Three the hard way.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately mulling over the topic of marketing as it pertains to comics. I love the publishing industry as a whole, but comics and magazines hold a special place in my heart. Perhaps the marriage of pictures and words charms me? Who knows? But as Book Expo America looms on the horizon, my thoughts have drifted to the shores of sales. For today’s post I examine three ideas for comic publishers hoping to increase brand awareness.

Macrocomics. Macrocomics is an idea I came up with many years ago. I still think it is a solid attempt at increasing recognition—sadly, one that many companies have not tried. Storefront security gates are a common sight in any urban community and a known blight upon the beauty of the city. Occasionally, a graffiti artist will use the metal canvas provided to make something beautiful. But instead of viewing each gate as a canvas, why not view each gate as a panel? Linear stories can easily be told via this format. A comic company in a particular city could obtain a permit and “adopt a block” for a weekend. Storeowners who received painted gates could have sidewalk sales to coincide with the event. Perhaps an old-fashioned block party could be held. And, of course, the local news media could certainly be alerted.

It is a situation in which everyone would benefit. Store owners would receive publicity and a renovation of their storefronts. Local news media would have a “puff piece” to investigate. Members of the community would have a beautiful art installation to appreciate. Finally, the comic company in question would have its IPs showcased each night at closing time—not to mention the initial positive attention received from a large-scale public donation of time and art. And should the company involve local children and graffiti artists in the project, allowing them to contribute their own tags and images throughout the work? The move would allow community members to feel a sense of ownership and prevent the work from being defaced. Moreover, graffiti artists would obtain the chance to freely show exactly who they are—real artists. However, leaving an empty word balloon or two for the publicly shy would be a good idea. Those artists could contribute their tags another night sans police observation.

Why macrocomics? Well, why shouldn’t comic companies benefit from what is already occurring in a slightly different form? It is much better than the negative press that stems from suing another nursery school. And what better place to showcase the marriage of art and commerce than the storefront of a business?

Magazine features. Most comic publishers are well aware of the fact that they cannot rely solely on advertising to a small pool of existing comic readers. In order to keep the industry afloat, readers who are completely new to the medium must be enticed. But how can readers be reached cheaply and in large numbers? Via magazines, of course. (Sadly, newspapers are a dead end.) Once again, most comic publishers acknowledge this fact and have taken advantage accordingly. A recent example can be seen in Playboy‘s showcasing of The Walking Dead. However, most comic publishers seem to have forgotten that, like soap operas, comics are a serial form of entertainment. Repetition is required to capture consumers—especially in an age when attention spans are short. Instead of a 6-page story appearing in a popular magazine for one month, it would be beneficial to have that story run in a popular magazine over the course of six months—one powerful page at a time. Any story used should certainly be substantial—something that takes some time for the reader to finish and makes the reader feel satisfied upon completion. It should also be visually arresting. Imagine an Empowered feature in Playboy, or perhaps a Richard Stark’s Parker feature in Esquire. If the publisher of a magazine is not open to the idea, ad space can simply be purchased to achieve the same result. One can’t skip ads in magazines. Comic publishers should use this to their benefit. Create a 6-page prequel for a self-contained series that has also been collected in a set of graphic novels and run one page a month in a popular national magazine for six months. But one must be sure to pick a magazine read by one’s potential audience! There’s no pointing placing a Rorschach tale in Seventeen.

Postcards. I can see that derisive sneer from here, you know. Yes, postcards. I stumbled onto the idea once discovering how showrunners for popular conventions often gouge publishers financially via numerous exhibition fees. Yet how can comic publishers access librarians outside of popular publishing conventions such as Book Expo America? Through the utilization of 600 postcards and one diligent intern, perhaps?

First and foremost, a comic company should create a “sampler” PDF. It is something each should have in one’s arsenal. The PDF should contain five pages from every graphic novel the company currently has in print. Creator information, target ages for potential audiences, ISBNs, ordering information, and prices should also be made available. The file should then be (1) uploaded to the company website and (2) given a URL that is easy to remember.

Next up, a postcard should be created. On one side? The company’s “hottest” properties. On the other side? A very brief introductory message and the PDF’s URL. Six hundred postcards in total should be printed. A postcard should then be mailed to the main library of the twelve largest cities in each state. Time consuming? Yes. However, that’s why a diligent intern is required! For the price of a gaming console, contact with 600 librarians is achieved. Not a bad haul. And should you have additional funds left over? Why not send a card to each state university library as well? But before one invests even a modest sum, be realistic. Many libraries are only open to all-ages material or critically acclaimed works. If your company produces substandard T&A, you are simply wasting valuable time and money using this particular method.

As always, in regards to any marketing campaign, one must take into account the product produced and available company resources. Next up, steps individual artists and smaller studios can take to grab the attention of the masses, and an upcoming report from Book Expo America. If you plan to attend, drop me a line if you’d like to talk comics!


A graphic nature.

Within a month Book Expo America 2012 will be upon us, unleashed at the Jacob Javits Center in order to bring us the latest developments in the world of book publishing. For those comic companies with an impressive catalogue of graphic novels to showcase, Book Expo America provides a place for one to woo librarians and buyers for brick and mortar businesses, ensuring that the prize jewel of one’s collection obtains the most precious of shelf space. It is an important convention, and yet is one that does not receive the attention it truly deserves. It’s an extra empty basket, presented at a time when most comic companies are well aware of the fact that all of their eggs should not go into one.

And yet some will place all of their eggs in that bin marked specialty retailer regardless.

Of course, there should be some eggs in that bin! Quite a few! The comic shop retailer should be wooed—must be wooed—if a company desires access to long-standing readers of graphic novels and, as always, fans of the superhero genre. But that relationship should not be maintained at the expense of other avenues of revenue. Appealing solely to specialty retailers has resulted in the isolation of the comics industry, cementing the reputation of reading comics—now considered collecting comics—as a mere hobby instead of the legitimate engagement in a literary medium it should be. Major book publishing conventions, such as BEA, are family tables awaiting a Prodigal Son. Some have returned; some have not. For those of you noting a lack of DC and Marvel, I assume that both publishers will be heavily represented at the Disney and Warner Bros. booths. However, when neither shows up in a simple search for graphic novels, one can’t help but be a bit dismayed. In addition, Disney is located a distance from the other comic publishers (yet is smartly located near the ever-popular Children’s Pavilion); Warner Bros. is on an entirely different floor.

For DC in particular, this move is confusing. With the soon-to-be arrival of the Before Watchmen line, which will no doubt be available in trades shortly after the pamphlet debut, DC desperately needs an arena where it can reach potential readers who have yet to be tainted by the controversy surrounding the project. Those readers will be found in bookstores and libraries, and their suppliers will be found at BEA. Unless DC has decided to aim the Before Watchmen project at mainstream superhero fans instead of the free marketing resource of scholarly devotees that has made Watchmen a critical darling and commercial success—a bizarre move in itself—Book Expo America is a must.

Though it is clearly understood why the comic companies appearing at BEA desire separate booths, joining together to lobby for advantageous locations or other perks appears to be a good idea in theory. It would ensure that comics are clearly represented at BEA in one physical block. Also, joining together might allow for the pooling of resources or access to bulk discounts. Perhaps the feasibility of such an idea should be tested at later exhibitions?

I plan to be at Book Expo America and also plan to take a moment or two to peruse the booths exhibiting graphic novels. I’ll be sure to report back what I find!