Before we begin I feel the need to borrow something from a fellow SBC columnist, with an Ambidextrous twist of course.
I accept that the following material is intended for those uncomfortable with the widespread practice of senseless bitching.
I will repeat the information inside only to those who have pledged not to hate…
but to appreciate.
I will enter freely with my mind open and the negativity off.
I ACCEPT THESE CONDITIONS
This weekend we are going to tackle the popular (and often volatile) discussion that results from the time-honored question of: “How the hell does our misunderstood little industry attract even more faithful followers to the promised land?”
The only thing people will agree on is the reality that the readership is steadily increasing with age, while ignoring the crucial ritual of either passing the torch to a younger generation that will one day walk in our enlightened footsteps or simply expanding the marketable audience into new directions. The time for conversion is now people…we have the talent and we have the damn technology. It’s time for the—wait—oh shit—I think a few of you made it through my little barrier.
Pardon me while I handle the light weights.
You thought I wouldn’t catch you sneaking under the rope huh? Allow me to clarify the warning above, for perhaps I was far too subtle.
The following diatribe is not meant for morons intent on entertaining the notion that the comic industry is spiraling into nothingness, ignoring the apparent diversity and abundant quality contained on our shelves. Yes, things could always be better, but frankly…people are tired of hearing you bitch and moan about how everything sucks and the sky continues to fall. Sit down, shut the hell up, and read a damn comic. If this is too complicated for you…stay the hell out of here.
The following is also not meant for pretentious creators that feel the necessity to condemn the storytelling possibilities available through the use of the superhero, ignoring the cold reality that “superheroes” are what made them famous in the first place. Those that have forgotten their roots will be rewarded with a suspicious eye and a stifled chuckle, as we watch you ineffectively attempt to distance yourself from that which made you notable. Accept the man in tights as a useful tool, and live with the fact that they will probably be here for a very long time. Live with it…or let it kill you.
You know who you are…and I’m asking you one last time to leave the rest of us in peace.
All right then…welcome to the Readership Movement.
The Movement is supported by the pledge that one will not whine about how bad comics are nowadays, instead choosing to cast one’s eye upon the vast and colorful library available at one’s fingerprints for the express purpose of making people see things our way. Repeat after me…we have the talent…and we have the technology. And we have the conduits for change…us.
If people spent as much time hooking their friends and associates into this crazy artform as they did complaining about a diminishing number of readers…all of this wouldn’t be necessary.
However, there are several factors that one should consider when attempting to spark another’s interest in something as mundane as a comic book.
Here’s what someone who’s never picked up a comic before looks for in their comics.
With the exception of television programs, movies, and popular music…audiences become decidedly unkind when confronted with bullshit. The story is a universal communication device, and a graphic medium such as this one re-defines the methods by which one can tell it. The correct marriage of words and pictures is indeed a difficult one to manage at times, but the results highlight a unique execution that other formats cannot even begin to touch.
But it all falls apart if the stories are bullshit.
A person that doesn’t read comics isn’t interested in fanboy nonsense. They don’t give a hell about crossovers, heroes kicking dirt at each other, variant covers, or Wizard’s Top Ten List…they want to read good stories. Stories about the confusing nature of one’s youth, betrayal, vengeance, romance, and human tenacity. People want to be touched by their reading material, seeing and feeling human emotions spewed onto paper with such dynamic flair…that one forgets this is all make-believe. It happens with other products of mass media everyday. We become emotionally invested in fictional characters that could never be like us, and are simultaneously so much like us it’s almost scary. How does this happen you ask…by telling stories people care about.
How fortunate that we have stories people would care about.
A general audience is also going to want something with a discernible beginning, middle, and end. A tale that leaves you wanting more due to stylish execution, not because you’re trying to con the reader into buying eleven more books to complete their set. (There’s an easy and very obvious way around this…but I’m getting there.) The point is that people need to justify their experiences, and the time wasted while stopping their life and responsibilities to attend to these recreational jaunts into worlds that don’t exist.
And superhero material needn’t be disqualified by default. There’s this show about two FBI agents that chase elements of a paranormal nature in the never-ending search for the truth, which is defeated at nearly every turn by a corrupt government conspiracy. It’s been on nine years now. There’s this other show about a teenage vampire slayer and the misadventures of her loyal band of compatriots. I think that one’s been on something like six years. Every time some studio delivers a comic-based property that displays more than half a brain it makes people richer by the millions. THE MILLIONS!!
And some continue to sit there and posture that people won’t give a shit about superheroes!!?
Put superheroes in realistic and remarkable situations and people will take notice. Cut the self-pitying defeatist bullshit and show people what we have to offer…the ability to relate stories in a manner that no one else can match.
Someone out there is looking for good shit to read…and there’s good shit available.
The traditional monthly comic pamphlet is not excessively appealing to one unfamiliar with the periodic madness that is New Comic Day. It also contributes to the incorrect assumption that comics are just for kids. But we’ve got something for that ass…
…we’ve taken to calling it the graphic novel.
Know why people that don’t know the first thing about comics are impressed by graphic novels? Because they’ve never seen them before, and were under the impression that comics were some flimsy thing printed on cheap newsprint and peddled through your local 7-Eleven. Collect a few stories, throw a hardcover and introduction on that sucker, and people literally don’t know what to make of it. But it’s successfully caught their eye, because there’s an attention to detail and graphic presentation that they never associated with a comic book.
They’ll flip through it at the very least, and 9 times out of 10 they’ll be impressed at the contents. Now onto the reading part…
Panel to panel storytelling is essential to a novice’s potential enjoyment of the graphic novel you just force-fed them. The biggest obstacle is training one’s eye to read left to right and up to down in a fluid manner. They won’t be able to do that if every page is crammed to the brim with bizarre panel arrangements and liberal placement of the word balloons. Go easy on ’em. Don’t give them Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns as the first thing to read. Imagine reading your first novel, except that the book happens to be incredibly dense and seven hundred pages. We don’t want our new audience to suffer a brain aneurysm just yet.
Gotta crawl before you can walk.
Reading the graphic novel must be a natural progressive response or they’re going to devote all their energy into keeping things straight and subsequently forgetting to enjoy the story. Clear and concise storytelling. Keep it simple.
Bells And Whistles
People like extra shit. Deleted scenes. Bonus material. DVDs appear to be all the rage these days and it’s not strictly because of the sexy media format…it’s because that little disc usually affords one the opportunity to go behind the scenes and see what really went down.
Providing supplemental material in our graphic novels is essential, not only in satisfying that aching curiosity one will effectively be left with after finishing their graphic opus, it also goes a long way in displaying that the production of a modern comic encompasses several professional elements. I’m talking script excerpts. Sketches and unused pages. Editor’s notes. Provide a small window into the creative process, showing these people how we do things nowadays. Creating comics is a convoluted process and people need to understand this if they’re going to take us seriously.
They need to know this is the real deal…that we aren’t playing games anymore.
Armed with the correct graphic ammunition we can get our point across, both to the prized younger audience and the audience that doesn’t know quite what to make of us. Who cares about their demographics, as long as they’re reading? Problems are easier to solve when dissected into distinctive elements. I’ve told you what people that don’t read comics are looking for in their comics…next week…I’ll tell how to give it to them.
Next Time: The perfect graphic novels for those that don’t know we exist…