Thought Bubble: Comic Culture goes beyond the Cons

September 14, 2015
6 min read

Originally marketed toward children, comic book superheroes have matured and in a three-decades old trend, the comic book industry has shifted its target toward a more adult audience. Here our expert analysts explore how comic culture is going “beyond the cons” and driving revenues across leisure, technology and more…


Lindsey Rogers, Consumer Analyst – Multicultural, Lifestyle, Leisure, and Travel

Hearkening back to childhood may be one reason why comic-based franchises are doing so well with adults. As described by the Mintel Trend ‘Play Ethic’, there’s been a greater recognition that kicking back from time to time is just as important as being productive, and reliving one’s childhood is a great way to relax. Those in their 20s and 30s grew up with shows such as Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men: The Animated Series, so watching films with these familiar characters is a comforting break from life – even if the content of the movies is darker and more adult focused than those of their childhood. In fact, by including adult themes in their movies, franchises reduce the amount of guilt that may be associated with indulgences once perceived as childish.

In the same way that adult-focused superhero movies make consumers feel less guilty about indulging in childhood pleasures, character merchandise that is branded less heavily or is more understated, such as leather wallets with small logo engravings, may allow adults to relive childhood without looking childish. Furthermore, these types of products may appeal to those who enjoy the thrill of having a product that is their little secret.

Tech-forward products may also appeal to Millennials. For example, Amazon launched a shop to 3D print customized video game characters in 2015. By giving customers an option to customize their model and 3D print it, the company appealed to Millennials who are itching to try new technologies while still longing for the joys of their past.

Fiona O’Donnell, Category Manager – Multicultural, Lifestyles, Travel & Leisure

The influence of comic culture extends far beyond stereotypical comic book “fan boy” enthusiasm, and traditional superhero’s appeal to the mainstream can’t be ignored. Not only are crowds flocking to multiplexes to make films such as The Avengers, Iron Man 3, and The Dark Knight some of the top-grossing blockbusters of all time, but in a virtuous circle, theme parks are capitalizing on popular characters to drive attendance – and revenues from merchandise. Meanwhile, the number of comic book conventions, or “comic cons” have exploded in recent years after humble beginnings in a San Diego basement in the 1970s.

Although comic book superheros have “grown up” to become darker and are more tailored to an adult audience, it’s important for studios to keep in mind that families and kids remain a key audience. Research conducted for Mintel’s upcoming Movie Theaters US 2015 report finds 36% of parents say that their kids were the reason for their most recent trip to the movies, and 32% of all movie goers visited for good family entertainment. Mintel’s Theme Parks US 2015 report noted a similar sentiment: 52% of theme park goers with children say “attractions that appeal to my kids” are a very important factor in which theme park they visit; 32% of all say the same for “characters/themes for the whole family.”

Bryant Harland, Technology and Media Analyst

The comic’s impact on popular culture and technology  is unquestionable with the massive success of movie franchises like The Avengers. Yet this influence is certainly not a new trend.

I had never read the Dick Tracy comic strip that appeared in the Detroit Mirror (1931), but I had a vague idea that Dick Tracy was a crime-fighting detective because I played the Dick Tracy Nintendo game (1990).

One of Tracy’s most iconic gadgets was his two-way wrist radio, a watch-like device that enabled two-way communication. It didn’t take long before people started to wonder whether Dick Tracy’s miraculous technology would ever find its place in everyday life. A 1954 issue of Boys’ Life magazine profiled the invention of transistors. The magazine speculated that transistor might one day make Dick Tracy’s wrist radio a reality.

If only someone could go back in time and tell them that not only do we have such a device – the smartwatch, which according to Mintel’s upcoming Digital Trends US 2015 report, 7% of consumers own – it also connects users to a global communication network with more than 3 billion people. And it also plays music.

There is a certain attraction to comics as a medium that brings its characters and stories into a gamut of popular media. As with Dick Tracy, even many people who have never read a Batman comic, will still be familiar with the structure of exclamations like “holy interplanetary yardstick, Batman” due to the popularity of the 1960s Batman TV series.

Richard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant

Comic book superheros have a long history of teaching readers moral lessons through their story panels and even in overt postscripts, but in recent years we’ve seen them sending some very modern messages to open up discussions around taboo subjects and especially to push forward the progressive agenda on minorities or those marginalized by society due to their gender status or sexual orientation. In India for example, we’ve seen Rattapallax’s comic Priya’s Shakti depict an abuse survivor who fights against sexual violence with the help of Hindu goddess Parvati and a tiger, in something of a riposte to the barely-believable series of Rapeman comics published in Japan back in the 90s.

American publishing giants DC Comics and Marvel meanwhile have been broadening minds and progressing society, with transgender characters appearing in the former’s Batgirl and superhero Northstar marrying boyfriend Kyle Jinadu to give us the first gay marriage in comic book history in issue #51 of the latter’s X-Men series. The inclusive nature of this medium has extended to Mexico, with Sensus: El Universo en Sus Ojos becoming the first Latin American comic book to be available in braille.


Richard is a Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel, working as a trends analyst, consultant, presenter and facilitator on bespoke client projects. As a globally recognised leading trends commentator, he is regularly called on by media worldwide to provide insight and analysis into consumer trends.


Fiona is the manager of Mintel’s multicultural, lifestyles, travel, and leisure reports team, bringing with her more than 10 years experience in consumer and market research. Prior to joining the Lifestyle reports team, Fiona managed custom research programs with Mintel’s Comperemedia group, designing custom research for finance, media, shipping, and retail clients.


Bryant Harland brings almost a decade of experience working in the tech arena, most recently as a Senior Technology Writer with Brafton News, where he oversaw the editorial team, wrote as a trade journalist and prepared a range of industry white papers.


Lindsey Rogers, Consumer analyst at Mintel, in addition to writing industry news alerts, produces content for multicultural, lifestyle, leisure, and travel reports. Her areas of interest include demographic and psychographic marketing.

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