The Blue Age of Comic Books

Affective Economics

Henry Jenkins, in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2008), defined affective economics as “a new configuration of marketing theory, still somewhat on the fringes but gaining ground within the media industry, which seeks to understand the emotional underpinnings of consumer decision-making as a driving force behind viewing and purchasing decisions” (61-62). Affective economics might be otherwise understood as the sum of affective production and affective consumption. In distinguishing between the producers (comics publishers) and the consumers (comics readers), I want to highlight the role of the collector and the subset of the affective economy of comics that deals with that secondary market within affective consumption. The primary market is that which operates under this paradox offered by Jenkins: to be desired by the producers “is to have your tastes commodified. On the one hand, to be commodified expands a group’s cultural visibility. Those groups that have no recognized economic value get ignored. That said, commodification is also a form of exploitation” (62). Production is not just guided by guaranteed demand, where loyal comic book readers maintain print subscriptions at their local comic books stores, but also by potential demand, where new or nontraditional readers purchase comic books digitally or trade-wait collections (purchase the trade paper back several months after the series debut).

Comics publishers must simultaneously appeal to an aging, homogeneous group of readers and to a younger, heterogeneous group of potential readers. The former expects stories that fit into decades of narrative while also telling new stories about old heroes. The latter group is easier to describe as what it is not: loyal comic book readers. At least, they are not loyal yet. The struggle lies in being able to appeal to both demographics at the same time across what are perceived to be incompatible markets: print and digital. Print has its restrictions: a print reader must have either a mail-order subscription or a local comic book store within a reasonable traveling distance (and a means to get there). Digital has its restrictions: a digital reader must have an Internet connection and a credit or debit card. With the advent of digital comics more people in more places can read comics than ever before, assuming they have the means to do so. Despite having the means to reach these readers, publishers are still beholden to the monopoly of print comics publishing. The Blue Age of comic books will not be about the dismantling of that monopoly but instead the recognition of (as has already been demonstrated through titles like Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel) and continued capitalization on non-traditional audiences that may or may not read comics digitally even as they read digital comics. 

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