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Friday, September 30, 2016

Wonder Woman is Bisexual…Good Gravy.

DC has made it official: Wonder Woman is a bisexual. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Okay, there’s a lot wrong here. But it doesn’t have to do with Wonder Woman. It has to do with DC Comics.

Just when you thought Rebirth was going to change things at DC…They go back to the same old failed playbook doing the exact same things and expecting a different result. The rest of the publishing world calls this insanity, but this is business as usual at DC Comics.

Goeff Johns told us Rebirth was supposed to be a change from the Didio era. But here we have Greg Rucka following the same old approaches from the Didio business model that pretty much cost DC ten percent of its market share and thousands of readers. This whole Wonder Woman is bisexual gimmick is just another marketing stunt designed to generate short-term controversy but won’t increase sales for DC Comics in the long term.

It’s clear to me Greg Rucka is out of his depth. When writers like Greg Rucka can’t write good stories they resort to gimmicks. And they hope to deflect from their lack of storytelling ability by doing something flashy to overcompensate for their lack of substance. So instead of writing that great Wonder Woman story where we see her taking on a new menace or a fresh take on an old one…We get the revelation that she’s bisexual.  

Big Deal. Cassie Hack of Hack/Slash has been bisexual for over five years. Tara from the FemForce has been a lesbian for over 35 years. Xena has been rumored to be lesbian for 20 years. What makes this revelation so special? 

The big problem with comic book writers like Greg Rucka today is that they overthink everything instead of keeping it simple. Readers don’t need to know Wonder Woman’s sexual orientation. We don’t need to know what kind of tampon she uses. We don’t need to know if she masturbates in the shower or under waterfalls in Paradise Island. We just need to know what a wonder she is at kicking ass. 

Seriously, no one cares if Wonder Woman is bisexual. Readers care if she’s interesting. Readers care if she has a "voice" that speaks to them. Unfortunately writers like him can’t write Wonder Woman stories that get readers excited about buying the comic for close to 40 years. Instead of the gimmicks, give us a Wonder Woman story where she kicks the ass of the members of her rogues gallery like Cheetah, Dr. Cyber, Giganta and Circe and you’ll give readers an incentive to buy a comic. Heck, just give her some new rogues and maybe readers might try a comic. But instead of creating some interesting stories we get more of the same old gimmicks from DC that collapsed the comic book industry in the 1990’s.

Greg Rucka thinks that revealing that Wonder Woman is bisexual will make a profound statement for diversity. Unfortunately, most comic fans are indifferently responding to it. Many see right through the marketing stunt and many more are just wating for the next reboot to retcon this little revelation from the characters’ mythos. At this point comic fans and casual readers are just tired of the archaic 1990’s shock marketing approaches comic publishers continue to use and want them to do something different with their business model.

The big problem with Wonder Woman for 40 years has been that no one has been able to write her adventures in a postfeminist world. Yes Wonder Woman was an icon for feminism and a symbol for strong women back from the 1940s-1960s. But ironically after feminist Gloria Stienem demanded that she be changed back from the strong selling Diana Prince Wonder Woman concept back to the star spangled superwoman in the mid 1970s in Ms. Magazine she has struggled to find a direction, an identity and an audience with readers. These days with so many strong real-life women around like Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Gina Carano, Mickie James, Chyna, Beyonce, and Carly Fiorina around and strong female heroines like Buffy, Xena, Sonya Blade, Elisa Maza, She Hulk, Rogue, Jessica Jones and The Powerpuff Girls in media, Princess Diana of Pardise Island has become another pretty face.

Now she’s bisexual. But still just another pretty face in a crowd of dozens of superheroine and fantasy characters. And there’s a lot wrong with that from a business perspective.

Seriously, What can Wonder Woman do that any of the characters I mentioned can’t?  What makes her special? Why should readers care about her? Those are the questions no writer has been really able to answer in Postfeminist America for over 40 years. Yeah Wonder Woman was the first female superheroine. But most people don’t buy her comic because no writer makes can make a person they can relate to today.

What Wonder Woman really needs a new direction. Something contemporary and relatable to readers of all ages. Something that defines her for this age. Give readers a story where Wonder Woman a story where she participates in an ultimate fight against a Greek Goddess like Isis did in The Ultimate Fight. Or she stands up for her principles against a villain who challenges her values like Isis did in The Beauty Myth and Wrath of the Cybergoddess. Or have her take on a more contemporary menace readers relate to like Vampires like Isis did in Night ofthe Vampires. Or have her and Batman take on Dracula like Isis did in Bride ofDracula. Those were some of the ideas I had for Wonder Woman stories. And I believe those are the kinds of stories that’d get readers excited about the character to start buying her adventures again.

I’ve never wondered about Wonder Woman’s sexual orientation. The only thing I wondered about was the action and adventure between the pages of her comics. Show readers what makes Wonder Woman great as a character people will buy Wonder Woman comics.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wonder Man Action Figure Mod

For my 43rd Birthday I was given a Marvel Legends Wonder Man from Captain America’s Abomination wave by a family member. While I love this updated version of Simon Williams Hasbro produced, I wasn’t a fan of the costume they chose.

While I’d love to have a Safari Jacket version of the Man of Wonders for my Marvel Legnds collection, I much prefer the red and black togs he wore in the West Coast Avengers over that overdesigned mess of a costume he wore in Uncanny Avengers. 

Since I’m a fan of classic versions of characters over modern, those stupid red armbands and legbands on Wonder Man’s costume HAD TO GO. Using a couple of coats of Delta Ceramcoat Medium Flesh on his biceps and Delta Ceramcoat Black on his legs I painted over those red bands. Then I took a piece of electrical tape and made his belt. A few coats of Michael’s brand burgundy and I finally had a Wonder Man ready to join my West Coast Whackos.

FUN FACT: West Coast Avengers was one of the first series that I started collecting regularly when I was 14 years old! Took close to 20 years, but I finally have the core members of that team in action figure form! Thanks ToyBiz and Hasbro!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monster High Reboot Cartoons- More STUPID Than The Law Allows

Okay, I knew the Monster High Reboot was going to suck. When I saw the pictures of the dolls with softened face paint and cheaped out clothes, it was clear to me that Mattel was going to fuck up one of their best-selling toylines. But now that I’ve seen the cartoons to promote the relaunched toyline all I can say is…

I never knew anyone could cram that much STUPID into less than one minute. But here we are. 

I thought Monster High was supposed to appeal to teens and tweens. But the content Mattel put into its new cartoons is so DUMB even toddlers would look up at the screen and say WTF? 

Seriously Teletubbies wasn’t this STUPID when it was on the air. Even Elmo and Baby Bear on Sesame Street aren’t as DUMB the new Draculaura, Frankie Stein, and Clawdeen Wolf are.  Seriously, Clawdeen Wolf’s power is to turn into a puppy. And her family turns into puppies. 

Again WTF? 

While the New Monster High cartoons have state-of-the art computer animation there’s little substance behind its flash. The stories in these one-minute shorts pretty much betray everything the books and the original cartoons were about. Instead of boys and girls being presented with an intelligent series that showed everyone what’s great about being different, viewers are getting a dumbed down series that promotes sexist ideas about interpersonal relationships between boys and girls. 

Under the new Monster High Premise, Monster High is a private academy and girls can get in by making a…sad face. No, you did not read that wrong. The new male Headmaster is so much of a WIMP he just breaks down when teenage girls just give him a look when he says not to them. Seriously, what kind of message is that to send to girls? 

Look pretty, put on a sad face and men give you what you want. Isn’t that Barbie’s premise? And isn’t that why Barbie’s sales are in the CRAPPER these days? Because today’s girls and women have REJECTED the archaic ideas she represents. But here we have Mattel pushing these outdated messages to 21st Century girls and boys in an effort to sell toys.

Unfortunately, what made the Original Monster High concept sell to boys and girls was the fact that it showed the beauty in what socieity perceived as ugly in the original Flash Cartoons. Because we saw the content of the characters of the monsters like Frankie Stein, Clawdeen Wolf, Cleo De Nile and Gholia Yelps we started looking past their appearances and seeing how great these characters were. 

And the original Monster High cartoons promoted the idea that boys and girls got what they wanted through hard work. Frankie wanted friends? She worked for it. Draculaura wanted Clawd? She had to make efforts to let him know. Cleo wanted to get out of Nefra’s shadow? She worked for it. Ghoulia wanted to solve a problem? She worked to solve the problem. When the Monsters wanted to get on the fearleeading squad they had to work together to accomplish it. And when the Monsters fell into a trap laid by someone like Toreliai or some monster like in Gloom Beach they worked together to get out of it.

One of the things I liked about Monster High’s cartoons was that they promoted the idea that girls and boys had to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. It sent a message to both boys and girls to accomplish their goals through hard work, not doing manipulative things like putting on sad faces to appeal to the heartstrings of men like these new cartoons do. 

The other thing I liked about the old Monster High Cartoons was the fact that it showed teens from all walks of horror world came to Monster High. We got to know them and their families. We got to know parents, friends, families and how they interacted with each other around the world of Monster High. This new academy/boarding school concept takes away from the intricate world built around Monster High and makes it a shallower place. 

Once customers looked past their appearances and saw people we could relate to, they started to buy the toys. With these new cartoons I see no reason to buy the toys related to the Monster High Reboot. They’re not monsters. They’re not proud to be Monsters. They hide their best features like their scars behind plastic surgery and pretty made up faces. They’re dressed up not to look distinct and be themselves, but to conform and look like everyone else. And they’re written not to act like themselves, but conform to the standards of their obsolete predecessor Barbie Millicent Roberts. 

Mattel has been running the new Monster High cartoons on YouTube. And they’ve been disabling the comments on all of them. And I believe they’ve been disabling the conent because they don’t want to hear from all the anger from all the fans who made Monster High the hit it was for close to a decade. They have a right to feel betrayed. Everything they loved about Monster High has been tossed to the wayside for a dumbed down premise that talks down to customers and treats them like idiots. Mattel may think these new cartoons will appeal to kids, but all I saw online were animations with stories that would insult a kid’s intelligence. 

While the original Monster High cartoons were crude Flash animations, they had more depth, substance, character and heart than the ones in this reboot. These new Moster high cartoons betray the orignal premise of Monster High’s books and the toys. And they insult the intelligence of viewers. Instead of selling us on what’s great about Monster they show us all how Mattel executives have ruined a great product by trying to turn it into another Barbie clone. I’ll take any of the substance of the stories in the old Monster High cartoons over the flash in the new fancy CGI ones any day. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

What Makes Comic Characters With Mysterious Pasts Fun

In comics some things need to be left a mystery. Such as:

The Phantom Stranger’s origins,

The Joker’s Past,

And Wolverine’s past. 

These days many comic book writers think it’s a good thing to fill in all the details in a character’s backstory. However, sometimes the best story is left to the imagination of the reader. Sometimes a writer leaving things blank allows the reader to tell a better story than anything a writer ever could.

When it comes to certain characters, it’s the mystery behind their backstory that makes them fan favorites. The fact that the reader doesn’t have all the answers is what makes readers keep coming back to read more stories featuring them.

In Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman The Joker is given a name: Jack Napier. However, the comic book character has never been given a name. And that’s really one of the most compelling elements of the character. Since he’s psychotic, there’s no way of ever finding out who the Clown Prince of Crime ever was before he became the Clown Prince of Crime.

Yes, we got snippets of the failed comedian could have been in the canon/noncannon Batman: The Killing Joke. And Batman: Mask of the Phantasm showed us a mobster who killed Andrea Beaumont’s father, but none of those stories don’t give anyone a definitive picture of who The Joker ever was before he became the Joker. Again, since The Joker is psychotic, no one really knows about his past but him. And since he’s crazy, we’ll never know if he’s ever going to tell the truth about that past. That’s what keeps readers coming back for more stories Batman stories featuring him.

One of the things that is planned for DC’s Rebirth is telling us that three men were the Joker. I’d rather have it where The Joker is just a crazy guy who no name and no past. Part of what makes the character great is no one knowing who the man really was before he became the clown prince of crime.

Another character that readers really don’t need to know everything about is DC Comics’ The Phantom Stranger. Part of his character premise is being a literal Stranger.  The Phantom Stranger is supposed to be mysterious individual who observes events in the DC Universe and only comes in to intervene when absolutely necessary. Since he’s a literal stranger on the outskirts of the DC Universe, he doesn’t need an origin. He doesn’t need a past. He just needs to be what he is: A Stranger.

However, that didn’t stop DC Comics from giving The Stranger four different origins back in the late 2000s. And in one of them he’s supposed to be Judas Iscariot. Attempting to answeri that question just sucked the life out of what made the character a compelling one. 

What makes The Phantom Stranger a great character is us NOT knowing who he is or what his mission is regarding the DC Universe. The way I see him, he’s kind of like DC’s answer to Rod Serling, an outside observer watching what transpires in the DC Universe and sees it kind of the way Serling saw things in The Twilight Zone. Before the Neal Adams redsign with the mod turtleneck, chain, and the cloak, The Stranger reminded me of Rod Serling with his black suit, tie, and trenchcoat and I always believed that early issues of the Phantom Stranger were inspired by The Twilight Zone. On the earliest issues of Phantom Stranger Readers are supposed to wonder if he’s a man or if he’s a ghost. We’re not supposed to know who he is, or what his mission is. That’s a question that no writer was ever supposed to answer. And that’s what made the character great.  

Once writers start answering the unanswered questions oftentimes a mysterious character starts to lose their luster. For example, when Wolverine was given an official origin in the early 2000s it sucked the fun out of the character for me. I liked the idea that we didn’t know where the man called Logan came from. When he first made his appearances in the X-men back in the 1970s, we all knew he was over 80 years old, but we didn’t know anything about who he really was. His mind had been tampered with and his memories a jumble. Which led readers to ask: In the past was he a samurai? A government agent? A drifter the government picked up and experimented on? And if he was experimented on by the Weapon X program were his memories even real?

Unfortunately, in the early 2000s We found out his name was James Logan Howlett, and he was around since the 1800s. A story that didn’t really need to be told, but somebody told it anyway. And when they told that story it took a lot out of the Wolverine mythos. What made Wolverine intriguing was the fact that he was a man with a mysterious past filled with unanswered questions. Once writers started filling in the blanks it became a total letdown for many readers.

I’ve written quite a few characters with long backstories filled with unanswered questions. For example Isis is over 2,000 years old. And I haven’t told all the stories related to her past. Yes, she’s mentioned living in Egypt during the Roman Empire. She’s also mentioned living in Japan during the feudal period, along with traveling across Asia to learn different martial arts. And she’s mentioned fighting pirates.

When it comes to E’steem she’s over 4,000 years old. And readers only have learned snippets about her past in Ancient Egypt and in Europe. She’s mentioned past relationships and marriages, and even having children in Isis, The Temptation of John Haynes and E’steem series stories like Faerie Tale, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of the characters’ backstory as a human and a demon.

And when it comes to John Haynes there’s an unanswered question to whether or not he has supernatural powers. I never answered the question to why Lucifer hated him and from his ability to take on the principalities of darkness like demons, vampires and Dracula, there could be more to him than meets the eye.

I could fill in the blanks in these characters’ backstories with in a series of stories, But I’m not gonna tell those tales. Why?

Because I believe that some stories are best left to the readers imagination. I believe if I start filling in the blanks the reader is going to taken away from what they believe to be great about a character. And instead of them forming a connection with the internal traits that make a character great, they’re going to get sucked out of the story and caught up in the minutiae of continuity.

Sometimes the best stories aren’t the ones that a writer tells. They’re the ones we tell ourselves as we fill in the blanks writers left in between their stories. Part of the fun in comics is not knowing every little detail about a character’s life. As we ponder the answers to the questions writers have left unresolved regarding a characters’ past, we’re supposed to imagine what could be coming in the next story where we may or may not get an answer to those questions in the next adventure.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What’s Wrong With Comic Shops

Thanks to the distribution issues and lack of returnability to retailers, customers these days can only get comic books in two places:

A Barnes & Noble,

Or a Comic Book Store.

What’s wrong buying comics a comic book store? The big problem with comic shops is that they’re designed by comic fans to sell comic books to comic fans. And while comic fans are comfortable shopping there, the casual customer doesn’t find a comic shop an inviting place to buy anything in.

Most comic shops aren’t appealing environments to casual customers. In many cases the lighting is dim and merchandise is all over the place. Oftentimes items are presented on the sales floor in such a haphazard and disorganized way that customers are literally stepping around merchandise or stepping over it. While many comic fans don’t mind seeing merchandise based on their favorite characters displayed around the store like items in their bedrooms, most casual customers are uncomfortable around all the clutter that is a mainstay of most comic shops.

Worse, the sales staff isn’t skilled in sales or customer service. Many who own and work in comic shops may be well versed in characters and their respective universes, but not well versed in social skills and interpersonal skills that allow them to form a relationship with customers. New customers want to deal with staff who are friendly and approachable, and can make them feel welcome in an unfamiliar store. Most comic shop owners are well versed in selling comics, but not selling themselves and their businesses.

In between the cluttered sales floors filled with vintage merchandise, older comics and the surly and rude staff in comic shops most casual customers tend to avoid shopping for comics at the comic shop. While they may be excited and want to learn more about characters after watching superhero movies, they literally get turned off once they find out the only place they can get comic books is a comic shop. It often makes many new potential customers uncomfortable to find out that they only place they can get a comic is a comic shop, and those who venture into these shops often find themselves in an environment that’s not casual customer friendly, and even hostile to younger customers like children.

Most casual customers want to walk into an environment with brightly lit sales floors, open space, and easy to find merchandise. They want to interact with friendly staff with solid customer service skills. The kind of employee who looks to foster relationships with new customers in the same way they would with comic fans in the shop and on social media and their base of eBay customers online.

With most comic shop owners being comic fans, they tend not to focus on the things that are important to building and expanding a business to reach new customers. When it comes to selling comics, most comic shops tend to focus on the core base of regulars who have pull lists with them, not making serious efforts towards bringing new readers into the business. For most comic shop owners, their idea of a serious effort at reaching new readers is Free Comic Book Day.

However, every day should have the same focus for a comic shop owner as Free Comic Book Day, reaching new readers. Every other retail business makes efforts to reach new readers 365 days of the year, not just one day in it. And comic shops should be no different. There numerous opportunities to reach customers, but most comic shop owners and comic publishers make no efforts to target those new readers in crucial seasonal periods like Halloween, Christmas and the Summer reading season.

It’s during these periods that a comic shop could reach large bases of new customers and expand their business. However, most comic shops are so busy catering to comic fans and selling yearlong events from comic publishers to regulars that they don’t see the opportunities to reach new readers during the periods when customers are looking for products to buy.

During big market periods for the trade publishing industry like the Holidays (October-February) and the Summer reading Season/Summer movie season (April-July) trade publishers are reaching large audiences of new readers with new products. However, most comic publishers oftentimes don’t have any entry point products available during these periods to target new customers. Many comic book events are launched in August/September the two SLOWEST months in the publishing schedule.

Worse, most comic shops don’t implement any sales and promotional campaigns to reach new readers during the big sales periods when they have disposable income. And because most comic shops don’t have any sort of business plan to reach customers during the sales periods where most retailers make up to 25% of their profits for the year, many comic shop owners struggle to pay their bills.

If Comic shop owners hope to expand their business and reach new readers, they have to start running their business like a business for customers, not comic fans. They have to start thinking of ways to reduce the clutter and make the shop more open and inviting to the man, woman and child on the street. They have to learn how to sell not just the products, but their business. And they have to start thinking of how the casual customer sees their business, not the comic fan. Because once the casual customer, especially kids start seeing the comic shop in a positive light, a comic shop will build a word of-mouth with casual customers and a comic shop owner will be able to finally expand their business to new readers in their area.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Isis: Samurai Goddess Concept Art

I’ve been sketching up character designs for the upcoming Isis: Samurai Goddess cover.

The cover I’m planning features Isis facing off against a trio of female Japanese assassins known as The Manga Girls and their boss Cassandra Kachimura in a Japanese Gardern or a City street. There’s gonna be lots of ACTION on this cover!

The concept art for the three Manga Girls are inspired by Go-Go Yubari From Quentin Tarentino’s Kill Bill. I decided to vary the hairstyles so that each character would stand out in the final design. Along with the weapons, it makes them each more distinct.

I spent several weeks studying Japanese weapons and Chinese weapons and did my best to get them looking somewhat like them. Tanara wields the nunchucks, Akikio wields the tessen fans, and Wakana wields the Meteor Hammer. Don’t let the school uniforms fool you, each of these chicks are deadly masters of the martial arts! 


The boss Cassandra Kachimura herself is inspired by O-Ren-Ishii from Kill Bill. After studying the Japanese Kimono I think I have it rendered fairly decently. While Isis faces off against the Manga Girls, Cassandra Kachimura is standing behind Isis looking to sneak up on her with her samurai sword raised high in a killing strike.

Isis: Samurai Goddess is a fast paced adventure featuring Martial arts action and intrigue. I took a lot of inspiration from Quentin Tarentino’s Kill Bill, 1970s Bruce Lee films, Doc Savage pulps and NYPD Blue for this story and did lots of research on Japanese culture. I’m hoping to have Isis: Samurai Goddess out by the end of this year or in early 20l7, depending on how my finances are and when I can get the cover designed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Why You Can’t Buy Comic Books At Retail

A lot of people still want to buy comic books. Unfortunately, they can’t find them.

Why is it hard to find a comic book at a newsstand, drugstore, bodega, supermarket, or 7-Eleven? Simple. No one wants to sell them.

Why don’t retailers want to sell comics? When it comes to publications most  retailers want titles to be returnable. That means after 30-90 days on the shelf if a title doesn’t sell, or is damaged, the retailer can return the title to the publisher in exchange for credit on next months’ titles. While genre paperbacks like romance novels are returnable for credit after 30, 60, 90, or even 180 days, comic books are nonreturnable. That means the retailer is stuck eating the cost of a comic if it remains unsold, or it winds up damaged on the store shelf.

The longer a comic book remains on a rack or a shelf and is handled by customers, the harder it is to sell to other customers. And when old dog-eared damaged comics remain on the shelf of stores for months on end, it makes a business look like it’s not taking care of business. Rather than risk alienating customers with a sloppy comic book display, most retailers just stopped stocking comic books.

 When a product is nonreturnable in retail, it’s a huge risk to the retailer. That means they have to eat the cost on unsold merchandise from day one. Every day it doesn’t sell is a day they’re losing money. By the time a retailer has marked down a comic after 30 days or even 90 days from $3.99 to fifty cents they’ve lost money on the shelf space it occupies. By the time it reaches a quarter bin 180 days later, the business owner is taking a loss on that comic. In that time they could put other faster-selling products on their shelf space. Or they could have sold that same space to businesses that have no problem paying slotting fees to a retailer as a designated space for their products.

Thanks to comic publishers making comics nonreturnable, there are only two places where you can buy 32-page comic books these days: A comic shop or a Barnes & Noble if they have them stocked in their magazine section.

It wasn’t always like this. 30 years ago it was easy to find a comic book. They were sold at newsstands, magazine stores, supermarkets, drugstores, bodegas and big box stores like Wal-Mart and Target. However in the mid-1990s two events changed the distribution model for comic books. One was the collapse of the speculator market in the 1990s that caused over fifty percent comic shops to go out of business,

And Marvel Comics buying Heroes World in an attempt to distribute their own titles. With one of the big two attempting to distribute their own titles this led to most distributors in the depressed market going out of business. Worse, Marvel being a publisher they had absolutely no understanding of how the distribution business worked in publishing. And because they had no understanding of all the losses incurred by a distributor, they wound up filing for bankruptcy sooner rather than later.

Distribution in publishing is a tricky business. And you really have to know what you’re doing in order to manage it in retail. In retail like supermarkets and drugstores most titles have to be labeled as returnable in order to be stocked on a store shelf. If a title sells, a publisher gets money from the sale. If not, the cover is torn off and returned to the publisher as “unsold” in 30 to 90 days in exchange for credit on next month’s titles. The profit margin on titles distributed to retailers is razor thin and all it takes is one mistake to drive a publisher into the red. With 90% of all new titles failing in the first year, a publisher has to know how to manage its risks. 

Unfortunately, Marvel was going into distribution just as the industry was collapsing. Combined with a slew of poor selling stories like The Crossing, Onslaught, The Clone Saga, and Heroes Reborn, they were incurring heavy losses as the speculator market busted. And thanks to Marvel changing the distribution market most other distributors were folding because they couldn’t order half their inventory. In the aftermath of the distribution debacle, there was only one distributor left for comic books in America Diamond Comics Distributors.

These days the Diamond has a monopoly on the comic book business. And thanks to their business model the comic book industry just can’t grow. While superhero films and superhero merchandise has been exploding at retail, comic books just haven’t been able to establish a foothold in that same marketplace due to the business model Diamond uses to sell comics.

Under Diamond’s model, comics are printed and sold to order to retailers and aren’t returnable afterward. And since most non-comic retailers won’t touch a product under those terms, the only ones to buy comics on the wholesale level are comic shops. Some comic shop owners don’t mind buying comics like this because they could speculate on the value of unsold back issues. However, in this age of reboots many comic shops are winding up becoming stuck with excess inventory they just can’t sell.
Thanks to Diamond’s archaic distribution model and many publishers fear of returns, the industry is stuck in neutral when it comes to sales. While film studios like Marvel Studios and Hasbro Toys Make billions selling licensed superhero merchandise those same comic fans can’t find a comic book on the same shelf next to the toys or at the theater where the movie is playing. 

Many comic publishers fear returns. However returns are a good thing.

Returns are an accurate indicator of what sales really are to a publisher. Under Diamond’s current model publishers only know what’s not selling to a comic shop. They don’t know what is selling to readers. For example, comic shops ordered 300,000 copies of Ta-Neshi- Coates’ Black Panther #1. However, there’s no real indicators showing Marvel how many of those 300,000 copies are actually in the hands of readers. For all we know, tens of thousands of them will be in a quarter bins of comic shops six months from now.

However, when a publisher gets returns from a distributor it clearly tells them what books are being bought by customers. If a book has too many returns, it lets a publisher know something is wrong with a title. And they can plan a strategy from there such as tweaking the storyline, changing the artist or just hiring a new creative team. And if those avenues don’t work, they can just cancel the title.

Under the current distribution model most comic publishers have no real way to plan a marketing strategy to promote titles or to regroup and adjust to help a struggling title find an audience during a sales slump. This is why 90% of all new comic titles die by the eighth issue and the other ten percent end by the 36th. With comics printed to order, comic shop owners are sprinting for short-term sales of a single title, not a series.

However, publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. And comics are sold by the series, not the issue. In order for comic book distribution to work at retail, retailers need to minimize their risk. Unfortunately, most comic publishers aren’t providing a marketplace that minimizes the risk to that razor thin profit margin. A retailer like a drugstore or a big box retailer like Wal-Mart or Target has no incentive to stock comics when a comic book universe will be rebooted in two or three years leaving them stuck with thousands of nonreturnable back issues on their shelves. Back issues that take up valuable space and eventually become an eyesore on the sales floor alienating customers.

People want to buy comics. Unfortunately most comic publishers are so scared of losses that they’re losing out on the opportunity to reach a whole generation of new readers. Offering returnablity to retailers is a huge risk for a distributor like Diamond. However, most comic publishers could reap the rewards of more exposure in more retail venues if they took a chance and started letting making their titles returnable again.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Marketing Comics in the 21st Century

One of the greatest challenges any comic publisher faces these days is marketing their work. While some comic books have eye-catching images on their covers and amazing stories in between their pages, most publishers including Marvel and DC don’t have a clue on how to turn those fantastic tales into sales.

When it comes down to marketing, the entire comic book industry is stuck in the 1990’s. Still trying to get people’s attention with archaic approaches such as gimmicks, events, and shock marketing. While these approaches got the attention of speculators in the 1990’s, 21st Century comic fans today are completely indifferent to them. Worse, New customers are just walking right by them in an age where superhero movies are raking in billions of dollars.

Comic publishers like Marvel think they’re getting the public’s attention when they go out and drop a press release announcing things like a Black Female Iron Man, an Asian Hulk, a Female Thor, a Hispanic Ghost Rider or a Gay Rawhide Kid. While DC thinks it’ll get the attention of readers with big catalog wide events like New 52 and Rebirth. And while many comic fans will debate these gimmicks on social media forums like message boards and Facebook groups it usually doesn’t have much impact when it comes to increasing readership. While these marketing stunts may shock most comic fans in the short-term, the sales numbers aren’t anything to write home about a few moths later. In most cases the attempt to generate controversy among readers generates next to no traction for a publisher.

At the end of the day a title winds up getting cancelled after six or eight issues, the publisher takes a financial loss, the character gets a tarnished reputation and the publisher doesn’t expand its audience. That’s throwing good money after bad, and a publisher doesn’t have that much in their budget. In a marketplace where 90% of all books fail in the first year, a comic publisher really needs a strong marketing campaign to make a first impression on readers.

It’s clear that shock doesn’t lead to sales in the comic book business anymore. Readers have heard it all before. And they just don’t care enough to spend money on the same old gimmicks.

Base blown up? Predictable. Death of a character? Been there and done that. Big menace everyone has to come together to fight? Did that last year. Major crisis that affects all the titles in a publisher’s catalog? Meh. New person taking over for the original? We know the original will be back sooner rather than later. New minority replacing the original? Ditto. It’s hard to sell a comic to a reader when they know what the story is gonna be about in a shock marketing campaign.

The biggest problem with publishers in the comic book business since the 1990’s is that they’re still trying too hard to get the attention of the man and woman on the street. Yes, comic fans are shocked by the controversial announcements of stuff going on in their major events However, they aren’t giving casual customers a reason to care about spending any money on comic books. With the speculator boom over, the rest of the world now sees these stunts as desperate Hail Mary ploys to get attention.

While the marketing stunts get a lot of bickering and arguing going among comic fans on message boards and social media, they don’t build the buzz that generates interest among casual customers. A handful of comic fans will get excited about that event in a 32-page comic and buy comics from a comic shop, but by the time the masses of casual readers find that same story on Amazon or Barnes & Noble in a trade a year later, the opportunity for making a serious inroads in sales has been lost.

 That’s the other big problem about marketing comic books, comics today are made and marketed for comic fans, not casual customers. Unfortunately, casual customers are the bread and butter of a business. And without them, it’s hard for a publisher to expand their readership.

Getting people to spend money is the hardest part about marketing. A good gimmick can get people to take a look at something for a second. It can even get them buzzing on message boards and social media. But if the product isn’t great then the customer has no incentive to spend money. Comic publishers aren’t giving casual customers that reason to invest their money and time in reading their publications.

And that’s the big question writers and artists in the overall comic book industry have a hard time answering for the layperson: WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

Hollywood screenwriters can answer this question. Trade publishers can answer this question. Even some POD authors can answer it. Unfortunately most comic publishers can’t. And because they can’t answer this question when they market a story, they can’t sell comics.

Events, gimmicks, and stunts may get the public’s attention. But if the public doesn’t care about the story they don’t spend money.

Publishing is a long-haul business. And the short-term marketing of the 1990’s are killing the comic book industry. In the 21st Century its clear the business needs to apply some new approaches to marketing comics. Approaches that focus on building audiences of readers with good stories, not gimmicks.

Unfortunately, no one wants to take the time to build that audience. In this age publishers want instant results on the first issue, not understanding the business of publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes anywhere from three to five years minimum to build an audience for a title and possibly eight to ten years for a character to build a serious following with fans. The key to marketing comic books successfully isn’t getting people’s attention with the first issue, it’s keeping them interested in reading a character’s adventures three years from now, five years from now or even a decade later.