Thursday, September 13, 2007

Love & Romance

No, this is not a post about my impending nuptials.* No, this post is instead about that oft-forgotten genre of comics from a bygone era known as Romance. This and this got me thinking about the genre and had some thoughts percolating.

Whenever a comics discussion starts heading towards the "superheroes are so over" territory, typically someone brings up the fact that at late as the 70s and early 80s, we had a lot of other genre material available from the "big name" publishers, including Western, War, Horror, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Adventure, and yes, Romance. And while most people can and will make an argument for increased output for a lot of those stories, hardly anyone ever laments the passing of Romance comics into oblivion. (Yes, I know that's not true, bear with me for a little bit.) "Bring back Jonah Hex!" they'll shout, "And Sgt. Rock, too!" Horror has a pretty high crossover rate with the typical superhero fan (witness: Marvel Zombies in all its decadence), as does Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Adventure is tough to nail down, but comics like Moonstone's The Phantom or Dynamite's Lone Ranger fit, and MR titles like 100 Bullets are the spirtual successors. But Romance, no dice. It seems the only Romance that your typical comic fan wants is a hot love interest for their favorite character, who hopefully doesn't wind up stuffed into an appliance of some sort.

That is, if by "typical comic fan," you ignore the massive crowd who get their comics in the form of manga.

Now, I'm not a manga guy. I've read a few different series, but never really got into the whole Asiaphile scene. (By the same token, I don't care for most anime either; give me tokusatsu or give me death!) But I know a trend when I see one. And when you go into Barnes and Noble and see row after row after row of those squat little digests peering out at you with their double-digit volume numbers, even a lunkhead like me gets the drift. And even a manga-philostine like me understands that some of the most popular genres of manga do, in fact, involve the Romance genre. Shojo and Josei-type mangas are marketed to and primarily purchased by women, and while they go across the board in terms of theme and setting, a lot of them do deal with love and romance. And I suggest to you that this is brillant. Marketting something to women that they might actually enjoy? Get out of town!

And I am not just being chauvanistic here. Based on my experiences with women, my fiancee included, there's a good swath of them which enjoy romance novels, soap operas, and romantic comedy. Romance is, like Superheroes, Horror, Westerns, et. al., well suited to a disposable medium, but can aslo sustain itself for longer periods if care is given. Much like Iron Man's been kicking butt and taking names for 45 years, so too has the various familes in Salem been having trials and tribulations on Days of Our Lives. The connection is there. I used to work for the library at Clemson University, and every year we would have one of the largest book sales in the state. And every year, both when I was a student and when I was working, there would be countless romance novels donated. And every year, every one of them would be sold. The interest is there.

Now I am not saying that if Publisher ABC puts out a Romance comic that women will flock to buy it. The Direct Market model pretty effective prohibits that from happening. But there are options, including circumventing the DM. Publish in digest form, like Archie does, and make it into an impulse buy like a romance novel. Advertise in periodicals girls and women actually read. Hire artists who can draw actual anatomy, and not super-anatomy, and can draw in a style which differentiates itself from manga. If teen girls are seeking out shojo manga in bookstores, they are already aware of the medium and the way it works, so why not tap into that with new product which stands out by being homegrown? I refuse to accept that a digest of Romance comics produced in America that is advertised and sold alongside YM and Seventeen would not make money.

Now, I'm not a publisher, marketter, or even an economist. But at this point I am tired of the the bellyaching about how hard it is to get women into this hobby while at the same time not offering anything that most women would read. Put up, or shut up, I say. Expecting women -- young or old -- to simply buy Wonder Woman and Ms. Marvel because they are girls is (to quote Geo-Force) not only ridiculous, but also insane. I can't be the only seeing this, right?


*You ever notice that "nuptials" are always "impending?" Never "upcoming" or "coming soon?" Why is that?


Rick said...

The trouble these days with putting out romance books is keeping it available for older and younger readers. Yes I know that there are very few younger readers these days but they are still around. If you do it for the younger then older ones may think it is too simple. If you make it more complex and have more sex then either the younger ones won't get it or worse it will be for adults only in a plastic bag on the top shelves and then no one will read it. In my own opinion, and I know this will seem contradictory but, they should try to keep it simple. Don't deal with Romance at all. Deal with infatuation and only go as far as a kiss at the end. Less is more.

rob! said...

go to any bookstore, like you said, and you see LOTS--sometimes all--girls in the manga section. GIRLS READING COMICS.

DC, Marvel, etc need to produce comics they will read. they already get returnable TPBs in those stores, no reason they cant do the same with the manga-sized, girl-oriented material.

Re-Gifters, etc, is a good start, tho they need to do more.

Luke said...

Rick -- Indeed, you can do Romance without sex, and I would say that if it is well-written, the older readers would be happy with The Hunt For True Love as well.

rob! -- Oh yeah. It amazes me that Marvel and DC -- hell, even the Big Indys like Dark Horse, Image, Dynamite, IDW or whatnot -- simply ignore that potential and wave their hands at it. The Minx line is a start, but I still have yet to see Plain Janes or Clubbing or Re-Gifters in a book store. I understand that they are hesitant, but it doesn't take a marketing genius to see that they are leaving money on the table.

rob! said...

>>but I still have yet to see Plain Janes or Clubbing or Re-Gifters in a book store.<<

they are there--ive seen them at Borders--but they're lost amid all the other graphic novels. the manga, because of their (almost 100%) uniform size, are easier to find for someone searching them out. big numbers on the spines, easy as pie!

comic publishers need to start paying attention to how manga is marketed--not copying the content, but the marketing.