Thanks to the success of comics-related movies such as The Dark Knight and Iron Man, not to mention bestselling graphic novels like Watchmen, Persepolis and a slew of others, graphic novels are riding a high wave toward fame. But like all hot trends, comics won't be the bright new kids for long. Graphic novels will turn into something like chick lit, which used to be the most appealingly fresh genre that booksellers were eager to promote but is now simply another staple of the shelves. So while the reporters and cameras are still looking our way, those of us in the graphic novel industry need to plan for the day when our newsworthiness slips and our sales plateau. We need to build alliances with librarians, booksellers and readers.
We're making a good start. The San Diego Comic-Con has entire tracks of programming to enlighten newcomers about graphic novels. Diamond Comics Distributors, the largest supplier to comic-book shops, devotes sections of its Web site to booksellers and librarians who are new to comics. The Comic Book Industry Alliance, an online association of comics professionals, happily welcomes new arrivals. Comics conventions sometimes offer discounts to librarians and others who will build the audience for future graphic novels. Comics retailers from Gail Burt of Southern California's Metropolis Comics to Rick Lowell at Maine's Casablanca Comics offer guidance to librarians. I'm trying to do my part, too; I host a monthly dinner for the industry, and when librarians and booksellers attend, the rest of us applaud them (literally) and make them feel at home in our community. We're breeding alliances that I hope will keep everyone buying and promoting graphic novels for years and years. But we all need to do more. For instance:
Go beyond fiction. Most graphic novels feature adventure or fantasy, but not everyone likes those genres. Bestselling nonfiction graphic novels like Persepolis, Maus, The 9/11 Report and Fun Home prove that memoir and history can sell nearly as well as superheroes. What's more, comics are great teaching tools. There should be comics versions of self-help hits such as The Purpose-Driven Life, Who Moved My Cheese? and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Get artists to the library—and the bookstore. It seems like everyone, especially kids, loves watching an artist create a scene out of blank paper. Even I've done comics chalk talks, and I can barely draw stick figures. The more often comics creators go public, the more we build an audience.
Hire the big guns. Stephen King offered his newest Dark Tower stories not as straight prose but as comics, which sold in floods to readers who'd never bought graphic novels before. Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon has done comics, too, as have bestselling novelists Jodi Picoult, Jonathan Lethem and Orson Scott Card, all to strong sales. Publishers should keep bringing the stars and their fans into comics. Some of the fans will stick around to buy graphic novels by other talents.
Think digitally. The Kindle, cell phones and other electronic platforms are helping books reach different audiences. Unfortunately, they havesmall screens. Batman artist Jim Lee draws sumptuously detailed double-page panoramas, but fitting them onto an e-book or cell phone screen would mean shrinking them to muddy illegibility or chopping them into screen-sized bites. On the other hand, the simple-looking drawings of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis are perfectly readable no matter how small they appear. Someday soon, I hope, someone will develop a foldout screen that will allow phones and e-book devices to display the grandest graphic novel art. In the meantime, comics creators may have to think tiny if they want to reach out electronically.
We need to act now. Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, Calif., and president of the comics retailer organization ComicsPRO, says everyone in the industry should become an evangelist for the “gospel of comics.” He's right—especially when he says, “If each one of us was able to convert just one non-comics reader into a regular reader/buyer, it would have remarkable impact across the board.”
|David Seidman is a comic-book writer based in Los Angeles and publicist for NBM Publishing and Papercutz. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.|