The other day, I was at a preschool’s Halloween Spooktacular, which was precisely as much fun as it sounds. Like the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, the evening’s entertainment wasn’t exactly geared towards keeping adults engaged, so I found my mind wandering to cataloging the kids’ costumes. You can tell more than you’d think about Where We Are As A Culture from the Halloween costumes, and this year, it was unmissable. There were a couple of pirates; I saw a Power Ranger in 2012 A.D. for some reason; but everyone else, and I mean everyone else, was a comic book superhero.
There were Batmen. There were baby Hulks. There were easily four varieties of Spider- and Supergirl. There weren’t any deep cuts– I didn’t see any preschoolers dressed as Nova or M.O.D.O.K.– but the store-bought Avengers and Justice Leaguers were out in full force.
As I watched them trick or treat from classroom to classroom, I thought, “Has any child in this room ever heard of a comic book? Are they even aware that that’s a thing?”
After shouting “Every one of you little poseurs is a Fake Geek Girl” until some of the other parents had me escorted out, I started thinking about the summer I took my role here at iFanboy. Iron Man had just come out, and The Dark Knight was right around corner. There was a second Hellboy in there somewhere. Amid all the joy and geeking out, we perpetual bullying victims would cast a wary eye at the multiplex and say, “This can’t last. They’re gonna milk this, they’re gonna start cranking out Ghost Riders, and everyone will get sick of us. The other shoe has begun its downward trajectory.”
That was four years ago. How’s that bubble look now? Before you answer, I have a Spooktacular to show you. Our people are everywhere now. Pity we can’t say the same about the actual books.
Over the last few years, it seemed like our “community” would have the same discussions over and over again. When will the general public get sick of comic adaptations? When will someone do something about the scourge of late-shipping books? Why won’t these publishers go digital, already, and will digital save the art form once they do? Piracy something something yelling? Amazingly, when you sit and think about it, a lot of those old chestnuts have been asked and answered. Years after the adaptation boom began (some people say Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man; I mark it as Bryan Singer’s X-Men) comic book movies had their best summer yet. The Walking Dead season premiere got higher ratings than everything else this fall. Digital comics are everything I ever wanted them to be and more. Lateness shriveled up, to be replaced by a game of “Spin the Wheel of Fill-In Artists.”
There is still an oldie that comes up on occasion, however: do any of these smash hit movies bring in new readers?
Years ago, the response was, “This is an unknowable mystery, like who built the pyramids or why people still buy variant covers.”
Now, the response is, “Maybe. Let’s say ‘no,’ but let’s uptalk when we say it.”
If other media are drawing in new customers, it doesn’t seem to have been a game changer so far. Sales have not been on a rocket to the moon since Marvel’s The Avengers came out. I have yet to see another human being on earth reading a comic book in public. Still, the manager of my store of choice says that since the New 52 got started, he’s been doing his most brisk business ever. Last week, I read an article with the most “beaten down geek” headline ever, “Comic Retailers Cautiously Ecstatic” (don’t let your guard down! it could be a trap!) which said the industry has seen twelve consecutive months of growth in the number of people buying good old fashioned paper-and-staples comics. That’s twelve months of growth not counting digital sales, which of course are an unknowable mystery.
When asked what they attributed the growth to, the retailers in the article did in fact point to an influx of new and lapsed readers brought on by all the pop culture exposure. It hasn’t led to a mania for reading comics, but how often is there a mania for reading anything? You get a Twilight or a Hunger Games every few years, but most of the time the bookstore is just happy not to be laying people off. Time magazine was selling 65,000 copies per issue last time I checked. If Penthouse were a Marvel book, it would’ve been canceled years ago. All things considered, these things are moving pretty well.
Even if it doesn’t translate into sales, I can live with what I’ve got. My kids saw Groot and Rocket Raccoon on TV the other day. I struggled to find a Spider-Man toy when I was their age, let alone an Iron Man costume. Even if no one else starts reading the books, at least now they see what I like about them.
Jim Mroczkowski is not going to hazard his Hulk costume this year. Sorry, ladies.