Second things now: today I read an article on Newsarama that was about DC Comics's re-branding policy. This month, DC began to retire the logo they've had for nearly thirty years (for a short opinion from a design viewpoint, see this article from Under Consideration):
It makes sense, an modern logo that wouldn't look out of place tacked onto television shows, movie credits, action figures, toaster pastries, or what have you. It's old news, and unless you're a comic geek, you probably give less than a rat's ass. However, that's not what I'm writing about.
First, a quote from DC President Paul Levitz:
Comic fans of my generation grew up with a feeling of what we loved had a stigma, that if you told someone that it came from comics, that was a great reason not to buy it. ... I think we're living in a time now where the world's caught on to the fact that what we do is magic, and that it's a very special style and flavor, and that comic book writers and artists have something interesting to say.
Next, here's a quote from the article, written by site administrator Matt Brady:
The stigma that was attached to comics even a decade ago has now gone, and the field is seen as an idea factory that resonates across the popular culture. While this has yet to translate to historically high sales of published comics or growth of the direct sales market, it has translated into a world that reads about comic books in the same fashion that they would an upcoming movie, TV show, or novel. This (along with moves by other, more literary publishers that have adopted their own graphic novel programs) signals long-term stability for the comics medium to hold a permanent place in popular culture.
Now, while I'm certainly not as knowledgeable about the world of comics as either of these two gentlemen, I'm going to have to disagree. The world has bought into the magic that is comics? The stigma that was attached to comics is gone? I did an informal poll today of a small number of people (four) on my way home today, and asked them if they thought that comics were in the mainstream pop culture. The answer was 100% no, 0% yes. Even with a 25% margin of error - and Bill, this is purely an exploratory study, so please don't tell me the power wasn't big enough due to small sample size - that's still an overwhelming "no".
Even without outside evidence, from my own perspective, I just don't think it's true. I think that comics are getting a little more respect from the general population, but on the whole, comics are still for the fan. The upcoming Batman movie isn't going to get hordes of people buying up copies of Detective Comics by the thousands, but you can bet my ass there's going to be a rush on The Sisterhood of The Travelling Pants at your bookstore - and you're actually going to be betting my ass, because I'm going to be the guy who says, "No, sorry, we sold out of those weeks ago."
Why is that? Because when you ask people what they like to read, the overwhelming majority don't say, "I don't read." I would hazard a guess that, on average, 75% of the people out there read some kind of purely print media for entertainment: newspapers, novels, magazines, poetry, or what have you. Same thing with visual media, and music: there aren't many people who say, "I don't like movies" or "I don't like music." Comics are, essentially, for the fans; if Batman sales numbers jump after Batman Begins comes out, it's not going to be the moviegoers who are picking it up, but rather comics fans who are just adding another book to their pull list.
Comics are not becoming universally accepted. Most people have no interest in them, because they see them as something for kids or - more accurately - they imagine the people who read comics to be nerds with no lives. Is that stereotype justified? I'm not going to say one way or the other, but I will say this: when I got my comics today, not a person in there, customer or retailer, appeared to represent the average consumer.
I think comics have a lot to offer people, but there's going to have to be a lot of trust from both sides to get that connection. Comic publishers - especially the big two - are going to have to trust their audience with more varied stories and genres, and customers are going to have to trust that comics can offer them something they're willing to spend money on. And when the market's flooded with superheroes and the general population's view of the average comics reader is The Comic Book Guy, the situation's not going to change any time soon.