Michael Tierney of the Comic Book Store in Little Rock, Arkansas saw the coverage of Outsiders #8 (see 'Outsiders #8 'Edgy'') and feels that this title and others indicate the need for age labeling on comics:
Outsiders #8... You already know about the problems with this book: stronger material than what retailers expected... until the complaints from customers started. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated problem.
Not long ago, I had a military customer about to buy Avengers #71. When he commented about how he planned to read the book to his 8 year-old daughter, I stopped the sale. He thought I was being overly cautious when I opened the book for him to read. Then he was astonished, 'I've read this book for 40 years! What happened?' And then, the worst of it... after passing on the book, he decided to purchase another series that he was also reading to his daughter. He asked for Batman #620 (these two books came out a week apart). Ultimately, he left the store empty handed and very disillusioned.
Ten years ago, I bought into the whole argument that putting content labels on a comic was a form of censorship. But now, after watching my local marketplace drastically erode in the years since, my attitude has changed. After accidentally selling to children mature comics that were packaged as 'all-ages,' Wal-Mart is now afraid to sell comics in Arkansas. ICv2 has reported about how the local newsstand rep, when questioned about the lack of comics on the sales floor of Wal-Mart's flagship store (located here in Arkansas), replied that, 'Comics are obscene.' A recent television news poll also showed a growing perception of residents now consider that comics are obscene. It's all because of improper content and improper packaging... all leading to the wrong thing being sold to the wrong person.
I'm still opposed to censorship. I'm an advocate for complete artistic freedom of expression. But as a businessman, who has seen first-hand the problems caused by improper packaging, I also realize that if we are going to keep the artistic freedoms that we now enjoy: we're going to have to exercise those freedoms in a more responsible and a more honest manner.
I now recognize that the claims of labeling as censorship are really only hollow fears caused by the nightmares of our past. But for retailers, today's dangers are tangible. If our industry continues to market our now varied products in such haphazard ways, where a retailer cannot tell by the cover what the content is, then those days of third party restrictions might return. Either that, or our industry might be gone from whole parts of the country. As I've already pointed out, Wal-Mart won't even carry comics in my part of the country. Local grocery stores and so many other outlets, including bookstores that are supplied by newsstand distribution don't carry comics anymore. This is real. This is happening now. Locally, my stores are isolated pockets of comics availability.
The solution is simple: we need better packaging. But, if the word 'labeling' has become too tainted by those preaching censorship fears, then let's call this 'Universal Ratings System', this 'honesty in advertising', something else. Let's call them TAGs. Putting TAGs on comics in order to help retailers understand each book's TARGET AUDIENCE GUIDELINES is essential in avoiding a return to the bad old days of REAL censorship.
TAGs aren't censorship. They don't restrict, or censor, creative freedom. But what they will do is help me, as a retailer, retain my own personal freedom and more importantly... my customer base. Sorry, but I'm tired of seeing my local market damaged by the fears of people who are isolated and far away from the front lines of retailing. Those who have never been in business should not be dictating terms to those who are -- especially when they are unaffected by the dangers that they themselves create.
But this isn't just about personal issues or creative or professional. This is ultimately about the consumer. An informed customer who purchases with confidence is a better customer. They are a satisfied customer. None of us should ever lose sight of that fact. And all we have to do in order to repair our very damaged public image is to start practicing Honest In Advertising. Besides...
The much dreaded labels already exist. But they're different for the different publishers who use them. And even then, they're applied inconsistently. Some independent publishers don't provide any guidelines at all, and since I cannot blindly order product on a non-returnable basis, their sales suffer as a result. We need an overhaul of the existing patchwork of hodge-podge systems. This isn't something new that I'm asking for. I'm calling for a refinement of existing guidelines.
We need some sort of unified TARGET AUDIENCE GUIDELINES, placed right there on the cover -- next to the price, publisher's and creator's names, title, and UPC barcode. We need a TAG right there with all the other essential information. Because that information is no less essential that any of those other pieces of sales information.
Honesty in advertising is a good thing.
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.