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Save the Biz: Add Live Girls

(This  Stripped column originally appeared in the June 25-July 1, 1998 Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)

by Beth Hannan Rimmels

'NUFF SAID:

"Mrs. Marlowe, we strongly suggest you re-think your position on Valentine's Day. No less than a dozen roses is acceptable."

— The "anniversary police" from "A Torrid Anniversary" in House of Java

People wonder why I rant so much about diversity of titles, expanding comic-book readership and ways to save the industry. On June 13-14, I attended LuluCon II in Newark, the second national Friends of Lulu (FoL) convention and the first one held independently of other functions. It was both scary and enlightening.

Friends of Lulu, named for the old-time comics character Little Lulu, aims to expand female readership and increase the number of women working in the business. In the process, it has ended up taking on the bigger issue of trying to make sure the industry survives.

For the past 20 years or so, conventional wisdom has claimed that girls and women don't read comic books and superheroes are the driving force of comics. But it wasn't always that way. The superhero pendulum has swung in both directions, most notably dropping off after World War II and then picking back up in the '60s Silver Age revival. What people forget is that comics didn't die out during those 20 years. On the contrary, the market and readership expanded when superheroes fell out of favor.

According to research Trina Robbins presented at the convention — information that will be presented in detail in her upcoming From Girls to Grrrlz (Chronicle Books) — the size of the comic market doubled between 1946 and 1949. One in three periodicals sold in America was a comic book, with crime, horror, Western and romance comics more than filling the superhero gap. In 1948, 51 percent of all comics were sold to women. By 1950, one-quarter of all comics sold were romance books like In Love, Cinderella Love, Young Romance, Western Love Trails and others. Issue #17 of Patsy Walker claimed, "Over 5 million readers!" A 1953 ad boasted 6 million readers.

That's ancient history, you yawn. But it's important to remember that all kinds of people will gravitate to comics if you give them something to read — and then let them know it's out there. And you'd better learn from this history if you want to keep buying comics. The industry has shrunk so much that this year, The X-Men, which is regularly the best-selling title, sells fewer than 150,000 copies a month. Don't blame the digital age either: In Japan, titles like Sailor Moon sell more than 5 million copies a month.

What can you do? Turn smart people on to comics. If you have a friend who likes fantasy, introduce them to Bone or Poison Elves or Castle Waiting or Lost Stories, etc. If they like science fiction, put Transmetropolitan in their hands. Non-fiction aficionados? Try Two-Fisted Science. You get the idea. Find a nice, friendly store that has a good selection, and when you're out with your friends, ask if you can make a quick stop. Drag them in with you. Put something they might like in their hands to flip through while they're waiting for you. If they claim, as one friend of mine recently did, that they don't know how to read a comic book, point out that it's like reading Calvin & Hobbes or Doonesbury, only longer. It works; I've done it. Friends refer to me as a comics pusher, and it's a fair description, considering how much I spend on my habit. So what? What have you got to lose, except the comic-book business?

A BIG GULP  Speaking of broadening the business, NBM has been doing a great job of widening the art form with its Comics Lit graphic novels. House of Java ($8.95) is a collection of short stories by Mark Murphy, some of which are set at coffee bars. Others are just great stories to read while enjoying your caffeine fix.

The tales range from the amusing vignettes named after the book to the creepy "Rest Stop" and the heartbreakingly poignant "Lost and Found." "A Torrid Anniversary" is the man's side of the muddle of anniversaries in marriage. I love the scene where he imagines a group of faceless women "reasoning" with his wife about her unconventional views on Valentine's Day until she begins making the usual floral demands.

 

Column 1998 Long Island Voice. House of Java 1998 NBM.