Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why Comics Are Not More Popular, Part 1

As I look forward past my recent Martian Manhunter-themed posts, I'm trying to figure out where to go from here.  Some comments posted by Tom in the final installment of my Martian Manhunter countdown got me thinking.  Plus, a few things mentioned on DC's forums got me thinking as well.  See, I'm rather new to comics.  (Outside of reading The Long Halloween in 2005), I only started reading trades in the Fall of '08, and started subscribing to actual issues around May '09.  I covered a deal of ground in eighteen months, both reading-wise and research-wise (there is an upside to being obsessive-compulsive, let me tell you), but compared to people who've been reading comics their whole lives, my perspective on things is rather different.

Case in point: there was a conversation on DC's message boards about whether or not Dick Grayson is a househould name outside of comics fandom.  The majority of the fans were saying, "Of COURSE everyone knows who Dick Grayson is.  Duh!", with a small minority saying, "Um, no."  I shook my head and decided not to get involved, but let me tell you, a year and a half ago, I had no idea who the heck Dick Grayson was.  (Obviously I knew who (the original) Robin was, but I didn't know his name.) And no, I didn't know who Nightwing was, either.

Which lead me to the conclusion: at least half of what comic fans think non-comics fans know about comics is completely, utterly wrong.

Pre-Batman Begins, here's a list of all the comics characters I knew existed, in no particular order:

  1. Superman
  2. Batman
  3. Robin (though I didn't know his name)
  4. The Joker
  5. Catwoman
  6. The Penguin
  7. Two-Face
  8. The Riddler
  9. Jor-El
  10. General Zod and his two minions
  11. Lex Luthor
  12. The Hulk
  13. Wonder Woman
  14. Spiderman
  15. Wolverine
  16. Green Lantern (though I didn't know his name was Hal Jordan or that there was more than one, or even what he looked like)
  17. Bizzarro (only because of that "Seinfeld" episode.)
  18. Green Arrow (again, only becuase of "Seinfeld.")
  19. The Phantom
  20. Dick Tracy
  21. The Rocketeer
  22. And perhaps a vague notion of "Aquaman."  (I can't really remember for sure.)
The knowledge of all of these characters came from movies, TV, and pop culture.  Harley Quinn doesn't even make the list becuase I only have vague memories of watching the Batman Animated Series when it originally aired, though looking back I do remember her...I just didn't know her character's name.

I'd say up everybody up to number 15 are bona fide Household Names.  If my mother knows who a character is, then I consider him or her a household name.  (Amazingly she knows who Green Lantern is, which leads me to believe my uncle liked him when he was a kid in the 50's.)

As far as teams go, I had never heard of The Justice League, the Justice Society, or the Teen Titans.  Let's not even think of Marvel's teams (besides the X-Men), becuase I still know next-to-nothing about them.

Where am I going with this?  Well, for one, assume that non-comics fans know nothing, becuase it's pretty much the truth.  Even if I did know who Superman was (I grew up with the Christopher Reeve films and watched the old George Reeves show on Nick at Nite), who Superman is on film is different than he is in the comics.  When I cracked open a Superman comic not too long ago and found out he doesn't go around fighting with General Zod in Metropolis and saving cats out of trees all the time and telling Lois how many s's are in "Mississippi," I realized I had some misconceptions.

Now, for the longest time (okay, only a year or so, not that long), I figured that in order to enjoy my comics, I better shape up and start conforming to a certain "comic book reading demographic."  If I wasn't understanding what was going on, or if I didn't like the book I was reading, it was my fault, and I would read synopses or reviews online to "tell" me whether or not I should like a book.  Hey, I figured, if the reviewer at IGN says it's good, and I don't like it, there's something wrong with me.  I'm not a Real Comics Fan if I don't like Hush, because everyone else seems to.  Tom's comments made me think that perhaps I should give my own opinions a little more credit, considering that being an outsider to comics isn't necessarily a bad thing.

To be continued...


Tom said...

I don't have anything to add. I suppose I could type a bunch of smiley faces.

:) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

LissBirds said...

Hey, whatever works, works. :)

Saranga said...

good post. i was thinking about this before I set up my New readers.. blog, so i'll be very interested to see what you have to say.

I think you're bang on about the
household names stuff. i think the general knowledge of non comics readers outside of America is even worse.

unless you do read comics, no one over here (UK) would know who dick grayson was, and out of you list, i reckon they'd only recognise numbers 1 to 15, and that's cos they've had movies made.

of course everyone seems to think Wondy is called Superwoman and when I try to explain that there is no Superwoman, except actually there was (pre the Sgirl story last (?) year), it gets way too complicated.

ppl over here def don't watch the jlu or other animated stuff don't even have that resource.

i'd say go with your views, go with your opinions, they are valid. then again, i get the impression that I may not be considered a real comics fan because i hate batman.

I also think that most ppl, esp in the uk, think superheroes or the beano when you say comics, and both of thsoe have stigma attached to them. so part of New readers.. is to highlight non superhero comics just to showcase what the medium has to offer.

will_in_chicago said...

It is now hard to find comics in most stores. There was a time when I could go to a drug store and find them easily, but not anymore. Instead, you must either go to book stores or comic book stores.

I think that brand identity is important, and perhaps DC and Marvel should consider how to attract new readers.

LissBirds said...

Saranga, it sounds like you have an uphill battle promoting comics across the pond. I had at least thought the Bruce Timm cartoons had made it over there. And you're still a real comics fan even if you hate Batman. I'm sure lots of fans do, they just won't admit it out loud. :)

will, I can't remember any drug stores carrying comics in my neck of the woods. But both the local Borders and Barnes and Noble now have comic racks. An independent bookseller in town that has a large magazine selection also has a comic rack, but it looks like no one ever touches them...

Saranga said...

pharmacys don't sell comics over here. newsagents sell uk reprints of us DC and Marvel - a bit more expensive and containing snippets of 2 or 3 stories. usually a few years out of date. i got back issues of ASBAR by picking those up.

at least regular bookstores carry the trades over here, so anyone can stroll in and pick them up. they have a much larger selection of manga compared to anything else tho. pity the manga is such obvious choices.

Diabolu Frank said...

I think fans of the '60s Batman TV show knew who Dick Grayson was, but I doubt most kids born after 1980 or so do.

Along those same lines, most folks born before 1980 knew about Captain Marvel and Captain America. Silver Surfer is a cult character in the surfing scene, and Dr. Strange got tied up in '60s counterculture.

Most folks born after 1980 know something about the Fantastic Four, Iron Man and the Punisher. Supergirl would likely be in there somewhere, but perhaps skewing a bit older.

There was a football player a number of years back who popularized the name and logo of Green Lantern as his own nickname. That helps explain his recent broad cultural appeal.