Give The Kids Their Toys Back.
It used to be that when people asked me the best way to break into comics, I’d have an spiel that ran about 20 mins or so, touching upon awareness of your product, friendly customer service, knowing your audience and what they’d probably like, doing your research, checking updates online, cultivating a relationship with the independent and small press world. That kind of thing.
Nowadays, I just tell them: ‘Go watch The Wire.’
I’ll come back to this.
I’m assuming if you’re reading this on bleedingcool.com, then you’re aware of the story leaking yesterday that DC will be relaunching all of their mainstream titles in September once Flashpoint rewrites the history of the DC Universe. New number ones, $2.99 price point across the board, aimed at a slightly younger audience. Sounds great, to me. I’m just worried about one thing:
What if it’s too late?
For this generation, the idea that superhero comics REALLY weren’t for kids came about with The Ultimates. Now, I like the 1st two volumes of The Ultimates. They’re funny, ‘packed with redeeming social commentary; as Russ Meyer used to say, beautifully drawn and in general a nice step in the direction of superheroes for adults. That was fine. When that angle was contained within that title.
The problem came when, much like in the eighties when every superhero comic wanted to be Watchmen or Dark Knight, all the Marvel and DC wanted to translate that sensibility and more importantly, sales figure to all their titles.
Politics, sex, religion and serious violence became the touchstone of modern mainstream superhero comics. Dr Light was retconned into an angry rapist, Norman Osborn slept with Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Batman became so paranoid as a result of The Justice League’s betrayal that he set up a global cctv network, Wonder Woman snapped a man’s neck on television, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne practiced superhero oral sex. Again, for the record, I have no problems with any of this stuff being depicted in comics; I just don’t believe they’re the appropriate things to be doing in titles that are aimed at children.
This style of storytelling culminated in Civil War, which became the model for the industry and certainly Marvel’s publishing plans for the next few years. Summer long crossovers, incredibly decompressed storytelling with very little actually happening, numerous spin-offs, and titles hijacked in order to flesh out thin plots. Ultimatum (An Ultimate Universe crossover.) wasn’t so much a story as a progression from one violent death to the next. Over the last few years, it’s been a steady decline to almost total inaccessibility. Between this anti-new reader mentality, unnecessarily jacked up price points and the rise of the availability of new comics online for free, the new comic market has been taking a kicking.
I think one of the significant reasons for this is that, speaking as someone spends time behind the counter, it simply hasn’t been safe to recommend most Marvel/DC comics to children for a long time, and I can’t tell you how incredibly difficult that is.
Personally, I really like Deadpool Max, but I just turned 34. Deadpool is an action figure; he’s a character in Marvel vs Capcom 3. He’s probably the most bankable single Marvel have come up with since Wolverine that kids love, and he features in a comic I can’t sell to kids. What ought to be is that a parent should be able to pick up a Marvel/DC superhero title and safely be able to pass it onto their children without having to worry if there’s going to be an alternate history of the Nazis in the opening 10 pages.
I’m aware that Deadpool Max is aimed at adults, but most parents simply aren’t aware of the silly nuances of the comics industry where a superhero can swear in one title and not in the next. They wouldn’t expect to walk into W.H. Smiths or Barnes & Noble and try and work out why Kermit is having his normal adventures in The Muppets Show comic and fisting Fozzie whilst gutting Staler and Waldorf with a blunt chisel in DARK MUPPETS MAX!
(Let me sidetrack for a minute and say that I have no problem with superhero comics featuring this stuff. As long as they aren’t being used to sell toothbrushes and pajamas at the same time.)
The idea of Marvel/DC superhero comics should be that they’re a gateway point into the medium. They’re a nickel bag product. You get started with Spider-Man and Batman, move onto Miracleman, Rocketeer, Creepy and end up at Love and Rockets, Eightball, Glamourpuss, Elephantmen. Or to put it in Wire form, you start with weed, move on to speed and end up on coke. Right now, as a retailer, I’m in the position of trying to push product that is the equivalent of crystal meth on first time users. It’s like the film ‘Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.’ was the only advert for Barbie toys.
This isn’t, in any way, a call for the return of badly written superheroes. People say that in the age of Xbox 360, the Internet and Iphones, kids aren’t willing to read anymore. This is nonsense. Kids love reading, but you have to present the material in such a way to they can enjoy it. Things like Twilight, Harry Potter, Artemis Wolf, Dr Who, The Dandy, Tiny Titans and a dozen other examples are proof that you can’t play the ‘There’s no money in the younger reader market.’ card. You have to create content aimed at them, and if I’ve learnt one thing about children in my twelve years of working with them, it’s that they DON’T like being referred to as ‘KIDZ’ or ‘Younger Readers’ or any of that crap.
So, if DC are being straight about this, that the days of Sue Dibny being raped, of the dead coming back with a guilt trip monologue for two pages, of cities being blown up and Green Arrow killing people as a consequence are over, I’m ecstatic. Hopefully this’ll lead to writers exploring more adult themes in a line of comics that aren’t aimed at kids, a line pitched somewhere near the Vertigo/Epic aesthetic. I’m just hoping it isn’t too late. That when Mario Stanfield returns to the street corner, there’ll be a new generation of eager new addicts.
(Recommended for people trying to get children into comics: Tiny Titans, The Muppets, Bone, Marvel Super-Hero Squad, Calvin and Hobbes, The Dandy.)