From a business perspective Archie Reboot was a textbook example of how to make an established character fresh for the 21st century. Great redesigns that stayed true to the spirit of the characters and a team of top talent working on the new titles. However, Archie’s editors must understand one business principle: Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.
What makes or breaks relaunches is how a publisher plans for the next five to ten years, not how they work in the first two or three. And from what I’ve seen from comic relaunches from Marvel in 1998 and DC in 2011, the editors focused on the short-term sales at the expense of their long term growth. Sure the reboots got a lot of attention in the beginning and even lots of sales. However, that was followed by a steady decline in sales. Archie’s editors have to watch that pattern to avoid making the same mistakes.
Archie’s editors also have to watch is long term talent development. Yes, an A-list talent Mark Waid is writing Archie now. But what happens around issue #12, #24 or #36 when Waid finishes his run? What happens when the artist decides to leave? Too many editors at comic publishing houses launch their rebooted books with A-list teams but don’t focus on building up new talent to take their place at the end of their runs. And that causes their books’ sales to flounder when the B creative team takes over.
It’s the declines in sales when the B creative team takes over that can make or break a relaunch like they did with Iron Man and Captain America’s titles in 2000. If the audience can’t connect with the second creative team of artists and writers the book won’t be able to go the distance. Again, publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.
And too many comic publishers today sprint for short-term sales spikes from relaunches instead of focusing on a plan that helps them build a long-term audience with readers. A smart publishing professional is making plans for the departure of top talent 36 months before they leave. Having them work on second and third tier books to cut their teeth and get the audience familiar with their work. That way the transition between A and B talent isn’t felt by the reader when they pick up a comic.
Unfortunately too many comic publishers don’t focus on building up the secondary creative team to take the baton from the celebrity writers like Waid. That’s been what has impeded Marvel’s growth after relaunching with Heroes Return in 1998. Because editorial no plan for what to do after the A talent like Mark Waid, Kurt Busiek, George Perez and Sean Chens left, Most of Marvel’s relaunched books wound up lost and directionless.
Archie’s editors have to focus on the bigger picture or else they can wind up in the same predicament as Marvel’s editors ran into in 2000 and DC is right now after their new 52 relaunch collapsed and Convergence fell flat with readers. Developing new talent right alongside the veteran celebrity talent will enable readers to get to know the new writers and artists and lead to a smooth transition when they take over for veterans.
So far no comic publishing house since the 1990’s has developed a strategy to maintain their growth after a relaunch. I’m hoping Archie can buck the trend and create a business model that other comic publishing houses can use to expand their growth.
Archie had an amazingly executed relaunch. But maintaining that success will be the challenge. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. Keeping the positive momentum going will require their editors to have the vision to focus on the big picture of building the brand not just a few issues of an acclaimed creators’ run.