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How Marvel, DC and You Can Save the Comic Industry

by philhampton on 6 August 2011

I am completing my recent trilogy of articles about DC, Marvel, and the comic industry as a whole, with a message of hope for the future.  Or rather it’s a call for a change of focus to give this great industry a long and prosperous future.

And the good thing is that, whether you’re a creator, retailer, publisher or consumer, you can help to lead this change.

The Most Important Marvel and DC Comics Titles (and they’re not what you think!)

There are a few titles that Marvel and DC print that, from a marketing point of view, could be financial dynamite. But they are often launched with little or no fanfare, and are rarely promoted anywhere near as heavily as their flagship books featuring their main characters.

But these low-key books also feature their main characters.

Confused?  I’ll explain.

Marvel have a line of books called ‘Marvel Kids’ (http://marvelkids.marvel.com/), and DC have a similar line called ‘DC Comics Kids’ (http://dckids.kidswb.com/).  Having a look at the respective websites, I must admit that both are doing a decent job of making these lines appealing to kids, with a handful of decent digital comics, some TV show episodes, games and puzzles.  Marvel’s titles have included Superhero Squad, Marvel Adventures and various Power Pack team-ups, whilst DC have Batman: Brave and the Bold, Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited.

But the published comics reveal a different story.

Having a look through Marvel’s entire published comics line at the moment (in the latest ‘Marvel Previews’ magazine for titles shipping September 2011), there are 88 titles rated either ‘T+’ for those aged 12 and above (65 titles), ‘Parental Advisory’ (17 titles), ‘Mature Content’ (3 titles) or ‘Explicit Content’ (3 titles).  There are no titles rated ‘A’ for those aged 9 and over.

Only 7 titles are labelled ‘All ages’. They are:

John Carter: A Princess of Mars (mini-series) – $2.99

Dorothy & The Wizard in Oz (mini-series) – $3.99

Super Heroes – $2.99

Spider-Man – $2.99

Muppets Presents (one-shot) – $5.99

Marvel Super Stars Magazine – $7.99

Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes Magazine – $9.99

Bearing in mind that Marvel see themselves as a super-hero focused company, it’s strange to see almost half of its ‘All Ages’ titles as non-superhero.  It’s also jarring to see that two of its four all-ages superhero titles are priced at $7.99 and $9.99 – far from pocket-money prices.

So the average under-twelve superhero fan will most likely be swayed to ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Super Heroes’.  Now having one title dedicated to your most popular character, and another with a rotating cast of major characters isn’t bad, but Marvel are hardly milking the kids market compared to the rest of their output.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold - based on the Warner Bros. cartoon of the same name.

Meanwhile, DC have 6 ‘All Ages’ titles shipping in September 2011:

Batman: Brave and the Bold – $2.99

Tiny Titans – $2.99

Young Justice – $2.99

Scooby Doo, where are you? – $2.99

Cartoon Network Action Pack – $2.99

Looney Tunes – $2.99

So they have three superhero titles, all priced at $2.99.  Slightly better than Marvel, but come on DC – where’s the Superman title?

Bearing in mind that DC are relaunching all 52 of its mainstream titles in September, all of them are rated either ‘T’ or ‘T+’ (and of course all Vertigo titles are for Mature Readers), so again under-twelves are ignored.

I hoped that a title like Supergirl may cross over to under-teens, like the Lee/Ditko Spiderman. But then I read the promotional spiel – “Meet Supergirl. She’s got the unpredictable behaviour of a teenager, the same powers as Superman – and none of his affection for the people of Earth. So don’t piss her off!”

So that’ll be a ‘No’, then.

(NOTE – There was an exaggerated ‘Cartoon Network’-style Supergirl title from 2008 called ‘Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade’, but it seems that titles with a more mainstream style of super-heroics are no longer deemed appropriate for young kids at DC.)

DC have said that their ‘New 52’ relaunch strategy aims to attract new readers to the market, and I hope it does, but they’ve missed a trick by focusing it on those aged 12 and over.

What’s so special about kids comics?

There’s a strong reason that I’m making such a big deal of the under-twelve market. I got hooked on comics at the age of 9 after reading a UK Spider-Man reprint comic, which tied into the brand new live-action TV show.  I remember reading in that issue about Spider-Man fighting the Gibbon and the Beetle before they were laden with nineties-style irony.  At the same time I started collecting the French ‘Asterix’ books by Goscinny and Uderzo which were great fun.

Just over a year later I read Alan Moore’s Captain Britain saga (from the UK magazine ‘The Daredevils’) which blew my mind. I devoured classics like John Byrne’s Alpha Flight, Chris Claremont’s X-Men, Roger Stern’s Spider Man and Avengers and David Michelinie’s and Bob Layton’s Iron Man – all before hitting twelve.

At that age I was in awe of the stories. They seemed consistently brilliant, possibly because my critical faculties hadn’t fully developed, but there was definitely magic in the air.

Silver Surfer (Vol. 3) #1 by Steve Engelhart - A masterclass in how to write the perfect introductory all-ages comic

As I hit my teens I came across the first specialist comic shop close to my school and started buying more titles. The classic stories became less frequent but there were some amazing highs– Byrne’s Man of Steel and his sterling run on West Coast Avengers, Silver Surfer by Steve Engelhart and Marshall Rogers, Walt Simonson’s X-Factor, Peter David’s Hulk, and Justice League by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis.

I feel privileged to have experienced the worlds of Marvel and DC at an age when my imagination was firing on all cylinders.  I had well and truly fallen in love with comics.

But here’s the question – would I have been reading these stories as a teenager if I hadn’t fallen into the world of comic books at such a young age?  I can’t definitively say that I would have.

There are also millions of kids who are unaware of printed comic books, or even webcomics, which could give them all the spills, thrills and chills that would benefit them at that age.

And making them aware is the problem.

When I was a pre-teen, I bought all of my comics at the newsstand.  Nowadays, in the UK at least, there are a few magazine-style comics such as Batman: Brave and the Bold, which come with puzzles, games and a free toy, and usually tie into cartoon series.  But their ‘all ages’ comic book counterparts aren’t advertised within them.  Those comic books, which could be sold in their tens of thousands to kids via newsstands or supermarkets are reserved for specialist comic shops which are mostly frequented by people over fifteen.

What’s more, superhero movies are now solely rated for over 12s so the long-term boost in younger readers that the Christopher Reeve Superman movies brought about at the time of their release is unlikely to reoccur these days.

Now, I say ‘long-term boost’ because, in my opinion, the younger that one becomes a fan of comic books, the more likely they are to become a long-term reader of comics.

Why do I think that?  The main reason is the nostalgia factor.

Even today I buy comics to reignite the thrill that I experienced reading those wonderful titles from the early eighties when aged 9 to 11. My high expectations are rarely met, but I still hold out hope.  I’m especially looking forward to a number of the relaunched DC titles, hoping that I will be amazed, intrigued and enthralled in the same way that those titles enthralled me decades ago.

But another reason to focus on younger readers is that the world around us has changed in ways which make it more difficult for comic publishers to attract and retain readers of an older age.

Teens and young adults these days have a much greater number of distractions than just twenty years ago – mobile phones, hand-held games, all-day kids’ TV, the internet and social networking, and now streaming music and movies. And I haven’t even mentioned homework and the opposite sex.

Then there are people’s pre-instilled beliefs about comics to overcome.  I can imagine this type of conversation outside comic stores on Free Comic Book Day:

Retailer:               “Want some free comics?”

Teenager:           “No thanks. Comics are for kids.”

Retailer:               “Not any more. These days comics are almost solely targeted at teenagers.”

Teenager:           <pauses> “Comics are for nerds.” <Goes to see the latest Transformers movie.>

This is partly why I feel that aiming 95% of your titles at those aged 12 and above is a flawed strategy.

It’s better to focus on kids at a younger age when they’ve got fewer distractions in their lives and no misguided preconceptions about the material.  Then the positive message about comics is more likely to ‘stick’ and be readily accepted.

There are only so many hours in the day and comics have to compete against much flashier (and arguably compelling) forms of entertainment.  And, let’s be honest, the marketers persuading kids down those other avenues are doing a much better job than the comic industry at the moment.

Education, Education, Education

Just have a look at the Free Comic Book Day website (http://www.freecomicbookday.com). FCBD is a great initiative to get new readers involved in comics, but I had trouble finding a section explaining why comics are a great form of entertainment. When I finally found it, (question 9 of the FAQs) all it said was:

“What’s the big deal about comic books anyway? Comic books are an original American art form, created in the early days of the twentieth century. They are fun to read, featuring a wide range of diverse story lines that capture the imagination of the readers. That’s worth celebrating in our book – we’re proud to be a part of this wonderful medium.” This was followed by a link to the history of comics.

It’s a good start, with good intentions, but the message could be communicated much more clearly and broadly. The list of reasons why comics are great should ideally have their own page on the site in order to attract the casual surfer.

Here’s a great little video by Francoise Mouly, Art Editor at the New Yorker, about how comics taught her son to read.  The industry could do with more of this type of advertisement.

Let’s see how Marvel and DC are doing to get their Kids sites in the faces of young children (who may not equate the superheroes that they see on TV with the brand names ‘Marvel’ or ‘DC’).

When I type ‘Spider Man’ into Google, the ‘Marvel Kids’ website doesn’t even appear in the first 10 pages (after which I gave up searching).

Yes, Spider Man’s biography page on the Marvel website appears on page 1 of Google, and there a small ‘Marvel Kids’ icon in the top right-hand corner of the website, but when faced with a few thousand words of biography, many young kids will be prompted to switch to a different, more fun, site rather than hang around to check links.

It would be much better for Marvel to work on its SEO (search engine optimization) strategy for the Marvel Kids website, or to better promote the Marvel Kids brand, than rely on children clicking links from pages meant for over-twelves.  Now that Marvel are owned by Disney, this will hopefully allocate a larger marketing spend targeted at younger readers, and cross-over with Disney products.

It’s no better at DC.  When I type ‘Batman’ or ‘Superman’ into Google, the DC Kids site isn’t in the first 10 pages, and the link to the site is hidden at the bottom of the main DC comics homepage.

Then, after a while of looking around the DC Kids site, I found a tiny link at the bottom to ’Kids Jr’, which is the main Warner Bros.
Kids site (http://www.kidswbjr.com/). This features episodes of the ‘Super Friends’ cartoon, which serves as a great introduction to DC’s heroes, but had I not scoured the DC Kids site for the purposes of this article, I wouldn’t have found it.

One good thing of note - both the ‘Marvel Kids’ and ‘Warner Bros. Kids Jr’ sites have pages for parents that describe how their sites educate and stimulate young kids minds.  Such a page is missing from the DC Kids site.  DC really need to rectify this, and soon.

Having ‘Parents’ pages is a good idea, but neither the ‘Marvel Kids’ nor ‘DC Comics Kids’ sites attempt to educate the audience in why the comics themselves are so great.  This is the most basic of marketing techniques.  Why should someone buy a comic if they’ve never bought one before?  And more importantly why should they buy your comic in particular compared to the hundreds of titles released every month?

You would hope that the two companies who so strongly influence the comic book industry could make a better effort to educate the non-comics reading audience in the benefits of comics.  They may be doing something out there, but I’m having trouble finding it.

Both companies could rectify that simply by adding ‘Why read comics?’ pages on their Kids sites.  Even though they have to get the wording reviewed through reams of bureaucratic red tape, those pages could be live in a couple of weeks.  If you’ve created your own all-ages comic or webcomic site, you could have such a page on your site live today.

Why printed comics are important

Let’s return to printed comics.

Can we blame Marvel and DC with not marketing their printed comics so strongly to young kids?  Many of today’s commentators on the industry have already foretold the death of the printed comic book, predicting that in the next decade, digital comics will reign supreme.

And from a purely business perspective, the profits to be made on a digital comic significantly outweigh those of a printed book because of the lower costs of creation and distribution.

Well, here’s my response to that – even if printed comics do not represent a massive income stream, they are an excellent lead generator.  In other words, they help to generate interest in your product range, leading to new customers.  And in a well-rounded marketing strategy, that can be worth its weight in gold.  There are thousands of companies around the world who are prepared to  make a loss on certain products, even give them away for free, in order to attract new customers to their product range, and hopefully keep them for the long-term.

So how can the industry promote printed comics to a wider audience, especially to those families who have little interest in comics?

There’s the problem of getting them back into the likes of Wal-Mart where the general public will see them.  Now that the Comics Code has vanished from the covers of regular books, it’s more difficult for supermarkets to gauge the suitability of comics for their customers (a topic of great sensitivity for them).

Ahhh – censorship. Those were the days…

Writer Peter David wrote a good article in 1992 on how the Comics Code Authority was pure censorship. Here’s the link.

Now, I’m not a supporter of artistic censorship, but the rejection of the CCA has allowed publishers to sideline ‘all ages’ comics, as I have already explained.

This has clearly been an intentional move by comics publishers, possibly as a natural reaction to being finally free of the censor’s influence, and partly by them hankering to the trend of an ever-aging audience rather than trying to retain control of the boundaries of their target market through careful positioning.

We now need some common-sense to return to the industry, and revert to a more well-rounded marketing strategy.

Wouldn’t it be an amazing thing to really push printed comics as an ideal, engaging form of education and entertainment that doesn’t involve looking at a computer or TV screen?

There are already two major concerns that parents have, which the comic industry can use to its advantage. Firstly, that staring at a screen all day is bad for their kids, and secondly, that it’s impossible for parents to always ensure that what they’re watching is age-appropriate.

So here’s a solution – comics that will help teach their kids to read, expand their vocabulary (NOTE – this was a favourite marketing technique of Stan Lee’s) and offer them exciting, wholesome entertainment.  All backed up by a pre-approved ‘All ages’ rating.

That’s a strong reason for parents to introduce their children to comics, and for supermarkets to stock them.

Here’s an idea – why don’t Marvel and DC agree to distribute brand new titles, but solely containing classic pre-1990s reprints, along with some puzzles, posters, stickers and competitions?  They could be printed on cheaper paper, further reducing the cost of production (young kids don’t care about expensive glossy paper, and the original comics weren’t computer-coloured anyway).  And printing one or two-part stories that appeared prior to the crossover event boom would help both kids and parents feel in control of their buying habits in these difficult times.  What’s more, it no longer matters that in those stories Peter Parker isn’t married…

Then, include adverts in these titles to lead the kids to the Marvel Kids or DC Comics Kids websites, plus the regular ‘Kids’ comic books that can only be found in specialist stores (thankfully both the Marvel and DC Kids sites include Comic Store locators), plus a subscription service for those titles.

Now, Marvel and DC already run subscription services (Go to http://subscriptions.marvel.com/ for Marvel, or click the ‘Subscribe to DC’ link at the bottom of the DC Comics Homepage) giving great discounts on their printed titles. Did you know that? I didn’t until a few seconds ago after searching for them on Google.

I may be lambasted by suggesting to use old material and old marketing strategies to sell comics in today’s market, but sometimes you have to look to the past to be able to move forwards.  I said in my article last week that the mid-eighties were where the comic industry got its marketing and its content right, and the comments I’ve received since shows that this clearly resonated with some of you.

If comics were seen again as disposable rather than collectible items, enabling kids to pick up titles locally, and dip in and out of the stories whenever they wanted, it would build an army of long-term readers who then follow comics onto the internet when printed comics go the way of the vinyl record.

The New Movement in Comics

But I’ve talked enough about Marvel and DC.  There’s a small but growing movement that could end up filling the clear gap in the market that the ‘big two’ have left open.

‘All ages’ webcomics are a genre in themselves. There’s even a directory of webcomics rating them for ‘family friendliness’ at http://www.familywebcomics.com.

'Smash' by Chris & Kyle Bolton. This little fella could help to save the industry, you know.

When I interviewed Chris and Kyle Bolton, the creators of all-ages webcomic ‘Smash’ (check out their site http://www.smashcomic.com), it was refreshing to hear their enthusiasm for the character, and their target audience.  Their website is an excellent example of a webcomic which engages and entertains young minds.  Season 1 is about to be printed by Candlewick
Press, and Season 2 is ready to roll online.

This is exactly the kind of title that can open up the world of comics to young kids.  And its audience is growing steadily.

If Marvel and DC don’t pick up the ball, there will be many independent creators and publishers ready to do it for them.  I expect Marvel may use Disney’s influence to play off the title of Pixar’s next film – ‘Brave’.  DC are clearly hoping that a new tribe of teenage readers via their relaunch is sufficient, but how many will still be reading the titles in 6 months time?

If you’re creating an ‘all-ages’ comic or webcomic series, no matter what the genre, keep up the great work.  The power to change the industry is in your hands.  Without your creations feeding the minds of young readers, the comic industry will inevitably become extinct.

It’s all to play for, and who’s to say that you can’t beat Marvel and DC at their own game?

Just remember – the kids are alright.

If you enjoyed this article (and even if you didn’t) I’d love to hear from you.  You can leave a comment below, and help spread the word by clicking the ‘Tweet’ or ‘Like’ buttons (or even tell your friends).

To your success,

Phil Hampton

The Comic Academy

Phil Hampton founded The Comic Academy to help comic and webcomic creators market their work and achieve success in the comic book industry.  Download your FREE exclusive report ‘The 7 Steps to Comic Creator Success’ at http://www.TheComicAcademy.com (or scroll to top of page)

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Ivan Antonio August 7, 2011 at 4:15 am

Great article as usual, Phil.

I also started reading at a very young age, with comics aimed at kids, and soon “moved up” to superheros and indies. But to this day I still eventually go back to the comics of my youth (Monica, by Brazilian legend Mauricio de Souza). I absolutely agree that the best potential source of new readers lies within the 7-11 demographic. It does seem odd there isn’t a greater focus from the big two into targeting those kids.

On the other hand, I think maybe indies and smaller publishers are missing the train as well. How many indy series, graphic novels and webcomics are there? Maybe Atomic Robo, Return of the Dapper Men, Smash…what else?

That’s definitely a market ripe for exploration, particularly in the webcomic niche, since kids these days are stablishing contact with tecnology earlier than ever before.

Justin Martin (@RsquaredComicz) August 7, 2011 at 6:42 am

Very good article! I never thought about the importance of starting out young before, but the distractions factor definitely makes sense. I had got into comics as a child, but put them on the back-burner during my teen years. It wasn’t actually until I attended a Wizard World when I was 22 that I feel in love with comics all over again.
Justin Martin (@RsquaredComicz)´s last blog post ..C-3 Interview #9: Lazaro Ruiz

philhampton August 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Thanks Ivan,

I think there are a lot of decent all-ages titles out there which haven’t gotten the publicity or acclaim that titles for older readers have received.

However, the fad for ‘grim and gritty’ titles is all but over, comics like ‘Return of the Dapper Men’ are winning awards, and even a webcomic like ‘Axe Cop’, apparently written by a 5-year old boy, is being printed by Dark Horse and getting decent sales.

Maybe the tide is turning.

All the best,

Phil

philhampton August 7, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Thanks Justin,

I wonder – if you hadn’t gotten into comics as a child whether you would have returned to them in later life? Difficult one to answer, isn’t it?

Kind regards,

Phil

Lee Stone August 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Great article, Phil!

I was about 8 or 9 when I first started reading (DC and Marvel) comics, as well. I actively became a collector in 1982 when I was 10.

I think that DC and Marvel are doing exactly as you said. They need more mainstream comics rated All Ages.
They have beat the “not for kids” drum so long they’ve alienated the market that ensures their future.

I remember an article I read in COMIC BOOK DIGEST #3 by Ben Avery, titled “All Ages Comics? Why we need more All-Ages comics and what we can do about it”. I totally agreed with what he said. If you can find a copy, it’s worth reading.

The two key problems I see are:

1. The removal of comics from mainstream outlets like grocery stores and gas stations. These were where I picked up comics from age 8 to 20. Now I have to order them online.
Remember, kids can’t drive 50 miles to a comic shop and should only be allowed to order off the internet through an adult supervisor.
Plus, 99% of comic shop customers are NOT new readers.

2. The removal of the Comics Code. Finally, someone sees it the same way I do. I think the only reason it was removed was because creators felt it “restricted” them too much.
It may have been a little outdated and in need of amending, but I don’t believe it needed abolishing.
Comics I read as a kid were much more sophisticated than the few comics they release for kids nowadays. AND they were Comics Code approved!
I can see that DC and Marvel would want to do comics that aren’t hindered by rules and guidelines but hey… wasn’t that what Epic and Vertigo were for?
Those people that thought the code was pure censorship should save their stories for the Mature lines.
There’s guidelines to building cars, too. If you throw that away and start putting, say, airplane wings on them, someone’s gonna get hurt. Save the wings for airplanes.

From a creator standpoint I can see the difficulties of trying to choose an audience. There’s times you may wonder if what you want to tell is appropriate. Instead of trying to edit it to fit an All-Ages category, you’re tempted to just do whatever and slap a Mature Readers or Teen tag on it to cover yourself.
The same thing happened to network TV and it’s a shame.

But the only people who will pick it up are the ones that have already been reading comics and then only by spotting it in a comic shop. How narrow did your audience just get?

philhampton August 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Hi Lee

Thanks for your great comments and spot-on insights.

I can’t find Comic Book Digest 3 for sale on the internet at the moment, but I will definitely keep looking!

Regarding your comment ‘Comics I read as a kid were much more sophisticated than the few comics they release for kids nowadays. AND they were Comics Code approved!’, I remember reading a story from Amazing Spider Man #236, written by Roger Stern, when The Tarantula falls into a chemical bath and gets turned into a giant spider. He ends up jumping from a roof being shot by cops on the way down shouting ‘Kill me, Kill me!’

Being only 10 at the time, this story has stuck in my mind ever since. But rather than being gratuitous, it makes the reader feel real sympathy for a minor character.

This shows that the Comics Code Authority weren’t adverse to adult themes like suicide in comics, as long as it served the story. The problem now is that over-cooked violence can have a dumbing-down effect on the actual comics, making them less sophisticated than thirty years ago even though they’re aimed at older readers. Go figure.

All the best,

Phil

Jim "J-Bolt" Fisher August 7, 2011 at 4:15 pm

This is an EXCELLENT article, Phil… LET’S MAKE COMICS FUN AGAIN AND THE NEW READERS WILL COME FORTH AND MULTIPLY!
On top of this, if Publishers would simply stop re-booting, re-creating, re-EVERYTHING the characters, stories and books that the MAJORITY long-time readers have come to make as their soap-operas of choice, then they wouldn’t have to screw up even worse while trying to create a whole new consumer bracket. I’m tired of reading the same stories we already know about our characters, but done so from a different view and/or concept… THEY’RE STILL THE SAME STORIES PUBLISHED OVER & OVER AGAIN!
If the Publishers don’t listen to that, but do take into account what you’ve pointed out here, following your great advice, they’ll STILL lose all those new readers, just as the readers were gettin’ into the stories. Why? What happens every 5-10 years? KA-BLAM! They all get re-booted AGAIN!
Maybe if they also try keeping all the other readers WHILE creating new ones, our comic books won’t become a LOST Art Form / Entertainment & Educational Media, as we all fear, in the Industry.
Another thing: I’m one of those people you spoke of who learned to read at the age of 3, because I wanted to know what my beloved characters were saying. So I watched “Sesame Street,” the CLASSIC “Electric Company,” etc., in order to learn phonetics before entering Pre-School or Kindergarten so that I could read my comic books. As a result, I had a College reading level before I was even halfway through Elementary School.
Currently, I am twice-inducted into the “Marquis’ Who’s Who In America,” once in the “Marquis Upcoming Leaders In America 1st Edition,” and inducted into the “International Who’s Who Registry,” for my work in the Industry. Please don’t take me saying this as bragging. I say it to give myself as an example of what you wrote… of what comics can inspire kids to learn and be. This is all because I fell in love with comic books and wanted to be a part of this hero-inspiring Industry throughout my entire life. I have my detractors… but doesn’t EVERY Industry?
Too many people claim that comics are for the illiterate… I beg to differ.
Thanks for this article, Phil. Please keep inspiring us to inspire others. You’re good at it.
J-

Steve Kanaras August 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Great article. I think part of the issue with comics in general and with kids reading in particular is the price point. Its precious little entertainment for $3. I think the iPad, digital comics arena presents great opportunity for rectifying this situation. Never mind that an interested party can go to a convention and fill a shopping bag of back issues for $3, in many cases with better stuff than is being currently produced. Even the TPB market is depressed. I find it painful to spend more than $5 on a trade knowing the next time I am in NYC or even a local convention, I will find that product for less. This is a powerful market effect, with many causes, but cannot be ignored.

JAdams August 7, 2011 at 6:28 pm

(NOTE – There was an exaggerated ‘Cartoon Network’-style Supergirl title from 2008 called ‘Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade’, but it seems that titles with a more mainstream style of super-heroics are no longer deemed appropriate for young kids at DC.)

You seem to present the information about this Supergirl title in a negative way. What was wrong with it? Why was it non-mainstream?

George Lentino August 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Great article Phil, right on target! Strikes me that you’ll likely find that most of us comic book fans started young and have kept with it. The industry completely ignoring the concept of building customer pipeline is what has reduced sales consistently for the last 20 years. I feel like the last group of kids that they actively went after were the kids of the early 80′s!! By not replacing that audience, those who were 10 in ’85 are now 36 years old! No wonder sales have dropped!!

I know you say that printed comics are important, and I agree, but I really think that the movement to digital can lead the way to bringing in different age segments. Lower production and distribution costs can allow those of us with the desire to start building that pipeline all over again!!

Thanks again for another great article.
George

philhampton August 7, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Hi J-

Thanks very much for responding. Great to hear your feedback and kind comments.

Yes – keeping all the customers whilst creating new ones. That’s the basic growth strategy in any industry, but one which has been forgotton of late…

I can’t see the reboot/relaunch fad slowing down any time soon. When there’s a needless Spider-man movie reboot following an almost perfect universe that Sam Raimi created, it gives the comic industry the green light to do the same. And Marvel will already have had serious discussions about how to match DC’s relaunch.

It’s good to hear your story. Maybe the rise of webcomics will be a crucible that inspires a greater number of kids than printed comics ever could.

All the best,

Phil

philhampton August 7, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Thanks Steve,

Yes, the price of comics today is putting off both young kids and their parents from buying them. This is why I think that having reprinted titles on lower quality paper, at a lower cost, and distributed in supermarkets and newsstands, will help rekindle interest with a larger audience. Then this would lead them onto digital comics if they didn’t already know about them.

And I wonder if Disney have already talked to Apple about having the Marvel app pre-loaded onto new iPads…?

All the best,

Phil

philhampton August 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Hi J,

I actually quite like the cartoony Supergirl title (it can be viewed for free from the DC Comics Kids website). I just think it strange that comic pulishers feel that, when they release new titles targeted at under-12s, that they have to make the characters look like something out of Phineas and Ferb rather than the mainstream titles.

This just makes it more difficult to migrate younger readers onto the regular titles (the regular Batman titles don’t look anything like the ‘Batman: Brave and the Bold’ comic for example, but when I was young I was reading the Neal Adams and Jim Aparo Batman stories. I didn’t find them strange because Batman and Robin didn’t look like characters out of Scooby Doo.

I’m not sure if I’ve explained that well enough, so please let me know if you need further clarification.

Kind regards,

Phil

philhampton August 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Thanks George,

I totally agree that the movement to digital will help make comics more acceptable to the general public, and its people like you who will make serious competitors to Marvel and DC on the digital battleground.

However, printed comics aimed at younger readers would allow the likes of Marvel and DC to have a two-pronged approach to the younger market, with printed and digital complementing each other. Only at the moment they’re neglecting the printed side and therefore missing out on a whole generation of potential long-term readers who don’t search for comics online. In my opinion, if a child is not currently reading comics, they’re more likely to stumble upon, and impulse buy (via their parents), a printed comic in a supermarket, rather than a Marvel or DC digital comic.

All the best,

Phil

JAdams August 7, 2011 at 9:21 pm

“I’m not sure if I’ve explained that well enough, so please let me know if you need further clarification.”

I guess the part I find unclear is the idea that the art shouldn’t be what it is.

Compare mainstream art from this year and ten years prior. Then ten years prior to that. Ten years prior again. Hell, even take one current artist and another current artist and compare them. There is no set “mainstream” style. That largely went out the window years ago.

The art in Cosmic Adventures has more foundation in traditional Disney animation then it does in something like Phineas and Ferb. It has energy and a wide range of expression and emotion. It is accessible to all ages – not just young readers and not just older readers – and was so well received that the trade paperback’s initial orders were on par with the mainstream Supergirl book and outsold some of the other mainstream DC offerings at the time.

I think that one of the problems with the expansion of all-ages material is that long time comics readers have a preconception of what comics “should” look and reject things that don’t meet expectations. Ideally, we should be encouraging diversity, growth and expression in the medium.

Al Cook August 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Great article Phil – carefull some lemmings at the Byrne board have linked here and have already started the snark. Byrne could do a lot to help the industry but unfortunately he is all talk and is just interested in his bottom line. Milking his last few fans out of every dollar he can by rushing out ugly commissions.

The shame with Byrne is he can produce great superhero all ages comics but the stubborn old fool does not know how to play in the Marvel and DC sandbox. He has to swallo his pride and realize that they are not his toys and he has to play by certain rules. This of course is anathema to a primadonna like Byrne.

Sigh.

philhampton August 7, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Hi – I think you’re misunderstanding where I’m coming from.

DC aren’t introducing a diversity of styles in its ‘All-ages’ books. Young readers are solely offered a cartoony style in both writing and art, whilst the more traditional and mainstream styles are reserved for over 12s.

I’m just saying there should be a mix, like Marvel are offering, which is especially important for young readers.

Kind regards,

Phil

philhampton August 7, 2011 at 9:43 pm

Hi Al,

Cheers for the heads-up. Nice to see I got ‘Extra points’!

All the best,

Phil

JAdams August 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm

“DC aren’t introducing a diversity of styles in its ‘All-ages’ books. Young readers are solely offered a cartoony style in both writing and art”

I disagree. Compare Tiny Titans with the aforementioned Supergirl book. They don’t come remotely close to targeting the same age groups in terms of writing or art. When you claim a lack of diversity in the DC all-ages material (or when you compare radically differing styles like Cosmic Adventures and Phineas and Ferb), you’re lumping all “cartoony” styles in together, which effectively means you’re ignoring a wide range of diversity.

I think we’d be better served by seeing less “mainstream” art in the mainstream, and instead more “cartoony”. Let’s see more Darwyn Cooke or J. Bone or Evan Dorkin or Eric Jones or Mike Kunkel or Stephen DeStefano on flagship titles right alongside Jamal Igle or Ed McGuinness or Tim Sale.

Basically, there should be virtually no distinction between an all-ages book and a “mainstream” book. That’s where we were just a decade or two ago and the industry was stronger because of it. Taking comics back to where they have broader appeal in general would go a long way towards saving the industry.

Ivan Antonio August 7, 2011 at 11:31 pm

I’m always up for more Darwyn Cooke!

Jim "J-Bolt" Fisher August 8, 2011 at 12:57 am

Making the comics fun is what makes them want to read, while keeping the media affordable, easily traversal and transferable is what will KEEP them reading throughout ALL the ages. THIS is the biggest problem that I think you’re presenting, if I may assume, Phil.
Because of what comics taught me, I’ve always used them in raising children of all ages. This is why the demographics should be aimed at the earliest ages when they can even HOLD a comic book by themselves.
The first thing that even the youngest toddler looks at are the colors of characters’ costumes. Right away, they establish who their favorite characters are going to end up being from whatever color caught their eye. In my son’s case, he and I watched the live-action 90′s “Flash” TV show together, as it came out right before he was born. By the time he was 6 months old, I bought him a Flash action figure and he IMMEDIATELY began mimicking what the character was doing on TV and looking at the comics. Because of this, he was actually writing articles for small newspapers and tabloids as early as at age 7, though that went to the wayside as soon as the Educational System let us and our children down by giving A’s to compositions written in “text-speak.”
In the early toddler stages, I used all the same characters (even making flashcards of them… no pun intended, from the previous paragraph) in order to start teaching them what those colors were. They knew whose cape was red, yellow, blue, etc., as well as boots, gloves and all that. It also taught them naming what hands, eyes, mouth, etc. were, since they had to say colors of them (they could even perfectly identify even articles of clothing that even most adults don’t get… such as GAUNTLETS).
In the year before Pre-School, I used those flashcards to teach them the alphabet by identifying who has what letter in their insignia, the sounds those letters make, etc. Hence, this also developed their thirst for counting characters (MATH) and wanting the same thing I did at their age… to finally learn how to read the stories of their favorite characters before being in school.
When my son did enter into Pre-School, he was able to give the SCIENTIFIC names of EVERY dinosaur, count to 1,000, read/write as if he had already been in school for years, etc. The same goes for all the other kids I raised and taught (with exception of one, whereas we later found out had severe Dyslexia, but he still even beat THAT and graduated High School because that’s what his HEROES would do).
If children and/or parents cannot afford to pay $3 for a printed comic book, it’s HIGHLY doubtful that they’d afford an expensive electronic device in order to keep reading them no matter where they go, or even just at home, such as with the convenience of printed materials. There is of course an exception to a portable DVD player type of device, such as what I’ve seen parents buy for children when they don’t want to be bothered by them elsewise… but how many parents could afford such a device?
Why not combine what your suggesting, Phil, by also printing the CURRENT high-graphics comic books ALSO on cheap newsprint… just for the READERS? Let the Collectors buy the more expensive, higher quality, glossy paper editions. But meanwhile, do as you said by printing the more detailed art on the cheaper paper so that the readers have a choice. This way, the collectors will end up also buying the cheapy versions just to see if it actually IS something they want to collect (in higher print quality), and the income from this will more than double for the Publishers, keeping our comic books alive. All the while, we get READERS again, since the cheapy-prints are more “disposable” ( as you called them) than the Collector Editions.
All the ideas wrapped into one, and done so inexpensively for the Publishers AND the Readers.
Whatta’ ya think?
J-

Lee Stone August 8, 2011 at 2:18 am

I actually feel that publishers (especially DC and Marvel) think that “All-Ages” means under 8.

I think I understand what you’re saying about the art.
When I grew up there was the regular DC comics and there was Super Friends. Know what? I avoided Super Friends like the plague and read Wolfman/Perez’ New Teen Titans and Claremont/Sienkiewicz’s New Mutants.

Why can’t we see books like Young Justice drawn by Jim Lee or George Perez…?

philhampton August 8, 2011 at 7:07 am

Hi J(Adams)

Yes, I agree with just about everything you’re saying. And with you and Ivan that a Darwyn Cooke book sutable for all age groups would be a treat.

You say ‘Basically, there should be virtually no distinction between an all-ages book and a “mainstream” book. That’s where we were just a decade or two ago and the industry was stronger because of it.’

I think that would involve the reintroduction of a body such as the Comics Code Authority, or for the publishers to agree to add the ‘All ages’ stamp on all books, and that just isn’t going to happen, which is why I didn’t mention that as an alternative.

Creators these days want to be able to publish material that clearly isn’t suitable for under 12s. So the industry now uses a multiple segragation rating system.

There is nothing preventing the likes of DC from ensuring ‘there should be virtually no distinction between an all-ages book and a “mainstream” book’, but that’s not what they’re doing at the moment. There is a clear distinction between the all ages titles (such as Tiny Titans, Supergirl Cosmic Adventures and Batman: Brave and the Bold), and the ‘New 52′ books. You and I agree that there shouldn’t be, but there is.

There may be a range of diversity in DC’s ‘All ages’ titles, but then there’s a further gap to the titles for over 12s. If only DC would remove that gap.

Kind regards,

Phil

philhampton August 8, 2011 at 7:26 am

Hi J-

That’s really inspiring stuff. If you don’t mind me suggesting, maybe you could use such a story in a blog post that would be picked up by parenting websites, teathing them the benefits of comics as an education tool?

Regarding the price of printed comics, I think there are quite a few parents who have bought an iPad (mainly for themselves) but wouldnn’t think of spending $3 on a comic book for their kids. If they were educated on the advantages of comics, and they were readily available in supermarkets, it might sway them to pick up a comic as an impulse purchase.

I agree that your suggestion of printing the current high-graphics comic books on cheap newsprint as a lower-cost option would help give the comics a wider audience in the over-12s markets (since they would still be rated ‘T+’). But in order for the industry to generate more long-term readers, it needs to be focusing more on under-12s.

Marvel and DC could still publish the current high-graphics ‘all ages’ titles as lower-priced, lower-quality options, though, or they could combine the latest ‘all ages’ titles in with older reprints. This is similar to what Marvel are doing with their ‘all ages’ magazines, but they’re pricing them at $7.99 and $9.99 which is too expensive to be an introduction for non-readers.

Kind regards,

Phil

philhampton August 8, 2011 at 7:33 am

Hi Lee,

Yes, you’re right – there is the ‘A’ rating which means ’9 and over’. But since DC and Marvel are not printing any titles with this rating, this is either because they have decided that there’s no point in marketing to this valuable niche, or they don’t know how to produce titles suitable for an ‘A’ rating.

It’s all very strange…

And the Claremont/Seinkiewicz New Mutants was excellent, but today’s closest titles ‘New Mutants’ and ‘Generation Hope’ are marketed to over 12s.

I can’t see ‘Young Justice’ being drawn by Lee or Perez any times soon. They’ve got their hands full at the moment. :-)

All the best,

Phil

JAdams August 8, 2011 at 8:02 am

“I think that would involve the reintroduction of a body such as the Comics Code Authority, or for the publishers to agree to add the ‘All ages’ stamp on all books, and that just isn’t going to happen”

No, it simply requires the editors to use some sense when working with writers and artists in regards to explicit sex, excessive violence and convoluted storytelling. There was no code in the early day of comics, and comics well after the code ceased to be enforced were still something you could put in any readers hands.

“There may be a range of diversity in DC’s ‘All ages’ titles, but then there’s a further gap to the titles for over 12s.”

With Tiny Titans, yes. With Cosmic Adventures, not so much. Those two books are radically different in style.

I’m not trying to accuse here, but I find your position very difficult to discern. You seem to hold all “cartoony” art here as universal, and as a form of dumbing comics down. That the all-ages material should be more in line visually with the “mainstream” art.

I concede, I may be totally misunderstanding you. Apologies if I am.

Also: Have you read Cosmic Adventures? Not just the first issue you mentioned, but the entire series?

Chris A. Bolton August 8, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Thanks for the shout-out, Phil! It’s an honor.
Chris A. Bolton´s last blog post ..How Marvel, DC and SMASH Can Save the Comic Industry

philhampton August 8, 2011 at 8:25 pm

No problem – I’m obviously not explaining myself clearly.

To clarify – I have never equated cartoony art as a form of dumbing down comics. I probably confused things by using the word ‘gap’ – I meant a stylistic gap not an intelligence gap. I have only read the first issue of the Supergirl title but enjoyed it, and can appreciate how existing comic book readers enjoyed it.

Having a 6-year old son, I have seen almost every episode of ‘Batman: The Brave and the Bold’, and read the comics with my son. I enjoy them – they often use intelligent storylines and complex science. But I also read to him the Lee/Romita Spider-man and we enjoy them just as much.

The former is styled to use exaggerated physical forms and out-of-this-world storylines, often similar to the Batman space epics of the 50s and 60s. The latter utilises more accurate depictions of human beings and down-to-earth (though still fantastical) storylines.

What I am trying to explain is that DC seem to be saying: ‘All-ages books must have exaggerated, cartoon-like artwork.’ This is possibly so that the comics obviously market themselves to young children. The reason that I have made this deduction is because the range of art styles on their ‘New 52′ books do not seem to overlap with the range of art styles in ‘all-ages’ books.

Like you, I think that there should be a large overlap.

There is a problem with DC’s approach. Children aged 9 and above who do not regularly read comics, and so haven’t been exposed to a range of comic art styles, might just assume that the (sorry to mention it again) ‘cartoony’ artwork means that the comics are aimed at very young children, so wouldn’t think to pick up a title like Supergirl Cosmic Adventures. That in itself is a shame.

Despite being owned by Disney, Marvel’s ‘all-ages’ Spiderman title is more similar to the Romita Sr art of old than that of the DC ‘all ages’ titles. It’s not as artistically interesting as the Supergirl or Batman ‘all ages’ titles, but it’s more likely to appeal to a wider audience amongst those who don’t regularly read comics.

I hope that clarifies things.

All the best,

Phil

philhampton August 8, 2011 at 8:26 pm

You’re very welcome Chris.

Looking forward to Season 2 of Smash!

Kind regards,

Phil

Walter Loyd Lilly August 8, 2011 at 8:46 pm

…I came over from Comic Book Resources .
I do think that there should be some more pushing of ” kid-oriented ” titles and that the heavy emphasis on titles being ” Teen ” is a bit much , but at the same time I do think that a lot of discussion by older fans among this line tends to get a little caught up in ” Why don’t Marvel and DC put out some really nice , all-ages suitable , comics…like the ones I liked when I was a kid !!!!!!!!!!! ” . And I think yours does , too , a bit .
I tend to think that the Eighties stuff you point to , BTW , would in fact be given a ” Teen ” rating even/especially if reprinted by Marvel and DC in their present-day magazine formats , I believe that I have seen such stories given ratings when reprinted in modern times such AS that !!!!!
You’re British , obviously…BTW , the likes of the Transformers and Raimi Spideys have been rated ” PG-13 ” in America , not the British ” 12 ” , which I guess keeps out under-13s entirely ??????????? The US PG-13 suggests ” parental guidance ” for the young’uns , as does the stronger ” R ” too , only ” NC-17 ” keeps out youngers ( Under-18s . ) entirely .
Speaking of rating systems , the trendency of the ” All Ages ” rating to be given only to VERY ” little kid “-oriented titles is rather paralelled by the fact that in the US’s MPAA movie ratings system , the ” G ” rating , which was originally meant to signify ” General ” audiences ( And some rather suprising , by modern-day standards , films rated that in the first 7 years of it or so !!!!!!!!! Maybe I’ll say more later . )…Well , I’m running out of time now .
Later , ‘gator .
Perhaps I’ll say more later…

philhampton August 8, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Hi Walter,

Thanks very much for your comments. You’ve got me – I’m unashamedly saying “Why don’t Marvel and DC release some of the comics like I read as a kid!” Haha.

I’m not surprised that some of the ‘Comics Code Approved’ stories (like the Tarantula story I mentioned in an earlier comment today) would be rated T+ today. Sort of makes you wonder whether the new ratings system is any improvement over the CCA at all…

Really interesting about the movie ratings difference between US and UK. The first 2 Raimi Spider-Man movies are PG over in the UK, and “A ‘PG’ film should not disturb a child aged around eight or older.” Not sure that when my son is 8 I’ll let him watch Dr. Octopus slicing up doctors with a chainsaw!

We’ve also got a strange ’12A’ rating now, where all children under 12 have to be accompanied by an adult. ‘X-Men:First Class’ was a 12A so many eight year-olds would have seen Wolverine tell Magneto and Professor X to ‘F**K Off!’

I could go on about movie ratings for hours, but I think I’d better stop there…

All the best,

Phil

Lee Stone August 9, 2011 at 12:51 am

Hey, Phil,

I have to add that I recently checked out CHAMPIONS from Heroic Publishing and I think they come really close to what you’re explaining…

While maybe not on the same level as Jim Lee, the art is more realistic. And the stories are more “general audiences” friendly from what I read…

If they could just get onto Comixology, I think they could do real well…

philhampton August 10, 2011 at 4:19 am

Hi Lee

Thanks for that. I’ve had a look on their site, and the content does seem very similar to late eighties DC titles.

Then I saw the cover for #51 which seems to jar with the ‘general audiences’ tag – http://comics.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=88951

Doh! Not sure if they know who they’re marketing to.

Kind regards,

Phil

Lee Stone August 10, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Wow…

Guess they’re pulling a Femforce now…
That sucks.

Frank August 12, 2011 at 3:00 pm

As corporate entities, Marvel and DC like to play it safe. The current style of T+ comics is close to a sure bet as they can make it. Creating a line of ‘in-universe’ all-age comics is probably to risky of a bet.
I think you have to look to minor publishers for well written all-age titles. It looks like Image is putting out at least 2 (Gladstone and Reed Gunther).

As for the web, I am finding more and more all-age comics on the web. (Smash is one of them). I have found 4-5 all-ages webcomics or comic strips so far.

RobinofLeyLines August 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I became a comic fan when I discovered the abandoned Spider-man and Fantastic-Four comics my uncle had left at grandma’s house. In fact, I’m pretty sure those comics were the only thing that got me through visits with grandma as a child! I can definitely agree with the importance of introducing comics to kids.

To your point on education, I recently discovered a local group called the Comicbook Classroom (http://www.comicbookclassroom.org/) which is dedicated to bringing comic-books into schools as a teaching tool. Students learn the concepts of narrative and storytelling through the easy-to-understand media of comics. I’m really looking forward to getting more involved with this group! It’s run by local comic artists and teachers that value comics – a combination I’d like to see more of in the future!
RobinofLeyLines´s last blog post ..C2P22 – The Case

philhampton August 13, 2011 at 2:55 am

Thanks Frank,

I’ve just had a look at the press release for the Gladstone title (article at http://www.comicbooked.com/plenty-of-reed-gunther-for-everyone/), and Image do a good job of addressing any ‘all-ages’ worries –

Writer Shane Houghton commented, “REED GUNTHER is all about fun. It’s a book about a cowboy that rides a grizzly bear, for pickle’s sake! There’s plenty of dark and serious comics out there, which is totally fine, but we’re hoping folks will enjoy balancing out their gritty and dramatic stories with some fun and goofy cowboy adventures!”

“Some comic book fans may be wary of our series at first because of the stigma that “all ages” really just means “for kids,” artist Chris Houghton added. “Never fear! REED GUNTHER wears it’s “all ages” title with accuracy, and I’m confident fans will respond positively to the series no matter their age.”

Now it’ll be interesting to see whether Marvel and DC are ready to release and support such a title.

Kind regards,

Phil

philhampton August 13, 2011 at 3:09 am

Thanks Robin

Comic Book Classroom looks like a great initiative! I’ve just tweeted the link as a good example of how to inspire kids with comics.

Best of luck with it.

Kind regards,

Phil

hannamay August 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm

I really enjoyed your article Phil..
When I was a child I love reading comics, the comics was my grandpa’s collection. Comic is really fun to read and makes the reader’s imagination works.. Hope teens nowadays appreciate the entertainment in comics..
hannamay´s last blog post ..How To Conceive Quickly

Alex August 19, 2011 at 9:04 pm

I had over 158 comic collection of Marvel. It is not much for an avid collector, but I managed. Yes, I have noticed that there are not many printed comics around. Some kids won’t appreciate them now, but before, we were after the art, the story and the quality of a printed comic. I enjoyed holding them in my hands while feeling the quality print. I think it is a great idea to bring back the traditional way of reading comics.
Alex´s last blog post ..How To Seduce A Woman

Thomas Leong August 27, 2011 at 3:53 am

Hi Phil,

This is a very interesting read. As a kid, I liked to read comics, but they were expensive and I was always happy to get my hands on any that I could find. I am not sure if it is just nostalgia, but I seem to like the comics “in the older days” more compared to the current offerings. Somehow, I prefer the storyline and artwork (though it may seem dated by today’s standards) of older comics. As you said, teenagers these days have more entertainment options like FaceBook, Youtube etc. So hopefully those comic inspired movies (Transformers, Batman, Ironman, Avengers etc) can give a boost to the comics industry.

2 Thanks for a great post!

Regards,
Thomas
Thomas Leong´s last blog post ..Group buy your property Today!

Darrell August 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Hi Phil,
As a creator of an all age webcomic and father of two young girls, I’m always looking for appropriate titles they can read. My hat’s off to Marvel for doing the “Oz” series and doing it so well. My girls ages 10 and 6 both love it!

philhampton August 31, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Hi Thomas,

Thanks for your comments. Yes, movies could be a great way for young kids to get interested in comics, but most of the comic book related movies these days are for 12s and over.

Marvel have a chance to aim the rebooted Spiderman movie at younger kids. Wonder if they’ll take it…

Kind regards,

Phil

philhampton August 31, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Thanks Darrell,

I haven’t read Oz but the art looks great. If the title gets a good number of readers, maybe Marvel will expand the number of comics related to kids novels.

All the best,

Phil

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