What Jobs do Comic Books Do For You and Your Kids? A Teen Titans Case Study

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We were a little startled today to see the news that a well-known comic book series has changed the way it depicts its protagonist.

And so, too, was the 7-year old daughter of the fantasy author, Michele Lee, who brought it to light. Dave Peck shared this on Twitter, and it's eye-opening, to say the least.

Lee showed her daughter a copy of DC Comics' "Teen Titans," a comic book series that the daughter has shown some fondness for in the past. This time the copy caught her and her daughter off guard. The jolt came from seeing the main heroine, Starfire, in all the glory God gave her. A lot of glory.

Here's a brief synopsis. Lee shows her daughter the pictures in the comic, which depict the female protagonist in a skimpy bikini that reveals more than a fair share of her breasts. The daughter, as you may imagine for a precocious young girl, feels uncomfortable about this and tells her mother that she thinks the heroine is "trying too hard" to be noticed, by posing and showing off her feminine form (which, arguably, is super enhanced and looks a little different than most women we know).

The lesson from this? What are we teaching young women before they have the mindset and the experience that makes them into the thoughtful and mature young women they are meant to become? Bob Moesta, founder of the Re-Wired Group, looks at this from a consumer interest standpoint. There is a woeful amount of disconnection between what the producers of the comic think is their audience, and the actual audience. Does this disconnection happen because of pressure to be "successful" and create a profit from selling? Bob takes a subtler approach than my blatant questioning of the comic series maker's intentions:

I think the jobs that comic books do has grown well out side the one character fits all model, and segmentation is clearly needed. If you listen to the "Best" consumer - They get what they asked for.  But the real disruption comes from the kid and her job that comics do for her and probably did for the older consumers as well, but they kept living the fantasy. Both are markets seeking candidates, and i am not one to judge the value of either, i just know that one product is sub-optimal, and just feels wrong.
The fantasy here, it seems, is that anyone can consume the comic magazine in the way that it is delivered. But it's different jobs for different folks. We all bring a natural dependency to the product we wish to consume. That dependency is an expectation that the thing we consume, or the product we take up in our daily life, satisfies our natural disposition, or some natural need.

Often, like the young daughter, we are not aware enough to know what that real need is, until we see its opposite firsthand. In this case, Lee's daughter sees a sexed-up super tramp super heroine and she knows right away that this is not the woman she idolized in previous incarnations of the book. 

No product can be all things to all people. It doesn't work that way. that's why a really granular and deep dive approach is necessary. Perhaps there is an entirely different series waiting to be made here, but not at the cost of alienating what appears to be an audience the comics maker failed to see in the first place. 

We don't know the intentions behind the change, or the decisions. We can wonder, did they just decide sexy is better? Did they  have no idea that young daughters picked this book up and fantasized about their own super powers? 

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