Saturday, January 16, 2010

It isn’t that Kids don’t read comics anymore...

The fact is that they don’t know comics exist…

Hi Guys,

For years now we have been told from on high, by the powers-that-be, that kids no longer read comics, as their attention spans have gotten shorter and their eyes have been corrupted by the evils of video games, state-of-the-art animation and computers.

Well they were wrong when they first told us and they are wrong now too.

It isn’t that kids don’t buy them, because they don’t like them, or because they have other distractions, kids have always had other distractions, but the two main differences are simply they no longer have easy access to them and they are far, far too expensive.

Glossy paper stock has often been cited as the reason for the cost increases and many have sought to ask for a return to the days of newsprint, but these guys are wrong too and that simply just isn’t the case.

Newsprint uses almost, if not totally pure wood pulp as its source of content, which is very expensive, whereas the high gloss papers of today can be up to 90% plastic, which is far cheaper to use.

That said printing today is far cheaper than ever it has been, even within the UK itself, although many folks still choose to use the far east and other areas outside of the UK to get their printing done, which can again be counter productive to being cheaper, with delays due to communication problems, delays in shipping and the costs of receiving the printed goods late in terms of distribution and retail.

It always amazes me that when I and my contemporaries do workshops and seminars inside of both junior and secondary schools that kids are in the main unaware that comics exist, but when shown what they are and what the stories are about are absolutely ecstatic about them.

Countless times I have overheard parents down the years complaining about the cost of comics being too high, especially due to the lack of content within their pages and in the main they are correct in that analogy.

Most folks observing the shelves in a supermarket, or newsagent will likely see an over abundance of UK comics, but the trouble is most don’t have any comic/story content in them at all and are more like kiddie versions of the latest celebrity rag and full of regurgitated games, photos of the latest pop/TV celebrities and the worse graphic and typographical design this side of the 18th Century, let along the 21st.

A lot of the above UK material is also not UK produced and is in fact continental in origin and so does nothing to further develop the UK’s indigenous market.

So what are publishers doing about getting their product into the schools…NOTHING!!!

I despair that the editors of today are so far removed from understanding kids and are willing to produce comics they, themselves, want to see and not what kids would like, as to make UK comics publishing seem a farce.

Kids still do love comics, ask anyone that frequents the hallowed halls of the educational system as visiting authors/artists and they will tell you the same thing.

But if they do not have access, how can the market be regenerated and grown outside of the market it now occupies. They don’t want the stuff on the shelves of the supermarkets, that much is obvious, but they don’t have access to anything else.

Kids are just as discerning as any well-adjusted adult can be – sometimes more so. They just need to have exciting and intelligent stuff placed in front of them, which will blow their minds, as much as major blockbusters do with adult audiences.

Kids know the difference between the same old bland stuff; they want and like things other than super heroes, or the latest fad, so why are we not giving it to them?

That’s simple; the guys producing the stuff are making the comics they want to read, which are just reprints or pseudo versions of their American counterparts.

Who buys these comics? Certainly not the comic fan, he, or she already has it in their collection in the original US format, and/or as a trade paper back, or hard back collection.

The kids don’t know they exist and/or do and cannot have them, because their parents think them inappropriate and/or expensive.

The short-lived titles show this to be the case, as with increasingly fewer issues they fold and disappear into the aether from, which they came.

There is also the problem outside of the publisher’s hands too through the wholesaler/distributor/retailer that want the lion’s share of profits and also demand cover mounted gifts and higher cover costs, to enable them to reap the benefits of the higher return.

What these guys don’t seem to realise is, that with dwindling sales, the comics disappear off the shelves at an alarming rate and with every comic that is unsuccessful it becomes harder for publishers to put things back onto the shelves other than licensed product.

It is also hindered by the fact that with every comic failure investment becomes harder and harder to find, until there is none.

There is however a glimmer of hope, as more and more comics artists go into schools and colleges promoting the worlds of comic books. There is also another exciting movement, as more and more creative folks from within the hallowed halls of comicdom produce fun-filled works once more that can be read by all-ages. It is a slow movement, but seems to becoming a reality due to a return by many creators to the types of storytelling they enjoyed as kids.

This is not to say this is a continuation of the dumbing down of children’s comics, quite the opposite in fact, it is a return to the roots of comics. Adventure, humour, irony, pathos, stories told imaginatively and intelligently with artwork, which blows away the minds of the readers, be they young, or old; these are the things I am seeing more and more often.

Epic spectacles amidst great characterisations, told in such a way that children can enjoy them, as much as an adult reader.

A lot of these stories, I am privy to have not yet seen print, but believe me when I say a lot of well-known comics creators are lining up to feast your eyes with wondrous stories and some of the most beautiful artwork ever to grace the pages of a comic book, or graphic novel, or album, or whatever other new title we deem fit to call this wonderful medium of sequential storytelling.

The digital age has its own inherent faults, but this same technology is allowing creatives from around the world to produce work better than anything they have ever done before, free of the constraints of corporate publishing, which for obvious reasons, continue to milk their franchises for all they are worth and why would they choose to do otherwise. It is just such a shame that traditional publishers are being side stepped because they will not give time, or space to the new works of people that may have worked for them for years.

This kind of entrepreneurial spirit has risen in the ranks of comicdom before though and is in fact what helped to take comics to new dimensions, both here and in the States.

I know that the kids amongst us, regardless of age, those folks on this wonderful planet of ours that seek wonder and adventure and excitement all their lives, will find these new books incredible and the age of the comic book will be reborn for a new generation and hopefully many, many more to come.

There is a place for all kinds of stories, the trouble is at the moment, we only see, in the main, the angst ridden, dark, depressingly unoptimistic, decompressed storytelling of the superhero genre, which used to be the epitome of all that was fun-filled and optimistic and those of the dumbed down versions, which unsuccessfully seek to include children and in so doing alienate themselves from them.

The opposite is also true and great new stories can be found if one is willing to look through the myriad alternatives and when found they are worth the search. The trouble is folks have to be willing to do so.

The books I know for a fact are in production, even though most have not yet been announced, will hopefully fill the massive void, which now exists, as far as reaching the, as yet, unknowing children out there in the world and give them the same joys we had, as children reading our comic books.

My only hope is that whilst some readerships may grow along with the stories, of which I speak, there are others that continue to reach new readers, so we do not return to the scenario we have seen for a couple of generations at least with the age range growing along with the types of stories at such a rate that children no longer read them.

It is time to realise children will read comics, if only they are the right kind of intelligently written, well illustrated stories and if they have full access to them, not just in places frequented by collectors. Some comic shops can be as uninviting as and as much like visiting a town in an American film where folks visiting such places are made to feel most unwelcome there and usually end up being chased by the said towns folks…at the very least. Not a great place for kids to visit, is it?

Hopefully a good percentage will continue to read comics all their lives, like we have done, and many others continue to do, but with an open mind to read different genres and be receptive to other kinds of stories from all around the world. Not everyone likes every genre, but therein lies the fun of exploring them all to see if we do.

Imagine a world full of new stories, without the constraints of generations of convoluted and repeated continuities, where anything is again possible and new stories can be written and new artwork produced, without the need to say they are portfolio pieces and will never see print.

For all the wonderfully talented creative people I have been able to meet in my career and have said these words to me, as I marvelled at the work on display in their portfolios, you are a big inspiration to me in my setting up Wizards Keep and working on my Worlds End graphic novel.

I never wanted to have to say those words to anyone, because these stories I am now writing I have always wanted to tell.

Believe me when I say I am not alone now and hopefully their stories too will leap forth and not lie forever unprinted and seen by a fortunate few, like those I have seen in the past, especially from those sadly no longer with us.

I, for one, cannot wait until these masterpieces see print.

The children amongst us, regardless of age, are in for the treat of their lives!!!

Until next time have fun!

Tim Perkins…

January 16th 2010


magnus said...

This article should be mandatory reading for aspiring (and in many cases existing) comic book professionals.

Tim Perkins said...

Hi Magnus,

Thanks for your very kind words.

I just say it, as I see it.

We are losing a wonderfully creative medium for entire generations of readers and I would hate for that to happen.

I personally fee there is room for all comics, but not comics, which are all the same.

The positive of this is there is some fantastic stuff being developed all over the world and that cannot be a bad thing.

Best Wishes,

Peter Richardson said...

Wow - an epic posting Tim, but you've certainly echoed a lot of the thoughts that I know a lot of us share about the truly parlous state of UK comics.

I think that in addition to lack of commitment or vision from publishers, the godawful and prohibitively expensive distribution system that keeps so many magazines off the high street and available as subscription only is another major factor. It's what killed the DFC and as you say with each failure the case for the nay sayers is strengthened.

But like you I'm optimistic that given the access and power of the internet, creators are being afforded an opportunity that was denied previous generations of comic creators. Postings such as your's will hopefully add extra resolve to anyone involved in the oft times lonely process of bringing their own creations to fruition.

Tim Perkins said...

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your support.

Yes, you are bang on when you say that there are a lot of folks who are thinking along these lines, but I feel it needs to be made a lot more public.

I agree with you that there are a lot of other reasons why comics are failing to be successful, but the children being ignored, as well as many of the fun elements of comics, which make them so universally appealing, being ignored as well, was the perspective I wished to use here.

There are a few Blogs to date, which I have written looking at other aspects of comics as a medium and doubtless I will write others too.

Glad you feel the same way, but as you say there is a growing league of creators that feel a need to do other kinds of comics than those forced upon the public...

This is a strange concept, as most of us wanted to draw comics from young ages and have been lucky enough to have careers in some illustrious halls, yet the opportunities to take advantage of new tales and adventures with new characters are almost non-existent inside them.

I think we are on the edge of a new frontier.

I cannot wait to see where this new frontier takes us.

Again, thanks for stopping by...

Best Wishes,