“He paints pictures beautifully, but comics is nearsighted”

August 25th, 2009 by | Tags: , , ,

I saw some screwy news courtesy of Rich Watson’s Glyphs about another entry in the DC vs Dwayne McDuffie saga. An excerpt:

Plans for a Static monthly were scrapped by DC last spring. Based on their actions, they never really wanted to publish the Milestone stuff, they wasted my time. We could have done a little deal for them to use Static without me having to spend so much money on lawyers.

I checked his message board, and wait, there’s more!

Static Shock currently runs on Disney XD four times a day. I know that’s somehow not as good as appearing in Teen Titans, a comic with over 20 thousand readers, but I’m not sure why.

From another thread:

No. I did not accept the offer. I have completed the script to a Milestone mini-series that is currently being drawn. DC has also given the go ahead to a major project about their black characters and their place in the DCU, but I’m no longer sure I want to do it as I’m increasingly concerned about their posture on racial matters. I hope I’m wrong. I’m sure we’ll talk about it in the next few months.

-Static Shock was the #1 or #2 rated show on KidsWB for most of its run. I think it was trading top spots with whichever variation of Pokemon at the time.
-Static Shock’s cartoon, which is around ten years old, runs on a Disney channel four times. It’s reasonable to assume that Static Shock has more fans than, say, all of the Superman comic books put together.
-DC’s shown no interest in solo Milestone books, despite undoubtedly shelling out a lot of money and paperwork on the characters.
-Instead, they’d rather have Teen Titans feature Static, even though Titans is a book that has been of poor quality and a laughing stock for two or more years.

So, what happened here? DC picks up one of the more marketable cartoons in recent memory, and a fondly-remembered and ahead of its time universe, and fumbles the ball. The universe is shuffled off to a brief series of one-shots in Brave & the Bold, Static ends up in a comic no one likes (if you like Teen Titans, you like a bad comic, this is gospel truth), and the guy who is the face of the deal ends up shuffled off a book he was writing with handcuffs, out of the DCU, and off into cartoonland.

What happened?

DC needed new toys to put into the meatgrinder. They’re getting consistently outshined by their biggest competitor, which can’t look good in front of their bosses. They have exactly one respected and profitable movie franchise, but Marvel’s buckshot approach has seen some success. By tapping Milestone, or rather, Static, they get the bonus of a built-in fanbase, a pedigree, and a little check on the Minority Box. That’s a Triple Word Score.

So, like a toy collector buying cases of crap he doesn’t want, they get their action figure, the one they think will make them money, and toss the rest. They think that Static himself won’t sell on his own, because they’ve trained their audience to view new characters with distrust, if not outright malice, and non-event stories as Not Necessary, so they botch any plans of a solo series. Stick him in a team book and you get all the benefits, none of the minuses!

And then, at some point in the future, they’re going to put Static back in their toy chest, ready to spring out again when they need a young black kid (who is drawn like a grown man) to talk about how cool someone else is, take a dive for a new hero/villain, or catch a hot one in the next Crisis.

All of the drama, all of the hoopla, is about money. It’s about being able to make a profit on the short-term, and hoping that that keeps you going enough that you can catch more later on. It’s an extraordinarily near-sighted way to do business. According to McDuffie, a number of comics creators, ones with names, ones who sell books, wanted to do Milestone work. They remembered the universe, they wanted in on what looked like a good thing. But, money talks, and if you aren’t looking at an immediate profit, well, sorry. You aren’t talking loud enough.

But when arts meets commerce, commerce eventually wins out. It doesn’t matter how groundbreaking (original, cool, artistic, awesome, whatever) a character is. For the companies, and this includes Marvel, they are products to be sold, and whatever gets them sold is the right thing to do. DC dicking McDuffie isn’t about a grudge. It’s about having more action figures in the toybox that you can pull out, rather than creating new ones. It’s about being able to point and say “This is a comic for _______ people!” and expecting them to come just because you built some mediocre, at best, story.

DC saw that a character was successful elsewhere, hunted it down, and didn’t care about the consequences of that act. So now there’s a creator, one who has proven that he can do popular work amongst comics fans in at least two mediums, who is pretty much thoroughly alienated, a gang of savvy fans who are pissed, and a character who is going to slowly disappear into the ether.

I don’t get it. It seems like you have a ready-made formula for success. You have characters people like, creators who actually care about doing stories with them, and an audience who just might be receptive. Instead, you instantly shuffle most of the characters off into Nowheresville, put the one you like in a lame duck that no one, not even the writers, enjoys, and shut it down before it even gets started.

Well done. You’ve succeeded in completely playing yourself.

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22 comments to ““He paints pictures beautifully, but comics is nearsighted””

  1. Its Dan Dildo….why do you sound suprised?
    i swore off DC comics LONG ago

  2. Sadly, I’ve felt done with DC for a while because of these “Commerce vs. Art” debacles. The thinkiing seems distorted, to twist the old adage: it’s like they’re losing every battle, but still trying to win the war.

    Despite being a Bat-fanatic as a kid and still saying Dick Grayson is my favorite mainstreamy character when people ask, aside from Brian Wood’s work (DMZ, Northlanders) and Jason Aaron on Scalped – both Vertigo books not coincidentally – and the Wednesday Comics experiment, I havent’ bought a DCU book regularly in forever. None of it is accessible or appealing to me anymore. I just can’t seem to hitch my wagon to that horse.

  3. I’m not even sure how this makes sense commercially. Static Shock had 4 successful seasons and continues to get good ratings. There’s clearly a market here, one that’s a lot bigger than, say, a third volume of The Outsiders.

    And yet Static remains unsupported. Static Shock wasn’t renewed for a fifth season because WB couldn’t find anyone interested in a toy line. Geoff Johns tried to use him in Teen Titans, but was blocked by red tape. WB has no plans to put Static Shock out on DVD.
    The GBA game was canceled when Midway filed for bankruptcy. The game was just bad luck, but otherwise it’s like dealing with FOX executives.

  4. I think in the long run Static is just going to end up being Black Lightning 2. Everything gets eaten to maintain copyrights, and given the choice they’ll kill static to keep a super friends character around.

  5. The fact that Static has a popular TV is probably immaterial when it comes to the comics. Successful movies don’t dramatically increase sales on their respective comics, Watchmen aside, so I doubt having a TV is going to do the same thing. Plus, how likely is it that the people watching the TV show actually know that Static was originally a comic book character?

    It’s also really hard to tell what is and what isn’t going to succeed in comics nowadays. Captain Britain can barely last for 15 issues while Deadpool has three ongoings. Grant Morrison is a hugely successful writer but his Vertigo work barely sells. Same with Bendis, Brubaker and Millar and their Icon series at Marvel. New or obscure concepts don’t do well. Yeah, DC is doing the Red Circle characters but that’s only because they want to appease JMS and because he’s had past success with something similar on Supreme Power, The Twelve and Thor. The odds of a Static Shock series actually succeeding are probably pretty low and I wouldn’t be surprised if DC decided to not even bother trying.

  6. I doubt this has anything to do with sales, and more to do with the fact that there is some seriously bad water between DC and McDuffie right now. Would you want to launch a series by a creator who is currently furious at you? Especially one that is not guaranteed by any means to be a big hit like Eric Rupe pointed out?

  7. @Eric Rupe:
    You’re kinda proving that Static Shock would have a great chance of doing well:
    “The fact that Static has a popular TV is probably immaterial when it comes to the comics. Successful movies don’t dramatically increase sales on their respective comic.”

    Then later, you say: “Captain Britain can barely last for 15 issues while Deadpool has three ongoings.”
    — Correct me if I’m wrong, but Deadpool’s increase in ongoings happened due to his inclusion in the recent Wolverine movie.

    Also: “New or obscure concepts don’t do well.”
    — Static Shock is neither new nor obscure considering the show had 4 successful seasons and a good following, many of whom are in the age range that DC would be looking for: children, young adult and probably even those in the 18-25 range. Children especially will be influenced to buy the comics if they find out their favorite cartoon is also a comic.

  8. @David Salomon:

    Marvel is currently giving Deadpool a big push so that is generating interest and I’m sure the Wolverine movie and possible Deadpool are generating interest for the character but only among current comic book readers. I seriously doubt there is any outside interest in the comics. For example, Invincible Iron Man #1, which came out around the same time as the movie, did really well but subsequent issues are not doing that much better from the previous series from what I remember.

    That’s the problem with Static, most of the interest in character is from outside comics with no real way to inform people that the comics exist. Marketing, for all comics, is pretty bad so you can not count on outside interest to translate to comic sales. Static may be well know outside of comics but, again, how would that outside audience find out about the comics and, even then, they may not be interested. And how much of the current comics readership knows about the character as a comic character and is interested in an ongoing series?

  9. I love the Milestone characters, but I honestly couldn’t see this ending any other way than this. Let’s be honest here, the Milestone characters were great, but they were barely a blip on the radar during the 90s. There was just no way that they could support their own title, and with the bad publicity from Dwayne McDuffie, and the fact that people didn’t seem to care when they announced it or when they did that arc of JLA, they shelved the idea. I honestly can’t blame them for not wanting to launch titles with unrecognizable characters at this point. The sales of Blue Beetle, Manhunter, Vixen, Black Lightning: Year One, Simon Dark, etc. can all attest to that.

    Static might have been able to support his titles, but even then it would’ve been a 30k selling title at best. And with the bad water coming from McDuffie, it probably didn’t even look like it was worth it. Coming from a fan and an avid supporter of McDuffie, this is bullshit. But, it’s completely understandable bullshit.

  10. GREAT Article, David. You say what a lot of people cannot.

    I agree with Mambazo, though. The minute this was Milestone/DC thing was announced, everyone knew that it wouldn’t end well. I understand, to some extent, why Dwayne might have gone this route. Giving him a flagship title is a helluva extension of goodwill. Who would suspect that he’d have been hampered, so?

    Anyway, sometimes people get tired and hope for the best.
    Who knows? I’m a McDuffie cheerleader. Smart money says that he’ll come out on top in the end.

  11. DC and Marvel; comic book fans dream of the day when both’ll get their acts together and make great comics again. But alas, tis but a dream.

    I blame the two-headed monster known as quesadidio; but when they finally retire or are smacked outta office by some fed-up fan, we all know that they’ll just be replaced by clones

    sorry static; and i didn’t forget about you blade

  12. It’s a nearsighted devotion to their central characters as “icons” which has prevented them looking at the big picture. Rather than saying “Static Shock’s a popular cartoon, how can we exploit that to make money and get another generation interested in comics?” they say “Static Shock’s a popular cartoon, how can we transplant his popularity to shore up our 70-year-old icons?”

    Comic books need new blood. At the moment the mainstream industry’s run by the diehard fans for the diehard fans, and we haven’t had a fresh influx of those since the 90s.

  13. I’m currently down to..four..mainstream DC/Marvel books I think. Secret Six, Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: The Initiative. And I’m thinking of going to trade waiting on all of them. While there are still plenty of writers whose work I really like at both I’m just kind of tired of corporate owned super-heroes. I’ve been craving real character growth. Stories that have actual impact and not just until the next Big Event…

    Probably why for weekly/monthly supers fixes I’d say I’m more into Image again. Larsen’s Savage Dragon, Faeber’s Dynamo5 and Kirkman’s Invincible especially. There at least when someone dies or the set-up changes I know its more for the story then to create a temporary sales bump…

    Plus when I jones for stories about Cap, Spider-Man, Hulk, etc I can buy some more Marvel Adventures collections. Low continuity, extra fun. I only wish DC had a deeper Johnny DC line…

  14. […] also liked a lot of David Brothers’ analysis here: All of the drama, all of the hoopla, is about money. It’s about being able to make a profit on […]

  15. So does DC own all the milestone characters?

  16. It’s a shame things like this happen. I’ve noticed more on DC than with Marvel. First with Chuck Dixon then with Dwayne McDuffie. He was one of the only reasons I read JLA.

  17. how many people who watch Disney XD would know to go looking for a Static Shock comic?

  18. @David Salomon: It’s likely that Marvel want to push Deadpool with the recent movie, but the latest version of his ongoing launched nine or so months before X-Men: Wolverine opened, and has sold in the 40-50k’s since the first issue hysteria calmed down. I don’t really understand it, but Deadpool seems to have a following.

  19. @Tekkamansol: DC doesn’t own any of the milestone characters. They are licensing them (I say “them” but really it’s just “him”…Static).

  20. […] kind of news. (If anything, I hope there’s room in their “restructuring” agenda to quit jerking around with the Milestone imprint. Just sayin’.) So in all honesty, their announcement doesn’t affect my perception of […]

  21. […] Forever, one last story with the characters, and I’m looking forward to reading it. Given all the history with DC, though, I don’t know why I believed this time the treatment would be different. It […]

  22. […] from defunct publishers. (Cases in point: Captain Marvel, the Charlton Action Heroes and the infuriating Milestone debacle.) A newly introduced heroine in a comic far removed from DC’s A-list isn’t exactly […]