I am typing this up on beggar’s night here in Ankeny. Another year of me giving away candy and comics to kids at my house. This year, it seemed like there were less kids dressed up as comic book characters than last. This year was also a lot colder.
Last year on beggar’s night, what surprised me was the kids associated the comic book characters they were dressed up as with the movies. They had no idea they were based on comic book characters. There were multiple kids dressed as Captain America, Harley Quinn, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more, but they often didn’t know what comic books even are.
I remember asking one kid which comic book he wanted last year and he picked one. Then a girl ran up, assuming I had given the boy a comic, saying, “I want one!” But she then asked, “What’s a comic book?” This was actually a very common question.
This year, even more kids seemed confused by what comic books are. Even after I told some of them they were called comic books, they called them magazines. I was giving out both comics and candy, and most of the kids were worried that they had to pick a comic or candy. They picked the candy every time. I had to change my approach from “You can have a comic or a candy,” to “You can have both the comic and candy.”
After our remodeling months ago, I found past comics from past Free Comic Book Days. Magic the Gathering, Darkwing Duck, Transformers, Simpsons, Young Justice and Batman, along with even an old Free Comic Book Day Green Lantern comic book that managed to stay hidden and forgotten for years, and I used those to give away to trick-or-treaters.
It wasn’t all bad. A kid who was dressed up as Thor was very excited to get a Transformers comic book. The Simpsons was the first title to run out for me. Which is odd, since in most comic stores it isn’t a big seller.
My concern is there will be a new generation that will not even know comic books exist. As I have stated before, I didn’t get into comic books because of comic stores — I did so because they were at the local grocery store. They were at the local drug store and gas stations. Comic books were a lot easier to find back then.
Another thing is comics when I was a kid blew me away. The artwork. The crazy stories. Rom #1 from Marvel was a big influence on me as a kid. I even had the whole Rom toy line at the time (it was just Rom himself). Batman #324 with Catman and Catwoman made me a fan of all three characters. A reprint of Fantastic Four #112 where the Hulk fights the Thing got me into drawing. Justice League of America #183 introduced me to the New Gods, JSA, and a world of total coolness. A reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #132 where Spider-Man fights Molten Man gave Molten Man his one fan, me. Avengers #191 made me a Grey Gargoyle fan. I got hooked.
Now, if I had someone new to comics come into the store, I would have a narrow window of books that I feel would get the person hooked. The standards just aren’t there. There is no Marvel Way. No DC Way. Almost all publishers have almost an anything-goes mentality. Editors seem almost powerless at times with the creative teams they are with. House art styles? It feels like the books must come out no matter what. Even if the art or writing is rushed or by no-name talent.
Plus, comics aren’t just becoming more and more of a foreign concept just to kids. I have had plenty of adults say to me after finding out I own a comic store, “They still make comic books?”
When I first opened up my store, I remember hiring my accountant and talking with him. By comic store, he thought I was going to be selling jokes. He had no idea comic books were still around. I laughed and said no, but I may be a joke after trying it.
The comics-based movies have overshadowed the comics they are based on. With comic books being available in such a limited supply chain, it is hard for new people to discover comics. With such limited attempts by the publishers to get new people into comics, there won’t be many new people getting into the hobby. Trying new things or going in new directions doesn’t seem to be something the comic industry wants to try as of yet.