Picked up the new Comic International, finally publishing again after the layoff from it's change in ownership. It's very much business as usual with this return issue. Some of the articles have been expanded, the reviews section is a little bigger and better, but mostly it's as we've come to expect. That said, there's still a lot to interest us comic people within it's pages.
Of note to me though is an interesting compare and contrast between Stephen Holland (owner Page 45) in his Talking Shop column and Beau Smith (writer, VP sales and marketing for many companies) in his Fighting Words column.
Stephen makes his usual great points about expanding the medium by reaching out to the real mainstream out there. His column talks about how to get new customers into the shop and how to get them reading comics.
See, Stephen has definite ideas about his business, ones that I tend to agree with.
His definition of a real mainstream has been particularly useful over the years. For Stephen, the real mainstream is the sorts of things that the general populous enjoys. Hence crime, romance, real life, drama, sci-fi and fantasy are real mainstream but superheroes are not.
In the context of getting people into comics his ideas of the real mainstream are perfect. Because, as many of us have found when trying to get friends, family and loved ones reading comics, the majority of people see superhero comics as adolescent fantasy books read by boys and grown up boys who should know better. If we're going to get more regular people reading comics (ie, the 95% of the population not currently reading them) we need to be focusing on reaching them with authors like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Andi Watson, Alison Bechdel, Chris Ware, Joe Sacco et al.
But jump forward a few pages and Beau Smith is talking about mainstream comicbook characters like Spider-Man and then goes on to say ... "and by mainstream comics I mean the superhero ones"
One of these men is sitting in the comic book club looking at ways to get more people to read a very small range of comics that most people in the real world outside of comics have no interest in. The other one is actively trying to find comics that appeal to the real world noncomic readers. I know which one I'd rather be talking to.
Beau Smith seems perfectly content with comics as they are and seems to spend his time trying to get superhero comics to sell more.
Stephen Holland seems more than happy to sell you superhero comics, especially great superhero comics like Ultimates, but also looks beyond the limited readership for superhero titles and wants to sell comics to that audience as well.
Personally I think Stephen is spot on.
On the simplest level it has always been an obvious argument: Look at what people read in book shops. Look at the range of books that sell. If 20% of the population regularly shop for books, why does less than 5% regularly shop for comics? Could it be that comic shops traditionally have sold only one type of comic?
Doesn't that just seem small minded, short term and completely wrong in terms of building a customer base?