No cheesecake ’til Brooklyn.

In my search for new employment I’ve come to the realization that many employers are seeking free labor and are not shy in plainly asking for it.

It bothers me.

I have never provided free labor, though I’ve not always worked for money. I’ve been lucky to have been granted immensely beneficial internships where I was provided valuable instruction regarding the publishing industry. An internship is a trade. The mentor provides training and key industry contacts; the intern provides assistance—and often content or a product to be sold. There is a bartering system in place. More importantly, a relationship between the apprentice and his or her mentor should be established and maintained, even as roles change. The apprentice eventually leaves to become a supportive colleague and consumer. Later, when the mentor withdraws from the field, he can take pride in knowing that his methods and values remain via the individuals once taken under his wing.

There is a cycle—one with positives and negatives. It allows for efficiency; correct instruction is necessary to produce quality work at a faster pace. It also results in homogeneity. Mentors often choose those who remind them of themselves and think as they do, inhibiting the introduction of new ideas and new voices. However, I feel that the negatives can be easily eradicated with blind applications or mentors who choose to cast a wider net when initiating a search.

If you can afford to pay your interns, do so. If you cannot afford to do so, list clearly what you are prepared to offer in exchange for their unpaid labor. Nate Cosby, who would make for a wonderful mentor for a young individual interested in the comics industry, recently posted an awful ad seeking an intern. The ad does him a great disservice given his knowledge and experience. It clearly lists what he needs, but does not list how he can (or even if he will!) fulfill the needs of his interns. What will he teach? How? These are important questions to one attempting to build a career or gain industry knowledge. And one has a right to be wary or even dismissive should those questions go unanswered.

In the same vein, Heidi MacDonald recently did some sleuthing in regards to Wizard World’s bottom line, discovering that the organization made $6.7 million in conventions in 2012.

“The report attributes the increased profits to ‘running better advertised and marketed events’ as well as increasing ticket prices and ‘overall size and scope of each event.’ Others savings for the year were due to ‘reducing stock based compensation to consultants, reducing web development fees [emphasis added] and reducing professional service fees.'”

I did some sleuthing of my own to discover that the organization is also seeking unpaid editorial interns to provide content and editorial/marketing assistance for its site.

“Wizard World is looking for an Intern who can help keep a website updating with news and stories relating to popular fiction, which include updates on Movies, TV, Video Games, and Comic books. Articles must be compelling original and well thought out. Other task would include online marketing of ones articles and re-purposing material for articles. This would include wrapping articles around original content produced by Wizard World’s Video Production team. Articles must be posted through multiple CMS systems that you will be thought [sic].”

No information given as to what Wizard World will provide in return. Frustrating. Adding to the frustration is a comment indicating that the CEO earned a salary of $510,000 said year. Less than a tenth of his salary would allow the company to pay its web contributors.

As I said, frustrating.


Samples.

“Honestly, when it comes to comics and nostalgia, I want more Public Enemy than Puffy. Meaning, you should take the old stuff and mix it into some weird ish that is only vaguely familiar.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

The comics industry is awash in nostalgia and has been for decades. And though the word nostalgia has become distasteful to many, it is not the existence of nostalgic work that is a problem. The ubiquitous nature of it is.

We need our rituals and our well-worn tales. They provide comfort, instruct children as to how to make their way in society, and honor those who have come before. In comics, many creators choose to pay homage to the elders they admire through mimicry and the utilization of classic characters. Wonderful stories in many genres have been created via this method. The stories are akin to “party joints,” songs where a rapper raps over an existing beat ripped from an older song. Puffy (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy, Sean Combs) was notorious for this. The result is fun and fanciful, but it brings absolutely nothing new to the table. The creative effort involved in such a project is negligible. These works are needed to pay tribute—to enact a ritual—but if they are all that a society produces? Said society is no longer moving forward artistically. It has become stagnant.

The comics industry has become so bound by its nostalgia that it has nearly ground to a halt. Rigid adherence to what has come before is only useful and enjoyable in small doses. The majority of the artistic works produced must be innovative. What is created throughout the ages must change as our society changes. Like a closed commune, the comic industry primarily watches society change from afar and makes no changes within.

After I made the comments posted above on Twitter, Brandon Graham asked me what comics I would consider “Public Enemy comics.” I wanted to say Prophet, but I am completely ignorant of the Extreme universe prior to the recent relaunch. However, having read enough Conan, I can safely say that Prophet could be placed within that category.

At the time of the group’s debut, Public Enemy’s sound was completely novel. It was nothing like what had come before. What was fantastic about the music produced was that it lovingly paid tribute to the founders of modern black music and yet honored the new community it was creating for simultaneously. And one does not have to actually sample older works to achieve this. Frank Ocean inspires vague remembrances of the Dramatics and Prince, but his work is wholly his own.

I wish to see this method adopted by comics. I want to see love letters written to Kirby and the world that we live in now. To survive as an industry? Comics must embrace the past and the present at once.


Where are you, Keezy?

I cannot be the only individual desperate to know Karen Berger’s next step professionally! Not only is Berger an amazing editor, but more vital to any publisher looking to add to his or her creative arsenal, the woman is a walking Rolodex. Her connections and her ability to develop an easy rapport with some of the industry’s most notoriously eccentric—though talented—personalities, makes her a key asset. The comic industry needs women like Karen Berger.

Unfortunately, Berger does not require the comics industry to thrive professionally. Her knowledge regarding the publishing industry extends far beyond the smaller world of comics publishing. She could easily set up shop with a publisher of trade books. She would be missed, but should she wish to forego the many glass ceilings of comics, it would be understandable. Even as enviable as her position at Vertigo was, she deserved more.

Given Image’s shrewd repositioning as a modern-day Vertigo, one has to question if Berger will move to the independent publisher once the dust has settled regarding her departure from DC. I jokingly stated on Twitter that as Image has become the new Vertigo, now Vertigo must become an avant-garde IDW, selecting edgy licensed properties to develop given the ensuing difficulty it will soon have in obtaining new works. Sans Berger and a creator-friendly outlook, convincing writers that their creations will be safe at Vertigo will require a level of finesse DC may no longer possess. However, DC does possess the strength and financial backing of Time Warner, which may provide it with the funding necessary to simply buy the rights to the trendy IPs it will need to remain competitive.


Crossing the streams.

I’ve been thinking about my previous post concerning Eric Stephenson’s recent interview. If one has read any of my older posts regarding the comics industry and diversity, I know it must sound as if I’ve contradicted myself. I often state that writers can express themselves creatively and reach others even while eschewing the mainstream. I believe that. But, for me, there is the black individual and the black collective. There is the impulse to create and the need for a community to be heard and to provide for itself.

The comics industry is closed to me. I understand that now and I accept this fact because it has absolutely no impact on my ability to either create new works or share those works with others. Any individual with working vocal cords or access to a library can create and distribute a story. Yes, the scale is certainly limited and there is no monetary compensation, but the need to create and to share one’s creation with another can easily be fulfilled. WordPress journals are free; a vanity press will allow for one’s book to be published. For me, this is enough.

However, the mainstream comics community is also closed to professional black writers. An entire racial group has been shut out, their stories barred from the one arena that garners the most money and the most attention. I do not understand this and refuse to accept it. Black men and women with decades of experience as writers, fame and fan followings, and widely distributed works have been denied access. Unlike their peers, they are not sought to provide pitches nor are they considered for work unless there is a rare book featuring a black lead (and more often than not, white men are chosen to write those books as well).

I cannot accept this because I have the need to see black people and hear their voices when I consume mainstream entertainment. No, I do not expect black people to helm every project or star in every vehicle, but I do expect them to have a clearly heard voice in every creative industry.  The comics industry as it currently stands is unable to meet those expectations. It is for this reason that I am no longer a consumer. I’ve simply walked away from the mainstream. For the industry, this abandonment is no great loss. Eight dollars less a month certainly will not cause any major comic company to crumble. Being one reader short will not result in a book being cancelled.

However, I am not the only one to walk away. Many black men and women who once created comics have been lured away by film, television, animation, books, and magazines—industries where their contributions are desired. The impact is glaring. An entire component of American culture has been severed from the industry. Given America’s obsession with its black subculture and the comic industry’s mad scramble to create projects that will appeal to an increasingly diverse audience, this seems blatantly stupid.

For the most part, I attempt to remain quiet. (Really, I do!) These are topics that should be addressed by men and women working in the industry, not outsiders, but their overwhelming silence often causes me to blurt out impatiently.

I promise to try to do better. Instead of using this blog to focus on what and how mainstream comic companies must change, I’ll use this blog to champion the creators I enjoy. A little positivity never hurt anyone!


Bastard children.

Comics inhabit an unusual place. A comic is the product of the marriage between pictures and words—between the literary and the visual. So, it is not surprising that the comics industry inhabits a strange place as well. It’s as if the industry is the bastard child of the film and publishing industries, inheriting the best and worst from both—massive economic disparity within the talent pool, amazing feats of brilliant storytelling, a passionate commitment to the project at hand, the change of direction on a whim, empathy for one’s peers in troubling times, sexism, racism, etc.

The level of professionalism shown within the industry is also a reflection of its status. As with publishing, there is certainly no fear of hard work; deadlines must be met. There is also reverence for the process of telling a story. These men and women have studied their craft. Sit down with an artist or writer and watch his or her expression as one asks for an explanation of a creative choice. See his eyes light up. Hear the excitement creep into her voice. It’s infectious.

But creators are not only storytellers. Like their peers in film, they are also showmen—hucksters in a “good ol’ boys” club where they are extremely comfortable in their environment. The presence of a filter is occasionally lacking.

When you show up to the party in a hovercraft, you don’t have to worry about the burning bridges behind you when you leave.

The behavior exhibited by Rob Liefeld (among others) is unacceptable and unprofessional—for publishing. An editor at Candlewick Press would not comment upon a dispute between an author and Chronicle Books. A writer would not hurl personal insults at the editorial team attempting to improve his product. Issues are handled privately, and if they cannot be handled privately, they are handled publicly with decorum and respect. There are certain standards to be held.

However, for visual entertainment industries such as film and television? This behavior is commonplace and beneficial. It is rewarded with publicity and new opportunities. Does anyone truly believe that there is no place for Liefeld at Marvel given the buzz he has now created? Brevoort’s words mean nothing, for we have seen Liefeld zip from company to company (Marvel included) based on his ability to draw eyes. And, akin to celebrities such as Charlie Sheen or Kanye West, he has reached such a status in his field that he is able to say anything sans repercussion (save for public giggling or grumbling, which again provides free publicity).

Mind you, DC Entertainment also benefits as well—though I am sure the editorial teams in place do not feel as if they do at the moment. Liefeld’s wild nature draws attention away from the accusations of micromanaging at DC. No longer does it become a litany of professional artists walking away from the company for legitimate reasons, it’s just another war story about Uncle Rob acting crazy.

Hopefully, both sides play it so that they both win. Rob continues to prod DC employees, who respond as shocked, innocent victims of Rob’s bullying and draw sympathy from the public. Liefeld takes his bad-boy persona and heaps of publicity back to Image, where he triumphantly returns to a position as the editor of the Extreme line, in order to show everyone how a “good editor does it.” The line is already a critical darling due to the work of the creative teams in place, but Rob can easily claim credit. And I think Liefeld might actually be a benefit to the line as an editor.

We’ll see.


The illustrated interview.

I had a series of tweets about this idea months ago, but I’m not sure if I’ve blogged about it until now. I’m hoping that a comics publisher will pick up the ball and run with it.

I’d love to have an illustrated graphic novel containing interviews with some of the comic industry’s most illustrious personalities. Allow me to explain. Each section of the graphic novel would feature a short interview with a famous creator such as Frank Miller. The interview would then be set into a script, as if the creator and the interviewer are simply two characters in a comic, and illustrated. All interviews would appear to take place in the actual comics the creators worked on: Gaiman would observe Morpheus’ funeral as he discussed how he created the Endless; Lee would watch a brawl between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin from the Brooklyn Bridge.

The work could be a yearly series as more creators agreed to interviews. Just a thought.


For everyone, by everyone.

Marking your own territory via the creation of a comic company is a scary venture in the world of publishing. In order to be successful, you must have one of two things: a “deep bench” filled with popular creators or a unique vision that separates you from the competition. Two weeks from now at the San Diego Comic Convention, we will witness the triumphant return of a familiar face in Valiant and the new debut of an African American-owned comic company in Lion Forge.

I am hoping for the success of both companies. The existence of the two publishers is key in diversifying the small professional pool in the comics industry. As I’ve said many times before, the comic characters of today and of our recent past are the myths of our future. They are the myths of today. Therefore, it is important that these myths accurately represent a plethora of people and cultures and are not limited to the skewed viewpoint that arises when only one group is granted the liberty of creating worlds (or just as vital, veto power over which worlds are granted longevity).

It is not about shoving a segment of characters of one particular shade onto a flat canvas and hoping for their acceptance. It is about depicting a rainbow of hues from multiple viewpoints. We have clearly surpassed the first hurdle, providing a colorful cast of characters with ease thanks to a long list of dedicated creators. At one point it seemed as though the second hurdle was far behind us, crossed during the creation of Milestone and Image. However, the diversity of talent discovered at all companies seemed to languish as titles slipped from print and creators vanished into the ether. During “lean” times, those who are less established in the industry—and often women and minorities are found in higher numbers in said category—tend to “fall through the cracks.” While there is no active attempt to curtail women and minority creators and deny them input, the result is still the same.

Luckily, we seem to be witnessing a creator renaissance at the moment. We are enjoying a focus on the creator as well as the character. This is likely due to the success of creator-owned properties such as The Walking Dead and Kick-Ass. In addition, comics overall are getting more press now that movies such as Marvel’s Avengers have shoved the superhero back into the spotlight. The chance is there to reach a wider audience than ever before. And what better way to reach said audience than to reflect it?


Are you experienced?

Misery loves company. In the world of comics, success loves company as well. No matter what one’s professional tie, one loves to see the industry thrive as a whole—as long as one has made it crystal clear exactly which company began thriving first.

Image’s Experience Creativity campaign has been a rousing success, and DC has plainly patterned itself to follow in those clearly marked footsteps, at first quietly with a series of photos on the DC website, followed by a well-documented promotional flurry for the San Diego Comic Convention. I’m fond of both campaigns. One, it is important to allow creators to promote themselves outside of their projects. It fosters good will. Two, putting faces to names illuminates the issues we still have regarding gender and racial diversity within the industry. Comic characters have gone far beyond four colors; comic creators still struggle to get beyond one.

Image, DC, and Valiant have been in full huckster-mode as of late, dominating the comic news cycle and flooding social media sources. Since I find the deluge amusing rather than annoying, they must be doing something right. Though, hilariously, it has not resulted in one sale on my end. My purchases from the companies in question were the result of quiet conversations with creators and company representatives at conventions. I think it makes the case that various marketing avenues and approaches are required.

The remaining publishers seem content to simply coast on the success of their brands outside of the industry (movies, video games, etc.) or settle comfortably into second place in the advertising race. This is not to say that companies such as Marvel and BOOM! aren’t producing quality work—they are. They just don’t seem to toot their horn with as much aplomb. However, I am certain all of that will change a mere two weeks from now.


The choice.

I am approaching the same topic, the creative community, from two different viewpoints—the personal and impersonal—so please bear with me. The creative community that I am only tangentially a part of deals primarily with storytelling, be it the life of the protagonist of a video game, the saga of a comic’s champion, or the adventure of a fantasy novel’s heroine. I am surrounded by world-builders and artisans who trade in fictional people. Some of them draw, some of them write, some of them design code. Some of them assemble the audience, some of them edit the script, and some of them critique it. The community is vast, but the subset I admire is small—and close knit to the point of being impenetrable.

The community is a happy blend of virtual and corporeal. There are physical hubs—some as small as three people and some as large as one hundred strong—within the cities: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, etc. These physical hubs are virtually connected through websites and social media. And therein resides the problem for me, for I am virtually connected, not physically. I am merely a ghost hovering on the fringes. I am a specter. I am a spectator.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about this community, how a small section of it banded together to provide a memorial for Robert Washington III. It is the type of community to which I long to be a part. But I remember Washington’s final words as well: “Have a back up plan.”

As much as I ache to be an actual physical part of a creative community, I would like a nice, quiet home in a safe and progressive area. And I would like a commute that is less than one hour in order to be part of said creative community. And it is impossible to have all three—or even two. And so I must think very carefully about what I must give up.

For me, to embrace the creative community is to fully embrace poverty. Without a job in the higher echelons, moving to a city will result in substandard housing in an unsafe area. What life can one build with a salary of $28,000 in New York City or Los Angeles? Yes, interesting work abounds. Yes, one is surrounded by creative compatriots. And all one must do is give up safety, cleanliness, and quiet.

However, if I merely desired material goods, I could eschew the creative community entirely. I could live in a beautiful home in the “red area” of a “red state” with racist reactionaries, mind-numbing work, and soul-crushing loneliness to greet me daily. But again, I’d have a quiet and lovely home to return to each night and enjoy on weekends. It is not a fair trade, but it is an available one.

At the moment, I have attempted to scramble down the center of the fork in the road and have failed miserably. It has resulted in a shabby, cramped, noisy apartment on the outskirts of a pleasant and progressive (and expensive!) suburb on the outskirts of New York City. I am afforded only the rare chance, after a hectic commute, to physically be a part of the community I admire. I am massively dissatisfied with my living situation and my creative contribution. I am being pulled in two different directions by comfort and culture.

I can only follow one.


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!


How can I explain myself?

I wrote the following posts many moons ago and revisiting them it is easy to see that the primary emotions driving each are anger and disappointment. And though I still commit the cardinal sin of refusing to organize or edit my blog entries, I have become more adept at restraining my emotions via the written word. So it is not without a bit of amusement that I reread my former manifestos. How sarcastic! How indignant! I was ready to say goodbye to the comics community then, but I clearly did not. For though I, as a black person and as a woman, felt neglected, ridiculed, manipulated, I knew—wholeheartedly—that black women deserved a seat at the table. I knew that black women deserved to be seen and heard as they actually are sans parodies, sans whitewashing, sans strawmen for authors with axes to grind. And I was determined to be the most belligerent and obstinate of thorns until that happened. And if it didn’t happen? Well, I would walk away, burning and salting everything behind me.

In my posts I painted the comics community as an abusive suitor, taking funds, time, love, and providing only insults and neglect in return. And to be fair, I was not that far from the mark. Within the panels we were relegated to bystanders, and should we have by some sheer luck gained the admiration of the audience, our blackness was stripped from us to make us more palatable to white men or our femininity was taken to make us less threatening to female fandom. Behind the scenes we were occasionally seen but never heard, finishing pages for more prominent artists, eking out a modest living via card sets and pinups. I was irate that black creators had more agency in the 1940s via Negro newspapers and that black women were better represented artistically in the 1970s. With each decade that progressed we regressed, and something had to be done about it.

And something was done about it. We spoke, we posted, we wrote, we drew. And by we, I do not just mean the we of my sisters—though that contribution was vital—I mean the we of the entire comics community.

Things changed. In short time the abusive suitor became an attentive one. Varied depictions of black women flourished. Established black creators gained more notoriety and new creators arrived on the scene. Yes, it is far from perfect, Marvel employs no black writers and DC has only Selwyn Hinds to call its own, but things are improving considerably. It can be seen with each new Kickstarter, new creator, and new character.

Like a good lover, the community now gives and takes. It is no longer the wayward suitor of my previous posts. But sadly, I am no longer the woman who once wrote it. A community merits what it provides. When it provided derision and scorn, it received the same in kind from many via scathing blog posts and the occasional boycott. And now that it woos with a plethora of depictions, a platform, and employment? It is only fair that affections are returned via purchases, donations, contributions, and consideration. It is only right. And it is with shame and sadness that I admit that I do not have the funds, the time, or the skill to be one of the women this community demands and deserves.

In the days when the subset of black women in the comics community was miniscule, it was easy to corral each recurring character and creator in order to present them to potential audiences. A small number of purchases, a handful of emails, and one or two perusals of comic news sites was all that was necessary to amass the material required to post. Today, our depictions have developed far beyond what my wallet can contain and I alone can catalogue. I do not complain. This is a blessing. But it is a blessing that has highlighted my inadequacies. As I neglected the community to attend to personal matters, emails piled up. Comics sat on racks unpurchased. Posts to showcase fabulous creators and characters languished in queue—a matter that will be attended to very shortly. I became what I had once admonished, an inattentive lover, a harridan highlighting only faults. My suitor has outgrown me—and it is glorious to see. He has become worldly and eloquent, popular and prosperous. And worthy of one who can honor him, contribute to his success, and support him in his time of need. And so, with the most potent bittersweetness and the fiercest of pride—I let him go.


They lovin’ the crew.

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?


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!


Ether.

My last post concentrated on damage control tactics for DC regarding the Before Watchmen project and DC’s early termination of Chris Roberson’s stint at DC. I’d like to use this post to “hop over the fence” and discuss possible ways in which independent companies such as Image and Dark Horse can capitalize on DC’s large public presence and apparent marketing weaknesses.

DC is an industry behemoth—fat, sluggish, and slow, but also massively powerful. Its size is a blessing that affords it the best spot in Previews, constant press from popular news sites, and the rapt attention of a legion of long-devoted fans. Its size is also a curse. It has become an antiquated bureaucracy, limiting its speed. It is unable to make adjustments quickly in regards to negative press, unhappy fans, or dissatisfied talent. Any action required is initially bound by ribbons of red tape unfurled by editors elucidating edicts from on high. Its inflexible nature forces it down narrow paths that will one day restrict its growth, for example, catering to a shrinking subset of homogeneous readers or allowing nepotism to dictate the talent pool. But we all know what DC is. The question for the competition is this, how can we—as independent publishers—make money from it?

In my last post, I stated that DC should make moves to appear creator-friendly. Dark Horse and Image need to show that they are truly creator-friendly and sabotage any inroads made by DC into their creator-owned domain. And, much to my pleasant surprise (because there is nothing that delights me more than a shrewd PR move), this is already occurring—cheaply and efficiently. Again, DC’s size affords it instant publicity. Attacks on the behemoth bring publicity too. A simple blog post from Stephenson or a Facebook interaction between Mignola and Hama will be picked up by news blogs and fan sites to be carried far and wide. And, amusingly, DC has played directly into their hands by responding, naming, and calling attention to both the attacks and the competition, assuming the role of Ja Rule instead of Jay Z. Think long and hard about the fates of both of these public personas, and of the two men who challenged them.

But it is not enough to simply stick and move. The comic industry is, to put it mildly, incestuous. Of course, its incestuous nature allows for certain deals to be easily made. Creators move from project to project with a speed that rivals the label-hopping of current rap stars or bed-hopping of video vixens. A young industry hotshot cuts his teeth at Image, builds his reputation at DC or Marvel, and perhaps has another dalliance with an independent publisher when the restrictive nature of the two conglomerates occasionally curtails his creativity. The goal of the independent publisher is to increase the frequency of said dalliances until a permanent relationship with a creator is formed and it becomes the first option a creator considers when attempting to launch a project. How can one accomplish this goal? Spit game. Editors from Image and Dark Horse need to aggressively pursue well-known creators working at Marvel and DC—especially now that budgetary concerns at both companies have forced the conclusion of certain exclusivity contracts. Woo them with words that prove you can provide the best of both worlds—the freedom of Kickstarter and the brand security of a long-standing company. Not only will you be rewarded with a successful project, but the publicity that comes from a former unhappy and currently famous creator raving about his new “crew” and disparaging his old one is icing on the cake.

However, some successes cannot be stolen or sabotaged. Sometimes, they must be methodically recreated. DC sits upon a tower of icons and industry lynchpins. Said tower was not created overnight, but required decades of creative input and calculated marketing. When I say that DC’s success should be recreated, I do not mean that companies should produce thinly-veiled versions of DC characters. No, what should be copied is DC’s slow and steady method of building franchises and brands. I want Graham’s excellent work on Prophet to be bound as soon as possible to be pushed as a mainstay for college literature courses. I want to see Hellboy and B.P.R.D. constantly cycling through high-profile film, television, and comic projects, never getting a chance to fade from the mainstream’s collective memory. I want to see an Empowered short story published in Playboy. I want a copy of King City to be found in every Barnes & Noble.

What I don’t want is for a creator with exceptional talent and an interesting project to be handed nothing more than a logo and a handshake. Foster loyalty, foster a crew, and then foster an image (no pun intended). Show and prove.


BHM: What can brown do for you?

I’ll make this one short and sweet. Originality is not achieved through color. Applying a pallet swap to someone else’s story does not qualify as a “new spin.” It’s a cheap trick, a shortcut to reach a previously untapped resource—minority audiences.

It’s not uncommon to want to pay homage to the stories that precede us, to revisit the myths that we will hand down to our children and grandchildren. An alien falls to earth. A vigilante haunts the streets. A patriot fights for justice. We repeat these stories like ballads in old watering holes, each incarnation shifting slightly to fit our culture and our desires.

But how that slight shift matters! And that shift must be more than just a variation in shade. Point blank? If you make the decision to create a black character pastiche, you best make that decision mean something. It should alter the nature of the work. We don’t need a black Superman. We have Superman. To make audiences sit up and take notice, to truly examine the theme of the alien beneath the lens of race?

You establish an Icon.