Tuesday 13 August 2013

Dear DC, as a male aged 18 to 35...

[This is written in response to a post by SallyP of Green Lantern Butts Forever on the current creative state of DC Comics. Go and read her post then go read some others because it's genuinely one of the most fun and friendly comics blogs going.]

One of the problems with DC's current creative approach is the statement, which I find boneheaded even two years later, that the New 52 initiative was aimed at “males age eighteen to thirty-five”. This statement raises two questions:

Question 1: What do they think this demographic wants to read?
Question 2: Why do they want this demographic?
Question 3: Why don't they want to pursue other demographics?

To begin with Question 1 and acknowledge Sally's post directly: what DC thinks my demographic wants is Batman. This is not entirely wrongheaded. The Batman franchise is probably the company's most profitable product: the Batman group has more core titles and spin-offs than any other group DC publishes and it has spawned more films and TV series than any other DC property. I'm not going to argue with this fact as I rather like the Batman books.

Unfortunately this has led to the rather unfortunate idea that what people like me want is the Batman approach applied to every DC property: dark, brooding, morally ambiguous and violent. This has been justified in terms of creating a cohesive universe.

What it actually creates is a dire lack of variety. The approach works in some cases such as Batman and Animal Man but applied to the likes of Teen Titans or Blue Beetle it robs those books of their original selling points (fun, in the case of those two examples).

So, Question 2: Why do they want this demographic? Men aged 18 to 35 are the old “Cult TV” demographic beloved of such shows as the X-Files and Sliders. The point of this demographic was that it could support a programme that didn't get good ratings on transmission (and therefore didn't generate advertising revenue) because they had copious disposable income to spend on merchandising.

The problem with this approach is that the cult TV market died a death years ago after producers, starting with Joss Whedon, discovered there were other audiences out there with money to spend. Sci-fi and fantasy television these days is either explicitly aimed at the mainstream (Doctor Who) or created as a premium product (Game Of Thrones) that starts with the old cult audience and draws in other viewers through sheer quality.

In either approach we see that TV has got over its tunnel vision to bring sci-fi to the masses.

As Sally quite rightly points out, what DC are basically modelling themselves on is Marvel in the '90s. Marvel in the '90s almost went bankrupt (in fact, I think they briefly were before being bought out) and the era is rightly remembered as being a creative wasteland of repetitive stories that went nowhere.

Which brings us to Question 3 and my complete lack of an answer to it because the idea that any entertainment company doesn't want to expand its audience is completely beyond me. Males age eighteen to thirty-five have been the traditional audience for comics since they became too complex and interlinked to be adequately followed on pocket money (18 – 35 can be most easily defined as “old enough to earn a wage, young enough not to have to spend it on a mortgage”).

Female fandom is a real, vocal demographic that has had measurable impact on the world of comics, most obviously in being the background many modern female creators came out of so making a point of alienating them just costs you money. Frankly, given how comics companies routinely piss women off female fandom is a target rich environment and if you bring them a great series that respects them as an audience you can get real loyalty out of them.

Targeting the under-18s is a good way of a) creating a future audience and b) getting money out of parents who would normally not shell out for your product. And, finally, the over-35s are more likely to be super-loyal because they've been following your series for years (the “gateway drug” phase of comics being more likely to be in your teens than your twenties or thirties) and whilst they don't have the disposable income of the 18-35 bracket they do have some money.

In the end DC's approach does acknowledge that their product is a commercial one but they actively seem to have given up on bringing new money into their business. It's utterly bizarre.

No comments: