Thursday, March 29, 2007

More Comics International Thoughts.....
Putting the record straight.....

Following the last Comics International Thoughts post, a few of you have been jumping up and down about the points I made regarding the ideas about what comics are and what I've always wanted them to be.
Just to set the record straight about this:

I think it's an obvious fact that comics, as they stand today, appeal to a very small minority of the population.
I think this is a bad thing.

I want comics to be read, and loved, and bought by huge numbers of people.
I want those huge numbers of people to buy lots of comics from great stores like Nostalgia & Comics Birmingham.

As comics stand today, this is not going to happen.
For many, many reasons, comics today are still dominated by one small genre: Superheroes.
I think it's obvious that the potential customer base for one small genre is limited.
It doesn't matter what that genre is, by it's very nature a genre is a limiting factor.

The best way to increase the readership of comics is to broaden their appeal.
To do this I think you should broaden the genres available to customers.

Superheroes, Biography, Humour, Crime, Sci-Fi, Romance, Drama, Reference, Children's, Fantasy........ the list is as long as you want it to be.

My views have nothing to do with the relative merits of each genre.
Obviously no genre is more worthy than another.
No genre is better and they all produce examples of literary greatness and abysmal drek.

But to get more people reading comics you have to change what you do as a store.
Broadening the range is a great start.
But it's not enough.
Look around and steal every good idea in bookselling and retail.
Rack books by the same authors together.
Rack different genres separately.
Make your windows stand out, make them appeal to new customers.
(Because you really shouldn't need to appeal to your existing superhero customers at this point. Trust me, they'll still come in if the latest Spider-Man isn't in the window)
Promote yourselves outside normal comics circles.

It's up to us to ensure that the Medium of comics continues.
I believe the best way to do this is to promote the medium as a whole to a lot of potential customers,
rather than one small part of it to a few interested customers.

(And to think, I really wanted to get to bed early tonight.)


  1. Lots of stuff at cross purposes going on, but look at all the comments just the mention of Steve Holland gets you, even if it is just "us" all commenting.

  2. I wonder: the superhero genre, when done well, can be a huge success in other media. Many more people enjoyed and loved the Spider-Man, films than read the comics; the tv-series Heroes is currently doing very well in the USA. Both of these examples attract viewers of all ages, not just kids, yet superhero comics still have a very negative image in the mainstream. Why?

  3. Rich Nunn1:14 PM

    We have 600 standing orders at Nostalgia & Comics, and of those 600 people only about 20 or so read the comics that you and holland are classing as "The Real Mainstream" so tell me are the other 580 wrong to be reading these books? Are they small minded?
    or are they reading what they class as the real mainstream?

  4. I'm not sure you can rack different genres separately because you then have to say what comes under what genre and what doesn't...I thought this when Sky reclassified their movie channels. Sometimes its easy, but what do they do when they put "Shaun of the Dead" on, is it horror or comedy? And with comics where does Ex-Machina go...its about a superhero, but its not a superhero book. And I'm all in favour of racking authors togeher, but you will end up with some FF books under B because John Byrne wrote them, and some under S because Strazynski wrote them. Like Jonathan said above, and as I said in a different comment, the problem isn't the publics perception of superhero comics, but just comics in general, and it is hard trying to overcome that, but we will keep trying...

  5. Sad but true, earlier today I posted the following after the initial CI post from Richard, but since we've now moved onto this one I thought I'd post it again...not because I think its anything special, just so someone can read the mad rantings of a person with a cold who couldn't sleep at 6 in the morning!!

    Ok, so I admit my first comment may've been a bit personal considering I don't know Steve Holland, but it's just the impression I get is that if you were to look up the word smug in a dictionary there would be a picture of Mr Holland (and lets be honest, that pic of him in CI doesn't really help matters). So starting from a new position of him being a thoroughly nice chap, I still think his column sucks and his arguements stink. I'm sure he'd like to get more people in his shop and sell more product, because he's a businessman, and fairplay to him for having, from what I hear, is a nice looking shop, but all it is is one shop thats developed a niche market. Now I haven't read all his columns in CI, due to getting the kind of extreme reaction I displayed in my first comment, but I don't remember reading one where he extolled the virtues of superhero comics. Instead, again the impression one gets is that if you wanted to buy Mighty Avengers #2 or JLA #10 from his store a) you'd have trouble finding them, and b) when you got to the counter lights would flash, a big arrow would come down from the ceiling with the word "Loser" on it, and all his staff would laugh at you. Basically I just disagree with the whole hide the superheroes ethos. I mean, lets rent old Steve a 2 screen cinema over summer, one with 500 seats, and one with 50, and see where he puts Spiderman 3. And you see, therein lies part of the problem...what I would like, as well as getting more wet liberal Guardian readers (I can call them that because I am one) who've latched onto Persoplis into a comic book store, is to get just a small percentage of the people who go to see Spiderman 3 into the store...and make them buy comics...and I don't care what kind because I am that radical! I understand the talk of the real mainstream viz a viz Waterstones/Borders ie they sell all kinds of fiction, but to say "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." is a bit disingenuous. As far as popular culture goes it includes lots of superheroes, hence biggest new show on US TV is "Heroes", most eagerly awaited film of the summer is the aforementioned "Spiderman 3".
    The strange thing about this discussion is that we all want the same thing ie more people to read comics, but it probably ain't going to happen, mainly just because they are comics and the general publics perception is so deeply embedded it won't change...and putting leaves in the window is NOT the way forward (damn, there I go slaging off Steve H again). I would love it if Alison Bechdel, Chris Ware, Joe Sacco et al sold even half the amount of books that Rob Liefield does, but I'd also love it if Wes Anderson films took more money than Michael Bays, but guess what, that ain't going to happen either.
    So until then we have to be thankful there are shops that, although scary to some people, sell lots, and lots, and lots of comics and graphic novels, and don't ghettoize certain genres but just rack everything alphabetically so Outsiders is next to Persoplis which is next to Preacher, and whose staff will be happy to recommend Walking Dead, and Blankets, and Astonishing X-Men, but probably not Blue Beetle or Firestorm (sorry to their respective creators), and I am very proud to be the manager of one such store. And yes our mix of customers is 50/50, and they range from very teeny tiny babies to really really old people, and look I've put it in b&W so it must be true (ooops, there I go again). So if you read this anytime after May 4th and have seen and enjoyed the Spiderman movie pop along to your local comic store and see what they have to offer...

    7:19 AM

  6. Amazing how something as innocuous as "we should try and get more people buying comics by increasing the range of what we sell" can stir up so many thoughts.

    In response to Dave:

    Yes, there are an awful lot of superheroes in the popular culture
    But the problem in comics is that these superhero fans are fans of the films and the merchandise alone.
    (and I'll go back to this some more in another post because it's more fun that way and I don't like to waffle too much in the comments!)

  7. Now onto Rich:
    who said:
    We have 600 standing orders at Nostalgia & Comics, and of those 600 people only about 20 or so read the comics that you and holland are classing as "The Real Mainstream" so tell me are the other 580 wrong to be reading these books? Are they small minded?
    or are they reading what they class as the real mainstream?

    Sorry Rich, love you as I do but you're missing the point.

    They're reading what they want. And that's great.
    That's what everyone should do.
    Those 600 customers are all wonderful human beings and we love each and every one of them.

    But the very fact that they're regular visitors sadly puts them in a very small percentage of the population.

    These posts were never an attack on the customers who read superhero comics.
    I'm one of the bloody customers who reads superhero comics.

    It's all about how I think we should always be trying to expand the readership of comics.

    And I maintain that the arguments are valid ones.
    Superhero comics appeal to a limited proportion of the population.
    The superhero genre isn't wrong, but the reliance on one genre for the entire medium's future financial success is at best risky and at worst suicidal.

  8. I tend to agree with Richard on the standing orders. We comics readers are trapped/happily embraced by (it depends on my mood and wallet) a culture of collection and completeness. We have standing orders because we want it all, we don't want to miss out (and this goes back to your earlier posts about media anxiety, Richard) and this is the collector mentality that has supported comic shops through some of the bad times. But in what other field of commerce do you get that? In Waterstones you can order books, but you can't place a standing order for every new Dan Brown/Ann Rice/Robert Jordan/William Gibson. The standing order system reflects this kind of customer - those who like soap-opera superheroics and referential continuity and we've all come from a superhero background into adulthood (We grew up trying to find our comics in crappy newsagents, missing every other issue of X-Men because some other kid got there first, keeping them - not to make money or to preserve them in bags, but to get the whole story), but that's not all of the customers of the shop (I hope!).
    Hmm - not sure where this is going (again). Maybe my point is that we're all still there, with our superheroes and standing orders, but that side of the market seems to be eating itself (more comics to the same readers via crossovers and spin-offs). The so-called "real mainstream" might be a way to bring in readers who are turned off by eons of continuity and hammy theatrics, and whatever it is that puts people in the mainstream off comics. It's only one attempt, and its an attempt to reach to other adults. Other ways to bring new readers to comics might be through manga and through ultra-cheap kids comics.

  9. Yes Jonathan, thanks for that, I agree that the "real mainstream argument" tends to be about getting adult readers to pick up comics other than superheroes.

    I deliberately didn't go anywhere near the manga for teens and the what can our children read argument.
    That's one for another time!

    Needless to say, as daddy to a 7 year old girl, my comic reading potential is somewhat limited. So far we've enjoyed the Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean children's books (again, some debate - are they really comics or just illustrated books - and what's the difference, isn't it all just points on a scale?)
    She loved Owly, currently we're reading Calvin & Hobbes and she bought herself a Simpsons volume from the school book fair and big girl that she is, has actually read it for herself.
    Latest Bedtime Reading for Molly

    It was (and still is) a continually frustrating thing whenever I had a parent coming into Nostalgia & Comics to ask for something suitable for their child. It's really, really difficult.

    But like I ssay, that's something for another time.

    I'm off to finish reading Albion ( The Moore, Moore, Repion British superhero thing) & the latest volume of Grant Morrison's bonkers superhero volume Doom Patrol.