Evolution in Fan Base and Readership of Comic Books

Over the last century, the audience of comic books has been continually changing, as the medium of comics evolve and new ideas are presented. In the book, Of Comics and Men, Gabilliet describes the variation in comic book readers and how the audience has changed in response to new innovations in the comic book industry.

In the 19th century, comic strips appeared in the daily newspaper and this created a medium that allowed masses of people to enjoy comics. Newspapers were regularly purchased and readily available to the public, allowing people of all ages to enjoy comic strips. This popularity in readership even sparked a war between two newspapers owned by Joseph Pulitzer and William Hearst in the mid-1890’s and resulted in the ownership and increase in circulation of famous comics such as “The Yellow Kid” by Richard Outcault and “The Katzenjammer Kids” by Rudolph Dirks. These two comics, among many others, were arguably the first and best comics produced, due to their high popularity and status.

The presence of World War II sparked an unprecedented rise in comic book sales and popularity in 1936-1954, which was referred to as the Golden Age. This particular period reflects the readers’ infatuation with comic books, as many comic issues were sold to soldiers of the American army, who grew up reading comic books. Comic books were not just an entertaining read, but reflected American patriotism and helped maintain morale of troops that were stationed in foreign countries. During this period, reading comic books was a cultural practice, and many comics that contained serialized story lines were met with loyal devoted readers who would purchase the comic every week.

The introduction of the television was a huge factor in the decline of comic book readership.  Television offered a new entertaining medium for children and adults, that did not cost them anything to view (other than the initial purchase of the television) while comic books still required a ten to twelve cent fee for every issue. Some may say that the introduction of television crushed the comic book industry; however this particular event provided an opportunity for creators to be innovative and creative. The introduction of new comic book genres such as horror, crime, romance and science fiction created a whole new realm of audiences, and catered not only to children, but adults of both sexes.

Although the number of readers today do not compare with the popularity of comics during the Golden Age, some reckon that the fan base and readership of comic books is still strong today. The Calgary Comic Expo of 2012 catered to 50,000+ fans, many who had to be turned away; a significant increase from the 2006 expo where an estimated 6000 fans attended. This is just an example of how the re-innovation of comics, such as the reboot of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, has created a whole new sphere of readers, varying in both age and gender.

Readership and fan base for comic books has changed drastically over the century. From newspaper comic strips to fully serialized books, comics have evolved from their primitive art forms into a medium that is not only enjoyed by children, but by adults as well. This audience has changed over time, and is readily adapting to the innovations of comic books. Improvements in technology, such as the creation of the internet, may help to accommodate new audiences of comic books, and ultimately serve to make reading comic books more enjoyable for all readers.

Trina Chan


Gabilliet, Jean-Paul. 2009. Of Comics and Men: A Cultural History of American Comic Books. Chapter 13.

http://www.calgarysun.com/2012/04/29/comic-con-organizer-admits-growth-overwhelming (Comic Expo 2012 Statistics)

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One Response to Evolution in Fan Base and Readership of Comic Books

  1. Rachel Hambidge says:

    Hey Trina!

    Great post 🙂 Just to add to your post about the reasons for the drastic change in readership and fan base. I think that although the invention and distribution of the television in the past did drastically effect the decline in readership, I think that perhaps nowadays it can actually positively increase the sales of comic books. I think when certain characters in TV shows or movies are comic book fans, it definitely influences those viewers to have a different perspective on comics. I think comic fans are often stereotyped as being nerds (which is totally not a bad thing!), but when viewers see famous people in TV shows (cough cough Seth Cohen from the OC) or movies who are fans of comics it definitely would influence them to be more interested. I think because this whole form has become more widely accepted as something that isn’t just for, let’s say “40 yr old men still living at his mom’s place”, that the fan base has greatly increased. The second an attractive famous guy says he likes someone that reads comics, that’s when you get hundreds of girls going out to buy comics and going to these expo’s. It’s all about advertisement. If it is advertised as something that is “cool” people buy into whether they are truly fans or not.

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