Month: May 2013

Why Can’t Comics Get New Readers?

I recently watched Cartoon Network’s micro-series, Amethyst, which aired on Saturday mornings (remember when that was synonymous with cartoons?) as a part of the DC Nation programming block late last year. It was short, silly, filled with (not overt) references to comics and video games with some sharp art and voice work (even something of a moral.)

Watching it, I was struck by one of the major problems with cross media promotion.  The DC Nation animation block (and its related website) are ostensibly a means of exposing audiences to comics in hopes of bringing them in as readers.  But does this really work?  There can be such a tonal shift between an animated series and its related in-continuity comics that it causes whiplash  For instance, this Amethyst show has a very cute anime-heavy look and takes place in a universe that’s filled painted with soft colors (purples and pastel tones) connoting its generally safe environment.  In contrast, the premier issue of Sword of Sorcery–the recent title under which Amethyst stories were published–included an attempted rape.  Alternatively, if you enjoy Teen Titans Go! (a disappointing continuation of the much beloved Teen Titans show of the early aughts) you can go to the New (it’s been two years, can they still call it “new”?) 52’s Teen Titans, notable for its promiscuous Starfire.  Of course, these disparities I mentioned also relate to the overall portrayal of women in comics, which is a very big, very convoluted issue, but it is related to this one (alienating 50% of the potential audience.)

But then I can’t really fault DC for playing hardball with their sales pitch.  “Read our comics if you like our cartoons!” is pithy and might get you new readers.  Of course, the Sword of Sorcery comic did get cancelled after only eight issues.

Magic Me Up Some Breakfast (Incongruous Writing Techniques)

Like a lot of late-coming fans motivated by a like of the TV series, I’ve been reading (well, listening) to George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series of books. The short story is that I don’t think they’ve very well written, indulging in far too much “world building” for their own good.  I think the TV series does an excellent job of excising unnecessary material.

But there’s one peculiarity about Martin’s writing that just drives me up a wall: there’s no breakfast in the mystical land of Westeros.  Sure, characters eat in the morning and frequently “break fast” or are in the process of “breaking fast” but it’s never referred to as “breakfast.”  Mind you, it’s not even that the characters don’t call it breakfast, it’s the omniscient third-party narrator who refuses to use that particular word (I don’t recall any dialogue where the word would have come up.)

Now, to hear fans of the books explain it, the word “breakfast” is only a recent invention (dating back to the 15th century) and so Martin is being accurate to the story’s medieval setting.  This conveniently ignores the fact that the series isn’t taking place on Earth (although maybe in the far future) and certainly isn’t taking place in the past (specifically Medieval Europe.)  In case it’s missed their notice, none of the lands, people, or even languages described in those books appear in our history.   So that being the case, why should Martin’s word choice be constrained by our history.  Furthermore, why would the line be drawn at excluding the word “breakfast” but eschew other period-accurate details?  Shouldn’t the whole thing be written in middle English in order to fully embrace period accuracy (to a period that doesn’t exist)?  For that matter, why is it only the non-character narrator who is so constrained by period accuracy?  In fact, none of the characters in these books are speaking in English (instead it’s Dothraki, High Valyrian, or other made up tongues) but it’s translated–through the magic of books!–to English for the reader’s convenience.  That being the case, it’s a direct line into the audience’s brains.  That audience consists mostly of English speaking people on modern Earth: they know the word “breakfast.”

Why does this bother me so much?  It’s like a great example of poor writing. It’s what happens when somebody performs some cursory and decides to incorporate that research into his or her work regardless of appropriateness.  As it is, it only serves to draw attention to itself as a willful avoidance of a certain, natural word, one that–as soon as the reader notices it–leads to an unraveling of the illusion of the narrative.   

RACCOONS IN THE CLUBS: Not as Cute as You’d Expect

Raccoon Tennis Club Shirt

The New Haven Raccoon Club (NHRC) recently raised $4,200 for St. Jude’s, a noble endeavor.  It made me happy to learn that there is a thing called a raccoon club, and even better that it’s based out of Connecticut, my old home.  It’s great that they’re a charitable group, helping to better the often maligned image of raccoons in our culture.  Personally, had I made a raccoon club, it would be devoted to cataloging all raccoon merchandise in existence (I already own a rather extensive library of books about raccoons; any easy thing to accomplish considering how little material there is.)

I have to admit to being  a little baffled by one of the fundraiser events recently held by the NHRC, however, and that’s “an archery 3D shoot.”  I was always under the impression that any shooting took place in three dimensional space, but I guess this is extra 3D-y. The only thing that would make it more amazing would be if it was in HD as well, but alas, reality has yet to catch up with our entertainment technology.

Rolling Thunder

Now that’s pulp.

It’s Memorial Day weekend and around these parts the big deal is–as it is every year–Rolling Thunder.  Being a geek who grew up in the 80’s, I can’t hear about this organization without immediately thinking about one of the most bad ass video game box covers I ever saw at the local video rental shop as a kid.  I never did play the game, but damn, dude holding a hot chick while angrily shooting a gun.  That rocks.

Comic Book Relevance in the Entertainment Industry

In my previous post, prompted by a recent conversation with a professed comic book geek who operated under the delusion that comic book fans were the target audience of comic book movies, I explained why comic book fans were, in fact, a very minor portion of comic movies’ audiences.  My evidence was the fact that revenues from recent comic book based films such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and the assorted Marvel comic book movies compared to sales of actual comic books. Surely, the comic book readers also see the movies and are an anticipated portion of the audience, but they would make up an incredibly small portion of the total audience.  Film producers have little need to cater to the comic fans’ desires; they’re simply not worth the effort.

I also had a conversation, some weeks beforehand, with someone who expressed dismay at how Warner Brothers would allow DC to screw around with the continuity and disenfranchise its readers. I explained to her that this was because, in the grand scheme of Warner Brothers, what happens in the comic book segment of their business was simply unimportant. Looking at WB’s 2012 financial statements, they brought in $28.7 billion in revenue.  How much did publishing DC comics bring in? That’s a little tough to nail down; it’s all getting thrown in with other segments.  Let’s look at Comichron and work through some numbers:

  1. The comic book industry brought in around $475 million in sales last year (this number does not include digital sales.)
  2. Marvel and DC made up approximately 34% and 32% of the revenue, respectively.
  3. DC brought in $152 million ($475 million * 32%) to Warner Brothers from the sale of comic books (I don’t know how much they made from advertising in those comics.)
  4. DC contributed about 5.3% ($152 million / $28.7 billion) of Warner’s total revenue from the sale of comic books.

To you and me, $152 million is no paltry sum.  However, when you consider the budget for the upcoming Man of Steel is rumored to be $175 million, it seems less than impressive.  Warner Brothers deals with some pretty big numbers all the time and DC just doesn’t seem big enough.

Which brings me to my point: Warner Brothers doesn’t care what editors at DC Comics do to alienate fans.  If they lost their readership altogether it wouldn’t matter; as far as they’re concerned there’s nobody reading them as it is.  WB would only deign to interfere with DC’s operations if there was any concern about them harming the underlying properties.  Messing with continuity and alienating fans wouldn’t accomplish that.  DC would need to do something headline grabbing to warrant that kind of attention.  This is why you’ll never see a story about Superman becoming a pedophile or Batman trying to revive the Third Reich.  This is why when DC does something shockingly progressive like declare a character is gay, they do it with some obscure alternate universe variant and not the character “everyone” knows and loves.  Something that could potentially damage the public’s general perception of a character (a valuable one) simply wouldn’t be allowed.

Which of course will lead fans to ask: if they don’t care then why keep publishing comics at all?

Why not? In the business world, it’s always good to diversify.  It also gives them an ability to try to experiment with properties & audiences cheaply and without significant risk.  It would also be very liberating for the people within Marvel and DC to not have to worry about tanking the company (but maybe their careers) because of a couple of bad ideas; the larger entity can weather their mistakes without much trouble.  They just have to remember that there are people above them, constantly looking over their shoulders and ready to rein them in should they become too bold.