They're the reason for all the shake-ups, the retcons, the renumberings, the deaths and the gimmicks. They mean sleepless nights for anyone working in the comic book industry. They're both a mystery and damn open book. They're new readers, and their story is legend.
The term "New Reader" has been bandied around for a good part of 2011, even more so with the DCnU reboot looming just over the horizon. Comic book companies are aggressively seeking out these new readers to bring some new blood into the hobby. But what makes them tick? What exactly are these people made of? Let me attempt to list down what I think the anatomy of a new reader is.
The New Reader...
...likes pop culture
His Holiness the Pope is a pretty cool guy. He’s also the last person you would think would want to read Batman or the Ultimates, or any form of comic book for that matter (correct me if I’m wrong, just giving an exaggerated example). With comics these days only being sold in comic shops and specialty bookstores, and the stories becoming increasingly complex, it takes a special kind of person to have the guts to walk in a comic shop and, despite being a total newbie, ask for a comic book.
That’s why the new reader must be someone with their finger on the pop culture pulse. They’re ‘in’, they like movies, they play video games, and comics are just within their radar to get these guys to actually notice them and take a look. It helps that we've got the recent slew of comic book superhero films these past few months alone...now no one has any excuse to say they don't know one superhero!
Reading is fun! Who doesn’t like reading? Okay, so there are some people who don’t, and that’s the point. Comic books are a storytelling medium, one that relies on an ongoing narrative that practically demands your attention. Add the fact that some comics have been telling ongoing adventures for the past 50 or so years and you get the same reaction one has when trying to get to the other side of an enormous, bottomless chasm using a flimsy rope bridge. Comic books need new readers who like reading, don’t care where they start, and would keep reading.
One of the biggest mistakes companies like Marvel and DC make is thinking they could snare new readers with cheap gimmicks, shocking storylines and the like. The new reader of today, faced with all sorts of options for their personal entertainment (movies, video games, TV), isn’t going to fall for your silly tricks. The new reader knows what they want and how to get it, and if they find something to like about comic books, trust them to keep buying.
...has money to burn
I don’t need to tell you money’s tight, but I’ll tell you anyway. Money’s tight. But for a comic book fan, money’s no object when it comes to their favorite titles. I mean, I’m willing to spend just as much money on The Flash as I did SuicideGirls and 15 Love. At this point, I'm convinced longtime comic book fans like me are the only ones who can stomach paying $3-$4 on a 20 page pamphlet every month! That’s why it’s important for a new reader to have the funds necessary to buy trades or read comic books month in and month out
All these ingredients make up the ideal comic book reader. They're pretty basic points, but as comic book companies scramble to connect with the increasingly complex market called new readers, I think it's the basic that gets overlooked often.
But there's a bonus part to this anatomy, one that I think is an essential part of being a new reader that most companies tend to ignore.
The new reader is YOUNG
You don't just read comics. Comic books become a part of your life. And there's no better time to instill that idea than when a potential new reader is young. When a kid gets used to comic books at an early age, no matter if they move on to video games or girls or studying hard, the seed for a potential new reader is planted.
Some of comic books' biggest fans started out as kids. George R. R. Martin owe his reading habits to comics. Jim Shooter was into comics at a young age, and worked in the industry at 13 years old! I was a kid when I read my first comic book (good ol' Wolverine #89) and I never looked back. Guys like Marvel or DC don't realize how important Marvel Adventures or Tiny Titans or simply toning down the
immature content of existing books is to getting one step closer to getting new readers on board!
Get 'em while they're young, and it's all a matter of reaping the fruits later.
Looking at the list of DC Comics' 52 titles coming out in the next few weeks, do they pass the criteria I set above? Those into pop culture would definitely recognize Superman, Batman and Green Lantern. DC more or less promised the return of done-in-ones, so those who like reading will get a kick out of reading new adventures every month. The smart ones will research their ideal first comic (psst, Justice League looks nice). And when all is said and done, you can be sure people will find something in there worth plunking down dough for.
But what about my bonus criteria? Will the young ones get to enjoy these as much as we (might) will?
Only time will tell.
But hey, congratulations for getting this far, and thanks for reading!