Editorial – Issue 4

Recently, a group of students in the junior college I’m teaching conducted a survey on the reading habits of youth. Among a hundred over responses, only one indicated that they read comics. While it is possible that a small sample size may have yielded skewed data, this result does make me wonder: What happened to the age-old impression that comics are popular with kids? How much of this stigma around comics as juvenile literature remains relevant today, given the ubiquity of mobile games, Netflix and Tik-tok as mainstream entertainment? 

Official data gives a more accurate picture: National Library Board’s National Reading Habits Study (NRHS) in pre-pandemic 2018 finds that around 30–40% of teenagers aged 13–19 read comics, manga and graphic novels, whereas for adults in their 20s and 30s, this figure drops slightly to around 30% in males and 20% in females, and continues to decline with age. A more recent 2021 study conducted by National Institute of Education found that manga such as Demon Slayer and Attack on Titan were among the top 20 fiction titles enjoyed by secondary school students, while slightly more comics are read on smartphones (45.7%) than as prints (42.2%).

What do these sets of data tell us about the future of comics in Singapore, and how is it relevant to us as editors to this website? The good news is that despite the rise of other forms of entertainment media, comics remain popular and relevant for teens and younger adults. The not so good news is that a lot of these popular comics are not local. The NRHS studies offer some interesting insights to reasons behind the relative lack of engagement with local titles: only 26% of teenagers and 18% of adults have read Singlit, and the latter tends to be in their 30s and 40s with postgraduate degrees. For over half of both teens and adults, the main reasons stated against reading Singlit are the lack of awareness and interest. Additionally, to the woes of publishers and artists, more readers are gravitating towards freely available mobile comics they can download and enjoy on their daily commutes to schools and workplaces rather than buying physical books from stores, while libraries remain a significant source of free books for over 60 percent of younger teens aged 13–16. 

The harsh reality of the changing nature of book consumption, on top of heavy competition from global free mobile comics platform means that artists and publishers have to reconsider how to make local comics more accessible to readers who are less inclined to pay, while still having to find ways to make sustainable living by creating contents that are both high quality and relatable. This struggle should not be left alone to local artists and publishers who soon find themselves outcompeted by global mega entertainment factories and comic sharing websites churning out free-to-read contents. Public institutions such as libraries, museums, and schools have a significant role to play in introducing quality, relevant and entertaining local materials, but without these efforts being seen as self-congratulatory or desperately didactical. 

Hopefully, our small attempts in making more local comics more visible and accessible comes across as authentic and sincere, and we wish for more of such contents to be made by groups and individuals who find joy in seeking treasures amongst the mundane. 

clio ding avatar profile

Clio Ding
Writer & Editor

References:

Loh, C. E., & Sun, B. (2021) Reading Habits of Singapore Teenagers. Singapore: National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University

National Library Board. (2018) ​​2018 National Reading Habits Study On Teenagers. Singapore: National Library Board. Retrieved from https://www.nlb.gov.sg/WhoWeAre/CorporatePublications/ResearchStudies.aspx

National Library Board. (2018) ​​2018 National Reading Habits Study on Adults. Singapore: National Library Board. Retrieved from Retrieved from https://www.nlb.gov.sg/WhoWeAre/CorporatePublications/ResearchStudies.aspx

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