THERE'S A CHIMPANZEE AT THE DINNER TABLE
Boy, did I set everyone off to the keyboards last week.
You may recall that I bravely and stoutly enjoined those of you who still care to get off your collective duffs and do something to save the form of entertainment you profess to love instead of belly-aching all over the Internet about how Omega the Unknown should be the next comic given the Marvel Knights treatment.
I cribbed a line from "Sixteen Tons" and said that if you really care about saving comics, you should "pick up the shovel and walk to the mine." Even though I had promised a little less subtlety in these things, I still can't stop myself from quoting classic song lyrics while searching for a good metaphor, apparently.
Anyway, after reading last week's column, a whole bunch of earnest folks took time out of their collective days to send me emails all asking what they could do. You know, to SAVE COMICS.
Something that is effective and simple.
When I read the first one of these emails, I have to admit that my initial thought was, "Save comics? What the hell for? Let the rotten thing die a death with what dignity it has left, and let's get on with the new show!" Comics as an art form aren't dying; quite the opposite. In fact, I'd make the argument that there hasn't been such a good time for quality comics in fifteen years.
But the comic book industry and the misguided efforts to "save" it you hear so much about nowadays are like having a chimpanzee at the dinner table and worrying about its manners. "Look," these people seem to say, "the chimpanzee has his elbows on the table. We should try to correct that."
The problem is not that Bonzo has his elbows on the table.
The problem is that there's a chimpanzee at the dinner table.
You're looking at the wrong thing to fix.
But then I thought it over a little, and I realized that there really are a few simple things that you can do to spread your love of comics around. And let's face it, comics need help, right? No one is writing columns on the Internet about how to get folks to just try watching TV, for example…
I think the first thing that comics needs, and I'm pretty sure we can all agree on what this is, is new people. An expanded readership. A greater audience reading the comics.
And believe it or not, looking to great big corporate comic book companies to deliver a wider audience is looking in the wrong place for help.
This is one of those things that all of those earnest cats emailing me have direct control over. If everyone who was concerned about the dwindling audience receptive to the good entertainment that only comic books can provide were to make it their mission in life to convert a friend of theirs to the goodness of comics, well, the comic-book-buying audience could double overnight.
Now, I'm not talking about buying your dad Fax from Sarajevo for his birthday. While he may like it… probably find it moving and compelling, even… you're not creating a comics fan there. You're just buying your dad a birthday present.
What the comic book industry needs right now are some focused zealots and here is their gospel:
It's all about Faberge Organics Shampoo.
If you were a kid in the Seventies, I'm sure you remember that commercial with the woman extolling the virtues of Faberge Organics Shampoo. Remember the woman saying how great her hair looked and felt, and how happy and full of increased self-esteem and whatnot she was that she felt she had to share the news of her discovery of this amazing shampoo: "I told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on…"
In addition to being an amazingly effective ad (I mean, not only do I remember the annoying repetition, but I actually remember what the ad was for nearly thirty years later, proving the ad agency who came up with that campaign sure earned their fee on that one), it also aptly illustrates the concept of viral marketing.
Viral marketing is the same sort of thing that causes these sorts of seemingly innocent insider trading scandals, but is also the kind of thing that an average comics fan can use to increase comic book readership.
Instead of telling your comics reading pals about a comic they might like, I want you to get one of your NON-comics reading friends to start reading comics.
Now, I'm not going to lie to you; this'll probably be a bit of a project. And I'm not going to go into all the horrors and pitfalls and roadblocks that you're likely to encounter, because frankly, I'm not that kind of guy.
No, I'm going to tell you how to do it.
First, get your friend talking about movies. Find out his favorite films of all time.
Next time you go to the comic shop to buy comics, take your friend along, and make him part of the process. What you're doing now is trying to change his attitudes and habits… but remember the flicks he told you he liked, and I'm betting that no matter what makes his list, there's a few comics that would appeal to the same sort audience those movies had.
This is easy if he likes big, dumb Michael Bay movies, because there are all sorts of splashy adventure comics. But you can do this forever, with a little practice… Like The Matrix? Read The Invisibles or any Geoff Darrow stuff. Like The West Wing? Check out Eagle. Groove on David Mamet's dialogue from Glengarry Glen Ross? So does Brian Michael Bendis.
In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a good and popular movie from the last forty years that doesn't have a correlating comic book doppleganger.
There's stuff for people to read and enjoy. That's not the problem. The problem lies in making them aware of it.
If you want to save comics, that's how to do it. Change the habits of one or two of your friends. Just turn them on to all that comics can provide.
And you can bet they'll tell two friends. And so on… and so on… and so on…
It's more comfortable to feel that we're a slight improvement on the monkey than such a falling off from the firstname.lastname@example.org
Let's play stump-the-panel over at the Loose Cannon Message Board . Try to come up with a good and popular movie from the last forty years that doesn't have a counterpart in comics.
All sorts of pertinent and vital info about the upcoming San Diego convention is available here. I'll be there; so should you.