On a somewhat related topic to the last post, there’s been some interesting discussion going on over at Comics Alliance and on Twitter about comics publishers’ failure to capture new readers, even when other media outings for superheroes are massively successful. Why do people flock to see The Avengers in their millions, but only a few then seek out comics with those characters at comic stores? Comixology’s CEO talks about the 75 million sales of digital comics through their app and mentions that "We know we’re reaching a ton of first time comic book readings and reaching a lot of people who can’t, for one reason or another, get to a local comic store" in the interview here, but since the emphasis always seems to be on printed media, what would get new readers dipping their toes in there?
A number of interesting points raised, about what accessibility to new readers actually means and whether publishers and creators who are on the inside looking out understand how it feels to be on the outside looking in, the pure saturation of titles with no way to know what’s “new reader friendly”.
(Marvel’s recent .1 initiative was supposed to mark an ideal jumping point for new readers, but the titles themselves didn’t reflect that. That’s not even getting into the fact that adding a decimal point to already complex numbering helps how? Or that the only people Marvel seemed to tell about this initiative were current readers or those reading comics related PR. Just how was a new reader, coming into a store for the first time, supposed to gravitate towards those titles in a sea of others? Even my friendly local comics store owner was bemused by that.)
One exception that proves the rule seems to be The Walking Dead, which appears to have managed the difficult task of converting viewers into readers, both in digital and in print. The trade releases have been cited as being the main reason the graphic novels sales for the last year look so healthy, the 100th issue was recently announced as the biggest selling comic of the last 15 years and certainly, in my local store, the owner can’t seem to keep the books on the shelves. So why has that comic so effectively converted mass media appeal into sales?
Surely some of it has to be down to the uniqueness of the product within a sea of superhero books, but that explains why it may have been popular to start with, but not the explosion of new readers since.
So, there’s an obvious conclusion to reach. Walking into a local comic or book store and scanning for The Walking Dead isn’t a daunting experience. There’s about a dozen or so trade collections, all clearly numbered so you know what order to read in. The ongoing has a 100 issues. All neatly numbered, not rebooting every dozen or so. The short answer is that The Walking Dead is accessable in ways that most of the Big Two’s output isn’t, even with DC’s reboot trick. If you like Batman, what Batman book should you buy? Which order do you need to read in? What’s the difference between the books? If you missed some issues, which trade do you pick up, and so on.
It’s the reason why, at least for a little while, Ultimate Comics was a successful exercise. Before getting bogged down with its own continuity, or lack thereof, there were divisions. It wasn’t perfect because, well, how did any new reader walking into a comic store for a first time know what Ultimate was compared to other Spider-man books, but it certainly helped.
There has to be a reason why The Walking Dead has been so successful bringing in new comic readers and why the Nu DC has been merely recycling.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, while the characters are as popular as ever, the bloated nature of most comics and publisher’s output makes them a niche product rather than something that is likely to reclaim the mainstream audience enjoyed in the past.