My 9ine.

After page four, the whole thing goes into a 9-panel grid, and it’s to give you a sense of that claustrophobia. To give you a sense of what it is to be trapped, not only in the themes and the words, but in the actual panel structure. He’s trapped behind those bars we had in Omega Men, and how does he break out?Tom King

Okay.

The Wild Storm #1

All right.

Hrm.

Are…are Moore and Gibbons secretly on deck for the ultimate Crisis story? Is this foreshadowing? Or is this just a shared love-letter to the nine-panel grid? Looking at this I can’t help but lament the lack of Milestone in this DC revival of worlds. Its absence is notable and, by God, I would love to write a story set in that universe with an artist who is absolutely committed to ruining the nine-panel grid! I’d purposely have a black character on every single page of said story just jacking the layout up and knocking panels out-of-place. I’d gleefully be the fly in the buttermilk. The dark speck marring one’s pristine nostalgic vision.

For that is what we are, no? The group here to remind you that the good old days weren’t so good? That we haven’t lost a way we never had? That returning to the nine-panel grid isn’t an indication that the walls are closing in because we’ve been hemmed in. Y’all just got here. And still refuse to acknowledge our presence a majority of the time. To hell with a nine. It’s the sequential art version of clapping on the one and three.

It’s not that I hate the shared art direction above. I love-to-hate it. There’s a big difference. It’s like relishing the presence of a cherished villain. Like setting a glass of perfectly chilled water on a ledge. Near a cat.

(I’m the cat.)

I see a nine-panel grid and within those gutters I see perfect order and a wallowing in nostalgic longing for a creative era that would have resulted in my ostracization had I been present. And I think to myself, I would love to create complete chaos and discomfort here. I see pacifiers for middle-aged, middle-class men in those grids, not bars. They are in our present day as creatively restrictive as a gimp mask. A familiar binding one seeks out and derives pleasure from.

But I’d be lying if I said the repetition wasn’t intriguing. It is highly intriguing! Here we have the nine-panel grid in four out of the six major DC worlds—Detective, Wildstorm, Charlton/Watchmen, and Kirby’s Fourth World. Only Milestone and Quality are missing. This cannot be a coincidence. I believe Mitch Gerads, Jon Davis-Hunt, Gary Frank and more are collectively up to something. I want to know what it is.


Rebirth-ing pains.

Cover of Rebirth #1How can one not discuss DC’s Rebirth? It is the topic of conversation at multiple industry tables. At the moment, DC walks a threadbare tightrope from its current shaky status to that of a healthy role as an IP farm for multiple mediums. Perhaps I am optimistic, but I firmly believe DC can make this work. I also believe that this is their last chance to do so without the upheaval of a regime change to ensure the faith of retailers and readers.

However, should there be a regime change? Geoff Johns would not be ousted. Can you think of another creator who is as adept at strip-mining the works of Alan Moore for mass-market appeal? Is there another who could take a half-formed idea buried in the detritus of 30 years of continuity and polish it into a brass (power) ring for retailers to grasp? Morrison perhaps. Waid maybe. But none with the company loyalty and love that Johns has for DC. None so wholeheartedly drenched in Americana and the superheroic as Johns. He is the best man for the job.

Cover of Watchmen #1He has done what some consider the unthinkable, but what any individual who has followed the industry would know to be the inevitable—not only folding Moore’s Watchmen characters within the DC universe but possibly setting them up to be the literary scapegoats for the darker themes and changes that so many have been unhappy with during DC’s recent Flashpoint, New 52, and DC You upheavals. Indie darlings might gasp as DC handles Moore’s work as a music mogul would a dead rapper’s catalog, but company men know that Moore is going to be rightfully dissatisfied no matter what they do. And as my grandmother always said, I’d rather wipe my tears with a linen handkerchief than a wad of tissues. If one is to be lambasted by Moore in the press, it might as well be over something fantastically lucrative for all involved.

That said, the preceding move would be a gift to independent companies such as Image and a damaging blow to Vertigo should measures not be taken to counteract it. What creator would be insane enough to bring his characters to Vertigo given how DC has treated Moore? That is certainly the question I would ask loudly and repeatedly were I Eric Stephenson or Mike Richardson. And I would certainly want to control how that question is answered were I Dan Didio. DC needs an arena where non-superheroic IP can flourish and later be harvested by television and film. And that arena is Vertigo.

Unlike the oft-neglected imprint that is Marvel’s Icon, Vertigo can still be of value and its name carries fond memories and industry recognition. DC will need to put money and effort into Vertigo to keep Rebirth from being its death knell. I would target notable indie creators by offering solid, fair contracts and what Image cannot provide—cash in advance. There is no way a new wave at Vertigo armed with anchors such as Ennis and Morrison but also surprise acquisitions like Sophie Campbell or Nilah Magruder would not be successful. Bringing in independent editors (Karen Berger, Joseph Illidge, Jay Rachel Edidin) to make said creators feel more at home would be an even wiser move.

We simply cannot talk about a rebirth for DC without discussing the elephant in the room. There are still men working at DC who make women feel uncomfortable. Until those men have been removed from the company or have been quarantined in a dead-end department—one that does not affect the career trajectories of these women—the future of DC appears grim. Yes, DC can successfully woo back a decidedly white, male, and aging “Wednesday crowd” with the return of Wally and company. In fact, they should take great pains to do so because those readers are important (though small in number) and dependable. But to try to build a new world for the future without the input of women given female literacy rates and purchasing power? A world that includes female icons such as Wonder Woman and Catwoman? To try to revolutionize an American entertainment company that fields accusations of being dated without the input of African Americans—a group that American youth are almost frighteningly (and exhaustingly, to be honest) obsessed with? One is simply doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. How sad it would be to go to the well for the last time only to water a fresh crop of “Dad’s Comics” destined to drop to 20,000 a month in sales.

Rebirth will keep the home fires burning. From the gorgeous previews released the work appears to be the classic soapy serial longed for since the conclusion of Blackest Night. I like it. Others love it. DC needs to dig in and build on that good will immediately. But it also needs to impress upon new readers and potential audiences that it will keep and nurture the best of the New 52 and DC You as well. How can it accomplish this? Through digital initiatives and a careful reconstruction of its B-list with eyes focused on current and future demographics. Tradition and diversity are not mutually exclusive concepts. Though DC sadly did not cash in on the ‘70s Blaxploitation and Asian martial arts crazes that afforded Marvel the lion’s share of its multicultural mid-tier IPs, characters such as Ms. Marvel show that it is never too late to begin building. Luckily for DC, its animation department has provided it with a phenomenal foundation.

Perhaps it is due to my tendency to root for the underdog, but I hope that DC is able to arrive on the other side of Rebirth successful and stable. I hope it can rid itself of the problems that plague it during the journey. Only time—and a carefully calculated marketing strategy—will tell.


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.