Sunday, November 12, 2006

Descent into a cultural ghetto.

The other day I was thinking about comic book stores and the absence of comics in newsagents. A medium which once thrived in the English speaking world from being a pulpy, an easily accessed and an inexpensive art form, is now restricted to a small, devoted clique which was both shrinking and off putting to outsiders.
Then I thought about the price. If anything, surely it was exorbitant prices that were creating a huge barrier to entry for prospective new readers. Further research produced this SHOCKING GRAPH.
I created a rough index of the price of a normal 22 page comic book (tracking price changes from the cover price of The Amazing Spider-Man and earlier timely comics productions, excluding specials and hologram covers etc.) and graphed it against the US Consumer Price index, from 1948 to 1997. For thirty years or so, until the early 80s, the trends were roughly equal, which is to be expected. But then the price of a comic book began to shoot above inflation, getting genuinely more expensive, and completely took off in the early 90s.
Of course, direct sales (comic book stores) began to expand in the 1980s, and the early 90s saw the comic book boom. Both events helped sideline comics into a niche market, and took comics from a popular, mass medium, to a small powerless elite.
From 1948 to 1997 prices increased 7 fold, but comic books increased by 3 times that. If I had continued to data to the current day (I only had CPI data til 1997) they would have shown a 30 fold increase.
If a kid was to get into comics today, he would have to enter a dispiriting den called a comic book store (whose denizens may deserve the disrepute they entertain amongst outsiders) where they're not allowed to touch anything. They'd then need to fork over their parent's mortgage repayment for the month to get a single issue of a 6 part story which requires wikipedia character histories to understand anyway. The price means the 30 million colours in high resolution printing on the splash pages is there, and the continuity affirms the elitism of the traditional readers, but this doesn't matter to the kid.
Moreover he or she will get confronted with this: they don't start reading.
I cannot think of another medium that has (in English speaking culture) drawn itself into such a cultural ghetto. However, Science Fiction in all forms as a genre was once the same, and to some extent it has extricated itself. Perhaps comics as a medium can do the same.


Blogger gtveloce said...

Bring back the 12cent Walt Disney comic, I say. Can't imagine that the advent of kids TV, video games and interactive kid-targeted web sites have anything to do with this... mind you, my daughters love books as well and 'subscribe' to something akin to comic books from teh newsagent, like the 'Roald Dahl' series. It's a old-fashioned family comic with modern twists like the website and various cool 'freebies' thrown in... maybe the comic is still around, but different?

8:35 am  

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