Posted by: Brian Hibbs on October 1, 2008
I’m off the school hook this morning as Tzipora is taking Ben in, so hurray I can babble for a bit!
Some old business first, before I say anything about comics…
1) The Bendis/Kirkman debate thing. They’re both right (as such things usually go) — it is EXTREMELY difficult to solely do creator-owned material and make a proper living from it, but when it works, it works amazingly well.
In a way, there are two kinds of comics shops, which for the purpose of this conversation, I’ll call “leaders” and “followers”. Leaders are always on the make for new voices and new ideas, and are pretty active in trying to identify new talent and to support them. Followers aren’t interested in a work (and/or creator) until AFTER it’s already broken elsewhere, so their risk is minimal. Getting through those first few ugly months of sales (Bendis’ three-issue drop) is nearly entirely a function of the Leaders. I’ve long suggested that the real trick is making through your first 9-18 releases (largely depending on both how good you are, as well as your production schedule), until the Followers figure out there’s something going on there, and that’s the point you can start to profit from your creator owned work.
Doing “mainstream” Marvel/DC work generally does very little for your creator-owned profile, with a couple of rare exceptions where your first “notices” are coming from the M/D work. Mark MIllar might be a fairly OK example of that — prior to his M/D work, there was very little “head turning” indy work from him. Sure, he got a little attention for SAVIOUR, but that never lasted long enough (or finished the story, even) to make much of a real mark. It was through doing increasingly higher profile material at M/D that got eyes on him for creator-owned material. But it is a rare creator that can do that because what you bring with you are associations from your M/D work.
See, generally speaking, in today’s market (pretty much from the 90s on) any “base” you build from M/D work comes from the characters first, and the creative voice second, unless there’s something strikingly different about that voice. Not a lot of guys really have that special thing, or rare alignment of circumstances to make it all work.
What I always tell creators is to build their own brand, a brand of themselves, rather than hoping that the M/D brands will rub off upon them. Bendis, for example, became hotter than sin as a M/D guy, to the point where he’s one of the prime architects of the Marvel U. His sales on POWERS, meanwhile, haven’t had any appreciable bumps, relative to the book being published by Image — at least not the kind you’d hope for when you can say “FROM THE WRITER OF SECRET INVASION!” (or whichever) on the cover, y’know? Either way, “his” brand is inextricably tied with Marvel’s brand right now.
Very generally, when a creator makes a reputation from M/D books that is translatable to creator-owned work, it isn’t from the Big Books, but from the Quirky stuff. The audience for Spider-Man and X-Men or whatever isn’t portable to your creator-brand recognition. The audience for the books/characters that people have written off can be.
Dunno if this is making any sense, it’s too early in the morning.
2) The MINX thing. One thing to consider is that the “teen” reader devouring all of that Manga really really seem to be attracted to series, rather than titles or creators — what they appear to be looking for is something they can read for a good long time, that comes out on a fairly regular basis to fill that jones. One-off titles don’t show any great evidence of being popular in that demo. While some of the Minx books did eventually develop (or at least start to develop) sequels, the line was positioned very much as stand-alone books.
Spurgeon mentioned that he thought some of the demise might have come from the spending they did at the launch, and not getting the return they wanted from that, but that doesn’t really sound like a DC thing to me — they’re usually pretty good at the Long Game.
In the DM, Minx looked like it was doing pretty well, to me — probably enough to carry the line for a good while longer, so I think it’s fair to think the problem is the bookstores.
I don’t KNOW if any of this is right, but here’s my educated guess. In the DM DC offered some big incentives to get stores to stock the books, so I suspect they did the same in the bookstore market. Bookstores, however, are a returnable market. My guess is what happened is that they way front-loaded copies into the bookstore market, and that most of them came back. I suspect that the Minx books had decent sales, relative to similar work from say, Vertigo (the OGN line, I mean), but that the big returns coming back made it so that any profit there, as well as the profit from the DM, was wiped out. Further, Vertigo-style OGNs launch first as a $25 (ish) HC, followed by $15 (ish) PB — Minx books were only $10. The smaller trim size would make them a little cheaper to print, but probably not 1/3 less.
Retailers, in any market, fear the Stench of Death from a line. Once you’re on our “bad producer” list (be that from quality, or policy), it’s really hard to get off of it. Sometimes that designation comes from PERCEPTION, rather than reality. That is to say, you might not be looking at the number of copies that you sold as much as the number you SENT BACK. “Oh,” you think, using imaginary and made up numbers, “normally I return 5-10%, and I’ve been returning 30-40% here; wow this line has the Stench of Death, let’s cut back my orders to be REALLY tight”
It doesn’t matter so much that you sold a modest and sustainable number of copies — you THINK the line is a flop. In the DM you can see this sometimes in stores that don’t do cycle sheets, where they “eyeball” the rack for sales — if you see too big of a stack left over, you THINK a book isn’t selling, and tend to cut it below it’s actual market value.
My guess (and purely a guess) is that the actual sales of the line were probably good enough to keep it going on its own, but that the perception of the line meant that it needed to be a “hit” in order to keep going, and that the initial wave of returns were too high because the expectations for line were oversold…
Frack, I’ve been writing for 90 minutes? Got to jet over to the store to open. Back with some actual reviews in a few hours (it’s a small enough week for comics that I’m sure I’ll have time to bat them out)
Be right back!!