Dennis L. Barger Jr., the retailer who last week publicly criticized the "sexualized" nature of Mimi Yoon's Powerpuff Girls #6 variant, leading Cartoon Network to withdraw the cover, has released an open letter in which he calls upon the comics industry to police itself, and to keep film studios and television networks out of the decision-making process.
The remarks from Barger, co-owner of Wonderworld Comics in Taylor, Michigan, follow a sharp response by Yoon in which the artist criticized him, in part, because "he brought up kids and used protecting kids and kids’ perspective in his reasoning/excuse."
In his open letter, in which he touches upon a dwindling readership and the need to reach a younger audience, Barger writes, "I will not discuss why this cover upset me and this is the last time I care to talk about it, aside from this. I did not feel that it was appropriate for the cover of a book aimed at young children, especially young girls, and many people agreed with me. A Hollywood corporate machine like Warner Bros and Cartoon Network would not have pulled it unless enough people saw that this was inappropriate in some way."
Read Barger's full letter below:
Let me start this letter out with a cliche ... children are the future of this industry. If you do not subscribe to this philosophy, then you might as well stop reading right now. There is no other way to put this -- our industry of print comic books is dying. The number of readers is falling fast. By my estimate, there are roughly 70,000 readers for each of the best selling serialized comic books released today. After counting cross-over readers from the Big Two and people who only read Indy comics, I would guess that we have around 120,000 actual people reading comic books today. Judging from the attrition rate that we are losing readers, we need 12,000 a year to start reading comic books and getting hooked on visiting the stores that remain. When you consider that there are roughly 2,000 comic shops that number means each store needs to be making six new readers a year.
I am a huge supporter of IDW and especially their all-ages line of comics. It wasn't until they released My Little Pony comic books, that I decided to dedicate almost 10% of my store to a kids' section. Now when I say kids, I mean kids the age of my children, 6-12 years old. This is the pure age that if you get them into a habit of reading, they will read for a life time. I have been a huge supporter of IDW's cartoon network licenses with Samurai Jack and Powerpuff Girls. Not that Boom! Studio's Adventure Time and Regular Show weren't enough, but the kids and fans of those shows weren't coming in on a regular basis enough to dedicate the space to just them. Now it seems that everyone has dedicated an effort to a kids' line of comics, most notably DC Comics, Art Balthazar and Franco offerings. But nothing got them through the door on a regular basis like My Little Pony. IDW showed me that as a publisher, they had a great commitment to getting kids through my door and I wanted to be ready for them when they got there. When a kid comes into my store, they are greeted with a sucker, left over Free Comic Book Day comics, Archaia's Mouse Guard hardcovers that I ordered enough to have for freebies and a kids' section of all-ages comics from every publisher. I feature books like Jeffrey Brown's Vader and Son and Brad Meltzer's new book I am Amelia Earhart and every small price point kids' toy I can buy from Diamond. I create new comic readers every time they walk through my door.
I know I am creating my six new readers and then some. I spend $2,000 a year on Free Comic Book Day for kids alone, giving each kid who comes in 10 free comic books from our selection. By spending that money today, I will hopefully make those kids customers for life. It is my "get them off the video games and into comics" philosophy. And let me also say, that in my opinion, this is the last generation of kids that we have a chance to win. They are saturated to the point that "pop culture" is the only culture around them. If we can't win these kids over, surrounded by Avengers movies and TV shows with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Batman Legos, Star Wars cartoons and video games and Walking Dead zombies on every parents T-shirt, then I don't know what will.
Which brings me to the point of this letter, The Powerpuff Girls #6 comic book subscription variant by Mimi Yoon. A phenomenal piece of art by an extremely talented artist, commissioned by Cartoon Network and mandated to be placed on a licensee's comic. It was submitted through Diamond Previews to retailers, ordered by retailers and finally on Final Order Cut Off date seen by me for the first time. It was clearly missed by several people, because some didn't find it offensive and other just simply didn't look hard enough. When I finally saw it, I was floored, angry and dismayed. In this day and age, when that happens, you do what everyone does, share your feeling on social media. We all do it, only in this day and age, people listen. Media picks things up and more social media shares it, and it continues. If anyone in this industry doesn't think we live in a 24 hour news cycle, you are kidding yourself. Everything happens in 24 hours. It took 24 hours for Bleeding Cool to run a story on a facebook post; it took 24 hours for more to pick that up; it took 24 hours for ICV2 to call Cartoon Network; and it took 24 hours for them to cancel the variant cover and media around the world to pick up that story.
It also took 24 hours for people in this industry to paint me as the villain in all of this. I will not discuss why this cover upset me and this is the last time I care to talk about it, aside from this. I did not feel that it was appropriate for the cover of a book aimed at young children, especially young girls, and many people agreed with me. A Hollywood corporate machine like Warner Bros and Cartoon Network would not have pulled it unless enough people saw that this was inappropriate in some way. Count how many things Hollywood has lost money on because there was a controversy. You'll only need 1 hand.
We are the only ones who can police our industry, the comic book industry. We are the creators, publishers,distributors, retailers and customers. Comic book creators work diligently to create content which brings in customers. Publishers take risks on a daily basis with their bottom line to make sure there is work for creators and products to sell. Distributors make sure that the retail side is properly supplied. Retailers pick and choose what books they think they can sell, take risks on everything they order, and supply the customers with the products they want. Customers look to the others to make sure they have books every Wednesday that are high quality enough to shuck over $3.99 apiece, every week of the year. Sometimes when I talk to people in our industry they lose sight of a few links in that chain.
Let me point out to you, Hollywood is not a link in that chain. For licensed comic publishers it may be, and for customers who only read licensed comic it is. For creators sitting around and waiting for that fat proverbial "Hollywood Movie Check" it might be ... but from start to finish, Hollywood is not in that chain. We need to remember this. Hollywood came into this chain and told a publisher what they had to do, for no one's betterment but their own. Hollywood needs us, the comic book industry, we are the frack needed to pump into their dying wells. The second we lose sight of that we are done. We cannot let them into the middle of our industry. No one from Hollywood has to tell creators like Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples how to create new readers, no one from Hollywood walks into a comic shop and tells retailers how to create new readers, and IDW knows how to create new readers without Hollywood dictating what's on the cover.
All it takes is six young new readers created by every comic book shop when they walk through the doors to maintain this business we all love.
All it takes is one giant mistake to upset the parents of those new readers and we will lose this industry.
Dennis BargerCo-Owner of Wonderworld ComicsTaylor, MI