The 'all-ages' comics debate, Round 27

The fall 2009 edition of "there are no good comics for kids" chugged along this week as some of the central players took another stab at the topic.

Prominent retailer Buddy Saunders, whose Nov. 16 comments at ICv2.com added fuel to the current debate, returns to offer a hearty "Hear, hear!" to retailer Mary Alice Wilson's support of his original assertion that "comics aren't for kids anymore."

Wilson points to the book industry's ability to acquire and successfully market young-adult series like Harry Potter, Twilight and Percy Jackson & The Olympians, saying, "I just don't understand how come if the publishers of books can figure it out, the publishers of comics apparently cannot."

Saunders adds that, presumably unlike the comics industry, "the book industry isn't content to marvel at the wonders of its own navel," and seeks and sells "an incredible range of material aimed at every kind of reader, not just young males." Who's to blame for this shortcoming of the comics industry?  Why, the fans who took over the business!

(Tom Spurgeon offers some amusing commentary on Saunders' shifting argument.)

With that, retailer Christopher Butcher wades back in:

At best Mr. Saunders is comparing apples and oranges (graphic novels and novels are both printed matter, but are different media). At worst, he’s brutally out-of-touch with both the graphic novel market and the market for teen/YA fiction. Simply, the market for YA and teen prose fiction is massive, with more books published for those two demographics than there are total graphic novels published in English every year, maybe 6-10 times the amount. ICv2 estimated about about 5000 graphic novels a year are published, and that’s for every age group. This site estimates nearly 30,000 books were published for ‘juveniles’ alone last year, and that may not even include material for teens. Mr. Saunders and his quotee are comparing apples to industrial watermelon farms.

Butcher goes on to note that, "while there has been a consistent build in the number of comics and graphic novels for kids (and their quality!) published in the last few years, that number still pales in comparison to how many novels for that same audience are being published, and to be honest there are dozens of great comics and graphic novels for kids, teens, and everyone in-between, that completely fly under the radar anyway, not finding the marketing support or sales they deserve in comic stores or ‘regular’ book stores."

To make sure some of those kids' comics don't slip beneath the radar, blogger Johanna Draper Carlson chimes in with more than a dozen recommended titles.

Which brings us to cartoonist Chris Eliopoulos, writer and artist of the Marvel kids' comic Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius, who suggests the problem -- "a self-consuming marketplace and one that does not open itself up to the new or young-reader friendly" -- could be addressed by major publishers creating divisions "that produces comic book-style children’s books that contain no super heroes." (Granted, that might not sit well with those arguing, essentially, for more superhero comics that are just like the ones they read when they were kids.)

"They need to become children’s book publishers that compete with Scholastic and the other more traditional publishers," Eliopoulos writes. "They need to aim to get all-ages books into bookstores and not bother with retailers. You want to buy the latest issue of Superman, head to your comic shop. Want an all-ages comic book that a parent can buy for their kid? Go to a bookstore. That’s the only way they’re going to find them."

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