Tag Archives: new readers

Free Comic Book Day – May 4th

The first Saturday in May every year is Free Comic Book Day, and it means exactly what you think. Every participating comic book shop orders a bunch of specially produced comics for this particular weekend and anyone is allowed to come in and pick up some of them for free. Now obviously people have to be sensible, and can’t just grab ten copies of everything, plus the free comics cover every sort of genre and age group, which is done on purpose, as they’re designed to attract new readers from across the spectrum.

What I often notice at my local shop, and has become clear from quickly perusing the list of comics this year (which you can preview here), is that there are a lot of comics for kids. I think that’s a brilliant thing and the industry needs to attract lots and lots of new, young readers. Because in 30 years time, they will be the evangelists keeping the industry alive, writing and drawing the comics, and making as much noise as possible to attract a new generation of readers and creators. Comics are doing well at the moment, the monthly numbers are up compared to a couple of years ago, but they’re not as impressive as I’d hope. I think part of this is because comics have become a transmedia phenomenon, and some young people come across and then follow comic book characters without actually reading the comics. They play the computer games, watch the cartoons and TV shows, and of course a quick look at the top grossing films at the cinema will show you, they also watch the films and buy the DVDs. But how many of them then find their way to their local comic shop, or now, buy a digital comic on their tablet or phone featuring the same character?

From speaking to both of my local comic shops I know that every year they do very well from Free Comic Book Day, because people pop along for the free stuff, and then browse the shelves and pick up other titles that catch their interest. This makes it worth them buying and paying for the free comics which they then give away to new customers. I usually tend to avoid visiting my local shops on Free Comic Book Day because they’ve already got me, they don’t need to convince me to come back, and they’re rammed with people.

Looking down the list of Free Comics, my top picks would be, Atomic Robo and Friends, Grimm, Mouse Guard, and The Tick. There are so many others

As ever, I’m always happy to recommend comics, from any genre, so if you want to start reading comics, but don’t know where to start, get in touch.

 

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YA Comic Books

This idea has been somewhere in the back of my mind for a while, but it came together last week when Marvel Comics announced that they are launching a series of YA novels, based on their superhero characters. The first two announced are She-Hulk and Rogue, written by Marta Acosta and Christine Woodward and they will be published by Hyperion. I’m going to be stay optimistic. I’m going to say I’m excited by these and I hope they do very well. And I’m not being disingenuous. I want young people, those under 25, especially those under 20, to be interested in comic book characters, whether that’s from Marvel, DC or other publishers.

Superhero comics dominate the US comic book market, but in other countries superheroes are not the main focus. Despite the diversity that now exists in the US market, the majority of the top 100 comics every month are superhero titles. There are exceptions (Walking Dead, Saga etc) but mostly it’s superheroes.

In the last 2 years both Marvel and DC have had one of their biggest reboots and relaunches in a long time. Not just a bit of a tweak, but an almost (almost!) wipe the slate clean and start from issue 1 across the board at DC. Marvel took a right turn and all titles are gradually relaunching with new creators and very new directions. All of which has been great for me, as a lifelong comic book fan. Sales are good in general, but my gut tells me that the percentage of brand new comic book fans, coming into Marvel or DC for the first time because of these initiatives, is very small. My gut also tells me that not many of those were women.

DC and Marvel are always actively seeking new writers and they do mentor new writers. They pair them up with an established creator who helps them learn the ropes. We’ve seen this time and again at Marvel and now some of their most interesting and unique writers were once being mentored. Jonathan Hickman and Matt Fraction are two names that immediately spring to mind. DC are also doing it as well, and people like James Tynon IV first partnered with Scott Synder before writing solo books. It’s a tried and tested method.

Both companies also bring in writers from other mediums, TV, film and novelists. Sometimes it works out very well and we get writers like Duane Swierczynski and Allan Heinberg, both of who have done some very memorable work for Marvel and DC. Sometimes it doesn’t work and we get Jodi Piucoult. I am sure she is a lovely person and I know her novels sell very well, but her run on Wonder Woman was very short and she’s not been invited back. Her view of the character did not gel with the audience, sales were poor, and they tried a different approach with a new creative team.

I’m very aware that women read comics and superhero comics, but I think there are more men reading them than women. I also think it’s fairly safe to say that the percentage of new and young readers coming into the books is fairly small. I’m also pretty sure that if you took the average age of a mainstream comic book fan, it would be twenty or thirty something, if not older.

Here’s a wacky idea to get more new readers and more women reading comics. Perhaps, in addition to the YA books, Marvel and DC should hire some YA authors to write their teen comic books. As I mentioned above, it doesn’t always work out and if the person is not a fan of comics to begin with, or is not at least familiar with the medium, then the chances of success are fairly small. But I know of several YA authors, most of them women, who are massive comic book fans and I know they would love to write comics. Can and do some of them write their own independent comics? Yes. But getting noticed and getting the word out about one of those comics is a lot more difficult. Also, both of the big companies have some very well known brands and icons that are immediately recogniseable. It’s a lot easier to convince someone to take a chance and spend their money on a new Supergirl comic than something they’ve never heard of before.

I’m sure most, if not all of the YA writers, would need to be mentored first, and during that co-writing phase both the lead writer and the company would find out if it was working or not. But imagine if it worked. A Teen Titans book, written for a YA audience. Now this isn’t me dumping on any of the teen focused books that have gone before, because I have read and enjoyed some of them. But DC in particular made an effort to put some of their comics into sections. Here are the Dark books (Vertigo-esque) grouped into The Edge, here are the Teen books, here are the Batman books etc. So with the relaunch I’m not the target audience for Teen Titans.

In theory, it would also mean that if more younger readers jumped on board with the teen books and assuming they keep reading for several years, they would eventually progress to the mainstream titles. It would also mean more women reading comics, more female role models working in the industry, and hopefully more women who become mainstream comic book writers. The number of women writing at both companies, who are working on major icons, is tiny.

I’m not privy to what is going on behind closed doors at the Big 2, and I’m sure those who are may instantly reject my idea for a number of reasons, or perhaps if I am being optimistic, these sort of talks are already taking place. From an outsiders viewpoint, it seems like a sensible and logical idea to me. It ties together some of what they are already doing and it would tackle one of the biggest problems in mainstream comics. It wouldn’t solve everything but it would be a step in the right direction.

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