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Rolling With The Punches - 4

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PRE-MATCH COACH’S CONFERENCE

“Now you go out there and show them what you’ve got!”

“Do I have to be in the Soapbox? Nobody comes to the matches.”

“They’re there, you have to work your way up. You want Madison Square Garden you’ve gotta earn Madison Square Garden! Now come on, let’s get pumped up for this one. Last week wasn’t your strongest performance.”

“But when will I get to headline on my own?”

“I didn’t want to have to tell you this, kid. I like you-- I really do, but you’re not gonna get outta here until you develop some real talent.”

“. . . oh. Well, I guess I’ll just get comfortable then.”


ROUND 1

Somebody smack Todd McFarlane really, really hard! Please. The man needs to come back to the world of comics. Now I’m not gonna start bellyaching about him drawing or even scripting Spawn because quite frankly it’s not gonna happen, and hell his chops are probably so cold he’d get lost and buried in that neverending cape of Spawn’s. I’m talking about something much simpler; solicitation and shipping.

Yes, that’s right. In a beautiful display of synchronicity, the latest issue of Spawn shipped this week along with the latest issue of Previews. And in a beautiful display of idiocy it laid to light one of the biggest problems facing this book today. Let’s take a look at what we have at play here. Spawn has seen its sales drop from being a consistent Top 10 best-seller to coming in at #33 in July! That’s quite a drop. Still, pretty good numbers in this depressed market, but what happened? Are the fans finally getting tired of the never-ending and never-evolving and slower-than-a-turtle-struggling-to-escape-from-a-vat-of-molasses-progression of the non-story of Al Simmons’ resurrection and consistently failed attempts to redefine his life? Well, probably. But there’s something even more serious going on here. You know how the comics retailers are trying to sue Marvel for lost sales due to lateness of books (arriving many months after solicitation thus costing potential sales—and the fact that they are leaving the books non-returnable). I don’t know if Toddy has his books on a non-returnable basis but he’s got the late shipping thing down to an art. But it doesn’t have to be this bad. The solution is so simple. Stop soliciting new issues, or back up about five or six months and start resoliciting. Say it with me (we’ll go slow). Re. So. Lic. It. Ing.

I mean come on Todd, do you really think you’re helping yourself here? This week saw the release of issue #118, arriving about two months after #117. Issue #118 was solicited in the Previews from November of last year. LAST YEAR folks! And in the latest Previews we get the solicitation for Spawn #127. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.





Got it? Good. Now, Todd is soliciting the book that will come out nine issues after the one that we just got. And he’s saying it will ship October 30. Three months. Nine books. Three books a month. Ambitious to say the least! Further complicated by the fact that the last two issues failed to ship within six weeks of one another. And even further yet we can glean knowledge from the experiment happening over at Camp Savage Dragon, in which Erik Larsen is feverishly increasing productivity to get his book back on schedule (as he also continued to solicit each month while falling behind). Larsen discovered via retailer feedback that shipping consecutive issues closer than three weeks apart affected sell-through of each issue (a debatable argument considering the biweekly shipping of many of the top-selling books during major events but we’ll leave that for now). And kudos to Larsen in that he has managed to catch up about four months of work and is about a month or two from being completely on schedule (and this man’s doing it by himself). Nevertheless, despite all of this, we know that McFarlane has no intention of upping his productivity (or in reality the productivity of the chumps he pays to pimp his creation). This has been going on for years.

So let’s do the math. Let’s say Todd does get out an issue of Spawn each month (and believe me that’s being very generous). At that rate we can expect issue 127 to arrive in stores by April 2003. Retailers have enough trouble trying to place orders for books shipping two to three months in advance and Todd is expecting them to anticipate their sales sometime in the spring of next year! What a completely asinine expectation. No wonder the orders are dropping. Who can predict something that far in the future?! Who would bother to try?!

Now I understand that McFarlane wants to keep his product visible each month in Previews but why not do what DC has been doing with Green Arrow since its relaunch (as it is a proven winner at missing ship dates). There’s no shame in resoliciting an issue when you start to fall behind schedule. See, that way you’re not slapping the retailers in the face with your arrogance/stupidity and you’re still having your book in the fan’s faces each month. Plus let’s face it, shipping 118 and soliciting 127 on the same day just makes you look dumb. I mean really dumb. What fan is going to get excited reading the solicitation copy of a book they may not read for a year. Stop being such a dumbass and straighten this mess out! I guarantee you this is hurting your sales!


ROUND 2

The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District upheld an earlier ruling in a $24.5 million judgment brought to trial by former St. Louis Blues player Tony Twist. The ruling stated that Todd McFarlane is free to use the name for his mob figure in the Spawn entertainment entity and that Twist gets nothing. The original suit claimed that McFarlane had violated Twist’s constitutional rights by using his name to depict a character that didn’t look like, act like, share a similar profession or have any other relating feature to the former hockey star. I guess he thought kids would look at that Tony Twist jersey hanging in the store and say “Hey that mafia guy from Spawn has a jersey. I’m not buying that. Now if that way cool hockey player Tony Twist had a jersey I’d pick that up in a heartbeat!”

Kind of makes me ashamed to be from St. Louis.

I’m gonna tell my friends Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent that they should probably just drop their suits against DC in light of recent events.


ROUND 3

If anyone can make a new Youngblood project a must-read, it’s Mark Millar. Let’s face it the writer of The Ultimates and Ultimate X-Men, two of the top-selling books in the land, has proven that he can take any concept, turn it on its ear, twist it a little and squeeze its nipple until it screams for mercy. There was never anything inherently wrong with the Liefeld properties per se (the troubles they faced invariably had to do with the controversy that follows in Liefeld’s wake).

After all, the critics loved the stuff Alan Moore did with Supreme and his bold plans to relaunch the universe. In a series of interviews over at Newsarama, Millar spoke about the upcoming Youngblood: Bloodsport miniseries, likening its plotlines to a parallel of Image and Liefeld in particular. Ten years ago these kids were all the rage and on the top of the world. Somewhere between then and now everything fell apart and they’ve been swept under the rug to be replaced by a new brand of superstar. Nice premise. And we know Millar can pull it off (off-topic plug you have got to go read the latest issue of The Ultimates in which Ultimate Hulk goes on a rampage—I mean wow!).

This book has quickly gone from a bizarre novelty act to a must-buy. It’s in the latest issue of Previews so go check it out under new publishing entity Arcade Comics. It’s a four-parter and we have no word what plans there are for these characters or Liefeld’s universe after this, but if it goes well maybe we’ll get another quality superhero universe. Liefeld’s controversy notwithstanding, his various publishing entities have put out a lot of high-quality work from a lot of high-quality comics creators. I’ll be there. So should you.


ROUND 4

Somebody showed up Diamond. In a surprising slap-in-the-face to the Ma Bell of the comics industry first Marvel Comics and then CrossGen Comics have signed deals with CDS for bookstore distribution of their extensive trade paperback libraries. This is a major coup for CDS and a major blow to Diamond, who’ve been feverishly trying to expand this division of their organization. Diamond is so used to having a monopoly on the market (since the implosion of Capital City in the wake of Marvel’s disastrous stint at self-distribution via Heroes World) that it will be interesting to see how they respond to this slap in the face. Diamond and CrossGen are bitter enemies (at least it certainly appears that way) and Marvel is at the bottom of the “big four” list in Diamond’s eyes (“Ve vill haff to punish zem fur not signing up vith us immediately! Zey vill only get two covers on Previews a year! Ja! Gut! Heil Geppi!”). They’ve punished them before for not following the Diamond plan of comics world conquest so I wonder what they’ll come up with next. Maybe they’ll take those two cover slots away from Marvel, or claim it as a breach of the exclusivity contract and strip Marvel of all the benefits they gain from that. As for CrossGen, I wager Diamond will fight all the harder to topple this mini-empire in the making and keep them from joining the big boys at the front of the bus.

Of course, Alessi has made it pretty clear that he has no love for Diamond and as soon as he can come up with a way to get his books into the shops in respectable numbers without them you bet your sweet Aunt’s patootie he’ll drop them like Liz Taylor drops husbands. With the amazing growth of the trade paperback division of comics in the past several years, many industry speculators are arguing that this is the future of the medium, and CrossGen specifically has their entire line available in two monthly trade paperbacks. The success of those tomes could determine if other publishers follow suit, and could in fact cause the number of costly monthly periodicals to start dropping in favor of the trades. The number of original graphic novels (or original trade paperbacks) has risen dramatically as many publishers are testing this new and lucrative medium.


ROUND 5

Our best-selling titles are selling “amazing” numbers in the 100,000-150,000 range. The comic book convention in Hong Kong is expecting 350,000 attendees. Lines for hours outside the event waiting to get in. Comics just get no respect in the States. Of course, in Hong Kong there a literally thousands of different types of comics covering all possible genres and many come in cheap disposable formats making it a fun and inexpensive hobby. Maybe we should give that a try. The way we’re going, comics will become the hobby of the wealthiest elite.

Diversity. Affordability. Value for the dollar. Do all comics have to come out on high-quality glossy paper to sell well? Do cheap comics not sell? Hmmm. U.S. War Machine sold well in black-and-white on cheap paper coming out every week and it was sold exclusively to the “Mature” market. Imagine a cheap all-ages book of this vein. Do you not think that a $1.50 or cheaper weekly anthology series starring Spider-Man, X-Men and a rotating cast of Marvel’s other merry denizens in all-new stories (they could even be “in-continuity”) couldn’t find an audience? Please. Properly marketed to children and supermarkets (imagine these in the checkout lanes next to Archie Publications), this type of book has a good chance of grabbing a good number of new readers, as well as the jaded regular fan who’s looking for a cheap book (get quality talent on it and you’ll do even better) to remember the good old days. Thanks to the movies everyone knows these icons, and mom can pick up these cheap distractions for their kids to keep the little ones out of her hair for a while. And hey, it’s still reading isn’t it! Market it that way too. And this doesn’t just go for Marvel either. The Essential series and Lone Wolf and Cub sell extremely well because they’re a good value. Nobody cares that they’re in black-and-white and printed on newsprint. It’s the story and the value that sells them.

A cheaper cover price coupled with greater sales would mean no loss in revenue. I could go on forever arguing this but maybe it’s just too logical for the corporate grass at the major companies to grasp. The indy book Fade From Blue has a $1.50 cover price and plans to keep it that way. They argue that the book is still making money, though less than it would at $2.95. But they further contend that the $1.50 price tag will also work as a good selling point to try and reach more readers. I hope it works for them because it clearly means that they understand the business of sales. Let’s hope somebody else figures it out soon.

---j.hues
The loudest bastard in comics.


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