Baltimore Comic-Con 2009: "The Youth Market"

While Monique, David, and I were speaking to the sage-like Beanworld creator, Larry Marder, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a little boy about five or so, clutching his own sketch of the Beans. His sketch, clearly influenced by the Beanworld Holiday Special was not only really awesome, but led to a flash-flood of thoughts about non-Marvel/DC comics, the market, the internet, and lots more.

This was something of a trend I noticed this year: Lots of kids walking around excited about comics in general, wrapped in a Wolverine costume but clutching an Owly poster or glaring at the Araknid Kid table.

Back to the Beanworld kid for a second. Let's begin with a word of advice for all us aging comics nerds: Pay attention to your surroundings! Seriously, while I've made it something of an art to totally ignore obvious collectors just bouncing table to table getting shit signed to later sell, I've made myself super-sensitive to anyone under say, 15 who is wandering in the background as I get my yip-yap on. Let these people ahead of you. At least step to the side so he can walk up, get his shit signed, say thanks or gasp--talk to the creator too! Also, do this because it's a little weird to talk to creators. Even if you're older, it's just odd. So imagine you're a six year old comics fan who is into Beanworld. Shit's probably scary.

The other reason this "Beanworld kid" is interesting is because he undoubtedly heard about Marder's sketch exchange (you draw something Beanworld, he gives you a sketch of his own) via Marder's blog or Twitter. That means he's either incredibly internet-savvy or he's got a really cool mom or dad or both that told him about this. And though I'm projecting, the fact that he illustrated something from the "Holiday Special" makes me think that it was the issue that introduced him to Beanworld or it's the only issue/trade he has.

All this is brought up because really, the whole scenario was pretty moving because it was just so awesomely sincere, but also because it's symbolic of the Youth Market for comics and how it manifests itself for better and worse. Namely, I'm interested in how this kid or the other kids I saw at the Con got there. Or how, these kids got into Owly or Beanworld, which especially in the current comics market is nearly impossible to stumble upon.

I say this because as a middle-schooler into indie and undergrounds way too early, this interest was prompted by a comics store in a big mall that had a decent "indie" section and the fact that The Comics Journal was available in pretty much any Barnes & Noble or Borders...even in my fairly rural hometown. Neither of these things are very true anymore.

What it means is, the kids at comic-con are either A) The children of comics fans or B) The children of really nice parents who took the time and have the time to take their kids to a comic convention because their kids are really into comics. The Baltimore Comic-Con in part, encourages this by allowing any children under 10 in for free and that too is awesome.

The main point here though, is the one being made by comics creators and industry types all the time: The comics audience is aging, it isn't being replaced by younger people and this is a problem. Seeing these kids at comic-con, not just grabbing-up the totally "expected" stuff was awesome because it shows how despite being, next to "tweens", the main target of big corporations, kids are also totally free of this kind of corporate collusion and whether it's Mickey Mouse or Beanish or Owly or Beverly Hills Chihuahua, if it's cute and funny and interesting to them, they'll dig it.

Seeing kids doing this at comic-con was also kind of depressing because it touches on the insular nature of comics and really anything that isn't hyper-corporate. To sound like an old-man or a knee-jerk anti-Capitalist (which I ain't), there's very little room for anything even the least bit different, with even the tiniest touch of a human hand in it and this even extends to comics.

Put simply: Most comics shops don't have and maybe can't afford to stock Owly or Beanworld. And so, on top of them being speciality things, they're pretty much only available at some comics stores. That's to say, it isn't like the toy store at the mall--not that those exist anymore either--where it's the promise to the kid at the end of a five-hour bedsheets buying spree, it's extra-gas and extra-time for Mom or Dad. Put on top of that the sheer "you're an outsider" glare normies get from comics store clerks, and well, it makes it real tough for kids to get into Beanworld. I'm sure there's a lot related to DIAMOND in all that but discussing that would be an undertaking in and of itself.

At the Baltimore Comic-Con though, access to Beanworld and the discovery of something like Araknid Kid is made a bit easier and that's a tiny blessing in the vacuum-sealed world of comic books.


Josh said...

Thoughtful observations.

I appreciate the mention - Thanks for making my day!

-Josh Alves
Araknid Kid

samuel rules said...


Honestly, we spent a lot of time talking to Mr. Larry Marder, and the amount of kids leaving your table excited about your stuff, it was awesome to see so many kids so pumped!!

Josh said...

Baltimore was my first con appearance (first big one anyway, I've done a couple local shows here in Maine) and I got to meet a ton of amazing people.

Those kids that were pumped got me pumped to get that next issue done ASAP! I came to BCC with a bunch of issues and left with none of them!

Still recuperating from the trip ;)