When people talk about comics, they can mean a lot of different things. They can be referring to super-heroes or manga or Art Spiegelman or Doonesbury or webcomics or any of a seemingly limitless list of niches or combinations of niches. Heck, talking about manga alone doesn’t guarantee any common frame of reference. They could be talking about any one or more of a number of patches within the landscape of that term.
So when I read that much-discussed item from the Mercury-News, I just assumed that it was missing some key modifiers. Insert “super-hero” before “comics” or “published by Marvel and DC” after, and it holds up a lot better.
Of course, mentally inserting those modifiers doesn’t guarantee you’ll buy the article’s central argument – that the audience for super-hero comics is graying and that the comics themselves are actively unfriendly to younger readers. The American Library Association didn’t have any trouble finding items from Marvel and DC’s catalogs to recommend to younger readers, and none of their recommendations bore the “Marvel Adventures” or “Johnny DC” stamp. Whether that suggests kids read up or that Marvel and DC’s comics themselves aren’t all that mature in spite of the trappings of some of their content is another debate entirely.
Whenever one of these discussions comes up, I’m always reminded of this parable, but especially so in this case because of J.K. Parkin at Blog@Newsarama. (Again, argument could ensue over the comparison. Who wants to be the snake-like tail or the leathery hide when you could be the big, floppy ears or the oh-so-useful trunk or the big, stompy feet?) It’s bound to rankle when someone purports to be talking about comics in general while maintaining a death grip on only one of its body parts, whether it’s this article’s conflations or a publisher blithely suggesting that no one has effectively targeted the young female demographic or what have you.
It doesn’t mean the average reader has to interest themselves in the whole elephant. But placing the parts in context is always nice, even if you aren’t trying to say anything about the whole.
(Edited to correct a misattribution in one of the links.)