Here’s a little tidbit that I think often gets forgotten in the Bottle City of Kandor that is comics fandom: kids read comics. And they love them. They read them for the excitement, the adventure, the melodrama that they don’t even know is melodrama, the pure joy of the genre. They read them without irony and without a critical, jaded eye. They read comics because comics are fun.
I know this because I work with kids in an out of school care program. Every month we get a new load of books from the library so the kids have something to peruse during silent reading. We get a variety of science books, kid’s novels, and comics. The boys, overwhelmingly, fight over the comics (That’s not to say that girls don’t read comics: we’ve got a few Archie comics, and some Powerpuff Girls and other DC Kids stuff, and the girls read those sometimes. It’s just that the boys are far more enthusiastic). They love the action and humour of Ultimate Spider-Man. They love the epic scale of Superman battling Imperiex. They blink in a sort of overjoyed haze at the madness of Morrison’s JLA.
And every week they pepper me with questions. They want to know about Venom, about Carnage, about Sandman. They want to know about Galactuc and Silver Surfer, about Thor and Iron Man. They want to know about Superman and Steel and Eradicator and Superboy. Often, I’m surprised by what they already know. One kid had a firm grasp of all the minutae of Civil War (his mom had taken him to the comic shop I recommended and he’d bought a bunch of issues). They endlessly debate the outcome of theoretical superhero battles (Silver Surfer is the acknowledged champ). They are nuts for superheroes, in any and all forms.
My point is that these kids should not be ignored. Too often I hear people bemoaning how kids don’t read comics anymore, it’s a mature industry, etc. etc. Kids do read comics. They love them. Maybe they don’t buy as many as the kids of yesteryear, but the prices are ridiculous these days. Fantastic Four #1, for instance, sold for one thin dime. Based on this site, 10 cents in 1961 dollars has inflated to about 59 cents* in modern dollars (the site doesn’t do the past two years). But in the most recent issues of FF sell for US$ 2.99, or about 51 cents in 1961 dollars. So your average kid is paying ten times what their 1961 counter-part paid for a comic, inflation-adjusted. Even Marvel Adventures FF, the kid’s line, sold for US$2.50, which is 43 cents in 1961 dollars.
I recognize that there are a million-and-one factors that have contributed to the price increase. I’m not saying comics should cost 60 cents (although hot damn! How many would you buy if they did?), but the bottom line is that kids can’t afford as many comics as they could back in the day. And that’s a shame, considering how much the superhero genre appeals to them. I think it would be great if Marvel and DC heavily marketed their youth lines with very low price points, and accepted the low profit margins as a loss leader that would hook these readers, bringing future sales. This would, in my idealistic mind, attract more kids to read comics, leading to more young adults sticking with comics and reaching beyond the superhero genre, leading to more adults appreciating comics of all kinds and more adults making comics, leading to a better world for everyone.
That is my 20 year plan. What’s yours?
*I took the average of the CPI and the GDP Deflator results, those being the two best tools for determining commodity prices.