Thursday, January 10, 2013

Comics Is An Ass

Today's big announcement in comics is that Jennifer Holm of Babymouse fame has joined the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's Board of Directors. The full announcement is here. The CBLDF's board has included other noteworthy comic creators like Neil Gaiman, Peter David, Larry Marder and Paul Levitz to name a few, so that Holm is now one of them isn't terribly radical for the organization itself. It's a little of a departure in that, I believe it's the first creator they've had who's really operated completely outside the direct market, but Marder was a bit outside that as well once upon a time.

But what I find interesting here is that there's something of a conscious decision on the CBLDF's part to look outside the "normal" or "expected" candidate pool. What I mean by that is that Holm is a BIG DEAL. Three Newberry awards and a very successful book series that's spawned over a dozen sequels in a little over five years. In fact, 2012 was the first year there was only one Babymouse book, but that's because Holm had two books in her OTHER successful comic series, Squish. But you've never heard of Squish because there's pretty much ZERO coverage of it on comics/pop culture/geekdom websites. In fact, besides this CBLDF announcement, there's almost nothing on Holm in those same venues. Despite being selling a shit-ton of comics and getting untold hordes of children into comics in a way that Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, etc. are not.

It's not just that those publishers aren't producing material that is directed towards getting younger audiences involved in comics. Clearly, they know they're not good at that any more and don't waste their money trying. Especially when other book publishers like Random House and Scholastic are doing such a stellar job at it. And I kind of get that most of these comics news sites are catering to the same crowd that are into the properties more geared for adults. Why talk about Holm when most of your audience would rather see pictures of Jamie Alexander on the set of the next Thor movie?

It's a bit of fallacy in following the money. The crowd that's more interested in pictures of Alexander has more disposable cash that can go (directly or indirectly) to publishers and news sites. So it's easy to think that's the way to go. The crowd interested in Holm's work skews younger -- to the point where they don't actually hold jobs and, theoretically, have less cash. But while these people don't have large bank accounts, by and large, they do have a controlling interest in someone who does -- namely, their parents. If little Suzie wants the latest Babymouse book, she's not going to go to Amazon and buy it with her own credit card, she's going to ask Mom or Dad to buy it for her. Maybe she'll get a gift card or something, but the money -- in the ledgers -- looks like it comes from an adult.

And that, I suppose, is what bothers me most about the comics industry writ large these days. It's something that "regular" book publishers figured out decades ago, but comics people are just following the money. I know it's a business and needs to be commercially viable and all, but it's like the people running comic publishing houses these days are still looking at the market in a sophomoric or unrefined way. We can kind of laugh at the zillion-cover-variations style of tactics that keeps getting used, but that limited thinking is causing problems at a much larger level, I think.

Granted, book publishing as we know it is more than a bit older and wiser than comic book publishing, but in the 21st century when every piece of data known to man is almost immediately accessible from my desk, it seems like comic book publishers would be a little more mature in their approach to selling comics. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund seems to get it, why can't the rest of the industry?

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