I am very excited about the news that emerged out of San Diego this week about the agreement reached between BOOM! Studios and Disney to create a new Disney-Pixar comic book imprint. According to the Diamond Comics online newsletter Scoop:
The comics will feature the new animated classics, the groundbreaking Toy Story series and blockbuster summer hit Finding Nemo, along with Pixar’s newest box office success, Wall*E. Boom! Studios Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid will be writing The Incredibles comic book, with cover art by Darwyn Cooke, writer-artist of DC: The New Frontier. He commented, “Today, American comic books are aimed primarily at an older readership. Comics produced for an upcoming generation of readers are scarce, and Boom! Studios aims to do something about that…There will be comics for kids again!”
I hope the endeavor is successful, but it will certainly be a challenge for BOOM! Studios to engage the coveted younger "tween" demographic. Disney attempted to do so some twenty years ago with its internal Disney Comics imprint and similarly attracted mainstream comic talent such as Marv Wolfman to its editorial staff. The effort was shut down within a few years. Gemstone Comics has in recent years attempted to publish Disney comics featuring the core canon of characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and appeal to both older and younger demographics via both reprinted vintage material and foreign imports primarily from Europe. They too have generally failed to connect with younger readers.
Over the past few decades, comic book publishers have sadly abandoned these younger readers and allowed the 16-25 male demographic to hijack the industry. Even Disney essentially sold out to this marketing dynamic when it licensed properties such as the Haunted Mansion and Gargoyles to SLG, a small independent publisher who produced somewhat off-center interpretations of the material and sold the comics primarily through comic shops and Hot Topic stores.
Accessibility still seems to be the main issue in getting comic books back into the hands of young readers. During the 1950s and 1960s, comic books could be found everywhere and were a staple product of corner drug stores, five-and-dimes and even many grocery stores. In the 1980s, comic book retailing shifted more into a specialty store business that quickly narrowed its audience to the aforementioned young males. The neighborhood comic book shop is generally not a place where families with young children frequent, and even then, most comic book retailers rarely give shelf space to anything other than superhero or goth-based fare.
I applaud Darwyn Cook's energy and enthusiasm in exclaiming "There will be comics for kids again!" However, BOOM! Studios and Disney will most certainly need to somehow reach beyond the current comic book industry distribution status quo to reach those younger and hopefully receptive new readers.