Comics Publishers make Mainstream Push

There's a comic for everyone. They just don't know it yet. (Art by the late great Seth Fisher.)

Public awareness of comic books (or graphic novels or whatever you want to call them) is probably at an all-time high. Certainly higher than it’s been since the ’50s. But awareness has translated to people seeing and talking about comic book movies and TV shows, not actually reading comic books and graphic novels. Not in any significant and sustainable influx of numbers, anyway. Fortunately some comics publishers have noticed this and are doing some things about it.

Marvel Comics has entered into a partnership with Starbucks where their Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited service will be included free as part of the Starbucks Digital Network available via free Wi-Fi to patrons of nearly 6,800 Starbucks coffee shops in the United States. Marvel’s MDCU currently has about 8,000 comic books available digitally, with more added every week, so it’s quite a sampling. It will be part of the Entertainment channel, along with iTunes, Nick Jr. Boost, Yahoo! entertainment offerings, and other content providers. This has huge potential to lure in the simply-curious for some fun Marvel comic books. If it goes well, maybe Starbucks will add in other publishers to offer a greater diversity of material (ie, not just superhero comics). It’s an exciting start and a great idea. (Read more about Starbucks’ announcement.)

DC Comics also had big news yesterday. Cartoon Network announced plans for a block of on-air and online programming they are calling DC Nation. “A multi-platform, branded block of original programming and exclusive content based on the DC Comics library of legendary character properties, DC Nation is developed in partnership with Cartoon Network, Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment.  The all-new venture will harness the publishing, theatrical and television assets together for one powerful on-air block on Cartoon Network with exclusive online content.” The name is a reference to DC Comics’ in-house column of the same name that appears monthly in most of their comic books. Programming will include a CG-animated Green Lantern animated series and a brand new Looney Tunes show, among lots of other things (ThunderCats!). Cartoon Network is saying that it will be “populated with event programming, interstitials, exclusive behind-the-scenes of theatrical production and an insider look into the world of all things DC.” Maybe I’m getting my hopes up too high, but I’m hoping they will use this opportunity to promote DC’s line of comic books and graphic novels, and not exclusively focus on other media. (Read more about Cartoon Network’s announcement.)

And finally, LA-based Boom! Studios released a PDF of a comic book meant to be freely shared and passed on to friends. In a bold reversal of most publishers’ fears of pirating, Boom! is embracing the modern internet culture of sharing by actually encouraging people to pass it on to others. The comic, suggested for mature readers, is Hellraiser: At the Tolling Bell, a new 8-page comic by horror legend Clive Barker and artist Leonard Manco (Hellblazer). It serves as a prelude to the new ongoing Hellraiser comic book series by Barker and Manco. This is a pretty big deal because, as mentioned on his website, “Clive Barker has touched Hellraiser only twice: once to write The Hellbound Heart, and once more to write and direct the original Hellraiser film”. The preview includes a link to sign up for more free comics from Boom!, a great explanation of how the new Hellraiser series will work for the uninitiated (“Just as TV shows are serialized week to week, comic books are serialized month to month”), a list of premiere comic book shops in Canada and the United States, with links to their websites, and a link to the Comic Shop Locator and their phone number 888-COMIC-BOOK. The PDF comic is a very creative advertisement for the comic, and they take great pains to make it clear that it’s not a preview – what appears in the PDF comic is unique and not an excerpt of the first issue. (Read more about Boom!’s announcement.)

Three publishers creatively reaching out to new audiences. What a great step in the right direction. To these three publishers and every other publisher out there: more like this, please!

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