Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hey Kids! Comics! Hopefully . . .

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.


Anonymous said...

I would love to buy Disney character comics for my young son. I think if they aim them young enough, and sell them at discount retailers, bookstores, and drugstores, it will work. "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" has done amazing things for the Fab 5 characters and this can easily piggyback.

Johnny Jackhammer said...

Well, with Mark Waid in charge of BOOM!, there will certainly be high quality stories. He didn't talk about any other format than the monthly floppies, but they would do best to put things into "trades" (paperbacks that collect 5 or 6 issues at a time) or "digests" (which are like trades, but have a 5½ x 7½ size) and push them thru Amazon, B&N, Borders, etc.

Anonymous said...

I hope that this will revitalize Disney comics for kids in the United States. Besides manga, Disney is still the largest publisher of children's magazines and comics in the world. Disney comics and magazines are published in 85 languages in 75 countries. 27 countries have a weekly Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck magazine that together sold a total of 114.9 million copies in 2005.

Here in Europe Disney comics are part of culture. Almost every family has grown up with them. Many families have had a subscription for decades and you can find them at every grocery store and book store. In Germany, for instance, nearly one million kids read Micky Maus magazine every week. And Italy has over 50 different Disney periodicals, including weekly Topolino, which is in the top five of all publications in the country. Summer specials sometimes drive sales of Topolino to over one million copies per week!

Distribution is key for these new comics to succeed in the United States. Unless they can find some shelf space at Wal-Marts and Targets I think they're going to have the same struggle as Gladstone, Disney Comics Inc and Gemstone Publishing.

Anonymous said...

Natalie's comment shows how far Gemstone has to go to reach people like her and her son. I don't really know what the answer is, when, as far as I'm aware, Gemstone has been trying hard to get a broader market. Unfortunately, the six titles they originally had have been whittled down to two, albeit those are supplemented by a larger number of special issues. The other difficulty is getting parents in particular to accept that comics aren't 25 and 30 cents any more. They seem to grudgingly accept price increases in popular magazines - which also sell hundreds of thousands of copies thereby keeping the prices increases smaller, economies of scale, folks - but heaven forbid that a small press publication that provides high quality printing and square-bound issues(Walt Disney Comics and Stories and Uncle Scrooge) need to sell for a mind-bending 7.99 just to keep the presses flowing. My daughter knows of Scrooge, Donald and Mickey because they supplement our bedtime reading. I fear that she'll be one of the few of her generation to know of these great stories and adventures.

Chuck Munson