Can Comics Be Everyday?

Last night I went to a SAG screening of the season two premiere episode of The Walking Dead with Conor. The episode itself was really gripping, and if you are a fan of the show, you are in for a treat. One thing to think about, if you have other friends who enjoy the show, maybe host a little party and watch it with other people—it really does enhance the experience quite a bit, watching this kind of story with other people in the room. We had gasps, nervous laughter, shrieks, heavy sighs, whispers and when it was over, the loudest “NOOOOOoooo!” from an audience I have ever heard. Totally awesome.

After the screening there was a discussion with the cast, which was your standard mixture of laughter, legitimately interesting information and awkward “why do people ask these kinds of questions?” moments. At one point, an audience member asked whether or not the actors had read The Walking Dead comics, either to get an insight into their character or to find out what happened in the book.

The actors had clearly been asked this question a lot, and a few of them took different takes on their answers. Steven Yeun, who plays Glenn, was the only one of the cast who had read the comic beforehand and admitted that he was surprised that the TV show veered away from the comic book, but explained that the differences were necessary, given the two different mediums.

Jon Bernthal, who plays Shane, like the rest of the cast members not only had not read the comic book, but started off with, “I’m not into comics books or whatever but…” and explained how he had read the first trade and quickly realized that he shouldn’t have given his character arc.  Indeed, that was the contention of most of the cast — they didn’t read the books because it was not useful for them to know what was going to happen (even if it was going to be different from the series).  He described a scene from the comics, “I was looking at the page, and there were these words in a box–a caption? Is that right, I don’t know, whatever…” and the whole tone was just so dismissive…it was just really surprising, seeing as this this thing he was shrugging off was the reason why he had a job in the first place.

[Editor’s Note: To be fair to Mr. Bernthal he did credit a panel from the first Walking Dead trade–the shot of Shane’s reaction at seeing Rick and his family reunited–with helping him understand Shane and get into the character. — Conor]

All in all, it was a fun evening, but I was really struck at just how, even after all these successful movies and TV shows, the general feeling about comics was pretty much, “I know they exist but I’m not into them/they’re not for me, that kind of thing.”  And it wasn’t, “Horror comics are not for me” or “I’m old school, I like Superman and those kinds of stories,” it was, “Comics are not part of my life.” All comics. The entire art form.

Conor wasn’t surprised at any of this, but it bothered me a bit. I guess after spending so many years with people who “get” comics that whenever I run into a “regular” person who has the “comics are for dorks” kind of energy, I realize, Oh riiiiiiiight…that’s how people think about this stuff. Case in point–I’ve written for this site for years and I can pretty much guarantee that no one in my family has ever read a single one of my articles (maybe my youngest brother–maybe). There’s just this insane divide.

But why? What is it about comics that makes the very notion of reading them a kind of joke to some people?

I think a lot of us grow up with the notion that comics are for kids, that adults don’t read comics. Comics are not serious, that after a certain age, you grow up and no longer need pictures in your books. Comics are not reading–again, the pictures are proof of that. So, even though some might have fond memories of reading comics as a kid, there’s this association with being 5 or 6 that is apparently quite hard to shake off.

Even when I show friends of mine who are supposedly interested in comics really great books with adult themes and fantastic art, there’s honest appreciation for the work, but the whole idea of actually going out, getting a book and reading that book just seems like a lot of work — and expense — for many. People have little enough time as it is, and, let’s face it, not everyone actually likes to read, or thinks of it as something to do for fun. “Reading comics” is still reading comics, and, sadly, I think there a lot of people out there who do not associate the concept of reading with anything positive.  I guess that’s maybe one reason why motion comics might sound compelling; you change the verb from “reading” to “watching.”

On the flip side, many of the characters that people associate with comics are from the cartoons that they watched as a kid, so while it is helpful from a branding point of view, they are used to watching these characters on TV, not reading them on a page. And let’s face it–reading comics can be kind of confusing, especially when there’s a lot of text on the page and crazy layouts. There are people out there who really do need to be told how to read a comic — viewing panels from upper left to bottom right (or upper left to upper right then middle left to lower right then back up to middle left on the second page to lower right on the second page unless it’s just directly down, etc, etc)  is just not part of their experience.

When DC was in the news and Jim Lee and Geoff Johns were talking to the press, it seemed like the reporters were like, “Look at what those wacky geeks have come up with now, folks!” Like when the theatre club was putting up a few scenes in the cafeteria or the A/V nerds set up a projector in the class room. “Isn’t it cute when they get some attention?”  Even the well intentioned can appreciate what comics are about, but the whole idea of being an ongoing comics reader…it’s just a lot of money for a very, very dubious return (especially when they realize that comics are not actually collectibles).

Format matters here as well. When you see how other cultures read comics, you see a difference in the actual format of the books. Look at France, with their hardcover comics, and Japan, with phonebook sized newsprint weeklies on one hand, sleek digest versions on the other. Thin, easily bendable/crushed floppy comics? You put them in a bag and they are trashed.  When you take them out in public and suddenly you are very much reading this thin magazine with some crazy-ass cover on it with some guy in a costume fighting some other guy in another costume–whatever, you know what I mean. It’s just a very obvious thing to be reading. I remember talking to Dawryn Cooke about the success of his Parker books, and he stressed that they wanted to make the publications look as much like “normal” books as possible.  No matter what they say, people care about how other people perceive them. I am comfortable reading comics in public, the only hesitation I might have is that I am not always in the mood to be “that guy reading comics” in the cafe, who ends up answering questions and basically representing the entire art form and industry to curious coffee sippers. (It happens a lot.)

No matter how much attention DC and Marvel get from their announcements, movies and TV shows, I just don’t see how the attention translates into “regular” people going to a comic book store to pick up the latest issue of Batman. That being said, I do think the movies and TV shows translate into more people checking out trades, and I think with enough marketing, it could translate into people downloading the stories onto their mobile devices.

Notice I said “stories,” not issues. No matter how good the economy is, paying $2.99-$3.99 for 28-32 screens of content is too expensive for people. I think re-packaging the books into 3-4 issue trades or just packaging the story arcs and charging a bit more is going to translate into better perceived value. When you buy a song, you are buying the full song, right?  Spending $2.99 for one-third or one-fifth of a story arc just doesn’t sit as neatly into most people’s purchasing habits.  And, yes, I realize that TV shows have the same problem, but you are getting 22 or 44 minutes’ worth of content in those cases

In the end, does any of it matter, whether or not people’s perception of comics change? It’s debatable, I wrote about it a few months ago. The digitalization of comics will increase readership, as lapsed readers return and new people come in to check things out (though, as Josh wrote, when lapsed readers come back and they realize that, say, this new Superman isn’t the one they remembered, they may get frustrated and stop). How long this increase will last is anybody’s guess. I have a feeling there will be some innovations that target regular comics book readers (QR codes on printed books that let you get a discounted version of the digital comic, digital promotions to encourage readers to visit their local comic shop) to keep the “base” happy.

Will comics ever be every day, hardly worth a notice, like they are in Japan? I don’t know. The kids who have parents who encourage them to read comics are lucky; they have parents who realize the comics help kids learn how to enjoy reading. I just don’t know, honestly. Just reading for reading’s sake seems to be rare, but I can’t help but think that digital books – and their smaller, lighter delivery devices — have really helped make reading less of a hassle.  I think the same thing could be done with comics.

Maybe once non-comic book fans see that you don’t necessarily need to go to the sketchy comic book shop near the 7-11 to check out the books, or how you can get the latest crime comic book from the same online store you purchased your other digital magazines or books, they’ll be less skeptical about the whole affair.  I hope so. I want people to enjoy these books. Once people understand just how full and textured the experience a modern day graphic story provides, I have feeling there will be a lot less eye rolling when the notion of a comic book is brought up in conversation, which would be kind of a welcome change, as much as I want to insist I could care less.

How about you? Are you finding that the perception of comics is changing where you are, or is it pretty much just the same — and do you care?

 


Mike Romo is an actor in LA, where caring what people think about you is a civic duty. He can be reached via email, followed on Twitter or friended on Facebook.

Comments

  1. i’ve see the stigma come off as a reflection on intelligence level or even literacy. I think the size of the physical book and that fact that its so intertwined with images makes people automatically associate with something for children or less intelligent that a prose book. When you put something like Harry Potter next to a TPB of any comic, its easy to make snap judgements. We all know that comics can be a powerful, intelligent medium but it suffer from snap reactions to the form.

    I wonder how many pages you’d get if you translated a single issue of something like Walking Dead into prose? I’d venture you’d get a pretty solid 15-20 page chapter. I think its the same amount of content, but the very format of pages full or images in comics really works against its perception.

    Wonderful article once again.

  2. A fascinating topic written earnestly and entertainingly, as usual. Well done.

  3. Great article. I share many of these same frustrations. I think that the trades being available digitally on iBook and the new Kindle Fire are a huge step in the right direction, and the appear to be at the right price point too. I’ll be very interested to see how they sell in those formats, I suspect they will be quite successful in catching the attention of lapsed readers and new readeers as well. $9.99 for the Dark Knight Returns on the kindle (or via the Kindle Ap on my iPad–or, im assuming via comixology collected DC trades any day now) Those are long-form stories at price points that will get curious folks hitting the “buy” button, and they don’t have to be concerned about people seeing that dasterdly COMIC setting on their shelves either. Then, if enough folks come around, maybe people will realize that reading a comic is no more nerdy than playing some crazy action video game (indeed, a mature, involving story is almost certainly less of a “waste of time” than playing 90% of video games)

  4. “Notice I said “stories,” not issues. No matter how good the economy is, paying $2.99-$3.99 for 28-32 screens of content is too expensive for people. I think re-packaging the books into 3-4 issue trades or just packaging the story arcs and charging a bit more is going to translate into better perceived value. When you buy a song, you are buying the full song, right? Spending $2.99 for one-third or one-fifth of a story arc just doesn’t sit as neatly into most people’s purchasing habits. And, yes, I realize that TV shows have the same problem, but you are getting 22 or 44 minutes’ worth of content in those cases”

    Ifanboy as a whole uses this argument a lot, and it always makes me wonder… You do know that by putting this into words you are keeping away people who could be interested in buying comics and just happened to wonder into this site.
    I mean I collect comics for almost 6 years now and I still wonder why give 2.99 bucks for a comic, what would someone new to the medium think if they read that?

    • remember that thing that Marvel did briefly where they took the first batch of issues of Uncanny X Force, printed it in one giant issue and sold it for a really good price? That kinda stuff can work. although part of me thinks that printing and binding a TPB is actually cheaper.

    • Except I bought that issue, and never followed up because I didn’t want to buy it again in trade form. Backfire.

    • ha thats prob we we never saw it again. Funny because i was buying the single issues and got all butt hurt that they made a cheap mini trade of stuff i paid full price for.

    • JeffR (@JeffRReid) says:

      @Wally & Josh – Marvel is doing this again in December. They’re releasing the first three issues of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Ultimate Comics X-Men, Ultimate Comics Ultimates as mini-trades for $4.99 each. I guess they’re calling this their ‘Must Have’ line. So people like me who were late comers to these titles get three for just a buck more than the price of one. I’m down with that.

      But man, it made me feel dumb to type the words “Ultimate Comics Ultimates.”

    • “Must haves” are a nice way to get more people to jump on board a title. After hearing so many positive reviews of Avengers:The Childrens Crusade, I tried out the “Must have”. It collected the first 3 issues for $4.99.
      Boy, am I happy I tried it out as it a great story! More “Must Haves” Please!

  5. The characters are almost always recognizable, but the medium is generally ignored. I met a kid last week whose dad is completely remodeling his room to be a Captain America theme (complete with blue carpet and red and white striped walls). I engaged the youth about the comics and the character, but it turns out that the kid had never even heard of the star-spangled-sentinel until he saw the Chris Evans in the movie last month. A part of me cringed, I mean this kid has had 12 years to cross paths with a 60 year old comic book icon, but another part of me just wanted to accept it, and be happy that the vogue “new” mediums like film and television are breathing fresh life into ancient characters. So what that this kid has no idea who the Winter Soldier is, he is 12 years old, he probably wouldn’t get it anyway! Give him a few years to catch up and in the meantime let him throw his red white and blue Frisbee at imaginary hydra agents in his back yard. Nothing wrong with that. As long as we continue to get more Dark Knights and less Green Lanterns (Fantastic Four IIs, Jonah Hexes, etc.), hollywood’s character exposures will create a better future for all fanboys, and generally make the world a better place.

  6. Nice counterpoint to Josh’s recent article, even if it wasn’t intended to be. Potential new readers are a more limited group than many of us want to believe.

  7. I’m a 40-year old guy. When I tell people I collect comics, they smile or chuckle a little bit (that never bothers me). However, once they get to know me as a person or a new co-worker, they realize that the comic book side of me is just another aspect of my personality or life.

    Someone recently said in another post that mainstream adults will never try comics. To an extent they’re right, because comics are an ART FORM. Those interested in art go to galleries, but not your average Joe Schmoe. Those interested in reading thrillers go to a bookstore for the latest Lee Child book, but someone who only reads chick lit won’t browse his titles. Yet no one has a problem with Joe or the other someone reading the comics from a newspaper. Blue sky idea that’ll never happen: Advertising and format. How do you advertise a new magazine to people? You need a lot of money to blanket your product both online and in bookstores. You have to put the thing right in their faces. I’m willing to bet that if you tell a lifelong fan of crime novels about Scalped, you would at least get them to look at it. Put these comics at eye level on magazine stands, NOT on the bottom of the shelves next to the latest issue of “Tatoo” or kids’ crosswords. As for format, well, the print magazine is not going away anytime soon. A comic like Chew or DMZ the size and page count (and paper quality) of a Sports Illustrated or Esquire for 4-6.99? Looks like a mainstream art appreciation magazine, with a great crime or alternate history story? To a new reader, that might look better than buying a thin 8×10 for $2.99 or more, let alone trying it. In my opinion, a Japanese digest for $10 is too much. But again, we’re talking about comic companies too busy trying to come up with the next big event. It’ll never happen.

  8. Jon Bernthal never wears his hat as Shane, but he’s always holding it in his hands. It’s like the costume department made him wear the hat cause of the comic, but he doesn’t want to muss his glorious locks, so he works around it. It drives me CRAZY.

  9. Great question (and great article – just passed it along).

    I deal with this issue a lot in my day-to-day life. I’m a professor at a major university, where I hold a joint appointment in the Classics and Religious Studies departments. I’m totally unabashed about my love of comics, and while my students appreciate it (even though the vast majority of them are not comic consumers, though I’ve gotten a few of them interested in various works), my colleagues look at it as an odd quirk of mine.

    I always find this an interesting quirk among academics (and other pretentious hipster/literary types). There’s an increasing acceptance of things deemed “graphic novels” or (what’s becoming the new term) “graphic narratives.” Almost no one recognizes that most of the literature being deemed “graphic novels/narratives” were originally published as single issue comic books. It’s somehow *more okay* to like and appreciate the “graphic narrative” (particularly biographical, like Persepolis, Maus, etc…), which sounds more “literary,” but comic books are still not “serious literature” (says may colleagues who have a copy of Watchmen on their shelves, not recognizing that it was originally a “comic book” and it responds to what was going on in mainstream comics – but they don’t care about any of that).

    But aside from an issue of nomenclature, there’s a bigger issue of academics as arbiters of culture. This is changing somewhat, but it is a *very* small group of us. Let me give another example. I have a friend at Rice who has a new book coming out about mysticism and paranormal experiences as represented in comic books (particularly silver age). I heard him give a paper on this topic at a conference I attended on mysticism. The academic study of magic/mysticism/etc has been growing in the past decade, but most of us (myself included) think about this issue in regards to the pre-modern world. One of the comments made after the lecture is “Why is it that as academics, we are *so* far behind what’s going on in our own day?” We think its okay to study this topic when it’s greatly divorced from our own time period, but to look at what’s going on in “mainstream” culture is for some reason not “academically serious.”

    Particularly among people who work on mythology or religion, comic books is in my opinion the *best* place to see how mythology and myth-making works in the modern era, not to mention how concepts of the “sacred” and “divine” are expressed in the superhero genre.

    There is some move forward. Recently, a collected volume of essays on Classics and Comics came out (which originated at a panel from the annual meeting for Classicists). And I continue to introduce my colleagues to the value of comic books. Heck, I’m going to take a shot at it myself next semester, when I’ll be using Alan Moore’s Promethea in a course I teach on magic and magicians in the ancient world.

    That’s some of my rambling thoughts on the topic. Thanks for this!

    • Great comment. The distinction some make between graphic novels and comics is a clear example of the public’s distorted view of comics. I laugh when someone tries to defend making the distinction. Sorry non-comic collecting single issues into a single volume does not make the content more adult.

  10. and if we’re talking about superheroes we have to take a giant step back and look at them for what they are. A bunch of muscle men and women in skin tight spandex and armor flying around a city. There is inherent silly-ness there. If you’re trying to ask a man on the street to take that seriously it might be a challenge….suspension of disbelief can be a giant hurdle sometimes.

    • I think that’s one of the reasons the movies have been more successful. Remember that great line in the first X-Men? “You prefer yellow spandex?” – they had to modernize / ‘normalize” the costumes somewhat for the mainstream audience…

    • I like Cyclops’s line from Joss Wheden’s Astonishing X-Men. “Sorry Logan, superheroes wear costumes. and frankly, all that black leather is making people nervous.” my sentiments exactly scott.

  11. They should read all of the material available for their character to best understand that character. Example- the character you are playing finally reveals an important piece of backstory late in the books, shedding light as to why he/she has been acting the way they have for the past 70+ issues.
    As an actor, if you don’t find out as much as you can about your character you are not doing your job right.

    Also, F anyone who dismisses comics as being only for nerds. Maybe the Walking Dead TV Show wouldn’t suck if they stayed true to the book. The last couple episodes of season 1 were awful, and surprise, had nothing to do with the comic. The “different medium” excuse doesn’t work, there is nothing in the book that wouldn’t have worked on screen. I am sick of hearing that

  12. I saw the title and thought, “Yes! There should be new comics every day!”

    The only time I get shy about reading comics in public is when there is mature content and there are kids around. As happened yesterday, when I was reading Criminal on my iPad.

    I have to say: I saw several people reading Watchmen collections on the subway around the time of the movie; since then I haven’t seen much. I’m sure there’s a connection or lesson there.

  13. Is there really some kind of misconception about comic books? Is the zeitgeist of the comics community really that of Kevin Bacon in “Footloose”? Maybe the non-comic readers just don’t know “how to dance.”

    Are comic books really facing a stigma? I have honestly never heard the words, “comic books are for dorks”, and the like, outside of someone explaining how comic books should be more popular. When I was a kid I remember the end my getting comics coincided with the price of comics going up, nothing more.

  14. I know plenty of people who REFUSE to READ anything. Then there’s those who don’t make it so vocal, but really wouldn’t read unless their lives depended on it. I don’t know what the literacy rate is here in the US, but it’s not exactly the forerunner. Reading in general is a limited audience. Then there’s a perception comic books have had here in the US, created by a myriad of historical issues (from the disposable nature of the printing for decades), the loss in the 1950’s of genre books that might’ve appealed to adults (they could’ve changed public perception, but instead we got washed down, tales of wonder for kids in the 1960’s), and the general concept that pictures and words equals a children’s storybook.

    NOW, take away all the spandex wearing power-fantasies (“all-ages” and “adult”) which *typically* only appeal to certain groups, then take away the intelligent/mature but special interests reads (Stuck Rubber Baby, Maus, etc.) which only appeal to certain groups individually to those subjects…

    And you’re left with a VERY small amount of people left TO convert.

    In Japan, they have Manga that centers on the daily struggles of cooks and chefs (complete with recipes IN the stories), tales of tennis, fantasy girl oriented books, hardcore violent horror stories, and it goes on and on…

    Only a decades long fix can bring people into comics, and if they’re not around anymore by then, well, they’ve only got themselves to blame. I agree with the blogger who pointed out TEEN TITANS the cartoon had WAY more viewers than the comics they’re taken from, and yet when rebooting these characters, we’re obsessed with T&A and being lewd (which we somehow think validates comic books maturity somehow) and we drive away the possible fan base to essentially just please ourselves… it isn’t working.

    • I think that might be what it boils down to. In Japan one of the top selling comics is about WINE TASTING.

      The sweep of comics here in the US all but killed diversity and stigmatized the medium.

    • Reading for pleasure (be it comics, novels, or short stories) is rarer with each passing year. It’s practically become a niche activity.

      60 or 70 years ago, a bored night watchman would read a detective pulp magazine or advetnure dime novel to kill time. Nowadays, he’s surfing the web, playing Angry Birds, or updating his Facebook status. Changing times and all, but something is being lost.

  15. I remember when I think the third Harry Potter books came out, they put out these really funny “adult ” cover versions with moody black and white photos of trains and cars and things with chic typography and in a smaller paperback format.

    This was before Harry Potter was the universally accepted societal boon it is seen as today. When reading a book with a cartoon wizard and lightning bolt fonts would cause suspicious looks.

    Check them out! They are pretty slick and still convey the story of the first two books pretty well: http://sumthinblue.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/uk.jpg

    If comics were presented in a more adult way adults might actually read them. Look at Chris Ware.

    Would you honestly pull out Catwoman number one in a public place? It looks like pornography.

  16. My mom gave me comics when I was eight to get me more interested in reading. It worked, I still read my Batman comics.

  17. I was on a plane ride from Los Angeles to Chicago, so everyone on board had some time to kill. I was reading a Top Ten tpb, and after about 30 minutes I notice the guy in the seat by me was reading some X-men with a nice pile of bags and boards on the side. I asked him how he was liking the current storyline and what else he was reading, and the guy gave me a weird half sentence answer (mmm, yeah, its good, mmhmm, yeah) then put all his stuff away and spent the next 4 hours staring out the window.
    Don’t know what it is about North America, but the stigma seems WAAAY too strong for comics to be everyday any time soon. Half the problem is with the 1950’s and the CCA killing everything but young boys books stinting the industry, and the other half is with educators who not only look down upon but openly mock and discourage the reading of comics to youths. I cant tell you how many sarcastic remarks I got in high school from teachers when trying to explain the significance of universal classics like Watchmen, The Incal or Sandman. Basically nothing with pictures can apparently be considered literature.

    • And yet how many damn Caldecott Award winners do they try to cram down your throat!

    • Exactly, those and many others are universal classics and there are even college courses and professors advocating and teaching about comics as an art form and they’re cultural impact, wish I had that class.

    • The argument I make with my colleagues goes like this. You like art, right? You go to galleries, look at pretty paintings… You like words too, right? So what the hell is the matter with putting the two together!!!

      There’s so many things you can do in the comic medium that simply *can’t* be done in a solely graphic or solely textual medium.

      And I don’t even see the need to argue for comics as an “art form.” It’s a cultural product, pure and simple, and as such offers us a lot of insight into the milieu in which they were created. The obvious example being the silver age Marvel as a reaction to the Cold War.

  18. I’ve personally encountered the “I appreciate comics but don’t really feel the need to pick one up” aspect with my best friend. He loves to hear about what’s going on in comics, what comics I’ve read, what Bendis and Geoff Johns are up to (he knows them by name), but has very little interest in reading comics. He’s picked up most of Y the Last Man from the library, but that’s about it. He’s even told me he’s talked to other comic-reading people in bars about The Walking Dead WHEN HE’S NEVER READ THE DAMN BOOK!!! So yeah, that’s been most of my experience. OTOH, I got my dad to read Watchmen before the film came out and we’ve had many great discussions about it. So go figure.

    BTW Mike, I’m interested in what kinds of questions the curious coffee sippers ask you. Care to share?

  19. You have to wonder that part of the success of The Dark Knight movie is the fact that it didn’t say BATMAN anywhere on it…?

    Like you don’t have to say “BAT-MAN” out loud at the Oscars etc.

    • Given the success of Iron Man, Captain America Spider-Man and others, not much. Not to mention the success of Batman Begins.

    • Sure, if any of those other movies had been up for Oscars or even considered. But they weren’t. But I think you’re ultimately right, Josh. The academy didn’t have any problem reading out “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long-blog”!

    • None of those other movies got even CLOSE to the cultural or financial juggernaut that The Dark Knight was. Let alone the critical acclaim.

      Dark Knight is 10th of all time world wide Box Office, the next closest comic movie is Spider-Man 3 in #21.

      They were VERY careful to not put the word “Batman” on anything.

      I think the Nolan films are pretty snobbish in their desire to NOT be Batman movies, which everyone who is involved is at pains to emphasize. They want to get it as far away from comics as possible. And it totally worked.

    • @ResurrectionFlan: The success of THE DARK KNIGHT was due mostly to:

      A. The fact that it was an excellent film.
      B. Heath Ledger’s performance.
      C. Heath Ledger’s death.

      It wasn’t a phenomenon because the name lacked the word “Batman”. It’s not like it was a secret that it was a Batman movie.

      I know people involved in these movies, they’re not ashamed that they are Batman films or try to hide what they are. And of all the Batman films to date, they are the CLOSEST to the comics in terms of tone and character.

  20. i try to read one every day. it’s the one thing in my life now that brings me some kind of happiness. I’m glad comics are getting more attention. I have a friend that thinks comics are a waste of time yet he’s surprise when i tell him that whatever he likes came from a comic. I wish there was more comic related things here but until then, i’m reading something every day.

  21. I wouldn’t read Catwoman in public for the same reason I wouldn’t read a Maxim in public (to be fair, I don’t read it in private either, but that’s neither her nor there). Sure, you CAN do it. But know that people WILL be thinking things such as “socially inept pervert”. I’d think “douchebag” if I saw a dude reading a Maxim on, say, a bus. That said, some Chris Ware ain’t much better (some is far, FAR WORSE), but most Acme Labs would probably awe, confuse and impress passersby.

    Now if the same type of dude who’d read Maxim in public saw you reading Catwoman, Conner, he might think, “Wow, that looks awesome! When did comics get all edgy?” Of course, we know Catwoman’s content isn’t that big a departure from comics that existed 20+ years ago.

    I don’t think it’s a matter of “legitimizing” comics (cause who’s “this public” think IT is? most people are not really that sophisticated). Most people have a different idea of what makes something “cool”, acceptable or “mature”. I think it’s the “pictures = children book”, and the spandex power fantasies, that needs to change an overall perception. And that takes time and more diverse genres/books.

    PS: I wouldn’t read Walking Dead or Cross in public either, simply because I try and respect others sensibilities. I don’t need a little kid seeing some horrific image just so I can read in public.

    • Nothing needs to change as we’ve had to complex non spandex/powers books for years and not reading Walking Dead cause of the possibility a little kid might see a black n white graphic image is ridiculous, the kid would have to be reading over your shoulder which is rude and where his parents come in w parenting, porn on the other hand is pushing it. I’m not compromising my freedom of choice for the wrong(good intentions) but wrong reasons,reasonably.

  22. Do you think the ‘frail’ nature of a comic book and some inherent need to keep it in as reasonably good condition as one can – combined with it’s size – is partly why people wouldn’t read comics out in the general view of the world?

    I don’t “collect” to sell… In fact I’m a lapsed reader recently returned (thanks dc52 for the kick in the pants) – but once I have my issue I PREFER to keep it fairly safe… I end up putting it in a bag (no board!?) because I’m not sure what else to do with it… and my instinct is to “keep it nice”. I can’t imagine putting it in a backpack or bag where the edges would get torn up and reading it at the coffee shop.

    Maybe a robust ‘graphic novel’ with a hardcover and a dust jacket…. and certainly if I had an ipad I’d happily read digitally in public.

  23. I almost prefer the esoteric cult like comix culture we have as it makes the whole thing more special in ways but by now after numerous New York times best selling authors to have written award winnig graphic novel and comic stories such as Nei Gaiman or Brad Meltzer to Alan Moore and Grant Morrison’s genre bending controversial material, that by now you would think more people would recognize the medium as a respected art form, I mean the combination of good writing with great art is a beautiful concept alone…….they’re the ones missing out but more readers would help nut I for one don’t care what anyone thinks about em, that’s they’re own ignorance and isn’t stopping me from loving em.

  24. Neil Gaiman, but im sure I didn’t need to clarify that to anyone who knows comix and knew what I meant.

  25. I still believe it isn’t a value issue so much as a ‘people don’t read’ issue. I currently have an opportunity to spend several hours a week with kids between the ages of 18-20. Dozens of them. All current and active college students. Of the 30 only 2 read anything that isn’t required of them. Some will not even read what is required. These are the kids who are, theoretically, interested in learning, knowledge and self-improvement. If they won’t read… well, who will?

  26. I still get the looks and nerd comments, although I also see that glimmer or curiosity when I describe some series to non-readers. There is interest there and although I’ve always been a fan of the sturdy hardcopy, I believe digital is the way to get through to these “non believers”. I’ve said it before, but I still think the big boys have to look more closely at how Japan and Europe market and distribute their products. The latest volume of One Piece sold over 2 million copies in 2 days in Japan!!!! Also look at the popularity of Scott Pilgrim – I think the format plays a huge part.

  27. I was half way through the article before I realized you also wrote what I was thinking, and that the act of reading determines whether someone will read a comic. I always enjoyed reading books for school so it was an easy jump for me to read comics. And you know what, I once suggested to my girlfriend to read a Superman comic I had and she loved it so much she read almost every Superman comic I had afterwards, that was easy because even though she never gave two shits about Superman, she likes to read. On the other hand, my best friend loves Batman, he grew up with the cartoons and loves the films but I’ve come to realize that its a huge waste of time to get him to read anything, even Batman related because he just doesnt like to read. No matter how much fun you tell them it is, or if they enjoyed a movie based on the comic, they wont touch it with a ten foot pole because they see reading as something they want nothing to do with. Its a shame, but thats how it is, I think.

  28. Let’s just say it, superheroes are silly, no matter HOW well done. It’s just a silly concept when looked at through the lens of the real world.

    The Watchmen is NOT a defense of how great superheroes are, it’s laughing AT them. From the last 9 panels of #1, to Ozymandias’ response to Rorshach after having already set his plan into motion. They can be a lot of fun, but if the questio here is, “HOW CAN WE GET ‘REGULAR’ PEOPLE TO LOVE SUPERHEROES?”, quit trying. Those that like ’em, like ’em, those that don’t, won’t.

    But to get people to enjoy comics, you need to diversify content.

  29. curiously,thats what made me stop buying and therefore reading comic books years ago.aside from the 90s crap,i stopped because i seemed to “outgrew” the need to read comics.on the otherhand, those movies made me want to at least take a peek on whats goin on with comics.with great movies,i associate it with great stories from their original medium.and im thankful i did because at the time, siege and blackest night was just about to start and i enjoy a well done event.

    about the stereotyping,that wont go away.but isnt that why michael jackson regretted changing the color of his skin so that he wont be discriminated anymore for being black,but then the times changed and being black became cool and MJ was stuck with that fake white skin?its been a while now that geeks are the new “in” crowd.from the silicon valley to hollywood,the world is now being ruled by geeks,same guys who read comics.so that being said,im not bothered with that.except being annoyed with that bernthal guy.

  30. Great article. I’ve been thinking about this since the DC relaunch. First traditional super books I’ve bought in a long time.

    The idea of reading not being what it once was got me searching around on Google. Here are some 2010 best sellers. In the US, Walking Dead volume 1 sold the most trades with 44,000. The hardcover of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest sold 1.9 million in the US alone. In Japan, One Piece volume 59 sold 2.6 million.

  31. Parri (@pazzatron) says:

    My 2 cents…

    I’ve loved the world of comic books my whole life — but never in comic form. Batman, Superman, X-Men and more have kept me entertained via animated series, TV shows, video games and movies — but I never read the books. Why? The usual question: How do you start reading a series that’s been going 40+ years. It’s daunting.

    The DC relaunch was my ‘in’ and saw me enter a comic book shop for the first time and I’ve loved getting to know characters new and old from what is, ostensibly, a new beginning. At the same time, the Marvel shelf scares me. I know the names, and I want to know them better, but do I want to spend £3 on a book that might leave me scratching my head? Can I afford four or five issues to ‘get in to it’? Probably not. Welcome to square one.

    As for digital vs print, in the UK our cover prices are basically the same as yours in the USA; air shipping for same-day releases pretty much means you swap the $ for a £. That means a $3 just become a $4.60 comic. For this reason I’m seriously considering becoming (and buying) a digital reader. That Kindle Flame looks perfect.

    In a month I’ve also learned to love my comic book store and I want to support it. With my weekly/monthy series eventually moving to digital, I’ll still be picking up trades from my LCS. I’ve a whole credit card’s worth of recommended reading to catch up on and the old fashioned me likes something to hold — something that smells of ink and paper that I can display on my shelf. Plus, the argument of cost is greatly reduced.

  32. 1)
    I remember reading Identity Crisis #4 on the crowded subway one night. Michael Turner’s cover with Wonder Woman holding out a noose was/is a very arresting image and a guy across from me asked about it. I told him it how great the book was and basically pitched it to him as a superhero murder mystery. He seemed to dig the idea.

    Now here’s the thing – How the heck would he go to a comic book shop and pick up issues 1-4 without paying above cover price?

    The secondary market of back issues really hurts the prospect of growing new readers. It’s a scam that nearly doomed the industry back in the 90s and today – so long as we continue to perpetuate it – keeps readership from growing.

  33. 2)
    Compared with other subscription-based print mediums comic books are still lagging behind.

    Newspapers come out everyday. Digital versions, like the NY Times publish stories at all hours. They’ve become a network of news information using social media tools like Twitter for you to follow their contributors.

    Weekly and monthly magazines like Fast Company, the Atlantic or Wired deliver content beyond their publishing schedule.

    Most of all though these magazines and newspapers do not have 3rd party fan sites. Sure there may be blogs that may aggregate stories but if after I finished reading an article in the NY Times, or the Atlantic, I can discuss it immediately. For the digital comic of Animal Man #1 I have to go here to talk about it (not that I’m complaining).

    If comics could get their websites out of the hands of the marketing/public relations departments and into the hands of their writers and artists. I bet you’d see the medium evolve delivering more content and building a deeper relationship with its readers where they stay on the site longer and therefore generate more ad revenue.

  34. Great article, Mike. Though I do think America’s perceptions toward comics are improving (as comic-based properties demand more respect in film & TV, and as younger generations are raised in this animation-friendly / gaming-friendly culture), there is indeed this prevalent sense still existing among most adults that comic books are for the lazy; that only people with limited reading skills or weak imaginations should want pictures to accompany their written stories.

    I’m a soap opera writer (or at least I was until this summer), and the soap world suffers from the same stigma: the mistaken belief that only the lazy would follow this genre. At least comics have benefited more from society’s recent “nerd cool” phenomenon, where people are seen as somewhat more attractive – “adorkable” – by boldly owning up to aspects of their own geeky natures. Not so with soaps, unfortunately. And perhaps that’s one reason the soap genre has been left to die in recent years, while its very similar comic book cousin can maintain a relevance in the entertainment world.

  35. “I know plenty of people who REFUSE to READ anything.”

    And most of them are sickly PROUD about it to. Like it’s a badge of ignorance you would want everybody to know about. I mean, I hate to sound like Roger Ebert but I can’t understand not wanting to read. I’d say everybody I know loves film, and every genre of film. They love westerns, comedies, horror, fantasy, documentary, action, melodrama, thriller…people love STORIES about other people, even (especially?) when they lean to the escapist, fantastic side.

    So why not read books? If it REALLY is the lack of visual, why aren’t comics selling like hot cakes? And, if for whatever bizarro reason you are going to bereft yourself of the pleasure of reading, why be proud about it? All of the non-readers I’ve met (and befriended and even loved) will loudly exclaim how BORING and stupid reading is. Reading isn’t homework, it’s as fun as going to the movies! I mean, no one says you HAVE to read Ulysses, King Lear and the entire history of the printing press. You can read whatever you want… good Sci-Fi, trashy Sci-Fi, crummy romance, beautiful romance…there’s such a volume of stuff out there, there honestly is something for everyone. ESPECIALLY in comics. I love comics, and I after a trip to the library I am constantly crippled by how much fantastic stuff there is out there, and the variety of it all. The Indie stuff, the old romance stuff, horror books, non-fiction, gag strips…it sometimes seems like EVERYTHING is collected, which should lead to a euphoria for people all over! With that much variety, we can’t really use the ‘It’s only superheroes’ excuse anymore.

    Anyway, I guess I’m preaching to the choir, but boy was this a fantastic article. Well done and very entertaining. As for the actual on topic question, I have to say, I feel absolutely NO stigma for my love of reading comics in public. The line about being asked questions in the coffee shop certainly ring true, though. People are curious about these things, these artifiacts from another world. Heroes that have been around for decades, that just can’t shake loose out of our culture. The comment above about superheroes constantly trying to reinvent themselves being unique to them, whereas big band music has, with only some quiet murmurs of complaint, been left by the wayside. It reminds me of Morrison’s SUPERGODS when he says the mullet came and went, gone for good, a cultural joke. Yet Batman lives on. What a concept!

    Okay anyway, everyone I know finds that my unstoppable love of comics interesting. People dig people who dig other things (again why stories will always fascinate us…we love new POV’s) and I find people genuinely wanting to hear more about why I love superheroes and comics in general, as an art form. Though I can say this. I know the fanatics, I’ve seen them, and they drive people away. They scare them. Of course most people of the comics culture are unbelivably lovely. But you see those saying how Marvel has f***ed the entire X-men line, or how DC’s new reboot is this and that, and how in the ’90’s everything was so much cooler. I don’t mean to pick on anyone but that stuff scares the crap out of people. Comics do start to seem like a mental disease when you have that much passion for them. Personally, I find it it inspiring, but I do find that image can scare people off.

    In a day when The Dark Knight makes a bazillion dollars, Big Bang Theory is on everybody’s t-shirts, and hip, young kids walk around in Green Lantern and Flash hoodies, comics do not arise stigma in anybody. Or at least anybody I’ve ever met. Now, how do we get people to READ them??? That I don’t know, but I hope it comes soon! I do my part, and by digging through my massive collection, I think I’ve found something for any friend I’ve ever had. Turn people on to comics. It’s fun and they’ll thank you.

    And CASANOVA. Everybody I’ve ever even shown a page to falls in love with CASANOVA.

    Just found this site and am shocked by the intelligent, passionate, truly-I-am-a-comics-person articles and comments. Thank you and sorry I rambled on so long!