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.