Mike Gold: The Kids Are Alright
There was a time, not all that long ago, when kids were not welcome in a great many comic book stores. You might find this anti-intuitive, but the philosophy was fostered by some comics distributors and welcomed by most comics publishers.
(Aside for those of you who came in late: back in the olden days when comics were escaping from the primordial goo, we had a half-dozen or more companies distributing comics to the direct sales shops. How this devolved into a monopoly might be the subject of a future column, particularly if I’m looking for something amusing to write for my final column.)
There were many arguments these folks used to implore their retailers not to serve the younger crowd. The foremost was “these kids don’t spend enough money to make it worthwhile.” That’s true – if those kids were coming in on their own. The fact is, comics fandom had aged to the point where readers mated, sometimes with other comics readers, and the issue from those encounters brought fourth kids who would be schlepped to the comics shop as their parents sought out their weekly fix. I have never met a kid who wasn’t curious about those brightly colored bits of paper, or a parent who, if they had a couple extra bucks, wouldn’t buy their kids a comic book or two.
A few of us voiced contrary opinions. The foremost was “ten years from now, where are your new customers going to come from?” If the average age of your customer base increases year after year, store owners are going to get hinky about their mortgages.
Which is pretty much what happened. Back in the early/mid-1990s when the King Kongs of collectability fell off the skyscraper, they took a lot of comics shops down with them… and a few publishers as well. There was no real fount of new customers to replace any part of that revenue stream. And the distributor who had been leading the anti-kid chant went ka-blooie.
Rule of thumb: anybody who says or even thinks “hey, this is going to last forever” will be visited by the Great God Hubris, and it will not be pretty.
For the better part of the past 20 years we’ve seen new publishers and reenergized (read: surviving) companies abandon this ridiculous philosophy. Today, virtually all of the larger publishers such as Boom! and IDW have solid lines of comics oriented towards children. I’m not talking about junior versions of “adult” superhero comics – there’s a reason why that’s an oxymoron. I’m not even talking about licensed properties based upon teevee shows that were around when today’s adult comics readers were kids, although there are plenty of those around.
I’m talking about comics based upon kid’s shows that didn’t even exist at the time of the Great Market Correction of the mid-90s. The Regular Show. Angry Birds. Bravest Warriors. Bee and Puppycat. To name but a few.
The more inspired comics shops – those that have the room – have kid-acceptable sections in their stores and hold in-store visits from cartoonists who will entertain the youngest crowd with sketches and even chalk-talks.
Ten years from now, those seven-year old readers will be seventeen years old. Once again, the comic art medium has a future.