Punch bowl.

In comedy there is a rule that one shouldn’t “punch down,” that one should not attack one who is in a weaker position and who is of no threat. It is an unnecessary cruelty that should not be engaged in if one wishes to be the “better man.”

In marketing? You punch everywhere. Should another company have a weakness, said weakness should be exploited. Should another company have an asset left unprotected, said asset should be obtained. Should another company have a market left unsatisfied, said market should be quickly wooed. Companies are not men. They do not deserve empathy or consideration nor do they provide it to others. Compassion should be reserved for those able to bleed more than just revenue.

In comics, spectators have amused themselves for decades watching the battle between the “big two”—Marvel Comics and its distinguished competition, DC Entertainment. Despite a good showing by DC, Marvel can easily be declared the winner at this juncture, regaining the number one spot in the market and a position as America’s premiere comics publisher in the eyes of the public. DC has had great difficulty shaking its image as an out-of-touch underdog, despite pulling from the same talent pool as Marvel and producing similar work. If DC wishes to rid itself of its “Dad’s Comics” public persona, it will need to carefully examine where its corporate culture diverges from Marvel’s and decide if changes need to be made. However, a silver medal is still a medal. DC might just be content with the status quo.

Marvel, comfortably settled in first place, has never had a problem “punching” in any direction it deemed fit, be it a well-timed barb lobbed at DC during a panel—“We don’t publish books weekly; we publish them strongly”—or delivering a blow to Dark Horse via a partnership with Lucasfilm to produce Star Wars comics, declaring years of Star Wars canon carefully crafted by the indie publisher to be irrelevant.

Wayward

Dark Horse, though producing great work, is in danger of becoming the indie market’s DC, due to Image’s rising star and increased bravado and a very short window provided to establish a unique brand in a changing market. Much like DC, its positive moves tend to result in tepid responses, though thankfully the company is not at all prone to the public relations disasters endured by DC.

A recent Image press release, however, is a bit of a concern. After spending the past few months “punching up”—repeatedly pointing out DC’s and Marvel’s weaknesses in speeches and interviews—Image has now clearly “punched down,” using advertising not only to promote upcoming work, but to suggest that the work of its competitor has grown stale, introducing Wayward as “the perfect new series for wayward Buffy fans.”

75. Buffy TVS (Dark Horse)

  • 03/2008: Buffy TVS #12 – 88,930
  • 03/2009: Buffy TVS #23 – 64,108
  • 03/2010: Buffy TVS #33 – 46,568
  • 03/2012: Buffy TVS Season 9 #7 – 29,908
  • 03/2013: Buffy TVS Season 9 #19 – 22,424

I would have done the same. Wayward looks fabulous and will cater to the same audience—and who can resist a great pun? Dark Horse has the option to take it on the chin, or respond via advertising to let all know that Buffy is doing just fine and that Queen B will not be relinquishing her crown any time soon! The latter would allow for the initiation of a friendly rivalry akin to Marvel and DC, but one more evenly matched.

I would love to see a Dark Horse that is more vocal about its success! It produces the best superhero book on the market, but buzz surrounding Empowered is almost nil. (Truthfully, I’ve wondered if a defection to Image would bolster recognition.) It draws superstar talent but does not aggressively link said talent to Dark Horse in the eyes of the public. (Consider Marvel’s “architects” and “young guns” or Image’s Experience Creativity campaign.) I’d also enjoy seeing a Dark Horse that once again reaches beyond the realm of comics, pushing back into movie theaters and onto our television screens. Who wouldn’t love a survival horror game set in the Hellboy universe?

Everyone loves a winner—but I find an underdog with the potential to be a winner much more alluring. The puzzle of how to properly groom a usurper for the top spot brings out the Olivia Pope in me I suppose!


And we’re back.

I spend entirely too much time discussing comics on Twitter. I tend to cycle between different forms of communication—texting, tweeting, blogging, writing letters, posting on message boards—depending on what form gives me access to the largest amount of acquaintances at a certain time. Twitter definitely wins out more often than not. And sadly, the blog withers.

But not today! Today, The Beat made the announcement that DC will be offering ten-page back-up stories in certain books. These books will feature a higher price tag of $3.99. Jaded fan that I am, I immediately recalled WildStorm’s price hike to $2.50 after adding eight-page back-up features in certain issues. The features soon disappeared; the price remained.

In the case of DC’s new venture, these features will not showcase new creators or new characters and will deal with material that ties directly to the current story. Why can’t this new material simply be part of the central story arc? Did page length and price really need to be altered? Is this simply a slight of hand to bump up cover prices down the line and shine a spotlight on Marvel’s more expensive prices ($3.99 for 32 pages) for a momentary marketing boon? I hope not. Still, I must admit that such tactics have worked before in the past and will likely work again in the future. Ease fans into the idea of the back-ups by using creators they are already fond of; make sure to mention that the deal being offered provides more content than the nearest competitor provides; and finally, make fans feel that the back-ups are truly central to the main story.

Once fans have become accustomed to the idea? Start making changes. Introduce new creative teams that you hope to build your new hit properties from. Once fans warm to your new tribe of creators, change the subject matter. Use back-ups to launch new characters or inject lifeblood into older properties. After all, a blood transfusion from Batman can go a long way.

But I’m being a bit mercenary, aren’t I? Looking at a small number of my Twitter comments from today, I’d say so:

“Anyway, since I’m all about the underdog, I’m more concerned with how Dark Horse and Image can compete on DC and Marvel’s level. And before anyone gets snippy, I’m not talking about quality; I’m talking about being able to sell ‘The Fandom Experience.’ DC and Marvel aren’t just selling books, they’re selling communities. How can Image and Dark Horse build a community and culture—especially when these are things that are supposed to develop naturally and cannot be created by companies?

“I suppose Image and Dark Horse could get those communities quickly in the short term by stealing from developed ones in other genres. But, (very important) you have to have a community that likes to read. You do a comic about a fratboy shooter and it’s not going to help you. Questions to ask: Have multiple communities with different flavors developed around this brand? Is fanfiction being created? Does the brand already have material that would directly compete with a comic line (paperback novels)? Yes, yes, no? Then you’re good.”Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Dark Horse has followed this model successfully utilizing its Buffy franchise. It also has the wonder that is Hellboy, but seems to care not one whit about developing a community around this brand. How sad. Much like a rental property, these communities can be life-sustaining for a brand during lean times financially and creatively. And Dark Horse has open access to the superhero communities that have built themselves around DC/Marvel, and yet leaves Empowered, an amazing series, out to drift with minimal marketing. This is criminal.

Image has The Walking Dead, but that is merely one book compared to the multiple series and miniseries in the ever-expanding Buffy universe. In regards to The Walking Dead, I don’t think diluting the brand with multiple books is a good idea. If Kirkman has another powerful ongoing story to tell in that world, then that’s fine. Until then, leave that strong workhorse alone.

The Top Cow and Extreme universes, however, can and should be mucked about with. I love the talent being poured into the Extreme universe and wish some of it could be reserved for the Top Cow universe—which could use fresh blood, a good jumping on point, and a large helping of diversity. And I love the way that Top Cow employees are dedicated to developing a universe that fans can feel a part of, and are also concerned with nurturing a community built around its brand and watching it grow. And that’s what Extreme needs. Fans want more than just a comic—especially for $2.99-$3.50. Where can I ask the creator a question? Where can I discuss the plot with other fans? Where can I see takes on these characters by others? These are questions that need answers. The company does not need to provide answers, but if no one is? The comic in question is not likely to sell well.

Still, it’s a new year. Let’s see what the big five decide to do with it.


Present!

Okay, let’s stop with the nonstop DC coverage and talk about something else for a minute. Hold up. Did you ever expect to see the sentence above on this blog? Ever?Anyway, why did none of you tell me that Dark Horse Presents is back? I had to find out that Sanford Greene is at Dark Horse doing the damn thing over at Comics Alliance.

Dark Horse Presents
Boss. Aaliyah on a motorcycle fighting zombies? Yes, please.