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How Can We Get New Readers?

The Holy Grail of comics, the big “get” for all of us fans, is getting more people who normally do not read comics, to read them.

As someone who cannot even get her own husband to read comics, it is a question that constantly plagues me.

In the case of some it’s a simple matter of changing perceptions: they think comics are all superhero-based kids stories. For others, those whom know that the stories are diverse and cover a number of topics, the problem is the format itself. They just do not like “reading” pictures and care little for how much time and energy it takes to create these images and words so perfectly juxtaposed. Finally, there are those who just look down of the whole processes, thinking it’s an out-of-date medium since the advent of television and movies.

Some of those are opinions you will not be able to overcome. If someone is vehemently opposed to the very idea of reading a comic book, I would say don’t even bother.

For those who show a glimmer of hope there area number of ways to approach them. There are a few basic strategies to follow:

  1. Find out what their biggest interests are and find a comic book that suits these tastes.
  2. Create a situation where they would be comfortable in which to read said comic.
  3. Sit back and wait for the impending debate to follow, for better or worse.

The first step can be as easy as, “Oh, you watch The Walking Dead? Did you know that is based on a comic book?” or, “Oh, you listen to My Chemical Romance? Did you know the lead singer wrote a comic book series?” However, most of the time, it can be more difficult. For example, my husband likes The Walking Dead and is fully aware there is a comic book. Still won’t read it. Many things he loves started off as comics or are being turned into comics. Really, at this point, I think he’s saying no to reading them because he enjoys being frustrating. Hopefully, the rest of you can get past this stage and work on step two.

Even if someone is aware there is a comic book they may not want to invest the money in something they think they won’t like. They even, heaven forbid, may not want to be seen with a comic in their hands. (Yes, this sort of feeling towards comics DOES still exist!) Several options are available to you, depending on your relationship with the person you are trying to convince. If it’s someone close to you, who you really think will like the book if they just give it a chance, buy it for them.

I did this with my husband. I bought The Walking Dead Compendium #1. He has yet to pick it up. But don’t be disappointed by MY failure, many others have reported success with the “risk-free” no-money approach.

If the problem has more to do with them not wanting to be seen holding a comic, suggest or encourage digital purchases; especially, when people see how much cheaper many back issues are digitally. People are much more willing to spend only 99 cents on something new, thanks to the iTunes store, so it makes the process easier. Perhaps I should have tried this first. After all, issue #1 of The Walking Dead is free on ComiXology.

In fact, many comics are offered for free to get people to try the book. I tried reMind because all of Volume #1 was free. That Kickstarter graphic novel is amazing. Reading that book lead me to buy the second volume.

If you’re among the lucky few who are able to get someone to step three, don’t be so full of yourself: you’re not out of the woods yet! You see, when they’re finished reading you have to discuss it with them. Did they enjoy it? If they were not happy, was it the format or the story? Do they want to try to read another book? A different one or the same kind? If not, why?

Of course, all of this would be a moot point if they grew up reading comics. Scott McCloud lays it out pretty clearly in Understanding Comics that people who grow up reading comics are able to better appreciate the art form because they are used to automatically filling in the action between panels. Adults who have not grown up reading comics may not be able to make this leap in logic immediately. It might also be what keeps them from enjoying a story they normally would, if it had been presented in another format.

So, what is the final verdict? How should more comic book readers be generated?

Get ‘em while they’re young.

The one group of comic readers that has been shrinking, and yet is most needed, is the All-Ages comic groups.

Big publishers and many pundits lament that All-Ages comics do not sell. Yet, books like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Marvel’s Oz series and Archie all continue to do big business with multiple printings. True, some of those purchases are from adults, especially MLP: Friendship is Magic. However, that is more of a testament to the great writers, stories and art speaking to readers of all ages than an argument that the numbers are meaningless.

If kids have comics to read while they’re young then they learn to appreciate the art form, learn how to read comics and are more likely to keep reading or, at least, be willing to return when they are older.

Also, while the merchandise and advertising machines are constantly churning for cartoons and video games, awareness of comics for younger generations is not as strong. While it is true that advertising can be costly, product placement and awareness can help us move forward.

When I was young the comic book trading card boom helped my friends learn more about comics. Another type of collectable trend needs to happen within comics to generate knowledge and interest, even if it happens on a digital format.

Before that can happen, though, comics need to get in in the faces of kids. Working with schools on reading initiatives, planning special days with high profile toy stores or other retailers, the information needs to get out there. Free Comic Book Day has been great for generating interest. However, one day a year, at comic stores that cannot necessarily afford to advertise on the level they need to, just as comic publishers cannot afford to advertise as strongly as their competitors do, does not necessarily spread the word.

Many were afraid the digital boom would kill stores. However, popular books being released as digital first have then turned around and become store shelf hits. Why is this? Part of it is the collectible nature of comics: you cannot get a digital book signed. You cannot get it framed. There are some uses physical prints still meet.

I think the same could be said for generating interest for younger readers outside of the traditional comic store. Let kids know the comics are out there, and they’ll seek out more choices from comic stores.

Get them reading now, and they’ll be more likely to read as an adult.

Do that, and in the next generation, you will have more comic book readers.

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