• Longform 

    Multiversity 101: Myths and Realities (Creator Edition)

    By | January 28th, 2011
    Posted in Longform | % Comments

    As a supplement to my Multiversity 101: Myths and Realities post from earlier, I wanted to share all of the responses I got from creators about the industry’s inability to draw in new readers (and what books they think would be good to hook new readers). I polled a wide variety of creators and critics from around the industry with two main questions, and the responses were equally varied but often insightful. The questions were:

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblock facing publishers today is?

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    Check out what everyone thought after the jump, and as a homework assignment, buy a non-comic fan that you know one of the books these folks recommended.

    Brian Clevinger (Atomic Robo, the upcoming Captain America: The Fighting Avenger one-shot)

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblock facing publishers today is?

    There’s a number of barriers against new readers, but it comes down to accessibility.

    Comics stories are borderline incomprehensible. The characters with the greatest recognition have the most convoluted histories. The average person doesn’t know where to start. Moreover, if they do find a starting place, they’ve then got to adjust to how sometimes previous stories don’t count, but other times they do, while certain stories never do.

    It’s mental gymnastics that we, the comics initiated, perform every day with little more than the occasional grumble. But could you imagine coming into the hobby cold? Maybe you’re Joe or Jane Average and you were into Battlestar Galactica or Lost or Heroes. If you saw last week’s episode, you can be confident that this week’s episode will build on what came before. It’s a basic assumption of how storytelling and, y’know, linear time work.

    And comics throw that out the window from the get-go.

    Then there’s the fiscal cost, the issue of availability — both in terms of whether or not there’s a local store and how often Diamond manages to screw up its orders — and, the killer as far as bringing in new young readers: the Direct Market is not for kids.

    Should it be? I don’t know the answer to that question. It just isn’t. I’d like for it to be friendly to kids, but maybe that’s just fond memories of a Junior High kid getting introduced to the worlds of comics and RPGs.

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    As for my recommendation?

    Well, I know it’s incredibly egotistical to go with my own book, but Atomic Robo as a comic book was built from the ground up for the reader. Every volume stands alone and they can be read in any order. We never do retcons and every story “counts.”

    There’s also Thor: The Mighty Avenger. It’s hard to say exactly what makes this series so good, but let me put it this way. It’s exactly the book to read if you love, hate, or don’t give a damn about Thor. Every page sings.

    Ethan Nicolle (Axe Cop)

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblock facing publishers today is?

    The Comic industry as a whole has sort of made itself both non-kid and very insular. I know that is a strong thing to say… but I think that comic readers in general resent the idea that comics are for kids, so they may even overcompensate by making their work extremely adult oriented. It seems like the amount of R-rated material you get in comics is generally higher than in movies and TV. It seems to be ingrained into the culture of comics. There is a huge divide between the comic culture and the family culture. The family culture trusts Pixar, Scholastic, Disney… but they don’t trust the comic shop. Comic readers also thrive on the exclusivity of knowing extreme amounts of details about their favorite comic universe. It is very hard to dive into that. There is also the fact that kids don’t buy comics, parents buy them, and generally unless the parent was a comic reader prior to having a kid, they probably are much less likely to convert.

    Continued below

    Ironically, I think that if the comic industry’s goal was to prove that they are “not just for kids” they did it in the most immature way possible, and that is through the use of obscenity (if you look at past works of my own I am guilty of this as well, it something I have only recently been facing). Now, maybe that’s fine and dandy. Maybe comics are niche and that is what they always will be. I also do appreciate the opportunity comics afford creators to create things free of the committees, bureaucracy and budgetary concerns about reaching a wide audience. Maybe it’s nice to have a place to go to not have your entertainment boiled down to be enjoyed by every age group, but it does come at a price.

    Whatever the case… comics in general just don’t come off as welcoming to a family who is looking for material to bring home. A parent is not going to sift through the stuff on the graphic novel shelf at Barnes and Noble looking for kid material amidst the big boobs and zombies when they could just go to the kids section and grab something. Kids do love comics. You bring a good graphic novel to a kid and they love it, as they should. One of Malachai’s favorite comics is the giant sized collections of Little Lulu released by Dark Horse. These comics are around 70 years old and he loves them.

    I guess I end with the question rather than a conclusion… do we want comics to be opened up to a wider audience, or do we want to keep it narrow and niche? I don’t know if those are the only two options, but it seems like to some degree that is the fork in the road.

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    If I am to pick from recently released material I’d have to say Doug TenNapel’s Ghostopolis. I read it with Malachai and he loved it. It has some very beautiful and touching moments in it and it is very much a modern day fairy tale with copious amounts of imagination. It’s a lot of fun. If I was to pick from everything out there, I say Calvin & Hobbes. I don’t know of another comic that a 6 year old and a 60 year old can both love so dearly. It’s amazing stuff… I can’t imagine my childhood without it.

    Rich Johnson (the proprietor of Bleeding Cool)

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblocks facing publishers today are?

    I don’t think it is at all. Parts of it may be, but Archie is booming, as is The Dandy. I go into the local newsagent and the lower shelf is stuffed with comics for kids. Children’s TV spin off and Marvel superheroes, but still. And they wouldn’t be kept there if they weren’t selling. There may be fewer kids in comic shops but that was always set up as an adult pursuit with some kid overspill. And have you seen the graphic novel section in libraries these days. Compared to twenty, ten, five years ago? Wonderful selection.

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    Phonogram. Series two for preference. The cleverest, most human, most fantastic use of the medium to tell a story about people. Full of arcane obscure references that need no further explanation. Thoroughly absorbing.

    Failing that, Scott Pilgrim for similar reasons. Phonogram has better art though.

    Fred Van Lente (Chaos War, Taskmaster)

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblock facing publishers today is?

    All-ages comics are the kind of thing everyone who wishes the industry well says they want but when they’re published nobody actually buys them. The appeal to comics for kids in the first place was that they could buy them with their own money in places where they went, like the drugstore or a candy shop. (And at the same time there was no TV, Internet or video games.) Archie still does well with their program of racking in supermarket checkout lines. But that costs money, and space is limited. You have to get the product where the kids are. These days, that means getting on-line. Co-opting libraries, bookstores, and, most importantly, classrooms wouldn’t hurt either.

    Continued below

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    Why wait until kids can read? Get ’em Korgi by Christian Slade from Top Shelf, which is wordless. Then the kids can describe the story to their parent and develop language skills that way.

    Greg Pak (Chaos War, Vision Machine)

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblock facing publishers today is?

    The conventional wisdom is that there aren’t enough comics for kids. But a slew of publishers are producing a huge number of comics aimed specifically at younger readers. The trick is that younger kids may be grabbing more of these in trade paperback form at bookstores than in the traditional monthly format at comic book shops.

    So how do we get new readers buying monthly books? Millions of dollars in advertising would help. Hollywood spends as much on marketing as it does making a movie. But the comics industry as a whole isn’t built that way. So maybe it’s more helpful to compare comics with independent movies, where you scrounge for as much free press and viral marketing as you can.

    When I was taking my independent movie “Robot Stories” to theaters around the country back in 2004, I worked every angle I could, emailing everyone I knew, collecting email address from folks who came to screenings, sending out email newsletters and encouraging supporters to resend them to friends, partnering with local community groups with an interest in the subject matter, speaking to college and university classes, and showing up in person for Q&As after screenings as much as I could. The film ended up doing spectacularly well for a tiny indie, playing five or six weeks in New York, San Francisco, and Boston, along with shorter runs in a few dozen other cities around the country.

    Given how many comics the average writer works on, it’s not realistic to unleash that kind of personally-driven campaign for every book. But if we want to get new readers on board, we creators absolutely have to get more involved in the game.

    I’m definitely starting to do more to work my networks to get out word about my comics to non-comics readers. Part of the success of this, of course, depends on having books that non-comics readers can actually pick up and enjoy without feeling lost. Now there’s nothing wrong with comics that are steeped in years of continuity — I’ve written plenty of books like that myself. But those probably aren’t the best books to put into the hands of brand new readers.

    Right now, I’m pushing my “Silver Surfer” miniseries, which I think will be genuinely accessible to someone who hasn’t read comics in years. And in the next few months, I have a few new projects that are similar fresh starts and that I’ll aggressively push to new readers as well. I’m working things a bit like I did my “Robot Stories” campaign — starting with emailing everyone I know and encouraging them to use Comic Shop Locator to find their local shop and order the books. And I’m going to do a better job of creating and handing out flyers or cards and collecting email address when I do public events. There are a ton of tiny, practical things that make it easier for semi-interested folks to actually seek out the comics that I’ve been neglecting.

    Time to do better — wish me luck!

    (Oh, and as part of doing better, here’s a shameless plug — how ’bout following me on Twitter for the latest? And don’t miss “Silver Surfer” #1, in stores on February 16!)

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    For someone looking for a good comic book for young girls, I always recommend “The Courageous Princess” by Rod Espinosa. Wild fantasy with a strong, fun, independent main character.

    For grownups, “Batman Year One” is probably the book I’ve given away more than any other. Except for “Planet Hulk,” of course. 😉

    Continued below

    Chris Eliopoulos (Misery Loves Sherman, Pet Avengers)

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblock facing publishers today is?

    There are actually a few roadblocks. First is perception of comics as being dumb and pedantic. The children’s book market is notoriously highbrow and look down on comics. From the Simpson’s to Big Bang Theory, comics readers are made fun of and portrayed as losers. Second is availability. People have to search to find books they aren’t even aware they want. People are barely aware of comics shops, the only places really to get comics, and even if they are they have to find them. Next is the economy. Retailers and publishers have dwindled their market by catering to a select demographic, they now MUST produce and sell only material for them in order to stay afloat.

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    Obviously, I would say Franklin Richards, but if I take away my obvious bias to my work, I’d say Herobear and the Kid or Bone would be a really nice introduction to younger readers.

    David Petersen (Mouse Guard)

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblocks facing publishers today are?

    I’d say a lack of diversity and exposure are big ones. I also feel like many publishers aren’t willing to take risks on content. They see what the other publishers do that hits and then try to emulate the same types of stories/tone/characters/art-style. Comics as a medium have the ability to be as diverse as the largest catalog of movies or collection of prose books. Any genre is possible, any target audience, any look, any writing style. It mixes visuals (which are not hindered by budget) with the written word to make a type of storytelling unique to anything else. But the main perception of comics is Superheroes. And in the last fifteen years or so, they have been becoming increasingly ‘darker’ and aimed solely at adults. I wouldn’t ever want for there NOT to be comics targeted at adults or for superheroes to go away, but I’d like to see types of stories and audiences not be as neglected.

    The term All-Ages is being tossed around a lot and it seems it’s meaning is ever changing based on who is using it. To me, all ages means that adults will enjoy it as much as kids. But I have seen it used to mean something that several ages of kids might like, or something parents wouldn’t object to their kids reading. A good all ages title challenges the vocabulary and comprehension of a younger child without breaking their interest. If you appeal to a lowest common denominator of vocabulary or subject based on an age range or grade level, you alienate everyone older or above that level, and quite possibly half the kids in that level.

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    Just one!? that’s going to be hard, but I guess I’d pick Jeff Smith’s Bone. For all the reasons I mention above. It’s a wonderful read for anyone.

    Caanan Grall (Max Overacts)

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblock facing publishers today is?

    There’s a whole bunch, I think. Comics aren’t priced for competition. Apart from Archie comics, they’re not readily available. They’re competing for brainspace with video games, YouTube, TV, music, and movies. All of which are more easily accessible and even free. The main books are new reader unfriendly, and the ‘kids’ counterparts ‘don’t count’ according to the fanboys who will point this out readily to a kid in the store holding the latest issue of Marvel Adventures. I’d like to see a series of books that are finite. Seven Spider-Man graphic novels, each volume with one villain, and the underlying love triangle of Pete/MJ/and Gwen, then wrap it all up in book seven where he faces off with the Sinister Six and chooses a girl (or none). Once those books are out, they’re done. They’re stand alone. They’re easy for kids and parents to look at and get into, as there’s just enough to read and move on. Ape the popular series that are out there! Harry Potter is a finite series. As is Twilight. Narnia. Lemony Snicket. The list is endless with books. Kids love a series, but only if it’s not too big. When Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 15 comes out, who cares but the people who bought volume 14? No-one, that’s who.

    Continued below

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    If they’d never read anything, I’d say Bone, for sure. It’s epic. It starts off as a funny talking animal, goofy antics, type book, then escalates into a full-blown war. It’s a book that makes you care for the characters through comedy before throwing them into serious drama. A winning combination. Plus it’s finite.

    Assuming that’s a no-brainer and most kids have read Bone already even if they’ve never read another comic, they could also jump into Salt Water Taffy from Oni Books. It’s all the best things about the Hardy Boys, the Famous Five, Enid Blyton, the Goonies, etc. Perfect for kids. And finite. A planned six or seven, I think. Vol. 4 is out later this year.

    Bobby Timony (The Night Owls)

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblock facing publishers today is?

    I think that in a few years, your first question won’t be assuming that comics is having trouble attracting new readers. That’s going to change, and the biggest reason is availability. For the first time in decades comics will be available everywhere, instead of holed up in a few select and sometimes hard to reach specialty stores. With Digital comics, people everywhere will be able to buy their comics from wherever they happen to be with their mobile devices. When comics return to being something you can buy on a whim, rather than something you have to seek out, then we’ll get more readers. Its already happening right now.

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    This is always a hard question to answer. I think people assume that someone who hasn’t read comics before might want to try something other than the usual Superhero stuff, but it really depends on the person. There are a lot of new superhero fans out there thanks to TV and movies, and if they’re really liked the Dark Knight, then I’d be tempted to recommend a Batman comic (probably Year One by Miller and Mazzucchelli). If they’re not into superheroes, and like fantasy stuff, I’d maybe loan them my copy of Tellos by DeZago and Weiringo. It really depends on the person. Try to get a feel for where their tastes lie and tailor your selection to that.

    Doug TenNapel (Ratfist, Ghostopolis)

    The industry as a whole is having difficulties bringing in new readers, particularly young ones. What do you think the main roadblock facing publishers today is?

    1. Parents are protective of their kids. In general, they still need to be convinced that there is age appropriate, quality material for their kids to read. We all know there are great, written books from the last 2,000 years of literature. But comics are still trying to catch up.

    2. Kids are illiterate. There aren’t many new readers of comics because there aren’t many new readers of books. Why read a book when you can play a video game?

    Most publishers don’t have distribution into kid’s areas, and frankly, most publishers don’t belong in that space. Comics have invested a lot in servicing adult comic readers and largely left the kids behind. Now we’re trying to play catch up.

    If you could only pick one book for new readers, what would you recommend and why?

    I like Kazu Kibushi’s AMULET. It’s a really fun book for kids. I don’t know where it’s going but there’s a lot going on and it’s a great place to start for a new reader. You can’t go wrong with those books.


    //TAGS | Multiversity 101

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).

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