By Philip Schweier
August 17, 2013 - 19:51
Pope had enjoyed some healthy success working on Batman, which led to a conversation with someone whom Pope identifies only as “the head of DC Comics.” Pope made a pitch to do Kamandi, a character created by comic book legend Jack Kirby. Touted as “the last boy on Earth,” Kamandi inhabits a post-apocalyptic world in which animals have risen to become the dominant species. The series debuted in 1972, at the height of the popularity of the Planet of the Apes films.
Kamandi ran for 59 issues before it was cancelled in 1978. Since then the character has made cameo appearances and guest-starred in various titles, and has been collected into various trade paperback forms.
“We don't publish comics for kids,” the unnamed head of DC is reported to have said. “We publish comics for 45-year olds. If you want to do comics for kids, you can do Scooby-Doo.”
Let’s do some math, shall we? The mid-point of Kamandi’s run was #30, published in early 1975. assuming the average comic reader was 10-years-old at the time, that would make him now 48.
So basically this unnamed head of DC was saying, “Our target audience is people who were reading Kamandi back in the mid-’70s as kids.” In my opinion, he couldn’t be more wrong. I was one of those kids, and there are no DC titles that interest me.
Based on that statement, it is easy to extrapolate that in 20 years, DC Comics will be publishing comics for 65-year-olds. It’s a wonderful idea to be able to maintain a customer throughout their entire life, but what happens when those customers die off? Where will new readers come from? The answer is obvious: by appealing to readers of all ages.
There was a time when comic book were truly all ages, read and enjoyed by 10-year-olds, 15-year-olds, 20-year-olds and older. But in the past 20 years or so, comic book companies have begun to throw up walls around their product, leading to ageism on the part of the publishers. Product aimed at one segment of comic book readers ignores others.
An example of a truly all-ages title would be Superman Adventures, based on the Superman animated series of the 1990s. The stories were simple, usually done-in-one, and followed a streamlined continuity yet to be bogged down by the rest of the DC Universe. Art was simple, perhaps cartoony, but the stories I remember all had the same level of sophistication I remember from the Superman titles of the 1970s.
My point is, it can be done. It is possible to reach all ages in a single title.
I can imagine a time in comics when comic book creators were perhaps handed the keys to the kingdom. “We like you,” the publisher said. “We think we can do great things for each other. So take your pick of our properties, come up with an idea, and maybe we can do business.”
But makes sense to me that when a publisher has a concept languishing in obscurity, and a talented writer or artist makes a pitch designed to A.) breath new life into the character; and B.) reach out to new audiences as well as old, it makes sense not to discourage the creative process.
Artist Brian Stelfreeze collaborated with writer Joe Pruett on a four-issue Domino series for Marvel in the 2002. To paraphrase his reasoning, the belief was that Domino was no so high-profile a character that the risk was so great. At best, the series might push Domino up the strata of bankable properties. If not, and the series was a failure, well, who was to notice? It was the more popular characters who have much more to lose in such situations.
Would that more publishers take that same gamble with their lesser known properties. Marvel facelifted X-Men in the mid-1970s, and parlayed Blade into a three-film franchise with a TV series to boot. Gambling on a four or six-issue miniseries seems less expensive than a film or TV production, so why not let a creator with a proven track record and lot of enthusiasm take a stab at a property that has stagnated.
It can’t do worse than the New 52 version of Blackhawks.
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