Ed Catto: The Old Order Changeth

There’s a certain comfortable absurdity that an activity that is most likely enjoyed on a solitary basis – reading comics – kicks into high gear every day at comics shops and just about every weekend at comic conventions and every minute in social media. Recently at a comic convention, I was surrounded by some old friends who really like comics, and by a bunch of new faces who do too. And the new faces look so different from my familiar compatriots.

First a little background. I’m ComicMix’s newest columnist, and although a basic fanboy at heart, I come at it with a little different perspective. I’m an advertising and marketing guy. Yes, you could say I’m kind of like a character from Mad Men, but without the coolness, glamour and skinny ties. So when I worked at Nabisco I brought Marvel heroes to Oreo and ChipsAhoy! for a marketing team-up. I developed a “Spot Spidey” promotion for a candy company. At the world’s largest trade show company, I helped grow New York Comic Con in its sophomore year. And now at my own agency, we help brands connect with geek culture.  Unfortunately, I still haven’t figured out how to have afternoon cocktails in the office like they did at Sterling Cooper.

It’s natural for me to try to understand who the audience is for a product, what type of people make up the most engaged consumers for an industry and how it’s changing and evolving. Call me crazy, but I find that fascinating.

So with the convention season upon us, I’m fascinated by the changing profile of convention attendees, and by extrapolation, how the comics industry is changing. How do the 87 million millennials fit into it all ? Last month, I didn’t go to Emerald City Comic Con, although I heard it was (another) great one, but instead was at a small local show in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. It’s part of a network of rotating comic shows that an energetic guy named Jon Paul runs and has been running for the past 24 years. And the most interesting thing is – there’s a new crop of attendees! They aren’t just all the same people who have always gone to these shows.

Oh, sure, there’s a certain band-of-brothers element amongst the dealers and faithful fans. They’re close-knit communities who have developed relationships over the years “one Sunday at a time”.  But thankfully, like all good hosts, they also are very welcoming to new faces and fans.

This time around, I think the “gods of comics marketing” arranged to send perfect examples of some the new fans to this show for me to meet. Without exaggeration, these folks could have all come directly from central casting.  I’m not sure if there are any big, new ah-hah moments though. It was more a validation, and a personification, of the recent trends that the geek press has been chewing on.

Promethea Girl

There’s been a lot of talk about women in comics, but one young woman this weekend summed it all up for me. She was enthralled by a Promethea action figure for sale. DC Direct had created this figure a few years ago, based on Alan Moore’s brilliant Promethea and Sophie characters. This young woman proudly displayed her Promethea Tattoo, as well as her depth of knowledge and passion for comics. When she introduced us to her boyfriend (who was quickly dubbed “Promethea Boy”) I curiously asked who collected comics first. He shamefacedly admitted that even though he read some comics as a kid, it was his girlfriend’s passion that re-ignited his interest in comics.

New Kid On the Block

carls-comix-newsOne of the coolest fans was also one of the most impressive. Carl is a man on a mission. Or should I say, a young man on a mission. He’s only 8, but Carl knows comics and has a keen eye for what’s cool and what he likes. And he blogs about it on his Carl’s Comix blog. A polite and energetic kid, Carl was refreshingly optimistic and upbeat. And he’s blessed with one of those super-supportive dads, the kind of guy who watches out for his boy, but provides support, encouragement and long leash. Or maybe I should say a “long runway”, because it’s obvious that Carl is going to take off to great heights.

A shuffling iZealot

Larry's ComicsAnd then there was that type of selfless fan who’s looking to bring more folks to the party.  One fan bought a dozen copies of Roberson & Allred’s recent iZombie comic series for his girlfriend. She had enjoyed the first episode of the new CW series. Years ago, when I was dating, I always dreaded that moment when I had to tell a girl my dark, horrible secret – that I bought comics every week.

That doesn’t seem like such a horrible secret any longer. Now, there are so many ways to enjoy this slice of pop culture (movies, TV, comics, apparel, merchandise) and there’s so many ways to share it with those we care about. And this type of fan is anxious to spread the word about comics, not to just keep it to himself.

As a side note, I saw a banner on a Larry’s Comics email that said, “Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Junk.”

So I left Sunday’s comic show with a positive sense of who’s enjoying all this stuff, and how they’re all enjoying it. There are more roads into it than ever, and more ways to enjoy it than ever, and that’s pretty cool. I just hope I can keep up with all these new fans.

One last note – I always associate the title of this week’s column “The Old Order Changeth” with shakeups to the line-up of heroes in the Avengers, but it goes way back and I think it’s from an old Tennyson King Arthur poem. Those classics always get in the way of my comic book trivia.