one current readers remember as being their first. I don’t know if there are a lot of people complaining that “The Event” should be more like “My Mother, the Car”.

  15. >>>Traditional floppies need to become the loss leader and trades the foundation. If floppies were $1 or so, it’s much easier for a new reader to justify ‘trying’ out something for the first time. Or simply ‘reading ahead’ of the trades once they catch up.

    NO. The readers in the Ladies Comics Project were GIVEN comics. It is easy to find FREE gateway comics out there both in print bust mostly electronically. Lowering prices is not going to suddenly usher in an era of zillions of comics readers.

  16. As for the Kids version of the study, I’ve found consumer research (which, as Heidi points out, is quite expensive) largely reinforces common sense assumptions:

    • Kids like to laugh
    • Kids like adventure/excitement
    • Kids like twists and surprises that are simple
    enough to understand
    • Kids like media tie-ins to the movie and TV properties they know and love
    • Above preschool, each age group appreciates things aimed a couple levels above them and doesn’t like to read things that are “for babies.”
    • Kids look to comics for the same things they look for in prose books — look at the kids NYT bestseller list for guidance there

    All in all, kids reading habits follow along with adult reading habits, with perhaps a higher preference for humor and a lower tolerance for sappy romance, again, depending on age group.

    Armed with that info it’s not too hard to predict how a kid will react to a certain title. The main point Thompson seems to have gleaned is access — without ready, EASY access, new readers (kids, women, whoever) won’t flock to the material. It can’t just be available; it has to be omni-present.

  17. I do think referencing a comic book released almost thirty-five years ago as the way forward for the comics industry is probably a large part of our problem.

    Referencing thirty-five year-old comics is entirely appropriate when the storytelling techniques used then were generally superior to the ones used now. Decompression, the absence of (third-person) narration, the absence of flashbacks, etc., have greatly reduced the amount of story content in a given issue and almost dictate that the reader spend time admiring the nuances of the artwork to get value for his money. A great writer who writes mesmerizing characters might be able to entertain a reader without providing a plot, but if he’s not great? The result is an issue not worth ten cents.

    SRS

  18. Syn — I’d say your point, while sensible and popular, is totally subjective. Just because an art form evolves doesn’t necessarily mean the specific content has improved or degraded. A great writer and artist or cartoonist can make a great comic using today’s prevailing techniques, just like Judd Apatow can make a great comedy film without using fast-talking screwball actors and zany mistaken identity plots.

    Again, I read Thompson’s main point to be that the participants in her test would happily read more if they found comics “lying around” in friends’ houses or otherwise widely present and noticeable everywhere in society. Think about the critical mass of attention towards a TV show or bestselling novel you might need before giving it a try. Heck, I only just now started in on Stieg Larsson after reading 18,000 reviews and interviews. Same applies here.

    She didn’t seem to say that most of the women she surveyed were turned off by the content; she was saying the opposite.

  19. “No reason why a publisher couldn’t do this sort of thing on a regular basis. Sell the single issue, pay for the production costs, then use that to subsidize the introductory trade anthology.”

    Torsten, my take is that this is the business model that makes it hard for new readers to enter the market easily. Publishers are fixated on recouping all costs, plus margin on the floppies and then taking the trade margin as gravy. That’s what gets you to a $3 floppy. Yes, they occasionally do $1 or 50 cent promos, but that’s it.

    Maybe when Marvel refers to ‘other channels’ enabling a lower price on floppies, they are signaling that they are moving to a model more like this, where the development costs are spread across a number of products.

  20. My local comic book store caters to two audiences the first being the adult Hentai reader. I am a pretty liberal parent (ask my kid about Army of Darkness!) and I would be uncomfortable with her seeing the “fan art” the store proudly displays.

    The second consumer at the store is what I call the Sneeringly Opinionated Comics Misogynist (or SCOM). This is the dude who thinks that two X chromosomes can’t have opinions about anything, but especially comics. Most of the staff at the store are SCOM too. I try to set a good example for my daughter, and punching a store employee who addresses all comments to my husband and refuses to acknowledge my presence, would be bad.

  21. Hmmm… most television shows are funded by advertising. Some use an unlimited subscription model (HBO, Showtime). On cable, both get money from the local cable service.

    Television builds an audience, and then that audience is exploited when the DVD box sets are published. Could a similar model be used for digital comics and trade paperbacks?

    As for the size of the comic book audience? Well, that guesstimate is for comic-shop customers. A bit low, since it averages out to about 100 customers per shop. I suspect just about every LCS in America has at least 100 somewhat-regular customers a week. (And I don’t see how a store could survive on just those 100 customers. $20/week x 100 customers x 50 weeks/year = $100,000/year)

  22. I try to set a good example for my daughter, and punching a store employee who addresses all comments to my husband and refuses to acknowledge my presence, would be bad.

    My wife has the same problem with repairmen who come to our house — and she’s the handy one!

  23. I don’t know – not to get off topic, but punching a sneering misogynist who refuses to acknowledge your presence as a customer might be setting exactly the kind of example a young girl needs.

  24. Syn — I’d say your point, while sensible and popular, is totally subjective. Just because an art form evolves doesn’t necessarily mean the specific content has improved or degraded.

    A reader’s reaction to the content of a story is subjective, but the amount of content in a story can be determined objectively. Back in July, Sean T. Collins did a blog post on unwanted details and explanations and found some agreement, but people who read fiction in which details are important — mysteries, hard SF, historical fiction — would strongly disagree. The details, research, and exploration of ideas in a story are the intellectual content.

    If someone reads a decompressed comic in less than ten minutes and feels disgusted about the lack of content afterward, he’s not reading it improperly. He’s reacting to an absence of content and is having the same reaction that someone who paid $7.99 for a paperback novel and found out that it had only a short story inside would have.

    The disappearance of the think pieces like those that appeared in comics’ letters pages in the ’70s, written by Macchio, Yronwode, Gillis, Rodi, et al. is another indication that content has diminished. The stories are devoid of ideas that make a person think about what the writer is saying about the characters and life.

    SRS

  25. “Referencing thirty-five year-old comics is entirely appropriate when the storytelling techniques used then were generally superior to the ones used now.”

    I would bet all the money in my pockets that if in the next round of LCP, a random Marvel comic from the mid-70s were placed against something like Casanova or Madame Xanadu it would lose handily.

    In 20 years, there will be someone like you on a message board claiming that comics could be saved if only they were more like Rob Liefeld’s Brigade. Nostalgia has its place, but the truth is that the things you liked as a kid don’t always hold up to scrutiny.

  26. What some of the posters (well, OK, one) seem to be missing is that a majority of the women in this project enjoyed the actual content of what they read and expressed a desire to read more, including the woman who read Bendis’ New Avengers. Regardless of recap pages, storytelling devices, etc most of them managed to piece together enough of what was happening by the end of the issue that they knew whether or not they wanted to read more. The issue that should be addressed is that, despite their mostly positive feelings about what they read, they did not want to go through the effort they felt it would take to obtain the prior and subsequent chapters of the story.

  27. Torsten wrote, “Television builds an audience, and then that audience is exploited when the DVD box sets are published. Could a similar model be used for digital comics and trade paperbacks?”

    YES! This is the model that floppies need to emulate, imo. Of course the downside is that TV is either fully ad supported or supported via a combination of ads and subscriber fees.

    Eventually, we may get to the point of consolidation in digital comics or move to a mode where one or more entities are the distributors and they pay fees back to the publishers for digital content rights. That seemed to be the way comixology was trending until the decided to license the technology to the individual publishers to use in their own apps.

    I love floppies, but relying on them solely to cover the production costs on a dwindling audience is only going to hasten their death — or gets the big 2 to the Image model where creators are not paid much at all until the trade hits.

    How else can you control costs AND keep them accessible (monetarily) to the general consumer?

    In 5 or 6 years we’ve gone from $1.99 to $3.99. It can’t be sustained.

  28. I think the monthly installment will always have a place as I believe there will always be a certain number of kids who will fall in love with the weekly habit of comics if they are exposed to it when they are still kids. I think it would be interesting to see if a similar “kids project” supports that theory.

  29. Nostalgia has its place, but the truth is that the things you liked as a kid don’t always hold up to scrutiny.

    I didn’t start reading comics regularly until I was 16 and had read dozens of literary, fantasy, and SF novels, including Piers Anthony’s Macroscope. the Omnivore, Orn, and OX trilogy, Delany novels, etc. The parallels to SF novels in Englehart’s AVENGERS were what interested me. If those comics had been written like today’s are, I’d have thought they were targeting people who didn’t know how to read prose.

    SRS

  30. “I didn’t start reading comics regularly until I was 16 and had read dozens of literary, fantasy, and SF novels…The parallels to SF novels in Englehart’s AVENGERS were what interested me.”

    So can you at least admit that just because Steve Engelhart’s run on Avengers might have been a good gateway into comics for you because of your interest in SF, it might not be a good gateway comic for most contemporary readers?

    Also, 16-year olds are kids.

  31. Joseph said:

    “The issue that should be addressed is that, despite their mostly positive feelings about what they read, they did not want to go through the effort they felt it would take to obtain the prior and subsequent chapters of the story.”

    This might support the assertion that being a hardcore comics-nerd in adulthood (be he/she mainstream or alt-arty) makes one a *rara avis,* at least within American culture, and that we will never see the day when American adults cherish comics as Japanese adults supposedly do.

  32. First of all, the reading ability of 16-year-olds is quite varied. When I was 13, I was reading regular adult science fiction. A fellow student collected and read Stephen King.

    Also, much of what Marvel produced in the 1960s appealed to college kids.

    Douglas Wolk’s “Reading Comics” contains many Marvel comics from the 1970s… “Tomb of Dracula” and Jim Starlin’s “Warlock” saga are two he singles out for in-depth analysis.

    And let me paraphrase your quote to destroy your argument:
    “So can you at least admit that just because ALAN MOORE’s run on WATCHMEN might have been a good gateway into comics for you because of your interest in SF, it might not be a good gateway comic for most contemporary readers?”

    (Watchmen won a Hugo Award way back in 1988, when comics were still the thing-we-kept-locked-up-in-the-attic-and-didn’t-talk-about.)

    Good comics are good comics.

    Why, in a day of so many distribution channels (newsstands! apps! comics shops! ebay! bookstores! libraries!) are superhero comics selling so poorly when compared to 1970s sales records?

  33. Douglas Wolk’s “Reading Comics” contains many Marvel comics from the 1970s… “Tomb of Dracula” and Jim Starlin’s “Warlock” saga are two he singles out for in-depth analysis.

    It’s nice to know that Starlin’s WARLOCK series was thought worthy of analysis. I was enthusiastic about the issues when they were published, and still consider the storyline with Thanos the best treatment of the villain in print.

    The ’70s Marvel comics are more important and more highly thought of than those in later decades because that’s when the writers came up with new interpretations and story ideas for the heroes. Writers since then have basically recycled those ideas and material. Even when the recycling is done skillfully, as in some of Englehart’s WEST COAST AVENGERS storylines, the ideas don’t have the impact they did when they were surprisingly new.

    Advocates for current (superhero) comics could make their case for them being better if they could point to some — any — benefit for the reader from decompression and narration-less comics. The details routinely provided about a character, especially about her inner self, in a prose story are what make her interesting; the details provided about situations are what make them involving and dramatic. Current techniques seem to be based on all readers reacting as if they were six-year-olds watching cartoons, uncritically believing whatever they see and are told.

    SRS

  34. All I’m saying is that if you think more comics like Steve Engelhart’s Avengers from the 70s are the answer, comics are frigging doomed.
    I’ve read Douglas Wolk’s book, and while he does discuss Warlock and Tomb of Dracula, he goes to great pains to explain that they are interesting, if not necessarily great, comics.
    But I know there’s no convincing you. 1976 Marvel was the pinnacle of the artform for you, and that’s fine, I guess. But why can’t you just admit that it’s a subjective case you’re making–that you like those books–instead of insisting that having the Vision recap the last twenty issues of sublots in five panels is the one thing that would make most of the women featured in this project become lifelong comics readers?
    I guess the reason that I’m harping on this is that it just feeds into one of the worst and more virulent stereotypes of the comic reader–that we fetishize the past, that we can’t let go of the stupid little comics we read when we were kids (or whatever proto-adult creature you think 16-year olds are).

    Last month I read one of the best comics I’ve ever read– Jaime Hernandez’s “Browntown”, and I would happily pass it along to anybody that was interesting in seeing what comics were capable of. My wife really enjoyed the new Thor The Mighty Avenger book. I think Joe the Barbarian and Daytripper will make great starter books for new readers once they’re released in trade early next year.

    The point is that there are great comics being produced right now, and you’re missing them. Maybe not all of them are your taste, but as long as you myopically dwell on comics from thirty-five years ago as being “the only way to do comics right” you’re really closing yourself off to some great stuff. AND you’re reinforcing one of the most off-putting and isolating stigmas about comics: “you already missed all the good stuff, good luck getting caught up.” Are you honestly saying there wasn’t one comic book published in the last month that is better than Avengers 144?

  35. RJT–

    Even if one granted Douglas Wolk’s criteria for comic-book greatness… which I for one definitely do not…

    Isn’t it a baseless assumption to think that “great” comics are the ones that a plethora of new readers will embrace?

    Contemporary “great books,” whatever you may deem them to be, do enjoy a greater numerical readership than any comparable comic books, great or otherwise. But it’s possible only a small percentage of readers who like to read “great” books (staying with Wolk’s definition thereof) will ever tap into the “great” comic books.

    Going by that premise, there’s not likely to be a huge potential for the expansion of comic-book sales frontiers in that department.

    The only comparable publishing frontier into which comic books might expand might be the “best seller” arena, where a few works (MAUS, et al) have succeeded reasonably well. But not all prose best sellers are great in the Wolkian sense; a lot of them are well-done junk.

    So theoretical “greatness” is not by any means a conduit to sales expansion.

  36. I brought up Wolk because it was mentioned that he wrote about those two 70s comics in his book as an attempt to support the idea that 70s Marvel comics are better somehow than comics published today. I just wanted to make it clear that while Wolk does discuss those books, he points out that they are deeply flawed.

    As far as the “great” issue, I don’t believe that there is some kind of universal standard of greatness. I don’t think that an unfamiliar comics reader would enjoy “Browntown” or Daytripper because they are *critically considered* great, but because I think that they are well-written, accessibly and interestingly drawn, relatively self-contained and filled with interesting characters who I as a reader felt for. (Also, their covers are drawn by their interior artists, which seemed to be an issue with several of the women in the project) I’m not saying “art comics!” to the expense of all else. I would argue that neither of those examples (or Joe the Barbarian or Thor the Mighty Avenger) even remotely qualify as “Art Comics”.
    I read each of the three installments of the Project, and based on what a lot of the ladies said, I felt that they were looking for things with compelling art and stories, and things that were relatively self-contained. Others felt they were looking for third-person narration boxes and exposition-spouting androids. I’m not saying I’m right; I’m just saying those were some of the comics I might give to a reader unfamiliar with comics. I wonder if someone would do an experiment handing someone who’s never read comics Avengers 144 and Daytripper 5 and see which one they found more enjoyable?

  37. I didn’t quite get the relevance of Torsten bringing up Wolk, since Wolk is not especially a rah-rah guy for genre comics. It is valid to assert the influence of certain genre comics on other genre comics, as Synsidar does, but I thought the point of the article was to talk about raising the consciousness of “outsider” readers to the capacities of the medium, not any particular genre.

    I agree that accessibility is one of the main keys to large readerships, which is why I brought up best-selling novels, whose success is less because they are “great” (Wolk’s word) than because they are (or are perceived) simply “good” (Torsten’s word).

  38. I don’t know how much you know about Wolk, but he is definitely a rah rah guy for mainstream genre comics (he writes at length about both Bendis/Maleev Daredevil and Simone/Benes Birds of Prey in the opening of his book.) And as far as I know he didn’t use the word “great”, I did. I was just saying that Wolk is honest about what he perceives as the flaws in the two 70s titles he discusses. He talks about what works about them, what makes them interesting as pieces of comic work, but I don’t think, if pressed, he would argue that either title is something to be handed out as an exemplar of the medium.

  39. I brought up Wolk to show that something from Marvel’s 1970s output was still worth reading, that it wasn’t all clouded by nostalgic haze. I have not read either series, but it’s on my mental reading list. I have read Gerber’s Howard the Duck (via the Essential collection) and would add that to the list. But just as Superman is no longer a science-fiction comic, Howard the Duck isn’t a superhero title.

    Most fiction is genre fiction. It might not be a well-known genre, but almost every book can be labeled in some way. Some have more than one, some either manipulate genre tropes or transcend them.

    As a bookseller and Seducer of the Innocent, I usually ask someone what they like to read, and then I recommend a good (well-written) graphic novel which would appeal to that reader.

    My nieces like Magic Trixie. My mother has read Maus and Persepolis (and is getting another GN for Christmas). One sister-in-law has read Castle Waiting. Another I could probably get hooked on Shanower’s Oz books.

  40. I don’t think anybody is arguing against genre comics here (and you’re right, nearly everything comes from some kind of genre or combinations of genres) I was just saying that 1970s Marvel superhero comics might not be the best gateway comics for new readers. I agree with your approach: finding out what kind of things they like to read and selecting a comic that corresponds to their interests. It’s certainly a better approach than assuming that because you liked something when you were 16 that it means it’s going to be universally adored.

  41. RJT–

    I only know Wolk’s work in the introductory chapters of READING COMICS. As I recall, he invokes Kant to demonstrate how he separates comics that are merely pleasurable (John Broome’s GREEN LANTERN is an example he brings up a little before the argument proper that seems to fit his bill) and comics that are “sublime” (can’t remember his examples there).

    I may have a detail or two wrong as the text isn’t in front of me, but I wouldn’t consider that argument a defense of genre as such, but something closer to the vogue of auteurism that dominated cinema studies a while back.

  42. I think you need to read the rest of his book. Or even his techland column. He likes his genre stuff. That he also likes art comics shouldn’t discount his affection for superhero comics. He’s got pretty catholic tastes.

  43. RJT–

    I didn’t say Word One about “art comics” on this thread. There are a lot of critics out there whose whole rap is that artcomics are great and anything generic is crud, but I haven’t claimed Wolk is one of them. Indeed, I seem to remember that one of his “sublime” comics might have been something by Frank Miller (DAREDEVIL, maybe).

    I simply don’t agree with exceptionalism as a basis for writing about genre in any medium. It’s conceivable that I might agree with some or all of Wolk’s criticisms of TOMB OF DRACULA and still disagree with his theory of genre excellence.

  44. Will everyone in this thread who is a 40+-year-old fanboy please take one step backwards and STFU?

    Do you not get that this is NOT ABOUT YOUR CONCERNS???????

  45. Isn’t the problem with getting people to read comics determining whether they’re resistant to reading comics-format stories or perceiving a lack of suitable content? If they’re not enthusiastic readers and prefer watching videos, comics won’t compare well to video entertainment. If they are readers, then it’s just a matter of finding comics that provide comparable entertainment. Much of the theorizing that I see about “imprinting,” a theory that I haven’t seen any evidence for, is based on comics being things immature people read.

    SRS

  46. OK, here goes:

    “Another 38% were interested enough that if books were more accessible (i.e. loaned, recommended, available digitally or at bookstores, or even just lying around) they admitted they would probably read them – and I would add, that gives us a chance to hook them on something great.”

    The “loaned” and “recommended” parts seem to be dependent on comics already being a regular part of the social scene. I guess that could come about if all comics-mavens do their part; we just have to figure out what that part is.

    The “bookstore” question is a more constructive place to start: what if anything can be done to get GNs and TPBs into bookstores? Still, as Torsten pointed out in a previous post, the heavy competition from the established book trade is not going away any time soon.

    As for digital comics, I don’t read them myself, but aren’t there a lot of them available already? Again, I would think any of the women tested could have found them with minimal effort, though finding a match-up might be difficult. Maybe someone needs to come up with a “Digital Comics Match Up” site that lets readers input their preferences and then tries to match to the readers’ tastes.

  47. The message I got from the Ladies Comics Project is that comics fans need to do their own outreach to grab new readers and expand the comics market. It’s clear that Diamond and publishers don’t do nearly enough to support comics retailers, so it’s up to us.

    There’s a ton of interesting content out there; it just needs to be put in the right readers’ hands.

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