• Everything But Imaginary #445: Every Age

    At the ol' comic shop today, I saw a book that looked pretty cool. IDW Publishing, current holder of the Teenage Mutant Ninjas Turtles franchise, has reprinted the beginning of the classic Archie Comics Turtles series, the one based on the cartoon show based on the comic. I've wondered for years why nobody was reprinting those books. The original audience has grown up and would certainly be interested in having them again, and potential new readers from today's generation may leap at new Turtle content. After all, the Turtles -- like the TransFormers and G.I. Joe -- never really went away after their peak in the 80s. They've changed and evolved and gone through different permutations, but there has almost always been a cartoon in production or toys on the shelves.

    So I was surprised when I talked to Jason, my friendly neighborhood comic shop owner, and found out that IDW is currently planning just the one printing of the book. Jason's logic (and I find it difficult to disagree) is that a book like this would be a perpetual seller, the sort of thing he wants several copies of for his children's section, and he wants to be able to order more when they run out. It makes sense. I know a lot of Turtle fans, young and old, who would be interested in this book.

    I think this is somewhat indicative of a larger problem among the major publishers: they simply don't know how to market all-ages comics. I saw another problem a few shelves away: Ultimate Spider-Man #1. Seeing as how they printed an Ultimate Spider-Man #1 just last year and, what's more, there's an Ultimate Spider-Man #10 nearby, one might see how people can get confused. The thing is the new book, based on the new Disney XD Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, is technically entitled Marvel Universe: Ultimate Spider-Man. (And the other title is technically Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, but you don't want to get me started on that one.) But the "Marvel Universe" part is tiny, hidden in the publisher's logo in the corner. Why they would do it this way perplexes me. I'm sure Disney marketing has something to do with it, wanting to brand the hell out of the show, but I think this is a case where they would have done better to mimic the naming convention of the 90s and called the book Ultimate Spider-Man Adventures.

    The issue here is that I don't know if the publishers themselves really know what they have on their hands. Who are books like this for? Comics are a graying marketplace, friends, let's be honest. Even initiatives aimed at new readers, such as the New 52, have been more successful at bringing in new or lapsed adults than young readers. Books like these could be great, if the young readers in question know that they exist and know where to find them.

    Boom! Studios has proven themselves pretty effective, fighting their way on to newsstands when they had the Disney Comics license and now making the comic based on the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time the best-selling book in the publisher's short history. DC is currently working to brand not only the comics, but the publisher itself. Their Saturday morning DC Nation cartoon block includes loads of shorts featuring an impressive array of characters (the recent Animal Man short was hysterical), plus other bits featuring DC technology in real life or cosplayers decked out as the DC characters. And if a kid wants to find comics based on the cartoons, they're clearly marked "DC Nation," with The Animated Series proudly emblazoned on the Green Lantern title.

    It will be very interesting to see how Marvel handles the next Disney comic in its library, The Muppets. Before Boom! lost the Disney license there was a fifth and final story arc completed by the brilliant Roger Langridge for his Muppet Show comic book. Now that Disney has a successful Muppet movie and a sequel in the works, Marvel is printing the title many fans feared would never see the light of day. They don't have to do anything for the Muppet die hards but announce a release date, we'll be there. But what will they do to draw in the kids who were introduced to the gang for the first time in the movie? I have an 18-month old niece who is in love with Kermit the Frog. Granted, she's a little young to read the comics, but there are certainly other, older kids who are able to read and would be drawn in by Langridge's magnificent work.

    It is in the best interests of everyone -- Disney, Marvel and the legions of Muppet fans -- if that comic does insanely well and scores high enough to commission new comics and reprint the old ones. (Anyone else remember how Marvel once published both an ongoing Muppet Babies comic and an adaptation of the film The Muppets Take Manhattan?) Disney wants to make the Muppets huge again, Marvel wants to print comic books that people will buy, and Muppet fans want new content more often than every two or three years as they turn out movies. This is a way to accomplish all of that at once... but if this comic doesn't sell, you can't count on any of it.

    So fingers crossed that Marvel figures out how to do this, that Disney doesn't screw it up, and that all parties involved are happy with the outcome. And who knows? If it hits, maybe, they'll learn a thing or two when it comes to the rest of the comics in their line-up. The term “all ages” comics has gained a bizarre stigma among some readers, people who think “all ages” means “just for kids.” That's not true and that's not how it should be. A great all ages comic should really be a comic for every age, a comic that adults and kids alike can read and enjoy. But first you've got to find it.

    Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginnerand the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms.Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.