Why Comic Book Publishing is Doomed

Here’s why comic book publishing is doomed…

Stopped at the local library today and thought it would be fun to see what comics and graphic novels they had on the shelves. And for some reason, I made the mistake of asking the aging librarians where to find…well, let me just tell you how it went.

ME: Hi, I’m looking for comics and graphic novels.


ME: Comic books, graphic novels. Do you have a section for them?

LIBRARIAN: (loudly to other librarian) He wants to know if we have “comic books”?

And in that moment, I regretted even asking. I could feel their harsh literary judgment scalding me, and I  wished that I’d asked if they had a porn section.

LIBRARIAN #2: Graphic novels? YA.

ME: Thanks. I see it…

LIBRARIAN: Go over to that section marked “YA.” That’s for “Young Adults and Teens.” That’s where we keep graphic novels.

ME: Thanks.

LIBRARIAN: Teen section.

ME: Thanks.

Okay. Back to the “doomed” part.

Comic book publishing is doomed if the industry continues to market comics and graphic novels to kids. Kids don’t buy comics like they used to. By and large, adults are buying comics. Don’t believe me? Go to the comic store and observe who is going up to the register to buy comics.

And let’s face it, what adult wants to be shopping or even browsing in the “teen” section of a bookstore or library.

Stop marketing comics as teen literature and make it easier for adults to shop for comics.

13 thoughts on “Why Comic Book Publishing is Doomed

  1. John,

    Thanks for the intelligent response. And for those of you who dont recognize John’s email address, he works for Diamond Comics. Diamond is the primary distributor of comic books in this country. They have distributed comics that I have written and published. Anyway, that’s a shorthand way of letting you know that John knows the business of comics, which is healthy for this discussion.

    To that…

    I think the most important element here is that comics are doomed if we continue to position them as “youth entertainment.” We hear that all the time in this industry, that comics are “for the kids.”

    But really, they arent. They just arent made for kids anymore. You can get some comics for kids, but they are the minority.

    And this is why comics are doomed. We have a product that is targeted to an older demographic of around 16-30 and mostly male. And yet that very audience must go and shop for a product that is widely perceived as being “for kids.”

    That’s how we (as the comic book industry) have positioned comics. As youth entertainment.

    I dont want to be judged as being some kind of weirdo who’s into “kid stuff.” And yet, as a general rule, adult comic book buyers are viewed that way.

    And unless we change these perceptions about comic book buyers, this industry is doomed.

  2. Pingback: Why Newspapers Are Doomed « Words-Pictures-Web

  3. On Tue, Jul 1, 2008 at 11:27 PM, LUCKY STRIKE wrote:

    Dear Buddy
    Hey I don’t know any Kids 12 younger buying Comics…but I do see them buying the illustrated novels…Some folks don’t get them..( Comics ) ( what they are all about.)
    I will tell you that Comics will never be Doomed..It started on Cave Walls and will continue.
    That said..How the Heck you been? I hope family is well…is your Daughter still taking pictures? as soon as I get a good payday I’m shooting for your new book.
    Bryan E.Warner
    as soon as I’m done with this Fun Penciljack project..be assured I’ll be back in swing for Nick Dean to finish ” The Child Eater “

  4. Hey buddy,
    I hate to tell you this, but you went into the wrong library. My sister is and always will be a librarian. She worked at our local library before she got married and moved out. While she was there she set up a new section in the library, a graphic novel section. Its the same at a few other librarys. The woman you ran into was uneducated and completely…well she was a #$&%$. Fill in the blank as you will. People’s view of comics are changing. You just have to talk to the younger librarians, you know the hot ones. Not the crotchety old ones who are stuck in old ways of thinking. Comics are thriving. Some libraries just don’t know how to market them

    Type ya later,

  5. BRYAN: Dont get me wrong. I dont want comics to be doomed. I think it’s a marketing challenge. If we change the marketing and positioning of comics as adult entertainment, it will be easier for adults to read comics. And kids always want to read and see stuff they’re not supposed to (which is why so many kids crave to see R-rated movies).

    And I love your comparison to cave paintings. You’re right, visual communication will never die.

    But nobody had to pay to see cave paintings. They have to pay for comics.:)

    JAMES: Yes, I agree, younger librarians are definitely more in tune with comics. But ask your sister where they rack those books. (Apologies for using “your sister” and “rack” in the same sentence.)

    If my guess is correct, they probably rack graphic novels in Young Adult. This is exactly my point.

    Even if they dont pass judgment on adult readers, that adult reader has to go browse for comics in the teen section. No adult wants to browse comics in the teen section.

    As long as comics and graphic novels are positioned as youth entertainment, it will be difficult to get adult readers to purchase graphic novels for themselves.

  6. Hey, Bryan E.Warner told me to read this.

    I think kids would read comics. They’re not buying comics for sure, but look at what you said:

    “Go to the comic store and observe who is going up to the register to buy comics.”

    I’m 21 and I hate going to a comicbook store because the people in there really do have a “culture”. They mock me for liking certain books, or looking at certain graphic novels, the store owner is like “How do you not like zombies? You’re so strange”.

    I never would have ventured into that shop as a teen because I wouldn;t have had the confidence to get by those attitudes. People who are into comics don’t want you coming into their store unless you’re in their mindset. Imagine a non-comics person going into the store asking “What’s this?” Comic book store guy in the Simpsons had to be based on someone.

    Where did I start reading comics? Newsagents, super market comics (I live in the UK where non-american comics do make it onto the Supermarket stands). I didn’t step into the comics store until I was 18 and saw the Wizard how to draw book and thought “just get in and out”. Was in there for five minutes, and came out with my book and also having been mocked and laughed at by the guys inside. ¬_¬

    Comics are only bought by adults because they’ve all shifted into a specialist store. i.e. there is no access for new readers unless they venture into these den like atmospheres. A few of the bigger bookstores here in the UK now have graphic novels which might help. No other industry tho has a specialist store for their magazine. When did you got to the Movie book shop to buy the latest issue of SFX?

    Grab some comics, throw them at kids and see them eat them up. Web comics which are free also have great readership followings from kids. Manga and comics which have TV shows introduce themselves to kids in places other than the comics stores and build attraction that way.

    Its more shocking to me that publishers perpetuate this model of business which allows such low level of access for new and young readers.

    More general stores would act as brokers.

  7. SMYGBA:
    Excellent comments. It’s terrible that any retailer would be foolish enough to ridicule a potential customer. It sounds like that retailer is unlikely to survive the long haul, or at least that employee will not survive. The comic store close to me http://jokerschild.com is very customer service minded. They know everyone’s name and run a tight ship.

    I suggest you find a new comic store…preferably someone who embraces your inner geek and makes you feel at home with the geekiest of interests.

  8. JAMES: Thanks for the NPR link. I knew of some of those books, but not all of them.

    Ironically, it supports my point.

    If comic books continue to be marketed as entertainment for “children” then comics for adults will always be considered a novelty. This kind of stuff never happens in books and movies.

    That is, nobody is writing articles like “wow, did you know that even adults can go to the movies too?” Nor are they writing articles like “zowie, even adults read novels now, aint that amazing?”

    Comics are widely considered childhood entertainment. It is the kiss of death (or the mark of an emotionally stunted adult) that you read comics as an adults. Want an example? Go watch “40 Year Old Virgin.” The main character is shown reading comics, which signifies that he’s an adult reading child entertainment.

    Again, I reiterate, if comic books are marketed to kids…but we really want adults to read comics too…we are doomed.

  9. The retailer has been around for years. I think he survives on the fact that if you don’t buy from him, its 25 miles and a train ticket fare to the nearest comic store. You gotta remember this is the UK where american comics aren’t as big. I’ve been to three comics stores in various locations and two of them are terrible like this. Someone did suggest switching to online orders, but as someone who doesn’t like reading comics and more likes the art, that seems more for people who read comics by habit.

    Comics is the business of publishing. I’d have thought a good publisher would want to make their product accessible to the widest market possible, but comics seem to love hiding away in a dark corner where only those that know can find them.

  10. SMYGBA: That’s just downright depressing. Shopping for something you love, be it comics or whatever, should be a pleasure. It’s a shame that your local store owner has chosen to make it a misery instead.

    Dont give up though. You may find some local conventions or a better retailer someday. It’s not comics publishing or even retailing that’s failed you, it’s a few bad representatives.

    I’ve actually purchased comics online quite a bit. Personally, I have purchased from Mile High Comics, MidTown Comics, Amazon, eBay, Bud Plant Comic Art, and Bill Cole Enterprises. So far, ALL of them have given me great service. Give them a try!

  11. Pingback: Batman Isn’t a Comic Anymore? « Words-Pictures-Web

Leave a Reply