Last week, I asked for your opinions about whether the comics companies are doing enough to interest the next generation of comics readers and what approaches they should take. On the one hand, there weren't that many responses, but on the other hand, the responses I did get gave the question some serious thought - and one even questioned whether we should be giving any thought to the matter at all, which is something I had not considered.
Thomas Grzesik isn't too taken with the idea reprinting old books: "While the concept of re-publishing single comics sounds intriguing to those who originally enjoyed the comics, I don't think it would attract a mass market of today's younger readers. A few might become regular collectors, but with today's prices I don't think today's buyers have that much additional disposable income left for reprints. Also, why would the companies compete with a cheaper comic against their current titles? They still have writers and artists to keep busy. I recall MARVEL TALES, which reprinted earlier adventures of SPIDER-MAN which I never found original back issues for. I only collected MT for about four years until the reprints caught up to my current collection. Today, however, one would have to collect 40 years of issues to come current. Also, MT was priced at the same price as the current SPIDER-MAN title. I tend to believe that publishing costs drive the price of comics more than the creative labor.
"Reprints do work to a certain degree after the character has been off the market for some time. In the 70's, [for example,] DC acquired the rights to Captain Marvel, and that sold well, [eventually moving] to original stories. Collected reprints have broader appeal, too. I recall from the 70's the Superman and Batman 'Family' type titles that collected 10 stories or so for little more than the cost of 2 or 3 regular titles. That made them appealing to afford as the simplistic stories weren't worth current prices. I wouldn't have picked up an ordinary 1940s reprint of SUPERMAN priced at current price, but on the other hand I did buy the special event giant sized edition of ACTION COMICS #1 for probably a whole buck fifty. Marvel had some success in the 70s with their Giant Size titles of reprints, but they weren't regular and the fad passed quickly. (Hard to imagine I've seen some of those going for $25 or better in comic shops). The best two approaches to this back issue issue would be 1) to use collected reprints, whether the Essential titles or the Marvel Classics (softcover recommended, the hardcover cost isn't warranted); or 2) The Internet. I am vaguely aware that some comics are online but don't believe there are troves of titles out there to be researched. This is the perfect medium and the perfect solution to the back issue collection dilemma, as long as those who manage the Marvel website don't participate." Not quite sure what that last bit means, exactly, but the points you make about reprints are apt ones. I imagine we older collectors would probably get more joy out of these than younger readers would, for a variety of reasons which some of your fellow readers will soon get into...
Brian Compton makes a number of interesting points, and even manages to stump me a time or two: "First a question: how many creators of yesteryear have royalty agreements for their characters? Stan Lee and the Superman creators are the only ones I can think of that get paid for use of their characters - if I remember what I've read correctly, everyone else's characters and work are company owned. Is there a Bob Kane estate that gets paid by DC or WB for using Batman? Did DC and Marvel go back and return all their properties to the Kirbys and Ditkos and Romitas? If DC owns full rights, as does Marvel for their characters and art, then royalties may not even by an issue. Do you know anything about this?" Sadly, Brian, I don't, and I really, really should. I think you may be absolutely right about the royalty agreements, though - ie, there aren't any, save for major players like Lee or for people like the Superman creators, who had to fight tooth and nail for them. Contemporary creators like JMS, Bendis, and so forth probably will never face that same problem - but then, it'll probably be a long while before their work is ever reprinted in any other form than a collected trade paperback for which they're paid at the time it's printed.
Brian continues: "For many kids today, the old DC and Marvel stories may not click for a number of reasons. Your suggestion of writing quality may or may not be one - how many kids under 10, or really under 18, are overly critical of believability and literary issues? One thing that keeps modern children from a 1930's Superman story or a 1960's Spider-Man story is the time gap. These characters are rooted in generational fads (serialized radio and movie stories about aliens from outer space), fears (radiation and destructive science), and morals (respect the police, the good guys always win eventually, heroes are perfect people, etc.). These are not relatable to 21st century kids, who have a whole different set of fears and trends and values. It takes them a while to see beyond the veil of dated symbols and into the universal messages of excellent comic stories, and that's not something that usually happens until adulthood.
"Instead of relying on old stories, create new comics that tie into what kids like these days. My two favorite, and first, comics that I collected
My most prolific letter-writer, Tim Agen, agrees with Brian: "I think the only way to get kids buying (parents buying) comics again is to get the books back to better sources than only specialty stores. A Cub Foods grocery store near my home has a section of kids toys and books. Small books about firemen and Scooby-Doo. Toys like play guns, plastic cars and plush Spider-Man(!). So, why aren't the Marvel Age digests sitting right there with them? Where are the POWERPUFF GIRLS and TEEN TITANS GO! comics? Why would they not move off those shelves? It's bizarre to me.. the small corner that the comics industry lives in. Another aspect is that of kids learning by example. Why would a kid ask to read a comic if there's no one older around telling them how cool comics are? And where are the comics with dinosaurs, man? Kids love dinosaurs. You'd think the transition from colorful picture book with anonymous narration about dinos to colorful comic with talking dinos would be an easier one. As to what I do to get more people spending money on comics, I just lend out everything I buy. It took months and months, but I think I've got most of 'my people' at the edge of actually laying down money on comics. Of the seven people to whom I've lent stuff, three have bought comics recently. I might have gone mad if 'That book was kickass, Tim!' was the only thing I got for my efforts, although that's great to hear."
Allan Herem had a different experience of getting into comics: "I started my addiction to the comic world during that now-famous mid to late 80's 'Mutant Massacre' hysteria. I admit to being the geek who sought out a comic book store in order to finish all the titles in the 'Mutant Massacre' map/diagram/storyline (POWER PACK wasn't offered on the 7-11 newsracks). I was 11 and my first three comic books were X-MEN #211, X-FACTOR #10, and some issue (and the only one I ever bought)
"I currently read ULTIMATE and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN but have no desire whatsoever to journey into the land of Marvel Age, and personally I don't think at 11, in 1986 or 87 (whenever it was), I would have been either. The Vulture and Doc Ock in those days were 'hokey' and 'cheesy' as you've intimated, and a 'rehash' of the story really wouldn't entice me (then or now) to get involved. However, if Marvel reprinted those CLASSIC X-MEN, X-FACTOR, ALPHA FLIGHT, AVENGERS issues, I think there would be a market...especially if offered at a lower [price]. Fact is, at $.75 I could afford 5-8 comics a week. If I had been limited to 2 or 3 I probably would have bailed altogether on the comic scene. If they spiced up the reprints w/classic covers like those done by Arthur Adams in the [beginning of the CLASSIC X-MEN run,] I think the interest would be even greater. Print the old cover inside or on the back cover [as was also done during that run]."
Jim Grayson (no relation to Dick) continues the discussion in relation to DC: "I think DC Comics might have the right idea with their 'animated' comics line. I'm not familiar with the Marvel Age line from the other company, so I can't really comment on that, but I think DC could well be onto something. I became interested in comics as a kid because they were adapting my favorite movies and TV shows, and telling new stories based on those concepts. STAR WARS, G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, those were the titles that got me into the medium. Then I realized that just a little higher up on the rickety wire rack were the comics based on the old SUPER FRIENDS show, and WONDER WOMAN and HULK, and those Superman films. No, wait, those were what the shows were based on! Hooked.
"There's a very similar environment existing today. With the eternal syndications of the Batman and Superman animated series, as well as several
Mike Kuzmanovski doesn't feel as worried about the issue as others do: "The article on whether or not kids today will be interested in comics got me thinking. When I was a kid I had little interest in comics early on. Sure, I'd occasionally get a TRANSFORMERS, G.I. JOE, or TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TUTRLES comic, but they were few and far between. Besides, I only got them because I watched the cartoons of the same name. As for super-hero comics, I do remember getting an AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comic once, but that was it. The only time I really got into comics was when I was around eleven years old, in the very early '90s. It was then that I started buying super-hero comics regularly, and a couple years later when I started asking to be driven to the comic book store. I still read comics today and it is clear that, from the '80s onward, older readers have become the dominant audience for comic books. However, this is only because at some point we started reading comics as children.
"I think that there will always be kids who read comics. The ones that I see often in the store that I go to are around the same age as I was when I started reading and collecting, between ten and twelve years old. As far as younger readers go, since their parents are more likely to buy for them anyway, the new Marvel Age comics seem just right for them. Sure, Marvel could reprint old issues, but, as revered as the old comic masters are, their artwork and writing style is quite old fashioned. From what I've seen, I think that kids would like anything from the '70s and onward, the artwork being done in the '60s is just too lousy by today's standards. Maybe it would be good for kids to read the old stuff, but that would likely happen after they get into comics in the first place. So, there will be a generation of comic fans to replace us, but they will just be more of us, the fanboy/comic book geek. And these kind of people will always be."
George Richards writes, "Read your recent column with great interest. I am over 40 and one of those who have been reading comics my entire life. I found some of your ideas on saving the art form quite appealing, especially the idea of the reprints. The big publishers are going to have do something or it is clearly obvious the medium will not survive my generation. I myself do not know what the answer is. So many of the aspects that made it special are gone. You mentioned the [most obvious factor], cost, but it is more than that. Does anyone remember the joy of discovering an artist (Barry Smith is the classic example) and watching him grow into a master? None of them stick around now. Sure, there are a few that try
"The part of this that really scares me goes even further. Where is the real power of this medium now? I can remember being moved to tears over the death of Gwen Stacy, literally being stunned for days. I remember the death of her father and even remember his dying words, "Take care of her, Peter," to a stunned Parker in his mask. I remember the joy of finding out that Reed Richards would be able to save his son from near death. I remember the delight of Joker running from the Batman in the classic O'Neil-Adams issue while he cackled about being crazy but not stupid enough to face an enraged Batman. Not a slick page, computerized color, or multiple cover in the bunch. Even as I read over this, I know how much of this sounds like a 'why, in my day....' type of old guy rant. Still, there is something to it, I think. I have watched something very much like this occur before to another form of entertainment I enjoyed but over a much shorter time span that can give us a crystal ball vision of what is going to happen. I very much enjoyed flight simulations on my computer in their heyday and I am talking the classics such as F-15 Strike Eagle and others but watched while the 'purists' continually tore them to shreds for not exactly modeling some miniscule detail or worse, actually sacrificing some reality for 'fun' (gasp!). After a while, the medium was destroyed (or reduced by 90% to be kind) by the very people who professed to love it so. Those 'true fans,' with their endless desire to 'push it to the next level,' flew that plane right into the ground. Go into any Best Buy or major software retailer now and maybe you can find one or two jet sims and these are the merest shadows of the greats. An ominous vision for another medium, perhaps?
"I really appreciate you taking the time to solicit the input of your readers on this matter. It just breaks my heart that now, probably more than ever, there are so many kids out there that desperately need the same powerful messages that were given to me when I was eleven by six comics in a brown paper bag purchased at my local A&P grocery store."
Moshe Brandelwin, however, calls the entire discussion into question: "What's rarely addressed in the course of this perennial discussion is the question of exactly why we (meaning older comics fans) are so concerned that younger fans get interested in reading the same kinds of comics we did and/or do, namely superhero comics. After all, kids are reading plenty of comics already - it's just that most of them come from Japan, and don't feature superheroes. Further, many of these kids are being inspired by these imported books to create their own comics, as evidenced by the massive numbers of
submissions to TOKYOPOP's 'Rising Stars of Manga' contest. I predict an enormous amount of these kids' original material hits the market over the next ten years, creating in effect an entirely new domestic comics industry geared specifically to what kids DO want to read (and write, and draw). So again, why do we so want kids to read about superheroes? I think ultimately our concerns are selfish - we want to make sure our comic industry survives, not out of any concern for 'the kids,' but rather so that we can keep reading the stuff we like, even if there aren't enough of us oldsters buying it to keep the industry afloat. Problem is, superhero comics in their present form just simply are not interesting to 'the kids,' or they'd be out buying them.
"Based on my own exposure to 'the kids' (I don't have any of my own, but a reasonable number of my friends do, and I've spent considerable time with them in recent years) I'd say the Marvel Age stuff is likely to flop pretty hard. Even if kids did want to read superhero comics, these are just too dopey, too naive. We may have been able to be forgiving of this kind of thing as kids, but we were used to being talked down to. Today's kids aren't. And reprinting the older stuff? I've just been reading ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR and ESSENTIAL SPIDER-MAN, and let me tell you, this stuff would be about as interesting to the kids I know as Dad's sock drawer. Supremely corny dialogue, massively outdated personality types and gender roles, 40 year old slang - it's just not going to gain any traction at this point. So I guess I don't really have any positive advice for Savingthecomicsindustry by getting the next generation interested. Because again, the next generation is already interested in comics, just not the comics we want them to be interested in. I predict our old-school industry will last another ten to twenty years, fade out for the most part, and ultimately continue at a very low level, kept alive primarily by film tie-ins, and aided by periodic retro-fads and the general nostalgia market." *Shudder* If you're right, Moshe, there goes my retirement fund... While I hope you're wrong, I have a strong suspicion you may be right...
I'm sure there's more to be said on this issue, so if you'd like to chime in, feel free! For next week's column, however, I'm going to need your help. Brandon Wyatt wrote in a few weeks ago with the following request: "I was hoping that you could suggest a good website where I can find lists of comics that have been released in the past few years. The sites of the big two don't have very extensive archives; Dark Horse is great, but I need more." Oddly enough, I personally have done very little on-line research for previously published comics, as I tend to go straight to the OVERSTREET PRICE GUIDE (which, admittedly, isn't all that helpful at times). So, when you don't have access to past issues of PREVIEWS or to the Overstreet, and you want to find out what comics have been released in the past few years, what web sites do you go to? Send your suggestions by midnight on Saturday, May 1, via the web site contact address here or to me directly. By the way, from here on out, just to make my life a bit easier, please use CAPS when giving the title of a comic series - I have to do the HTML code around these puppies when writing the column every week, and if I'm doing a lot of quoting, then having the titles in caps is a big help. And as always, don't forget our discussion boards. Now, here's what you can expect to be on your shelves today - whether it's there or not is between you, your comic store owner, and the higher being of your choice:
Speaking of comics for kids, readers tell me that Dark Horse's USAGI YOJIMBO is a good title to give the little ones. Issue #75 of that series ships this week. It's certainly better than giving them CONAN #3, though nothing's better for adults. There's also STEVE RUDE'S THE MOTH #1, Joss Whedon's excellent TALES OF THE VAMPIRES #5, and the MICHAEL CHABON PRESENTS ADVENTURES OF THE ESCAPIST VOL 1 trade paperback for $17.95.
Marvel's offerings for the rugrats include the MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-GIRL VOL 1 digest for $7.99 (about bloody time, too!) and, oddly enough, the MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-MAN/DOCTOR OCTOPUS: OUT OF REACH digest for $5.99. That miniseries is for kids? Guess they didn't think the same thing about the SPIDER-MAN/DOCTOR OCTOPUS: NEGATIVE EXPOSURE series, as that's only available in a very adult-sounding trade paperback format for the adult price of $13.99. Then there's VENOM #13, which isn't fit either for children or for adults.
Once more about stuff for kids: has anyone tried their little ones out on ELFQUEST? I seem to recall that series being just about right for readers 12 and up. In any case, the trade paperbacks of WOLFRIDER Volumes 1 and 2 are both available this week for $9.95, if you want to give it a go. And if you decide the kids shouldn't have it, keep it for yourself! That's half the fun of having kids, isn't it: getting to keep their toys when they've outgrown them?
There's a whole lotta battiness in the belfry this week. Poison Ivy appears in BATGIRL #51 in addition to co-starring in the miniseries BATMAN: HARLEY & IVY #1 (Of 3). Judd Winick begins his run in BATMAN #626, which is more than enough to make it worth buying. CATWOMAN #30 sees the end of Selina's battle against Zeist. And if all that isn't enough for you, go get the BATMAN: GOTHAM CENTRAL trade paperback for $9.95, which collects the first five issues of that stunning series. And if you're still not satisfied after all that, you really are bats in the belfry...
One more Bat-related title would satisfy me, actually: a one-shot featuring that "off-stage" scene in JLA/AVENGERS where the Batman and the Punisher fought alongside each other. Instead, of course, we're getting THE PUNISHER #5 and WOLVERINE/PUNISHER #2 (Of 5). Ho hum.
While I doubt anyone's going to pick up Judd Winick's CAPER #7 (Of 12) at this late stage unless they've already been doing so, I honestly think you're doing yourself an injustice if you don't. Besides, this is the best artwork John Severin's done since RAWHIDE KID. What, you didn't read that, either? Not that I blame you, of course, but really...!
Yet another race between the Flash and Superman for the title for Fastest Hero Alive? Yes, it's happening in FLASH #209, but this time for a good reason. Unlike the fifty thousand other times they've done it.
I wouldn't say that the cancellation of HUMAN TORCH with issue #12 is proof there's a God - I'm not as big an ass as certain comics writers of Canadian extraction who have made similar statements, for one thing - but it has made me consider going back to church long enough to say thanks. (Oh, gosh, is that a tidal wave? No, it's just the latest flood of hate mail coming in...)
Speaking of hate mail: Ron Marz is back on GREEN LANTERN with issue #176. Hey, folks, I'm just the messenger on this one.
Iron Man takes time out from his busy schedule as Secretary of Defense to go toe to toe with the Green Goliath in INCREDIBLE HULK #71. Shame we can't get Donnie Rumsfeld to try that...
Vertigo's got the goodies for you this week with HELLBLAZER #195, the INVISIBLES VOL. 7: INVISIBLE KINGDOM trade paperback for $19.95; LOSERS #11; and MIDNIGHT MASS: HERE THERE BE MONSTERS #4 (Of 6). Why would anyone want to read that kiddie stuff when titles like this are in the offing? Oh, yeah: lack of sex, lack of violence... Sounds like a typical evening in Casa Whitt, really.
By the way, I didn't mean what I said above about John Byrne. I'm every bit as big an ass as he is. Anyway, he and Chris Claremont are still ruining JLA in issue #97 this week. Guess I'll be going to church in two months' time after all...
You thought you had it bad being the nerdy kid with glasses who read comics back in high school. (Well, maybe it was just me who felt that way.) Imagine what it would have been like if you were disabled, had an overprotective mom - and had superpowers. Better yet, buy KINETIC #2 this week and let Kelley Puckett and co. imagine it for you.
Tony Stark travels to Iraq in IRON MAN #80, but it's to take out an ancient goddess instead of going to look for WMDs. Bet he could take out the Hulk and find them without even trying, though. Even Rumsfeld can't say that.
Ahem. Before I get the FBI on my tail...There's a whole lot of stuff going on in LEGION #32, but I'm a bit too worried about violating some arcane item in the Patriot Act to figure it out just now. Buy it and tell me what happens, will you? They'll probably forward mail to me in Guantanamo Bay...
After the astounding team-up between Spidey and Johnny in the regular FF title last week - no, I'm not being sarcastic for once! - you can get even more of an FF fix with MARVEL KNIGHTS: 4 #5, which takes place in the Pine Barrens (in a special episode directed by Steve Buscemi...whoops, sorry, wrong series), and with ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #5, guest-starring Jean-Claude Van Damme! No, wait...that's Victor Van Damme. You sure that's spelled right?
LIGHT BRIGADE #3 (Of 4) isn't proof that there's a God, but it's proof there's a Paul Levitz, which comes down to much the same thing. (Sorry, had to reach for that one.) The cover price is $5.95, by the way.
Kowabunga! This is the month to catch up on your surfing, as SILVER SURFER #8 hits the stands at the same time as the SILVER SURFER VOL 1: COMMUNION trade paperback collects the first six issues of the series for $14.99. And if you missed #7...well, bummer, dude.
For some reason I can't find any information about ULTIMATE SIX #7 (Of 7), but I assume it's the last issue. Right?
Wildstorm brings us TOM STRONG BOOK THREE hardcover for $24.95 - from anyone else it'd probably be $50 or more, don'tcha know! - and WILDCATS VERSION 3.0 #20 - which would be $2.50 from anyone else, but here it's only $2.95! Um, wait a minute...
MYSTIQUE has a secret in issue #13 of her series (and what else is new?); the real NEW MUTANTS reunite in issue #13 of the eponymous series in a blatant attempt to boost sales (I'm not complaining - I'm buying it, too!); you-know-who guest-stars in WEAPON X #22 (two hints: he's Canadian, and he's not John Byrne); the smackdown between mutants and Avengers continues in X-STATIX #22; and X-TREME X-MEN finally, finally comes to an end with issue #46. Lots of reasons to celebrate, really!
Later, gals and pals!
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