Image announces ratings system — UPDATED

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Via PR, confirmation that Image is adapting a ratings system based on DC’s ratings, which are similar to manga and video game ratings system implemented over the years.

With the death of the Comics Code, publishers are now voluntarily submitting to labeling systems, perhaps reflecting the widening audience for comics in bookstores and chain stores.

The brief PR makes no mention of who will implement these ratings: the creators or someone on the Image staff. We’ve fired off an email to Image and will report any responses.

According to am Image spokesperson, this is the procedure for ratings:

Ratings are assigned by Image, in cooperation with the creators. 

If a question of reconsidering the rating of a particular title comes up, we’ll look over the material and base our judgement on the guidelines and make changes if necessary. We think the criteria is pretty clear though, so there wouldn’t be a lot of room for difference of opinion.


Hm, pretty optimistic if you ask us!

Image Comics titles will soon adopt a rating system consistent with that instituted by DC Comics in January of this year. This rating system will be used for both print and digital releases.

Beginning with July 2011 titles, all Image titles will use the following rating system: 

E – EVERYONE (all ages, may contain minimal violence)
T – TEEN (12 and up, may contain mild violence or mild profanity)
T+ – TEEN PLUS (16 and up, may contain moderate violence, moderate profanity use and suggestive themes )
M – MATURE (18 and up, may contain nudity, profanity, excessive violence and other content not suitable for minors) 

“Retailers have been asking us to more clearly define which audiences our various comics are aimed at for some time, and we’re pleased to finally comply with those requests,” said Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson. “It’s been nearly a decade since the comics industry began the process of abandoning the Comics Code Authority, but during that time there hasn’t been one consistent rating system. The system DC employs is by far the clearest, so it makes sense to go with that.”

Comments

  1. I am not as opposed to ratings systems as some, but I note with some irony that (if) they’re doing this because of the bookstore market, while no prose books carry ratings

  2. >> I note with some irony that (if) they’re doing this because of the bookstore market, while no prose books carry ratings >>

    Yep. Books get packaged as outreach — to appeal to the audiences that’d like them. Comics (and movies and video games) get packaged like medicines, to warn off the wrong audiences.

    I understand why they do it, but I think it’s a profoundly bad choice, and wish that the comics industry had chosen to emulate books and magazines instead of movies and videogames.

  3. Jonathan La Mantia says:

    I think there’s a pretty solid reason for why prose books don’t have to deal with a rating system and it’s the idea that if you can read and understand a book you’re (with luck) mature enough to handle it’s content.

    I know I don’t really need to say it- but comics are a visual as well as literary medium- so sure, while an under age child may pick up a book and not be able to understand what Butcher Baker is saying, he can sure tell he’s doing something nasty to those folks on that table.

    It does end up boiling down to knowing what is reasonable to sell to a child who walks in without a parent- or what to say to a parent when their kid wants to buy a mature comic- just like video games and movies, it’s really up to the parent first and then the retailer (two very lousy positions to be in when dealing with a child that really wants something)

  4. As a comic reader and parent, I applaud the efforts by these publishers to make clear the audience for their products.

    Comics have suffered from confusion over their content for a long time; from the adult who believes that comics are “just for kids” and won’t read them, to the grandparent who innocently picks up a comic book for their 7-year old grandson only to discover violence, gore, and sex inside, this is a positive step towards clarifying the different markets that comics are aimed at. Also, it might eventually expose the limited markets currently targeted and encourage bookstores to stock more independent titles.

    Arguments against ratings have more to do with ego and concerns about the “status” of comics within the world of art and literature. I see no problem with this labelling unless the publishers have something to hide.

  5. >> I think there’s a pretty solid reason for why prose books don’t have to deal with a rating system and it’s the idea that if you can read and understand a book you’re (with luck) mature enough to handle it’s content.>>

    The book-publishing industry isn’t only prose, of course, and includes books that range all the way down to being for audiences that can’t read yet, and they manage to make it clear who the books are intended for without a ratings system.

    Heck, the magazine industry manages to successfully distinguish between PENTHOUSE and RANGER RICK’S without a ratings system, so the idea that comics require it because they’re visual doesn’t hold that much water. Visual is one of the tools you use to reach out, and the fact that comics are so often packaged in a formulaic way that can’t manage to clearly and visually distinguish among stuff aimed at different target audiences is a failing at using packaging, not a requirement.

    >> It does end up boiling down to knowing what is reasonable to sell to a child who walks in without a parent- or what to say to a parent when their kid wants to buy a mature comic- just like video games and movies, it’s really up to the parent first and then the retailer (two very lousy positions to be in when dealing with a child that really wants something) >>

    And books and magazines manage those distinctions without warning labels. That’s why I say I understand why people do it, but I think it’s a profound mistake. If we treated our material like stuff to be made attractive to the right audience rather than something that needs to be treated like dangerous chemicals, ratings labels wouldn’t matter.

    But (too often) we don’t, so they do. It wasn’t an inevitability, it was incompetence.

  6. >> Arguments against ratings have more to do with ego and concerns about the “status” of comics within the world of art and literature. >>

    I generally think that when someone who’s opposed to an argument summarizes it, they’re likely to do so in a biased and inaccurate way.

    This assurance that those people who disagree with you are status-seeking egotists doesn’t change my mind any.

  7. monopole says:

    You mean I wasn’t supposed to be buying little Johnny “Bomb Queen” all these years!

  8. J. K. Simon says:

    Image is my favorite publisher. The importance of having a front-of-previews publisher that places creator-ownership at the heart of their business model cannot be underestimated, and they’ve published many excellent titles (and helped establish many new talents) over the years.

    Nonetheless, I can’t help thinking that a ratings system for their content is a profoundly terrible idea. All it’s going to do is establish a ratings regime with inherently subjective criteria (for instance, what precisely is the dividing line between ‘mild’ and ‘moderate’ violence?) that won’t wind up appeasing the ‘Think of the children!’ crowd anyway — because such schemes never do. A look at the content controversies that the CBLDF and other organizations have had to intervene in over the years would seem to suggest that labeling material with adult/violent/sexual/whatever situations will rarely, if ever, deter the torch and pitchfork-wielding censors from beating a path to your door.

    And with all due respect to parents advocating for such a system, the posters upthread are right: If you’re *that* concerned about what your kids are reading/thinking, you need to take a long, hard look at the prose books they’re reading as well. Otherwise, you’re just another double standard bearing hypocrite.

    Or, you know, you could actually parent your kids yourselves instead of expecting a combination of bureaucrats, bean counters, and content providers to do it for you.

  9. I just can’t help but think that “retailers [who] have been asking us to more clearly define which audiences our various comics are aimed” were just hoping for more of a “Children”, “Middle Grade”, “Young Adult” and “Adult” kind of distinction, since I see more and more LCSs shelving their books like they were a “real” bookstore.

  10. Jonathan La Mantia says:

    >>The book-publishing industry isn’t only prose, of course, and includes books that range all the way down to being for audiences that can’t read yet, and they manage to make it clear who the books are intended for without a ratings system.>>

    If you walk into a book store or library you see sections, books are grouped by content by what the management deems appropriate. You are able to pick your selection based on where you go- I see the rating system more as a tool to help book stores that are not sure where to place a comic- there’s the theory that you can lump them all into the Comic Book/Graphic Novel section and call it a day- and you would end up with some very angry parents when they let their kids wander around and pick whatever they want from that section.

    >>Heck, the magazine industry manages to successfully distinguish between PENTHOUSE and RANGER RICK’S without a ratings system, so the idea that comics require it because they’re visual doesn’t hold that much water.>>

    I’d say the rating system isn’t geared to the industry, it is geared to the consumer side- to further understanding of the material- PENTHOUSE doesn’t need a rating system for their magazine because they don’t have a line of magazines for children, if they did I imagine they would have paved the way for a magazine rating system.

    >> That’s why I say I understand why people do it, but I think it’s a profound mistake. If we treated our material like stuff to be made attractive to the right audience rather than something that needs to be treated like dangerous chemicals, ratings labels wouldn’t matter.>>

    Yeah, I do agree with that, it would help if there where not 5 different flavors of the same character (at DC & Marvel any way) each for a different age group- but that’s just how it is, and publishers have to figure out how to sell it to the right audience- of course really about liability, the most popular thing will get sold the most, but they have to at least make an effort to look like they care about who is buying what- when in reality right now they really want anyone to buy anything they put out.

  11. >> And with all due respect to parents advocating for such a system, the posters upthread are right: If you’re *that* concerned about what your kids are reading/thinking, you need to take a long, hard look at the prose books they’re reading as well. Otherwise, you’re just another double standard bearing hypocrite.>>

    Not what I said or meant, at least.

    I think comics publishers should do as good a job of making the various comics they publish attractive to the appropriate audiences as book and magazine publishers do. If they did, ratings (with all their attendant problems) wouldn’t be an issue, because parents, kids and others would be able to differentiate among the books just fine. And they’d be marketed as attractive things, not as poisonous things.

  12. >> If you walk into a book store or library you see sections, books are grouped by content by what the management deems appropriate.>>

    To some degree. But yes, that’s another technique that doesn’t require a rating, and is aimed at making it easy for people to find what they’ll like, not declaring stuff to be dangerous. Comics stores often use both age-racking and genre-racking, too.

    But even within those bookstore categories, the packaging is different. If you misshelved ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN in adult mystery, no one would be fooled, and if THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was in Young Readers, it would stand out.

    >> I’d say the rating system isn’t geared to the industry, it is geared to the consumer side-

    So is appropriate packaging and presentation, of course.

    >> PENTHOUSE doesn’t need a rating system for their magazine because they don’t have a line of magazines for children, if they did I imagine they would have paved the way for a magazine rating system.>>

    I don’t. Magazine publishers that did have a wide range of publications didn’t adopt a ratings system, after all. And Penthouse did use to have a line of automotive magazines, that weren’t aimed at kids but weren’t adults-only, either. Playboy published books for a range of audiences. And many magazine publishers did and do have a range of publications.

    >> they have to at least make an effort to look like they care about who is buying what- when in reality right now they really want anyone to buy anything they put out.>>

    I think doing so by making your product attractive to the right audience is a superior way to do this than to label it dangerous to the wrong ones. Bridges are better than walls.

    But I recognize that many in the comics industry — going back decades — can’t even imagine doing that, and that’s one of the reasons ratings get called “necessary.” Because the techniques that would make them unnecessary aren’t widely or consistently used.

    That the ratings won’t be consistent either, won’t keep parents from buying the wrong books, won’t be agreed on as to what should have which label and will in general cause more fights than they solve doesn’t seem to be considered much, despite years of evidence.

  13. Whether ratings are strictly necessary or not, I’m all for them. A lot of people come into the store I work at asking if such-and-such is appropriate for a __-year-old kid, and while we do our best to maintain a kid-friendly area of the store, it’s probably extra reassuring for parents to see that little “Everyone” tag up in the corner.

    If the ratings are included on collections as well they could also be helpful for teachers considering graphic novel additions to their classroom libraries, since they have to be /extra/ careful about what kind of content they let their students have access to.

  14. hikaru says:

    Ratings on comics also helps retailers to gear parent’s purchasing decisions. I’ve been in a many shops that don’t separate adult comics from mainstream stuff and some owners that don’t know certain books not meant for kids.

    @Kurt: In what way do you think the publishers can make books aesthetically distinguishable? I can see your point but it would seem difficult. Most people lump comics under one huge umbrella…but if successful it could usher in a new generation of how comics are marketed.

  15. >> In what way do you think the publishers can make books aesthetically distinguishable? >>

    I think books and magazines provide a cornucopia of examples. Look at how books/magazines aimed at different audiences (not just ages, but sex, style, genre and more) do it, and adopt that sort of thing instead of just logo-at-the-top colophon-in-the-corner, credits in san-serif type around a pin-up.

    To pick some comics examples, I don’t think an issue of SIN CITY has ever looked like something that’s appropriate for kids (and even better, they don’t look like something interesting to kids). ASTRO CITY is technically all-ages in that we don’t have cussing and nudity and guts, but it’s aimed at an older reader and I think the package design shows that. Image’s BLUE ESTATE doesn’t look to me like it needs a label — it’s packaged in a way that makes it look interesting to older readers, not attractive to younger readers.

    >> Most people lump comics under one huge umbrella…>>

    Part of that may be exacerbated by the way they’re so often packaged formulaically, regardless of content. If 85% of published books had the same package design whether the content was ANNE OF GREEN GABLES or THE KILLER INSIDE ME, people might have trouble figuring them out, too.

    But they don’t. They get designed to look appealing to their target audience, instead of looking generic but with warning labels. “Appealing” is a much better sales tool than “warning.”

  16. “I generally think that when someone who’s opposed to an argument summarizes it, they’re likely to do so in a biased and inaccurate way.”

    It wasn’t meant as an insult…It’s just hard to understand why someone wouldn’t want ratings on their material. When I walk through the artists’ alley at a con, I buy material for myself and my child. I always ask, “Is this appropriate for children?” It isn’t always apparent by the cover or a quick flip through the book. At a con this is no problem, but imagine asking the clerk at a bookstore? Likely they have no idea. A rating is a tool, a starting point at least, however flawed. It doesn’t change or degrade the content or medium.

  17. >> it’s probably extra reassuring for parents to see that little “Everyone” tag up in the corner.>>

    Until they get it home and find out there’s an orgy scene in it, as happened in some Judd Winick-written DC book a few years back that I think crossed over with TEEN TITANS.

    There’s been a fair amount of fuss about Marvel putting all-audiences labels on stuff that the beholder didn’t think was all-audiences stuff, too.

    The ratings can only be trusted as far as you trust the judgment of the people applying them. Otherwise those parents may well come back furious at you.

    But as noted, I understand why people want them. I just think it’s because publishers failed at doing a good job of presenting the material to appropriate audiences in the first place.

  18. >> It wasn’t meant as an insult…It’s just hard to understand why someone wouldn’t want ratings on their material.>>

    This is one of the reasons that such explanations so often wind up as inaccurate. If you find it hard to understand why they take the position they do, you’re probably not going to explain it clearly, since you don’t understand in the first place.

    Also, if you don’t think putting it down to ego and status comes across as insulting, then that may be a problem of understanding, too.

    I don’t like ratings because they can distort content, stigmatize all-ages material, make inappropriate material attractive to the wrong audiences by making it “forbidden fruit,” make it easier for would-be censors to find the stuff they’ll try to use to close down stores (how many prosecutions have been over unlabeled books?), cause trouble when they’re not uniformly applied and at the same time cause trouble when they ARE uniformly applied (since a content label on an award-winning best-selling children’s book like IN THE NIGHT KITCHEN would make it adults-only). I don’t think they’re a good sales tool and I don’t think they’re very good as a shield against prosecution.

    But that’s not ego, status-seeking or secrecy. I’m all for information. I think information is good, and readers and retailers should have the information they need to best select purchases and run businesses.

    I think book and magazine publishers present that information better and more positively than any warning-label can, so I’d far rather we followed that path than followed the MPAA, with all its headaches and distortions and fights over appropriateness.

    I hope that helps you understand better.

  19. Jonathan La Mantia says:

    I think my issue lies with not knowing what steps the magazine and book publishers take to make sure their content gets to the right readers- I feel like I’d have a much better understanding of where you’re coming from if I did.

    Other than that if we where to take this particular conversation any further I’d be two steps away from sounding like I’m all for censorship- that’s something I’m very much against- as far as ratings go I just want to make retail work a bit easier so they don’t have to keep up on every single story line out there just to make an educated decision on who to sell to- but even that can be construed as being a champion of lazy marketing and retail.

  20. Quick! What rating would you give a comic that has two men kissing?

    Some would insist it should be adult or at least Teen +. But what if it’s in an issue of Archie now that they have a gay character?

    Have fun with that firecracker.

    I’m surprised and disappointed that Image did a ratings system.

  21. >> I think my issue lies with not knowing what steps the magazine and book publishers take to make sure their content gets to the right readers- I feel like I’d have a much better understanding of where you’re coming from if I did.>>

    You might enjoy looking at a few publisher’s catalogs, to see how they present the information, along with, of course, looking at how they present the books themselves. Look at some YA books and ask yourself what makes them look different from younger-readers’ books, what makes them look different from adult fiction. What are the cues, in design, text, catalog description? What makes LITTLE HOUSE OF THE PRAIRIE look clearly like it’s aimed at a different audience than CASINO ROYALE?

    It’s not a set of rigid rules, since there’s a panoply of techniques, but it’s not a secret. Provide the appropriate information through design, visual cues and text, but do it in a positive, sales-oriented way, rather than a negative, warning-oriented way.

    Just look. The differences are there to work on consumers, so they’re visible to you. You can probably do a lot of it simply with the books and magazines in your house, if you have a range of target audiences represented.

  22. Torsten Adair says:

    Okay… books do have ratings… at least in the kids and young adult section. There’s the Lexile measure, reading level, grade level, age level. It’s based mostly on the vocabulary.

    They aren’t labeled for content, because the publishers of those books know what can and can’t be sold in those subjects, and to which age groups. Authors generally know what audience they wish to write for, and editors help the author avoid uncertain or questionable subject matter.

    Of course, there’s always controversy, because children and well-meaning adults are involved.

    Almost every major publisher of prose books has a distinct imprint or division for childrens’ books. Puffin, Atheneum, Amulet are distinct from Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Abrams.

    Comics publishers generally do not brand their kids titles separately from their “mainstream” titles. DC was one of the few, with their Minx line. Sure, kids graphic novels are usually digest sized, but I’ve also seen regular sized GNs for kids as well.

    That’s where I think the confusion lies, especially with comic books, which come in only one size. A cartoony book, which looks like it might appeal to kids, can just as easily contain material meant for adults. (Especially with web comics!) Or a creator might write a serious book and a frivolous title using the same artistic style. Rasl is not Bone, The Atomics is not The Golden Plates.

    (QUICK! How does Takio differ in design from Powers, which are both from the Icon imprint, and both by Bendis and Oeming?)

    Instead of ratings, publishers need to create imprints, and agree to standard trade sizes, at least when publishing graphic novels. Publishers need to brand comic book imprints to make demographics easier to discern. If it appeals to both markets (like Harry Potter, Narnia, or Oz), then issue two different editions and shelve them in different locations!

    Imprints can also work for comics, even if a title is creator-owned. Use a standard trade dress, icon, or imprint to help sell the book. Creators will usually approve of marketing which will help sales.

    (Darn… Mr. Busiek made similar points while I was typing this.)

  23. >> Darn… Mr. Busiek made similar points while I was typing this.>>

    Heh. Yeah, the kind of thing you’re talking about is information, not warnings. Packaging can make a huge difference.

  24. Age labels cause more problems then they solve. I’m speaking as a librarian who buys graphic novels for the youth, teen and adult collection at my library system.

    In my case, any book labeled M, or 18+ or Mature Readers automatically goes into the Adult collection. My system currently does not prohibit younger readers from checking out those books, but… a “concerned” parent could make a case for it, as we do limit anyone 17 or younger from checking out R rated films or parental advisory CD’s.

    I’m lucky that my library system has an adult collection. Most libraries don’t. So, it is very possible that a library that only purchases graphic novels for youth and teens would not buy ANY materials with a M or 18+ rating. I can also see anything rated OT or 16+ being a problem, as some libraries just toss all of the graphic material into a “comics” section, and plant it in the middle of the youth department.

    As a selector, I see other problems with the ratings:

    1. Since most publishers don’t make their specific criteria for age ratings public, there is no way to know what earned the book the rating. For example, in my community, sex and profanity pushes buttons, but violence is fine. If you’re going to stick a rating on a book, tell me, “Rated 16+ for off-panel orgies” or “Rated M for disembowelment”. The rating by itself means very little.

    2. The ratings system is deceptive. There is no uniformity across publishers, and there is no way of knowing if a Marvel E = DC E = Image E. Patrons (or customers) think ratings system = MPAA, which, for better or for worse, has an independent ratings board, a system for appeals and lists their criteria publicly. It gives parents a false sense of security.

    3. Ratings systems can hide biases. For example, one manga company rated all of the titles featuring homosexual relationships for older readers, while those featuring hetero relationships were rated for a younger age group. The ratings system, as shared with the public, never mentioned that girl/boy = T and boy/boy = 0T. But it happened every time.

    There are other issues, but those are the three that stick out in my head.

  25. Well, the problem with age-geared packaging on comics is that some artists work in styles that /look/ kid-friendly even when the content isn’t.

    Prose publishers can indicate what age a book is for by making the illustrations on it more or less cartoony (or, in the case of chick lit illustrated covers, more “fashion”-looking) or by using photographs instead.

    With comics, on the other hand, covers are used as showcases for the style of art inside. Take a look at these two covers:

    http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51R342N7QAL.jpg
    http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51FKxeCHnFL.jpg

    Now imagine you’re the parent of an 8-year-old trying to decide which one to get for your kid. Based on the similar-ish styles, you’d have no idea what to get – until you flip to the back cover and notice that one has an All Ages tag and the other a Teen tag.

    In an ideal world, hypothetical parents would always look through comics before buying them for their kids, but short of reading the entire thing in the store there’s always the chance they’ll miss a page worth of nudity or some non-graphic but terrifying-in-context scene.

    (Granted, manga publishers tend to be more conservative with the ratings they plant on their books, perhaps given the slight differences between what Japanese publishers and American parents consider “age-appropriate.”)

    I’m not saying it’s /impossible/ for comics publishers to more clearly indicate which books are for which audiences, through deliberate cover designs and clearly defined imprints, but as long as there are artists pairing cartoony styles with mature content, ratings will make a decent backup.

  26. NateInNY says:

    I have to agree with Jonathan on this. He makes a good argument. And ratings didn’t hurt the sale of cds or video games in any sort of measurable way which makes the “censorship” thing a non starter.

    @kurt
    “Look at how books/magazines aimed at different audiences (not just ages, but sex, style, genre and more) do it, and adopt that sort of thing instead of just logo-at-the-top colophon-in-the-corner, credits in san-serif type around a pin-up.”

    “I don’t like ratings because they can distort content, stigmatize all-ages material, make inappropriate material attractive to the wrong audiences by making it “forbidden fruit,””

    Right, but couldn’t the same thing happen even with the non rating cover that’s crafted to look like it’s for kids by putting all that stuff that you suggested on it? I mean, wouldn’t we still be trusting the same people that are suggesting what the ratings should be that are doing the “for kids” covers? So if there was another mistake like your “orgy” example, which comic would the outraged religious group be more justified in attacking? The comic with no rating that has kid friendly graphics which would become the new Joe Camel? Or the comic with the G rating, in which case the comic company could just say “oops, packaging/printing mistake, that should have been R”.

    As far as the forbidden fruit thing, cashiers don’t sell penthouse to little kids as a rule and if the comics ratings are treated similarly by bookstore cashiers, then that’s the end of any liability. I’ve never seen a religious/parents group attack a book store because a 10 year old had his 18 year old brother buy him a playboy.

    If it eases parents peace of mind to the point where they buy the comic for their kid then win win. If the kids mind gets warped by accidentaly reading lady death, well, can’t win em all.

  27. john layman says:

    I just rated myself “E” for “erotic.”

  28. NateInNY says:

    “My system currently does not prohibit younger readers from checking out those books, but… a “concerned” parent could make a case for it, as we do limit anyone 17 or younger from checking out R rated films or parental advisory CD’s.”

    “I’m lucky that my library system has an adult collection. Most libraries don’t. So, it is very possible that a library that only purchases graphic novels for youth and teens would not buy ANY materials with a M or 18+ rating. I can also see anything rated OT or 16+ being a problem, as some libraries just toss all of the graphic material into a “comics” section, and plant it in the middle of the youth department.”

    None of that has anything to do with the ratings being problematic but with librarians not doing their jobs properly. Even a liquor store owner with a 9th grade education knows enough to seperate the playboys from the tigerbeats. Maybe instead of complaining that a rating makes it harder to do your job you should just do you job.

  29. Doobie Keebler says:

    If a creator does a book with DC and it’s labelled for 12yrs and older, an angry parent who feels mislead by the content will be suing a massive corporation.

    If it happens to an Image creator, will Image pick up the legal bill?

    Once you declare that something fits a definitive slot – when what qualifies as appropriate for that rating is subjective – you run the risk of a backlash.

    Forcing independent creators to self-rate independent books is an absolutely terrible idea. Image trying to adopt a system designed for a massive corporation is a terrible idea. The safest recourse for a creator is to sanitize their own work so that it cannot offend the lowest common denominator. This works against the point of there being an Image Comics in the first place.

    Image needs to rethink this plan ASAP.

  30. Wraith (AKA Blade X) says:

    >> In what way do you think the publishers can make books aesthetically distinguishable? >>

    I think books and magazines provide a cornucopia of examples. Look at how books/magazines aimed at different audiences (not just ages, but sex, style, genre and more) do it, and adopt that sort of thing instead of just logo-at-the-top colophon-in-the-corner, credits in san-serif type around a pin-up.

    ________________________

    Kurt, would the way Marvel used to package their comics from the 70′s through the 80′s where they had different formats and lines for different age groups be the way the comic book industry should go? In the 70′s and 80′s the Marvel magazine line and the Epic Comics line and GN line were clearly aimed ay teens and adults,the Star Comics lines were aimed at little kids,and the regular MU Code Approved line was aimed at all ages. IMO, that’s the type of system the industry should adopt.

  31. >> Right, but couldn’t the same thing happen even with the non rating cover that’s crafted to look like it’s for kids by putting all that stuff that you suggested on it? I mean, wouldn’t we still be trusting the same people that are suggesting what the ratings should be that are doing the “for kids” covers? >>

    Sure. That’s why I think “do it better” is a better system than “come up with a system that involves trusting people who mess up a lot.” If they’re already untrustworthy, a ratings system provides no protection but gives them something else to mess up on. If they learn to do things better, the ratings aren’t necessary.

    >> So if there was another mistake like your “orgy” example, which comic would the outraged religious group be more justified in attacking? The comic with no rating that has kid friendly graphics which would become the new Joe Camel? Or the comic with the G rating, in which case the comic company could just say “oops, packaging/printing mistake, that should have been R”.>>

    Based on past history, they’re more likely to attack the one with a mature-readers rating, because it’s easier to spot. More of these cases have been about selling labeled comics to adults than selling unlabeled comics to minors.

    >> As far as the forbidden fruit thing, cashiers don’t sell penthouse to little kids as a rule and if the comics ratings are treated similarly by bookstore cashiers, then that’s the end of any liability.>>

    Penthouse doesn’t have a rating on it. But PG-13 and R-rated movies are “forbidden fruit” to kids who try to figure out how to sneak in, the proportion of all-ages films made since ratings came in has dropped sharply and G-rated films are largely stigmatized as for kids only. Wasn’t a problem beforehand.

    >> If it eases parents peace of mind to the point where they buy the comic for their kid then win win.>>

    I understand the urge. I just think it’s a mistake that publishers so thoroughly failed at using better methods.

  32. >> Kurt, would the way Marvel used to package their comics from the 70’s through the 80’s where they had different formats and lines for different age groups be the way the comic book industry should go? >>

    I don’t think that went far enough, but it’s a start, at least. There’s so much more range than that available, though.

  33. Synsidar says:

    Using a rating system for published material is a business decision, not an aesthetic one, so people shall have to see how sales of the rated issues are affected, if they’re affected at all. Perhaps there’s a belief that buyers of digital comics would expect a rating system to be in place. If a problem matching content to the rating of an issue arises, it can be worked out.

    While books generally don’t bear ratings, a rating system for prose stories exists. The descriptions accompanying the ratings are straightforward:

    Not suitable for children or teens below the age of 16 with possible strong but non-explicit adult themes, references to violence, and strong coarse language.

    Story rating example

  34. Torsten Adair says:

    I’m at work, so I can’t scan Penthouse covers on Google Image, but I do believe that those magazines have a “Not For Sale To Minors” label near the barcode.

    And one could compare the design of a Penthouse cover to that of Cosmopolitan…

    As for bookstores, I can’t speak for every store, but at the Barnes & Noble located near Lincoln Center, we didn’t really censor anything. “The Anarchist’s Cookbook” was kept in the Manager’s office (if we kept it in stock), and “Lost Girls” was displayed behind the information desk (per instruction from corporate). We sold the Penthouse Letters anthologies right next to the sexuality books, and those other books had lots of nekkid people. If a teen wanted to purchase Yaoi, which was labeled and shrinkwrapped, we never blinked. I think the same was true for DVDs. Of course, New York City is more libertine than the rest of the country.

    I think the possible embarrassment for a kid trying to buy Penthouse probably kept most from attempting it (like the scene in “Bananas”). Although, most kids would just swipe it. Or download it online.

  35. Torsten Adair says:

    Harlequin offers a good example for comics publishers.

    They offer a variety of imprints and series for just about every type of romance reader (as well as other books, including a men’s line).

    Imprints are either a specific subgenre (medical, NASCAR, cowboys) or level of explicitness (passion, erotic fiction, teen).

    Most series have a novel a week, and most books are numbered within the imprint. Some imprints have “miniseries”, which are sub-imprints (Babies in the Boardroom, The Fun Factor, Daddy Corps). (Don’t laugh… there’s just as much, if not more, laughable qualities in superhero comics.)

    Yes, romance fans are just as driven as comics fans (which is why Harlequin numbers the books). There’s a similar stigma. (Romance ebooks are popular because the e-reader acts like a plain brown wrapper… nobody knows you are reading a romance novel on the subway.) Harlequin even publishes manga (in Japan), seen briefly in the U.S. from Dark Horse.

    And… their web design is aces! Wow… the submissions page is amazing… breaking down each series into the basic story structure, characteristics, and settings. Offering examples of query letters, synopses, even proofreading marks.

    Sorry… a bit off-topic… but Harlequin doesn’t label their books, they just market them very effectively. And sell them amazingly well…

  36. >> I can’t scan Penthouse covers on Google Image, but I do believe that those magazines have a “Not For Sale To Minors” label near the barcode.>>

    You may be right. I don’t think they did last time I had a ratings argument; it’s been a while. I don’t think PLAYBOY does, though — and I don’t think it’s necessary to guide parents in their purchasing decisions. I think PENTHOUSE does an excellent job of making it clear what kind of audience it’s aimed at well before you get to any small print.

    As does COSMO.

  37. “But PG-13 and R-rated movies are “forbidden fruit” to kids who try to figure out how to sneak in”

    No one needs to sneak into a PG-13 film. Anyone can buy a ticket for it.

    Maybe you don’t like ratings because you don’t understand them.

    By the way, that’s said in more of a playful tone than it appears.

    I’m for a ratings system, but I’m also for pointing out that ratings systems are dumb. They are only a guide and exist to give the false impression that someone is paying attention to what’s inside so you don’t have to. The sheer volume of published works requires a short-cut and that’s another thing a ratings system provides. “packaging” isn’t the answer, and a ratings system is only an answer that makes the outside world feel better.

    I could go on and on about this, but I’ll spare everyone. I’ll just say again that I’m for it as long as the ratings are on the UPC and not obscuring more of the cover.

  38. The problem isn’t Sin City or Astro City but those who are far less sophisticated at packaging their books or worse–are deliberately trying to sneak something by. The guy who drew Spider-Man and had a cartoon on the air on Saturday morning having God appear in his book using the F-word is the problem.

    If Cosmopolitan or Playboy routinely did homage covers where they tried to look like Ranger Rick or Highlights Magazine we might not be having this conversation. Or rather–they might be having it.

    I’m not a big fan of labels. I do my book on the fly and well after it’s been solicited and I don’t want to have to have to censor myself because I promised a “T” book and the story would work better as an “M” book. I don’t like the idea that we might become like the film industry–putting raunchy material into books to avoid the dreaded G-Rating or toning things down to avoid an R-Rating. That’s not a world I want to be part of. At the same time–retailers are hit with HUNDREDS of comics, often created by subversive deviants hellbent on corrupting the nation’s youth. These poor guys just want a clue. They don’t want to be blindsided by some childish schmuck who thinks it’d be a hoot and a half to have Captain Maximum fight the Living Vagina in an issue of Crunch Comics.

    That doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.

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