A few years ago, a short documentary called “Dig Comics” made a statement that seemed like it couldn't be true: America's interest in comic books has dramatically declined.
Really? Aren't comic books everywhere these days? Superheroes are practically the only characters who appear in movies anymore, from Christopher Nolan's “Dark Knight” trilogy to “Thor” to “Man of Steel.” One of today's most popular television series, “The Walking Dead,” began as a comic book. And if you have children who play with action figures and wear pajamas, chances are they're surrounded by Spider-Man, Batman, Robin and their ilk.
But filmmaker Miguel Cima, raised in Bellmore and now living in Los Angeles, says that only 1% of Americans read comics today, down from about 20% in 1950. “Marvel's The Avengers” may have raked in about $623 domestically, but the entire comic book industry is only worth about $475 million, according to Cima. That's even smaller than the beleaguered U.S. book industry, which is worth about $15 billion.
“We're looking at an American art form, a homegrown original medium,” Cima says. “And nobody reads them.”
It's a persuasive argument. A few decades ago, comics were available just about anywhere that you might find a newspaper or magazine, particularly in grocery stores and convenience stores. Today, comics are relegated to specialty shops that cater to hard-core fans and collectors. Mainstream comics used to appeal to a wide range of readers with genres like romance, war, horror and teen culture. Today, comics seem more and more narrowly focused on superheroes.
“We've had a little bit of growth,” Cima says. “In the last 10 years, when you adjust for inflation, there's maybe a 15% rise in sales. But there's also been a 9% rise in the U.S. population. So if you compare it to the way the film and book markets are performing, it's barely keeping up with the percentage of growth.”
Cima is hoping to raise money via Kickstarter to produce a feature-length version of “Dig Comics,” which won a best documentary award at 2009's Comic-Con in San Diego. He's also hoping that a feature version of the film might help him launch a television show that would highlight comic book culture, boost the industry's profile and broaden out its readership.
“On the Discovery Channel, they have shows about guys who drive trucks on ice,” Cima says. “I'm sorry, but comics are way more interesting than that.”
Cima's goal is to raise $250,000 by July 10 at 3 p.m. His Kickstarter page is here.