Thursday, November 11, 2010

Aging Out of Comics: Why Does It Happen?

Here is a good question, why do people abandon something that they like? Why do readers of comics stop reading comics? Why do people who like a certain type of music stop purchasing that music? Or seeing a certain type of film?

Jason Thompson ponders the age old marketing question of how to hold on to an audience, one that, in prior years, would have been reliable readers of a certain type of manga. There is a lively discussion below the initial Live Journal post that I’ve pulled a little bit out of.

What is interesting is watching Jason write about something that I’ve approached many times on this blog. Where are the comics for my age? I had almost stopped buying 7 years ago when, in my late 30’s, nothing spoke to me anymore. Jason wonders why you can’t sell more adult oriented manga to former readers and fans of shonon and shojo manga. And it’s the same with American comics. Marvel and DC have always wondered why they lost readers when they moved on from that “I love the Avengers” phase. Those same people don’t decide, “I’ve grown past Little Mermaid, so I’ll stop going to movies now,” so why not move them to more mature manga?

For the longest time, there was nothing to move to really. Jason is picking up Alan Moore as the natural follow up to reading superheroes, since his work dovetails from Swamp Thing and Superman into Watchmen and Promethea in a natural progression. People stop reading, I believe, because there was no follow up, and there was a social pressure to “move on to adult things”.

What is striking is how all the things that Jason says in regards to “aging out” of manga are the same for the United States and superhero comics if you just replace the words.

And I was exposed to Anime early on, and fully believed that, while Americans were being subjected to Star Trek 3: The Search for Chris Lloyd, the best space opera being made was Be Forever Yamato and Captain Harlock. I saw the adult implications in the kids series even if they were being used as subtext.

I do think that there were bids for the medium to grow up in the 1980’s within American comics, but man it was a hard sell. And I wouldn’t have wanted to have been a pioneer trying to stay in business back then. While DC was foistering Camelot 3000 as a supposed more adult comic, Love and Rockets was starting to come out, if you knew where to look. American Flagg had 10 whole issues of greatness in that series.

Rushthatspeaks has a couple of interesting comments part of the way down:
First, it was difficult for me to find things that suited my tastes as I got older. They turned out to be out there, but I really had to look. Shounen and shoujo get the splash ads in the magazines, the pages at the back of other manga, the bookstore displays and the clever catchphrases….

…it cannot be overemphasized how much American comics shops, who have the adult readers of Watchmen etc. and sell the indie comics meant for adults, used to hate manga. I am not joking nor overstating when I say that at the place that used to harass me, I would come in and ask for manga and be told 'We don't order that ridiculous girlie crap and your boyfriend should know better than to send you in to ask for it'.

At this point my household just goes into the local comics shop, they give us their distributor catalogs, and we do all our ordering ourselves because they have no idea what we are talking about. There is no marketing force behind manga for adults. When we ask company reps at cons, they say it's because it doesn't sell, but I think there may be a bit of a catch-22 loop going there: it doesn't sell because it isn't marketed because it doesn't sell because it isn't marketed...
How is this different than the superhero reader who has decided to move on? How many women were attracted by Sandman to comics only to find that there was… well… nothing to go to? It is a Catch-22, and this goes straight to the heart of the problem here: if you don’t have a market, you need to make one. Somehow. Locally. I spend all of the Alternative Press Expo looking for books that would entertain and appeal to the 44 year old comics lover: me. I found some, but I didn’t find a ton. But that is better than it used to be.

Why aren’t there a lot of adult comics? I’ve blogged before about the fact that I think comics excel at the large moments and fail at the small ones. Subtlety doesn’t play well in comics generally, which makes it less suited for many of the adult themes that you might explore, so it does seem easy to ignore certain stories for lack of ability to pull them off. (Like having a sophisticated script and the worst actors in the world at your disposal. At a certain point, don’t you just give up and go back to doing “Once Upon a Mattress”?)

Rushthatspeaks again:
I don't think any young fans (or at least not the majority of them) actually go around thinking "Aah, Bleach is the shit, but when I turn 21, I am never reading manga again." They may gradually succumb to societal pressure not to do such weird stuff, but I don't think any fandom actually thinks within itself their fandom is something that must be "grown out of." There will always be some people who grow out of it naturally, and some people who go on cosplaying into their 20s and 30s, no matter how embarrassing and awkward it is for everyone else at the anime convention.
Jason seems to think that the 1980’s audience for Alan Moore was willing to move from DC to From Hell in one fell swoop because they were hungry for more adult fare. I think that he’s giving us more credit than we deserve honestly. Some of us were hungry for more, but it was a long ugly discovery process. But I can say there it is a complete lack of modesty that drove the 1980’s comic convention goer. Those great unwashed masses in X-Men T-Shirts went to the conventions again and again because they were impervious to being awkward and embarrassed. They insisted that they were right, and slowly but surely, pop culture came back to them an apologized.

You could read that X-Men trade on the subway and have it look normal. We didn’t grow out of it. Not entirely.

1 comment:

Adam Black said...

The reason there aren't a lot of adult comics is because the American audience lumps Entertainment into two forms: all-ages and porn. It it isn't PG-13, it's filth, and no one wants to touch it, especially advertisers.

I'm 40 this year, and I grew up sneaking peeks at Heavy Metal Magazine, back in its heyday between the late 70s and mid 80s. While you were getting into manga, I was exploring French and Italian comics. Jean-Claude Gal, Moebius (of course), Milo Manara...all those guys.

Not to mention all the old EC reprints and 1970s Doctor Strange I was reading when I was 8.

Unfortunately, this gave me a taste for Heavy Metal-type comics: comics that don't shy away from nudity, but aren't pornographic in the slightest.

I draw a webcomic like that now, and it's impossible to get advertising for it. That is, unless you don't mind ads blaring "It's Like Facebook FOR SEX!!!!!" all over your site.

In this modern era of "water it down to get as many asses into theater seats as possible" entertainment, drawing something which can't be labeled all-ages, family-friendly, or Dudes In Tights Kicking Each Other's Asses is going to be an uphill climb.

And I think that's why people grow out of comics: you can only read the same watered down shit so many times before you move on to something more interesting.

Unfortunately, no one's brave enough to step outside that boundary and do something genuinely entertaining.

Shit. Sorry, man. Got up on my soapbox for a minute there. :)