Welcome back to SBC’s The Panel, a chance for you to put your burning questions – comics-related or otherwise – to a group of comics professionals.

The Panel lives or dies by your contributions; please email them to [email protected] and we’ll add them to the list…

This week’s question comes from our very own Bart Thompson and is as follows:-

How can we get new blood into comics (i.e. children, women, blacks, asians, hispanics, gays/lesbians) that aren’t the usual comic demographic (middle class white male from age 16-35)?

Sean O’Reilly:

Making stories worth reading. By continuing to write a variety of genres and excellent stories we know that the industry will keep moving forward.

I also believe the next important step is to get more public acceptance for comics to be seen as just one of a number of mediums. Webster’s Online defines comic book as a magazine containing sequences of comic strips. Does that accurately describe what we are talking about? Or is this more of the perception outside of our demographic? (I am a male between 16-35) A comic book simply conveys narrative text through a printed medium where visuals assist the storytelling. So are we then competing with the abundance of different visual mediums such as movies, video games, television and DVDs? I would have to say yes, but fundamentally I believe a story is a story. A comic book is able to tell a tale evoking imagination and emotions equal to any of the previously mentioned mediums.

When we are able to say the list to people outside the usual demographic: newspaper, movie, comic books, television, web page…and comic books can be thrown into this batch without seeming to stick out, the medium will be accepted. I know there has a been a huge push for people to use the term ‘graphic novel’ as it sounds so much more sophisticated than ‘comic book’. Seeing graphic novels used in schools is an excellent device as our students of today are visual learners. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then our children have seen millions of words in movies and on television and the internet by the age of five. They understand the purpose of effective imagery and the use of graphics better than any generation in history. Meaning, this generation could be the biggest group of readers we’ve seen in a long time. We just need to make sure that the medium is worth reading.

Sean Patrick O’Reilly is Editor-in-Chief of Arcana Studios, and the writer of their book, Kade.

Frazer Irving:

I know plenty of people who fit that description (well, no hispanics as such but then I don’t know any in Essex) who read comics already. I think the new blood that we all want reading comics will come anyway as long as the product is made available for all types to pick up, and pandering to specific groups is more than a little bit desperate.

Frazer Irving: Essex boy, artist, philanderer. Did the small press for 5 years, then 2000AD for another five, moved onto the glorious silky pages of DC recently. Not one for pigeonholing, he rejects the penciller-inker-colourist team-up and has merged 3 clones of himself into 1 so that he does all jobs. Possibly known for work on 2000AD‘s Necronauts, Judge Death and The Simping Detective, currently doodling Klarion the Witch-Boy for DC.

Daley Osiyemi:

Stories covered need to appeal or include ethnic minorities and reflect the society around them. Publishers such as TOP SHELF and titles like BRODIE’S LAW are doing it, but we need more. Superhero stories are cool, but we need to show that the medium is much more than that. Maybe this would shake off some off the stigma that comics are only for male geeks and kids. Comics need to attract the book buying public and it needs to be sold in book stores other than just comic shops.

Daley Osiyemi creator of Brodie’s Law and co-founder of Pulp Theatre Entertainment where he works as producer and creator on various new media and comic projects. Writer and producer of online animated comic series None But Us, developed a character to help promote broadband and is currently working on a graphic novel and a film idea.

James E. Lyle (a.k.a. Doodle):

The way to get more people to read comics is to make comics more readable. I ranted last week about CONTENT, and will do so again this week. I know all sorts of people outside the mainstream demographic that read books like Asterix, TinTin, and Uncle Scrooge. Why? Quality that doesn’t aim at any single group, but attempts to reach ALL people where they are.

I too “hold these truths to be self evident, that ALL men (people) are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” If your “pursuit of happiness” happens to be trying to draw and sell your comics then go for it! But make sure that YOUR comics are consistent with an attempt at QUALITY.

The real question here is, are we as an industry offering Quality? Are we offering the public something that it would collectively like to read? Very often we aren’t. Very often we’ve become so obsessed with our personal agendas that we’ve lost the ability to engage the public’s interest.

Let me remind everyone, that before Stan Lee and John Romita ever did the Spider-Man drug issues, that Stan and John (following Steve Ditko) had put YEARS into making Spidey an engaging character. Same thing goes for Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams doing all the “relevant” Green Lantern issues. There had been years of engaging the public before those stories got published. (And it should be noted that, in the case of GL those issues didn’t sell that well compared to the previous issues in spite of all the hype they now get. So don’t expect great sales at the same time that you get on your soapbox).

Seems that now days that the comics creator wants to be part crusading reporter and part P.T. Barnum! “5 issues that will turn the world on it’s ear!” Try making one good issue that will delight and engage the reader, then after that try another, ad infinitum!

James E. Lyle is a cartoonist and illustrator, including co-creating titles Escape to the Stars, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. and DoorMan, plus work on Fright Night, Cynicalman Sells Out, and the accurately-spelt Wiindows. More recently Lyle worked on Turok, the “missing” Paul Gulacy T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, and DRASTIK #1.

Mike Collins:

Can’t give a Zeus-like answer but I can give an example of someone who’s doing just that:

One of the guys -Kyle Alonzo Legall- here at the studio is a graffiti artist who’s putting together a comic, which is getting Welsh Arts Council funding, they see it as a valuable device to give communities a voice in a un-touched medium. He’s anything but the ‘traditional’ comics creator-his strip has heavy religious themes and fantastical science fiction elements.

It’s hardly likely to be carried in the front of the Diamond catalogue. It does, however, reach that wholly different market and demographic.

I’m not suggesting that we should all start producing comics ‘aimed’ at minorities, that’s just patronising. Kyle’s work comes from the world he’s grown up in. The art is very much graffiti style and works really well in the context of his story. He’s a long standing comics fan who’s brought in his cultural trappings to the medium.

Mike Collins is currently artist on ‘American Gothic’ for 2000AD, and producing a crime fiction graphic novel for Westwind in Norway, as well as providing regular illustrations for Future Publications and Doctor Who Monthly.

Bart Thompson:

I’ll start this off with a quote from an article written in the New York Times a few days ago: “In the second view, ‘Alias,’ whose fourth season has its two-hour premiere on ABC tonight, is nothing more than a pretentious comic strip: static, allegorical, a pleasure only to addicts, but also headache-inducingly difficult to criticize in these times when American comics have become, through male nostalgia and the canonization of the graphic novel, sacrosanct.

“Let’s be honest. Many of us don’t like comic books and have feigned interest in their jumpy bif-bam fighting scenes and the way they redeem loser guys, only to impress and minister to those loser guys. And now we can admit that while the redemption dynamic – little X-Men boys finding in their eccentricity and loneliness a superpower – is touching, there’s nothing duller than listening to someone explain, in all seriousness, the Syndicate and the Shadow Force and the Hard Drive and the Plutonium Lance. And the characters: lame. One is good and the other is evil, and then one is evil pretending to be good, and then one is good pretending to be evil.”

People can scoff at this article and say it’s one man’s opinion, but I can’t do that. This is what America thinks of comics. In the country that gave birth to this industry, comics are nothing but a joke. A niche market that appeal only to die hard fans that all look like the ‘Comic Book Guy’ from the Simpsons. We know this not to be true, but this is how America in general perceives us. Other countries have embraced comics more than America (and from a few columns ago Europe has a slight stigma with them, but they still respect comics more than Americans… again, in general).

So we have an image problem and we need new blood. It’s sort of a Catch-22… we need new readers of all types, but to get them we need those types represented in the comics. So to get new readers of different ages, races, genders, and so on, we have to put them in our comics. But to do that we either have to be these things, close friends to people who have experienced these situations, or who can somehow relate to life as such… if not we’ll only have cold and heartless parodies of the people we’re trying to reach. An example: the Blackploitation era that gave us Blade. The current Blade we think of (Wesley Snipes) is nothing like the Blade from that era. The current Blade strikes us as so effective and “cool” mostly because of Snipes input and control.

Another example is Judd Winick- Pedro & Me was a powerful book because he was close to the source of the story and could actually write such a tale realistically. Just throwing out names, but would Chris Claremont or Brian M. Bendis been able to tell that story with such power and emotion? They’re good writers, but would they have been able to capture the same themes that Winick was able to harness being around the situations? What about Art Spiegelman’s MAUS? I could go on and on.

So in an attempt to pull all this together and wrap this up (there is no short and simple answer to this question), one of our main problems is the perception we give to general America. We can’t really fight their perception because it is true- superheroes dominate our industry. Not many people can accept and relate to grown men dressing up in brightly colored spandex. Heck, I had and still have a hard time with that myself (that’s a discussion for another day… let’s just say superheroes didn’t bring me into comics and if it wasn’t for the non caped and spandex stuff I happened to be exposed to through the years, I wouldn’t be here today). We need other genres in this industry and we have to make them work. We need realistic diversity that appeals to a wider audience, not just to a select few. We need to make our stores more appealing to general masses- the more positives we can show people and the less confusion we can have, the better.

We as an industry we need to change, evolve, diversify, and get some better public relations or our beloved industry is going to die with us, the “select few”.

Bart Thompson is the founder of Approbation Comics and creator of Vampires Unlimited, The Metamutoids, ChiSai, and Chaos Campus: Sorority Girls vs Zombies. Be sure to pre-order Lethal Instinct from Alias Enterprises and Myriad from Approbation!

Vince Moore:

This is a simple one to answer, a hard one to make happen.

The comics industry has to reach out. Reach out beyond its usual fanbase. Reach out beyond its usual pool of potential creators. Now is a time when the mainstream media is paying more and more attention to us. Let’s not act like fools and miss this opportunity.

Manga is taking the bookstore world by storm. Let’s rise to the occasion and produce good comics. And that doesn’t mean give up superhero comics or only produce star property superhero comics. It means making good comics of all kinds, in all sorts of genres. I say let’s give manga a run for its money. Let’s put out product and create stories that rival manga, not just imitate it or follow it.

Let’s make comics we would all be proud of and let’s be proud we make comics. Let’s promote them ourselves instead of waiting for the mainstream media. Let’s court the mainstream in any way we can.

If we do all of these things and many others I haven’t thought of, we can bring more diverse voices into the comics industry, as fans and creators and publishers, and we will all grow and benefit as a result.

Vince Moore is the editor for DarkStorm Studios, a comics company started by Kevin Grevioux of Underworld fame.

Alonzo Washington:

How do we get new blood into comic books? Number one white people need to stop being so racist and sexist. So you know, that applies to the industry and the fans. Do white geeks want to read any super being that is not white? Most of them don’t. That’s why the industry has the same lily-white heroes over and over again. Hell most of them (superheroes) are either Batman or Superman done in a different why. However, they are the same white boy. Straight, white and heroic! Would most white geeks read about a gay savior? Hell, no! Therefore, diversity won’t happen until more gay people, women and people of color begin to make comic books. Then they will have to figure out how to sell them to their audience. I almost forgot this question. Is the average white comic book geek going to read a comic book about a smart female hero that is ugly and her ass and tits are flying out of the panel? HELL, NO! So there you have the answer. Until white men who buy comic books and create them free their minds we will see the same super boys we have been seeing for the last sixty years and don’t forget their big breasted White female side kicks.

Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man and a noted black rights campaigner.

Alan Grant:

[As we love Alan Grant and he is a legend, his answer is the same he gave last week as the two questions are connected – James]

1. Has the monthly (single/pamphlet) comic outlived its usefulness and are original graphic novels the wave of the future? Why or why not?

2. How can we get new blood into comics (i.e. children, women, blacks, asians, hispanics, gays/lesbians) that aren’t the usual comic demographic (middle class white male from age 16-35)?

To some extent, the two questions appear to cancel each other out. If graphic novels are the wave of the future, how will children be able to afford them? How will children be able to develop the attention span necessary to read them? It seems to me that the people who buy most graphic novels pretty well fit your 16-35 white male demography.

To find out how to get more children reading comics, you need only check out your local newsagent or supermarket comic shelf. You’ll find them stuffed with comics based on TV series. With two grandkids aged 5 and 3, I have to read quite a lot of these comics; with few exceptions, they are shite. They either contain no stories, or the stories don’t make sense; the illustrations are often impossible for children to decipher; most pages are taken up with “colour this in” or “spot the difference”. The publisher’s profit margin is the only obvious criterion for anyone publishing such rubbish.

If you want more kids to read comics, put out a good kids’ comic.

I’m a little puzzled as to why you should want more blacks, asians and hispanic people to read comics. Having visited several African and Asian countries, I can tell you that most of them have thriving, if poorly invested, comic scenes. Comics are massive in South America, so lots of hispanics already read them.

If you want gays and lesbians to read more comics, give them something decent to read featuring good gay and lesbian characters.

Where’s the difficulty?

Alan Grant, writer of Dredd, Batman, and the slightly mad Doomlord, can be seen currently with Arthur Ranson on Judge Anderson in the Judge Dredd Megazine, and the superb Com.X trade collection of The Last American.

Clifford Meth:

Why limit the target audience to this eclectic (and always misunderstood) ensemble? It’s xenophobic not to include pedophiles, necrophiliacs, masochists, transsexuals, frotteurs, somnambulists, and people that prefer estivateing to hibernating.

Clifford Meth is loved by Harlan Ellison, hated by Gary Groth, and doesn’t know which is a greater distinction. His current book is god’s 15 minutes.

Jesse Leon McCann:

Make comics they want to read. Get them into comics shops put the word out.

Jesse Leon McCann is a New York Times Best-selling Author. He’s currently editing the fourth Simpsons TV Episode Guide for Bongo Comics/Harper Perennial, and writing stories for DC Comics’ Looney Tunes and Cartoon Cartoons.

William Tucci:

I think the new library/school programs that publishers are engaging in now is the key to gaining non-traditional readers.

Good thing about that is many new teachers and community leaders (much like the new crop of Hollywood producers and directors) have a greater respect for comics than their predecessors and are opening doors that were once tightly locked and nailed shut.

I think smaller publishers really have a better grasp on the pulse of mainstream America. Creators like Terry Moore and Jeff Smith have brought thousands of readers who would not normally pick up a comic.

Another outlet is for the religious/philosophical communities. I myself am illustrating and publishing A Child Is Born comic book later this year detailing the birth of Christ. This is all-ages book that will be directly taken from the writings of Matthew and Luke and can be distributed to an endless stream of outlets.

2004 Celebrates Billy and Shi‘s 10th Anniversary with a new bi-monthly mini-series from Dark Horse Ju-Nen beginning this May.

I quite like this week’s question – but I think there is bigger question here, which does relate to last week’s question. How do you get the comic industry going again? The comic book needs to reach out and find a new market, we need to be attracting kids to comics from all backgrounds and we need comics/graphic novels to be on sale along side books at the local supermarket or W H Smith (newsagent in the UK). Give the public who don’t buy comics a chance to see the graphic novels or comics and what they are about.

Anyway that’s enough from me this week, I hope you got something from this week’s answers – I certainly did, NEXT WEEK something a little lighter is in order I think.

James R.


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