Two young patrons at 8th Dimension Comics in Houston
Photo: Jeremy Bulloch
For 20 years, Free Comic Book Day has been one of the best ways that the big comic book publishers try and get readers interested in their new monthly books. Both Marvel and DC are pulling out the stops this year with teasers for big events. The former is launching a look at “Judgment Day,” a massive crossover involving the Avengers, X-Men, and Eternals, as well as a new Spider-man / Venom one-shot that reboots the famed webslinger to a new Number 1 issue . The latter is teasing the latest epic event, “Dark Crisis,” that follows the death of the Justice League.
Despite all that fanfare, Jeremy Bulloch, co-owner of Houston’s 8th Dimension Comics, says that the most important thing that will be available for the day is a new sampler of kid comic superstar Dav Pilkey’s work.
“That’s where the real readership is these days, and it’s what’s going to set the future of the industry,” says Bulloch.
It’s hard to argue with him. Pilkey’s “Dog Man” series of children’s graphic novels, as well as the spin-off “Cat Kid,” is responsible for 13 percent of all comic sales period according to BookScan, and that’s not counting the books sold during Scholastic book fairs. Bulloch says he can’t keep them on the shelves.
“To me, what’s important is getting comics to kids who aren’t already hooked,” he says. “They could be regular comic readers one day, but they don’t have 20 years reading ‘X-Men.’ ‘Dark Crisis’ and ‘Judgment Day’ will sell well, but they are for people who are already coming here and buying stuff. ‘Dog Man’ is bringing in the new blood. ”
The popularity of Pilkey and other younger reader titles does expose a divide in the comic-book community. While superhero movies and TV shows have never been bigger, they are also clearly aimed more at adults than kids. It’s unlikely that many families are watching “Moon Knight” or “Doom Patrol” together because of the mature content.
“The most recent Batman movie is great, but you have to tell kids they can’t see it because it’s based on the Zodiac Killer,” says Bulloch. “Superhero comics are things kids do like, but comics can be more than guys in spandex punching each other.”
The comic industry itself has begun to take notice of this. DC in particular has been revamping several superheroes such as Mera and Catwoman for young adult readers, as well as introducing new kid-friendly heroes such as Primer. A big seller at 8th Dimension is a pint-sized version of the DC magician John Constantine. Born out of the push for more adult stories in the 1990s with the Vertigo line, this new incarnation is a child detective who keeps a lollipop in his mouth rather than his adult version’s ever-present cigarette.
Free Comic Book Day
When: May 7
Where: 8th Dimension Comics will be participating at its new location, 15558 FM 529, Houston.
Details: To find other shops go to freecomicbookday.com
Even “The Walking Dead” is aiming younger. One of the most highly anticipated titles that will be available is a young adult comic starring Clementine, the adolescent hero of the Telltale video game series. While the story is still horror, it’s more in line with RL Stine than the franchise’s traditional gore-soaked dystopian fare. The same can be said for the new “Stranger Things” tie-in with its teenage protagonists.
Bulloch sees this evolution as natural, comparing it to his own childhood growing up.
“When I was a kid, I couldn’t collect every Batman going back decades, but I could probably collect all of a new hero like Firestorm,” he says. “He belonged to me. Kids love Miles Morales and Kamala Khan. Part of that is the new video games, but most of it is that they’re newer and fresher than a Spider-Man made in 1962. Maybe it’s the design, or maybe it’s just that they aren’t another straight white dude, but to kids they’re modern in ways changing the Flash’s costume just doesn’t do. ”
Jef Rouner is a Houston-based writer.