I Wanna Be In Pictures

Everyone who makes or sells a product wants it to become a part of “pop culture.” Wikipedia defines pop culture this way:

Popular culture, or pop culture, the vernacular (people’s) culture that prevails in any given society, results from the daily interactions, needs and desires, and cultural ‘moments’ that make up the everyday lives of the mainstream. It can include any number of practices, including those pertaining to cooking, clothing, mass media and the many facets of entertainment such as sports and literature.

If one regards culture as a way of defining oneself, a culture needs to attract people’s interest and persuade them to invest a part of themselves in it. People like to feel a part of a group and to understand their identity within that group. This scenario works well in small communities where people feel needed and special in their small world. Mass culture, however, lets people define themselves in relation to everybody else in mass society at the level of a city, of a country or of a planet. In a sense it ‘makes the ball park a lot bigger’ and individuals have to fight harder to find and keep their identity.

Pop culture finds its expression in the mass circulation of items from areas such as fashion, music, sport and film.
Basically, people want the products or people they promote and/or sell to become prevalent in society so that people want it.

Why? Because, there’s big money to be had from products that are deep into pop culture to the point where everyone wants them. Take, for example, Nike shoes – once the former star basketball player for the Chicago Bulls NBA team put those shoes on, they were SUPER hot. Everyone had to have them, even if the Michael Jordan line sold $100 and up. Jordan was hot and part of pop culture, and the Nike shoes he wore became part of the culture too and were highly sought after. People even, quite literally, killed for these shoes.

As a comic book retailer, I want the same thing for comic books. Well, not the killing each other part of course, just the rise of people wanting comic books. A small percentage of the total U. S. population reads comic books. Today, one of the best ways to get the general public to fall in love with a comic book charater, and then hopefully start to read the comic books, is to feature stories about the character in movies or TV. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the X-Men are some of the most popular comic books today, and it can’t be surprising that they are not only some of the “oldest” comic book characters, they are also characters who have had appearances in numerous TV shows and movies over the years.

While comic book heroes were featured on TV since the 1940s, the real rise of comic book superheroes into pop culture started two decades later when Adam West starred as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the 1960s TV series. But this show was very campy and made it difficult to take Batman seriously. The first serious comic-to-pop culture transformation took place in 1978 when Superman hit the silver screen starring Christopher Reeve. This movie really began the conversion of comic books from something fun for children to something taken seriously by fans and wanted by consumers. The first Batman movie, not counting the one that spun out of the Adam West Batman TV show, came out in 1989, and since 2006 there have been around ten comic book movies based on major comic books and several movies based on comics that were more “underground.” These “comic books turned movies” have given the comic book industry, which was left bruised and beaten after the early-mid 1990s boom and bust, the launch into pop culture they needed to get people buying and reading them again.

As a retailer, I love to hear that a comic book is being made into a movie, because I know my sales for that comic will go up, as will the demand for other products featuring those characters. Two years ago, only fans of Alan Moore or independent comics had ever asked for a copy of V for Vendetta. But, we sold copies in the double digits once people learned of the movie. People were not sure which came first, the movie or the comic book, but it did not seem to matter – it was now part of pop culture and people wanted to buy it. At the end of the week, when the X-Men movie comes out, we are expecting to see an increased interest in X-Men merchandise at our store. Same thing with Superman, which will hit the big screen later this summer. At my store we also take advantage of the pop culture exposure as much as possible, by doing co-promotions with the local movie theaters and by holding events in the store featuring the comics or characters from the movie. These movie tie-in events are often some of the best days for revenues in our store.

Die-hard fans often come in and complain about the comic book movies, expressing their disappointment about the cast or discussing how the movie deviated too much from the comic book. But, they are already reading comic books and keep reading comic books. These movies aren’t really for them, as much as fans might want to believe they are. The movies are for the general public, which consists of a few die-hard fans but far more casual fans who generally do not read comic books. Many of the people who see the comic book based movies have never set foot in a comic book store. But, with every movie that comes out, I always hope a few new fans come away wanting to check out the comic books. Comic book stores that do co-promotions with the movie theaters help that happen by letting people know that 1. the movie is based on a comic book and 2. there is a place nearby where you can shop for comic books and other merchandise that features this movie and its character(s). Of course, I would not mind if the comic book movies were more true to original stories. Those stories are great and usually important to the comic book’s past and present. Usually, movies that are more true to the original characters and the comic book storyline do better in the box office. But, I still love any comic book based movie, because with every one that comes out, it puts comic books a bit deeper into the American pop culture scene, and it gets a few more people to come into a comic book store.

If any Hollywood directors, studio chiefs, or big-time screen writers are reading this – I support you. Make more comic book movies!

And, on a side note, a quick thank-you to Warren Ellis, who is one of VERY FEW well-known comic book creators who answers retailer emails – and quickly too. Thanks Warren! I’m going to sell more of your books now.

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One year after our first wedding anniversary, to the day, my husband and I picked up the keys to a 1000 square foot store front in a strip mall in suburban Waukesha, WI. Two weeks later that spot would become Neptune Comics, our very own comic book store. I grew up in Slinger, WI, the child of entrepreneurial parents who owned their own dog breading and boarding kennel. The first in my family to graduate from college, I earned a BA from St. Norbert College. Prior to becoming a comic book retailer I was a stock broker, and then gave up that stress to own my own house cleaning business. Comic books were a small blip on my radar before I considered opening a store -- I did not have a collection stashed somewhere. But jumping into comic book retailing has been a great crash course in the ups and downs of the comic book industry. Being a woman and a comic fan, rather than a collector, I have no doubt that my opinions won’t always be that of the majority.

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