The Comic Readers: Who They Are and Where To Find Them Panel on Thursday at New York Comic Con featured panelists Karen Green, Chris Thompson, Jennifer King, Terry Nantier, and Nazeli Kyurgyan-Baron. The panel was hosted by Heidi MacDonald.
MacDonald commented that we’re starting to see more European comics coming into the American market, though Nantier has been doing so for 40 years. He perceives an “upswing” and a lot of positive development. Early on, he felt he had to make “careful choices” but things have “widened” and tastes have “evolved” since then.
Nantier focused on book readers as much as comic readers originally, hoping to help them appreciate what comics can do. Graphic novels hardly had a name yet back then, he reflected, and these books were sold in comic shops to stores and general bookstores, though the latter was limited. Libraries were starting to take an interest in the early 80’s, but it was just the beginning.
US comics have risen 250% in the French market in the past 11 years, according to research. Those comics are largely American comics labels at French publishers, creating beautiful hardcover collections of characters like Batman in chronological order. They are presenting American comics in the “European style” and cinema may have influenced this as well.
American comics have stayed pretty steady in the English market, Thompson said, or perhaps a slight decline as faced by the US market. A similar pattern has reached Australia.
The average age of French readership is 42 years old and purchasers are largely women, who may well be buying for others. There are 350 comics publishers in France, and distribution reaches from independent booksellers to retail chains, and supermarkets, though online and ebook purchasers also play a part.
The American comics market has been growing considerably for a few years, but took a hit last year, MacDonald commented. Comic stores have been the backbone of the market, but bookstores are picking up, with “flat” digital and newsstand kind of “non-existent”. Graphic novels have overtaken floppies over the past few years.
BookScan suggests that more comics are purchased by men than women, though other research suggests the opposite, so the data is unclear. As much as 72% of comics purchased in comic shops are apparently purchased by men from 30-50 years old, but online purchases, while also primarily male, skew from ages 13-20 for the most part.
Thompson said that UK comic shops have moved in a trend toward female customer numbers being equal to male in terms of pull box holds on series.
Nantier pointed out that book readership numbers are higher for women than men, and graphic novels follow the same pattern. He’s had a strong response to graphic novels for young girls, as well.
Green pointed out that self-published and indie comics, as well as webcomics are predominantly female in numbers, so gathering data can be very difficult.
Kids graphic novels have been a huge trend in publishing, particularly in the last 5 years. Librarians often love graphic novels, and champion a medium that leads to kids’ literacy, which add to the market.
Green said that the highest circulating graphic novels at Coumbia University are in Korean, then there are things like Saga, and The Walking Dead. Well-known books like Persepolis have more circulation, too. But things like Blueberry, by Moebius, is very big in circulation both in French and English. Tex, a Western comic from Italy, features highly, as a 250 volume series.
MacDonald asked what the next phase should be to continue to expand comic readership, and Green said that European readership numbers of books in general are higher than in the USA. However, comics readers are bigger readers generally, also reading other types of books. Growing interest in reading comics in the USA may be about growing interest in reading as a whole.
Thompson said that focused audiences only buying certain comics, like Raina Telgemeier’s books, need help from librarians and comic shop owners to find a wider catalog, too.
Publishers, too, need to diversify their catalogs. They don’t necessarily try and invest in projects that make diverse content available.