Young Animal: Way in.

It’s time for Young Animal to expand.

I’m sure Gerard Way, already consumed by deadlines, would cringe upon reading that sentence. But it is the truth. The line is poised to best its predecessor, Vertigo, with novel takes on oft-neglected titles. It is perhaps the setup Marvel has with Ta-Nehisi Coates on an even grander scale. As with Coates, Way lends his celebrity to the brand, beefing up the marketing on a select subset of titles with his name alone. There is also the added benefit of a company using a celebrity not only as a talented creator, but as a human Rolodex. Both DC and Marvel have the ability to use Way’s and Coates’ connections to reach out to creative circles to which they would not otherwise have access. And they do so. Eagerly.

Moreover, by placing creators on already existing brands in need of renovation, publishers skirt issues that arise with creator-owned properties such as licensing and credits. In some instances, as creators come up with concepts whole cloth that are tied only tangentially to an existing property, this feels rightfully like exploitation. If all that remains that is recognizable about an original character is the name? I would advise any popular creator to take his ideas to Image. However, if a creator is happy to work within an established framework? Young Animal is the perfect place to provide the stability one needs with the ability to explore themes and subjects that one could not explore with a beloved and tightly controlled brand such as Superman.

Why not Vertigo? Because Vertigo is considered old and Anglophilic, whereas Young Animal is considered…young and Anglophilic. Vertigo is iconic; Young Animal is now the brash upstart. And an expansion will help cement that idea in the public’s collective consciousness (1) before younger Vertigo doppelgängers can launch lines and (2) now that Image is best known as the premier place for established creators to publish creator-owned works. That’s where I would start as a mercenary marketer for Young Animal—doing my level best to portray Image as a playground for the old and famous, and any other upstart that leaned hard on Vertigo’s past glory (and let’s be honest, almost all of these imprints do, including Young Animal) as a poor facsimile.

And yet this is comics, not Highlander. There is room for everyone, but you must either be (1) unique or (2) the most talented to get the largest share. Since most creators aren’t exclusive, having the best crew is nearly impossible. The talent pool in comics is amazing, but every comic company dips a toe into it. An imprint must make its mark via individuality and authenticity. What does your imprint bring to the table that is truly distinctive? How is your “voice” different?

I was about to say that Young Animal is in the best position to usurp Vertigo’s role as the industry’s lightning rod, but I must correct myself. Vertigo lost that role to Image long before the creation of Young Animal. Sadly, Vertigo seems to have no interest in heeding my previous advice to become an exclusive playground for established creators with cult followings. And so Image will likely take that prestigious role and the evergreen backlist that comes with it as it abandons its former position as a rabble-rouser—resulting in two organizations benefitting from Vertigo’s decline.

Next up: Four new titles I’d like to see from Young Animal and the creative teams I believe they should hire for the project. See you Wednesday!


Spider-Woman: Frank Cho, Milo Manara, and marketing.

“Milo Manara, master artist and storyteller, came in at the last ten minutes of my Art and Women panel and handed me a special gift in appreciation for fighting censorship—an original watercolor painting of Spider-Woman. The packed auditorium went wild.”Frank Cho

Frank Cho and Milo ManaraIllustrating cheesecake is not a fight against censorship. No one has censored Frank Cho—not DC, not Marvel, not even the American government. To state otherwise is a lie. It is a lie put forward to market to men who feel that their rights have been taken from them because the companies they adore have begun to market select products to focus groups that do not include them.

Frank Cho and Milo Manara are well within their rights to create cheesecake featuring Marvel and DC superheroines. Selling said images at conventions is a gray area, but I’d argue that Marvel and DC should look the other way in regards to the practice in order to maintain a friendly relationship with freelancers. Marvel and DC are also well within their rights to decide that employing controversial good-girl artists for books that will be heavily marketed to feminist readers seeking empowering stories is no longer profitable for them.

Crying censorship simply because you are unhappy with the consequences of your actions is dishonest. Carly Rae Jepsen isn’t being censored because she didn’t receive an invitation to perform at the Hip Hop Honors. She makes delightful pop music. As a result, her work isn’t considered for certain venues and is prioritized at others. Cho is a talented good-girl artist. He should be considered for jobs where pin-up art is required. However, his continued needling of feminist consumers may have rightfully made companies wary of taking him on as a freelancer much in the same way that Twitter has struggled to find buyers given its problems with harassment. We have reached an age where subpar social skills can override immense talent. It is much easier to hire a freelancer who is an asset both behind the desk and on a panel.

I have a collection filled with the work of Warren, Conner, Linsner, and Barbucci—all highly recommended—so I am certainly no stranger to cheesecake. However, the actions of Cho and Manara have consequences. Their work and behavior have made a Marvel character an embarrassment. Unlike Wonder Woman, a character with decades as a feminist icon under her belt, Spider-Woman is in no way a strong enough character to bounce back from this. No matter how many female creators attempt to salvage the mess these two men have created, this character is now best known as a mean-spirited industry in-joke made at the expense of women and girls seeking an aspirational heroine to believe in.

Perhaps the best bet for Marvel would be to simply acknowledge the joke Cho and Manara have made of Spider-Woman (at Marvel’s expense and their own profit) and sell the character accordingly. What other options does the company have left? Of course, Cho and Manara have proved absolutely incapable of launching the charm offensive needed to sell a sex-kitten anti-heroine that doesn’t belittle or infuriate feminist readers while simultaneously refraining from shaming straight male fans of pin-up art. And it can be done—with the right creative team.

It is absolutely fascinating how Frank Cho has fed off Marvel characters given that he is not a Marvel employee and has actively interfered with Marvel’s marketing strategy in regards to wooing female readers! And for all his cries of censorship he has surprisingly suffered absolutely no consequences for it. I wonder how many other freelancers plan to follow in his footsteps. How easy it would be for a famous artist to loudly claim that Marvel wishes to rid itself of all cheesecake (it doesn’t) and rake in the cash of frenzied collectors by pumping out pornographic images to buy at conventions. Then leave Marvel to put out the PR fires ignited by the images being spread all over social media.

Of course the real money is in helming a Harley Quinn—a character that draws dollars from feminists and misogynists alike, a character that allows one to draw cheesecake at conventions and draw checks from a mainstream comic company, a character that allows for a much wider range of material that is deemed appropriate by all. But the quick money is in outrage. As Frank Cho is only too aware.


On pre-ordering comics.

I do not pre-order comic books and do not plan to. I only purchase trade paperbacks and digital comics. I have a mild fondness for Marvel and DC brands, but do not feel the need to purchase comics from either company in order to engage with said brands. I am a casual reader. I wasn’t always, but I have become one.

And I feel absolutely no guilt about it.

The comics industry will continue to be here. No matter how bad a company’s business practices might be, they cannot kill off a method of storytelling—a medium. Should Sony fail? Songs would still be sung. Should Rockstar Games go under? I would still make the safe bet that there would be compelling video games left to play.

That said? I am concerned. I am worried that perhaps the larger comic companies have painted themselves into a corner akin to the one that the conservative American news media currently finds itself within. And now the extraction process will be a messy and haphazard one.

Both have placed themselves within a cordoned-off area (cable television/specialty shops), narrowed their focus considerably (“alt-right” narratives/superheroes), and appeal to an aging and shrinking market. However, that market is a zealously devoted one willing to pay a higher price for material that could easily be found elsewhere at cheaper cost. So perhaps concerns should not be heeded until the last 40-year-old is no longer willing to pay $4.99 for a new issue of Deadpool and the last reactionary septuagenarian discovers he can read Breitbart for free rather than pay for cable.

And yet Americans are not averse to pre-ordering. We pre-order games, sneakers, novels, graphic novels—why not comics?

I can only speak for myself. Convenience is of the utmost importance. I can buy a pair of shoes from Amazon and the site is kind enough to let me know that I’ve bought 6 Empowered trades from them and a new one is on its way. Would I like to buy it now and have it shipped to me upon its release? Why, yes! And look at that. No rifling through Previews. No pit stop in a specialty shop. Comics right to my door.

Celebrity and exclusivity will also push me to pre-order. Look, if Puma had given me the opportunity to pre-order a pair of Rihanna’s Fenty slides? Done and done. It’s Fenty. It’s Rih. I’d be willing to devote the extra time and effort involved in obtaining said product. Especially when said product is so rare. And lastly, reliability is also a factor. I would never blanche at pre-ordering an album from an artist I had followed for years because I could be fairly certain of the new album’s quality by examining older works.

As for Marvel and DC? I can be entertained by their brands for free or nearly free by turning on my television or computer. Leaning on exclusivity is not an option when your characters are everywhere in nearly every medium. Reliability is not a given considering the frequent changes in creative teams. And there is currently only one celebrity (Ta-Nehisi Coates) employed at either company who is notable enough to motivate me to pre-order. Luckily, I don’t have to pre-order Black Panther because I know that given Marvel’s printing habits scarcity will never be an issue. And I can buy my trade today from Amazon.

On sale.

All I ask of the comics industry are books I want to read in the format I most enjoy. And yes, I am willing to pay in advance for them as long as the company is a reputable one. I think the larger comic companies realize that. But I also think those companies also realize that the “Wednesday crowd” feels the exact same way—which is why the direct market currently exists! Blithely telling members of either market (direct/digital) to “get with the program” and change their purchasing habits is absurd. If you want someone to give you money for a product? You do the adjusting. DC and Marvel must find a way to appeal to multiple markets—which I hope both are trying to do behind the scenes—rather than blatantly ignoring one or forcing it to change.


Vertigo, Verti-gone: Part 1.

Vertigo logoIt’s been a rough few days for DC to put it mildly! The removal of Shelly Bond from Vertigo has led to an unexpected discussion of DC’s continued employment of Eddie Berganza—who has been named as an individual tied to multiple incidents of sexual harassment. Of course, the question voiced by many is why would DC dismiss Bond only to keep Berganza employed? Sales of Superman comics have been lackluster and, as a longtime employee, Berganza’s salary is likely comparable to Bond’s. Considerable expenditures and negative PR do not seem to be worth the monthly production of a comic that sells roughly 36,000 copies. Especially when said comic stars the world’s most iconic superhero. Many have said that Berganza should not be dismissed for previous behavior that he has already been reprimanded for and adjusted accordingly. I would be inclined to agree. I would also be inclined to remove an individual who made popular female creators feel uncomfortable enough to avoid books such as Supergirl and Wonder Woman due to his involvement. I would be inclined to remove an individual who had been handed two of comics’ greatest characters and could not produce sales even remotely comparable to the third. I would be inclined to remove an individual who could be replaced by one equally efficient for a fraction of the price.

So, given that Vertigo’s sales figures have been disastrous, would I have let go of Bond as well? No. The decline of Vertigo is not the fault of poor editing or unskilled creators. It is the result of unappealing contracts, the inability to acknowledge Vertigo’s new role in the marketplace, and a nonsensical marketing strategy. Bond, a phenomenal editor bolstered by an equally talented team, was made captain of a sinking ship and later blamed for its taking on of more water.

What I cannot stress enough is that Vertigo is no longer seen as avant-garde. It is no longer seen as a place where the industry’s most notorious it-boys and ingénues produce critically acclaimed work that shocks the senses. That place would be Image. Image built its brand on Vertigo’s broken back, laying a solid foundation with fair contracts, rousing speeches, and fashionable fêtes. Vertigo cannot reclaim that status. Unlike many comic companies that have built brands around characters, Image has built its new brand around people. Robert Kirkman, Eric Stephenson, David Brothers, Brandon Graham, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Fiona Staples, etc. It would take an exorbitant sum to woo those people away. They are heavily invested in the health of Image. Vertigo could build a brand around the notable men and women of the smaller independent companies, but what can they offer a woman such as C. Spike Trotman that she doesn’t already enjoy? Nothing.

Vertigo can continue to struggle against the obvious and settle into a role as a lesser Image where interesting concepts are strangled by piss-poor contracts and a tarnished brand. Or it can fully embrace its role as an established imprint where the industry bad boys of the ’90s can relive glory days by returning to the concepts that made them famous. Vertigo could be the comics industry’s version of an exclusive Las Vegas casino—a place to drop considerable dollars on the legends of one’s youth. Headliners only. Some may blanch at the truth, that Vertigo is now a place where the middle-aged and Anglophilic can buy expensive Preacher omnibuses and Sandman OGNs, but guess what? I promise you that their money is just as crisp and fresh as the dollars spent by millennials on Sex Criminals trades. Vertigo should fully embrace its retro brand and tend to its evergreen IPs. And to do so you need an editor with years in the game, one with all the good ol’ boys in her Rolodex, one who can rifle through comics and spot the one project from ’96 that everyone forgot about that’s going to be the next Netflix hit. You need a Shelly Bond.

And right now? DC doesn’t have one.

Next up: Why Young Animal should have been Yung Animal (Swavey clearly isn’t keeping up with it), how the complete absence of young black employees is a massive oversight to any imprint interested in the establishment of an edgy alluring brand, and the importance of an A-Team to a company consumed with gunning for the industry king.


I rock rough and stuff with my Powerpuff.

powerpuff

Sorry, no insightful posts today, just a bit of brilliant marketing from Cartoon Network that has given everyone the ability to “Powerpuff” themselves. Try it yourself!


The A-game.

“I wrote an e-mail two years ago that was inappropriate and offensive. I trivialized our fans by making clichéd assumptions about their interests (i.e., hip hop vs. country, white vs. black cheerleaders, etc.) and by stereotyping their perceptions of one another (i.e., that white fans might be afraid of our black fans). By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.”Bruce Levenson

The poor attendance found at Atlanta Hawks basketball games makes a great deal of sense after reading controlling owner Bruce Levenson’s letter decrying the team’s inability to convince corporations and white men aged 33-55 to buy season tickets. Levenson’s own bigotry, his dismissive attitude toward African Americans, led to inadequate marketing tactics—which then led to poor ticket sales.

Atlanta is a black city. Black people make up 54 percent of the population as of the 2010 census. To target your marketing to middle-aged white men in a city that is majority black is woefully inept. And if your product can be enjoyed by all nearby residents? Racist. Levenson erroneously targeted white residents due to the belief that black residents do not possess the disposable income required to purchase tickets and other Hawks-related material. His beliefs were off base. Atlanta is home to a large number of affluent and famous African Americans—Americans Levenson should have been targeting instead.

Atlanta is the home of black celebrity, and celebrity sells tickets. The Knicks, currently excelling only in their ability to be mediocre, routinely play to packed houses. Knicks ticket prices are astronomical. Why? Because celebrities attend on a regular basis and the stadium is safely nestled within the city’s largest tourist trap. The rule of celebrity remains even when the coasts change. When the performance of the Los Angeles Lakers slips in quality, fans still attend Lakers games to see and be seen. A Lakers home game is an event—fashion show, networking conference, photo opportunity, and speed-dating service in one.

Hawks home games must be events in the same manner. If black celebrities routinely attended Hawks games, and pictures of their attendance were disseminated on various gossip blogs, fans—of all races—would follow. And ticket sales would increase. Perhaps it is even worth the investment to pay Atlanta-based celebrities to appear initially—real celebrities, not reality stars. The third Captain America movie will be filming in the city soon. Footage of Anthony Mackie and Chris Evans appearing regularly at Hawks games would do more for ticket sales than a Hawks winning streak.

Finally, celebrity must not only be found in the stands, but on the court as well. Sadly, we are no longer in an era where simple skill is enough. Americans want quality hoops, yes, but they also want showmen. LeBron and Kobe are more than players; they are personalities. The Hawks need a player that fascinates fans off the court as well as on—a charmer worthy of “Black Hollywood.”

All eyes are on the Hawks now due to Levenson’s antics. Perhaps a new owner with a vision unclouded by racism will be able to see the potential in the Hawks and craft the quality franchise Atlanta’s residents deserve.


To market, to market!

If your product makes a segment of your audience feel inherently less than another group, you’re doing it wrong—be it creating or selling. This applies to comics, to movies, to television, and to literature—any form of entertainment.

How can my statement be true? Gendered marketing has proven effective in the past, no? And there is direct evidence that marketing a product to young men while snubbing young women has led to a segment of women consuming the product nevertheless. In addition, it has allowed for those companies to create a “girls’” version of their product, essentially crowding the women who felt ostracized—due to being deemed inferior consumers of the “regular” product—into a new lucrative market, a pink ghetto. If this method has worked so successfully in the past, why should it not continue to do so in the future?

Why? Because this type of marketing—essentially insulting a segment of potential consumers—only works in a society where inequality has already taken root. To reiterate, telling your consumers that they are inferior will only make them want your product (in order to prove their worth) if they truly questioned their self-worth to begin with. With a rise in parity and self-esteem old marketing methods are slipping into obsolescence as certain companies find their products no longer sell as well.

What does this mean for traditionally “geek” markets that catered to white men such as comics and video games? For companies that did not choose to produce material or advertising couched in inequality? Nothing at all. They will continue to cater to a shrinking, but fiercely loyal and dependable audience. There is nothing wrong with a company narrowing its focus. However, to narrow focus by insulting those who fall outside the intended market endangers a company’s health. It will result in a vocal groundswell of women and people of color who will push back against the products and marketing tactics they have been insulted by.

Those who are only able to enjoy products that glorify racism and misogyny will grow furious as companies scramble to placate the growing number of female consumers and consumers of color unwilling to accept such packaged hatred. In fact, their fury has already been felt in the harassment of notable female creators and critics. However, their fury is no match for the sheer number of women who have entered—and are continuing to enter—the market.

Screw you! You social-justice warriors won’t take my pin-up art and shooters from me! Sugar, for the love of God, sit down. No one is trying to. Women and people of color enjoy them just as much as you do. I’d assemble a keyboard army with the quickness should Empowered be pulled from shelves and I love the Grand Theft Auto series more than any reasonable person should. (However, let’s be honest, Houser and Humphries are incapable of writing an interesting and well-rounded female character.)

What female fans and fans of color want is parity. Luckily, parity is created via addition—new products, new characters, new creators, new markets, new points of view—not subtraction. Let us be clear, the only thing being removed is bigotry. And that is something no man who considers himself a human should believe is worth fighting for.


Commerce, you are.

It is astounding to me that more creators aren’t talking about the partnership between writer Jonathan Safran Foer and Chipotle CEO Steve Ellis to add the works of famous authors to Chipotle packaging. It’s a brilliant merger between art and commerce, the kind once largely enjoyed by the world of comics. With the swift disappearance of the comic strip from newspapers, much like the removal of cartoon shorts before movies, we’ve created an environment where comics must be sought out in specialty shops by diehard fans. We’ve dismissed the casual reader and the curious bystander.

Of course, readers have abandoned newspapers almost as swiftly as newspapers in turn abandoned comics. To fight for a return of the comic strip to the daily newspaper is to seek shelter in a condemned house. Art must be brought to the masses—and the masses are dining on fast food, downloading apps, and utilizing social media to engage with others. It might seem as if our fast-paced world has simply outgrown the comic. This is false. In fact we have been primed for it, more than ever used to taking in information through an alloy of written and visual content. And that is exactly what comics are.

Of course the Technicolor exploits of the superhero can’t be replicated on a Chipotle bag. And it would be odd to package sequential-art sagas with the latest digital magazine. But one can certainly enjoy a one-page comic by Rashida Jones and Josh Cochran upon downloading the recent issue of Glamour. And it would be fairly easy to add a comic such as xkcd to a store’s packaging.

Yet a creator’s reach will only be as broad as his willingness to reach out to others. Sadly there is a xenophobic streak that runs through the comic industry that inhibits the ability to embrace novel ideas—and people. The world of webcomics does appear to be more welcoming than the neighboring realm of print, and perhaps that is where new unions between art and commerce will be found.


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!


The meddling of middling mediums.

Facebook, WordPress, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine and more—how did we gain so many accounts, so many methods to express ourselves, and yet lose our individuality? Eons away from the unique backgrounds and browsing tunes found in the heyday of MySpace and LiveJournal, almost every social media site has become a blend of muted blues. The only personalization to be found is in the blitzkrieg of advertisements bombarding users.

The homogenization is strange. Sites such as Facebook (and the newly revamped Twitter) have stripped the user of the chance to utilize design in building a brand across social media outlets. Instead, the sites dictate the uniform layout, color, and font to be used. I would accuse the instrument of wishing to outshine its wielder, but given the bland similarities between sites one certainly can’t argue that social media outlets are attempting to establish themselves via design.

Tumblr and WordPress, to the grateful relief of small businesses everywhere, are the odd men out. Both organizations have blithely handed users the keys to their respective castles, allowing the user to dictate not only the content published, but the container in which said content arrives.

Why is this important? Visual repetition is needed to build a brand and embed oneself within the collective consciousness. We immediately know what golden arches signify; we have connected hot pink and cursive font to a particular product. Most small companies do not have the power to build franchises across the nation or dominate aisles in retail stores. For these organizations the repetition of linking a particular design and product must occur digitally. When sites such as Twitter deny companies the ability to do this by limiting design features they prevent companies from achieving their full marketing potential.

Without a wholly unique design, one’s content or product must assume the responsibility of distinctiveness. And in these times? Distinctiveness is in extremely short supply.


Golden Archie.

I’ve been impressed with Archie Comics as of late. While I’ve always been fond of the Riverdale gang (except Veronica), the company itself has made a serious effort to embrace diversity and redefine what we think of as suburban small-town America. It’s the America we’ve always wanted and pretended we’ve always had—the one that embraces everyone and accepts and delights in all colors and creeds.

Sounds very “after-school special,” no? It is, but the company can safely revel in its hokey elements while dragging its less tolerant readers towards enlightenment—while four-color competitors such as Marvel and DC must tiptoe around its reactionary clientele lest the delicate white eggs they have placed all in one basket tumble to the floor of the direct market.

Archie, however, has been weaving baskets for eggs of all hues on Tumblr. (As an aside, its Tumblr account is hilarious.) Reveling in camp is a nice way to lure former adult readers back into the fold. While those adults will likely continue to view Archie Comics as a company that produces kids’ material, they will buy tie-in merchandise for themselves or perhaps purchase material for their children. Still, while Archie Comics has been making strides, I’d like to see more from the company.

Multi-Media Outreach: A new incarnation of The Sims video game, wildly popular with women and young girls, is just around the corner. Partnering with EA to provide a special DLC pack of the Riverdale gang (and neighborhood) would be a brilliant move. I’d also like to see Red Circle characters move past comics towards the small screen. A kids’ cartoon show featuring The Fox would blend the best of DC’s slick animated output and the charming humor of Marvel’s cartoon past. And, of course, there would be a host of toys to sell. Speaking of toys and cartoons, the time is very ripe for a new era of Josie and the Pussycats. Getting Josie’s crew to the small screen as Jem gears up for the big screen would give the illusion (and hopefully spark the reality) of a rebirth in material geared towards young girls. Just make sure women are involved in the creative process! Oh, and make Alexandra and Alexander Asian! Surely, we are past having solely one member of a minority group in the mix.

New Genres and Imprints: I love that Archie Comics was daring enough to delve into horror with Afterlife with Archie. I hope that they continue to test new waters by launching a small line (three books maximum) of romantic graphic novels for women. Alitha Martinez has worked with Archie Comics in the past. Looking at her work on her original characters, she would likely fit in well given such a project. I’d also love to see Yasmin Liang and Natalie Nourigat tapped too.

Celebrity Creators: Once I heard Lena Dunham would be writing a four-part Archie series, I immediately stated that the company should seek out Nicki Minaj for a Josie issue. The goal is to acquire work from controversial men and women who are a great deal smarter than the public believes them to be—resulting in good stories and an immense amount of publicity.

A “Face”: In the same way Stephenson has become synonymous with Image, Berger (and now Bond) represents Vertigo, and Didio is DC, Archie needs a couple of “charmers” out front and center to woo the media. Like the company itself, they should be seen as quirky, cheerful, and sincere.


No new friends.

I’ve happily embraced the concept of simplicity. Currently, my focus has been on content over packaging. The majority of my entertainment is contained within an MP3 player, a Steam subscription, and a Kindle account. In many instances I’ve forgone owning the content I consume entirely, satisfied with merely a library card that provides free access to entertainment instead.

And yet there is something occasionally so alluring about the feel of an old hardcover book in one’s hands. Reading a work in the manner its creator originally intended for it to be encountered seems fitting. My parents own first editions of 1984 and Native Son that will likely be passed down through our family for generations. I discovered both books as a youth, browsing through their den as one would in a bookstore, bored as could be and searching for a way to pass the time.

Browsing has become a lost art in this new age, either because we are too poor to choose our entertainment on impulse or too strapped for time to sample a wide array of work. I can’t remember the last time I entered a bookstore or visited a library without knowing exactly what I intended to acquire. I no longer stumble across new things. I seek out what has been recommended or created by those I admire.

How do new artists find audiences in times such as these? I’d propose collaborating with an established artist, fostering a relationship with a key member of the press, or blanketing potential consumers with free samples of one’s work. And yet I can’t confidently say those tactics would be successful. I’ve passed over hundreds of free books at conventions such as BEA and have rolled my eyes at press releases disguised as articles countless times. Finally, why would an established artist have any inclination to foster a relationship with an unknown fledgling creator? Neither the music industry nor the publishing industry is known for its altruism.

With consumers buying that which they are already familiar with or fond of—or that which someone they are fond of informs them of—is it any wonder that corporations pay top dollar for celebrity spokesmen? That we settle in for sequel after sequel? That we cling to the same creators for the lion’s share of our entertainment? I admit that I am guilty. I am going to buy Grand Theft Auto V, and read 1984 for the fifth time, and I scrambled to locate Yeezus the moment it was leaked.

For a society claiming to be on the cutting edge, we abhor trying anything new. Our adoration lies in creature comforts served in novel ways.


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.


A word from our sponsors.

I’ve discussed the topic of sponsorship so often with friends that I had to do a search to be certain I hadn’t addressed the topic on this site. I hadn’t—until today.

The word sponsor is having a renaissance. Sadly, the current connotations are far from positive. In certain circles the word is used to define an individual who provides financially for a woman or man in return for companionship and sexual favors. Moving from the bedroom to the boardroom, the word also conjures up images of corporate meddling, a profitable company usurping the core of an organization that is under financial duress in order to broaden its brand and increase public awareness.

I would like to see a resurgence of true sponsorship. In America, we often romanticize the starving artist; a creative individual must suffer—endure poverty—for his craft. That view is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The musician must feed her children. The painter requires a bed to sleep in at night. The writer needs a roof above his head. Should one’s creations appeal to the public, one should be compensated for them.

The work and research of Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston was subsidized by the philanthropist Charlotte Osgood Mason. Mason’s wealth allowed Hurston to produce folklore classics such as Mules and Men. However, in today’s competitive climate there are too few philanthropists with an interest in the arts, and far too many artists who cannot make ends meet. The patronage of the past is not sustainable. There is also the danger of an artist compromising his vision to appeal to his patron.

Sponsorship would allow for one organization to financially cover the project of another while receiving benefits that are not monetary in nature. It is imperative that both organizations have brands and mission statements that are similar in nature to avoid either organization altering one’s core values for another. It is also important that the companies do not produce the same product to diminish the possibility of one company placing a financial stranglehold on another to eliminate competition.

Perhaps a sneaker company such as Adidas could sponsor a creative troop featuring creators such as Ronald Wimberly, LeSean Thomas, and Khary Randolph. Adidas would sponsor printing costs for graphic novels, and provide funding for launch parties and signings. In return, artists could design limited-edition sneakers, or create a short strip advertising Adidas sneakers that could appear in magazines such as Vibe or Esquire. Honestly, the marketing possibilities are endless as long as there is at least a small overlap in clientele—the lack of which destroyed the partnership between femme-friendly Reebok and the notoriously sexist public persona of Rick Ross.

So, here’s to true sponsorship! And hey, if you’re a company seeking a creator for collaboration? I’m certainly available.


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?