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Annabel Taylor

 

       Previously unfamiliar with the genre, after reading the selection of graphic novels that we have so far been assigned for this class, one thing that has stuck me as surprising was the wide variety of content each book presents. I was fairly sure that the readers interested in such an art form consisted solely of adolescent and young adult men that had grown up feasting on Batman. As we have learned, that demographic does certainly exist and is certainly prevalent as readers of such works as The Watchmen. But while reading Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, I aware during my reading of the fact that this was extremely different than the Superhero stereotype or Donald Duck child's play that I had expected from this course. It was great! A comic about an extremely intellectual young adult, light years away from the subjects I would have imagined to be reading about. I can't imagine that too many adolescent boys are rushing to the bookstore to get their copy of such a thing. Now, don't get me wrong, I was enthralled during my reading of The Watchmen and couldn't put it down. But, had I not been introduced to it through this class, I simply would never have picked up such a book, being so different from the subject matter that I normally enjoy.

      What I am left wondering about is the demographic of graphic novels. As the books have shifted from being comic books that one picks up at the newsstand to having seemingly entered the literary circle, has the demographic of readers changed? It must have. How has the genre itself changed to incorporate such a shift or inclusion of audience? This, I would like to explore in my research. Have the range of subjects and covered topics broadened or been there all along? I would like to take a look at the other side of the genre, not the epic adventures of the Superhero, but the subjects that have incorporated new readers as fans of the genre--- stories of families, stories of women, stories of homosexuality, etc.--- the untypical, and I would like to explore how the incorporation of these into the genre of "graphic novel" has changed the genre itself, and the demographic, making it more widely-recognized and more accessible.

       Now, if my hypothesis is wrong, and I have simply been unaware of such subjects as topics of comics and graphic novels from the beginning, I would like to explore then why the average graphic novel reader consists of young adult males, and why other demographics are avoiding or hesitating to become familiarized with such reading material. My research will consist of studies done concerning comic book and graphic novel reader demographics, as well as familiarizing myself with several graphic that aren't your typical Batman-esque theme, starting with Fun

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4 Comments

  1. Unknown User (sms28)

    A study of comic book reader demographics sounds like a fascinating topic.  I would, however, suggest that you be very careful to cite all your sources once you've begun to develop a more in-depth treatment of this subject.  For example, although there is a definite stereotype that suggests the "average" comic book reader is a young adult male (probably single and living in his parents' basement), if you're going to treat that average as fact, you'll need some sort of information source to back up that claim..  I tried to find some hard-and-fast demographic numbers online, but nothing showed up in my (admittedly brief) search.  I'm not sure where you could find  a good source of information.  You could try checking in with Joe at Joe's Comics up on Main Street.  He's a local seller, and I interviewed him for a project once; he's a really nice guy and he has a wide depth of knowledge about comics as a field.

    While you're looking into "non-superhero" demographics I would suggest looking into manga (Japanese comics).  In Japan, comics draw a respectability American graphic novels don't seem to, and manga began to gain popularity in America in the 80's and 90's.  A lot of woman/girl-oriented manga (called shoujo) has a strong American female readership.  My friends in high school were all female manga nuts.  I don't keep up-to-date on current titles, but some classics are Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura, Magic Knight Rayearth, andFruits Basket.

    If you treat the topic well, you should get a very interesting paper out of it.  Good luck! 

  2. Unknown User (cev3)

    Dear Annabel,

      Interviews seem like a great way to find out some information if you're comfortable- perhaps asking workers at comic book stores who comes in, and who buys what, or just walk in, look around, and observe the customers (Rochester!). Another source could be looking up comic book/ graphic novel conventions- who usually participates in these? Has this changed over the years?

        It's interesting to think about the different reasons as to why/how the genre has "opened" up to larger audiences. Shifts in perspective on power structures? shifts in how we view sexuality/gender? There are probably undertones of these themes in comic books (homosexuality etc) in the past, say before the 1960's,  but it would have been subtle because of these topics being considered "taboo" by the general public -I don't know how you would do this research though, because it's sometimes hard to recognize the difference between subtlety and reading too much into something  since we have a modern perspective and different tools for analyzing  ( we are encouraged to look at works within their contexts...well, in some classes/arenas) it might get a little hard to distinguish the difference.

    If you're interested,  look into the various forms of expression of the sexual revolution, the anti-war movement, and the civil rights movement of the 60's.  I would start with  Underground Comix. While super-hero comics were still in the mainstream, this group published comics with other types of themes/characters.  Their voices were often being silenced by "popular"  culture, including the media. Did comics become one form of expression because of this silencing? Did that contribute to the opening up of the genre? Also, who was included in this expression, who was excluded?

    I was thinking about what Steve said about Manga as well. Many Japanese comics/graphic novels have strong woman lead characters, and this is not just a recent trend. Try looking up Miyazaki along with the other suggestions Steve gave. Miyazaki is absolutely great even if you don't choose to follow this path.

     Many of the graphic novels we've read could be included in your paper.Concrete has a definite 'male gaze,' the Watchmen does too in many ways.  How does the fact that we are a western white-male dominated culture enter into this? Does this discourage women and minority readership?  There are also obviously working female/minority graphic novelists. What issues are they tackling?  As different voices/perspectives enter into the genre, does it effect who's reading?

    I quickly searched this and found the following blog:

    http://www.popcultureshock.com/pcs/blogs/glyphs/

    It may or may not be a great site, but it could possiby link you to other discussions or give you specific examples of African American g.novelists.

    I know my suggestions are a little scattered, but I think what you need to do is narrow down your idea for the paper when you begin to do research. Maybe following female graphic novelists through a time-line? Or focusing on a smaller time frame may help (maybe the 50's into the 60's?) , historical and cultural context is key in your discussion on the changing genre, and a lot of research would have to be done in order to understand the multiple implications.

    Love,

     Colleen

    I

  3. Unknown User (jfw3)

    Like Steven, I think you need to be very meticulous about source material. It is very easy to stereotype without knowing the reality of the subject.But I find your idea very interesting. I too was surpised by the content of the last two novels we have read and cannot wait to see what your research turns up.

    In terms of research I think interviews and biographies will be very helpful. These will help you find the inspiration for these graphic novels, and it would be interesting to know if the author's feel themselves that they are doing something new.

    If you look more at items such as Fun Home and Persepolis you'll find that they are memoir graphic novels which present their own interesting genre.What is it about graphic novels that lend themselves to the memoirs? In my non-fiction writing class we have a lot of discussion on the honesty of the narrator, the contract between author and reader for truth, but in a graphic novel there seems to be a great deal of dialogue, which is questionable since how much of that is actual memory? And what are the precedents for these memoirs? Does Stan Lee find himself in his comics? Are they fictionalized versions of his own life? Or is there a point where one or two authors simply decided to break away from the norm and change the genre.

  4. Since we've already talked about how to rework your project, I'll be very brief.  The more I think about the title "Persepolis," the more it reminds me of how someone in Satrapi's graphic novel -- can't remember whether it's her narrator or an adult who tells young Marjane -- says that due to Iran's location it's always getting invaded/overrun.  Thus, the Islamic Revolution would be the most recent, with the hopes of the people getting quashed again and having this very long & melancholy prehistory -- dating back to the ruins of Persepolis after Alexander set fire to the city.  I'm having trouble sussing out MS's politics.  Her family is proudly communist; her grandfather was a prince.  She and her parents are very well educated; would you say "Westernized" or not?  In any event, a complex relation to Iran's past that becomes an imagined space in her story....Good luck!