Compare Watchmen to sales of the Artemis Fowl graphic novel, estimated around 15,000 copies (UK sales, that is) in the year since it was released - and bear in mind that was just an adaptation of an existing prose novel. It could provide a valuable steer to UK publishers looking to tune into the same riotous increase in graphic novel sales that the USA has seen in the last five years.
To reach the real, untapped readership with comics, UK publishers need to stop confusing comics content with the medium itself. There are a lot of demanding, edgy stories being told in comics, but that’s very far from being the only kind of narrative that comics can be used for. It’s kind of like cinema in the mid-‘70s: complex, elitist, and dying on its feet till guys like Spielberg and Lucas came along and reminded the world that it was all about entertainment.
The DFC showed that comics could be accessible to a mass market. In the last few months, Leo and I have encountered a lot of Mirabilis readers (adults as well as children) who don’t really see it as a comic; they just enjoy the story. They aren’t the kind of niche readers that UK publishers often assume all comics readers are. In fact, many of them weren’t even buying comics until the DFC came along.
Another example: there’s been a lot of talk about the growth in manga. Forget the art style and the themes addressed, there’s a simple reason why manga is faring well. It pares right back to the essential qualities of an engrossing story. It addresses questions that actually matter to the reader, and it does that using bold movie-like emotion, character and plot. That’s why it appeals to the right kind of reader (I’m purposely not saying age group, because those big breakout properties transcend age groups) to reach a big market.
But hold on now. What do we mean by “big”? The American graphic novel market is about twenty times bigger than in the UK. (The US top sellers only shift five times as many copies, but the British market has way fewer titles.) Some will argue that’s because the UK doesn’t have the tradition of superhero comics. But it’s not as if British authors aren’t capable of cooking up some pretty successful home-grown versions of those fantastic epics – Harry Potter, Alex Rider, Young Bond, etc.
What we need are graphic novels in that vein that aren’t just the prose versions re-released with pictures. Original hot-dang stories with heroes and villains we can relate to. The creative talent is there, it just needs publishers to take a leap of faith.