Let’s talk about children.
Shut up. They’re fun to make. I have one of my own. She’s asleep down the hall from me. Lilith. Lili for short. Turned five on October 18. Born at 10.25 at night, just before the pubs shut. Good girl. Kids are good. Everyone likes kids. Because they are money pipelines. Money leaves my pocket and goes through the channel of Lili’s pleasures and ends up fuelling the entertainment economy. Genndy Tartakovsky and Craig McCracken, who were with me on last year’s 100 Most Creative People In Entertainment by ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’s reckoning, are richer men today specifically because of me and my daughter’s love for The Powerpuff Girls. Probably quite significantly richer. Because children’s entertainment is not cheap. If you don’t have kids, visit your local bookstore tomorrow. Go to the children’s fiction section. Pick up one of those large, floppy, illustrated books. Check out the price.
And people complain about the price of comics. I could buy at least two comics for the price of a 20-page Mick Inkpen children’s book. But Mick Inkpen sells better than most comics you could name, and has a backlist that makes the best of us look sick.
In my hands, I have a copy of THE COURAGEOUS PRINCESS by Rod Espinosa, published by Antarctic Press. $11.95 US, seventy-two pages in full colour. For children’s fiction, that’s a stone bargain. It has a tone in common with popular British kid’s books like Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants. It’s a “girly” story, but it’s also got high adventure, spooky magic, great emotion and warm humour. It’s also a comic. If this was in bookstores, it’d be cleaning up. But, of course, it isn’t.
This has all been kickstarted by a conversation on my message forum. An intelligent and kind woman gave out comics as treats to little Hallowe’en trick-or-treaters. (Our street was full of children drenched in burning lighter fluid and someone yelling “Trick, you little fucks! Trick, I say!” Sounded like me, but I’m sure it wasn’t.) (This is something many of the Forum members did, by the way.) (Gave away free comics, not squirted children with lighter fluid and chucked lit matches at them.)
So there Anne was with a stack of stuff. And also a pile of YEAH!, SCARY GODMOTHER and other comics you’d consider to be obviously girl-friendly. When the night was done, she still had her stack of “girly” comics. Because the girls that came to her door went for the STAR WARS and other action stuff.
And this is why POWERPUFF GIRLS is a hit. The bleedin’ obvious; little girls love adventure fiction too. When a good adventure cartoon or kid-friendly adventure live-action piece comes on, Lili sits with me quite rivetted. She was nailed to the edge of her chair by an ancient JONNY QUEST cartoon. She’s discovering THUNDERBIRDS right now. Her current favourite film — this will change next week, of course — is GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE, because he gets to swing around and rescue people and there’s (tolerable) threat and danger and his girlfriend is smarter than he is. Plus I don’t think it hurts that Brendan Fraser is genuinely charming as George.
Okay, but YEAH! and SCARY GODMOTHER are for girls. Why didn’t Anne’s begging visitors thieve these comics instead?
Interesting and awkward question, as I happen to think that Jill Thompson’s SCARY GODMOTHER is very well done, a beautiful object and ideal for Hallowe’en. I think YEAH! was a badly misjudged comic and a physically quite ugly object, but SCARY GODMOTHER is a terrific kid’s book. But the simple fact is that adventure comics look fun. It’s too easy to get precious about kid’s fiction and proclaim a narrow, prettily-decorated channel of work as “girl-friendly.” Girls are humans too, and they like all kinds of stuff. This is the lesson of kid’s fiction, where story content runs a full gamut of themes. It’s not like all kid’s books are about, say, superheroes. Children’s fiction has a wildly heathy diversification within itself.
But, you know, there’s one thing that connects all these comics. They don’t sell like Mick Inkpen or Babette Cole. And they will continue to not reach the audience they so richly deserve until – heh – the marketplace grows up enough to handle children’s fiction.
In the stores selling most other kinds of entertainment, there is a place that is just for children. The children’s fiction section, the children’s video stands, the children’s music rack. This isn’t implemented in comics stores. And children’s comics seem not to make it to bookstores. Comics stores seem content to sell kid’s superhero comics to adults, and bookstores tend to rack all graphic novels as an adjunct to the science fiction or humour sections.
|“In the stores selling most other kinds of entertainment, there is a place that is just for children … this isn’t implemented in comics stores.”|
People keep saying, “Think of the children!” (Often while I’m squirting flaming lighter fluid at them.) “Where are the children? The children are our future!” And yet they’re not doing the things that need to be done to bring children into the comics marketplace. We’re turning out books that little girls want to read, and parents are trained to spend exorbitant amounts of money on them – and would be delighted with the value of the clearly-told, clever and attractive COURAGEOUS PRINCESS – and yet, strangely, children’s comics are not exactly a growth industry.
Illustrated children’s books practically are comics in their sequential juxtaposition of word and image. Children’s fiction is a massive – massive – market.
Ask your retailer why they don’t have a children’s fiction section in their store. In most cases, I’m afraid, you’ll be stared at like, in the words of Bill Hicks, a dog who’s just been shown a card trick.
Ask a comics publisher why they’re not funding a full slate of kid’s books and they will of course make the sign of the cross and command you to get behind them. Because they don’t have anywhere to sell them. They’re unwilling or unable to push kid’s comics hard into bookstores – I can’t buy a DC POWERPUFF GIRLS comic at a Warner Brothers store, how warped is that? – and they’re not going to prepare them for the direct market because retailers can’t sell them. And it can be argued that this is because comics stores are neither fully child-friendly nor adult-friendly. Few are the comics stores that have a place in them that my daughter would recognise as hers.
|“I can’t buy a DC POWERPUFF GIRLS comic at a Warner Brothers store, how warped is that?”|
When you read about the market suffering because of the lack of marketing to children, understand this. It’s not the failure of the tow-headed urchins of yesteryear to come back and paw through spinners full of dime comics that’s hurting. It’s the failure of publishers and retailers and the whole damn system to create a place where I can accompany my daughter into the store, watch her joyfully search through her part of the store, and then give the store owner my gold card and watch money literally bleed out of me, the way it does every time I go to a bookstore.
This week sees the release of a short comic exclusive to PopImage, by myself and Lea Hernandez. Go and read POPPY at http://www.popimage.com/poppy.
INSTRUCTIONS: Read the superb sf novel METROPHAGE by Richard Kadrey at http://www.speed.demon.co.uk/kadrey/, listen to Collide at http://www.opi8.com/listen.shtml, and hit Antarctic Press at http://www.antarctic-press.com/. Today’s recommended graphic novel is THE COURAGEOUS PRINCESS by Rod Espinosa, which you can investigate at http://mabelrose.homepage.com.