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.