I’ve spent a great deal of time talking about the marketing missteps of DC comics in regards to the Before Watchmen project. However, both DC and Marvel deserve kudos for the success of the Night of the Owls and A vs. X crossovers. Truth be told, the popularity of the Night of the Owls crossover feels pretty much organic. Even though groundwork was laid via articles and previews, I’ve spoken to retailers and fans who are quite enthused about the crossover. It appears as if its status has grown due to good word of mouth—and due to being an entertaining collection of comics. As for Marvel, even though fan and retailer response has been tepid in my circle, it certainly hasn’t resulted in low sales. Through incentives and blanket advertising, they’ve been able to move product and project the image of once again being “number #1.” And when one is in the business of selling icons, image is everything, no?
But not every company is in that business. Sans icons, how can a smaller publisher or independent creator tap into the fervent promotional groundswell that is “fandom”?
There is strength in numbers. Earlier this week I was lamenting the loss of comic “crews”—groups of creators banding together. Whether the studio is real or virtual, it provides an opportunity for the pooling of resources (ex: shared web space, studio space, convention booths) and an elimination of the loneliness that often results from the creative process. It also allows fellow creators to become a sounding board, often resulting in improved quality, as well as a vocal support system, resulting in increased attention. Finally, it provides one with a brand, a symbol or word that issues a particular statement to fandom. It’s marketing shorthand. Once again, we look to rap to lead the way—Wu Tang, the Roc, MMG. If you are a creator with two or three compatriots at DC or Marvel, I’d advise you to use the attention afforded by these companies to build your own brand. Present yourselves as a creative subset within the company, then work your way towards marking your independence via your own website, conventions appearances, and smaller independent projects.
And yet not every creator has a lucrative gig at DC or Marvel to provide a rung on one’s ladder to success. What about the lone webcomic creator? The artist with a low-selling comic at an independent publisher? The writer with no likeminded peers who hammers out unsolicited plots by his or her lonesome? I still say there is strength in numbers. But with DC and Marvel, and even subsets of Image such as Top Cow and Extreme, there is a unity that comes from a similarity in theme or tone—something that cannot be found with a random collection of independent comics or strips. Or can it?
Perhaps unity can be built through an event. I look at the way Phoenix is blazing its way through multiple Marvel books and I recall the way Claremont’s Huntsman traveled from comic to comic and imprint to imprint. Could a dozen comics, all containing different themes and styles, share one public domain character, said character being visually tweaked to fit his surroundings in each book? Through one character’s reality-warping adventures an event could be formed. All it would take is a creative summit featuring a number of creators, something that could occur via a format as simple as a chat room or mailing list. Why should the “big two” have all the fun?