A Future for Comics?
World Wrestling Entertainment introduced this month a new magazine for their younger readers, aptly called WWE Kids. My pal Paul Kupperberg was hired as a senior editor largely to help them beef up their comics material and contribute his vast experience in magazines and pop culture.
The first issue boasts material from Craig Rousseau, Rick Burchett and John Byrne so it looks and feels like familiar comic book fare. Overall, the slick magazine looks like fun and you’d think kids would bodyslam their parents for a chance to own a copy.
Unlike comic book publishers, no sooner was the first issue published than WWE hired someone to hold a focus group to assess their efforts. A group of 10 year olds were brought into a room, they read and discussed the magazine and notes were taken.
One finding was that the kids didn’t like the comics material. Based on these comments, the comics material, which WWE had hoped would be the beginning of something they could grow, will now vanish and Paul was let go.
Is it because the pages that could have been devoted to more photos of Rey Mysterio and Stacey Keibler were spent on drawings of unfamiliar wrestlers? Is it because sports don’t always translate well to the more static medium of comics? Maybe. I have other ideas.
Is it that despite the rise of graphic novels in school libraries, there’s still a substantial percentage of younger readers who don’t like comic books? Why? I’d wager that it has a lot to do with the fact that since the 1980s, comic books have been moving further and further away from where the readers are.
Kids love the animated adventures of the comic book heroes but since they don’t walk into comics shops and the newsstands outlets are few and far between, they have nowhere to find comics and therefore don’t become comics readers. The overall failure o figuring out how to put comics material where the kids are has been one of my frustrations with the entire field.
Scholastic took some nice steps with Bone and related projects but the major characters, except Archie Andrews, are tough to find in print. Kids don’t know to look and statistics show that kids heavily influence parents purchases so if they don’t know there are comics, they don’t ask their parents, and the adults don’t always know where to find comics material.
If we’re really losing the 10 year olds, a prime age for comic books (or at least it used to be), then we have some serious problems. I don’t know of any publishers who have done focus groups or market research or product testing to figure out what package, price point and delivery method would be optimal for these younger readers. I don’t even know if publishers take advantage of the non-comic readers attending comics conventions to talk to the kids and find out why they’re there, what they might like and so on. As more cons have kids days, the more opportunities exist to learn.
There are great comics for younger readers ranging from Amelia Rules to X-Men: First Class to Teeny Titans but it remains important to have these available in the widest markets possible.
The kids are our future and without them, the comics won’t have one.