13 August 2010

“Look at What Sells”

One of the interesting results of Hope Larson’s informal survey of young female comics fans is that respondents’ experiences of getting into comics don’t seem much different from those of male comics fans. For example:

  • “Most respondents (about a third) were introduced to comics by a parent, usually Dad, . . . The third most popular gateway was through a male relative or male friend.”
  • “The most common age to become a fan of comics was 12,” which is such a familiar experience in fandom that it’s become an aphorism.
  • The superhero genre was the most popular for Larson’s respondents, with manga a close second—at least according to this self-selected group.
Another issue brought up by the survey that might turn out to be common ground:
2) A welcoming atmosphere in local comic stores is key. Many respondents reported feeling uncomfortable in comic stores. They were stared at, talked down to, and generally treated without respect.
Larson’s partner Bryan Lee O’Malley (in a response now lost in the æther) and some male commenters noted that some comics retailers treat new male customers the same way—though I suppose “stared at” might be replaced by “total lack of eye contact.”

I’m fortunate enough to live in an area with multiple comics outlets, so store owners have more incentive to treat customers decently. The shops offer friendly welcomes, but I’ve been struck by how each has its own style. I haven’t had such warm experiences in other towns, however. Furthermore, the sheer overwhelming nature of the product can intimidate newcomers.

A longer thoughtful response to Larson’s survey came from artist and art educator Stephanie Villareal. In particular, I found this point provocative:
Tween/teens as a whole - or mostly - in general, have no taste. I know this comes off as crass, but really, think about it. Look at what sells, look at what the top movies are at the box office, look at the bands they go see, the TV shows they watch and the things they wear. Most will follow the trends of the time.

Now looking specifically at tween/teen girls, look at the books they are reading. Number one is easy: Twilight. When I was placed in the high school classroom [as a student teacher] nearly every girl has a copy. . . . Teenage girls are being bombarded with sexual imagery from every angle and at any age. What’s even sadder is that they buy into it. It’s not surprising that books like Twilight are so popular (with the graphic novel itself breaking records with 66,000 copies sold the first week). Many of us scoff and think that Stephenie Meyer is the worst writer ever, the books are trash, but it’s what teens love, and if we’re going to make graphic novels that appeal to them, we need to adapt to their tastes (or lack thereof). . . .

When we knock out the pink and glittery category, we are forgetting one very big staple in the girl super hero genre: Sailor Moon. Teenage girls loved Sailor Moon.
So there’s a place for sparkles, boyfriends, and pink ponies, Villareal says, if the industry wants to grow.

My first question in response is whether tween/teen taste is really that bad compared to adults’. Or whether the trends are simply more pronounced.

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