Got to give the people what they want.

“As a female fan I’m wary about talking about Amazing Spider-Man #700. It feels like the plot was designed for the purpose of baiting fangirls for publicity. So, yes, the scene with MJ and Doctor Octopus was distasteful, but manipulating female fans is as well. Marvel saw the attention received when the same damn plot unfolded with the Chameleon just a few months back. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. However, this time Marvel knows better—and, hopefully, so do the fans. Doctor Octopus will never sleep with MJ, but there will be several close calls. The end. I hate the fact that something righteous—irritation with the way the industry deals with gender—has been twisted into ‘cheap heat.’ Marvel’s stance: get them focused on something inconsequential that can benefit us instead of actually addressing gender inequality.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I broke my own rule on Twitter. I think what frustrates me even more is that, as an editor, I would have certainly supported the story and allowed it to be pushed through. Why? The press would be phenomenal and the fans, though temporarily irate, would happily flock back in droves to see the return of the real Peter Parker as he steps in just in time to save MJ from the clutches of his nemesis (or, depending on the writer’s choice, aids in the redemption of Doctor Octopus). Fiction allows for the suspension of belief. Serial drama generates a deep emotional investment. A combination of the two makes for ease in audience manipulation. And books must be sold.

I’m a woman. I’m an editor. I’m a fan. A woman needs to know that her concerns have been heard and that she is respected. An editor craves that perfect, popular tale. A fan desires the ultimate tease and release. I hope that at the culmination of this story everyone will be able to walk away happy. However, I’m not certain that will happen. Marvel, skilled at teasing fans and stirring up their emotions, often takes far too long to follow through (or in some cases, simply refuses to). People will only entertain a tease for so long before they walk away flustered and befuddled.

Anyway, just my “smart mark” comments on the matter! However, one last thing, MJ saving the day by rescuing Peter and facilitating another body switch would certainly be a happy ending warmly received by all fans. Hopefully it won’t be one that comes too late.

I swear there were no puns in the preceding paragraph—not one.


Three the hard way.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time lately mulling over the topic of marketing as it pertains to comics. I love the publishing industry as a whole, but comics and magazines hold a special place in my heart. Perhaps the marriage of pictures and words charms me? Who knows? But as Book Expo America looms on the horizon, my thoughts have drifted to the shores of sales. For today’s post I examine three ideas for comic publishers hoping to increase brand awareness.

Macrocomics. Macrocomics is an idea I came up with many years ago. I still think it is a solid attempt at increasing recognition—sadly, one that many companies have not tried. Storefront security gates are a common sight in any urban community and a known blight upon the beauty of the city. Occasionally, a graffiti artist will use the metal canvas provided to make something beautiful. But instead of viewing each gate as a canvas, why not view each gate as a panel? Linear stories can easily be told via this format. A comic company in a particular city could obtain a permit and “adopt a block” for a weekend. Storeowners who received painted gates could have sidewalk sales to coincide with the event. Perhaps an old-fashioned block party could be held. And, of course, the local news media could certainly be alerted.

It is a situation in which everyone would benefit. Store owners would receive publicity and a renovation of their storefronts. Local news media would have a “puff piece” to investigate. Members of the community would have a beautiful art installation to appreciate. Finally, the comic company in question would have its IPs showcased each night at closing time—not to mention the initial positive attention received from a large-scale public donation of time and art. And should the company involve local children and graffiti artists in the project, allowing them to contribute their own tags and images throughout the work? The move would allow community members to feel a sense of ownership and prevent the work from being defaced. Moreover, graffiti artists would obtain the chance to freely show exactly who they are—real artists. However, leaving an empty word balloon or two for the publicly shy would be a good idea. Those artists could contribute their tags another night sans police observation.

Why macrocomics? Well, why shouldn’t comic companies benefit from what is already occurring in a slightly different form? It is much better than the negative press that stems from suing another nursery school. And what better place to showcase the marriage of art and commerce than the storefront of a business?

Magazine features. Most comic publishers are well aware of the fact that they cannot rely solely on advertising to a small pool of existing comic readers. In order to keep the industry afloat, readers who are completely new to the medium must be enticed. But how can readers be reached cheaply and in large numbers? Via magazines, of course. (Sadly, newspapers are a dead end.) Once again, most comic publishers acknowledge this fact and have taken advantage accordingly. A recent example can be seen in Playboy‘s showcasing of The Walking Dead. However, most comic publishers seem to have forgotten that, like soap operas, comics are a serial form of entertainment. Repetition is required to capture consumers—especially in an age when attention spans are short. Instead of a 6-page story appearing in a popular magazine for one month, it would be beneficial to have that story run in a popular magazine over the course of six months—one powerful page at a time. Any story used should certainly be substantial—something that takes some time for the reader to finish and makes the reader feel satisfied upon completion. It should also be visually arresting. Imagine an Empowered feature in Playboy, or perhaps a Richard Stark’s Parker feature in Esquire. If the publisher of a magazine is not open to the idea, ad space can simply be purchased to achieve the same result. One can’t skip ads in magazines. Comic publishers should use this to their benefit. Create a 6-page prequel for a self-contained series that has also been collected in a set of graphic novels and run one page a month in a popular national magazine for six months. But one must be sure to pick a magazine read by one’s potential audience! There’s no pointing placing a Rorschach tale in Seventeen.

Postcards. I can see that derisive sneer from here, you know. Yes, postcards. I stumbled onto the idea once discovering how showrunners for popular conventions often gouge publishers financially via numerous exhibition fees. Yet how can comic publishers access librarians outside of popular publishing conventions such as Book Expo America? Through the utilization of 600 postcards and one diligent intern, perhaps?

First and foremost, a comic company should create a “sampler” PDF. It is something each should have in one’s arsenal. The PDF should contain five pages from every graphic novel the company currently has in print. Creator information, target ages for potential audiences, ISBNs, ordering information, and prices should also be made available. The file should then be (1) uploaded to the company website and (2) given a URL that is easy to remember.

Next up, a postcard should be created. On one side? The company’s “hottest” properties. On the other side? A very brief introductory message and the PDF’s URL. Six hundred postcards in total should be printed. A postcard should then be mailed to the main library of the twelve largest cities in each state. Time consuming? Yes. However, that’s why a diligent intern is required! For the price of a gaming console, contact with 600 librarians is achieved. Not a bad haul. And should you have additional funds left over? Why not send a card to each state university library as well? But before one invests even a modest sum, be realistic. Many libraries are only open to all-ages material or critically acclaimed works. If your company produces substandard T&A, you are simply wasting valuable time and money using this particular method.

As always, in regards to any marketing campaign, one must take into account the product produced and available company resources. Next up, steps individual artists and smaller studios can take to grab the attention of the masses, and an upcoming report from Book Expo America. If you plan to attend, drop me a line if you’d like to talk comics!


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!


Ether.

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.


You played yourself.

This started off as a flurry of locked Twitter tweets. It is now warping itself into a blog post due to the urging insistence of David Brothers. And as we all know, Comic Industry Rule #4080 is that the words of David Brothers must be obeyed. Comic Industry Rule #1 is that comic companies are shady. And so here we are.

The title, apt and rapped, owes its life to De La, of course, from a song that has long been one of my favorites. DC has indeed played itself, and we’ve all watched—some of us in horror and some of us in amusement—as the company rode an initial wave of success brought about by its superhero relaunch only to crash upon the shores of a horrid public relations catastrophe with Before Watchmen. With each negative statement publicly made via blog posts, interviews, and news reports, DC is in grave danger of losing the reins of this publicity behemoth, something no company wants to have happen. When you lose control of the marketing, you lose control of your money.

I’m not going to discuss the ethical implications of Alan Moore’s treatment (or Chris Roberson’s, for that matter) here. A much better job of that has been done elsewhere. Besides, my tweets were mercenary in tone and were focused on the only thing of importance to DC: How can we get people to stop badmouthing us in the press and embrace the Before Watchmen project?

The solution is found in something near and dear to many of us—rap music.

In the earlier days of the nineties and aughts, when rap could equal commercial success but still had legitimate ties to black urban youth culture, record executives who wanted to sell their new rapper to lucrative middle and upper class white audiences still had to have the “streets cosign.” In other words, poor black kids made stars, rich white kids gave them money so they could shine.

Before Watchmen is that star. The indie comics community—both reader and creator? “The streets.” And the rest of us? Bored white kids with pockets chock full of money. DC’s first mistake was thinking it could sell directly to the masses and ignore rumblings from the indie circuit. Jamal Henricks standing out in front of Marcy Projects in 1995 damn sure didn’t want some suit trying to sell him soulless suburban rap. And he and his crew could end a career with one bad comment. Ask Kwame. Likewise, Brendan the English professor who reads The Comics Reporter and uses Watchmen for his class on ethics in literature doesn’t want to hear a slick Before Watchmen sales pitch. The trust fund kids who play poor in Williamsburg and dig the indie comics scene don’t want to hear from company men in Green Lantern t-shirts and baseball caps. And the men and women who are the working poor that make up the indie comics scene certainly don’t want to hear from Lee (who, though a nice man, has a terrible reputation for being a sell-out), Didio (who bleeds and breathes commercialism), and JMS (who, whether deservedly or not, currently has a reputation for being a rich blowhard dismissive of creators’ rights).

That’s a serious problem, because those groups I just listed? That’s DC’s free Before Watchmen street team. You think the retailer who tweets about Scarlet Witch’s tits is going to sell Before Watchmen to college bookstores and libraries? You think the fanboy cosplaying as Nightwing is going to push Before Watchmen projects at Barnes & Noble? No. And the people who would? Right now DC’s free street team thinks the worst of DC and the Before Watchmen project—an assembly of scabs, leeches, and cornball sell-outs. This attitude must be rectified. But how?

First and foremost is to announce a creator-owned imprint—big names, big press, and contracts that are deemed fair and acceptable by the industry. DC needs to be seen as creator-friendly. I commented earlier regarding the subject:

“What’s needed is a ‘keep creators happy’ imprint. Are you a big name? Have you produced a commercial success for us? Let us do the same for you. Terrible Company Man POV: Look, we swiped you from Image and let you beef your name up with DC characters, why should we hand you back? Main goal: Keep that DC logo on all books that draw eyes. Some will make a ton of money, some will make a little. It’s all publicity. Most articles about the Walking Dead TV show have an Image mention tucked away. Tying your company name to a success is always good.”

Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Next up is to quietly pull incendiary hucksters from the table. This is a Watchmen project, not Teen Titans. Move creators with good reputations like Conner and Azzarello to the forefront. Focus on Jae Lee instead of Jim. Think quirky instead of commercial. Biggie never danced in a shiny suit.

Finally, damage control for the Roberson situation is required. Of course, the best approach would have been to let Roberson leave when he had announced he would leave instead of pulling him from a project.

“So, you slip in a co-writer with Roberson. Someone young and eager that Roberson can shape and show the ropes. And you treat that kid nicely. When Roberson bounces, you have a baby Roberson in place that has swiped some of Roberson’s shine and his small fan following. As talented? Maybe not since she’ll be younger and less skilled. But she’ll only get better. And yes, you get a woman in there to keep fans from bitching about the co-writer deal. ‘Oh, we thought you wanted more women in comics.'”

Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Of course, DC went for the worst possible PR move and yanked Roberson instead, but they can improve upon the situation by assigning a female writer of YA fantasy novels to the Fairest title.

Long story short, I’m very interested to see if DC manages to turn things around. Right now the company is walking a tense tightrope between Drake and Yung Berg and Image is eyeing chains hungrily. We’ll see.


And we’re back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


For the long haul.

“Given that times are tight, longevity is so important in entertainment. I still play The Sims 2 four years later. In regards to comics, a very important question comes up: can this book entertain me after it has been read? Has an online community developed around the book? Can I have a lively discussion about this book with others? Does the creator provide random content in installments during ‘down time’? (Sketches? Sneak peaks? Snippets of the creative process?)”
Cheryl Lynn Eaton

These are difficult questions for a creator. You can’t simpy fabricate a community. One must develop naturally. However, actively interacting with fans can help.


Um, can we talk about this?

“DC Comics seeks a New Talent Administrator-Digital for the Editorial (West Coast) department. Assists the Group Editor-Digital in creation, development and maintenance of DC digital comics. Works with Group Editor-Digital to select and develop New Talent through DC’s online New Talent Search and DC’s own internal new talent development program. Edit special online titles or books as needed.”

One, if I had the money to relocate, I would apply for this job. Two, a new talent search? Three, how come no one loves Oxford commas anymore? This position fascinates me more than any of DC’s fifty-two new comics hitting store shelves this month. I had assumed that DC’s talent pool had been effectively locked into place once the fifty-two creative teams had been hired. For the most part, DC had chosen established creators—those who had experience with DC or its top-level editorial staff. The fact that they are searching for new talent provides me relief, given my concerns regarding the lack of diversity behind the scenes (which is a problem in the comics industry that extends far beyond DC). The fact that larger companies are actually doing the work to seek out and groom new talent instead of relying on Image as a “creator farm” is appealing, especially given the revealing news about how women simply don’t apply to Image. After all, if new talent is plucked from areas where a lack of diversity is an issue, then DC is simply carrying that issue right to its front door.

And can we talk about the fact that DC may (finally) be getting serious about digital comics? And they aren’t the only ones. (I see you, Marvel. And I like what I see. You too, Dark Horse.) Of course, the digital divide may further complications in regards to diversity. Still, a splashy PR-driven donation of e-readers or surplus comics to inner-city schools or libraries near DC offices might help soothe concerns. I’m sure Diane Nelson and Cory Booker could make that happen in two or three tweets.

I am mildly bummed that all of the interesting editorial opportunities seem to be drifting from NYC. Hopefully, they will drift to areas where a diverse selection of people will have the chance to be considered.


Ramblings about DC’s 52.

“You know what would be awesome? If DC had an eight-page weekly comic that was solely digital and ran for free on iTunes for a year. I think it’s a damn good way to get a whole bunch of eyes on your IPs. Plus, it primes those eyes for a regular expectation of DC content. I say DC because DC and Marvel are really the only companies with the money to do that. Or (going into souless company man mode) you make it a talent contest and have the audience vote on eight-page stories. So, you’re getting free content from creators who wish to audition. The entry with the highest rating gets a miniseries deal.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

Please note that my awesome ideas are awesome and should happen immediately. Also, please note that a digital exclusive that costs money will not get one anywhere. People who have never tried comics are not going to start if they have to open up their wallets. They need a regular hit of that free, uncut Batman to get them hooked and into the routine. Man, DC. What the hell are you doing over there?

Also, if the entries are really good? You package those suckers into a couple of graphic novels and make a few bucks off printed trades. It would also be best if the content were serial in nature. Like a soap, strip, or old radio show.


Paper chaser.

Von Allan has written a fabulous article on the obvious. Are comics simply too expensive for the masses to see them as a viable form of entertainment? Yes. Fans have been saying it for quite a while. But it is a surprise to hear the same from professionals. Anyone who has a product to sell is going to emphasize the benefits and minimize or even eliminate all discussion of possible flaws. So to hear these salesmen—and make no mistake, these men and women are salesmen as well as creators and editors—openly admit to inflating sales to ridiculous proportions to compensate for a shrinking audience is a bit mad, isn’t it? If one isn’t going to lower prices, why even bring that up? Shove that unpleasantness in the closet and razzle-dazzle ’em with new costumes and the number one.

I’m not rich. I’m not even middle-class. However, I do have a very small amount that I am able to spend on entertainment, like many of my working-class peers. We have televisions, but no gaming consoles. We have used computers off Craigslist and no tablets in sight. We have library cards and no comics. We have land lines and bills—lots and lots of bills. For me, the goal is to get the most entertainment for the least amount of money. However, I’m not going to consume anything simply because it’s cheap. I’m looking for quality plus quantity for the least amount of money I can spend.

When one make one’s purchases this way, life becomes a waiting game. I buy critically-acclaimed computer games years after they have been released. I picked up Arkham Asylum off Steam not too long ago for five dollars. This provides hours of quality entertainment featuring a superhero that I love. I can pay seventy-five cents an hour to role-play as Batman or I can spend three dollars to read a story about Batman in five minutes. No contest. I want the most bang for my buck.

However, unlike most of my working-class peers, I do buy comics. Well, I buy trades. Close enough, right? I’m the one rifling through the five-dollar rack at comic conventions. You paid $17.95 for that B.P.R.D. trade? I snagged three B.P.R.D. trades for $15.00. You got to read a story way before me? Yeah, I couldn’t really care less about that. I’m too busy over here saving money.

I’ve changed more than the format. I’ve also reduced the amount I buy as well as the type of comic I buy. I don’t buy superhero comics anymore. There’s no point. I can keep up with the canon for free via Scans Daily (which I’ve actually been doing less and less) and enjoy quality superhero stories via video games and movies. I do plan on picking up the first Mister Terrific and Voodoo trades if the first few pages intrigue me. But I doubt either story will be wading through many superhero tropes.

I have a slightly off-topic interjection here. DC and Marvel should really find some way to steal traffic from Scans Daily and comic news sites. Those hits could put a few advertising dollars in DC and Marvel wallets. And a few dollars are better than none. Make them come to DC or Marvel websites to view and talk about the five pages you’ve released. Give fans a free, unmoderated area to socialize around your content. No hoops to jump through or accounts to create. Slap some ad space and a disclaimer off to the side and walk away.

But, uh, back to the lecture at hand. What’s the point of this post? I’m thinking as I type, so please bear with me a moment. I started off with three posts which seem to be folding themselves into one. The three topics I wanted to address? I wanted to discuss how the exorbitant price of comics has drastically altered my buying habits. I also wanted to mention my desire for a Gen 13 comic featuring Static, Blue Beetle, and a very popular teen character to give readers who ignored Static and Blue Beetle previously the chance to “warm up” to these characters via a team book with a popular sales anchor. Finally, I wanted to express my fear that the upcoming books from DC featuring minority heroes will not sell well, resulting in DC yanking these books from its lineup and retreating from the idea of including minority characters within its titles.

I think the fear is warranted. Americans as a whole have less than we used to. Americans who are brown? Well, we have even less than that. And if Chris Stokowski, a middle-management man and a die-hard comics fan from Pittsburgh isn’t buying comics like he used to? Well, Devontae Evans, a high-school kid who works Saturdays and Sundays at Foot Locker, damn sure isn’t going to start picking them up. Not when they cost three or four bucks. And when Chris is over at Newsarama complaining about how there’s no need for a black Spider-Man and this PC nonsense is just getting out of control? It’s not farfetched that sales featuring minority characters might be meager and comic companies might decide that integration and diversity are no longer priorities. Minority characters will once again be reduced to background shots in team books. Minority creators will not be hired.

Of course, I still think Ultimate Spider-Man is going to sell well. The character has enough company support and calculated marketing to make up for the casual racism of some readers. Remember when I said that Marvel should blatantly push the characters that DC ignores? It’s happening. And Marvel’s doing a pretty good job of it too. There’s no way any book featuring a brand new black and Latino teen character should outsell Static Shock. Static has years of history and a very successful cartoon under his belt. But Miles? Well, Miles has the power of the Spider-Man franchise and blisteringly hot creators as a sales anchor. Miles is popping up in news articles all over the place. Miles will have guest appearances in popular Marvel books. And Miles is going to make more money than Virgil and Jaime—all while wearing Peter’s hand-me-downs. I think Miles is adorable, but that doesn’t sit completely right with me. Regardless, it’s going to happen. DC will simply toss Jaime and Virgil into the solo waters to sink or swim. Marvel’s hauled out the Coast Guard. Yes, DC is going to obliterate Marvel with its higher level launches, but if I were a DC rep I’d still take the time to start nipping this kind of lower-level ish in the bud right now. I mean, isn’t this how Marvel gained its foothold in regards to diversity in the first place? By actively supporting the type of minority characters that were languishing at DC? And now they have a nice little roster of second-tier IPs to make money from in the future. Well, the future is now.

Actually? The future was the past.


What you can do is check your distribution.

So, I have quick question regarding the sale and marketing of digital comics. Has any publisher attempted to package a digital download of a comic with an MP3, game, or other digital content?


All mail review.

I really wish comic book websites came with personalized email reminders. What do I mean? Say you’re surfing a site and come across copy for an upcoming book that interests you. The only problem is that the book won’t be published for another two months and you won’t remember to purchase it because you no longer buy your books from comic shops. Nope, no more happening across something interesting on the shelf for you!

That’s where the personalized email reminder comes in. Simply click a little heart located next to the copy. A text box pops up asking if you’d like Company X to send you an email reminder the week the book drops. Click yes, enter your email address, and get a nice friendly message when the book—and only that book—ships. No spam. No monthly newsletter. Just a simple note to remind you that the book you wanted is available for purchase—and a link to where you can purchase it online.

See, if Marvel had that, I wouldn’t have missed picking up the first issue of that new Claws miniseries. But I did. And I’m too lazy to hunt it down. I guess I’ll be waiting for the trade.

Hope I don’t forget about that too.

I really don’t think companies understand how unbelievably lazy the average consumer has become. That rabid fanboy propping the direct market won’t provide the wind in those sails forever. You want to make things very easy for the casual reader. I’m not putting in more energy than a mouse click. And I’m not the only one.

Again, I can’t be the only one who thinks of stuff like this! Pre-orders, notifications—this is basic. Let’s go, people!


Cowboy up.

Cowboys

“A supposedly race-motivated nightclub shooting changes the lives of two undercover officers in Cowboys, the newest original graphic novel from mystery and crime writer Gary Phillips and artist Brian Hurtt. Hitting shelves this July as part of the DC Comics’ Vertigo Crime line, Phillips spoke with CBR News about the novel, comparing Cowboys to contemporary cop shows like Fox’s Chicago Code and the work of crime writer Elmore Leonard, saying the story ‘definitely has a contemporary cop drama feel…since it is set in the urban center and much more deals with some issues around race.'”

The only way I could possibly want to read this more is if each graphic novel was personally delivered by Idris Elba. Why did I find out about this book by stumbling across someone’s Tumblr post from months ago? This book drops in two weeks! Why were articles coming out in May and not the week that the book actually drops? DC? Your marketing team is straight garbage. I’m just going to put that out there right now. I’ve been thinking about it ever since that YouTube video dropped, and there will be a later post on it, but I just wanted to get that out of the way now.

Anyway, can someone please send a review copy to Brothers? I don’t do reviews—unless this book is being delivered by Elba. Then we can talk. The book looks great though.

Oh, man. Marvel needs to steal Phillips for a Cage book. Or an ol’ school Luke and Danny team-up issue.


Social media ramblings.

“Was I right about the fifty-second book being another 52? Because that is an awesome idea and I am awesome for having it. Two five page stories each—$1.50 for ten pages featuring background information and character spotlights. Plus—plus—it’s used as a way to break new artists and writers into the industry. Aspiring creators will bring their A+ game in the hopes of moving up to the big leagues. And DC could get a nice chunky backlog of stories in case a regular artist is late…which will happen.”

—Cheryl Lynn Eaton

I still think it’s a good idea. It’s also a nice way to let long-term readers discover where the characters they once loved are now in the new DC universe. Are they heroes? Average Joes just trying to make it in the DCU? Inquiring minds want to know!