Friday, February 3, 2012

Women and Children First: How to Save Comics

Came across a great interview (thanks to Blog@Newsarama) with Former DC Comics editor Janelle Asselin at the Tumblr site DC Women Kicking Ass. Janelle, in addition to being an editor at DC during the recent relaunch of the "New 52", also wrote her Master's thesis on women and comics. Some of her conclusions on how to reach the underserved half of America include (bolding added):

The primary conclusions I made from my research are that there are four different ways the comics industry can adjust to increase sales to an often excluded demographic that just happens - oh yeah - to make up over 50% of America. Those four ways are better marketing towards women, more inclusive content, more effective distribution, and changing the cultural preconceptions of comics. ...

The thing that surprised me the most was that the answers, as I saw them anyway, were not insane, drastic measures that companies would need to take. These are all within the grasp of comics publishers and retailers. Obviously the cultural preconceptions are difficult to change, but with the other three being adjusted, that would come eventually. It just takes actually considering women of any age a viable market for comics.
Blog@ pointed to the most salient section of the interview:
I cannot speak strongly enough about how interrelated I think women and children readers are and how both are extremely important to the future of comics. Women make 80% of the retail purchases in America. EIGHTY PERCENT. And that means that more often than not, if a kid is shopping, it’s with mom. So if the comic industry wants to have a future and hook readers young, they need to target both women and children. If a woman is reading comics, she’ll be more likely to let her kid read comics. And if a kid is raised in a house where one or both parents read comics, I think we all already know that he or she will be more likely to read comics. Kids who never know comics exist are going to have a hard time finding them when they’re at an age that most superhero comics are geared towards. And even better in all of this is the fact that if mom reads comics, she’ll have no problem with her daughters reading comics, which increases the future female readership of comics as well as just the future male readership of comics. There’s no loss here for the comics industry. It just takes foresight. Creating more comics for kids and women, making sure they know they exist, and making sure they’re accessible could genuinely change the future of the industry. Some publishers are already doing a great job making stuff for one or both (Top Shelf and Archaia both leap to mind). We just need a greater segment of the industry to take those demographics seriously.
Janelle says, quite compellingly, what so many people have been saying for so long. The Big Two need to change if they're going to survive. But for reasons unknown, they never do—and comics sales decline every year. I wonder if it's a parochialism, where they are simply not INTERESTED in catering to anyone who is not exactly like them, or if it's simply the fact that comic books have always been such a skin-of-your-teeth kind of enterprise (all the creators barely scraping by on pittances; everyone falling behind deadline; everyone just trying desperately to finish the book/page they're working on RIGHT NOW) that no one over there has made it a priority to take a break, breathe deep, stop working, and really THINK about the future, and how they can possibly sustain their business if they keep selling to the same 30-somethings (now becoming 40-somethings, and soon becoming 50-somethings...) without ever engaging new markets and new readers. Whatever the reason, things have gotta change—for good or ill.

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