Voices of the Syndicate: What is the Biggest Barrier to Entry for Comics?

Comic book adaptations are currently big money spinners at the cinema but there’s still a perception (one not shared in some places, like Japan) that comics is still a medium for kids, something that we grow out of. What is do you think is the reason for this and can anything be done about it? The Geek Syndicate team give their thoughts…

Luke – I think it’s a really difficult barrier to break because I find that a lot of people even though they like the film will not read a comic. There seems to be a theory that both a graphic novel is different to a comic so it’s ok to read that (heard countless times people telling me they don’t read comics but read graphic novels) and also that the film is more adult.

I think that the idea of the comic shop is actually also a big barrier. There is still a consensus by the main stream that it is just the overweight, smelly man and that no-one else goes in.

To change this I think we need to bring more acceptance through literary and educational means. Give kids in schools comics and make them realise its ok to read these and that you don’t need to stop if you don’t want to. Basically embody that you should read what you like whatever it is.

VS – For me, it’s a slam dunk: continuity. The large issue numbers are a stumbling block as well, but if a geek tried to explain just the history of Spider-man, who you would think is not that complex a character, the non-geek’s head would go flying off their body. The comparison of mainstream superhero comics to soap operas is such a perfect one.

If Marvel and DC hard reset every decade or so, to be kind, I think they could welcome in a lot more fresh eyes on their books.

Leo – Even with all the stereotypes and preconceived notions regarding comics as a legitimate form of literature/art and the stereotype of those who read comics, I think the biggest problem with getting people into comics is the fact that they just don’t see anything interesting enough. Most non-comic readers only know of Marvel and DC, and for some, superheroes just aren’t that interesting. Indie comics could be the best way to make new comic readers, as they’re comics that aren’t bound by superheroes, but are full of characters that are as diverse as any medium. Indie comics are truly the best aspect of comics, in my opinion, and could make a lot of new readers, if they just gave them a shot.

Christophe – I still see it when I tell people I like comics they look at you in a strange way. I guess it is because most people do start reading comics when they are children and like most things we do grow out of childhood things. But the general populace still sees comics as just kids comics. They have no idea about all the genres of comics out there. Yes the current batch of comic book movies are helping but at the same time they are still seen as children’s comic book films because they are being made for children and adults. Yes we also get films made out of comics that have no tights and capes in them but the studios are clever to not point out they are from comics in case they alienate the audience. Also I guess shows like the Big bang Theory, which I love, does shine a rather bad light on comic book fans and people also see or rather hear about people dressing up as Superman or Wonder Woman but have no concept of real cosplay. Answer? Get these people down to a comic con, meet fans, writers, artists and have fun!

Steven – The reason in Britain is the general community’s first exposure to comics was the Beano, Dandy and alike which were comics designed for kids. In America the classic cape was presented to kids as kids have a natural enjoyment of “goodies and baddies” – its inbuilt into us as early moral guidance. Because of things like this, comics in general can be seen as for kids however this is an ignorant view as if you look at the comic industry today, comics are certainly not geared towards kids.

You have serious debates about the use of rape, sex and violence in comics today – do they sound like kid subjects to you? You have graphic novels that appear in the greatest novels lists like Watchmen. While you may find a few collected editions comics in a WHSmith, you find entire stores dedicated solely to the business of comics and their customers are adults.

People will always have prejudice’s but the success of the comic book film is bringing the mainstream into really being into comics or at least so enamoured with the films they are willing to explore the original source material and its world. Keep it up and comics will be around for a long time to come.

Ant – I came to comics as an adult. As a child, I wasn’t a comic reader. I had I think two issues of Commando, and received a lot of hand-me-down issues of Buster and those Commando sized books that The Dandy and The Beano did. I had one He-Man comic, one Defenders of the Earth, a Scooby Do and Garfield … that’s all I remember. I was a fan of superheroes – but through television, film and animation. I think part of the issue with the perception of comics lies in that selection…

In the UK, it seems that most of the comics that are “visible” are childrens comics – we see them in Supermarkets and Newsagents with the very occasional re-printed Batman or Spider-Man thrown in. I know Supermarkets won’t take a “children’s magazine” (which is what they class comics as) unless it has a free-gift attached. I found this out at a “break into comics” seminar a few years ago.

Bookshops do stock trade collections, but I think the proliferation of just “kids” comics keeps a lot of folk away from the medium. After all, they’re just picture books, right?

Barry – I think that the idea that ‘kids’ only read comics does not help but the way to combat this view is not by excluding kids from the equation. Kids should have just as much exposure to comics as adults because they will become the architects of the future of the comic industry. Looking at some of the current output from the big two I think that has been forgotten.

Another point is that a newbie can be easily lost in some of the bigger comic shops without a ‘guide’. I don’t need to know anything about the publisher when I walk into a bookshop I just need to know ‘I’m after a thriller novel’ and I head to that section. Perhaps rather than just shoving all comics in the ‘comic ghetto’ in the back of the bookshops they could be placed in each and every genre alongside their prose counterparts. Why can’t comics like Harker, Parker: The Hunter, The Sherlock Holmes adaptations from Self Made Hero, Criminal or Gotham central sit in the crime section of a book shop?

Casey – I have never really gotten into comics. I think it might have been due to the short, episodic nature of the story-lines, which is ironic as when it comes to my usual reading and writing, I am a short story fan. I do like them as a bit of a collectible though. In recent years I have picked up the first issues of Blade and Brian Lumley’s Necroscope, but only as part of a larger enthusiasm for something that I knew I already liked.

I think it is also a matter of visibility, as has already been said by other team members. If you go into a shop and the only comics are truly aimed at kids with free gifts, unless you dig a little more, you might remain oblivious to the fact that there are grown-up comics; even though you might have seen Iron Man 3 six times, and just not pondered it’s basis beyond the stars in the film and what they have done before.

Matt – Actually I think kids are the key. Whilst I certainly don’t think that its a medium that we “grow out of” I do think its currently a medium that isn’t bringing in new readers at an early age. The “Big Two” particularly seem intend on making comics that appeal to comics readers; multiple covers, dense, cross-over and continuity heavy stories that are fun to read if you “get” it, but you couldn’t press into a strangers hand and say “hey, read this, it’s great”. My 11-year-old is a huge fan of comic book movies but there isn’t a lot about in published form he’s show much interest in aside from Atomic Robo, which is a great book to hook in new readers into the form. Transiting from the movies, or cartoons, to the “source material” requires a leap because often the comic character is different, acting different, and looking different, and sometimes actually a different person. I’m not saying we should be doing away with these sorts of stories, but I do feel that if you were a fan of say, The Avengers, and bought an Avengers comic only to find a completely different line-up to the characters you fell for in the first place, you’d walk away again pretty fast.

Natasha – I think a lot of these perceptions are linked to the idea of graphic novels/comics as inherently fantastical: when characters are drawn entirely from the imagination, and you have a plot to match, it’s easy to tag it as being exclusively for children; as most children’s literature/movies/art are far more fantasy-like than the adult equivalents.

This is obviously prejudice- most literature critics will sniff with disdain when questioned about the literary validity of a sci-fi or fantasy novel; as though the further removed a piece of fiction is from reality the less relevance it will have to human life…but I’d argue that most so-called realist ‘literature’ says far less about the human condition than science-fiction and fantasy master-works. Labelling graphic novels/comics as intrinsically deficient is a short-sighted failure of the imagination.

Ian – I don’t think the issue is a real one. There are prejudices against all literature, and all art. Westerns, war films, chic lit, science fiction, literary fiction, dadaism, pop art, silent cinema, whatever, has barriers for some people. Some people like stuff, some don’t. Some people don’t understand comics and don’t want to understand comics. Nor should they. I’m in a comic reading group. Last month we discussed Charles Burns’ Black Hole. We discussed gender politics, pubity, graphic art techniques and more. People in a ‘normal’ reading group would probably be surprised, but in all honesty, wouldn’t really care.

The main prejudice or barrier – if there is one – against comics is possibly the idea that they are for children and comics fans should ‘grow up’. It is a perceptation based on ignorance. And also, I don’t want to grow up…

Let us know what your answer would be to this question. Join the debate in the comments below…

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One comment

  1. Plenty of food for thought. And this is why the Stan Lee Excelsior Award battles against these unfair preconceptions every year… and will continue to do so.

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