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Comics for all, no matter what… on Eric Stephenson, The Real Thing, and one little girl’s joy…

Published On March 9, 2014 | By Richard Bruton | Comics

I was going to write something at some point about Eric Stephenson’s speech to retailers (see Heidi’s writeup for the whole thing) but have simply had no time. Just to summarise though, Stephenson’s the publisher at Image Comics and essentially said a couple of things, good and bad.

The good thing was that it’s in the industry’s best interest to expand, to approach and engage with new readers in whatever form they may be.

“We have trained the world to think of comics as “Marvel and DC superheroes.”
And the world has stayed away.
We need to fix that.
If we want to reach out to new readers, to different readers, we need to look at what we’re pitching them.
More than that, we need to look at who our customer base is – not just who is coming into the stores, but who ISN’T – and ask what we can do to make our marketplace more appealing to them.
ANYONE who isn’t currently buying comics should be our target audience.
THAT is who we want coming into comic book stores, and it is new creativity that is going to pave their way to your door.”

The bad thing is summed up with this quote…

“We talk about being obsessed with expanding our audience, but if publishing lesser versions of people’s favorite cartoons, toys, and TV shows is the best we can do, then we are doomed to failure.

Simply reframing work from other media as comic books is the absolute worst representation of comics.”

He then goes on to talk about Transformers, GI Joe and Star Wars comics and how they will never be “the real thing“.

Which is, in its own way, just as bad as the comic shop employee who critiques your purchase, who tells you that Batman is brilliant and anything else sucks. Comics are reading material. Some are good, some are bad, some are for you, some are not, some are for me, some are not. But don’t tell me what “the real thing” is.

I wholeheartedly agree that we’re not going to transfer custom from the latest superhero blockbuster film to the corresponding superhero comic for a couple of reasons; 1. we’ve never been able to, not in the log-term, and 2. just from the children at school and Molly’s friends I can tell you they don’t even consider The Avengers et al as comic heroes, they’re film heroes and nothing more. But that’s just superhero blockbusters, not every media based comic.

So, I was going to write loads about this. About how limiting your market is bad, which Stephenson gets haf right. But limiting the potential market in ANY way is bad. If a child picks up a Transformers comic, a My Little Pony comic and loves it, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll come back for another and another, and then, if the shop cares enough, they’ll see a display with some more similarly attractive kids comics. One thing could lead to another could lead to a lifelong reader.

I was going to write a lot about that. And then I saw this piece of art by Rian Sygh, illustrator, comic artist and book store worker. It pretty much saves me writing a couple of thousand words on the subject…

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Sygh adds this:

Mar 5th
Today I witnessed something amazing. Almost in stark contrast to yesterday, today I saw tangible impact of lady-representation in comics.

At the bookstore I work at, we have a dedicated Adventure Time section. This family came in and those kids were SO EXCITED to see their favourite characters in comics. I talked them through each OGN and series compilation, explaining what they all were and in what order they should be read, and this little girl’s entire life was changed. You could see it on her face.

The moment I mentioned Kate Leth (and that, yes, she is a girl.) this little girl’s face lit up like Christmas morning. I don’t know if it just never occurred to her that girls can work in comics but the excitement and wonder that left the store in her was a privilege to see. I ended up selling them the Fionna & Cake’s, all the OGN’s, and an AT doodle book. She left begging her dad to help her learn how to draw Marceline comics. (And he was happy to comply!)

Kate Leth has left an everlasting impression on this little girl just by existing and working in the industry. I honestly hope to someday be able to see such an impact on someone from my own work. Ladies in comics is important. The representation on the page, and behind them, is important. Having a reflection of yourself in the content you enjoy is important. I hope that little girl grows up to be a famous comic author someday.

It was a very good day.

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Kate Leth‘s Adventure Time work may not be, in Eric Stephenson’s world view “the real thing”, but this little girl may beg to differ, and no doubt many, many thousands of other children. Convert a fraction of these new readers to pick something else up, keep feeding their joy and love of comics, and who knows, Stephenson and all those publishing comics for grown-ups may have a future after all.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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