The title of this week’s Busted Knuckles says it all. The three always “hot” topics in comics that will set most message boards aflame.

Notice I said message boards and not the world. That’s because the direct market of comics is a very small world and not as massively global as you might think.

Granted, every now and then there’s a small blip in the bigger world when it’s announced that a mainstream comic book character is gay or announces that this year they’re going to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” Trust me, these spikes in publicity are small on the scale outside the city of New York or possibly Los Angeles. Even then the only reason they’re noticed is because the major part of the population still thinks that just kids reads comics and that they’re still twelve cents.

These people buy their kids T-shirts with Spider-Man on them because there was a movie, not because they read the monthly book.

Twenty years ago there would sometimes be “heated” discussions in the pages of The Comics Journal about these topics, but not really anywhere else. Ten years ago when the internet and message boards really hit full throttle it made the world of comics bigger? or did it?

If you read the message boards and surf the internet for comic book news it sure seems like there are a lot of people talking about these topics. It flat-out seems like there are a lot of people talking about comics in general.

It seems that way if you’re into comics and its related layers of information. If you look at the message boards and forums and really do some math you’ll find that there are a handful or two of the same posters just posting over and over. Of course you’ll get some folks that will say that there’s a huge amount of “lurkers” that read, but just don’t post. I’m sure it’s true that there are more that read than post, but like a print publisher boasting of their circulation numbers the art of creative math is even more out of control with “hits”, “visits” and so on with websites. If you believe everyone tells you the truth then you’re just lying to yourself.

One side seems to be repulsed that there is overt sex, politics, and religion in some mainstream comics and their characters. The other side is just as outraged that others want to sweep real life sex, politics and religion under a four-color carpet. “Kids don’t need to see this stuff”. “Kids do need to see this stuff, you can’t shelter them from life”. Pick a quote. You see them both all the time. The thing that both sides are missing is that THERE ARE NO YOUNG KIDS READING MAINSTREAM COMICS. There won’t be unless things are changed and expanded.

Okay, I take that back?there might be a couple, but closer to none than a lot, and by mainstream comics I mean the superhero ones.

Here are some points that I’d like to make: (more realistically, my thoughts and opinions pulled from information taken, given and researched by me through this column and other sources from my 20 years in this business.)

  • Young readers are no longer a major target or part of the super hero consumer base in comics.
  • The readers of super hero comics that are left are mostly males ages 17 to 55.
  • Publishers and editorial only seem to be interested in writing comics that THEY like. There seems to be a trend for them to want to imitate the films and novels that THEY enjoy. There seems to be little concern for what the readers want and even less in trying to find out who their readers are.
  • Yes, big events in mainstream super hero comics have sold well. Did these higher sales come from new readers outside the long time direct market reader base? Nope. Most of the sales seem to have come from within the consumer base that was already there. My hopes would be that publishers will take advantage of the interest in mid-tier characters from these events and be able to build a broader readership from it. I’d also hope that the time and effort that went into making these events sell would be put into bringing new readers to comics.
  • Internet hype and news does not equate into revenue for the books. No more than print ads in magazines. The reason being the choir is being sung to over and over with the same songs. There are no new consumers. When there are sales spikes in “hot” issues it’s mainly because the same readers/collectors/retailers buy more copies of a book in hopes that it will be worth more money. Some habits of the 90s are hard to shake.
  • The sales of comic books in the direct market are not good. When publishers are excited about a small handful of top ten books selling over 200,000 and are happy with mid-range books that are 35,000 then something is really wrong. Look at how many people there are in the world. Those numbers are nowhere near what they should and could be. Look at the consumer numbers in other areas of pop culture. Comic books are far behind. I’m fine with optimistic attitudes and positive thinking, but I’m not big on repeating that things are great when they aren’t. Repeating a wish over and over to yourself does not make it come true. Taking action does.
  • The desire to change the way we do business in comics is as stubborn as the way we buy comics for ourselves. There are so many readers that are bored, not happy with or just in the habit of buying the same title over and over. Only to themselves in a quite moment do they admit they’re just waiting and hoping that one month that title and character will once again be like it was when they were some where between 12 and 15 years old.
  • Mainstream comics do not have any true visionaries right now on the business end, just caretakers and those hoping to be a big fish in a slowly shrinking pond. Let us not forget the ones doing their best to hang on to a job they know they aren’t qualified for. The business people that do have innovative vision are not being listened to and are no doubt very frustrated with what could be and how it is. These people take their visions else where in entertainment and thrive.
  • Comic books are becoming a business where both young and older creators are finding their talents and skills abused by a system that is no longer willing to take any risks or teach the fundamentals of story telling. Story telling that is no longer stressed, enforced or taught. The craft and marketing of stand alone stories is becoming a lost art. The true construction of comic book story telling is fading every day. Structure is needed, not chaos and the marketing of seeing what sticks when thrown against the wall.
  • There needs to be a mesh of the direct market and the mass market. A plan that will partner choices of deep discount with no returns and returns with less of a discount. It’s obvious that growth cannot come with just one system.
  • I’d love to see more interest and time put into how to sell comics to a much wider base of consumers and less interest in gossip about creators, publishers and other personal things that are just none of our business.

If this all seems a little harsh that’s because sometimes the facts can land that way. I’m more positive about comics than I have ever been because I know how good they can be because I’ve seen it. I was never one to wear rose-colored glasses. I don’t like being fooled by someone and I sure as hell don’t try to fool myself. We can all arrange statistics and flow charts any way we want to. Some are better than others in the representation of math. All of that doesn’t do you much good if you don’t include the main ingredient needed?common sense.

Without it you’re still in the same small room with the same small people.

Don’t keep comic books small.

Busted Knuckles Babe Of The Week

Mary Castro
– actress

Mary is a very healthy young lady with a very healthy acting career. Here career is truly blossoming with each new role. You’ve seen her on TV in a ton of sitcom and other roles (Charmed, George Lopez, Monk, CSI) and her latest film is the comedy Epic Movie.

This tall California beauty also sings opera.

Busted Knuckles Manly Cover of The Week

The Hulk Magazine #13
Marvel Comics, 1978. Cover By Earl Norem

It’s hard to rate any higher on the manly meter than to have a pissed off Hulk squaring off with terrorists. Back in 1978, that’s just what the big green guy was doing. The cover was done by the great painter Earl Norem. Great dynamics and power in this classic shot. HR:INEThe Roundup

Like the rest of you I’ve been trying to get everything in line for 2007. Everybody seems to be getting back to work. That’s a good thing. We can always hope for better results than the year before.

Winter has yet to really set in here at the ranch. We’ve had lots of above normal temps and too much rain. I’m hoping that cold weather and snow hit town soon. Nothing I dislike more than rain? well? maybe commies, Nazis and alien invasions from other planets.

As always I hope to hear from you and see what’s on your mind. Don’t forget to check out my Dottin’ The Eyes column in The Comics Buyer’s Guide and my entertainment column Far From Fragile in Impact Magazine. I’m everywhere you need to be.

There’s no business like Beau business.

Your amigo,

Beau Smith
The Flying Fist Ranch
P.O. Box 706
Ceredo, WV. 25507

Prove your manhood by visiting Beau at the Flying Fists Forum!

About The Author

Beau Smith

Beau Smith is a writer for Comics Bulletin