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Tandra Page 1531, Fan Base

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I’m sitting on my back porch looking out over the yard as the rising sun brightens the Eastern sky.

Comic books have a serious problem. No one is buying them any longer.

Kurt Wilcken has an excellent commentary in his Kurtoon Comments section this month that makes the case for so-called diversity in the funny books, particularly at Marvel where diversity is the god of choice. Kurt makes claim that Marvel is producing some really excellent stories. That may well be the case. I would not know. I pretty much gave up on funny books when Jack Kirby retired. The last comic book I purchased was “Conan, The Barbarian” issue number seventy-something. I stopped buying the books when I realized I was only purchasing the things and taking them home to place in a box. I had not read one of the them since issue fifty or so. Of consequence, I stopped wasting my money.

As I said, Kurt is of opinion that Marvel is producing some really excellent material. If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it fall, did the tree actually come down? If a comic book company produces a few super top notch books, but no one buys them, can the publisher long remain in business?

The numbers do not lie. Comic book sales are off 20-25% from last year. Some 25% of the specialty shops where comics are available have closed their doors. And, when a comics specialty shop turns off the lights, there is no place else for the comics fan to buy his favourite funny books. Comic books simply are no longer available where the casual impules buyer can purchase them. If you wish to buy a comic book, you must needs search out a specialty shop or go on line. That may be an option for die hard comic book fans, but casual impulse buyers will not take the trouble. They will find other frivolities upon which to spend their money.

And comic book fans are growing older. Once the average comic book fan was a ten year old boy. He bought comics off a rack in a candy store or in a pharmacy. Funny books were easily accessable. Now the average age of a comic book purchaser is late twenties, older men stuck in adolescence attempting to hold on to a long lost childhood. As these twenty-somethings age to become thirty-somethings, they are not being replaced by younger comic book devotees. The comic book fan base is aging, shrinking and dying out. Frankly, I don’t see any promise of a path back from extinction for Marvel and DC. And when the two major comic book publishers go, the smaller publishers vanish with them. The smaller publishers cannot sustain the market without Marvel and DC.

But the sad truth is the comic book market has been imploding for years. The present apocolyptic sales figures are not a recent phenomonon, but the continuing trend that has been in place since the early Fifties when funny book publishers, in terror of government censorship, coded themselves out of the market with a self imposed Comics Content Code that removed from content everything that made funny books interesting and marketable. Today the best selling title achieves sales figures far below numbers that would, a few years past, have marked a title for routine cancellation.

Of recent, Marvel (and DC to a lesser degree) have come under criticism for playing the diversity card. Spider-man has been fundamentally transformed into a specialized pressure group character, Thor is fundamentally transformed into a woman (with the predictable consequence of having the title discontinued, or so says the news alert), Captain America is fundamentally transformed into still another member of a specialized pressure group. Everything as Marvel has been fundamentally transformed into identity politics, and funny book sales are down 25%.

The argument is made that diversity is intended to attract new comic book buyers from the designated pressure group of the moment. Attracting new customers is an excellent strategy, if it works. A 25% drop in sales calls into question that irrational strategy. Fundamentally transforming Spider-man from Peter Parker, a character with a long history and a loyal fan base, into a political icon about which no one gives a tinker’s damn is a risky marketing move in that loyal Spider-man fans walk away while those who are members of the targeted special interest group have zero interest in Spider-man, whoever he might be. Potential customers from the targeted minority group never wander into a comics specialty shop to come into contact with the fundamentally transformed Spider-man and, thus, have no way to know Marvel is making a concentrated effort to appeal to them while the established and loyal fan base becomes the former fan base and 25% of the comics specialty shops close. How exactly is this a brilliant marketing strategy?

Argument is put forth that funny book publishers can reverse strategy and return to Peter Parker as Spider-man when the identity politics marketing ploy fails to increase Spider-man sales. After all, funny book publishers have a long history of re-inventing comic book heroes to conform to the political landscape of the moment, which is true. It is also true that funny book sales have been in decline since the Fifties when publishers conformed themselves to the political landscape and the majority went out of business while funny book sales began to drop into a financial dark pit.

One might inquire as to the next brilliant marketing move by the funny book folks when it is realized that politically correct diversity is not attracting the desired target audience and publishers return to the previous interpretations of comic book icons only to discover the previous fan base loyal to the old versions of beloved characters have discovered other ways to spend their money and have no longer any interest in returning to comics specialty shops.

I seriously hope, with little confidence, that comic book publishers can get their act together sooner rather than later. A high percentage of Tandra readers who come to this site are comic book fans. A healthy comic book industry is good for Tandra.

But my hopes are not high. Marvel and DC’s diversity agenda looks less like a well thought marketing strategy and more like people who have not a clue floundering about for any straw to grasp as they sink from sight in a stormy sea.

“Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” -Thomas Jefferson


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