comics marketing is crawling in my skin

October 24th, 2011 by | Tags: ,

I hate a lot of things about comics journalism, man. Maybe I just hate how Marvel & DC market their books. Is that weird? Ironic? Maybe I just hate how complicit the press is in enabling these companies to push worthless information out there, and I absolutely include myself in that condemnation. It’s generally Marvel and DC jockeying for position and Google rank. It sucks.

I’m not sure what I hate most. Unlettered previews are pretty bad, and I didn’t really realize how bad until I did a few myself. It’s sort of a “Hey, pimp this incomplete product for us that was chosen at random from an upcoming issue that we need to goose the numbers on” thing. I’ve never seen an unlettered preview that was chosen specifically for its artistic content. They’re always either from the first four (or so) pages or random pages throughout the book that don’t have “spoilers.”

I hate those stupid blanked out covers. Oh, you have a new team? And you can’t show it to me? Cool, hit me up when you have something to say. No, no, I understand. If you have a cover with say, six blacked out characters, then you get to have one post with the blank cover, one for each of the six characters, and then, if you’re lucky, another post for the completed cover. And that’s seven, maybe eight posts on the front page of a website that DC doesn’t have, and doesn’t that feel good? Great, go feel good over there and away from me.

You know what I heard through the grapevine about DC’s New 52? One of the edicts of the press campaign was “no story info.” You could describe the basic status quo, but nothing more than what’s in the solicits. And if you go back and look at the vast majority of those interviews from May or whatever til August, what do you see? A bunch of writers spinning their wheels, trying to describe their book in vague, unappealing high concepts, and the occasional artist dropping a cool piece about design. iFanboy had a good take on these. They got broke away from the standard rigmarole by getting creators to do goofy interviews that were informative in terms of approach and perhaps scope, but not necessarily on details. They made water into wine with that.

Oh! I hate playing the firsts game. Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley created more continuous issues of any comic ever as a team, as long as you define any comic as “Fantastic Four” and team as “everyone but the inker, colorist, letterer, and editor.” Batwoman is something like “the first lesbian superhero to star in an eponymous solo title from DC Comics That Isn’t The Holly Robinson Catwoman.” There’s so many caveats that it doesn’t even matter, does it? Batwing is the first Black Batman (except for the devil-worshipping black Batman who went on to be Azrael the other year). Instead of trying to grasp cheap glory, why not just make some good stories and be like “This is the first good Cloak & Dagger comic ever!” (hasn’t happened yet) or “This story will make you like Donna Troy!” (ditto).

While I’m being negative, what else do I dislike… posting press releases with no commentary is one, I figure, but that one’s obviously stupid. Announcing comics with no creative team. If you don’t have a creative team, back down until you do. I don’t care if you’re giving Hypno Hustler a 100-issue maxiseries that forms one huge story that maps to the rise of rap worldwide. Who’s writing it? Who’s drawing it? I’m not reading no comics by scrubs, fellas. Put your best foot forward by putting your best asset forward: the creators.

Yeah, basically? I got a lot of issues with comics internet. I’m guilty of a few, and I’ve spent the last however many weeks trying to course-correct and obsessing over it. Gotta do better to be better, right?

With all of that out of the way, I really dug the marketing for Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Fatale, an Image comic that drops in 2012. Check the rhime:

The interview with Kiel at CBR is pretty good, too. It’s full of information. Fatale has its roots in a Wildstorm pitch. It’s a genre mash. It’s a Brubaker/Phillips joint, which means that at worst it will be “pretty good.” It’s Brubaker attacking his relatively poor (but generally well-written, nonetheless) usage of women as undeconstructed (™ 2011, Brothers Before Others, Inc.) femmes fatales or trophies. It’s got monsters. It’s got guns. It’s twelve-issues long, but may run longer. It hits the ’30s, ’50s, and the ’70s, which are some of my favorite decades to read about. It’s gonna be sorta weird to read Brubaker/Phillips without Val Staples, but Dave Stewart is a monster. Basically, Brubaker gave an interview that made me want to read their book. It’s enormously effective.

But the truth is, it was too late. I wanted to read the book after I saw the images. They’re a movie trailer fitted to a nine-panel grid. It fits in praise for the team a couple places. It gives you a taste of the story by teasing a few scenes. There’s even a bit of narrative in the preview, thanks to the scenes that bookend it. The preview really tells you everything you need to know (how it looks, how it reads, where to find it, what it’s called) in a few short pages. Very deft work.

More like Fatale, please, and fewer blacked out X-Men or Avengers teasers. Cater to me, internet.

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25 comments to “comics marketing is crawling in my skin”

  1. “Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley created more continuous issues of any comic ever as a team, as long as you define any comic as “Fantastic Four” and team as “everyone but the inker, colorist, letterer, and editor.””

    They did 103 (or more) straight issues of a title?
    Lee & Kirby did Fantastic Four 1-102 without a single fill-in or reprint.
    As far as I knew, that was the record.

    Which book did Bendis & Bagley do 103 or more consecutive issues?

  2. Atomic Kommie Comics:
    They did 111 or so issues of Ultimate Spider-Man.

  3. I don’t hate their marketing. I hate that it’s probably a rational choice for them to do it this way, and not the way you (and I) would probably like.

  4. As far as Silhouette marketing goes I’m left wondering who was the first guy to see his kids watching Pokemon – seeing their reactions during “Who’s That Pokemon?”, and realizing “Shit, we can extrapolate this into a whole THING!”
    That guy was a genius. I mean, the bad kind, the cynical genius. But still.

  5. When the rumor started going around last week that Marvel’s layoffs might include some Marvel.com staff, I couldn’t help but think (and this is no reflection on said people) that yeah, internal news staff might be seen as kind of redundant when you’ve got a number of news sites that are happy to run every press release, host every “teaser”, and liveblog every “Next Big Thing” conference call about Venom meeting the Red Hulk.

  6. […] Comics | David Brothers takes issue with the marketing tactics used by comics publishers (DC and Marvel, for the most part), including blacked-out covers and holding back on details of stories or the creative team. He ends on an up note, though, with an example of marketing that works. [4thletter!] […]

  7. I think it’s pretty well stated on this site that you don’t like Nick Spencer, but I think that the Spider-Island Cloak and Dagger mini is actually pretty darn good, mostly for Emma Rios’ art, but Spencer’s not doing too bad either.

    Really the only issue I had with it was the rather unfortunate imagery of a black man chained up on the floor. I mean, yeah, he’s got the blonde chained up too, but that image doesn’t recall slavery.

  8. Groo, Savage Dragon and Cerebus were all longer than USM.

    That Fatale image is fantastic, though I would have checked it out with just the main image of the woman with the gun, or the octo-gangster. That is just good graphic design.

  9. @Atomic Kommie Comics: Which pales in comparison to Stan Sakai’s “Usagi Yojimbo” at 116 issues, which is in turn beaten by Erik Larson’s 174 issues of “The Savage Dragon,” which is in turn bested by Dave Sim and Gerhard’s 300 (235 if you count the issues they both worked on) issues of “Cerebus the Aardvark,” which seriously has the tar beaten out of it by Hirohiko Araki’s “JoJo’s Bizarre Avdenture,” which is currently on issue 840, and which is completely outclassed in everyway by Osamu Akimoto’s “Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Kōen-mae Hashutsujo” at 1,700 volumes, running continuously since 1976.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that no “longest running series by the same creator” tag ever impresses me, lying comic book corporation :smugbert:

  10. Err, 1,700 issues, currently collected in 176 tankoban volumes, I mean.

  11. At this stage they could have just teasered ‘Brubaker * Phillips * A Comic’ and I would have been there, so it’s nice how much effort they put into getting people on board.

  12. The longest running claim is always dubious. Marvel for instance is only counting Stan and Jack’s Fantastic Four and Bendis and Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man and ignoring the 120 issues of Groo they published from 1985-95. Then of course Sergio and Mark have continued putting out Groo in the meantime.

    Also, Usagi Yojimbo is nearing 200 total issues. Vol 1 from Fantagraphics was 38 issues, vol 2 from Mirage was 16 and in two weeks vol 3 #141 will come out from Dark Horse. That doesn’t count a couple of specials and the Yokai graphic novel.

    But to David’s point, yes comics aren’t marketed well within or outside of the industry.

  13. I suppose part of it has to do with the fact that the Batwoman claim, while heavy with caveats or whatever, is a factual claim, while “This is a good comic” would be an opinion. It’s not the responsibility of a company to tell you that one of their products is better than another. From their point of view, they are all good.

    Also, and this might blow your mind, there are a lot of comics readers who really don’t care who is writing the comic, and as long as the art doesn’t stink, don’t care who’s drawing it. They care about what characters will be appearing in the book, and so the blacked-out covers do build suspense and are effective for that group.

  14. Glenn,

    I don’t think that ‘blows’ anyone’s mind.

    What you’re describing has been conventional wisdom in the American culture industry for decades. It’s the logic behind the old Hollywood studio system, network television until the rise of MTM, pro sports before free agency and the Marvel/DC WFH system.

    There’s always been a sizable contingent of property owners and consumers who’ve thought that the ‘author’ (writer, artist, director, etc.) of their entertainment was disposable. I think some of that can be attributed to the fact that we don’t place enough value on the arts in our society.

    Anyway, David’s obviously aware of this, but this essay is about his preferences, not theirs.

    That’s why he says ‘cater to me’ at the end. I don’t think he’s under any illusion about the number of comic fans who will still fall for anything.

  15. @Glenn Simpson: Every single person who thinks like you do should be more discerning. Or less stupid. One of the two. You don’t get good comics without good creators, and slacking on creators harms the other.

    “As long as the art doesn’t stink” is what lets mediocre garbage through the system, and there’s no reason to put up with it. But sure, let’s keep those characters coming. That’s what matters.

    @Graham: This is my most favorite comment in ages. And I think I’d heard about Kochikame in passing, I think when I was getting back into Dragon Ball, but didn’t realize it was so long-running. That’s amazing.

    @Dan: I tried it. Rios’s art was pretty good, as usual, but Spencer’s script? Nah. The eviction out of the church was sorta dumb (and impossibly fast), the plot was boring drama, etc etc.

  16. @david brothers: There’s a Kochikame/DBZ crossover where Ryo-san tries to arrest Freeza for parking his UFO illegally. It’s every bit as amazing as it sounds.

    Even more impressive is that the book is published weekly, not monthly. The work ethic of the American comic industry can bite it. :c00lbert:

  17. Great column as always David, and always appreciate the focus on creators. One weird thing about the comics industry is that there is an absolute ton of coverage relative to being such a small industry. And it’s a given that a lot of this coverage is unprofessional and doesn’t have a ton of standards. DC, Marvel, and anyone bombs these press releases to try to get as many links as they can.

    A byproduct of this is that people overestimate how big the comics industry is. Remember that Langridge / Samnee Thor book? It had tremendous media support but it was like everyone who bought that comic blogged about it – the numbers weren’t there.

    @graham – remember they have a ton of assistants and it ain’t in color

  18. @Nathan Schreiber: Man, I loved Thor: The Mighty Avenger. I pretty much only buy Captain American & Bucky for Samnee’s art.

  19. remember they have a ton of assistants and it ain’t in color

    I’ve always been amazed that a lot of manga series employ assistants, sometimes a LOT of assistants, and yet those assistants are so good that all of their art looks like the art of the credited artist so that every page of every installment in every collection looks like it was drawn in the same style by the same hand, but here in the U.S. DC will get, like, five people to ink a late-running superhero book and it looks like garbage.

    Basically, I don’t understand why the many cooks spoil the broth thing effects U.S. comics but not Japanese ones…

  20. @Nathan Schreiber: Even with a couple guys to help draw backgrounds and do inking, they’re putting out 18-22 pages a week. Most American comic writers have trouble writing more than two 22 pages comics a month, and that’s without having to also draw a rough storyboard to be approved by the editor, then draw most of the good version, supervise layouts and inking, and manage a team of two or three guys.

    I find it no less impressive, personally.

  21. @Joe H:

  22. @Joe H:

    Which still ignores Cerebus (300 issues by the same writer/artist) not to mention tons of manga that run for 1000s of chapters (each one the same as a 22 page issue) with the same creators.

  23. […] a lot of 4th Letter recently. Gavok, David Brothers, and the rest of the fine folks at the site have inspired me to consider my writing style and how I approaching the running and maintaining of this site. […]

  24. […] said weren’t lies. Which is pretty screwed up, but that sort of shows you where I’m at with comics marketing. I’m conscious of the fact that it’s poisoned for me, and I’m working to correct […]

  25. I am not surprised about the actions and reactions of comic reviewers, basically america has a huge history of social movements and a poorly history in intelectual movements (they are all imported from europe after the WWII). So the Critique comunity is more trained in journalism than in analisis, what better to bring them gossip for the light hearthed and things to rant about to the political compromised people (both rightwings and PC liberals).
    At least that is what I see and what piss me off