Previously in Unconventional: The dark forces of Negligence and Distraction have slowly spread their crippling grip on comic book readership. With a relentless onslaught of high-def pixilation and Season 8 Easter Eggs, they’ve all but snuffed out the magic and wonder of the comic book form! But from the ashes, there rose a hero – a champion, imbued with the grandeur of greatest geeks, goofs and gabbers – and per his solemn vow, he fights on…
Jumping right back into the swing of things, we’re going to go with the next stage of this plan for prolonged readership: Attack of the Tweens and Things!
Marvel Comics: Ages 10 – 18 Years:
When Stan, Jack, Steve and the gang decided to throw their hat in the ring with the onset of the Silver Age, they charged themselves to do things “better” than the guys up the street by creating characters that truly resonated with readers. While still borrowing and reinterpreting mythological themes and hero archetypes in their own right, they infused that “x-factor” of realism that’s attributed to a rich, 60 year history full of characters and stories as prolific as they are poignant. Always with their finger on the pulse, Marvel set about, not creating a new world with which to populate, but to use our own as the backdrop for their stories where they dared to ask, “What would I do if I had superpowers…, what would you?” creating a cast that struggled not only in the face of dynamic doom, but with everyday feats like paying the bills or getting a job. At Marvel, heroes were allowed to fail, villains had an honest point of view and the line between right and wrong was almost as malleable as Mr. Fantastic. At an age when customary ideas of ourselves, members of the opposite sex, and persons of authority begin to shift, the complexities of Marvel’s characters can provide a role model or point of reference that, instead of giving the definitive “this is the right thing to do” answer, offers a “I didn’t know either, but I tried this and this is how it worked out for me” approach that encourages independence and responsibility.
The readership, having been introduced to longer running arcs and more controversial characters, should be eager to indulge in this new world of high drama and angst. Using the successes of teen-centric models from Harry Potter and the Twilight saga, there’s a significant “in” with regards to the Marvel universe that if applied, offer a brand new approach to previously established franchises. As with Harry Potter, Marvel has their very own Hogwarts in the Xavier Institute, a school for those imbued with powers, not thru wizardry and spells, but through genetic mutation. But while focusing on young mutants is far from a new concept to the X-Men mythos, Harry Potter offered something unique in that we were able to watch Harry and his friends grow up, each book signifying a new year at Hogwarts. Taking this to heart, these X-Student titles (keeping a clear separation from the X-Men strike teams that would still run their usual fare of protecting the precarious peace between humans and mutants), would feature revolving casts, with a new class of mutants brought on every year, led by a specialized teaching staff of mutants and humans alike. With scripting duties divided up between 3 writers, each would be given a distinct year of study to focus on, starting with the characters’ sophomore year and leading up to graduation. Mixing in the realism of shows like Degrassi High, we’d find typical situations that are inherent to teen life (self-discovery, friends, grades, sex, etc.), but thru the already skewed lens of being a mutant. There could be a graduation issue (an annual, maybe?!), that features those mutants that wish to join the X-Men proper, trying out for the team, a concept inherently lost (it seems that if you go to Xavier’s for any length of time, you’re automatically an X-Man). This could also establish an integrated world for the mutants who don’t go into any superheroics, deciding instead to pursue a more common state of living.
With the Twilight series, there lies the solution to a problem that has truly PLAGUED comic book readership, since the beginning – GIRLS. As an industry, we fail TREMENDOUSLY when it comes to the fairer sex, unable (or unwilling) to shed the boys-club image our spandex and muscled caped-crusaders embody. But with Twilight, we saw women – seriously, WOMEN, fawning over the exploits of Bella, Edward, and Jacob and to top it all off, Bella didn’t even have any powers! Did the backdrop of the strange and unusual simply put the dynamics of a romantic drama in a new light? Was it a “center of attention” fantasy, played out to mod vampires and crunchy werewolves? I can’t definitively say (I’ve never read it), but I believe the overall niche is a characterization type – with a more romanticized view of superheroes, their supporting cast or their exploits, the elusive female demographic could finally be attracted to the form without the error of placation or condescension. Perhaps even, the answer does not lie in the comic book form initially – as Twilight began as a series of novels, perhaps that too can be the answer; a young adult, novella series, much in the same vein as the works of R. L. Stine or Christopher Pike, that takes the time to build an enriched world of interesting characters that the readers emotionally resonate with, which can then be articulated into a visual narrative featuring the same characters. Again, I’m not pitching…
In the end…?
Maybe you see the merit already and are gingerly, if not unconscionably, nodding your head in agreement. You see that change is imminent and figure this is just as valid as any other idea ever presented (I’d prefer a bit more enthusiasm though!). Or perhaps you’re a bit more savvy and remain unconvinced, having realized what I’m seemingly taking away with this: Blackest Night (ghoulish renditions of favored figures coming back from the dead is a bit unsettling for the average 8yr old), Crisis on Infinite Earths (was difficult for ME to read and I was 19 at the time), the X-Babies (I’m afraid they’re just too cute to fit the brand) – these little tidbits would NOT be acceptable under the new age/content structure (I hear some of you rejoicing!), but alas, there is a silver lining. With the Big Two taking on polarized age groups, this vacuum of content that is left wide-open to be filled by the small-press/Indie market. Tackling the characterizations established by these companies by way of analogous conversions, Indie Press creators are free, if not compelled to explore these venues, once streamlined into Mainstream abundance. Don’t think it’ll work? Look at Watchmen, heralded as THE greatest graphic novel of ALL TIME, its characters are all analog interpretations from the Charleton/DC Comics catalogue. While it can be argued that the series was fueled by the marketing mega-machine of DC, I’d point out the general lack of ANY comic property in the DC library attaining half of the critical and commercial success that Watchmen has (even The Dark Knight Returns pales in comparison)!
So, Marvel and DC are both raking in the dough with a specified plan for readership longevity, the Indie Press has more of a free pass for creative exploration and development, and readers are treated to a wealth of content, styles and a clear path to navigate it all. Truly a win/win scenario for EVERYONE!
Bio: Victor Dandridge is a comic creator from Columbus, O-H(I-O), where he self-publishes through his WizWorld Inc. imprint. His middle name is Horton…that is all.