Monday, October 15, 2007


By Keith Giles

If you want to see the future of American Comics, you won't find it in the local comicbook shop, and you won't see it at the annual mega-comic convention. If you want to see the future of American Comics, it's in the manga section at your nearest Barnes and Noble or Borders Bookstore.

When I go to the comic shop all I see are men like me who are middle-aged, married with children and working a nine-to-five job. At least most of us are. There are still the occassional comic book geeks who are approaching twenty-five, still living at home, with no girl-friend and who works delivering pizza or bagging groceries to afford their weekly comic habit.

What I don't see are elementary-age children. I don't even see Junior High students. I only see adults who started out reading comics as kids and who are now the main demographic of the American Comicbook Industry.

When I go to Barnes and Noble looking for a graphic novel in the sci-fi section, I see elementary-age and junior high students laying in the aisles, stepping over each other to get to their favorite manga, and laughing with one another about something they've just read. I can see those kids reading the Americanized manga which is shelved just inches away from DMZ, Transmetropolitan, Casanova, and Kabuki. The potential is there for these young, new readers to discover the American comicbook product, if only a little marketing muscle could be applied to move those potential customers an extra three feet.

This is the future of American Comicbooks.

Here's what I think DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and IDW need to do if they hope to be in business another twenty years - Partner with large bookstore chains like B&N and Borders to expand "Manga Café's" where children can sit and read their manga, and their American Comicbooks, on actual tables and chairs in a well-designed and themed-out nook of the store. They already do this for their Children's section with giant wooden Pooh treehouse sculptures, favorite character icons along the walls, a Newbury-Award wall of books, and weekly book readings by authors and characters in costume.

Why not do the same for the comicbook/manga section? The big bookstore chains would make these sorts of changes to their store if the major American Comicbook publishers came to them with the idea, and provided marketing support, and helped to drive customers towards the great product that's out there in a way that everyone makes money. It's called a "Win-Win".

I can see it now. A small corner of the Barnes and Noble is decorated in life-size Trigun characters, and Naruto posters. There's a rotating wall display that features Eagle and Eisner Award winning books and best-selling manga titles are featured every-other month. Those publishers who participate in the program can get featured product on the wall or schedule promotions in the Manga Café calendar. Create a blog, launch a MySpace page or a .Ning group devoted to the scene. Create product aimed at this market, and place it in the environment where your best customers thrive; an environment your company helped to build in the first place.

It's in the best interest of American Comicbook publishers to foot the bill and lead the way in this area. Partnering with the larger chain bookstores makes sense since this is where the new customers are. They're already lounging around in there, and your product, your American Comicbook product, is only inches away on a shelf next to the Manga they're hooked on. If you want to get new customers and expand the comicbook market, go to where those customers are. Identify yourself to them. Introduce your product to them. Market it in the places they are already congregating.

You can forget trying to get them to come to you. But, if you started having your creators appear in those Manga Café's to read their books and give away free samples, drink coffee with those manga-fans, and supported their scene, they'd have a chance to discover your books and become your customers too.

There are already American Comicbook creators whose work would have a natural appeal to this audience. The artwork of Paul Pope, Brian Wood, Becky Cloonan, Skottie Young, LeSean Thomas, Fabio Moon, and a few others would be perfect for a bridge marketing effort like this.
Imagine a Viz/DC cross-over comicbook illustrated by Fabio Moon or an X-Men/Dragon Ball Z one-shot graphic novel illustrated by Skottie Young. Now we're talking.

It's not even a case of "If you build it they will come" because they're already there and the building already exists. It's simply a matter of aggressive partnerships aimed at expanding the market to a younger audience by inviting yourself to their party.

If the American Comicbook industry doesn't start trying to agressively market themselves to the youth of today, their current audience will soon be dead and in the grave. When we die, the comicbook industry dies too.

Here's to the future of the American Comicbook Industry. Long may she live.

1 comment:

Lito said...

ok, I can't say I disagree. Every time I've been to B&N, I see the same thing. Kids, teenagers, the occasional comic book shop refugee, all huddled around the manga and trades.

I also see a ton of teenagers amassed in the cafe, next to the magazines. They buy a coffee, grab a stack of magazines, talk till closing, and leave... with all the magazines still on the table.

The rags are a decent draw... but the point of them isn't to sell more magazines, it's to create a buzz of activity, right at the front of the store. When you drive by a B&N, you see a "happening" place. The Borders in my neighborhood has a cafe on the second floor, with the magazines on the first. You have to drive up to the door to see if they're open.

I'm guessing the positioning of the manga near the kid's section (at least at the B&N near me), is for those kids who start to feel too "big" for the kid's section and see something "shiny" just over the 4' wall.

However, a complete section that spans from kids, to Manga bar, to magazines/cafe... you just may have something there.

- Lito