Robot 6

Quote of the day | Eric Stephenson on ‘awesome’ vs. ‘more’

Eric Stephenson

“I think everyone has noticed that Marvel has started publishing a number of their books more than once a month. They’ve been ramping up on this for a while, and it’s something I’ve kind of shook my head at, because it’s a desperate ploy to gain marketshare that doesn’t promote sustainability on any level. It’s a cash grab, pure and simple, and when you couple that with the fact so many of their books are creeping up on $3.99, I shudder to think of the long-term effects.

“And I can hear you shaking your own head now. Okay, maybe I can’t hear you doing that, but I can imagine the chuckling: ‘Desperate? Marvel is the number one publisher in comics!’ – but I’ll stand by my words. When DC launched their new 52 last September, Marvel didn’t fight back with awesome. They fought back with the only real tool in their shed: more. They’re not increasing the frequency of their books out of generosity, they’re doing it to dominate the market. And in the absence of anything even resembling new, all we get is more.”

-Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, discussing an email he received from a “prominent comic book retailer” about comic content, pricing and frequency. He goes on to talk about many of Marvel’s recent and upcoming event books, from Fear Itself to X-Men vs. Avengers, saying they are akin to a “bored child reaching into the toy box trying to find new ways to wring some meager enjoyment out of faded old playthings. The fun lasts for a little while, but you can only tell yourself something’s all-new and all-different so many times before those words ring hollow. Avengers vs. X-Men wasn’t a new idea when Marvel did it in 1987, and it’s not a new idea now.”

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27 Comments

I love Eric Stephenson. He’s responsible for some of the most exciting comics being put out today.

I’ll agree on the whole, but Spider-Man actually got really good right when they started publishing it more than once a month.

Course, given that they canceled all the supplementary books at the same time, that wasn’t really an increase in the publishing schedule as such.

The facts are this. Marvel keeps publishing what the readers buy. There little attempts to diversify their line hasn’t panned out. The Marvel readership doesn’t want different. And the readers who don’t follow Marvel don’t want to believe that Marvel actually publishes stuff that isn’t Avengers, X-Men or Spider-man. As a result, we’re coming to the point where the only things they’re publishing are Avengers, X-Men and Spider-man, with a few more established properties.

The $3.99 price on the core books doesn’t make it easy for readers to give the $2.99 books a shot, especially with double shipping. That’s true, but if you as a reader want the non-core $2.99 books to thrive why wouldn’t you at least make some attempt to try those books out? Marvel catches a lot of flack, but it only goes so far.

A lot of readers talk a lot of talk about wanting Marvel to diversify and publish more $2.99 books, but that’s rarely backed up in sales. And at the end of the day, Marvel and DC are very much sales driven businesses. If it can’t help the bottom line, it doesn’t have much of a place.

First of all, while awesome vs more is a nice tagline, there isn’t actually anything wrong with “more”. I buy in trade in general because I hate how the industry paces itself. I would buy singles, if it was 12 issues over 12 weeks then a 9 month break, oppose to over 12 months. And if i had the option of even more than 12, then I’d take that too. So yea, straight up insulting the idea of more doesn’t actually make much sense to me.

Of course you then move onto what its more of. I’d like more “awesome” but marvel doesn’t do that for me right now. Mostly because of how even heavily/driven their books seem to be. Everything feels like the buildup to (avengers x-men), pre-build up to (avengers cable) an event (phoenix thing), the fall out from and so on.If Image’s reaction could of been to the neew 52 double chew then I’d have been really happy. Obviously the logistics and timeframe of comics and how long it takes to make them makes something spontaneous like that impossible, but I’d have paid for it if I coulda had it. If it has been oduble chew…but every 2nd issue was a different team. and different story, I’d have cried.

Basically reading the article I agreed, but didn’t like the knock on the idea of more, because thats just fine.

Awesome quote and analysis.

Eric Stephenson is fast becoming one of my favorite people in comics.

@Jamie

Good point about more not necessarily being a bad thing.

Stephenson has a very valid point about Marvel just pumping out more and not necessarily more “better”. At $3.99 Marvel still publishes a lot of heavily decompressed stories, and combined with the declining page counts, readers are actually paying more for less. The price was absolutely the deciding factor for why I didn’t continue with Legion of Monsters beyond issue one, even though I loved the art and found the story suitable. Combined with the wait for issue two though, I didn’t care enough anymore to buy a $4 book that was merely good in the first issue.

That said I don’t like waiting for issues. It’s one of the things that makes it easier for me to drop a good book early on if it doesn’t immediately blow me out of the water. A month is a long time to really mull over your enjoyment of a product and adjust your forecast for future books. Especially when you’re bombarded with news of something new and potentially better every day.

It’s become so fashionable to bash Marvel over their business practices (double-shipping, line-wide events, etc.) that I come to wonder how many people are even reading the bulk of the line. Marvel’s output is, by and large, stellar, and if you didn’t like Fear Itself or aren’t interested in Avengers vs. X-Men, there’s no reason to be making blanket statements that cover amazing things like Avengers Academy, Daredevil, Amazing Spider-Man, Hulk, the Captain America books, or every single thing Jason Aaron, Jonathan Hickman, Kieron Gillen, and Rick Remender write. If you want to dismiss these books as unoriginal or not “new” because, hey, Uncanny X-Force brought back Apocalypse or, hell, Spider-Man’s still swinging around in the sky, then you’re dismissing a key facet of serialized storytelling. Stories build on each other. Just as there’s a place for new, self-confined work in the industry, there will always be a place for the enduring characters.

And as far as pricing goes, a greater percentage of the Marvel books I buy are $2.99 than the independent books I buy. I almost never buy a $3.99 Marvel book and end up feeling cheated. Obviously, if a $3.99 book isn’t feasible for you, don’t buy it, but I can’t imagine a fan of superhero comics could say that most of those books I mentioned aren’t delivering worth on the dollar.

Interestingly, though, I’d have to say that while I think he’s spot on with Marvel ramping up to compete, I can’t say that DC is beating Marvel on the (ugh) “awesome” scale. Mainly because a majority of the New 52 titles are so decompressed that they feel lightweight. I love The Flash, for example, but I felt like I got more my money’s worth reading 3 issues of Wolverine & The X-Men vs. 4 issues of the Flash, mainly because with Wolverine, characters interacted, a shared universe (with the Uncanny X-Men and, later, X-Force) were established, and — most importantly — things happened.

If Stephenson is right about “awesome,” then I suspect that DC engaged in the empty sort of awesome, like when your favorite sports team comes out to snazzy new uniforms designed by Nike but didn’t bother to draft an awesome quarterback to finally get the team in the playoffs.

And finally: why are we complaining? A year or two ago, a lot of us hated that it would take forever for Marvel to release issues. And now they’re coming out at a steady clip. I’m not a young guy anymore… I can’t wait 2 years for ‘em just to wrap up a story anymore. :)

I’d rather have experimental new character fails than “Wolverine In Texas!” “Wolverine, now also a West Coast Avenger”, “Wolverine and Spider-man” “Wolverine and Spider-man and Forbush Man!” “Wolverine and…” I love cake BUT NOT THE WHOLE THING EVERY DAY IN ONE SITTING.

Have we as a society dried up so much creatively that all we can do is stand on the soapboxes of the past? I mean SERIOUSLY. Has everything that can be done been done? If so, I think we’ll be a footnote like the Roman empire soon.

Or is it more of a “Marvel will own anything I create so I’m just going to stay with the rusty old bike they provided me with”? Can’t blame a creator for wanting to benefit from their ideas and work. But if that’s the case, don’t work at Marvel. There’s no rule you have to.

He has a point, but I am getting tired of how often he runs around bashing Marvel and DC in a way that makes me feel insulted I prefer DC to Image. Does he have to tear down the competition when trying to build his brand?

Stephenson is right. I love blog postings by and interviews with this guy because you can always count on him to be refreshingly free of bullshit while DC and Marvel keep churning out PR spin at every turn… he’s like the anti-Brevoort.

I’ve long been saying this and I get the feeling it has something to do with a larger corporate culture because it’s been going on for decades, it’s not to do with any one person: Marvel only has one strategy: it floods. It sees a trend and then floods the marketplace. Back in the 90′s, variant covers and continuity-wank books about mutants with guns and mullets sold so Marvel flooded. In the 00′s, event miniseries that spilled out into every nook and cranny of their line sold, so Marvel flooded. The problem is this is just overkill… it’s only a “strategy” if your game is milking the existing direct market superhero fanboys, it’s not a good strategy for long-term quality or reaching out to new readers whatsoever.

Also, the nickname “The House of Ideas” is hilariously ironic. Image should be commended for actually making that tagline a reality.

IMAGE Publisher more on the side of the ‘awesome’ DC Nu52 reboot/keep-it-at-a-constant-52-titles publishing model than MARVEL’s ‘more’ rolling out of its current supermegacrossovereventoftheyear![this season] ??

Interesting, and not at all surprising..

Esp considering that a major architect/costume designer of the nuDC is an IMAGE co-founder, and that the guy
overseeing all 52 titles is a former WILDSTORM editor— people involved in the late ’90s movement of publishing ‘more’ comics to feed the speculator market, and was instrumental in such ‘awesome’ crossovers as the Clone Saga…

Yeah, DC is so much, much better than MARVEL now, with them ex-IMAGErs at its helm.

Mainstream Comics business, everybody!

LOVE Eric Stephenson, never bought so many Image titles before.

I think you are guys are missing the point. This isn’t “bashing”. It’s critical analysis of an industry. An industry he works in and an industry he’d like to see grow and have longevity.

Regarding his comment “When DC launched their new 52 last September, Marvel didn’t fight back with awesome. They fought back with the only real tool in their shed: more.” Nothing about that comment suggests a particular affinity for DC over Marvel. He’s saying that a situation, DC taking a chunk of market share, that Marvel could have responded to by increasing innovation and trying to reach new markets to increase their market base and their share, was instead responded to with “People really like Wolverine — let’s make 22 more Wolverine books ’cause everyone will buy them”. That is short sighted because squabbling over/milking the last drops out of a diminishing/aging base hasn’t/won’t increase the market base and that’s bad for EVERYONE who makes comics and reads them.

@ Ben:

Actually, Ben, it is sorta squabbling. I like how it’s dismissed as “Marvel just adds Wolverine to the cast” and assumes that that in itself is a lazy, cold-hearted tactic. Especially when the most visible example is Wolverine And the X-Men, a book that has been getting critically good reviews and is hardly a lazy cash-in. Neither is Uncanny X-Force, though that came out before New 52.

Besides, everyone knows that Deadpool is the true lazy cash in today, anyway. :)

@El Santo

Pardon my hyperbole. I forgot the internet likes to nit-pic.

Boiled down point: re-hashing the same content over and over will not grow the industry. And I think that’s really his point.

@Michael

As far as fiction is concerned? You can probably trace the roots of every new story to ideas, themes and styles of work prior. At the end of the day it comes down to execution. How are the creators presenting those ideas or twisting those themes?

A school for gifted youngsters isn’t a new idea, and it’s one that’s existed in many forms throughout history, but a book like Avengers Academy is vastly different from Wolverine and the X-Men besides the cursory school for kids with powers thing.

@Cuda B

My thoughts exactly.

Thanks for posting :-)

both companies, DC and Marvel are trying to boost sales without addressing the real problem: pricing. at some point they’re going to have to realize comics are too expensive.

i’ve seen a lot of posts from creators and readers about fan service to older collectors and not getting new readers.they’re never going to get a lot of new young readers as long as prices are where they are.

when i started collecting in 1985, the average comic was 75 cents. i was 12. say a 12 year old in 1985 has a weekly allowance of 10 bucks. you could buy 11 comics with that. that’d be 44 comics a month, that’s a lot of reading/collecting.

fast forward to today. 12 year old kid wants to get comics. how many would 12 bucks buy? 3? to get 11 books he’d need a minimum of 35 bucks a week. how many kids today are getting 140 bucks a month to spend on comics?

granted, on a material level, comics today are vastly superior to 1985 (ew…newsprint!) but the 12 year old doesn’t care. combine that with all the other distractions like online games and what have you, is it any surprise readership is declining?

Marvel has played the “flooding the market ” card since the seventies, publishing tons of reprint comics to take up the space on newsstand in the wake of upstarts looking for a piece of the pie.
But, Marvel seems to be the only one to openly care about market share. They’re the douchebag at the stoplight with the hot rod, goading his fellow drivers into a race. He’s flying off the line with such glee that he doesn’t notice that everyone is ignoring him. This type of dipshit usually blows a head gasket half way down the street, while the others carry along at normal pace.

@Ed
Stephenson is not on the side of the awesome DC 52, but he implicitly recognizes DC revigorated the market and criticizes Marvel reaction (more of the same instead of awesome) because it’s harmful to the industry in the long haul. He is a professional, not a fanboy.

@Ben
Good point. Marvel is not thinking in the long haul. Diversity is essential for the growth of the industry, and DC may not be awesome but at least is trying to bring more readers to comics with titles like Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Batwoman, All-Star Western, Demon Knights etc.
Stephenson is one of the best editors and I think Image is replacing Vertigo as the most awesome comics publisher.

@Andrew K.
Marvel was flooding the market even before the seventies. Most people know that through most of the sixties, Marvel was only allowed to publish a certain number of titles under the limitations enforced upon the company its distributor Independent News, which was owned by DC Comics. Many assume that the reason for this was because DC wanted to suppress the rising competition posed by Marvel, but it was really because Marvel’s founder and publisher Martin Goodman had the habit of flooding the market in order to push other companies off the shelves, and the resulting over-saturation was starting to damage the market for everybody, including Goodman. So they limited Goodman’s output in order to give the market a chance to bounce back.

Once Marvel got out from under Independent News’ constraints at the end of the sixties, they reverted to the time-tested tactic of flooding the market that is basically hard-wired into Marvel’s DNA.

Can someone ask Mr. Stephenson when the “awesome” of Image United will be out? Heck, when will the “more” of Image United be out? Oh, sorry, he is too busy bashing Marvel to care about that.

I’m glad Eric Stephenson has said this. I’m glad someone within the industry has spoken out. He’s like the new Bill Jemas. He said what he said because he cares about and loves comics.

And I’m saying that as a guy who once loved Marvel. Used to buy 30-40 titles a month. But even I can see Marvel is hurting the comics market.

@Cuda B – I agree. Ult Spidey was the last straw for me. $24 for a 6 issue badly-told origin they could’ve done in 2 issues. This is not the Marvel I once loved.

Those of you defending Marvel – does it bother you Marvel doesn’t care about new readers or reaching out to new markets and different genres?

Because new readers, new markets and different genres is the only way our comics love is going to survive. Even DC knows this.

It’s sad Marvel readers see Eric Stephenson’s comments as bashing. That defensiveness is not going to save our hobby or the industry.

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