Shawn James is a writer who I’ve been following for some time now, yet remains ignorant of what more people actually read. In his post Denial of a Comic Book Fan, he says that the likes of Bone (despite selling a million copies) is obscure and has a tiny cult following. While that might be true to some extent, but some of the things he likes also has a tiny cult following that’s if you compare them to the likes of Peanuts and Garfield. Both of them are licensing juggernauts, so much so there’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to and an academic study about Garfield merchandise.
Both Peanuts and Garfield have sold hundreds of millions of trade paperback books, which means there’s a good chance that people have read them far more than they would with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This is also true for the newspaper versions, especially since people have bought and read newspapers that there’s a chance they stumbled across Garfield and Peanuts thought TMNT did have a newspaper comic strip before. I’m neither a fan nor hater of Garfield, but Garfield is a merchandising monster. There were Garfield telephones, there’s a Garfield clothing line for children in the Philippines and Garfield branded bandages (I’ve seen them in the mall before).
Garfield has made a lot of bank for Jim Davis ever since he formed Paws Inc and got the rights to the Garfield comic strip, so he’s much richer than both Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman (TMNT creators). So far, there’s hardly ever a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle trade paperback that made it to the New York Times bestseller list the way Garfield did several times before. This means Garfield has far more readers than TMNT does, not to mention Garfield also has a cartoon series and several children’s books in his name and image.
If we were to compare these comics to fashion brands, TMNT would be like Supreme and Garfield is like Old Navy. The latter is bought by many more people, the former has a cult following. If it’s music, TMNT is like The Ramones and Garfield’s more like say Cher for instance. The conclusion would be the same, TMNT is prominent enough to warrant merchandising but when it comes to book sales it pales in comparison to Garfield and Peanuts. From my experience, there are more Peanuts readers than there are TMNT readers (including my late grandaunt).
There are more Calvin and Hobbes readers from my experience than there are TMNT readers, which one’s the cult comic book and which one’s more mainstream? Calvin and Hobbes doesn’t even have much merchandise, if because its creator doesn’t allow it but it does have a readership, fanbase and casual readers to boot. But the comparison of TMNT to Garfield is more cutting, especially that the latter rivals the former in merchandise and popularity that there’s a Wikipedia page for it.
Garfield has been licensed for a wide variety of merchandise, ranging from slot machines to dictionaries and children’s books. The same can be said of Peanuts where I even saw a Peanuts children’s book in a grocery store before, there are even Peanuts themed salt and pepper shakers. I even got a Peanuts themed fabric from a fabric store before. That’s how bankable and profitable both Peanuts and Garfield are so much so they made their creators very rich.
Shawn James really has to get real with the kinds of comics that most people actually read, chances are it’s going to be Peanuts and Garfield. He’s aware of Peanuts, but Garfield’s a good rival to Peanuts when it comes to comic strip merchandising. That’s why I bring these two up together, they make a lot of money and they’re very prominent comics brands. Whatever merchandise TMNT has sold pales in comparison to the monstrous amount of merchandise that Garfield has been licensed to.
It’s not that I hate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I’ve watched the cartoon and read the comics before but if you compare TMNT to Garfield the latter’s a real monster when it comes to book sales and merchandising. There are even two Garfield collectors who are the subjects of news reports, which means Garfield’s a big moneymaker for Jim Davis and then Viacom. (Viacom also owns TMNT by the way.) This is not a matter of whether if I hate TMNT, but rather me stating facts about Garfield and Garfield even spawned a fad of sorts (Garfield Stuck On You).
Garfield’s still around entertaining people of all ages, same with Peanuts and as I said before both of them are licensing and merchandising monsters. The amount of merchandise associated with The Flash pales in comparison to what’s found for Peanuts, more people have read Peanuts than they would with The Flash and you’d have to be under a rock to fail to realise how popular and bankable Peanuts is and can get. There are several Peanuts movies made, The Flash hasn’t appeared in a lot of movies the way Batman and Superman did.
Peanuts has made Charles Schulz a multimillionaire of sorts, Peanuts is a pop star like Madonna and The Flash is a cult musician or band not unlike Glenn Danzig of The Misfits. (The Flash programme also doesn’t do well at ratings and has had declining ratings for some time now, which means The Flash is practically and essentially a cult programme.) Peanuts is prominent enough to have its own hotel, just as Garfield had his own restaurant. They’re not just mainstream, they’re the top earning comic strip brands.
The Flash may have merchandise, but both the programme and the character are cult figures not unlike what Bauhaus is to the Goth subculture. There aren’t a lot of Bauhaus albums sold in the millions the way it happened for The Cure, this makes The Cure more mainstream than Bauhaus and I’m not even a big fan of The Cure (but I don’t hate them either). The Cure gets airplay in radios from my personal experience, there’s another person who knows The Cure and my father had a Cure t-shirt before.
To put it this way, while Flash merchandise does exist it’s not in large quantities the way you get with Garfield and Peanuts. Not a single Flash TPB has sold in the millions the way Garfield did, this proves my point that The Flash is a cult figure through and through. If the US has a population of 330 million plus people and The Flash has gone down to 700-750 thousand viewers then not a lot of people have watched The Flash. The Flash may not be that obscure, but The Flash is a cult property compared to Peanuts and Garfield.
The Flash would be more like Love and Rockets (the band, not the comic book) because it only had one hit, just one album that sold well and fell into obscurity and low sales again. Garfield may not reach the same highs it did before, but he’s very prominent enough to still rake in a lot of merchandise that he still makes a lot of bank for his owners. The Flash isn’t mainstream and will never be as popular as Calvin and Hobbes (despite not having a lot of merchandise), Peanuts and Garfield are. That’s a hard fact.
So by this definition, much of what DC and Marvel publish tends to have a cult following. There aren’t a lot of casual X-Men readers the way there is for Garfield and Peanuts, perhaps harmed by that X-Men comics are either sold in niche stores or have TPBs that aren’t as affordable as Peanuts are (from personal experience). There’s not a lot of casual Avengers readers the way you do with say Cathy, Dilbert and Broomhilda either. Cathy appeared in television specials and Dilbert got his own animated telly series.
I said before in an earlier blog post that a lot of geek brands tend to be cult brands in that they have a usually limited but devoted fan following, so much of what DC and Marvel make falls straight into this. They may sell colouring books and children’s books, but when it comes to the actual comics themselves they don’t have a lot of casual readers the way you do with Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts. These two are mainstream, the latter is a licensing and merchandising juggernaut that spawned a lot of specials and a couple of music albums.
The comics that tend to have a casual readership are either bestselling comics or newspaper comic strips, this makes both of them more mainstream than the average DC and Marvel comic book. Not to mention, Peanuts and Garfield even have box office movies that they’re just as bankable as X-Men and Avengers and possibly more so. They even have the advantage of people actually reading the comics en masse, that’s if they sell in the hundreds of millions that gives them the upper hand over Avengers and X-Men.
The real comics mainstream isn’t what most comics fan think of, that’s if you bring up what sells a lot in the millions and is read by a lot of casual readers then there’s a good chance that there are more people who’ve read Garfield and Peanuts than they do with X-Men and Avengers as not a single X-Men and Avengers TPB ever made it to the bestsellers list the way Garfield did several times over. A casual readership isn’t just key to a brand’s success, it’s also a sign of how mainstream the property is.
X-Men might be mainstream to some extent, but when it comes to the comics themselves they’re not big sellers compared to Peanuts and Garfield. In terms of casual readers, Peanuts and Garfield has plenty of those whereas X-Men doesn’t have as much despite having a box office movie series and hit television programmes. So in some regards, Peanuts and Garfield are more mainstream than X-Men is when it comes to not only having a box office movie or two but also the number of people actually reading the comics.
I do think a good number of comics fans are myopic, pardon if it sounds ableist in that they are unaware of the comics that many more people actually read and what they read differs from what they enjoy. It’s like talking a lot of music only that kind of music tends to be niche and not that popular with a lot of people the way The Platters, Cher, Elvis Presley and Taylor Swift do for them. It already exists for music listeners, but it can be applicable to comic book readers when it comes to them being ignorant of what most people read.
It’s not that many people don’t read comics at all, but the comics they’re into differs from what the fanatics enjoy. It could be Dog Man and Babymouse it could also be Cathy, The Wizard of Id, Peanuts, Garfield and Doonesbury. I still think what I’m saying matters when it comes to the kinds of comics casual readers gravitate to and it’s not always in line with what comics fanatics are into. The comics fanatics gravitate towards what DC and Marvel do, with a heaping of Image, Fantagraphics and Dark Horse. The casual readers go for newspaper favourites and bestsellers like Dog Man and Calvin and Hobbes.
This isn’t always the case but it does make sense when it comes to what’s actually popular with the masses and it’s not always what nerds want and are into.