Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The comic book and the coffee table

Remember the story of the super book? The coffee table volumes that require super-strength coffee tables? The trend is spreading. Now even comic books – which when I was a kid were the ultimate disposable (and swappable) items – are headed the same way. Blame Marvel. A few years ago they came up with an exciting tie-in to the Fantastic Four movie. The brief was to excite the ‘extreme collector’. The solution? A 5.4 pound, 848 page monster crammed with the magic of Jack Kirby. The comic 'brick' sold out almost as soon as it hit the shelves. Now large-scale comic books are everywhere. I’m told part of the reason for their success is that comic collectors are very reluctant to read their precious originals but another part is probably what I call The Collector’s Dilemma. Having something rare and scarce is great, but giving other people access to a version of it is even better. Then they know how amazing it is. When I was a kid reading comics, the thought of them having pride of place on the living room coffee table would have been risible. The fact that adults hated them was part of their irresistible attraction. In Japan, comic lovers are taking another option. There, thick Manga comic books have been hugely popular for decades but today the appeal is cooling. The reason seems to be that young people no longer want to lug heavy blocks of paper around when they can have the same, or better, experiences on their lighter laptops or handhelds.