A Flash in the pan.

I got my Earth One: Wonder Woman! But I’ve already discussed that. Today, I’m here asking for a mile out of the inch that was given. I want more. Specifically, I want Earth One: Flash, Earth One: Green Lantern, and Earth One: Justice League. And then? I would like the Earth One universe to rest on its laurels and allow for innovative ideas concerning wholly new characters.

For Earth One: Flash? We’d be examining the life of one Walter West—endearingly referred to as Junior. Desperate to fulfill both the Park family’s desire for another doctor to add to the fold and the West family’s desire to have yet another West as a member of the police force, the affable Walter—the son of Wally and Linda West—works as a medical examiner for Central City’s police department. Walter’s grandfather, Jay, has recently retired from his position as police commissioner. Walter’s uncle, Barry, still holds a position as captain. Wally, Walter’s father, died as a hero in the line of duty. Walter worries that he will be forever trapped in his father’s shadow, unable to live up to the idyllic example Wally provided.

Walter possesses all of the wisdom of the Park and West clans and none of the grace. His mind is forever two steps ahead while his body is a half-step behind—until a freak accident while out in the field leads to a discovery that alters Walter’s life permanently.

I chose to retool the West family to allow for both nostalgia and novelty. Earth One would have its first biracial superhero and a brand new character but also tie heavily into existing characters and themes explored in Flash issues. I believe that all of the Earth One volumes should serve as a bridge, connecting the history of past tales to our modern culture. Stories bend and shape to fit who we have become as a people.

Next up? We’ll discuss Earth One: Green Lantern and how I like my Green Lantern like I like myself—black with a handful of green.


Let off some steam, Bennett.

DC is rightfully lambasted for what the company gets wrong in regards to representation. However, diversity initiatives launched by the company to correct existing problems are often ignored by fandom.

The above is a perfect example of DC getting it right. Outside of the realm of self-publishing, the comics industry’s writing pool is overwhelmingly homogenous—white, American, and male. I’ve often stated that the best way to diversify the talent pool is to hire writers from outside the field of comics and allow said writers to hone their skills by (1) pairing them up with established professional comics writers on ongoing titles or (2) allowing novice writers to create short back-up stories in existing popular works. And though disgruntled reactionary fans would like to accuse Marguerite Bennett of simply being a quota hire, she is an individual with the talent and determination necessary to improve DC’s status quo. In addition, many white male writers launched their careers in comics in the exact same manner as she (sans the added stress of bigots combing through their credentials with a fine-toothed comb). Luckily, for Bennett—and for DC, for that matter—gender was of no importance to Snyder in picking his protégés. And, equally as important, Snyder’s profession as a teacher allows him access to a diverse (and novel) selection of writers in regards to race, religion, and gender—something his peers cannot take advantage of given the industry’s overwhelmingly white and male pool of writers and apprentices. In Snyder, DC has a tutor, recruitment center, and diversity outreach program in one—and is clearly taking advantage of that fact.

David Brothers, who beat me to the punch, discussed Bennett’s recent hire, networking, and the dearth of writers of color in the comics industry. David suggested, and I agree, that the lack of writers of color in the comics industry may be linked to the lack of creators of color in the social circles of those in a position to hire new creators. Networking in any creative industry is key. Without the ability to network, aspiring writers are relegated to talent contests, cold pitches at conventions, and unsolicited submissions. As indicated in Nancy DiTomaso’s piece for the New York Times, opportunities for success are frighteningly slim.

“Help is not given to just anyone, nor is it available from everyone. Inequality reproduces itself because help is typically reserved for people who are ‘like me’ … Because we still live largely segregated lives, such networking fosters categorical inequality.”Nancy DiTomaso

I am lucky in that my social network is absurdly diverse. There are many I adore who are “like me,” yet there are clear differences in race, gender, nationality, and age. There are cultural bonds upon which friendships have been formed that bridge all differences. Still, diverse social and professional networks sans the power to employ individuals are useless in changing an industry’s landscape. The industry will change only when those in a position of power to generate change feel the need to expand their existing networks, or younger individuals with diverse networks assume positions of power. Waiting for the industry to “age out” of its racial and gender inequality is frustrating, but given the mainstream’s disdain for other outreach methods and its current industry monopoly, I don’t see change occurring any other way.

Finally, I apologize for the title of this blog post. Actually, no. No, I don’t. It is glorious.


There’s no place like home.

New York City has often been referred to as its own major character in the series Sex and the City. While I don’t agree, the importance of New York to the series cannot be denied. New York—any city—has an impact on its denizens, shaping them to fit the existing culture within its borders. To move to a new area, not as a tourist or transient figure, but as a settler, is to assume the customs and lifestyle of one’s neighbors that are necessary to survive and maneuver efficiently. If not, problems quickly occur. For example, Brooklyn-born, the excessive socialization required amongst strangers while in Atlanta is still disconcerting. Privacy and solitude are at a premium in New York and are not to be relinquished without great reluctance.

Good fiction requires cities to have their own cultures as well. The character of a region is shown by how the landscape and structures are depicted. It is also reflected in the temperament and appearance of its citizens. For these reasons, team-ups and crossovers must be created with care. Unless the “hook” of a tale is to show a “fish out of water,” a mish-mash of incompatible worlds and characters is confusing and distasteful to the reader. One cannot build the foundation of a good story on earth that is not firm.

Seemingly rebroadcast at least once yearly, the crossover between Homicide: Life on the Street and Law and Order is fantastic. Both worlds are clearly defined, and characters from both series find themselves as strangers in a strange land. Another tactic that works is to simply create a new world for all the characters in question. This has been successfully executed repeatedly in comics, the Amalgam universe (depicting blended versions of Marvel and DC characters) likely being the most lucrative example.

With DC Entertainment’s New 52 initiative, the DC, Wildstorm, and Milestone universes have been folded into one world. As a former fan of Wildstorm and Milestone characters, the development is frustrating. It is frustrating because I do not feel that a new world was developed that was hospitable to all characters; Milestone and Wildstorm characters were simply plugged into the DC universe. The number of Milestone characters appearing has been minimal, so a fish-out-of-water approach could have been successfully taken with Static and Xombi. However, given the sheer volume of Wildstorm characters inserted and the incompatibility of the former DC and Wildstorm universes—one an idealistic place with nearly black and white depictions of good and evil, the other a more sinister place with various shades of gray—results have been dreadful. DC fans have largely ignored Wildstorm characters. Wildstorm fans, given a strange world that in no way exploited already weakened nostalgic ties, had no reason to stay. I am apprehensive about what will occur should more Milestone characters make an appearance.

DC’s recreation of Earth 2, a world that could have easily been shaped to fit Wildstorm and Milestone characters, is essentially the existing DC universe with different characters plugged in. The culture remains the same—charmingly idealistic. In contrast, Marvel’s Ultimate universe began as a world that was much darker and cynical in nature compared to the existing Marvel universe. As of now, the two Marvel worlds are largely similar, and a large event featuring a rebooted world containing the most popular characters and concepts from both would work fabulously—though given fan resistance to change, it would probably be best to test the waters with a temporary revision akin to Age of Apocalypse.

But, uh, back to the lecture at hand: how does DC solve the problem of compatibility? There are three options: remove the Wildstorm characters from the DC universe; alter the Wildstorm characters to fit the DC universe; present the Wildstorm characters as part of DC’s underground, an off-the-grid assemblage of cynical characters largely not in contact with DC’s icons.

I’m curious to see which path DC decides to choose.


Stay pressed.

I’ve often discussed how comic companies can make things easier for journalists and increase the flow of accurate information to fans. Many journalists bring laptops with them to cover conventions. A great idea for comic companies such Marvel and DC would be to provide journalists with flash drives containing key panel notes. The flash drives, smartly emblazoned with a Daily Bugle or Daily Planet logo, could be handed out to members of the press as they entered a panel. A company rep or convention organizer would simply seek out individuals with press passes in queue. To add to the kitsch factor, panel notes could be packed with a friendly note from a colleague named Lois or Betty.

The price of flash drives has dropped so dramatically that this method of dispensing information is now feasible. And with key information and a panel rundown already typed and formatted, journalists could devote more time to accurately transcribing a creator’s pithy comments. More importantly, it would provide more time for analysis of the information distributed instead of just releasing a dry rundown of events.


Vertigo a go-go! Redux!

The birthing process for the new Vertigo has been long and laborious. It is clear given the new projects announced and those resulting in cancellation that the company will soon be reborn as the offspring of Wildstorm and the Vertigo of years past. Hopefully, it will be stronger and more lucrative than its predecessors, while maintaining the qualities that made them great.

I believe a mission statement is beginning to develop under the watchful eye of Hank Kanalz. Vertigo will publish quality work from popular creators featuring established comic properties that do not fall within the realm of the DC universe—Astro City, Fairest, Tom Strong, Sandman. In addition, Vertigo will also provide adaptations of popular, envelope-pushing works from other mediums such as film and television—Django Unchained, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. With properties chosen carefully, Vertigo can maintain its unusual “edgy” brand while reaping the benefits of crass commercialism.

For the moment, however, Vertigo has been hit with a wave of bad press. Dismal sales and the loss of Berger and books such as Hellblazer make it appear as if the imprint has lost its way. The imprint desperately requires some positive attention and good will prior to its upcoming releases hitting the stands.

Two words: digital initiative. Take a collection of Vertigo works no longer in print (and likely never to be reprinted) and release the first issue of each series for free for a limited amount of time. Remaining issues could then be sold for a very low price. For example, fans could download the first issue of Millennium Fever for free and purchase the remaining issues at a later date for merely a few bucks. It would allow fans to once again acquaint themselves with Vertigo and reestablish the brand as well.

Minimal effort for what could be a lucrative and popular project? Why not?


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.


Cycles.

“RE: The Stephenson interview. The Image method is meaningless when it comes to creators of color, so I wish that Eric Stephenson wouldn’t push it as the method of finding talent. All of the creators he named as new finds were white. I don’t see Jimmie Robinson being offered a slew of Marvel and DC books. (Note: it’d be nice!) The only way new writers of color can break in comics and receive regular mainstream work is if they’ve achieved success in another arena. And Image is not searching for creators of color in other arenas to lure them to Image. That is what DC and Marvel have been doing. I could not care less how we get new writers of color. If we need to steal famous people from other mediums, that’s great! But that whole ‘rising through the ranks of Image’? Son, that doesn’t work for you if you are black. Can we just be honest about that? The Image grooming process works fabulously for white people though. Still, it’s not gonna get me a Hudlin or Liu.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

My comments on Twitter, shown above, grew out of a discussion of Heidi MacDonald’s interview with Image’s publisher, Eric Stephenson. It also grew out of the acknowledgment of the dearth of black writers in mainstream comics and the lack of upwards mobility for black writers within the comics industry. For talented white men with aspirations of working in mainstream comics or gaining widespread notoriety, the “Image to Big Two” cycle awaits: embark upon your career with an Image miniseries; get offered work on mid-tier Marvel or DC comics; develop a cult following; get offered work on a major Marvel or DC ongoing series; develop a need to branch out creatively and own one’s own intellectual property; return to Image with huge fanfare; bounce back and forth between corporate and creator-owned work until mainstream fans grow tired of your industry dominance and Marvel or DC will no longer offer projects.

This route is sealed for black writers. Jimmie Robinson has not been tapped for a Marvel miniseries. Enrique Carrion isn’t registering on DC’s radar. I’m baffled as to why. Marvel and DC rifle through Image as a kid skips through a candy store, gobbling up all the jellybeans save the black ones. (To be fair, black jellybeans are awful, but black writers—like all writers—run the gamut when it comes to talent.)

DC and Marvel do occasionally notice the need for diversity within the talent pool and actively seek out writers of color. However, instead of seeking these men and women at Image, they scout for popular writers in other arenas—film, animation, television, video games, music, prose. It seems the only way a black writer can garner mainstream success in comics is if he or she has already achieved mainstream success outside of it.

I don’t know why the route to mainstream success for black writers has become so narrow, warped, and difficult to navigate. All I know is that there thankfully is a route and I want to see black writers with the fame and talent needed to manage the journey traveling it. I want black people to have a voice in comics that is able to be heard by mainstream audiences. We are not a niche. We are not a tiny subculture to be denied larger access. We deserve to tell our stores, not in a quiet corner, but in front of a microphone.

Yes, black writers can thrive outside the mainstream, just as a musician can earn a living foregoing radio play and an actor can make a living never appearing in a major motion picture or national television show. However, when an entire group composed of multiple ethnicities is denied access to the mainstream? The industry is woefully incomplete. Imagine if one could only hear black musical acts via college radio stations. Imagine if Lucy Liu’s available roles were limited solely to those in plays. Imagine if the four women writers currently at Marvel and DC had their books cancelled, were not offered new projects, and fandom said not one word regarding their disappearance. (Note: the latter actually happened in regards to black writers.)

What do I want? I want exactly what I’ve been getting in drips and drabs, successful black writers from other arenas being offered work. However, I want this occurring in much greater abundance and at mainstream Marvel and DC (as well as at smaller imprints and independent comic companies). I also want something I haven’t been getting as well—talented black writers with years of industry experience (Priest, Burrell, Benardin, Trotman, etc.) being tapped to write series.

It’s 2013. Let’s make some changes.


Vertigo a go-go!

The writing is on the wall in regards to Vertigo. Thankfully, the message written is a positive one. With the promotion of Shelly Bond to executive editor, it appears evident that DC plans to pursue the same avant-garde material it had been known for publishing during the reign of Karen Berger. However, with the promotion of Hank Kanalz—known for his work at Wildstorm, an imprint that dealt heavily with movie and film tie-ins—it is also clear that creating commercial successes is also a key factor. Vertigo will likely become a R&D farm for cult classics, creating comics that in time will mature into a strong backlist of graphic novels to be cherished for decades. The strength of the Vertigo brand will hopefully also improve DC’s reputation in regards to creative freedom. In layman’s terms, Vertigo will be expected to create an army of Watchmen and a legion of Snyders to hold down the fort.

In the future, how can Vertigo cater to demands for commercial success while continuing to create quality material that veers off the beaten path? Perhaps a Frankenstein’s monster of an imprint is in order, merging parts of Vertigo, Wildstorm, and Milestone to create a new imprint that usurps the dominion of all three.

Like Wildstorm, Vertigo should aggressively pursue cult classics in film, television, and video games in order to create tie-in works. It is important to seek works that have made an impact in American culture: the Grand Theft Auto series; Django Unchained, etc. However, I think it is important that the imprint bring something new to the table in order to create a lasting desire for its graphic novels. New stories must be told. For example, the adaptation of Django Unchained was a fabulous idea, but it is odd to me that no editor at Vertigo made an attempt to also produce a graphic novel featuring all-new material set in the Django universe. Imagine an anthology featuring Priest, Hama, Vachss, Hudlin, Miller, etc. With the inclusion of an introduction by Tarantino its status as a backlist tent pole would likely be a given. Why was an editor not assigned the task of sweet-talking Tarantino in order to bring such a work to fruition?

The list of creators I compiled featured individuals from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. It is an arena in which Vertigo can take its cue from Milestone. Not limited to the narrow selection of mainly white male creators adored by mainstream fans, Vertigo can—like Milestone—reach out to underrepresented groups in the industry and provide them with a voice. Milestone was always labeled as a black imprint providing black books to black readers. While there is nothing wrong with said goal, it is not what Milestone was about. Milestone was multi-ethnic in all forms: creators, characters, and consumer base. Vertigo should be as well. Vertigo should be an imprint that reaches out to groups that mainstream DC has been unable to grasp. Imagine a miniseries penned by Junot Diaz and drawn by Ming Doyle, or a Scandal one-shot written by Shonda Rhimes and drawn by Amanda Conner. I’ve listed popular writers from other fields because I feel that it is the best way to add diversity to the talent pool while maintaining or improving the quality of work submitted. Look at Marvel’s success with Marjorie Liu. Vertigo must replicate it.

Finally, Vertigo must maintain the status quo in regards to the creative freedom offered to its talent. It must find a way to wrest its title back from Image as a place where an artist is provided free rein to share his vision. Perhaps it can also become an arena where a creator is able to maintain some semblance of control over her creation; this will be important if the imprint wishes to foster good will and lure creators away from independent companies.


Foursquare.

Hey, remember when you asked me to give you my thoughts on the basic construction of the DC and Marvel universes? Oh, that never happened? Well, too bad. You’re getting my breakdowns anyway.

The Marvel universe doesn’t take much time to explain. It’s a beautiful mosaic. And though the irregular, jagged pieces of history do pull together to make an interesting and comprehensible whole when one steps back and views the full line in its entirety, the majority of a reader’s fun is derived from zooming in to follow intricate curves and plot twists. The joy is found in the messiness of it—the dangling plot threads, lost trails, and minutiae. I can see why the Marvel editorial staff is so wary of a reboot given how readers read Marvel comics. The focus is placed upon relationships—how characters interact given their history. Should you remove the history, what is left? I suppose that is why the Marvel staff has opted for a careful simplification of Marvel history rather than tossing decades of carefully constructed relationships into the dustbin. While new readers will be able to “jump on,” older readers will not feel slighted by drastic changes.

DC, however, was able to weather its recent relaunch due to the fact that DC generally deals in archetypes. Moreover, its universe is not a mosaic, but a simple square and two strings. Sounds dull, no? Surprisingly, it makes for a universe equally as interesting as Marvel’s. Allow me to explain.

The DC Universe

Again, two strings. Two tug-of-wars between four houses—justice versus injustice and order versus chaos—it’s as simple as that. The excitement comes from watching the knot in the center, the symbol for power and control in the DC universe, veer uncontrollably from side to side as strategic moves are made by different players in each kingdom or house.

Justice:
Batman (king); Wonder Woman (queen); Superman (knight)
Injustice:
Lex Luthor (king); Gorgeous (queen); Catwoman (knight)

Order:
Steve Trevor (king); Amanda Waller (queen)
Chaos:
The Joker (knight)

The brief list I’ve provided above is woefully incomplete due to the fact that I do not believe all of the major players are currently on the stage. After all, it has merely been a year. Also, the roles of king and queen are not assigned via one’s romantic relationship, but according to tactical value and importance. Note that injustice and order, defined by commerce and government, are decidedly human. Justice and chaos, defined by heroes, villains, aliens, and gods—or in more generic terms, science and religion—are predominately otherworldly. For those wondering who Gorgeous is, she is an old Stormwatch: PHD character I feel would be a solid addition to the DC universe given her skill set and personality.

There are other minor details to take into account. Chaos and order are neither good nor evil. What brings order does not always bring justice; a chaotic individual may actually wish to improve the lives of others with his or her actions. Romances, friendships, and family ties that cross houses also muddy the waters considerably (ex: Bruce and Selina, Steve and Diana, Lex and Amanda).

The simplicity of the DC design makes things rather difficult for the DC staff. One needs a stable creative team in place or there is the danger of editors making creative decisions in place of the talent. Also, constant communication between creative teams is required. This can result in a constant barrage of email.

Anyway, this is what I think about while waiting for my food to cook, folks. Hence, I am a pretty boring date.


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.


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.


To the max.

I would love for DC Comics to launch a very small line (five titles maximum) for mature readers. No, I don’t feel that the “Edge” or “Dark” lines are suitable for older readers seeking adult themes. I would like to see a line akin to Marvel’s MAX imprint. Honestly, I was an avid reader of the Wildstorm line of comic books and I feel like those properties have been watered down and mishandled since the recent DC revision. I think introducing alternate “MAX” versions of these characters in a mature line would satisfy readers like me.

In DC’s mature line, superheroics would shift to the background. The focus would be on smart crime, spy, war, humor, and adventure stories. The line would focus on cult favorites such as Wildcats, Lobo, Hitman, The Authority, Xombi, Team 7, and Checkmate. It would not be a place where children’s icons ran amok. Batman would be nothing more than an urban legend in this universe—akin to the Jersey Devil. There’d be no Diana or Amazons, only Coda. And, of course, Kal-El would happily spend his days as a lead scientist on Krypton. And would never be mentioned or seen.

Think about the modest success of the Extreme line. Think about a Waller war hawk gunning for old Team 7 members who have gone off the grid. Think about a Wildcats book exploring superhero decadence. Think about “bang babies” and urban blight. Think about a satirical space adventure or “buddy cop” comic featuring Guy Gardner dragging his prisoner Lobo across the galaxy to stand trial.

I’d have two ongoings—Wildcats and The Authority. Rotating miniseries would account for the remaining three books.

Why not give it a shot? You’ll need something in that vein once Before Watchmen is no longer shiny and new, properties for the cable companies to salivate over. Remember, there are some places the trinity simply cannot tread.


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?


Make me want to light a cigarette.

SilhouetteThis image was published on the Kotaku website yesterday. The image used, the place the image was displayed, and the date that the image was released combine to tell me three interesting things about the Before Watchmen marketing strategy. One, DC is selling directly to specialty retailers who focus specifically on pamphlets over graphic novels. Two, in regards to the Before Watchmen project, DC has embraced the mainstream superhero fan and has temporarily abandoned the highbrow reader of alternative graphic novels. Three, DC is fighting fire with fire—using one manufactured outrage to quell another more organic one.

I am surprised, but only mildly. DC is willing to jettison Before Watchmen’s long-term monetary success as a critical darling and teaching tool to amass as much cash as possible from fans of monthly superhero comics in the short term. And why not? This project has been shunned by the “comics elite,” who are more concerned regarding the rights of creators than they are about examining the histories of the characters invented by said creators. Their support and free marketing resource cannot be counted on. If they are able to be “won over” at a later date? Fine. However, there is no point in pouring time and money into marketing to a group that is not open to one’s project.

Who does that leave? It leaves a particular type of comic fan—one who wants his Avengers movie and his Captain America comic every month and just wishes everyone would keep quiet about Kirby’s poor treatment and stop interrupting the pipeline flow. He declares this repeatedly on popular geek sites such as Kotaku. (It is interesting to note that the image appears on a site devoted to video games, as if DC desired an opportunity to reach the “geek” audience while at the same time avoiding naysayers who frequent sites focused upon comics. It is an understandable move.) He loves Rorschach’s violent, quirky nature and the adult themes of Watchmen, even though he felt the book was dull at times. He downloaded a copy from a torrent site to read before he saw the movie.

There are many of these fans, they have a great deal of money to spend, and a plethora of Before Watchmen projects featuring popular creators will no doubt draw their attention and dollars. Of vital importance? They do not consider the rights of creators to be more significant than their right to be entertained. However, to sell to these individuals you must sell to their supplier first, hence, the appearance of this image months before the Before Watchmen line will be available in specialty shops. A “buzz” must be created in the mainstream comic community very early on so that retailers will notice said “buzz” and order accordingly. A marketing man worth his salt will do his best to encourage that “buzz” from the date his project’s appears in Previews until its appearance on store shelves. A poor one will simply breathe a sigh of relief once he has saddled retailers with the merchandise, the work now becoming theirs to sell.

But how is a “buzz” created? There are three options. The first is a media blitz—a complete saturation of the market with ads. This is a horrifically annoying method and can easily backfire if potential customers feel their leisure time has been intruded upon. The second option is to simply stand on the merits of your work and let good word of mouth carry you to success. Unfortunately, this can and does result in many quality books receiving poor sales. Depending on eager fans is not enough. Your fans must be enthusiastic and influential in order to bring more potential customers to the table. Finally, controversy—either real or manufactured—can keep one’s material in the public eye without the annoyance that accompanies blanket advertising. Many companies try a little bit of everything.

The image of a battered and bruised Silhouette is pretty controversial, especially in an industry that is currently quite sensitive and very vocal in regards to depictions of violent acts against women and minorities—perhaps vocal enough to supplant one cause with another. Releasing the cover has certainly sparked a discussion. And that discussion has been carried here as well! Yes, in blogging about it I’ve willingly made myself a cog in the machine, but I can’t help it. I find this marketing stuff fascinating. Ah, me! There’s always the next post, I suppose.


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!