by Nevs Coleman 29-Sep-14
Nevs Coleman continues the “right way, wrong way” thread on promotional tactics…
Last year I expressed some… dismay at the idea that DC thought they’d invented a new cash cow by publishing some variation on 3D stuff every September. I didn’t blame them as Villains Month was apparently DC’s best financial month since the New 52 started, but my fear was that editorial mandate would suggest that something would have to force this to happen on an annual basis. Bless them, DC tried their luck again this year. Future’s End 0 was their big comic for Free Comic Book Day, featuring so many limbs being removed I suspected George Lucas was ghost-writing it, and I was fully expecting a repeat of last year’s crap, with people queuing outside shops to buy comics for no reason except they thought it’d be an investment opportunity. One that didn’t really pan out, did it?
Yeah, it was an investment thing, come on, don’t lie to me, man. DC put up some scare stories suggesting that the books might be allocated so they could be rare and suddenly my phone was 90% “Are you getting those 3D DCs in?” Everyone thought they had another New Mutants 98 or Amazing Spider-Man 361 on their hands, especially given DC had said they were only printing so many of the enhanced covers because they were losing money on printing them. I had freelancers explaining to me that I should up the quantities on the ordering, after I posted on Twitter that we didn’t like how they’d been solicited, so we’d be ordering low amounts and anyone interested ought to pre-order copies. (Leaving open the question “Can I tell you how to stop writing comics that get cancelled, because 1 out of 3 DC books still being published isn’t a great percentage, is it?” Don’t tell me my job and I won’t tell you yours.)
Long term… we were right. Although we were very conservative with our initial orders of Villain’s Month, they were offered to us by Diamond a few weeks later at a much reduced rate. We took a chance on literally a couple of copies each and they sat there, gathering dust. Then, sometime around March or so, I heard DC would be trying their luck again with this stuff. Future’s End would be an event starting from a weekly comic that would lead into the majority of their output featuring new 3D cover tech. They’d learned their lessons from last time and were so confident of how well this was going to do, they actually decided to solicit the comics in Previews without the creative teams, inviting us to keep up with websites so we could be as surprised as everyone to find out most of the teams were… the same people who wrote and drew the comic as last month. (Oh, word to the wise. We’ve got better things to do than go chasing up vital information on how to order your product via some scavenger hunt. Save that crap for the Rubes and let us go on with the business of being a business, aye?)
And as we got closer to the first week of Future’s End, I noticed something.
No one seemed to care.
I’ve discussed before how ordering works, the nature of cycle sheets and such. The other half of the equation is listening. Seeing which things people are saying they’re keen on reading, what they’re excited about. Social Media is essentially free Market Research for me and as much as I’m very good at pushing my tastes on people who trust my judgement (my trick is never assuming I know better than someone else what they’d like, and not talking to them like an unenlightened sub life-form because they like Hulk more than Habibi, because it’s smart to learn from your own mistakes, but smarter still to learn from other people’s), I also know enough to not start going off to someone about the likes of Little Nemo, Dark Horse Presents or Concrete Park when really they’re just there for this week’s X-Men and not much else.
The long term effect of paying attention to people talking about comics on Twitter, Tumblr, etc., is that I know what is actually going to be popular and sell from the shelves regardless of what the publishing houses try to tell me. I’m not always right. and Lord knows there’s an extra 200 copies of Truth: Red White And Black in the world that didn’t need to be ordered (sorry, Paul), but I saw enough that my guess in August has turned out to be a fact in September, one that I’m happy to report.
That being: DC: Future’s End has absolutely died on its arse. Tanked. Dropped A Bollock. No one cared first week of release. No queues around any shops. Nobody trying to sell pre-orders on eBay. Just this month’s DCs. Sitting on the shelves, ignored because people are saying “Hang on, why does this cost more than last month’s issue? Do I need this?” I, for one, couldn’t be happier. To anticipate the usual subtweet backlash I get from writing this kind of thing, let me explain why a person who works in a comic shop would be happy that some comics aren’t selling.
I’m sick of publishing houses assuming that you’re stupid, if I’m honest with you. That they can pile out any sub-Wildstorm 1995 reject looking rubbish at a higher price because it happens to feature Batman and a 3D cover and assume you’ll buy it. That DC can presume to just replace J.H. Williams III on Batwoman because it doesn’t matter who’s drawing or writing the character, you’ll just buy the comic because DC is giving you the privilege of buying a Batwoman comic in the first place, True Believer. Obviously DC just have that magic touch when it comes to publishing female comic characters, which is why they have so many non Bat/Superman related women led titles out there… right? No, of course not. No matter how many PR-friendly tweets DC want to send out about “dedication to the character” and other meaningless bollocks, the success of Batwoman is due to Williams. If DC want to pretend those hardcovers and comics sold due to the DC magic, fine, but then they can explain why that magic isn’t working on World’s Finest, Catwoman or Supergirl.
You’re not stupid. You can see the difference in quality of an issue of Batwoman worked on by J.H. Williams III and one that isn’t, whether DC want to acknowledge that her popularity is entirely down to his work and efforts or not. You looked at the cover art of the Future’s End and said “No. This isn’t worth my money.” You have the critical faculties to be discerning about your purchases and make decisions based on those judgements. You’re not a hive of walking ATMs that just need to be shown a picture of Nightwing to dispense cash at DC. I respect you for that.
What I don’t respect is the short-term thinking of various freelancers who have been shilling these covers at me, telling me how amazing they’re going to be, because the long-term effect of pushing comics solely based on the cover is that it’ll make the actual creative team irrelevant. As I said, DC didn’t even bother listing the creative teams on the Future’s End titles when they solicited them in Previews, and I’ve read a few things to suggest that not all the comics even had finalized creatives assigned when they announced this was happening.
Does this… bother anyone else? Because it would seem to me that if DC could have started selling comics in September 2013 quantities purely on their ability to conceive of a crossover event with shiny cover technology, then it doesn’t matter who’s writing or drawing the actual content. Every single creative talent working on a DC NU 52 book would be entirely interchangeable (and presumably a new, lower page rate could be paid, since it wouldn’t matter if Alex Ross or Jim Ross was drawing Action Comics this month.)
For any number of DC freelancers to try to convince me this process is a good idea is like, well, like those people working in W.H. Smith who encourage you to use the electronic self-service tills, making the human manned tills obsolete. so that actual human endeavour is replaced with technology that doesn’t need a living wage. You’re screwing yourself in the long-term to look good for your editors in the short-term. I’m sure DC and Marvel would love to be able to sell comics purely on the strength of their licenses and gimmicks alone. It’s not been that long since artists working for the Big Two, or D.C. Thompson, for that matter, were told they couldn’t be credited for their work in the comics they were working on, as that would confuse readers. A nasty lie designed to destroy the chance of any talent getting a reputation that would allow them to negotiate higher page rates, return of original artwork and such.
Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, Steven Bissette, Alan Moore, Will Eisner, Gary Groth. The Image Boys. Countless, countless others. All men and women who risked their careers and reputations in order to make sure this generation of comic creators would be paid a fair rate and recognised for their efforts and creations. Don’t sell that out for this month’s gimmick. I’m talking to creators and customers alike here. Because the failure of Sin City 2 at the cinema wasn’t a victory against people whose opinions you don’t like in comics, it was a defeat for the idea that any comic creations can transcribe into cinema unless they’re owned by Disney or Time-Warner. Hollywood lives in fear of risk and it’ll be that bit harder for anything else to get made now that Sin City 2 is perceived as a failure.
If there’s an upshot from this, it’s that we seem to be back to promoting talent over gimmicks, and DC pushing the fact that they’ve had John Romita, Jr, drawing Superman for the last couple of issues and that the draw of Multiveristy is that Grant Morrison is writing are steps in the right direction. The direction that says Marvel and DC might own the toys, but they’re nothing without someone good to play with them. And with that in mind (with kind permission of Cameron Stewart), here’s a look at the new Batgirl comic he and Babs Tarr have created. It starts with issue 35, shipping on 8 October 2014. I’m buying it because it’s by people whose work I like. I think that’s the only good reason to buy any comic.
Tags: 3D covers, Batgirl, DC Comics, Future's End, Villains Month