Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"Read Comics in Public Day" - a celebration of something or other

On August 28th the comics interwebs is once again asking comics readers to take to the streets for what is now an annual event called "Read Comics in Public Day".

To be clear, "Read Comics in Public Day" is pretty stupid.

I'm sorry.  Look, I know that's not a nice thing to say, but....

A few years ago some folks online decided that the reason why comics aren't more popular is because, by gum, you don't see enough comic nerds conspicuously sitting at Starbucks for hours reading a comic book.  Or at the park.  Or on a bus.  Or, probably, you know, lounging awesomely under a statue like that one in the plaza at the strip mall with the fountain that might make a cool picture for facebook or tumblr.

So... why?  Why is this even happening?  As near as I can tell, the purported reason for folks to take to the streets with comics is "promotion of comics".

these kids were reading comics in public before it was cool

The thinking went:  If more people were seen out in public reading comics, the whole entirety of what's wrong with a market that requires people spend $4 on 5-10 minutes of entertainment, that requires finding out-of-the-way shops in run down strip malls and understanding 20 years of back stories and, on top of that, often requires a byzantine pre-ordering structure...  All the financial woes of the industry would evaporate - if  only the masses saw a 20-something sitting on a bench outside the ice cream shoppe reading Ghost World or The Flash.

Yup, the problem is that nobody has seen you, you special snowflakes, reading comics.  In public.

There's kind of a curious logic to the idea that maybe doing this .3% of the year is not kind of pointless - especially given the limited number of attendees and that the sole criteria is that you appear "in public".  Why not send everyone to, say, the local library?  Starbucks?  Something that might make this newsworthy or even noticeable?  Strength in numbers?  Something for the cameras?  Why not, say, alert the media?

It's also a tradition born from the assumption that most people don't just mind their own damn business and that people actually look at what other people are reading.  Or, maybe, assumes that the person actively reading will somehow generate enough charisma by showing up "in public" that the casual passer-by will, of course, want to know what such an iconoclast is reading.

This year, rather than on a weekend as has been the pattern, "Read Comics in Public Day" is falling on a Tuesday.  For those of you new to this: a weekday.  This means people are going to be at work or school and are REALLY not going to give a @#$% about what some random person is reading except, possibly on a train or public bus if they forgot their own source of entertainment.  I'd guess the organizers thought they'd get more traction if this happened when people were more out and about.  Unfortunately that cuts out participation by everyone who has a 9-5, M-F gig.

Comics aren't a charity.  They're a  medium.  Also, they are often published by poorly run businesses.  I want comics to continue, too, but - we've got Cons and local events.  The publishers haven't marketed well since they took spinner racks out of drug stores, and retreated to low-rent strip malls.  They've asked comic shops to shoulder a lot of the burden of promotion (they do kick in a good chunk for local advertising).  But they've more or less limited their push across media to getting a story generated when they kill off a beloved icon of some 30-something's youth.  Which, really, is just telling 30-something's "we killed your childhood pal!  YOU'RE WELCOME."

So mighty was the power of this group-read of comics-in -public that it is said every man, woman and child of Busby Avenue found themselves thumbing through a "Jughead" by the end of the day.

And if comics DO need this kind of help, "Read Comics in Public Day" feels like the world's saddest walk-a-thon.  It's like someone on Tumblr suggested people just get out and walk to raise awareness of halitosis - but with no matching t-shirts, and for goodness sake, let's not all do this in the same place.

The posts I've seen on this year's "event" are already gushing about how neat the pictures will be when the participants begin sharing .jpgs with each other.  It all reminds me why I find a lot of  "fandom" in comics these days pretty confusing.  It's about everything around the comics - be it the Cons, the costumes, the rage at this issue or that issue - but it's so rarely about the actual content of the comics.  Which probably makes sense when the Geoff Johns/ Jim Lee Justice League is a popular thing.

So.  It's the "look at this delicious sushi I bought that I'm snapping with Instagram and posting to Facebook so I get my friends to say 'so jealous!' in the comments" for the comic nerd set.

In addition, we can all look at our pictures of each other bravely reading comics in a world that fears and hates us for being such iconoclasts (but which secretly envies us, too), that we can be martyrs for... comics.  Or something.

But it DOES give you a chance to spend an hour trying to figure out which comic from your bookshelf will give you the most cred when you send it in to whoever's collecting them.

One of the earliest battles for comics awareness in public.  Known as the  Springdale Junior High 24, these brave  pioneers endured untold hardship in raising awareness about how Congo Bill is keen.

Mostly, the event just reminds me how poorly comics are doing for a reason.  Which begs the question:  who are you trying to sell comics to?  Old men in parks warming themself in the sun?  Moms stepping into Stabucks for a latte before rushing off to soccer practice?  Children who probably shouldn't be walking into a comic shop without their folks to begin with?  Some imaginary idealized person who would also be your good pal if they just knew you?

I've not been shy about reading comics since middle-school.  I've been reading comics out loud and online since 2003.  If you want to make comics something people notice: every day.

Last year when the "event" got a little good natured elbow poking, the "organizers" became very angry about the criticism and basically responded with "just let us do it and don't ask any questions, okay?"  Which, fine.  Whatever.

But I think:   if you're going to do something, you should at least try to make it worthwhile.  If you're going to ask other people to participate, you better have a better argument than "leave us alone!" - and, hey... why NOT try to make it into something?  Why not flashmob Starbucks or the library or the steps of city hall?  Why not count heads and call the press?  Why not have an event for kids?  Why not get your local shop involved?

What is the mission statement?  What are you trying to do?

Why not make it something more than some dopey kid sitting on a bench reading a comic?

I'm just saying.


Gerry said...

Could not agree more. For starters, if you love comics, you should be reading them wherever and whenever you like. Setting up a special day to do it in public implies that you do it "in hiding" the rest of the time. I think the whole thing is part of the complete lack of understanding of the power of social media. I see it all the time on Facebook and Twitter when people post one of those like to raise awareness of something, as if that was actually doing something for the cause in question (Kony 2012). The worst one is when Facebook is riddled with ridiculous double entendres about the color of a woman's bra or where their purse is, because, you know, Breast Cancer, even though the post says nothing about cancer or breasts. But anyway, about the comics, what about a day where everyone leaves comics at Starbucks or whereever for other people to read? Wouldn't that actually have a better chance of getting more readers? Maybe we should try to get that started, actually.

Simon MacDonald said...

Yup, this is an incredibly dumb idea. They'd be much better off doing two "free comic book days" per year. If only the retailers didn't have to pay for those "free" books.

Speaking of how crappy Justice League has been, I haven't been reading it but I saw the solicitations today where Supes and WW are hooking up. Um, yeah, okay.

Anyway, maybe we should start "Read Proust in Public Day". Let's do it on the anniversary of his death on November 18th. That'll get more people reading right?

The League said...

I'm not sure I have the energy to try to convince folks to read comics anymore than I've done here at the blog, lo these many years. But, yeah, I have to think just leaving a stack of funny books out as part of FCBD II (or whatever we're calling it) with a sticker on the cover with a name of a local shop would be immediately more effective.

I found the Supes smooching WW image almost endearing in that "well, in this new reality, maybe they'll be a thing!" energy that had me confused in 1987 when I didn't really know anything about Superman or Wonder Woman.

As someone said online - It's like Dark Knight Strikes Again, but really boring.