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Seeking superheroes

Today, the comic book is known as the graphic novel " a long-form comic packaged more like a book than a magazine. While the format has been

around for some 25 years, over the last five years or so " dubbed the "Golden Age of Writers" by comic historians -- their popularity exploded.

According to Publishers Weekly, retail graphic novel sales jumped 18 percent from 2004 to 2005, with around $245 million in sales last year alone. And they are not just for kids anymore. According to a recent reader's survey by Diamond Comics, the largest distributor of comics in the United States, the average comic book/graphic novel reader is 29 years old.

That means the writing has changed, too.

"The demands of a 29- or 30-year-old are different from those of a 10-year-old," Kasitch said.

Comic books have gone global, too. According to Diamond, the Japanese Manga " comics that are largely character-oriented like wildly popular Full Metal Alchemist " are increasing between 20 and 30 percent a year. Also, whereas most of those who read the superhero comics are male, Manga brought the female readership back into the mix and it is estimated that near 50 percent of Manga readers are female.

Comics are still evolving and are reaching beyond the traditional printed page and the movie screens. There are interactive video games and Web sites based on graphic novels and their characters.

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