OK, for all of you nerds—and I use that term in only the most loving way—who are planning on going to see “The Avengers” sometime this weekend, here’s a question for you: When was the last time you bought and/or read a comic book featuring your favorite superhero? I’m guessing it’s been a very long time.
Comic books, where all of our favorite action movie characters came from—after The Avengers, the third Dark Knight (Batman) movie will be out this summer, to be followed by a new Spider-Man treatment and a Superman re-launch—is sort of on life support.
According to an article on comic book prices:
[I]n 1945, roughly half of all Americans read comic books, including 95% of all boys, and (and!) 91% of all girls, between the ages of six and eleven. “In 1947,” Van Lente added, “one out of every three periodicals sold in the United States was a comic book. That’s 180 million comics in one year.” To experience market penetration like that, you’d pretty much have to be the Internet.
And if you glance at these lists of circulation figures for the time, you see that by 1946 you have four different comic book titles that were selling more than a million copies per month. (Whereas now, there are only three titles clearing (barely) two hundred thousand copies monthly.) So in comparing the 40s with now, we’re comparing a time when comic books were hands-down no-joke the undisputed dominant paradigm of entertainment for American children to now, a time when the characters and storylines of comics constitute a very American mythology while the vehicles that brought them there, the comic books themselves, sit off to the side.
I had not picked up a comic book since the mid-1980s. But one of the writers I edit at WorthPoint, Matt Baum, writes about collectible comic books, from those of the million-dollar Golden Age books featuring the first appearances of Superman and Batman, to those titles that are coming out next Wednesday that may be worth something down the line. Editing that column now for coming up on four years, I’ve sort of picked up a new appreciation for comics by osmosis and feel the need to champion their cause.
Coincidentally (or not), tomorrow, Saturday, May 5, just happens to be Free Comic Book Day across North America and around the world, where dealers will be giving away comic books absolutely FREE—mostly short sample stories designed to introduce or reintroduce characters to the uninitiated—to anyone who comes into their stores. I took my kids to this a couple of years ago and now, I’m happy to say, they have been bitten by the comic book bug (although, unfortunately, not a radioactive spider with the expected results). The girl reads Wonder Woman and the Amazing Spider-man regularly, with some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Zorro thrown in, while the boy likes Aquaman and Bat Wing. I buy them the new books each month, and a few more for myself, and we read them all.
And since there were not around for the original run of the various superhero movies, at their behest, we have been watching them on Netflix—even the bad ones; sorry producers of “The Incredible Hulk,” both the 2003 and 2008 versions. They are very jazzed about The Avengers and we’ll be going to see it between soccer games and other kid activities this weekend.
So, here’s a challenge for you: If you are a big a fan of Iron Man, Captain America, et al, as you say you are, go visit your friendly neighborhood comic book shop and buy a couple titles. Bring your kids (or nieces and nephews, you childless slackers), and introduce them to your favorites superheroes. And for those of you worries about adult themes in comics today (yes, there are adult themes in comes today—Batman and Catwoman have been known to do the rooftop nasty—and depending on the title, some can get kinda gory) there are kid-safe versions of all your favorites, so turn ’em loose and see what catches their attention.
And, if you have forgotten who you just might find in the comic books these days, here’s a primer: