29 November 2010

Two Ways of Building a Balanced Audience

In yesterday’s posting about the Young Justice TV cartoon, I quoted from an interview with the producers. Among the non-Robin-centric things they said was this, which speaks to one way modern mass entertainment is created:

[Greg Weisman:] I think, from an economic standpoint, we have to hit boys 6 – 14 for Cartoon Network to sell their ad space or whatever, so if you think of it as a bull’s eye with concentric circles, that’s the bull’s eye we have to hit – but I’m not satisfied with that and I don’t think Brandon [Vietti] is either.

A, we want boys and girls, so there’s a lot of great relationship stuff in this, there’s humor in this show – I mean, it’s a serious show, but there’s a lot of humor in it, there’s a lot of eye candy for little kids. I think little kids could enjoy this show, and some stuff will go over their heads, but they won’t know it’s going over their heads.
The network’s need to “hit boys 6 - 14” might explain why this show not only features a team made up of twice as many boys as girls (four to two), but also why the pilot doesn’t show one of those girls until the very last moments, and the other not at all.

There’s a female trainer for the group, but in the pilot she doesn’t speak. Wonder Woman flies in the background, a female scientist walks around with a clipboard, and that’s about it for that half of humanity. (Now that I think of it, the female teammates might not even reflect humanity: one is an alien from Mars, and the other is Artemis, potentially a goddess. But maybe that’s how the target audience of boys six to fourteen view girls.)

This made me think of how Jacques d’Amboise introduced his celebrated dance classes into New York schools. As People magazine reported in 1982, “d'Amboise first invites only boys (‘otherwise all girls would sign up’) and girls later.“ The Young Justice pilot might be tilted toward the masculine more than subsequent episodes in order to assure sponsors it will attract young male viewers, and to assure those viewers it’s safe to start watching.

Contrast the development of that show to how Jimmy Gownley decided to center his comic for kids on a little girl, from a new interview with R. J. Carter for the Trades:
Somewhere along the way, you decided to make a run with a female protagonist. What caused this shift?

I was working on [a comic book called] Shades of Gray, and I loved doing it, but it was always going to be this sort of thing I did on the side. At this point I'd graduated college and was working as a graphic designer. I was publishing Shades of Gray, and it was doing okay, but it was never going to be a career for me.

I just took the page that I was drawing — I was drawing a page of Shades of Gray, what ended up being the last issue. I just flipped it over, and without any thought of what I was doing, I just started doodling. And I drew this little girl — Amelia, exactly how she appears in the first issue. I kind of liked the way she looked, and I held it up to the person who was sitting with me — at the time it was my long-suffering girlfriend, now my long-suffering wife, Karen — and I said, "Hey, what do you think of her?" And she said, "She's really cute," and I said, "Maybe I should do something with her. What should we name her?" We both thought about it, and then at the exact same second we both said, "Amelia." So I took that as my cosmic sign that I was supposed to write a comic book about this little girl.
The result was Amelia Rules, now published by Simon & Schuster. Gownley enjoyed the freedom of self-financed publishing, and of working in a medium that requires a lot less money than an animated TV show. Perhaps many other author-illustrators have tried to launch comics for kids with female protagonists, and Amelia Rules is the rare success. But the fact that it’s found an audience of both girls and boys might suggest that creating good stories matters more than marketing dicta.

No comments: