What’s the  image that first comes to mind when you think “comic book fan”? Is it something approximating this guy?

The_Simpsons-Jeff_Albertson

That’s pretty much the stereotype, isn’t it? Some fat balding white guy (technically yellow here but you know what I mean) in their late 30s or beyond, probably still dwelling in their parents’ basement. Do people still buy into that image? Well, there’s that infamous anecdote from Paul Pope regarding DC editorial, where they as much as told him they weren’t interested in any comics that wouldn’t appeal to 45 year olds. “Straight white male 45 year olds” was not specifically mentioned, although possibly because all those attributes are just assumed. The offerings of DC’s New 52 era by and large seem to back up that demographic assumption, even though the reboot was (very ironically) touted as being something to attract new fans. How else to explain what they did with Starfire, who with the Teen Titans animated series could have served as a gateway drug for an entire generation of girls? Yes, historically speaking Starfire in the comics showed skin and liked her some sex, but given how comic characters mysteriously morph to resemble their cinematic versions in the wake of a successful movie, a reboot would have been a perfect time to change things up. Give those girls (and women) the continuing adventures of the character they fell in love with and it’s basically a license to print money, right? But present them with dull, stripperific sex dolls, and… well, suddenly it doesn’t seem too welcoming to anyone but those middle-aged men.

Which is funny, because as a fat straight white man who just turned 40, I didn’t find it too welcoming either. I couldn’t understand the thinking, but then, I’m not a professional marketing strategist. I don’t get out to my local comic book store all that much. If the only real paying audience for comics is 45 year olds, then I guess that’s the end of the story, even though it seems like a market that’s going to, forgive the phrase, die out eventually. That’s a depressing thought, isn’t it? All these superheroes we love disappearing as the industry collapses because there just aren’t any more customers?

But here’s the thing. Dawn and I were guests this past weekend at Player’s Dugout Comics & Cards in Riverside, California for Free Comic Book Day, and despite its name, from my observations over the years FCBD tends to see a lot of people spending money on comics as well as picking up the freebies on offer. This outing was no different.

You know what else I observed? Families. Women. Children, including (gasp) girl children! Caucasians weren’t even close to being in the majority, either. Now sure, maybe out in the rural midwest you’re not going to see so many fans of color, but according to the stereotype demographic this shouldn’t be happening at all. And yes, some of the little girls wanted sketches of Hello Kitty! or a Disney Princess, but others wanted Supergirl, thankyouverymuch. I believe there actually was a Hello Kitty! comic available amongst the FCBD offerings, and more power to that because comics aren’t all about superheroes. Hell, as a kid I started out on Archie digests long before I stumbled across the X-Men.

I looked at that excited crowd of all ages and races and genders packing a comic book store, and it gave me hope that comics does indeed have a future. If we’re just willing to acknowledge it.