What ever happened to kiddie comics?

When I was little (in the '60s and '70s), it seemed like every newsstand carried an array of comic books aimed at an under-12 audience – there were Harvey Comics with Casper, Hot Stuff and Richie Rich, and Gold Key Comics, and a lot of other imprints. What happened to them all? The only comics I’ve seen for sale in the past 10 years have been superhero books and things much, much more adult. According to Don Markstein’s Toonopedia (http://www.toonopedia.com), Gold Key went out of business in 1984 and Harvey has (again) gone dormant. Fine, but why have no other publishers stepped in to fill this obvious market niche?

The following titles are still being published:

The Simpsons
Bart Simpson
Archie comics
Disney Comics
Looney Tunes
Cartoon Network.

Kids’ comics don’t exactly light up the cash register anymore and the comics that were once the domain of children have been updated for an older audience.

[ul]
[li]Fewer kids. The Baby Boom went bust.[/li][li]Fewer outlets. Drug stores don’t carry comics anymore, neither do news stands. Mostly, comics are carried by comics specialty shops, & those stores often don’t try to cultivate kids.[/li][li]Cost. Paper & printing have gone way, way up. So have comics.[/li][li]Limited shelf space. Stores that carry comics & magazines have to decide how to maximize profits. Low profit items take up shelf space, Kids comics often can’t make the cut.[/li][li]Material. Wendy The Good Little Witch? Hot Stuff a pitchfork-toting devil? No. The supermarkets would never dare carry them.[/li][/ul]

[QUOTE=Bosda Di’Chi of Tricor]
[ul]
[li]Fewer outlets. Drug stores don’t carry comics anymore, neither do news stands. Mostly, comics are carried by comics specialty shops, & those stores often don’t try to cultivate kids.[/ul][/li][/QUOTE]

That’s another thing. Why don’t drug stores and newsstands carry comics any more?

Limited shelf space. Stores that carry comics & magazines have to decide how to maximize profits. Low profit items take up shelf space, Kids comics often can’t make the cut.

Drugstores and newsstands don’t want to carry tradtional comics because they’re priced lower than traditional magazines, and sell far, far less. The shelf space is more profitable devoted to something else.

However, one company has figured out how to lick that. They came up with an alternate format, figured out a profitable place to sell it, and devoted substantial sums of cash to guarantee that their product made it to their intended customer.

Is this company Marvel? DC? Nope, it’s Archie Comics. They sell digest-sized comics at supermarket check-outs. That’s very expensive–it costs a lot to place a product in check-out–but it works: Archie publishes some of the best-selling comics in the US, to the tune of 800,000 copies a month. Much to the chagrin of the superhero crowd, the goofy teen shifts more copies than Superman or Spiderman. (Combining eachg hero’s titles)

(The folks at Disney have followed this digest/supermarket check-out formula with some success.)

I don’t think this is a thread hijack by asking whatever became of kids comics in newspapers? It seems that the “norm” for modern newspapers’ comic sections is “Doonesbury”, “Zippy”, “Dilbert”, etc.
I remember maybe about 15 years ago, there was a cartoon in the “Boston Globe” called “Orbit”. It did have a childish humor about it and many people complained about how foolish it was. The Globe discontinued it. Wow, how dare the Boston Globe try to print a comic that might appeal to a kid !!!

As a babysitter, I read a lot of those same comics to the kids I babysat back in the 70s. I think that one of the reasons that they have declined is because the material was lame, lame, lame. Bad storytelling, bad humor. I’m not talking about just lowering the bar a bit so that kids could understand what’s going on. I mean it seemed like the writers took the unfunniest “jokes” they could find and put them in the comics. And the lamest stories they could write. Sure, the premise of most of the comics was nothing earthshattering, but I got the distinct feeling that nobody gave a damn whether any given comic was good or not. The ONLY selling points those comics had going for them was that they were kid-friendly, morally clean, and wholesome.

I know that in the 80s, my daughter had a lot of product-branded books (that she picked out herself) featuring cartoon characters such as Rainbow Brite (shudder), the Care Bears, and the Smurfs (double shudder). When she was given a choice in the video-rental store, she’d generally pick out a video which featured one of those character groups, or something similar. I would sometimes go to the bookstore and video store without her, and pick out something a little more intellectually challenging. Fortunately, she was quite willing to read and watch new characters, even if she couldn’t get them as stuffed toys.

Also in the 80s, I know that there was a growing population of adults who enjoyed more mature comics, as I played D&D with several of them. The gaming stores I went to started carrying comics as well as game books.

Just wanted to point out that not all drug stores have ceased to sell comic books. Rite Aid keeps them in a special wire rack near the pharmacy counter.

You know, that’s probably what happened to the kiddie comics: technology. There’s cartoons on cable TV round the clock, they can watch a video or DVD, or play a video game. That’s probably a good part of the reason the kiddie comics have died off.

On the same subject, here’s a thread on a similar subject from some years ago:

I wonder if it’s simply that kids are buying their own comics now. (At least, those that buy comics at all.) Maybe I was just a jaded little bastard even back then, but I always hated kiddie comics. They were just so dumb. I only ever got them when a grand-parent or aunt or someone would buy one for me. I wanted stuff aimed at older kids. Stuff with violence, big breasted women in ludicrously scanty outfits, the occasional swear word. You know, cool stuff.

I think kids are more interested in video games and such now. And comics aren’t exactly priced for kids anymore either.

Disney comics are geared more towards the collector than kids nowadays. At around $6 a pop, Disney sure eats up the comic budget quickly. And instead of staggering the release dates, they all arrive on the same day. I consider myself lucky if my total at the comic store is less than $20/week. when it’s Disney week, I can expect that to almost double.

Even a regular comic can cost around $3 in modern times.

You can probably toss in DC’s titles based on their animated cartoons – Batman: Gotham Adventures, Justice League, and Teen Titans. I personally find the Gotham Adventures Batman to be more interesting and more satisfying to read than the “real” one.

There is a book series, Captain Underpants, that is written mostly in comic book form. These are pretty funny and fairly popular with boys and girls of the 6+ crowd. The premise of the books are that the mean school principal was hypnotized at some point and now whenver someone snaps their fingers he turns into Captain Underpants then saving or mucking up the day. I think these cost between $3-4. The only thing I don’t like about these books is that since they are supposedly written by kids, a lot of words are spelled incorrectly.

Why are comics so expensive now? It seems to me they’re way more expensive than mere inflation would dictate. And then you look at Japan and magazines like Shonen Jump which publish an inch thick magazines every week for only about $3. As opposed to an American comic which is maybe 50 pages. Granted the Japanese comic is in B&W and the American one is in color but the difference still seems disportionate.

One reason, especially for the Disney comics, is that they are geared for the collector now. They use better paper and ink than they did ten or twenty years ago.

BTW, I looked at one of my Disney titles after making my last post and the cover price wasn’t $6 but $6.95! I don’t think many kids will shell out $7 a pop for a comic. I think the Archie Digests mentioned above are a good deal compared to these.

I get my comics through a subscription plan through my local specialty shop. The owner orders my regular titles for me each month. I also make a monthly order from Previews for new comics or one-shots I’m interested in. Delivery dates aren’t set in stone, so some weekends I’ll walk away spending the under $20 goal I mentioned above, and on other weekends, everything can arrive at once and I can spend $60 or more!

I disagree. At least with respect to the Harvey titles (Casper and Hot Stuff) mentioned in the OP. Many of those stories were wildly imaginative and entertaining. My niece still enjoys them when I dig up old copies for her.

That said, there were a lot of kiddie titles out there in the 70s which were crap. Mostly those put out by Charlton and Gold Key. (Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge comics were the exception, on the strength of old Carl Barks reprints they usually featured.)

Props to Harvey, though. They put out a quality kiddie product. I wish they were still around for kids to enjoy.

(Speaking of lame, has anyone taken a gander at one of those Archie digests? I bought one for my niece and flipped through it out of curiosity. The stories and jokes are incredibly weak. Utter crap when compared with Archie stories of yore.)

The 800,000 number is a bit optimistic since it is accounts for the combined sales of all the digest titles. (There are 8 digests: Archie Digest, Archie Double Digest, Betty & Veronica Digest, Betty & Veronica Double Digest, Jughead with Archie Digest, Jughead Double Digest,Laugh Digest, and Pals’n Gals Double Digest) Even split multiple ways, those are good numbers. However, sales outside the direct market have to consider the sell-through, not just the circulation numbers. If you’re pulping 5 copies of your comic to sell one, that’s not good no matter how many copies you’re selling.

DC had a line of digests years ago, but they were discontinued in the early 80s. Archie has a few company advantages that allow them to take more advantage of the digest format than Marvel or DC could.

+Archie pays very low page rates to its creators. Also, it does not pay royalties for reprinted material. Since the digests are reprinted fromt the monthly regular-sized comics, this keeps their overhead low, allowing Archie to pay the prohibitive costs of supermarket rack-jobbing and still make a profit.

+Archie benefits from having a compact line with very little differentiation between titles. Only one (or at most two) digest will have a facing display at any given time, with other titles perhaps shoved behind the one on display. All the Archie digests have similar content using the same characters and the same anonymous house style, so it really doesn’t matter which title is displayed. It also doesn’t really matter which title is bought. If Mom impulsively buys a comic for Junior while waiting in the checkout line, Junior is very unlikely to be disappointed because he got Pals’n Gals instead of Jughead with Archie. As opposed to a theoretical line of DC Digests, where Junior might not be so happy with Superman because Batman is a much cooler character. The simple art style, with clean lines, no shading, and flat colors also reduce to digest size much better than Marvel or DC superhero titles.