DC Comics

“The Truth Is People Are Leaving Anyway”

So says DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio in last night’s Hero Complex blog. But could DC’s massive relaunch gamble this September actually halt the exodus?

According to the article, Justice League #1, the flagship title and debut issue of the massive line-wide relaunch of the publisher’s entire superhero universe, has received pre-orders asking for over 200,000 copies. Six other issues from the 52 titles shipping in September have pre-orders over 100,000 copies. That is fantastic news. Monthly comic books haven’t seen those kinds of numbers in years. There are also pending digital sales when the publisher starts releasing online and mobile versions of those same print comics simultaneously in September.

The full quote:

“The truth is people are leaving anyway, they’re just doing it quietly, and we have been papering it over with increased prices,” DiDio said. “We didn’t want to wake up one day and find we had a bunch of $20 books that 10,000 people are buying.”

Typically people from the major superhero publishers keep things pretty rosy in public interviews and online conversations. You know things must be dire when the talk gets this frank.

Another crucial observation made by DiDio:

“The walk-in, casual fans have gotten away from us,” DiDio observed. “We are down to just the die-hard buyers.”

Bringing back casual fans is the key. It’s a massive key to resuscitating sales. I’m still not completely convinced that what is getting published in September is a big enough break from the publishing and editorial strategy they’ve worked under in the past to bring in a casual readership, but 200,000+ copies is a sign I could be wrong (and I’d love to be wrong on this). Of course, it could be comic stores overestimating interest in their orders. It could only last a month or two. But for now, things are looking very promising.

If only they acted sooner. Over the weekend, a 4-store chain of comic book shops in Arizona abruptly shut down. Stores have been quietly dropping away for a while now, but this was a well-known and well-liked chain praised as a smart retailer. These weren’t the grimy comic store dungeons people avoid like the plague. But the profit margin of running a comic book store is so small that one car through your main store’s front window followed by an economic downturn and lost customers, and five years later you’re done. Atomic Comics was a big account for Diamond Comics, the industry’s primary distributor.

Would DC’s relaunch have saved them? Will it turn sales around across the entire industry? That’s a big job for one publisher, even the industry’s #2 publisher. After all, their material doesn’t cater to everyone. But if other publishers can find a way to join in the hype and fill in the gaps, we could be on to something. Hey, I’m trying to be positive here. It could happen.

Marvel Comics and the Elusive Minority Demographic

Miles Morales is Spider-Man

Miles Morales is Spider-Man (art by Sara Pichelli)

While DC Comics is working through a gender controversy, Marvel Comics has taken a step forward in representing racial minorities in their super-hero comic books. On Tuesday it was announced in USA Today that Spider-Man would now be a half-black, half-Hispanic teen named Miles Morales (right).

The story is not being told in Marvel’s flagship Amazing Spider-Man (where Peter Parker is still swinging through New York City, white as ever), but instead in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, which starts with a new issue #1 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli (yes DC, a woman!) in September. The Ultimate Comics imprint is set in a younger alternate universe, apart from the bulk of Marvel’s comics. Since the licensability of Marvel’s big characters, which date back to the 1960s and ’70s (and some to 1939), is dutifully protected in Marvel’s main line of comics, the Ultimate Universe allows creators just a bit more leeway. This is easily the best example of that leeway, and could be a refreshing signal of things to come for that imprint.

The first appearance of Miles Morales as Spider-Man is in the just-released Ultimate Comics Fallout #4, which itself spun out of the recent “Death of Spider-Man” story.

Bendis told USA Today, “Even though there’s some amazing African-American and minority characters bouncing around in all the superhero universes, it’s still crazy lopsided.”

He’s right, but this helps. Of course there have been plenty of foolish reactions, from anonymous internet posters trying not to sound too racist to Glenn Beck‘s weird conspiracy theory. Fortunately, cooler heads prevail, and have been celebrating what was unthinkable even five years ago. Why unthinkable? Because comic books with black leads have historically been a tough sell. The Black Panther, comics’ first headlining black hero, has had intermittent series since his debut in 1966. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn is the only comic book series to star a black or African-American in the starring role to last so long (although Al Simmons was replaced with the white Jim Downing last year). Heidi MacDonald at The Beat explores this issue and more in this well-written piece.

DC Comics and the Elusive Female Demographic

Batgirl #1

September's Batgirl #1 by writer Gail Simone - representing DC's 1% of female creators in September

A controversy has been broiling in comics. When DC Comics announced their aggressive relaunch strategy, details were initially sparse but statements of looking for and expecting new readers were promising. Because comics needs new readers. But when the creative teams were announced, there was a decided lack of female creators and a curious dependence on creators that the publisher had relied on in the past with minimal influx of new readers.

Mainstream comics (which essentially refers to superhero comics from DC Comics and Marvel Comics) have been publishing comics primarily intended for the same insular group of readers for decades now, and finally that audience has dwindled away to a level where the publishers think maybe it’s time to somewhat kind of try to reach beyond that same audience. Multiple pundits and industry watchers have been calling for a more dramatic shift in publishing strategy for years. Comics’ most visible genre needs to be accessible and appealing to new audiences. You wouldn’t think this would require much convincing. New audiences = more money. But when large companies are given the options of safe, reliable income that is slowly shrinking vs. much more money with risks, they’ll always pick the safe option because corporate America is primarily driven by fear.

This isn’t to say that the faithful superhero comics fans can’t have their comics. Those comics should not be eliminated. They’re fun, they’re a great example of American myth building, and they have addictive pay-offs to loyalty. I still read them. Those comics should exist because there’s a built-in (albeit shrinking) audience ready to buy with a distribution network (comic book stores) structured for that specific audience. That network and that audience needs to be preserved.

But they should only be one aspect of a major publisher’s output, and they really shouldn’t be the dominant aspect when you see the ongoing sales trends. The primary concern, which should drive the dominant publishing strategy, should be new and/or casual readers, with the outcome that a percentage of those readers will transition into the addictive readers group. (They should also be distributed through other networks like bookstores and digital means, but that’s another topic.)

So, how do you get this new promised land of readers? Well, let’s look at the untapped demographics. We’ve got the white males 18-40 figured out. That primarily constitutes the addictive readers group. So good job, everyone. Check that one off the list. Let’s just check it again. Because seriously, we’ve been very thorough at targeting that demographic.

What’s an even larger demographic? How about over half of the world’s population? Yes, that demographic is out there! And it remains largely untapped in mainstream comics. That demographic is women! It’s not that there aren’t already female creators and readers of superhero comics. It’s not that there haven’t been superhero comics that reach out to women. There definitely are, but they are the exception to the rule, and they prove that there is a huge untapped sales potential.

So how do you create comics that bring in this amazingly large demographic ready to spend lots of money? The most common theory is that readers are attracted to characters that are relatable to them. People are drawn to characters that they can see themselves becoming or wish they could become. How do you have characters, either new or preexisting, that are relatable to women? The easiest way is to have another woman craft the stories (write and/or draw).

As much as we wish that everyone is the same, regardless of how they look and their genetic make-up, the world is an inconsistent place at times. People get treated differently. Groups of people get treated differently than other groups of people. Sometimes it’s really obvious, sometimes it’s very subtle, sometimes it’s imperceptible. But it all has an effect. Those experiences shape a person’s world view and it definitely shapes how they consume entertainment. I can be the most sensitive and empathic person on the planet, but I can never fully understand what living like a certain group of people day to day is like, just as other groups can’t understand what living like other groups is like. So again, the easiest way to create characters and stories that connect to a certain group you wish to attract is to employ people from that same group.

So now we come back to DC Comics and their New 52 publishing initiative. They reportedly went from having 12% of their creative teams comprising of women, down to just over 1%. For a publishing initiative intending to reach new audiences, that’s a very strange shift. You might say it’s contradictory. So people pointed this out. Some did so rather passionately because of their love for comics. People wrote online. And at this summer’s Comic-Con, people spoke up. Repeatedly. In response, DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio rather abrasively shot back with “Who should we have hired?” This, of course, just made it worse. Because when you have a Q&A portion of a panel, typically how it works is the audience provides the Q’s and the panelists provide the A’s. Making your audience uncomfortable, especially when that audience is the one you’re trying to convince to buy your products, is what you might call a bad PR move. In fact, it’s ridiculously irresponsible. And unsurprisingly, it just resulted in more attention on the issue and more heat on the publisher. Like here, here, here and here to name a few.

DC Comics finally relented when Co-Publishers DiDio and Jim Lee published “We Hear You” on their blog. Without acknowledging the embarrassing Comic-Con panels, the letter promised that female creators were in the pipeline for future projects. I suppose you could ask why female creators weren’t “good enough” to be part of the initial September launch, but at least they got the message. Finally.

And yet, I’m still seeing people online post how they don’t think people should be hired based on what they look like, they just want the best people for the job. What they don’t understand is that the uproar was never some affirmative action campaign. It was about making smart and reasonable choices to preserve and even grow comics, exactly what the New 52 was supposedly designed to be about. Because as explained above, the best people to write comics that will appeal to women will usually be women. This doesn’t eliminate male-targeted comics. And it doesn’t mean there won’t be crossover appeal because entertainment preferences aren’t strictly defined by gender alone. But it’s a no-brainer in courting a very powerful demographic that, make no mistake, comics needs.

Web and Digital Comics dominate Harvey Awards nominations

Gutters by Ryan Sohmer, Lar deSouza, et al.

The prestigious Harvey Awards have released their 2011 nominees for excellence in the comics industry. Named after the influential cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, founder of MAD Magazine, the Harvey Awards are the only comics industry award both nominated and selected by comic book creators, those who write, draw, ink, letter, color, design, edit and/or otherwise help create comics.

This year showed an unprecedented number of nominations from web comics and digital comics, with a total of eight different works getting recognized in multiple categories. Most significantly is the showing from Gutters, which is nominated for a startling six nominations, more than any other single creator or comics work whether in print or not. The web comic that satirizes the comics industry appears to have won a significant number of fans within the industry, as it has been nominated for Best New Series, Special Award for Humor in Comics, Best Online Comics Work, Best Writer (Ryan Sohmer), Best Artist (Ed Ryzowski), and Best Colorist (Ed Ryzowski).

The digital comic Box 13, originally released through ComiXology, also had a decent showing, with two nominations: Best Letterer (Scott Brown) and Best Inker (Steve Ellis). Comfort Love and Adam Withers also received two nominations, one for Most Promising New Talent for their web-comic Rainbow in the Dark, and one for Best Anthology for their Uniques Tales.

The remaining Best Online Comics Work category had the following nominations: Guns of Shadow Valley by David Wachter and James Andrew Clark; Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton; La Morté Sisters by Tony Trov, Johnny Zito and Christine Larsen; and PvP by Scott Kurtz, who will be the Master of Ceremonies at the award show at the Baltimore Comic-Con in August.

Last year’s Harvey Awards only saw 3 categories outside of the Best Online Comics Work category nominate digital and/or web comics. The Best Online Comics Work category was added to the Harvey Awards in 2006.

Harvey Awards (1988-present)

On the print side of thing, this year’s Harvey Awards gave five nominations to Darwyn Cooke and his adaptation of Richard Stark’s Parker: The Outfit. Writer Joshua Hale Fialkov won four nominations for his work in Echoes with artist Rashan Ekedal and Tumor with artist Noel Tuazon. Tumor is nominated for Best Graphic Album Previously Published; it was originally published digitally on the Kindle in 2009. Artist Jaime Hernandez (Love and Rockets: New Stories) and Thor: The Mighty Avenger by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee each had three nominations, with an additional nomination each for The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death, edited by Todd Hignite, and Langridge for his writing on The Muppet Show comic book series.

IDW Publishing raked in 16 nominations, more than any other publisher. Marvel Comics brought in 13, including 1 from their Icon imprint. DC Comics and Image Comics both obtained 11 nominations each with their respective Vertigo and Top Cow imprints bringing in more than half.

Complete list of Harvey Comics 2011 nominations.

Last week’s ComiCenter episode with me punditing

Last week, I was a panelist/pundit on ComiCenter, a live discussion show about the comic book industry. The weekly hour-long show is hosted by Atom! Freeman, co-owner of Brave New World Comics, and Bryan Daggett, assistant editor of Comic Book Resources, and is streamed on Geek Week. Also on the panel was retailer Edward Greenberg, owner of Collector’s Paradise, and podcasters Daniel Campisi of Reality Check Fail and Angela Paman of Invisible Jetcast and 2 People Talking. (Extra Awesome Points for clicking on every single link in this paragraph.)

We talked about the big publishing initiative that DC Comics will be starting at the end of August and into September, where their entire superhero publishing line will be relaunching with 52 new comics starting at issue #1. Perhaps even bigger than that is the news that DC will be releasing their comics simultaneously in print and digital. Lots of opinions. Let me know what you think. Are you interested in buying one of the new 52? Will you be buying DC’s digital comics?

Everyone Back to 1: Thoughts and Theories on DC Comics relaunching superhero comics synched with digital initiative

Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns & Jim Lee (DC Comics) - Hitting the cosmic reset button

In a bold gamble, DC Comics announced yesterday at their own blog The Source, USA Today (part 1 and part 2), and a letter to comic retailers that they would be replacing all of their long-running superhero comic books with relaunched stories starting over at issue #1. Each issue will be released digitally across DC Comics’ multiple platforms the same day as the print version’s release, a major shift in policy that was protecting comic shops from digital competition.

Digital comics provider Comixology has confirmed via Twitter that it will be continuing their partnership with DC Comics on this new digital initiative. New issues will appear simultaneously on Apple’s iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch), the Android and their web-based DC Store, although exact pricing has not been revealed. Digital comics are generally priced at $1.99 for a standard comic book that’s been converted to their guided view digital form. Past experiments with day-and-date releases have been priced at the higher cover price of print comics, usually $2.99.

As for the books themselves, exact details of what’s changing, what’s staying the same, and who will be working on what books, are slim. More will be revealed throughout June.

What is known is that starting August 31, 2011, a brand new Justice League #1 will be released. The following weeks, it will be joined by relaunched Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and other titles. In total, DC Comics will debut 52 comic books, approximately 13 a week! The stories will feature younger versions of their recognizable heroes, redesigned by artist and DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee, and are meant to be ideal for new readers.

Justice League will be helmed by Lee and DC Comics Chief Creative Officer/writer Geoff Johns. Both Lee and Johns are responsible for a lot of popular titles from DC, so it seems only natural to team them up for the comic about their premiere superhero team.

Comic Book Resources has rumors on other titles, including Superman being written by Grant Morrison, an award-winning and critically acclaimed writer that has been shepherding Batman for the last several years. He wrote All-Star Superman, a quintessential take on the iconic character, to nearly universal acclaim in 2005-2008. A previously announced new Aquaman series by Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis is also expected to be part of the new universe. The two had previously collaborated on successful Green Lantern stories, including the big Blackest Night event.

The question of course: Will this work? (more…)

In Recognition of Memorial Day

Our Army at War #13, August 1953 (Art by Bernie Krigstein, published by DC Comics)

The 1812 War, Fall 2011 (Art by George Freeman, published by Renegade Arts Entertainment)

Civil War Adventure, May 2011 (Art by Gary Kwapicz, published by History Graphics Press)

It Was the War of the Trenches, February 2010 (Art by Jacques Tardi, published by Fantagraphics)

Sgt. Rock: The Prophecy #6, August 2006 (Art by Joe Kubert, published by DC Comics)

Two-Fisted Tales #27, May 1952 (Art by Harvey Kurtzman, published by EC Comics)

Last Day in Vietnam, July 2000 (Art by Will Eisner, published by Dark Horse Comics)

Gulf War Journal, August 2004 (Art by Don Lomax, published by iBooks)

Dougie's War, August 2010 (Art by Dave Turbitt, published by Freight Design)

War Fix, June 2005 (Art by Stephen Olexa, published by NBM Publishing)

Looking at the Eisners: Nominees for Best Limited Series

Today we’re taking a look at the nominees for the Best Limited Series category. This is a comic book series that, similar to a TV mini-series, runs for a set duration, usually around 4 to 8 issues.

The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards released their nominees for excellence in comic books for the previous year recently. A panel of 6 judges made up of professionals throughout the industry selected the nominees. People throughout the industry will now begin voting on the nominees. Winners will be announced at the award show put on at this summer’s huge Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The Eisners are basically the comic book equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards, TV’s Emmy Awards, music’s Grammy Awards, and theater’s Tony Awards, so it deserves a closer look.

I’m breaking down the nominees in each category, providing context and background info, and giving links to Amazon and other sites so you can buy your own copy, if possible. I can’t read everything, so lots of this stuff passed by me or is on my way-too-high to-read pile, so I’m going to avoid saying what “should” win. (I’m also pretty bad at predicting award show winners, so I’m not going to bother embarrassing myself.) Please feel free to post your predictions, preferences, opinions, or questions.

Best Limited Series

Take a closer look with the click through: (more…)

Looking at the Eisners: Nominees for Best Continuing Series

Today we’re taking a look at the nominees for Best Continuing Series category.

The 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards released their nominees for excellence in comic books for the previous year recently. A panel of 6 judges made up of professionals throughout the industry selected the nominees. People throughout the industry will now begin voting on the nominees. Winners will be announced at the award show put on at this summer’s huge Comic-Con International convention in San Diego. The Eisners are basically the comic book equivalent of the film industry’s Academy Awards, TV’s Emmy Awards, music’s Grammy Awards, and theater’s Tony Awards, so it deserves a closer look.

I’m breaking down the nominees in each category, providing context and background info, and giving links to Amazon and other sites so you can buy your own copy, if possible. I can’t read everything, so lots of this stuff passed by me or is on my way-too-high to-read pile, so I’m going to avoid saying what “should” win. (I’m also pretty bad at predicting award show winners, so I’m not going to bother embarrassing myself.) Please feel free to post your predictions, preferences, opinions, or questions.

Best Continuing Series

Take a closer look with the click through:
(more…)

Wonder Woman: All About Bondage

1943 letter re: use of chains in Wonder Woman comics (click for bigimification)

With a brand new Wonder Woman TV series being produced by David E. Kelley, and the ensuing panic over the show’s costume(s), it’s sometimes helpful to get a bit of historic perspective.

Take the document on the right for example. This 1943 letter was reprinted in the Chronicle Books publication from 2000, Wonder Woman: The Complete History by Les Daniels, and was recently brought online by the Hey Oscar Wilde! tumblr site.

Wonder Woman comics publisher All-American Comics thought that the character’s writer and creator, Dr. William Moulton Marston, ought to maybe tone down the use of chains in his stories of the Amazon Princess. Chains for tying Wonder Woman and other characters up. Apparently, they had received a letter from a reader or reader’s parent concerned about how often this particular plot device was popping up.

This may sound like a reader overreacting, but the truth is that early Wonder Woman comics invariably depicted the main character getting tied up, locked down, or maybe disciplined with a good spanking. Or all three.

Yes it was the 1940s. But this was also the same publisher that released Picture Stories from the Bible. So maybe time to reign things in a bit. A bit, of course, translating to specifically “50 to 75%” less chains minimum.

Another thing to note is that at most there had only been 5 or 6 issues of Wonder Woman released up to this point. The comic book series was barely over a year old, with a quarterly release schedule. And people were already thinking “enough already with the chains!”.

Never one to leave his creators without guidance, All-American Comics president Max C. Gaines provided Dr. Marston with a helpful list of alternative “methods which can be used to keep women confined or enclosed”. For story purposes! Nothing else. The list was “hastily dashed off” by a female assistance, so she would know I guess. Gaines reassures that substituting chains would not interfere “with the excitement of the story or the sales of the books”.

Nothing kinky going on here

At this point, it might seem like Dr. Marston had some issues. Well, yeah maybe. But to be fair, he had a lot going on in his life. He had invented a crucial element of the modern polygraph (lie detector). He was a Harvard educated psychologist whose work led to a behavioral model still used today. He created one of the most instantly recognizable and globally known comic book icons in history, and was among the earliest proponents of the educational power of comics. He lived with his wife (psychologist Elizabeth Holloway Marston) and another woman (Olive Byrne) for years in a polygamous relationship. Both women inspired and should probably be considered co-creators of his work. His studies led him to early feminist theories printed in popular magazines of the time. We’ve all got stuff going on. Right?

Some quotes from the good doctor (some represented last year by SarcasticBite.com, some from Wikipedia):

Wonder Woman-and the trend toward male acceptance of female love power which she represents indicates that the first psychological step has actually been taken. Boys, young and old, satisfy their wish thoughts by reading comics. If they go crazy over Wonder Woman, it means they’re longing for a beautiful, exciting girl who’s stronger than they are. By their comics tastes ye shall know them! Tell me anybody’s preference in story strips and I’ll tell you his subconscious desires. These simple, highly imaginative picture stories satisfy longings that ordinary daily life thwarts and denies. Superman and the army of male comics characters who resemble him satisfy the simple desire to be stronger and more powerful than anybody else. Wonder Woman satisfies the subconscious, elaborately disguised desire of males to be mastered by a woman who loves them.” – Dr. William Moulton Marston, Family Circle, 1942

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.” – Dr. William Moulton Marston, The American Scholar, 1943

“The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound … Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society. … Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element” – Dr. William Moulton Marston, source unknown

“Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves!” – Dr. William Moulton Marston, source unknown