It’s a fair question in this day and age; comics are becoming more popular with the deluge of comic book movies hitting the silver screen. With almost one a month vying for your attention, it’s understandable that some people are being drawn (back?) into the four-color page. The thing is, despite the innocuous nature of the question when it’s asked in the most innocent of ways, sometimes it can also be somewhat off-putting – especially when it comes with a perceived sneer from one who can easily be said to be one of The Old Guard: those who have been into comics since the first known instance of sequential art was first splattered on a cave wall.
I’m exaggerating, obviously.
But the thing is, I know how intimidating it can be to walk into a comic shop to start looking for comics. Ten years ago I did just that when walking into a new shop in Eastern Canada. While I was in no way subject to the awkward treatment that some are when entering a new comic shop, it was still a little uncomfortable for me at the time; I came from a place where comics and superheroes weren’t exactly as accepted as they are now, and so walking into a new shop as a relative newbie felt a bit… intimidating. It shouldn’t have been. It may be worth noting that my experience of growing up in the South West of England had been a relatively unfriendly environment to a comics fan; now in fairness that may have been simply nothing more than me being the only comics fan I knew, rather than a derision of the medium itself. Regardless, nobody ever asked how new I was to comics, and that’s something that I didn’t know how much I appreciated – especially when going to a new shop.
Instead, they asked whether I was into comics. A subtle difference but a distinct one, and it was upon reading a blog piece (and do you think I was smart enough to save the link so you could read it as well?) that got me thinking; if it could be intimidating for me going into a new shop and being asked that question, and I had been into comics for more than half a decade at that point, somebody who is just now starting to explore the medium could be turned off by some idiot who’s too condescending for their own good – whether in a shop or on the street – asking the same question.
Comics readership isn’t what it once was. We all know that; it’s not a secret. But what can we do to attract new readers? Despite asking such a loaded question, I’m going to focus on one simple thing in particular: us.
While we can’t control what publishers are doing to attract new readers, what we can do is not be pretentious dicks to those new to the medium as they begin to drift into the Circle of Comics Readership (CCR – because this will come up again, and I don’t want to keep typing it all out). If they want to start reading comics by picking stuff up that they recognize from other mediums, whether it be videogames, movies, television, or any other source, then as fellow members of the CCR it falls to us to encourage them to pick up the floppy books they’re interested in.
It shouldn’t matter to us if they want to read one of IDW Publishing’s Disney comics, because as long as they’re buying and reading comics, then there’s a future that includes new readers. After all, is it more important to bring readers into the medium or is it more important to make sure that they only read the Best Stuff?
Comics should be for everybody, and while not everybody will like every comic, people should have the luxury of finding comics they like and don’t like without others looking down their nose at me as I pick up Donald Duck #14.
There is enough negativity in the world without bringing needlessly elitist judgments into the comic book world. Okay, so you can pinpoint with exact geographic accuracy where Atlantis is, and that guy has a Batman tattoo on his stomach, and you over there by the cooler can tell my where the tree that provided the paper for the sheet that Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel created the first version of Superman on. While that’s all well and good (and if you can let me know which tree, I am curious), if somebody is going to a comic shop to pick up Sonic the Hedgehog, My Little Pony, or Mickey Mouse comics, don’t make them feel stupid for not being into grim/dark superheroes.
And I say that knowing full well that I am the pot calling the kettle black.
“Comics should be inclusive.” That statement should extend beyond the call for diverse representation of gender, sexual orientation, religion and nationality within the comics themselves; we, the comic book reading fan base should be open to all comics, whether we read them or not. Saying that comics should be inclusive shouldn’t come with a caveat. There should be no small print saying that “comics are inclusive (but only if you like the predetermined cool stuff, otherwise we’ll laugh at you).” If a person wants to read comics, no matter what comics, then as fellow comic book fans we should be supportive of that. Otherwise, this fantastic method of storytelling may not be around as long as we want it to be. We may not get another seventy-five years out of comics if we keep belittling people for their choice of which comics to read.
I have been guilty in the past of judging the comics I just listed as “Shelf Wasters,” because I couldn’t understand why people would want to read them. Kids, sure, but adults? I couldn’t understand it – why would anybody read stuff like My Little Pony, Mickey Mouse, or Sonic The Hedgehog. It made no sense to me. Then it hit me: people read those comics because they enjoy them. And who am I, who are you, to take that away from them? What right do we have to tell somebody the comic they love is just taking away shelf space from another comic that we probably won’t read because it’s so damn similar to everything else.
Anyway, have you ever tried one of those previously mentioned Shelf Wasters? Because when it comes down to it, I’d much rather have a blast with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck then spend $6 an issue on regurgitated toilet paper like Dark Knight III: The Master Race any day of the week.
My Little Pony may never be my cup of tea, but I’ll be damned if I ever judge somebody for wanting to read it ever again.