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Bringing in New Comic Book Readers

Seeing this new site going up devoted to all things comics got me thinking – what’s a good way to introduce someone to the medium? I’m not talking about bringing in younger readers (I’ll cover that another time) but how to get someone interested in reading comics? I’m not the first to ask, but many of the answers I’ve seen usually don’t address what I feel is the crux of the question. The stock responses always include giving someone a copy of Dark Knight Returns, Watchman, Maus or one of the other standards of the genre. I think most will agree these represent landmark achievements in the field. But, will they get someone into comic shops every Wednesday, looking to pick up the latest releases from today’s creators? I feel this is the heart of the issue. How do you convert someone who’s read the “classics” to someone who actively reads titles every month?

To illustrate this point, about a year ago, a few co-workers and I were talking (not about comics, but two of us are regular readers) and someone made a reference to Dark Knight Returns. To my surprise, someone besides the two of us got the connection. I knew this person read a lot, but I didn’t think that included comics. So I told him I didn’t realize he, too, read comics. He replied he didn’t, but a friend had given him a few titles he thought my colleague might enjoy. He proceeded to name the ones he read. Guess what he listed? That’s right, the “big ones” – DKR and Watchmen. It was obvious he enjoyed them, but those books had failed to bring another paying customer into the local comic shop.

Some of the most popular and profitable movies in recent history contain ideas and characters that originated in comics. Well known news agencies and periodicals that normally don’t report on comics have given coverage to some stories currently being published. For example, the Sunday edition of the Washington Post has a section called Media Mix where it spotlights entertainment picks of the week. These selections cover not only music, movies and games, but often comics. Bookstores are stocking trades and graphic novels and some even sell monthly titles. Heck, Joe Quesada was on the Colbert Report talking about Marvel’s Civil War series. Ok, so it wasn’t 60 Minutes, but still, he was on tv trying to expose his product to a wider audience. Television is also contributing, drawing people in with shows like Smallville and Heroes. Based on this, I don’t feel the problem stems from a lack of mainstream exposure since we are seeing the influence of comic books practically everywhere.

Currently, the sheer breadth and volume of titles produced each month is probably greater now than ever before. Marvel and DC are continually trying to one up each other and for fans this means exciting and compelling work from each company. Not everything is a winner, but experiments like 52 by DC or the Dabel Brothers line from Marvel shows the big two are not content to ship standard hero vs villain fare each month. Don’t like super-heroes? No problem. If you prefer more mature themed stories then check out Vertigo. Titles ranging from movie properties like Star Wars at Dark Horse to creator owned fare like The Walking Dead at Image line store shelves. Every month titles centered around mystery, drama, romance, science fiction, just about anything you can imagine is available at your local comic shop thanks to the efforts of the smaller independents and self-publishers.

Which brings me back to the question – if you were trying to persuade someone to join our club, what will get a new reader hooked? For me, the answer lies not with the classics, but with the current crop of work available each month. I’m not proposing anything revolutionary – I’ve seen people on other sites recommend giving someone a copy of Previews in addition to, or maybe instead of, a copy of Dark Knight Returns. After all, that’s the whole point – to get more people looking forward to Wednesday’s and checking out the latest offerings from today’s creators.

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