Why Aren't More People Reading The Avengers?
June 3, 2012 at 10:54 pm #25267
Over at Chris Bird’s MightyGodKing, John Seavey posted a damning observation about the comic book industry that caught my attention:
Seriously, the Avengers movie just made a billion dollars. “Billion” with a B billion. That is 100 million tickets sold. Even if you assume that everyone who saw it was a sad obsessive who saw it five times apiece, that is 20 million discrete Avengers fans. Avengers moves about 100,000 copies a month. Not only does this mean they’re reaching one half of one percent of their potential audience, it also happens to be about half the numbers the series did at its peak in the 80s. These are the kinds of numbers that should get an entire building full of people fired, but Marvel actually seems happy with the status quo.
At that point, yes, the question “Why aren’t more women reading Avengers?” does need to be asked, along with the questions, “Why aren’t more kids reading Avengers?”, “Why aren’t more men reading Avengers?”, and “Why aren’t more (insert demographic here) reading Avengers?” But it needs to be asked from the perspective, “How can the miserably unsuccessful comics become more like the wildly successful move?” It’s time, in short, to stop assuming that the comics have narrative primacy, simply because they’ve been around longer. Right now, if you asked the average person on the street who the Avengers were, they’d tell you about the movie. We assume the comics are canon and the movies deviate from that canon because that’s how we’ve been following them, but let’s face facts. In terms of monetary success, public recognition, and number of fans, the Avengers are a series of movies that happens to have a lousy and inaccurate spin-off comic where Nick Fury is a white guy.
(Note that Marvel’s just the example being used; DC is equally deficient at this sort of thing)
Should the comic studios (Marvel, DC) make a better effort to capitalize on the immense fandom that the movies have generated? Are they doing the best they can, and these pitiful sales are the result? Is Seavey comparing well-marketed 3D apples to pulp-paper monthly oranges?
Your thoughts, Overthinkers?June 4, 2012 at 11:02 am #25272
I don’t see the comics reshaping themselves to fit the movies as fixing anything. Do the Avengers comics alienate the movie fanbase because Nick Fury is white (Which I estimate is only true in around half of the current Avengers arcs right now), or because they are literally comic books? A quick glance at Marvel’s website shows that they are creating comic books specifically aimed at movie viewers (They even have a nice big picture of Scarlett Johansson on the cover http://marvel.com/comic_books/issue/43005/the_avengers_black_widow_strikes_2012_3), but the vast majority of the movie audience have no interest in picking up any kind of comic book. Indeed, almost all of the current superhero movies aren’t using the comics as their connection with the audience, they are using old animated TV shows. Now that comic books are no longer kids fare (like kids read anyways), they are having to battle the huge social stigma that “comics aren’t cool.” To this day, if a character is reading a comic book, it is a sure sign they are a loser (even Marvel characters don’t read comic books). That isn’t even the worst of the problems though, the primary comic distribution centers are separate from mainstream distribution channels. If every Walmart or Barnes and Nobles in the country had been hit with trade paperbacks of the avengers, and little revolving racks of the comic, they probably would have seen a sales spike. However, it requires proactive consumption to purchase comic books.
However, the advent of the Ipad has a chance of providing the comic book industry a second wind. A large screen mobile platform meant for reading that can handle the spectacular graphics? Yes please. I’m fairly sure that Marvel and DC both already have aps that allow you to purchase digital copies of their current series, and I think with the right marketing (perhaps in conjunction with their movies) they could hit that sweet spot.June 4, 2012 at 12:45 pm #25273
Film adaptations are almost always more popular than the source material and comic books are no exception. However a traditional novel has a better chance of cashing in on movie adaptation than a comic adaptation. Demento is right, there is just no enough access to the old trades. Barnes and Noble does actually sell comics, but nothing older than a few months usually. A best selling novel on the other hand, is sold at nearly every chain store in the Country.June 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm #25279
“If every Walmart or Barnes and Nobles in the country had been hit with trade paperbacks of the avengers, and little revolving racks of the comic, they probably would have seen a sales spike.”
This suggests to me “failure on Marvel’s part,” since that’s the sort of thing that could have been arranged.
However, I’m now reminded that this needs to be couched in terms of the Disney/Marvel relationship. Disney certainly promoted the hell out of The Avengers, the movie: toys and costumes in Target, snacks and Slurpees at 7-11, etc. But they didn’t do much to promote “The Avengers,” the monthly comic book that generates the intellectual property that inspired The Avengers.
Part of that may just be their recognition of the different markets involved: there’s less ROI on promoting a comic than there is on promoting a movie.June 4, 2012 at 10:21 pm #25296
The big problem is what the article talks about; the big two comics companies are short-sighted and tend to advertise not to demographics that haven’t hit yet, but to people who are already into comics. The stories are loaded with dense continuity that’s hard to navigate even with the wonders of Wikipedia – it’s extremely challenging to pick up a random comic these days and have any idea what’s going on unless you’ve kept up-to-date – and this at a time when big cross-title event comics are king. Most mainstream comics tend to be designed with the what is now perceived as the primary group of people reading comics – white middle-aged males – and no matter how much evidence there is that they should maybe start expanding into untested waters, they seem pretty much content to keep dishing out the same old stories with the same old characters to the same old people. Which isn’t to say there AREN’T comics series that are inclusive – the work of Greg Rucka and Gail Simone comes to mind – but they tend to be pretty few and far between.
In short – yeah, it’s Marvel’s fault.June 5, 2012 at 12:22 am #25297
I guess the question becomes, where or how should Marvel/DC expand their markets?June 5, 2012 at 2:04 am #25298
Well, D.C. started a reboot at the same time they started allowing digital download. That is probably a step in the right direction. The next step would be to begin marketing to other demographics and just have a little more faith in the audiences. Though, I suspect comics books will always have a niche audience.June 5, 2012 at 3:54 am #25299
Someone just linked this on twitter and I thought I’d weigh in as a person who’s seen the movie 3 times but doesn’t read the comics. My main problem is where do I start? There is this vast, sprawling continuity and I just look at the shelves then walk away becasue I have no idea where to even begin. I know there are the movie tie-in books but, let’s be honest, they’re not likely to be the best quality. So I’m left with this massive continuity with different universes going back over 20 years before I was even born with no clue where to start, what the difference is between any of the different universes or anything.
On top of that you have the cost of the books (Some of the volume I might have liked to try from my local comic shop were £20, that’s a lot of money for something that says volume 1 on the spine) which will always put me of buying a book on impulse, because again it represents a major financial investment and I understand that the price is so high relative to a novel because of all the different people involved in prodicing the comic and the relatively smaller audience but at the same time it becomes prohibitive to expanding that market.June 5, 2012 at 3:23 pm #25306
The price issue is not likely to go away anytime soon, but for those intimidated by continuity and don’t know where to start I do have a suggestion.
Start where ever the hell you want!
Find something that looks mildly interesting and start reading from there. If you get confused by something, like a name, or reference to something in the past, Wikipedia will assist you.
I started reading comics back 2006. I purchased a copy a copy of The Long Halloween, which is about the fall of the Mob in Gotham City and the Rise of the Freaks, specifically Two-Face.
I went with this book because remembered Batman: the Animated Series, and the character of Two-Face. Realizing that Two-Face would be in the Dark Knight, I read the book that influenced the movie two years before it came out.
From that point on it was easy. There was a direct sequel to Long Halloween called Dark Victory. Then I realized that Long Halloween was intended as a follow up to Batman: Year One, which was written by Frank Miller, who of course wrote The Dark Knight Returns…and you get the idea.
Before long I was fairly well caught up in the Batman mythology. I did the same thing with other comic series I like. I start with my greatest interest from that series, whether it is a specific character, or story arch—and go from there.
I know people who became interested in Spider-man through the Venom character, so they began with the alien costume storyline and moved forward or backward from there.
If you want to read the Avengers, just pinpoint your favorite part (for me it’s that Civil War feud between Capt. American and Ironman) and work your way around the story.June 5, 2012 at 8:27 pm #25307
I agree with Dr_Demento and the others who already voiced that comics can seem inaccessible to audiences who haven’t been following comics for years, but would like to add an elaboration based on personal experience.
After watching the first Spider Man movie and first X-Man movie that came out in the early 2000s, I decided to check out some comics myself and see what the source material was all about. (I’m sure there are a lot of other people who decided to try out the medium around that time as well.) I found the comics difficult to get into for a lot of the reasons numerated above, and gave up on trying to follow them after a few years. Every now and then I’ll read a comic or an arc if it’s specifically recommended to me, but I don’t make any attempt to seek out comics or follow them regularly.
I saw The Avengers movie when it came out, but it didn’t strike me with any desire to read “The Avengers” comic series, because I’d already tried it a few years ago, and found it not to my liking. I’d assume the same is true for any other Marvel or DC universe movies that come out in the future – anyone who might be interested in trying comics as a result of the movies probably already did after all of the lead-up DC and Marvel movies.June 5, 2012 at 8:53 pm #25308
I think that it’s important to remember that DC’s new 52 line was not, I repeat not, a step in the right direction.
While it is true that decades of continuity can be intimidating, a company-wide reboot does nothing to solve the problem of inaccessibility. The idea was never executed. Even 1985′s Crisis on Infinite Earths touched only a few back-stories and rid DC of its multiverse (an epic fail, that was later retconned.) One might argue that the existence of the multiverse, itself was a reboot, seeing that the Justice League was nothing more than a silver age Justice Society, but it is important to remember that this was not a reboot out of economic necessity, but rather one out of a desire to resurrect then-discontinued characters.
But speaking from experience. Reboots which result in the discontinuation of your favorite plot-lines sucks. I can tell you that because a little over a year ago, I was only reading DC. Now I’m only reading Marvel comics’ Wolverine, The Defenders, and the exceptional Journey into Mystery.
In the pre-52 universe you had truly intriguing plots developing, which were hastily dropped or rushed into an unsatisfactory climax. Anyone who was reading a Batman title can tell you that any single one of them was superior to its post-New 52 equivalent. Batman and Robin, once a masterful book, has devolved into nothing more than dreck.
But if you want to put the poor writing behind you, you can enter the very real economic dangers of nerd-rage. By suddenly dropping the stories they were following, you run a real risk of alienating present readers. Sure, you may feel a surge of sales at the initial launch, but that is only because people want to see what the fuck its gonna be like–kind of like when people watched Ashton Kutcher’s first episode on that Charlie Sheen Show, only to never tune in afterwards.
Meanwhile, try a little experiment. Walk up to someone in the street and ask them if they read comics. If they say no, ask them what the new 52 is. Watch them blink at you before they walk away.
Its an ad campaign designed to attract new readers which was advertised only to readers they already had. It was not only pointless work. It was pointless work with negative long-term effects.
That being said, there is a very simple way to attract readers to comics. Write comics for kids again, and I’m not just talking about that pathetic rack of five Spider-man’s you’ll find in your local comic store. You know, the one with pictures of Batman dressed like he was on the Super-friends.
Nowadays, every comic book writer wants to be next Alan Moore, or Frank Miller. As a result, the industry is flooded with comics that deal with sexual identity, contain extreme levels of violence, and are so dark to look at, that they are visually boring.
The artist and writers have forgotten the reason why every one of them has gotten into it–the wonder they felt when they picked up comics at the store as kids. The worlds brought to us by Stan Lee, Curt Swan, Jack Kirby. Sure, kids like violence and shit, and true, Watchmen may be one of the most brilliant things ever written, but ask anyone what their favorite comic memory is, and nine times out of ten, they’ll tell you something like the time that the Thing fought the Hulk, or the time I bought my fist comic, a (PG) battle between the Avengers and Thanos, heralded by a bizarre golden man named Warlock.
In short, the industry leaves aside a small quota for children, puts small work into it, doesn’t bother to leave room for it in the continuity, and then overprices it. The reason that comic books are dying is because they’ve become too sophisticated to live.June 11, 2012 at 1:45 am #25330
Yeah, I don’t think it works like this — like you can make changes to the content of the comics and they will attract a different audience. Marvel has a pretty good idea of who their customer is and who buys their product.
If they want to deliver The Avengers to a wider audience, they should deliver it in a product that audience will want to buy, rather than try to push a high-cost, low-margin product with niche appeal onto people who don’t want it.
And they do that already. That’s the point of the movies.
Plus, as part of Disney, it’s not like the company doesn’t have equivalent products that are targeted to women. And if you have an issue with companies making male-targeted and female-targeted products in general, that’s a much broader conversation.
I think Marvel/Disney is being smart by thinking of Marvel not as a comic company that spins off properties, but as an intellectual property company that happens to own a comic book business. And investing a whole ton of new money and time into reinventing who reads comics seems like a really poor investment of shareholder dollars relative to other opportunities.June 15, 2012 at 5:46 pm #25388
I’m more or less in agreement with Fenzel. To misappropriate economics lingo, comics are a very low productivity entertainment medium. If you’re buying monthlies, it’s $3 (probably more at this point, it’s been a while) for something you can finish reading in about 15 minutes and that generally gives you like 1/5 of a story arc. No matter how popular the characters themselves get, that’s just never going to be perceived as a good value to the buying public. And you can’t just lower the price point, because ultimately that’s just how much it costs to make the damn things. Trades are a better value for the consumer but, if I understand things correctly, trade sales can’t cover the costs of production without good numbers on the monthlies.
I was really excited about the idea of digital distribution when the iPad came out, but from what I’ve seen you’re still stuck buying individual monthly issues at or near full cover price.
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