Sunday, October 21, 2007

What's the problem with DC? (And Marvel too?)

Personally, I think they are just plain stupid. They've spent too much time catering to a small, specific audience that they are completely oblivious as to the fact that not only is their audience actually more diverse than they are, but that their potential audience has positively exploded recently.

I mean, sure, DC (finally) started a of line stand alone graphic novels for teen girls - a line that has absolutely nothing to do with the characters they are famous for - but well, that's pretty much it. Which, considering some of the huge changes and opportunities in recent years, is just ridiculous.

(I know even certain Fangirls have thought this next bit was a weird point when I've brought it up before, so let me see if I can explain this a little better this time.)

Marvel and DC consistently put out an insane amount of movie-tie-in books for kids when their superhero movies come out, but none of them is ever comics or a graphic novel. Why?

In addition to the teen manga that's been in the store since we opened, the bookstore now has a section just for graphic novels for kids. We've had it for about a year. It started out as less than one shelf; it now takes up more than a whole bay. (Partly because they recently changed how we shelve things; beginning reader graphic novels used to be shelved with beginning readers.)

I might try counting them today to be sure, but I think there are more titles about Marvel and DC characters in Beginning Readers than there are in the graphic novel section. I'm fairly certain the Disney has more graphic novels in the kids section than Marvel and DC do, combined. Hell, Disney (ok, technically Disney licensed titles by Tokyopop) even ties Marvel and DC individually for graphic novels in the teen area - and easily outsells DC. (Marvel is saved from getting beaten by Kingdom Hearts by the ever popular Runaways.)

What the hell? It's not like their non-graphic movie-tie-in books don't sell. It's not like graphic novels don't sell to kids. Why are there practically no graphic novels by DC and Marvel for kids? It just makes no sense.

It's not like, unlike Scholastic, they are being asked to try a new format. They kinda already know of to do comics. It's not like this wouldn't get them new customers for their actual comics. A lot of the kids asking for Bone or Pokemon books are not already comics readers. Some of them may be, but, judging by how often they have to fight with their parents in order to buy a graphic novel, I doubt they all make regular trips to the comic store. And while parents are still quite skeptical of the literary value of sequential art, they are less reluctant to let their kids buy a thick graphic novel at bookstore than a very thin comic book in a store where most of the books on display feature porn-esque and graphically violent covers. These now elementary kids, however, will be much more likely to spend their allowance as a teen on Marvel or DC comics if they get attached to Marvel and DC characters now.

It's not a given that these kids who are getting hooked on Bone are going to start walking into comic books stores and buying comics by DC or Marvel once they can do so; it's not a given that any kid who might do this will do it no matter what. It's also not a given that their love of the Batman movies will remain strong enough over the years to give them a reason to go to comic book stores when they are old enough to do so alone. But that's exactly what DC and Marvel are assuming is true.

And don't tell me that superheroes just aren't highly popular among kids - boys and girls. Fantasy novels are extremely popular at the moment for much the same reasons that comic fans are fans of comics. Very few of the most popular kid and teen novels in recent years would have sold as well as they did if kids didn't love heroes with special powers and/or gadgets.

You can see this same obliviousness play out in how they didn't capitalize on the goodwill and interest generated among non-comic reading adults through the popularity of the X-Men and Batman movies. I actually got interested in comics because I loved the first X-Men movie. Being a book person, I wanted to read the books too. But it took me several years to become a regular at my local comic store because nothing I found there reminded me of the movies. It was Runaways, Buffy, and finding fellow fangirls to give me some advice on what to try that finally did the trick.

I can't be the only one who got excited about comics because of the movies. I can't be the only one turned off by the in-crowd mentality among comic fans (yeah, I'm looking at you, Dale Carnegie acolytes), the vast differences in tone (read: porn style covers and other common complaints) between the comics and the movies, and just how incredibly confusing it all is to newbies. And, again, how dismissive even usually helpful fans are of legitimate complaints. "But you can always look it up on on wikipedia!" is not a helpful response to "Damn, these backstories are confusing." I'm not looking for more HW to do, thank you. Are there any titles that don't require research? Because if not, I'm going back to the manga section. At least there I can easily order back issues if needed.

I know I can't be the only one, because much of the anger over the MJ statue came from newbies and non-comics readers who loved the movies. I don't think that the lesson of the MJ kerfluffle is that "sex sells". I think Marvel and DC should have taken it as a sign that they have a bigger fanbase than they thought, and that they need to treat these new fans with respect or they will lose them before they ever really had a chance to get to know them. A lot of what this means, btw, is truth in advertising. Don't put cheesecake covers on non-cheesecake comics. Don't pretend that the MJ statue isn't about sex or confuse accusations of objectification with being accused of simply showing something sexual. Don't respond to complaints by saying that it fits her character; it doesn't fit her character as the movie fans know it, and telling them that the movie doesn't count is hardly going to get them coming back and buying your stuff. Instead, explain the idea of multiverse to the newbies and direct these new fans to something that they will like. And when you have trouble doing that last, take a good, hard look at the lack of diversity in your current products.

I don't know if their recent corpse on the kitchen floor was a deliberate diss to feminist fans or not. I think it's kind of like arguing whether someone meant to be deliberately insulting when they said something sexist. It's not the intentions I care so much about, but the effect of the sexism. Whatever their intention, DC just demonstrated once again that they are completely oblivious to both the diversity of their audience and the diversity of their potential audience.

So, was DC being stupid or sexist with their latest blunder? Well, like Pandagon, this is a both/and blog. DC was both stupid and sexist for killing you know who, and leaving her on the damn kitchen floor. Seriously DC, this is why I think twice every time one of your comics looks interesting. And don't even think I've forgotten how much you can suck too, Marvel.

Edited: for grammar, spelling, etc. And to add that I did go ahead and count up the number of DC and Marvel titles in the kid's manga/comics section. Combined, they have a grand total of four titles. One copy each. To put things into perspective, there are two Yu-Gi-Oh! titles, with about four copies each. Seven Babymouse titles, with about 3-6 copies each. Eight Captain Underpants, with a full faceout and backstock for almost every title. One title each for Artemis Fowl and Warriors. The former has a full faceout, but that's because it's a new arrival, it will likely shrink down to just a few copies like the latter within a month or two. All of these books are thicker and larger than the Marvel and DC titles, so that makes the latter really hard to see when browsing.


SallyP said...

Nicely said. And politely, too!

Fox in the Stars said...

Thank you for bringing up the dismissive treatment of movie fans; I saw and was very annoyed by that in the whole MJ-gate thing---even as someone who knew comics-MJ and didn't like movie-MJ! None of my problems with the movies make it okay to tell movie fans they don't know anything and the character *they* want to see is worthless. You couldn't come up with a better way to alienate newbies and potential allies if you tried!

bellatrys said...

DC thought hiring Jodi Picoult to write WW was a good idea that would make them money.

This pretty much proves your point in any possible direction, although it's going to take me forty minutes or more of keyboard ranting to lay it all out in a post.