Friday, 5 April 2013

Variety Is The Spice of Comics Pt. 3: Getting Your Friend's Hooked.

Or how variety in comics is amazing and generally a good idea.

I spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to get friends to try reading comics. Most of this stems from the fact that I really, really enjoy reading comics and want to share that experience with the people I care about (as any good geek should). Part of this is maybe also motivated by the fact that I don't really have any comic friends, so it would be cool to convert a friend or two. But on a far more mercenary level, I think convincing a friend to read, and to maybe even buy comics is important for comics as an industry.

Comics, as we try to avoid thinking about, are a commodity. Comics creators are a kind of artisan that produce a specialized commodity for a niche consumer. Publishing companies, some merely facets of giant multinational media empires, act as merchant/distributors and bring the commodity to a retailer (a comic shop/bookstore/web ap/whatever) who then sells the product to consumers. As much as creators, publishers, and retailers are all important cogs in the comics machine, there would not be a comics industry without consumers. (I mean, I'm sure some people would still make and share comics they made for fun... but business-driven professional comics require someone to eventually buy them.) To a certain extent, the pool of comics consumers, the market for the weird, amazing commodity that is comics, dictates how much comics can viably be made and supports the people that actually make the things we care about.

In that light, bringing in new comics readers increases the size of the comics market and, as such, increases the amount of money available to comics which thereby increases the amount of comics that can/will be produced and the amount of money that eventually reaches creators (who are great).  I know that in the years since a friend of mine slipped me a disk of bootleg comics in an Integral Calculus class I have spent THOUSANDS of dollars on comics and as such I have contributed to the continuance and manufacture of more comics. The way I figure it, every friend of mine I can convince to read and purchase comics represents money that is being fed into the comic machine that would otherwise not be there.

(And yes, my friends often liken me to a drug dealer.)

So back to convincing my friends and loved ones to try reading comics. I have found that most people are not interested in reading superhero comics. It's not that Superhero comics are stigmatized, really, it's that they are a known (or presumed to be known) quantity. Everyone thinks they know what Superhero comics are and has an opinion concerning whether or not they would like to read them. (And I would argue that everyone who is interested in reading superhero comics basically already is, and if they aren't, it isn't very hard for them to change that.) As a result, I have found that the trick to convincing people to try reading comics is to present them with the kind of smart, mature, well-written and beautifully drawn non-superhero comics that most people don't know or appreciate exist.

Almost universally, I have found that Y The Last Man is a perfect first comic to spring on the kind of people I am friends with. The comic has a very accessible and addictive script: it has a compelling central mystery and rolls out a relentless series of cliff hangers that keeps readers glued to the series. Moreover from a writing perspective, the comic manages to present extremely well realized, likeable characters, a snappy sense of humour, and a maturity and level of discourse that civilians are frequently surprised to find in comics. Paired with this is really accessible art: on the one hand it looks nice and services the story well and on the other it has a low panel count in conventional layouts and really doesn't experiment too much. Y The Last Man is also kind of the perfect length for a first comic reading experience. It's not so long that new readers burn out, but still long enough that they get to experience a fair amount of comics before reaching the end. Basically, Y The Last Man is a perfect storm of comics for new people. 

That said, in my experience everyone has a different taste in media and wants slightly different things from the experience of it. Part of what makes Y The Last Man such a powerful gateway comic, beyond its execution, is that it manages to straddle a lot of genres and emotional responses simultaneously. Everyone I have ever lent it to has enjoyed it, but frequently for slightly different reasons... and from those responses come critical information about what comes next. And this is where variety (and hence the title of this blog entry) comes in.

(That didn't take a long time to get to at all...)

One of the more successful comic conversions I've had is a coworker I'll call subject A (one that has actually resulted in a comics purchase!). With  this person I started with Phonogram which yielded pay dirt with The Singles Club but not Rue Britannia (which was too myopic for her). I then leant her Y The Last Man which she DEVOURED as fast as I would lend it to her. She then tried and enjoyed Scott Pilgrim, the output of Faith Erin Hicks, and Chew. She finally tried Julia Wertz's The Infinite Wait and Other Stories and was blown away and went and bought her first comic in Drinking at the Movies (well second comic, she gift-exchange-stole The Manhattan Projects: Science  Bad. at our work Xmas party). She is currently slowly working her way through the Runaways and Octopus Pie (which she quite enjoys). Basically, she likes fun, humorous  not super-intense comics that she can relate to.

A similar success story comes from a guy on my soccer teams... who I will call Subject 2. He too devoured Y The Last Man when I leant it to him. From there I tried giving him Chew... which he thought was too ridiculous and silly. So I leant him Criminal, which he apparently likes a lot and is slowly reading in fits and starts. While I am still figuring out what Subject 2 is really into, it seems he likes intense, realistic, page-turning comics.

Which is all proof that not everyone wants to read the same kind of comics. Moreover, it is evidence that the people who are not interested in Superhero comics immediately may be interested in other comics, and that finding what comics they like is mostly a matter of finding what genre of fiction they enjoy. And this is where variety comes in: the more KINDS of comics that are being made, the more likely a new reader will be able to find a comic that fits their media needs exactly (or the more likely I will find that perfect comic to force on my friends). 

To take this idea a step further, maybe the way we can expand the audience, and therefore the market, for comics is not by making better and better and better superhero comics, but by making ALL KINDS of different comics. That way everyone can find the comic they want to read. And who knows? Maybe that will lead to them trying a comic. 

And then another.

And another.

Variety is the Spice of Comics Pt. 1: Pony Up
Variety is the Spice of Comics Pt. 2: Year in Review

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