Thursday, May 20, 2010

Suggested for mature adults...

Fun for the whole family?

Labeling the content of a comic book, mature and adult, doesn't necessarily make it one or the other. More often than not the comics I read with the, "suggested for mature and adult readers" label on the front cover are anything but mature and adult. Most of the material in these books is aimed at teenage boys and is designed to titillate the senses rather than stimulate the intellect. The books are often little more than panel after panel of pinup art with the written part of the story doing little more than teasing future story lines and dropping the F-Bomb at every opportunity.

A good story appeals to an audience wider than a single demographic. Male, female, young or old, if a story is truly good it will cross gender and age barriers and offer a little something to a wide variety of readers. Can comic books make that claim right now? Are women reading comic books? The numbers would say they're not. How about young kids? Again, the numbers would say not. Judging from the message and comment boards at the websites I visit, teenage boys are the overwhelming demographic reading comic books these days and their interests are in anything other than intellectual content.

I talk to women in comic book shops and again and again they say the same thing, "Why would I be interested in books filled with half naked women and enormous breasts?" I talk to countless women who find little to read in a market dominated by books bearing the label, suggested for mature and adult readers. Women know what that warning means just as well as I do. It means that in a market increasingly dominated by such labeled books there's less and less for us (the reader looking for more than eye candy) to read.

And it just gets worse every day. Using the justification that comic books are now written primarily for adults both the writing and illustration aspects of today's comics are becoming more and more objectionable to larger and larger numbers of mature adults. The undeniable reality is that the audience for the type of book being produced right now is shrinking. The industry can offer up any number of excuses it cares to, but the reality is that if the product was worth buying, we'd be buying it.

Claiming to be the champions of "free speech" the modern crop of comic book creators are leaving a stain of profanity and sexual objectification upon the landscape of comic books that will deter a wide variety of people from picking up a comic book for a very long time. There is a line that can be crossed. When a so called defense of free speech becomes nothing more than how many times you can fit the F-bomb into a book before it becomes the only word in a book, the line is crossed. When the number of panels in a book devoted to nearly nude women posed in a manner designed to highlight no other female attributes than breast, nipple or camel toe, the line has been crossed. There is a point where stretching the boundaries breaks down into nothing more than sexual titillation and profanity.

The rebuttals to those who question the increasingly objectionable materials taking over the marketplace today run from complete dismissal, either in the form of, "If you don't like it, don't read it." to ridicule for believing in moderation. If you don't one hundred percent, without questioning one single aspect of the content in a comic book, applaud the artistic vision of both writer and illustrator you are denigrated as either, "too stupid to get it" or "too prudish to appreciate it".

The I-Pad isn't going to save the comic industry if all it continues to force feed the market is anatomical exercises in female body parts and profanity. The comic book industry is turning its back on the reader. It is so currently enamored with Hollywood and television deals and is suffering under the delusion that these new "viewers" are the industry's real future. As we've seen with the number of comic book and superhero projects getting canceled lately, the home viewer is no more interested in sexual tension that never resolves, plot lines that endlessly meander with never an end or explanation in sight than is the average comic book reader. This kind of product is no more satisfying on a screen (of any size) than it is upon a printed page.

The industry leaders need to take control of the talent and reign them back in. The blush has worn off the rose and no matter how good the sex was at the beginning of the relationship, it's time to move on to more substantial things. Too much of anything eventually becomes a bad thing and what's being done to comic books right now is turning far more readers away than its attracting. The current group of creators may indeed have won the war against censorship, but in the process they've lost the hearts of a great many people. Where is this in the best interests of anyone? Readership is down. Profits are down. Nobody seems happy with the state of the industry right now. How can this possibly be good for business? Yes, its time for a change, but the behavior and the attitude of the reader isn't where it needs to begin.

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