Kids VS Comics' Direct Market

By | Tuesday, October 16, 2012 1 comment
I caught a couple of Tweets today that got me thinking. First, this one from Ron Perazza...
So the mysterious secret of getting kids into comics? Make good comics - stuff kids are interested in - and put them where kids buy books.
Seems fairly obvious, right? But that was only part of the conversation which included some thoughts about how the folks working comics' direct market seem to completely miss what other companies are doing well.

Here's an unrelated Tweet, then, from Faith Erin Hicks...
Whenever people start wondering "But HOW do we get kids into comics?" I'm like HEY don't u see @goraina over there selling a billion comics?
That's "@goraina" as in Raina Telgemeier, author of Smile and Drama. And Hicks is right; Telgemeier's books just go flying off bookstore and library shelves. And have you seen the pictures she's been posting on her blog from talks and signings she's been doing lately while promoting Drama? Huge crowds, and very devoted, adoring fans... and most of them are younger than 14.

Scholastic has been doing a FANTASTIC job publishing really great comics. Besides, Telgemeier's work, they've got Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series, Frank Cammuso's Knights of the Lunch Table books... they published Jeff Smith's Bone for crying out loud! And it's not just Scholastic. Random House has been very successful with Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm's Baby Mouse and Amulet Books is making a killing from Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Kids are reading comics, just not the ones that are being sold through the direct market.

Perazza has a great point, though, that a lot of the reason for that is getting comics to where the kids are. Scholastic, of course, has been in the kids' book market for decades so they've got that down. For them, I don't think doing comics (which, as I recall, primarily started with Bone) was much of a change, really. They use much the same marketing and distribution, it's just that the contents of the books have more than one picture at the start of each chapter. The stories are just as relevant and engaging, and that's what Scholastic is selling.

So it's not a matter of comics writ large having to crack the kids' market. It's been cracked and there's lots in there for kids already. It's that the publishers who have spent decades insulating themselves with the direct market system are unwilling/unable to take notes anything outside that same DM system. I read a quote from, I think, Alan Moore recently where he was complaining that American comics looked like copies of copies of copies of copies of stuff that Stan Lee had written in the early 1960s. It's a valid complaint in many respects, but what's also interesting is that the publishers have treated the business as a whole in exactly the same way. The marketing and distribution of "mainstream" comics are copies of copies of copies of copies of copies of ideas that have been in use for decades. Or have you all forgotten the variant covers of Spider-Man #1 or X-Men #1 from over twenty years ago?

You ever hear those stories of the comics publishers in the 1940s and '50s claiming that their readership was three or four times higher than the number of comics they actually published? Their thinking was that each issue that was sold was loaned/traded/re-sold several times. That's one reason (among many, to be fair) why so many older comics, which were printed in the hundreds of thousands, are rare today: kids kept passing them around to the point where the comics literally fell apart. With that in mind, let me leave you with this image swiped from Telegmeier's blog and ask when the last time you saw a copy of Action Comics published in the last 40 years that looked like this...
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Anonymous said...

Kleefeld, you get it! I'm a school librarian in a small preK-gr. 8 private school, and many of my students love comics - Raina Telgemeier's SMILE is definitely one of them. Right now, kids from 3rd through 8th grade are crazy for the AMULET series, boys in middle school are devouring Chris Schweizer's CROGAN ADVENTURE books, and girls in 3rd through 8th grade are reading and loving ERNEST & REBECCA and DANCE CLASS, two series from Papercutz. Several 4th and 5th grade girls have stated that graphic novels are their favorite form of reading, and several 2nd and 3rd grader boys also prefer graphic novels. They would read superhero comics if those comics were written to be suitable for them, and some of the boys are asking me for Spider-Man, the Hulk, Superman, Batman, and Iron Man comics. The Youth Services librarians at my local public library tell me the same thing is happening with their young patrons. Kids do love comics. It's that plain and simple.