Saturday, 7 August 2010

What should a Comic-Con story look like in Elle magazine?

Couple of posts in Valerie d'Orazio's blog made me wonder about the aims of an initiative to bring comics to masses etc. and what do we talk about when we talk about mainstream.

Now, comics in America have somewhat unusual situation that what is commonly considered mainstream in comics is pretty far from what most "normal" people would consider mainstream and what is normally considered mainstream is in world of comics far away in the "alternative" horizon. Admittedly superhero comics are at the moment a fertile field to produce movies which do have a mainstream appeal, but being a raw ingredient is different from being a final product.
This mining part has in any case lead to the fact that Comic-Con has got more and more activity related to movies, and naturally also more interest in mainstream media.
However, the media will be discussing mainly about the subjects of mainstream interest, in case of Elle what various movie starlets were wearing. What should have they been writing? They are Elle, they most likely know what their readers are interested in. On the comics side of thing, was there anything interesting in the Con? And if there was, what was it and why didn't the people who do Elle find out about it?

There is a call for bigger diversity in comics which is of course all fine and dandy. But I couldn't help noticing that in the initial "Revolution" post the aim seems to be getting interest in comic pamphlets distributed via direct market. Why, may I ask?
One cannot help noticing that there are every now and then comic boosk which seem to get quite positive mainstream media attention, possibly also translating to sales (haven't seen the figures so don't know if they are just critics' darlings). Maus, Persepolis, Fun Home, stuff like that. First of all there's the question of content: those books have some relevance to the world most of us are living in. The second thing is that you can go to a bookstore and buy a book from there and you have the story right there. No background information necessary (well, it helps if you have some idea what happened in WWII or where is Iran) and no need to go to the store every Wednesday to get another piece of the story.

Even if the content would change, would it sell unless other distribution methods are considered, or possibly even other formats? And I am not talking about distributing the bloody pamphlets in digital form into iPhone or whatever.
Among American comics enthusiasts I have discussed with I have been noticing a strange blindness towards perhaps the most mainstream comic format: strips in newspapers and magazines. It appears that less and less newspapers are paying attention to what is happening in the comics section, running any old thing, editing the strips so they fit the space even if they don't make sense after editing, cutting down the size etc. It also doesn't help that many comic strips need to sell to numerous papers across the country and to achieve that one needs to work with the lowest common denominators and avoid offending anyone, and that can lead to some weird issues like making "banana" a forbidden word.
Selling a regular strip to a magazine might work better, there you can hopefully address more specific audience. The problem are of course readers, who should demand a good comics section in whatever newspaper and magazine they are reading. And if comics are really such a diverse medium, there shouldn't be a magazine which couldn't possibly have a comics section.

Is there a comic strip appearing in Elle? If there isn't, why not?
There's a challenging but clear and IMO achievable goal to the revolution initiative: sell a regular comic strip to Elle (and Rolling Stone and Scientific American and church newsletter and every other paper everywhere). Maybe more people would get more interested in comics as a format and some of those might also venture out to check out an interesting book by Viz, Fantagraphics, or Marvel.
Because here's a nugget to consider: maybe DC, Marvel and direct market comic shops are hopelessly restricted to ghetto. I like superhero books, but I like plenty of things which I know will never have mainstream appeal. Maybe achieving mainstream success requires abandoning the current industry model, not just tweaking it.

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