Rolling With The Punches - 2
By Jason Hughes
“Blame your parents, blame the media, hell, even blame comics, but if people are telling you that you have a problem, then the problem is you.”
The biggest comic book event in the Midwest came and went with high traffic and low vendor sales (at least if you believe the preliminary reports and quite frankly I don’t believe anything I read… unless I like what it says and I want to believe it. In fact, I don’t even believe what I’m writing right now, but who really cares). The biggest news I read, and in fact I only saw it covered in one little place, and no that place wasn’t even here at Silver Bullets, was the full release of Mark Alessi (he of CrossGeneration Comics fame) going on about how he was going to be the #1 publisher within two years and that his goals were to destroy Marvel and DC. You know what, I like this guy. For all that Joe and Bill are accomplishing at Marvel, and they’ve done a lot for that poor lost piece of crap company (such as it was only five or so years ago), they still are struggling to get outside of the box and rethink this industry—more on this later. Well, Alessi’s been working hard to think so far outside the box he can’t even see it anymore, and it looks like it’s paying off. Regardless what you think of their product you just gotta give props to this man for trying really really REALLY hard to get his product in as many people’s faces as possible.
I mean he launches his compendia collections (EDGE and FORGE thus far) compiling various issues of each CG series sequentially putting it out monthly. A copy of a popular format these two books at current prices cost approximately US$24.00/month. And they feature the same high-quality paperstock and cover images as the monthly volumes (you just have to wait three or so months to get ‘em. The monthlies individually cost $36.00/month so we’re talking a pretty good savings. But that’s still at least in the ballpark of the box.
Next he threw COW at us and no this doesn’t have anything to do with all that T&A (no this is really art and literature—no get over it, it’s T&A and there’s nothing really wrong with that per se—is it just me or is Top Cow the only place to still have a “house style”) nonsense shaming the “I.” I’m talking about Comics on the Web where for only $1.00/month you can have access to every CG book in publication (again at a short display) and all available for reading on the computer and in easy-to-download format. But is that enough. No. First he’s got to set it up with links and affiliates all across the comic book web community, and further. Recently, he inked a plan to set up COW on the websites of every radio station owned by Clear Channel (and that’s a lot folks). Essentially, Mr. Alessi is looking to get a lot of people fired for reading comics on the job, but you’ve got to admit it’s a great idea. And hey, who cares how cheap it is. He’s making money on these same stories in the monthlies, the trade paperbacks and the compendia so he can afford to do this, and there are no publishing or distribution costs to consider either.
And as for that “he can afford this” comment. Hell, this guy can afford almost anything. His net worth is somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 million bucks so when he says he’s going to do something you can be damn well sure he’s going to do it. It may not succeed but this is a guy who is more than capable of putting his money where his mouth is. So the next thing he throws out is CGE and Code 6 and the notion that they’ll start hunting licenses. Huh? Confusing and pissing off fans for days before they realized that A) these are two different concepts and B) CGE at least is pretty much just like Image while Code 6 is an entirely new monster. Okay, well I won’t bore you with the details of all that as it can be pretty complex and it’s been covered already (if you need to know look for the news article on SBC right here). What I want to talk about is the part that wasn’t covered in most of the press releases regarding Alessi’s plans and Diamond Comics.
I loved this part. Speculation has been going on for months now that Diamond has been playing a numbers game with CrossGen regarding their sales figures (under-reporting those numbers by not taking into consideration reorders and other such things) and the reason for that is this: CrossGen has a contract stating that if they reach 5% of the market, they can move to the front of the bus with the big boys (Dark Horse, DC, Image and Marvel). Well, CGs numbers according to Diamond remain at approximately 2-3% while Alessi claims they’re actually over 4% and closing in on the Holy Grail. So part of the reason for CGE is to bring in more books and creators (he’s already signed the recently divorced from Image critically acclaimed darling from Team Red Star… that’s right I’m talking about The Red Star as the first, and thus far only, member of the CGE family and rumor has it the folks at Chaos! Comics will be signing up, and less substantiated rumors have the folks at Top Cow considering jumping ship—more on that later as well). The plan is that by joining forces with such books as The Red Star and others and further expanding the quantity of titles they publish, no amount of number fudging can keep CrossGen from crossing that 5% mark.
Furthermore, “the grapevine” is apparently saying that Diamond has a separate agreement with the Big Four (which I mean lets stop kidding ourselves here is really the Big Two and the Two Has-Beens (Dark Horse is nothing without its licenses these days, and Image is but a shadow of what it used to be bringing in less than 10% of the marketshare now (I believe)))(I love parentheses—heh) that gives them approval rights on anyone moving up front to join them. It makes me wonder about the circumstances that saw Acclaim remain up there for so long (at the end they were selling way less than CrossGen currently is and even less I believe than upstart DreamWave (if these boys can sell any of their other titles besides those Transformers books they’ll stand a good chance of creeping up on that 5% mark as well) is currently selling). Well I hope CrossGen manages to acquire the likes of Chaos! and Top Cow, as well as a myriad of independent properties just to force Diamond’s hand. Let’s see if Diamond actually acquiesces and moves them to the front (and with their company name they would actually become the FIRST listings in the catalog, something I’m sure the other four wouldn’t like at all, so then they’d force Diamond to list them by Market Share, thus moving Marvel and DC to the front. I can’t wait to see how this one turns out. Get me some popcorn and a La-Z-Boy… I’m just gettin’ warmed up.
As promised, we’re going to address Marvel’s “New Deal” and how it’s just not good enough. Let’s face it, they’ve improved the sales on most of the books they’re working on, and they’ve improved the profits of the company, but they’ve also increased their overhead by bringing in top-named creators, and they’re also diluting the market by (as they always do) saturating it with anything that’s even marginally successful. Marvel Knights is a hit so let’s splatter the shops with as many of these as we can. What’s happened is they’ve completely destroyed the charm of Marvel Knights by putting out substandard product and thus the brand name is damaged. MK was THE place to find cutting edge superhero fare; was being the key word there. Now, with crap like MARVEL KNIGHTS (Volumes 1 & 2), as well as DOUBLE SHOT and other sub-par contributions, MK is just as “hit and miss” as mainstream Marvel. No longer can we know we’re getting quality when we see that logo.
MAX Comics turned out to be nothing more than a place for creators to curse. Other than the excellent Alias which could pretty easily move to the mainstream Marvel Universe with a minor language clean-up and some of their very first contributions, there hasn’t been much coming out of this imprint that’s very impressive.
Only the Ultimate line continues to do well, but that’s because it has stayed small. I’m not even going to address the rumors of Marvel going all Ultimate here (there isn’t enough room for all the donkey crap I would have to sling their way), but if they expand this line too fast then it will die just like everything else they screw with too much. What happened to The Punisher when he became really popular? Well, of course he needed to have three monthly titles as well as appearing in 40% of Marvel’s monthly titles. Why? To boost immediate sales. But what about long-term growth? Screw it, we’re only worried about the here and now. Well, welcome to 2002. What did Joey Q say was the biggest problem with the Marvel Universe. Too much X-Men and Spider-Man. So he axes a bunch of X-Titles and trims the Spidey line. Well then the movies hit and now we’ve got more X-Titles than we did before he came onboard and we’ve got a whole slew of Spidey minis as well as three monthlies, with a fourth to start next year. Not only that but we’re going to up the production on most of these titles so that we’re getting 16-18 issues a year). Suddenly we’re saturating the market again. Will this help in the long-term? Who knows, it’ll help now. Why publish twelve Spider-Man books a year at 100,000 or so copies sold a piece when we can sell 16 at the same numbers (idealistically). That’s a guaranteed sell if it’s part of the regular series than another cliché-ridden Hollywood-hyping piece of guttural human garbage written by Marvel’s newest baby (the single most untalented high-profiles comics writer) Ron Zimmerman—note I say untalented COMICS writer; this guy could be brilliant in movies but he’s putting out junk at Marvel… why oh why do they love him so???
But lets take a look at all of these imprints and things and what do we see. A bunch of different approaches on, yep you guessed it, superheroes. Is that all Marvel can write about? Even when they put out something like the excellent Deadline or The Call of Duty or the new X-Factor that doesn’t feature superheroes in the main roles, it still has to involve superheroes and the Marvel Universe. Why can’t Marvel truly do something like Vertigo where they produce something that DOESN’T take place in their inconsistent universe (as I read all of the Marvel titles I can tell you for a fact that continuity is the LAST things these bozos are concerned about—I don’t know if this is good or bad but it is the way it is). Ever since Epic folded so long ago that most people don’t even know what it is, Marvel has been terrified to publish anything that takes place outside of their universe, or at least in a parallel universe, and I can’t figure it out. You’re the industry leader. Lead and they will follow. Do you really think that this industry will recover and grow and become great riding exclusively on the backs of superheroes?
I heard the argument this week that superheroes have proven that they are the future of this medium because they outlasted the westerns and romance and crime and horror books and they’re still here. That my friends is the stupidest argument in the world. Superheroes collapsed once before like this and that’s why we ended up with so many westerns and horrors and romance and crime books and the reason those died out was because of those damned McCarthy hearings that made them water down their content and lose their appeal. Well, the caped crusaders were already featuring watered down content with goody-goody morals so “Guess What!” that’s what the publishers were allowed to sell under the Nazi-like screw-the-first-amendment Comics Code regime. That’s why superheroes lasted… because the government came in and shut all the other genres down. Well, superheroes are dying again, and a lot of them are slowly morphing into something else, taking off the masks and in some cases losing the costumes entirely.
Marvel is just as volatile as ever with rumors of a “DC Implosion” for the entire line, rumors of the closing of the MK and MAX imprints, rumors of the Ultimization of the entire line, rumors of the firings of Joe and Bill and rumors of the company being sold lock, stock and barrel to Sony (the company behind the fine megaselling Spider-Man film). Who the hell knows what’s going to happen, but I can tell you right now something’s going to. Sales are dropping on MK and MAX (Howard the Duck was an admitted money loser by the end of its run), killing those brand names, much as the Image brand name has been killed already.
Speaking of Image, and I was (nice segue hues—thanks hues), let’s talk about that rumor that Top Cow may be considering jumping ship to CrossGen’s CGE family, and the more substantiated rumors that they at least met with Alessi to discuss it. What this means is that Silvestri & Co. are at least considering leaving the “I”. Perhaps they are seeing that WildStorm is having some pretty decent success over at DC (of course it helps that they’ve got six or seven imprints of their own that publish high-quality work) and perhaps it’s related to the speculation that as Image is trying to improve its *ahem* image as a publisher of sophisticated high-quality diverse product, they feel that they are being hindered by being the publisher of such “look at the boobies” titles like Witchblade and Fathom. True or not these statements are making the rounds, and maybe Marc just isn’t feeling as welcome as he used to there. He’s really the only full-blown publishing house left as Liefeld left and drowned (not literally kiddies), Lee ran to DC and McFarlane got so distracted from comics he’s lucky to get out an issue of Spawn each month, much less anything else. And with the loss of JMS to the house (and the subsequent folding of Joe’s Comics (breaking all those promises of new projects so he can work on superheroes)), Top Cow has little left. They’re planning a bold new “relaunch” of their universe (read ploy to lure in new readers and launch a bunch of hopefully successful why can’t you guys love us like you did in 1995 new titles) and maybe taking that relaunch over to CrossGen would benefit everybody? CG gets to push their numbers over 5% and become a big player, Image gets to truly be the house of diversity they crave to be (until the loss of sales drives them into a financial ruin that ten thousand critically acclaimed books selling 47 copies a month can’t save), and Top Cow gets to be with a publisher that will be thrilled to have them (even if they are a boobies publisher).
But it’s WizardWorld, you say. Didn’t anything else happen? Oh well sure. Everybody announced a bunch of projects that were so memorable I can only really remember that DC is revamping Dial “H” for Hero into something closer to a 100 Bullets spin-off with the dial passing from one person to the next. Great concept so it’ll probably get canceled like everything else that’s different. They also confirmed the return of Firestorm which has the geek in me just salivating. I always loved that concept (the original one, not the “Fire Elemental” nonsense it spawned into) and Aquaman is returning for his seventy-third consecutive ongoing failure. This is a very difficult character to write (kind of like Marvel’s Dr. Strange) with a lot of character potential, but if anybody can pull it off it’s going to be new writer Rick Veitch. Recently of the excellent ABC title Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset of which I think I was the only reader. He proved there that he can create rich characters and habitats so I am cautiously optimistic (cautious because of Aquaman’s tragic history of cancellation). They also reported that they’d like to see Tom Strong go bimonthly (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA) as well as Planetary (HAHAHAhAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA) and Kurt Busiek’s Astro City (Oh God stop, you’re going to kill me). These books are so sporadic people are born, grow up, and die between issues, but luckily they can pull it off because quality is worth waiting for.
Let’s see. What else. Oh yeah, Vertigo is going to “evolve”. Well, it is evolve or die and Vertigo has almost forgotten what the Top 100 looks like! Mark Waid announced Superman: Birthright in which he will tell a story that’s never been told before… the origin of Superman! Oh wait, my grandmother just told that story last month. As overdone and exhausting as it is to pander to these guys who want to retell the same story over and over and over and over and over again, this could still be pretty good. At least it’s not likely to crash and “Byrne”. Did you see what I did there with the “Byrne?” Man of Steel. John Byrne. Oh, I kill me. Heh. Heh. Uh.
Speaking of that, let’s have a moment of silence for those books we’ve lost this past week. Of course I’m speaking of Deadpool and Cable. We’ll miss you guys. See you in two weeks.
Marvel announced that they will be cutting story pages by one so that they can add in that nifty “Previously” page that’s been appearing in the likes of Daredevil and those Ultimate books. Great! With the new style of storytelling where no information is given of what has occurred before (which I agree is essential to future success) these pages are essential. Finally, Marvel is stealing an idea worth stealing (and by stealing I am referring to CrossGen and others who have been doing this since day one). The issue, apparently, is that they’re cutting one page of story to fit this in. Well, this will make those trades a little shorter and will apparently push many artists and writers to the homeless shelters as they lose out on that page of money. Of course, Marvel indicated that they would still put in extra pages if the story warranted and that sometimes they could take out the letters page to make room for it. To this I say “huh?” I almost forgot there were letters pages in Marvel titles they appear so infrequently. I think this week we get a letters page in Iron Man and that’s it. One letters page out of all the books published this week, so I say again “huh?” How can you offer to give up something you hardly ever put in.
And quite frankly I think the loss of the letters column as a reliable feature has hurt this industry. It was always one of the things special about these monthly periodicals. A forum for the fans to communicate with the creators, talking about the passion they so love. Sure they do it on the ‘net now, but without it in the books, there’s a certain charm that is lost. They just don’t appear to be as reader friendly without these forums. When you open a book and see a letters column you know this is a title that listens to and responds to its readers. Suddenly you matter and you feel all important and gishy inside and you want to become a part of that fellowship of fans. We’ve lost that fellowship and replaced it with a bunch of anonymous losers hiding behind fake names slinging crap on the internet. At least when I sling crap I put my name to it (it’s Jason Hughes for those of you taking notes).
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