As I sat at my breakfast table on Sunday looking at my newspaper (yeah, I still read those obsolete rags) I came across an article that was the cover feature in the syndicated supplement PARADE featuring Jeff Kinney and his hugely successful WIMPY KID.
The article inside is full of great inspirational stuff for comic creators because Jeff’s story (not the Wimpy Kid’s) is proof that amazing success stories can still happen.
I’m not intending that this blog feature be a review of the article or even a critique of The Wimpy Kid series. I just want to take a look at a few points of relevance that I believe reflect on the comics industry today.
First and foremost are the numbers. “Over 47 million copies of books in print in the U.S. alone…” These are figures in a market that many consider dead or at least on life support! Who wouldn’t want to sell 47 million of anything, especially comics?
Jeff’s works have been translated into 30 different languages so imagine how many millions more have been sold globally.
Of course there is a whole industry of merchandise that has sprung out of its success not to mention two films, one of which will be released this week.
I think this guy is making a living with his cartoons which by his own admission are drawn like a sixth grader because “That’s when I maxed out talentwise.”
Secondly I think it is important to look at the target market. Boys 9-12. Boy humor that has also hooked a lot of girls making it the most popular series for that age group, even dusting Harry Potter!
The books are encouraged by educators and librarians not because they endorse the bad behavior in the books but because they think the books get boys to read!
Can you imagine what the comics industry would be like today if educators in the golden and silver ages of comics would have had the same sensibility? I would have loved to have seen MAD magazine and comic books in those old book club circulars.
Now is the time for the traditional comics industry to win back this market that was the stronghold of the mighty superhero in a bygone era and is now dominated by this pencil-necked, victimized character.
The progression is interesting when we look at the success that Stan Lee had with Spider-man in the sixties. Reach a wider audience with a character that it can relate to. I think this is called demographics.
I guess it is time to realize that the forty-something geek male market may not be the best primary target for the success of the industry.
Finally we have to look at how the whole Wimpy Kid comic rose to stardom. The usual way. Not overnight. It got its start as a web comic in 2004 and built an audience of 90,000 visitors a day.
After amassing 1,300 pages of his feature Jeff took some of it to the 2006 Comic-Con in New York and showed it around and a month later he’s negotiating with the book publisher Abrams.
The rest is history but the point is that Jeff Kinney had a dream to create comics and after he had been turned down by every outlet he ventured out on his own and made it happen. He had faith in his ideas and faith in his product.
Jeff capitalized on what I believe is one of the main ingredients of a successful comic, irreverence, which can sometimes be translated as defiance.
Comics are the voice of the common folk, they always have been. Tumultuous times breed a defiant sensibility that even the young readers can relate to.
Wimpy Kid is successful because the victimized can see rejoice in the retaliation of the main character. Readers identify with it and want more, whether it is a web comic, a book or a movie.
So, my Sunday paper was quite enjoyable. I think I got a lot of inspiration for my $1.50 and I still can’t believe it was printed on paper.
Making Comics Because I Want To