The GeeksverseGateway Comics & The New Reader Myth

Gateway Comics & The New Reader Myth
Published on Friday, November 4, 2011 by

I can’t remember where I first heard the term “new reader myth”. It was either on the Pryde or a recent article on Grantland. My apologies, but I heard it and it got me thinking.

When DC relaunched with the New 52, one of the goals was to get “new readers”. Who are these new readers and where do they come from? Would all the interviews in major media, USA Today and others, lead people that had never read a comic book before, or had lapsed and stopped reading, to “wake up” and realize what they were missing out on?

I love the comic book form. I have since around 1982 when I first picked up a comic book. It was G.I. Joe. The first one I got? It was this oversized copy of issue #1 that was for sale ON THE TOY SHELF. Yep, when I was in the toy store picking up the latest toys I saw it sitting there and it called to me. I then found the spinner rack at my local grocery store and there was more Joe comics. And then Transformers came and I soon found the local comic store and the rest is history.

Like many others I’ve remained a fan of the comic book story telling form. Others didn’t. They changed and left the medium.

Why would hearing that DC was relaunching their universe cause these people to come back? Some did out of curiousity. The thought of “maybe what I grew out of, what I ended up not liking about Batman, has been changed and I can enjoy comics once again” was probably going through their heads. But here’s the thing, looking at DC’s the New 52, nothing has changed. Sure some continuity has been changed, but they are still super hero comic books.

If you didn’t like super hero comic books before, why would you now?

So what new readers would be attracted to DC’s new relaunch? If they didn’t like super hero comics before they weren’t going to like them now. The New 52 is still a super hero comic universe. Vertigo Swamp Thing fans might not follow the character back to the DCU proper because they know the type of stories they liked won’t happen in the DCU proper.

Here’s the thing though. It is possible to do super hero comics that can appeal to the person that doesn’t currently like super hero comics. Things like Marvel’s MAX line can do that. There can be MAX-type super hero comics that would appearl to a non-super hero comic fan more then what DC is now offering, or Marvel for that matter.

I think, for the most part, that super hero comics have aged with the fanbase. The publishers and writers know that the current crop of readers started in the 80s and have aged with the books. The books today are more mature and cover harder/darker subject matter then the ones I first started reading. But at their core they are still super hero comic books and will only appeal to those that like that kind of storytelling.

So who are these mythical new readers and how does the industry get them?

The methods already exist and it’s not the “magical” digital comics that the publishers seem to think will be the saviour. Digital comics still go back to the “if you weren’t reading them before, why will you now” problem. It’s not the delivery method that prevented these people from reading comics, it’s the medium itself. It’s not going to matter if the comic book is on an iPad or printed on paper. Digital will help the collector’s market of comics that seems to have been faltering lately. People run out of room for the floppy books, so some will turn to digital and stop holding onto the books, possibly only buying trades. This will lead to less floppies being printed and after-market prices will increase.

But it’s still not bringing in new readers.

When X-Men first appeared in the theaters, years ago, my local cinema had a table outside the in the lobby. On this table were Marvel’s comic adaption of the X-Men movie as well as the tie-in one-shots that they did. Surely this would have led more people to discover comic books right? After all, the X-Men is a comic book movie and there were copies of the books for people to check out after they watched the movie. This should work right?

It didn’t, or at least not in noticeable numbers, but that hasn’t stopped publishers from doing the same basic idea over and over.

Let’s get one simple thing out of the way, a comic book adaption of a movie will not magically make new readers appear. It goes back to the same arguement “if they weren’t reading it before, why will they now”.

Let’s get another simple thing out of the way as well, if you want new readers to be attracted to comics by reading this adaptions then PUT A GOOD CREATIVE TEAM ON THE BOOK!! Most of these adaptions have B-tier creators. Sub-par art and writing is supposed to draw new readers into the medium? How and why is this going to work? This is what the publishers want to show off as examples of what to expect?

Put the best out there. Really highlight the best the medium has to offer. Instead of some no-name artist doing the movie tie-in books, have Bryan Hitch or Jim Lee do the book. Have Bendis or Fraction or Simone write the book. Really show off what the industry has.

But again, if the person really wanted to read super hero comics they would be doing so. They have had plenty of oppotunity to test the waters. So how do we get that person to come into the industry, which is mostly super hero comics?

Day and date digital isn’t going to do it, but digital can help.

It’s going to take a radical shift in how the major publishers market their books and I think it’s going to be the smaller guys like IDW and Dark Horse that show the way, and they have already started. Image is in excellant position to be the spearhead. Hell, Marvel is doing it as well, doing it poorly though, and they probably don’t even realize it.

It will also involve the different publishers working together.

Remember way back up top when I mentioned my first book was G.I. Joe and that I found it on the toy shelf? G.I. Joe ended up being my gateway comic. What is a gateway comic? It’s kind of like how they say marijuana is a gateway drug. People start smoking it and it leads them to other drugs (it’s an analogy, doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, it’s the concept we care about). G.I. Joe was that for me. I fell in love with the storytelling form and it led me to other similar comic books and I then branched out to super hero comics and now I’m here: 40+ titles a month, 42 long boxes of comic book and the collection is growing, been reading since 1982, that’s almost 30 years. I’m 37 now.

All thanks to a comic book I found on a toy shelf.

What’s going to bring the mythical new readers into the industry? It’s more gateway comics. And not just the comics themselves, but how they are delivered into the hands of those new readers.

Recently the long awaited video game Duke Nukem Forever came out. Included in the special edition of the game was a Duke Nukem comic book by IDW Publishing. I don’t know how many people bought that edition of the game but I bet it was a good number, and I bet not all of them were existing comic book fans. People read the issue and if they liked it they discovered that IDW would be doing more Duke Nukem comics and I hope there was a way for them to find out how to get those comics.

Whether it worked or not is irrelevant, it’s the idea that matters. That Duke Nukem comic will serve as a gateway comic book. They will go from the issue in the game to the other IDW comics and then get curious and check out other IDW offerings and it grows from there.

Why not take it a step further? Why not offer those comics to the video game fans right away? We’ve talked about this in the Pryde’s forums already. This is where digital comes into it. Comics are already available digitally, why not offer those comics as a digital download to fans that have purchased the game? The idea is to get people to fall in love with the comic book storytelling form. If the industry is going to go digital, why not take advantage of it?

Way back when, some Atari games came with an ashcan of the Atari Force comic book. I had one issue and I loved it. I read it over and over again.

Instead of an ashcan, offer the comic digitally. Give a code for a digital download in the video game itself. The video game fan downloads the comic, reads it, likes it and at the end of the comic finds an advertisment for other comics. The idea is to start that person down the path from one comic to dozens of comics. How they get there doesn’t matter just as long as they get there.

Marvel and DC shouldn’t care how those 100 new readers started picking up Avengers Academy or Teen Titans, just as long as they do. So why not help out the publishers that are in better positions to have gateway comics?

How many video game based comic books do IDW and Dark Horse publish? There’s alot. Why aren’t all those available as digital downloads through X-Box Live or the Playstation Network?

Image is in probably the best position to take advantage of a gateway comic. The Walking Dead is HUGE right now. The show is great. I love it and my girlfriend loves it. I have no interest in The Walking Dead comic book, but guess what I bought the other day? Yep, The Walking Dead volume 1. It wasn’t for me, it was for my girlfriend. I’ve been dying to get her to start reading comic books and this seemed like the perfect oppotunity. She loves the show and knows it came from a comic, so she has interest in the comic itself. It remains to be seen if it’ll work like I want, but there’s a good chance.

Why doesn’t Image take advantage of that? Why aren’t The Walking Dead comics sitting alongside the DVDs at Best Buy or Barnes & Nobles?

DC did a Batman: Arkham City mini-series that bridged the story between the first game, Arkham Asylum, and the second game, Arkham City. Arkham City sold around 2 million copies. How many copies of the comic book were sold? No where near that many, probably around the 50,000 to 75,000 range. Huge difference right? So why didn’t DC include a digital download copy of the mini-series in the video games? Work out some deal with the developer. Get that comic onto the game and into the hands of the video game players. If only 1% of those 2 million gamers end up buying comics, that’s still 20,000 more then before.

Dark Horse is doing a Dragon Age comic next year. It’ll be available digitally. Why not work something out with bioware and have that comic available as part of a DLC (downloadable content) package for the Dragon Age game? The writer of the DA comic book is the head writer of the game itself. Make that fact known to people outside the comic book circles.

Hasbro produces action figures for Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Transformers and Marvel Universe. Those are all in comics currently. They’ve done figure 2-packs that come with a comic book. That’s awesome. People buy the toys and they get these comics. The problem is that the comics have been reprints of older stories. The Wolverine/Silver Samurai comic book was a reprint of an older Wolverine issue that WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF A STORYLINE!!

Seriously? You’re putting the comic out to a fanbase that might have some comic readers but has a lot that aren’t, and you choose to do a reprint and in the middle of a storyline? That’s basically saying “we don’t care if you read this or not”. Put in a rather current issue and one that starts a storyline and make sure you show where the person can get more books.

So there’s a Dexter comic book coming. How are non-comic book fans of the show going to find out about it? Why not include an ashcan, or digital download, of the first issue in an upcoming DVD of the show?

Super hero comics are not going to draw in new readers. If the person isn’t already a super hero fan they aren’t going to magically change over night. Have to grab them through something they are a fan of in the first place, get them to fall for the medium and then hope they start liking the rest of the genres the medium has to offer.

It requires a major change in the thinking of the publishers. It requires them to work with other publishers and other companies. It’ll require them to work out deals. But in the long run wouldn’t it be worth it?

[Editor’s Note: I didn’t come up with this idea all on my own, it came about through conversations with others (Big IV, Zuludelta and more) in the Pryde forums throughout a bunch of topics.]

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