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TILTING #218 is up

Brian Hibbs

As always, it is at Comic Book Resources — feel free to comment here if you can’t / won’t there (though there’s already a healthy early AM debate going on in the comments, it looks like)



22 Responses to “ TILTING #218 is up ”

  1. Great essay. I know very little about the inner workings of the comic business, but my uninformed analysis is that there can really only be one explanation for the proliferation of low-selling titles from the Big 2. Advertising. The only way I can make sense of the multitude of books and the often inexplicable publishing choices is that Marvel and DC have a quota of ad pages that must be met every month.

    I also think it would be at least a huge creative improvement if the low-selling-and-almost-certainly-never-to-sell-any-better-titles were eliminated in favor of try-out books like the old Marvel Premiere or Marvel Spotlight.


  2. I thought that was a really great post. I do have one tiny nit to pick, though. You start off by saying Diamond claims to have over 3500 accounts worldwide. You then say knowledgeable retailers seem to think 2000-3000 of those accounts are actual comic stores. Do you mean worldwide or in the US? I think it’s an important distinction because you then use the ICV2 numbers for sales and ICV2 only reports North American sales.

    Wait, I have a second tiny complaint…I think the idea comics are a testing bed for potential billion dollar franchises is no longer true. The only character post Wolverine/Guardians of the Galaxy that seems to have any “mainstream” interest is Deadpool. Other than that, it seems to me no one’s created anything at Marvel or DC people care about since the mid-70s. The current and future money-making franchises seem to be either manga (maybe not North America, but properties like One Piece make money hand over fist internationally) or indie stuff (Jeff Smith is well on his way to being an extremely rich man while maintaining complete control over Bone). Granted, those money makers are still the outliers, but Marvel and DC don’t seem to have anything to show for themselves outside Deadpool. I think this is actually a very strong reason why comic shops matter and why the “wiggle room” to buy indie titles, like you mention in your column, is so important.

    That leads to the most depressing take away for me…Marvel and DC are trying to crowd everyone else out by publishing profit negligible comics to absorb all the money in the market place. Rather than compete, it seems like they’re just trying to tie up all the available market cap with titles like your example, Vibe.

    We NEED good comic stores, like yours, to keep the market relevant. Otherwise, we’ll just get more and more half-hearted attempts at being creative by changing the color palate on a derivitive idea (Red She-Hulk – the saddest proof of Marvel and DC’s irrelevance.)

  3. Nope, Mike — Advertising is (currently) an utterly insignificant economic impact in print comics.

    I mean, it may be that they need to show (say) “3 million circ” for each ad group (if you observe carefully, it’s pretty clear which comics are bundled together for ad purposes), but that’s better achieved from fewer titles.

    But, yeah, why do you think Marvel changed their page counts? They dropped a 4-page signature because they don’t have the paid ads any longer to make that attractive. Most of Marvel’s ads appear to be swaps, or favored-nation deals from licensors.


  4. Yeah. If Marvel and DC were any good at attracting outside advertisers, I’d say bring on MORE ads, and drop the cover prices. :)

    @Chris: “The only character post Wolverine/Guardians of the Galaxy that seems to have any “mainstream” interest is Deadpool. Other than that, it seems to me no one’s created anything at Marvel or DC people care about since the mid-70s.”

    Somewhat true, but I think there’s probably some value in mining more recent comics for story material, and for new takes on old characters that inspire movies. The Winter Soldier is turning up in the Cap movies, and I’m guessing that if they ever do end up doing an Iron Fist flick it’ll owe quite a bit to the Brubaker/Fraction run.

    But I’m really kind of surprised that Warner and Disney haven’t been a little more hands-on. You’d think maybe at some point they’d say, “Gee, we can’t really do much with five different Avengers teams, but how about if you spend that time and money on creating a new IP or at least revitalizing an old one?”

  5. “Nope, Mike — Advertising is (currently) an utterly insignificant economic impact in print comics.”

    Well, damn. That would at least have been a somewhat economically justifiable explanation. The only other options are…

    A. Stupidity.

    B. Malevolence, in that they really are just trying to squeeze everyone else out of the market.


  6. “I’m guessing that if they ever do end up doing an Iron Fist flick it’ll owe quite a bit to the Brubaker/Fraction run.”

    Which is probably why it will suck. Not to slight BruFrac. I feel the same way about the “We’ve got a raccoon on our team” version of Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s been some stuff done the last 10-15 years that would be a good idea to include if you’re doing a comic book flick about a classic character. But if it’s worth doing the film at all, it’s going to be because there was something worthwhile about the original creation, not because somebody’s re-imagined it in today’s comic shop ghetto.


  7. @Steve Huh, I didn’t know that about the Winter Soldier. Incorporating an idea from the past decade would definitely help invigorate the current Marvel and DC product. As it is, it just feels too much to me like failed movie writers spinning their wheels until their ship comes in. (I’m aware Brubaker has sold some scripts to Hollywood, but he doesn’t fit in the failed movie writer group I’m thinking of.)

    As for an Iron Fist movie basked on the Brubaker/Fraction/Aja comics, maybe I’m just having my cynicism nurtured by reading Sean Howe’s book, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I just don’t believe anyone’s looking at anything recent in either company’s output for development with the exception of the Winter Soldier thing. Like, I think the Winter Soldier thing is a fluke.

    @MBunge I think any way a space racoon warrior can be put in a movie is a great thing. I haven’t read the recent Guardians of the Galaxy comics, so for all I know the raccoon could destroy the story, but I think having him in a movie is a nice way of breaking the mold a bit. I have enjoyed the recent Marvel movies, but I feel like they’re too cookie cutter. Thor and Captain America were almost the exact same movie as Iron Man. An anthropomorphic raccoon would at least be something new.

    To no one in particular – going back to my other point that the financially viable ideas are happening outside Marvel and DC, I think Mark Millar has figured the whole thing out. He’s having Marvel publish his “original” ideas as comics and them making movies with his ideas. So, he gets the benefit of riding off the coattails of the Big-2 market dominance while acting like the average Image comic creator.

  8. “I think any way a space racoon warrior can be put in a movie is a great thing.”

    Dude, I have wanted Marvel to do a Rocket Raccoon movie for years. Right after they do a Devil Dinosaur one. I mean, it’s an ape boy and his pet dinosaur fighting giant monsters and space aliens! But if you’re going to do a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, doing one based on the version from the 1970s read by hundreds of thousands of people seems a much better idea than the reboot version from 2008 that’s been read by 10s of thousands at best.


  9. Devil Dynosaur sounds great, too! Just as long as it isn’t the exact same movie Marvel has been making since Iron Man. To your Guardians of the Galaxy point, I’m not disagreeing with you. I’m just in favor of changing the basic structure a bit. I think the only Guardians comics I ever read were the early Valentino ones. I think Howe’s book mentioned the original Guardians were a Steve Gerber creation, right? If so, yes to that!

    As an aside, I loved the Rocket Raccoon books by Mignola and Mantlo when I was a kid!

  10. Double comment – boo!

    Mike, I wanted to comment again because I wanted to tell you I agree with you 100%. They should use the older, more popular version. The new guys aren’t the best just because they’re new. You stated it well in your comment and I totally rushed by it. I also wanted to say how nice it is to agree with you on something. ^_^ I just felt the need to point that out since we don’t usually see eye to eye. Although, even when I don’t agree with you, I still enjoy your comments since you see the industry an entirely different way than I do.

  11. Arnold Drake and Gene Colan created the original Guardians in Marvel Super-Heroes #18. That said, Steve Gerber wrote the rest of their early appearances and the first half or so of their series in Marvel Presents.

  12. @Mike: “Malevolence, in that they really are just trying to squeeze everyone else out of the market.”

    The weird thing is, people in charge seem to have done a pretty good job of at least paying lip service to the notion that they need healthy competitors to keep their market alive. I think they know that other publishers going under is not good for the Direct Market, and what’s bad for the DM is bad for the big two. And considering a runaway hit for an indie publisher sells what a low- to mid-range Marvel/DC book sells, why bother?

    So, yeah…I guess that leaves stupidity?

    Seriously…I kind of feel like the problem with fixing the comics market is that there’s probably eight or ten things wrong, and fixing any one of them in isolation is actually detrimental. Cut the number of books being produced, and overall sales go down. Lower the price on digital, and the DM (maybe) suffers. Lower the cover price on printed books, and profit margins go down. Make stories more new-reader-friendly, and existing fans lose interest.

    @Chris: “I just don’t believe anyone’s looking at anything recent in either company’s output for development with the exception of the Winter Soldier thing. Like, I think the Winter Soldier thing is a fluke.”

    Well, Iron Man 3 is apparently at least loosely based on some relatively recent comics. And Avengers had a pretty strong Ultimates influence. Granted, this is still going back a few years, but it’s not like the movies are completely stuck in the 60s. Heck, they were trying to do a Runaways movie at one point, though that fell by the wayside.

  13. Steve,

    I could be all wrong, but I think the Ultimates connection is how Millar learned Hollywood and started beating Marvel at their own game. I think he was a story consultant on Iron Man, no?

    Anyway, my thought is…and once again, I could be all wrong, but my thought is Marvel has no problem mining recent stories (i.e. The Ultimates) for movies, but I don’t believe they’re going to base any movies on any character created post-Wolverine/Guardians of the Galaxy with the exception of Deadpool. I think this is because neither company has generated a new character with appeal to people outside the realm of Big 2 readers other than Deadpool and maybe Winter Soldier. I say this because I don’t believe either company is viable as a test bed for new IPs. I think the test bed is non-Big 2 companies, the little guys being killed by the Big 2 taking so much shelf space regardless of the reason.

    It’s just my opinion and remember, when it comes to the Big 2, I’m really cynical.

  14. I’m wondering: how many regular comic readers the Previews chart represents? 300.000? 400.000?

  15. An almost impossible question to answer “filippod”. One starting place might be “What percentage of ‘people who read comics’ read BATMAN” and multiply from there. Now, I think that number is “well less than 10%”, but I’ve had retailers straight facedly tell me they think it is “over half”, so, dunno?

    I can say that I personally think that the number of customers I have (including casual buyers and civilians), compared to the number of people who buy BATMAN, and multiplying THAT by the national charts would yield AT LEAST 1.5 million readers.


  16. Great article Brian

    If books which sell less than 30,000 are, on average, not worth the risk for retailers, does that mean that you would like Marvel and DC to cancel all of their books that currently sell less than that (38 for Marvel, 36 for DC)?

    Or would you prefer a gradual tapering off, say cancelling 4 books every 6-8 months?

    Or do you just want them to sell the same amount of books but ones with stronger concepts?

  17. A mix of all of that — I’m not trying to “dictate terms”… but I want commercial products to sell from the commercial companies.


  18. Mr Hibbs, in one your replies on CBR, you say: “the best selling periodical? Well, I’m throwing that one out, because UNCANNY AVENGERS #1′s sales are essentially fiction” – what do you mean by that?


    Peter Noble

  19. The problem with trying to create new, popular superheroes at Marvel and DC is that it’s not a rational exercise. Compare the process of creating a new title character to creating a new heartthrob for a TV soap opera. Success will consist of connecting to and stimulating viewers’ fantasies with the character on a continuing basis, not on meeting any aesthetic standards.

    Superhero comics are a niche market because there’s not a way of marketing a series to a broad audience–the satisfying chunk doesn’t exist.


  20. Peter: UA #1′s orders are DRASTICALLY inflated because of several tricks that Marvel did to get them up (deep discounts, variants, etc.) — they might be inflated by as much as 100% — the “real” number, relative to actual demand, is probably somewhere in the 150-200k range.


  21. “The problem with trying to create new, popular superheroes at Marvel and DC”

    The real problem is the lack of new creations at all. When books tried to tell stories that made sense as individual issues and were treated as individual published entities instead of mere pieces of a larger puzzle, there was both a demand and an ease of creation that facilitated things.

    When stories last 1 to 3 issues, instead of 4 to 6 and more, you’re telling more stories every year and you practically have to create new characters just to meet that demand.

    When comics were treated as stand-alone books that were expected to rise and fall largely on their own merits, creating a new character was a far less involved process. How many “creative summits” do you think were held to come up with Iron Fist, Ms. Marvel or Nova? I’d imagine it was more like an editor saying “Hey! Can somebody come up with a super-hero to tap into this martial arts fad? Or creators telling their editor “Hey! I’ve got this great idea!”

    Wolverine and the Punisher weren’t the product of people trying to create the next big thing. There were merely two out of a multitude of new creations that happened to catch on with readers.


  22. Wolverine and the Punisher weren’t the product of people trying to create the next big thing.

    Wolverine’s success illustrates why superhero comics are a niche market. From a literary perspective, there’s nothing there. He could have easily been a throwaway character, a memorable Hulk opponent. He might also be considered a parody of the classic noble superhero.

    If one were to do a single story to sum him up–there’s nothing to say. Take away his claws; he’s reduced to an asshole who people can ignore. Perhaps he represents the anger of people who want to make a difference, but can’t.


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