Sunday Roundtable: How Would Get New Comic Readers?

JLA Roundtable raw more comic readersSundays are known for their talking heads sitting around a table talking about pertinent topics, and pontificating with their expertise. We gather the Graphic Policy Team each Sunday to do exactly that in our Sunday Roundtable.

This weeks topic, what can publishers and creators do to try to get new readers into comics?

Alex: Not relaunch their comics every five minutes?

Brett: Bwahahahahaha!

Elana: You don’t think the new readers more likely to pick up a comic book that says it’s number one in a series? Because I imagine that people are more likely to do that. People find it intimidating entering something at issue one hundred. That said when they’ve done some relaunches they haven’t been honest brokers and actually began something in a clear way from the first issue.

If your issue one is not new reader friendly and then why the hell is it issue 1?

I don’t recall how Marvel‘s .1 initiative went. It seemed like a possible solution. I figured the problem was that potential new readers didn’t know it was happening.

Alex: I think you hit the nail on the head there. Marvel’s .1 happened over such a long time that it was easy to forget it happened. And the constant relaunches aren’t as all encompassing as DC‘s New 52 tried to be (but even that was convoluted as to what did and didn’t happen).

If you’re going to relaunch something, don’t build it on, or keep referring too, stories new readers would not have read.

Also, with the amount of new number 1’s, nothing feels as if they’re going to stick around. If a comic makes it to 20 issues, then it feels as if it’s been a long running series…

Elana: How do you reconcile needing to have new number ones for people with helping people feel invested in something for a longer time? I still think that ultimately this is a real challenge. But if they stagger things so that there are some long-term pieces while there are other more contained comics and they can make it clear from the start was going to be what that could help.

Alex: That’s just it; there’s no good answer to that; you can ether have a long running series and whenever there is a new arc do what Valiant have been doing and have it announced in the cover, or have a mix of miniseries and some longer running comics (even a 12 issues maxi series could work).

How feasible that really is, though, I have no idea.

Daphne: The most prohibitive thing for me when I started getting into comics was not having an idea of where to begin. From an outsider’s perspective, when you look at the yearly events, the vast amount of characters, the ridiculous deaths and plot twists and retcons and alternate dimensions, it’s almost impossible to figure out where to start. Ignoring things like the fan culture around a given property potentially keeping new comers away (because that’s a whole other can of worms), the biggest thing for me was worrying I’d start with a story arc that ended up going nowhere or didn’t matter to the character’s backstory or plot, or get really invested in a character that was just going to get ignored for years or written out entirely.

I think a great way to get new people into comics would be to annually or semi-annually create some kind of summary of a property or franchise explaining the world and the current status quo. “Interested in getting into The Splendiferous Stilt-Man? Here’s everything you need to know!” Making something like that available to people would do a lot to alleviate the feeling that any given comic is slowly collapsing under the weight of its own canon and there’s no good point to start reading.

This, I think, is the one thing the MCU has done best. Whether I agree with all their decisions or not, the writers have been creating a very specific and clearly defined universe with what are for millions of non-readers now the definitive versions of characters. Not only is it easier to keep track of everyone right now but the writers also excised a lot of the weirder aspects of comics. “Ultron is an evil robot Tony Stark created who tried to destroy humanity and was defeated, then never came back” is way better than “one time Ultron uploaded his consciousness into the nanites in Tony Stark’s body and reshaped his body and armor into the form of a naked silver woman because he’s in love with Hank Pym”. Maybe some of the fun bits and pieces get lost along the way from time to time, but the popularity of the MCU films made it much easier for me to feel like I had a basic grasp on characters and plot and then go right to the new updated series for characters like Ms. Marvel so I could see how she’d eventually fit into the films. It makes it simpler for casual observers or people like me who want to get into comics but don’t have any idea where to start (and don’t want to ask online and get a million conflicting, argumentative answers) actually figure out what they want to read and where to begin.

Avoiding relaunching comics and massive yearly events that reshape the status quo but not really thanks to editorial mandates to bring back certain things would help too. But a basic “here’s this character, this is her backstory, her current plot line is this and involves these people” on a website or even in comic form would do so much.

Elana: They can start freaking advertising them in the first place by doing advertisements on Facebook for example. We have long said that everyone who says they like the Avengers movie should be seeing Facebook ads for Avengers comics that are new reader friendly. This is marketing 101.

They can let the public know they have diverse characters and genres and tones and bring on more diversity in the writers and artists so that people who have assumed that comics aren’t for them can see themselves represented.

They can also do a better job of making it clear which comics are aimed at children and getting those in to the book market would go a long way.

No more mega crossovers.

Alex: When I first started reading comics, and in many ways when I’m thinking of new series now, there were no big events happening on a yearly basis. Yeah, there were multi part stories, but those multipart stories were almost always contained within the comic. Like Daphne and Elana have said, the major events are turning people off from getting into comics (or starting new series).

Christopher: Honestly, I think a large chunk of it, has to do with proper marketing and advertisement. Especially given the popularity of superhero/comic book based tv shows and movies. However, Marvel and DC both really need to stop with the reboot/re-launch things, it kind of screws people over who are just trying to get into comics. Even third parties like Image, Dark Horse, Vertigo, Action Labs, etc; aren’t as well known as their mainstream counterparts. That may be a better place to start, since they don’t tend to do reboots. Also companies should embrace apps, like comiXology, iBooks, Kindle since given the accessibility of most technology,it would make a good point to start there, with introduction series.

Monique: Personally I would simply say advertising outside of the comic book environment. I never see comics advertised unless I’m at a comic con or comic book store. When advertised in these environments, it’ll be hard to gain a lot of new customers. (Assuming the majority there are already into comics). The only way I find out about other comics is by when I’m reading them and I see the ads in them. Plus since it’s already something I love, I will take the time out to see what is out there.

Furthermore, I find that the people who aren’t really into comics aren’t around the people who like them. For example, my father is a huge comic book fan and that definitely has had an influence over my love for the comic book universe.

Alex: I’d never really thought about the advertising, or lack there of, of comics outside of the comic book community, but that makes absolute sense. Rather than spread your existing readership thin, advertise elsewhere an bring in new blood.

Do you guys think television ads would work, maybe for trades, or billboards…?

Christopher: Probably start with billboards, with a mix of advertisements on it. TV ads may reach a lot larger of audience but with. TiVo and such things, who knows if they are actually watching the ads

Elana: Facebook ads are cheap, targeted and infinitely scalable. The Shield TV show should run ads for Shield related comics. But generally let’s start with a sane contextual marketing campaign in Facebok.

Daphne: I could see television ads working. “You’ve seen the movies, now get the WHOLE story. Marvel’s Civil War, blah blah blah…” is a pretty logical opening for a commercial.

Brett: What about just an ad/url during movies or on the tv shows? Or doing a digital comic tie-in with Fandango (or printed comic to hand). I think I’ve seen the latter two, but doesn’t feel like it’s common.

Alex: Walking Dead has their Second Screen app to use during live tv screenings. Obviously this couldn’t work during a movie in the theater, but you could probably program something to work during a Blu-ray viewing.

Monique: I think an add/url during the movies would be great as it puts an emphasis on the fact that these films and TV shows were originally comics.

Daphne: Plus, free stuff! I’d love getting a free comic with a movie ticket. I used to beg my parents to see things like the Pokemon movies when they were giving away free cards. It’d bring in even more younger fans and curious newcomers too.

Brett: So interesting spin on this. When The Walking Dead hit, folks I know who have never read a comic, grabbed trade paperbacks and started reading those comics. But, have don’t that with the Avengers. There was a point I’d see multiple people with Walking Dead trades in my commute. Why did that show clearly bring people in, when other comics, it’s not quite as clear they have?

Monique: I always assumed it was because DC And Marvel have had comics since late 1930’s and The Walking Dead collection doesn’t look daunting? Because when i started buying comics sometimes I felt like as if I needed some previous comics from many years ago.

Daphne: I think it’s definitely because TWD has a much less daunting, more simplistic premise compared to a decades-long superhero epic. People who’ve never seen a zombie movie still know how zombie movies work. People who’ve never read a Black Panther comic book usually don’t know what his powers are or how he works.

Brett: Both very interesting points.

Alex: You can also read the entire The Walking Dead released so far in a reasonable time. It’s a cohesive story that isn’t mired in continuity. Plus it has zombies.

Brett: And as far as solid marketing, we see “street teams” with so many products where they go out and do some grassroots marketing, where’s that for comics?

Daphne: For better or for worse, I think comics and nerd culture in general have the opposite – the die-hard fans aren’t usually the ones trying to share what they love with other people, they’re the ones angriest when comics try to become more mainstream or diverse or accessible to newcomers. Just about every girl I know who isn’t into comics but wants to be avoids it because the fan base is so insular. It’s the reason I do all my comic shopping digitally – I worry about how a girl in a comic book store is going to be treated. I’ve heard too many horror stories.

But I was hesitant to bring that up because it feels like it’s big enough to be a whole topic all to itself.

Brett: A topic for another roundtable!

Elana: Daphne if your ever in NYC I’m taking you comic shopping!

Daphne: Deal!

Christopher: I think the closest thing that the industry has to this, is Free Comic Book Day. While it may not be a large thing in the mainstream media, it certainly does tend to bring in “newbies” for comics. Downside the comics offered seemed to have a mixed audience appeal. However maybe instead of getting into comics as an adult getting them as a kid may end this unnecessary elitism

Alex: I think that in many ways, and for better or for worse, we (comic book websites, blogs and the like) serve a similar function as the street teams. But we don`t reach the non comics fans in the way an actual team would do, and really, while we want to encourage people to read comics, we`re not going to blindly advertise a comic that we think is awful or offensive.

So really we`re not like them at all. I had a point to make here, and I’ve lost it.

Brett: Is the issue at hand that the publisher’s goal is to sell to stores and not directly to customers, which is the store’s job?

Monique: Both perhaps?

Alex: Aye; the publisher just wants to move units and may not be thinking as much about an audience as they probably should be. The bigger the publisher, the less likely it will be for every comic to be read, unlike smaller publishing houses like (to an extent) Valiant, 21 Pulp and Action Lab.

Brett: And with that, we’ll wrap up this roundtable. Sound off with what you think in the comments below!

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3 comments

  • I think an important factor in this debate is the trades vs single issue sales. In our store, we always keep volume one of trade paperbacks. People don’t want to jump into issue 50 of Batman, so we get them started in the trades. A lot of times when they get caught up, they switch to single issues. This happens with Saga all the time in our store. Other people are willing to wait months for the next trade. Marvel is so quick at releasing trades, but DC takes FOREVER to come out with them. I wanted to recommend Gotham Academy to people, but it too so long for volume one to come out that we ran out of single issues to continue the story.

    This is going to sound worse than I mean it, but to get new readers, we really target kids in our store. They are the next generation of readers. They are our customers in 3, 5, 10, 15 years. We have a great kids section. We have kids with their own pull list just with titles like My Little Pony. Mom and/or Dad have a pull list, and the kid has one too. Mom and Dad can get their comics, and the kid gets one too. It’s a family event on our store for everyone. For parents that don’t read comics but the kid’s are interested, we have statistics to tell them about how it can improve SAT scores. We even have one parent who enrolled their kid into a comic reading class to help with dyslexia. We also tell them comics are good rewards for good grades. For Christmas, they slip nicely into a stocking from Santa.

    There is one HUGE problem with kids comics though. DC and Marvel don’t have ANY kids comics. So many of our kids want to read Deadpool, but there’s not series that’s appropriate for children. There’s some Batman titles like Lil’ Gotham and Bat Mite, but nothing ongoing. There’s a huge market for young readers the Big Two aren’t taking advantage on. Instead, out highest sold kids comics are My Little Pony (IDW), TMNT (IDW), Sonic (Archie), Steven Universe (Boom), and Over the Garden Wall (I forget their company at the moment). Those last two titles are big hits in the tween to teen age group. The big two really need more superhero comics for children. And I AM NOT talking about the screen caps turned comics for their Marvels Ultimate Universe comics. Those are horrible. If the kids watch the show, then why would they want to read a comic of something they’ve already seen?

    There also needs to be comics for the 8-12 age range. A lot of kid’s comics are too young for these readers, but parents don’t want them to read the Joker hacking off his face in Batman. This is another section that need to be address for new readers.

    • Sounds like exactly how it should be done. And yes, there’s a bunch of publishers that have major holes in their lines for kids.

      • There’s also silly choices DC has made recently that made me scratch my head. One big issue recently was the Teen Titans Go! variant covers. I get it’s a popular show, but do NOT put it on adult comics. We had so many young children trying to buy Harley Quinn, Grayson, and Batman thinking they were Teen Titans Go! comics. We had to explain to the parents why it wasn’t appropriate, and we had crying children in our store. I’m sorry but don’t stick a kid show variant on a cover where Joker’s cutting off his face on the inside! That’s not smart! We lost sales because we refused to sell these comics to seven year old kids! On the reverse side, adults without kids didn’t wanted to buy the variant since it was a kids show. It was frustrating month as a store.