This started off as a flurry of locked Twitter tweets. It is now warping itself into a blog post due to the urging insistence of David Brothers. And as we all know, Comic Industry Rule #4080 is that the words of David Brothers must be obeyed. Comic Industry Rule #1 is that comic companies are shady. And so here we are.
The title, apt and rapped, owes its life to De La, of course, from a song that has long been one of my favorites. DC has indeed played itself, and we’ve all watched—some of us in horror and some of us in amusement—as the company rode an initial wave of success brought about by its superhero relaunch only to crash upon the shores of a horrid public relations catastrophe with Before Watchmen. With each negative statement publicly made via blog posts, interviews, and news reports, DC is in grave danger of losing the reins of this publicity behemoth, something no company wants to have happen. When you lose control of the marketing, you lose control of your money.
I’m not going to discuss the ethical implications of Alan Moore’s treatment (or Chris Roberson’s, for that matter) here. A much better job of that has been done elsewhere. Besides, my tweets were mercenary in tone and were focused on the only thing of importance to DC: How can we get people to stop badmouthing us in the press and embrace the Before Watchmen project?
The solution is found in something near and dear to many of us—rap music.
In the earlier days of the nineties and aughts, when rap could equal commercial success but still had legitimate ties to black urban youth culture, record executives who wanted to sell their new rapper to lucrative middle and upper class white audiences still had to have the “streets cosign.” In other words, poor black kids made stars, rich white kids gave them money so they could shine.
Before Watchmen is that star. The indie comics community—both reader and creator? “The streets.” And the rest of us? Bored white kids with pockets chock full of money. DC’s first mistake was thinking it could sell directly to the masses and ignore rumblings from the indie circuit. Jamal Henricks standing out in front of Marcy Projects in 1995 damn sure didn’t want some suit trying to sell him soulless suburban rap. And he and his crew could end a career with one bad comment. Ask Kwame. Likewise, Brendan the English professor who reads The Comics Reporter and uses Watchmen for his class on ethics in literature doesn’t want to hear a slick Before Watchmen sales pitch. The trust fund kids who play poor in Williamsburg and dig the indie comics scene don’t want to hear from company men in Green Lantern t-shirts and baseball caps. And the men and women who are the working poor that make up the indie comics scene certainly don’t want to hear from Lee (who, though a nice man, has a terrible reputation for being a sell-out), Didio (who bleeds and breathes commercialism), and JMS (who, whether deservedly or not, currently has a reputation for being a rich blowhard dismissive of creators’ rights).
That’s a serious problem, because those groups I just listed? That’s DC’s free Before Watchmen street team. You think the retailer who tweets about Scarlet Witch’s tits is going to sell Before Watchmen to college bookstores and libraries? You think the fanboy cosplaying as Nightwing is going to push Before Watchmen projects at Barnes & Noble? No. And the people who would? Right now DC’s free street team thinks the worst of DC and the Before Watchmen project—an assembly of scabs, leeches, and cornball sell-outs. This attitude must be rectified. But how?
First and foremost is to announce a creator-owned imprint—big names, big press, and contracts that are deemed fair and acceptable by the industry. DC needs to be seen as creator-friendly. I commented earlier regarding the subject:
“What’s needed is a ‘keep creators happy’ imprint. Are you a big name? Have you produced a commercial success for us? Let us do the same for you. Terrible Company Man POV: Look, we swiped you from Image and let you beef your name up with DC characters, why should we hand you back? Main goal: Keep that DC logo on all books that draw eyes. Some will make a ton of money, some will make a little. It’s all publicity. Most articles about the Walking Dead TV show have an Image mention tucked away. Tying your company name to a success is always good.”
—Cheryl Lynn Eaton
Next up is to quietly pull incendiary hucksters from the table. This is a Watchmen project, not Teen Titans. Move creators with good reputations like Conner and Azzarello to the forefront. Focus on Jae Lee instead of Jim. Think quirky instead of commercial. Biggie never danced in a shiny suit.
Finally, damage control for the Roberson situation is required. Of course, the best approach would have been to let Roberson leave when he had announced he would leave instead of pulling him from a project.
“So, you slip in a co-writer with Roberson. Someone young and eager that Roberson can shape and show the ropes. And you treat that kid nicely. When Roberson bounces, you have a baby Roberson in place that has swiped some of Roberson’s shine and his small fan following. As talented? Maybe not since she’ll be younger and less skilled. But she’ll only get better. And yes, you get a woman in there to keep fans from bitching about the co-writer deal. ‘Oh, we thought you wanted more women in comics.'”
—Cheryl Lynn Eaton
Of course, DC went for the worst possible PR move and yanked Roberson instead, but they can improve upon the situation by assigning a female writer of YA fantasy novels to the Fairest title.
Long story short, I’m very interested to see if DC manages to turn things around. Right now the company is walking a tense tightrope between Drake and Yung Berg and Image is eyeing chains hungrily. We’ll see.