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Quote of the Day | Why DC and Marvel cater to men

Well, all conspiracy theories, corporate DNA and the WB’s own woman problems aside, the simple fact is that on a meta level, DC Entertainment produces entertainment for boys. That’s its place within Warners, its demographic slot and I’m sure at some point Diane Nelson has overtly been tasked with keeping the boy audience engaged for films starring Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern.

We may think this kind of pigeonholing is stupid, but in a world run by branding, the message matters. By addressing female readers (and also younger readers), DC risks alienating its core audience of teenaged boys and men 25-35.

Heidi MacDonald hits the nail on the head: Publishers are in the business to make money, not make the world a better place, and of course they are going to cater to their core demographic. This is just one of a number of solid points that Heidi makes in this essay, which links to the other women-in-comics articles that have appeared in the past two weeks, ties them together, and frankly, makes a lot more sense than the two news pieces that were linked. It’s well worth reading the whole thing, including (especially!) the excerpt from former Drawn and Quarterly staffer Jessica Campbell’s essay on why the whole question of “female artists” is bogus at its core. And there’s a great discussion in the comments section as well (I thought Jesse Post made a particularly good point), so keep on scrollin’!

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44 Comments

Simon DelMonte

July 26, 2012 at 12:20 pm

So why can’t you market to men and to women? Are we really at the point where everything has to be for a niche audience?

I wish I could find a way to assure DC (and Marvel) that women like superheroes. I know a lot of women who like superheroes, and who, AFAIK, don’t read anything from any of the smaller companies. These readers aren’t going to take their business elsewhere. They just won’t read comics, or they’ll go to the movies instead, or write fanfic. Surely there must be a way to capture this audience without driving away the prime targets.

I think therefore this speaks less badly of DC than it does of men aged 25-35, whose tastes are clearly narrower than I imagined.

Of course, I should note that officially DC doesn’t really want me, either, as 43 year old who was around before the first Crisis. But I think they know that people like me, who love DC despite it all, really don’t need to be catered to. I didn’t leave before and I don’t think I’m leaving now. So my thoughts on the matter may be skewed. Or blindered. Or just outdated. Who knows?

There is an old practice in business that says, it is cheaper to keep existing customers than to bring in new ones. For every $1 you spend to retain a customer, you would need to spend $20 to find a new one.

It’s pretty laughable that the only way to make anything girl-friendly in the mind of so many people is to make it pink with princesses and feelings. Just make the chicks as diverse of characters as the dudes and you’ll have the formula. Not sure why it’s so hard to figure out!

@Marc: except they’re not even keeping customers anymore.

And ironically, part of the point of super-hero stories is that we all have a responsibility to make the world a better place, not just to make things nicer for ourselves. The companies ought (and yes, I mean a moral ought, not a “will necessarily make more money” ought) to be thinking about what WOULD make the world a better place, dammit. :(

I think the main issue here is that it insults everyone when they feel to entertain men they have to disrespect women. The two audiences aren’t mutually exclusive.

“I wish I could find a way to assure DC (and Marvel) that women like superheroes.”

I believe that’s what DC was testing when they conducted surveys a year ago. Women were only 7 percent and 23 percent of the samples surveyed. See data and commentary here:

http://www.themarysue.com/rood-interview-dc-survey/

It seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, though, with DC not targeting women because they’re a much smaller part of the readership…. which assures they’ll remain a small part of the readership.

I don’t mean to damn DC altogether, though–I applaud their effort to use market research and learn what’s appealing to different readers. Perhaps they can find out what draws those women into their readership and do more of it. They will have to convince Warners it’s worth their while, though, which I’m not sure is consistent with their goals for the DC intellectual property for exactly the reasons identified by Heidi.

We-he-he-ell, if I had taken over DC instead of Johns, DiDio and Lee, I would’ve used the company to make the world a better place. Anyone want to ask ‘how’?

Okay, How? :)

God forbid a sector of the economy exists in which men spend more money than women.

Women account for 80% of consumer spending in America. There’s not a force on earth that can stop a market from forming that caters to them. The comic book peanut gallery just needs to accept that women just aren’t that into comics. Neither are little kids. I don’t follow DC, but I keep a very close eye on Marvel and I can assure you they’ve made countless attempts to expand their readership. They’re not going to “alienate” their core audience buy publishing Marvel Adventures or whatever c-list character you think they should be pushing, they just aren’t going to make very much money.

There are simply things men enjoy more than women. Comics, especially superhero comics, are one of those things. Even if you have a female writer and a female artist working on a female character and make her as flat-chested and androgynous as possible, more men are going to buy that comic than women. Like sports, comics are a guy thing. The majority of fans attending WNBA games are men. It’s not because the players are sexualized or contorted into strange positions by lazy artists, it’s because men like basketball more than women do.

“There’s not a force on earth that can stop a market from forming that caters to them.”

Sure there is: Ignorance. Alas, DC seems to be heading further and further down that path.

“Neither are little kids.”

Which is why, despite DC’s roots in comics that were all-ages, or at least more accessible to younger people than they are now, the fanbase is dwindling. I really expected the new post-Flashpoint DCU to be more all-ages-accessible, not less–targeted at the audience watching Young Justice, and who were watching Teen Titans and the Justice League shows from a few years ago. But DC decided to gut most of the joy and wonder from their universe and make things as needlessly grim as possible. They’ve pretty much destroyed the Wonder Woman mythos, speaking of comics which could appeal more to female readers.

It is a shame. :(

@David

Despite my repeated attempts to get my nephew into Marvel superheroes, he’s just not interested. He’ll go see the movies when they come out, but he’s never shown any interest in a comic book save one: Bendis’s Halo. Which is a hell of a lot grimmer than his Ultimate Spider-Man.

The amount of media, toys, and activities available to children has grown exponentially since the heyday of comics. If you account for the speculator boom of the 90s, I suspect you’d find that the shrinking of the comic industry has a direct inverse correlation with the rise of cable TV, video games, cheap Chinese toys, and the internet.

Kids still dig superhero concept, but why read about some goofball in tights trying to balance all of life’s demands when you can pick up a controller and BECOME an armored juggernaut mowing down hordes of aliens?

Now that I think about it, maybe Space Punisher would be a good way to get my nephew into funny books.

@Dennis — I think you’re missing a much smaller point in your shoot-down of a larger one. There’s definitely a groundswell of activism and support and pressure for the big two to actively EXPAND their audience of female readers, but any audience expansion of ANY kind is extremely difficult, expensive, and requires innovation and long-term commitment that few companies possess, so I don’t think that’s the main point here.

What Heidi, Brigid, and many of the rest of us in the peanut gallery are saying is that the comics shouldn’t alienate the EXISTING female readership, and risk alienating the potential additional readers those avid female fans could bring in through the usual fan evangelism. Why can’t the comics keep focusing their attention on the core male audience while simultaneously not actively driving away female readers? I really don’t think you mean to say that men prefer stories that are poorly written and leave the female cast to serve as ornaments, but that’s where your argument leads.

Would you argue the same point if it was a different minority readership we were talking about? If black people only made up 1% of the superhero fan audience, would you say it’s OK to publish racially offensive material since that 1% doesn’t matter?

Oh, and David, just to take one example from my experience here, we’re closing in on a million copies in print of our LEGO Ninjago comics, so your insistence that kids don’t like “comics” is just 100% wrong. As for whether or not they like superheroes, you pointed out all the examples proving that wrong, so I think we can put both hoary old chestnuts to bed.

Children’s is the one sector of the publishing industry that consistently grows year over year. I think it’s because new kids keep showing up every day!

@Jesse

“comics shouldn’t alienate the EXISTING female readership”

Are you kidding me? Take a walk over to the CSBG blog and take a gander at some of the past portrayals of women in comics. If women liked those comics before, they shouldn’t have a problem with the ones being published now. The drawings may have gotten sexier over the years, but the characterization has improved by leaps and bounds and is only getting better.

And what kind of racially offensive material are we talking about? I’d like to know what you’re trying to compare to Catwoman’s ass. The Falcon’s rippling chest muscles on a Captain America cover?

I’m not an expert on every gripe everyone has about women in comics, but most of the complaints I’ve seen revolve around tits, ass, and zippers. I guess to some people sexy = offensive, but I just don’t see things that way. I would also argue that there are tons of artists working for the big two who draw more conservatively than the above example, and to write off their work and allow yourself to be driven from comics because somebody drew a sexy Catwoman that upset your delicate sensibilities is idiotic.

Congratulations on your LEGO book, but there used to be a time when every issue of just about every mainstream comic sold 1M+ copies. That’s no longer the case because kids aren’t running to the comic store (or corner store) to buy comics after school every Wednesday. They’re popping in Halo or Call of Duty. Mainstream superhero comics are not too grim for them as David claimed. If anything, there aren’t enough BOOM headshots.

I guess I just find the attacks disingenuous. It’s just wrong to claim they don’t try to expand their readership. Maybe I’ll come back later with a full list of all-age comics and books with female leads that Marvel has published in the last few years so you can see what I’m talking about. I look at the solicitations every month and I can assure there have been a ton.

“Mainstream superhero comics are not too grim for them as David claimed.”

If “there aren’t enough BOOM headshots” for them, then I think it’s creepy and sad. I’d like to think that they’d have better taste than that. I’d really like it if there were more heroic versions of the characters, as there was before the reboot, and a less grim universe in general, over at DC.

You can bring out a list of Marvel books, but Marvel is definitely doing a better job than DC right now overall anyway. They really have recovered from the heroes-acting-like-villains era of Civil War (AvX seems to be much better handled, despite the involvement of Bendis). Heck, considering that Marvel has FINALLY made Carol Danvers into Captain Marvel, and given her her own title, I think that’s a good sign there.

Now if DC can only fix Wonder Woman… :(

Well David, to answer your question (sorry it took so long), here’s how:

Before the company (under my direction, of course) could go about making the world a better place, it would undergo a great and lasting internal change.

First of all, I would make every effort to convince the true reason behind DC’s recent shenanigans as of late, Warner Bros., to grant the company more autonomy, to treat it less like a pet and more like a partner.

Once done, then I overhaul the marketing–from here on out, we don’t market just Superman and Batman: we market EVERY character. Everybody from A to Z, no matter the level of obscurity–if there’s a potential base for a character to become popular with, we’ll seek to find it. Then comes the area of gauging readership. I read in Brian Cronin’s “Was Superman a Spy?” that back in the time of Julius Schwartz’s reign as DC head, they gauged readership by the number of sales based on what kind of cover was a hit with them (in this case, gorillas on every cover)–they didn’t have the capital to do market research “the right way”, and never did real market research since then. The survey DC did with Nielsen was flawed at best, so I wouldn’t let that mistake be made–instead, I’d have survey inserts in the actual comics themselves, that ask the RIGHT questions, like when you go to an advanced screening and fill out a feedback form. Next up, availability: I would cut Diamond Distributors out of the deal and set up a DC distribution office to handle shipping of the books, to comic shops, grocery stores, drugstores, bookstores, convenience stores–any place where someone young or old could pick up a comic and it could be their first comic. I would also enforce the idea that all ‘floppies’ carry a $1.99 price tag, while the thicker books would be the $2.99 ones. Speaking of comic shops, I would make it DC’s mission to help support the direct market and help it to change and grow, to get it out of the stereotype of the comic shop run by a “Comic Book Guy”. At the same time, I would bring comics back to the places they used to be sold before the advent of the direct market–grocery stores, newsstands, etc. But only the ones that are all-inclusive and all-age (and some teen)–the more mature content-based books would only be sold in the direct market. Also, I would cut costs by switching back to the previous kind of paper used in the books, instead of the glossy junk presently in our comics. Look at John Byrne’s “Trio” over at IDW–the paper stock is the closest thing to comics before 1996. (I’d also have recycled paper used in our products as well, making DC an “eco-friendly” company.)

Next up, overhauling the comics themselves. This is where things get a little more comprehensive. A lot of people believe that the current editorial/creative regime of Johns, DiDio, and Lee is actually hindering the potential DC has to be great again. Were I the one who took over instead of those three, I’d take great measures to mold this company into something much, much better than it it is right now. First up, the big elephant in the room known as ‘continuity': everyone has at some point been part of the argument that “there’s no need for reboots, just better editors”. Well, there is some truth to that, in that the reality is many relaunches and big events could have been avoided if they had a better grip on continuity. Under my reign, I would establish a small “governing body” consisting of the editors of each group of titles. Together, they would also act as custodians of the comic line’s fictional history, making sure that there are little to no gaffes made in a comic story that is out of step with a character or moment. They would draw up timelines and chronologies that writers can refer to if they don’t quite remember some detail or another. In addition, these same timelines/chronologies would be available to the public as free one-shot comics with each purchase at a comic shop or a bookstore, and they would be updated every year. I call them “DC Universe Yearbooks”. For the amount of titles produced, I would establish a mandate that all genres of comics be offered by the company–superhero, sci-fi, horror, comedy, western, military, kids, even romance–so that all types of audiences could be appealed to, in any location. The more mature storytelling-based comics would only be sold in comic shops. Mandate #2: All bigger-selling characters–Superman, Batman–will only be given two titles (Action Comics and Superman, and Detective Comics and Batman, respectively) to reduce the amount of overexposure. Action and Detective would become anthology titles again, with each story getting the same amount of pages. Mandate #3: Anthology titles would return, as testing grounds for new characters and creators. I would adopt, for some titles, the Shonen Jump/BPRD numbering model, so as some series would have a ‘test phase’ before determining whether or not they get an ongoing series status. As to the content of the comics themselves–a more enforced ratings system to keep the wrong comics out of the hands of the wrong audiences. Then there is the portrayal of characters in the stories. Mandate #4: all creative teams would begin following the “Bechdel test” so that they would avoid putting into the stories EVERYTHING that people like Heidi MacDonald would criticize about comics. I’d have them refer to select commentaries I’ve read by people such as Jim Shooter and others for reasons why. Mandate #5: EVERY character gets a chance, new or old and obscure. No more multiple books (mainly in the 5-8 range) featuring ONE overexposed character or another. New stories, new characters, new concepts every month, alongside your usual suspects. Mandate #6: Event comics would be put on hiatus, or squared out on an Olympics-style schedule, so as to raise and nurture good old-fashioned storytelling. This also includes eliminating ‘writing for the trade’.

Here are my ideas for the creator end of things. Like the governing body I mentioned earlier, there would be a similar group established to keep track of the history of the company’s relationship with different creators, while at the same time isolating and dealing with any ‘injustices’ served by the company to the creator. This ‘body’ would also be in charge of determining which characters have the right creator (or creators) and then set it in stone. Each byline in a book would then carry all the names of the character’s original creators (ex., Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (which I already know they do), Animal Man created by Dave Wood and Carmine Infantino, etc.). I would restructure the environment of creators working at DC into something more akin to Saturday Night Live or Second City–with the enormous popularity of indie books right now, and major creators from the Big Two moving on to them, I figure that DC could be reinvented as a “proving grounds” for new and aspiring talent, and when they feel they’re ready, they can leave the company to strike out on their own. And when questions about their contributions to an ongoing character’s mythos come up, THIS is where the greatest of my ideas comes in. Under my reign, I would establish a replacement for the outdated and draconian work-for-hire system with something more beneficial (and cost-saving, so as to avoid the legal wars currently being fought): CO-OWNERSHIP DEALS. Whatever a past or present creator has contributed to the mythos of an ongoing character–or created a new character themselves that is doing well at DC–is co-owned by both the company and the creator, which would be documented and kept on record so as to avoid the problems present in say, the story of the creation of Spider-Man or Batman. Taking a cue from a recent quote by Chris Roberson, I would also do something to settle the Superman and Watchmen legal wars for good–grandfathered-in co-ownership deals, so that any past creator or their estates can continue to benefit from their creations without any hindrance by the company or copyright law, no matter what medium their character is in. And speaking of Watchmen, probably my most radical creator-based decision would be this: effective immediately, I would order Watchmen to be taken out of print, allowing the rights to revert back to the creators, effectively fulfilling the original contract between DC and Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons. (I would personally go present the rights back to Alan Moore himself.) I would also have

Finally, we come to how I would handle the matter discussed in this Quote of the Day. I would announce that the company would now be making more sincere and honest efforts to market to BOTH male and female audiences, and YES, I would take the risk of alienating the core audiences without regret. Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, right? But this is a psychological approach–by doing this, I am subtly encouraging those who do get alienated to move on and find something new to fill the void. (Something positive, I hope…) I would also commit the company’s resources to helping out organizations such as the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund or the Hero Initiative, along with other charities.

Now, you’ll probably wonder, WHY ON EARTH would I do all these radical actions? Because simply put, I believe that a corporation should not be treated like a living being (THANK YOU, Reconstruction-era business moguls *grumble* *grumble*), and should be used AS A TOOL to make the world a better place–at least better for those involved in working this enormous aspect of the entertainment industry.

@Dennis, I wasn’t saying there are racially offensive comics, but asking if your same line of thinking could be applied 1-to-1 to another group. “Since not a lot of ______ like superhero comics, it’s OK to publish superhero comics that are offensive to _______.” Is that commercial “they don’t number enough to matter” point a good one to advocate?

You seem to be drawing a line from declining superhero periodical sales to a declining kid interest in comics, which seems odd against all contrary evidence. I mean, maybe kids stopped going to comics shops every week (though that’s tough to prove), but they didn’t leave the medium. They just buy Bone, Wimpy Kid, LEGO Ninjago, Smile, Geronimo Stilton, Naruto, Archie, and Mo Willems.

@Jesse

I’m not advocating material offensive toward any group. I’m saying that a sexy Catwoman, no matter how poorly drawn, should not be offensive to people who read comics. It’s Catwoman. Batman is all about bangin’ her. He has been since her debut.

The Starfire “Hey let’s bone!” moment was pretty bad, but I’ve already established that I’m a Marvelite…

Let me put it this way… I read Amazing Spider-Man (shut up), Captain America, Captain Marvel, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, FF, Journey into Mystery, and Winter Soldier. Those are big titles, and I defy you to find the misogyny in them (I’m a little behind on Journey, so don’t hold me to that one).

I can’t vouch for DC because I don’t read anything aside from Fables, but if the new 52 is that awful I can point you in the direction of some good shit. Throwing accusations of hostility toward women at anyone who looks like a big target is irresponsible journalism.

When will people understand that it’s not about “changing the world”.

That is such a narrow-minded, insulting insinuation – that the concept of styling entertainment to suit various age and gender demographics other than males 16 – 45 is only to be perceived as philanthropy… it’s just indicative of how unqualified most people in the comic entertainment industry are when it comes to marketing strategy and franchise expansion throughout all transmedia – as well as other international territories, now that global presence is more important than ever for any entertainment brand to thrive long term.

Brigid Alverson

July 28, 2012 at 5:00 am

That’s sort of the point. What Heidi is saying—and I agree with her—is that superhero comics have a target demographic, which is 24-35-year-old males (apparently), and that’s a matter of business, not ideology. Any potential change to the product requires the publisher to weigh how much of that entrenched (very loyal but also very traditionalist) audience they would lose versus how many new readers they would bring in.

(A side point: Plenty of women enjoy superhero comics just as they are, and changing the formula might be a turn-off for them as well.)

Every product has its target audience, whether it’s superhero comics or Harlequin romances or Disney Princess soccer balls. But there are plenty of other types of comics, and plenty of other types of soccer balls for that matter. You tailor the product to please the audience, and while that does lock you in, it also is giving your customers what they want.

If Marvel/DC superhero comics were the only comics there were, this would be a bigger problem. As it is, there are lots of comics for everyone and the field is expanding every day. What I’m wondering, though, is where superhero comics will be in 20 years. Catering tightly to a single demographic, with few ways in for new readers, seems like a dead end to me.

@Brigid
Then why don’t they just put superhero comics out of their misery already?

how does one send acer a fruit basket for his amazing post?

“That’s sort of the point. What Heidi is saying—and I agree with her—is that superhero comics have a target demographic, which is 24-35-year-old males (apparently), and that’s a matter of business, not ideology. Any potential change to the product requires the publisher to weigh how much of that entrenched (very loyal but also very traditionalist) audience they would lose versus how many new readers they would bring in.”

________________________________________________

Here’s the thing that you and many others (both pros and fans alike) have either forgotten or refuse to admit. MOST (if not ALL) of the current 24-35 year old demographic that is currently reading the Big 2 superhero comics, started reading those comics as young kids (ages 5-12). MOST (if not ALL) of them got hooked on the Big 2’s superhero “comic book drug” before they became teenagers.

@StSean
Wow. You are too kind. Which one, my long one, or the one about putting superhero books out of their misery? And if the long one, you seriously liked it? Even when I mentioned how I’d immediately give up Watchmen, and alienate the core audience on purpose? Really?

I certainly liked large chunks of it myself…

(I don’t think I’d agree with all of it but definitely large chunks…)

Brigid Alverson

July 29, 2012 at 3:26 am

@Blade X

You make a good point. But is that still happening now? When I talk to school groups, there are always a couple of kids who like superheroes (just a few—Calvin & Hobbes is still the most popular comic with this age group). But when I ask them “which ones?” the answer is inevitably Spider-Man—they don’t know any others, even when I name names—and their familiarity with the actual comics is minimal.

I wasn’t following superhero comics 20 years ago, so I don’t know what the market factors were back then (perhaps comics were more readily available and the content more accessible to younger readers, but that’s just a guess). The question is, are kids in that age group getting into superhero comics today? I’m not seeing much evidence of it.

@David
What would you disagree with?

“I wasn’t following superhero comics 20 years ago, so I don’t know what the market factors were back then (perhaps comics were more readily available and the content more accessible to younger readers, but that’s just a guess). The question is, are kids in that age group getting into superhero comics today? I’m not seeing much evidence of it.”

________________________________________

Sadly, there are very few kids getting into superhero comics these days compared to 20-70 years ago. However, we have had kids come into our shop from time to time over the 15+ years that we have been in business.

Oh, OK, here’s my analysis:

“First of all, I would make every effort to convince the true reason behind DC’s recent shenanigans as of late, Warner Bros., to grant the company more autonomy, to treat it less like a pet and more like a partner.”

Good luck. It would be great, but good luck with that. :(

“Once done, then I overhaul the marketing–from here on out, we don’t market just Superman and Batman: we market EVERY character. Everybody from A to Z, no matter the level of obscurity–if there’s a potential base for a character to become popular with, we’ll seek to find it.”

I think… DC’s got such a MASSIVE array of characters that if you tried to do that, it would take decades or longer. I would definitely work to sort out readership bases, though. One thing I’d do is look at what HAS worked over the years and see what could be developed more–taking the successful animated series over the last batch of years as one of the starting points, not least of which would mean not making the whole bloody DCU so dark.

There’s a great comic strip that sums up some of my thoughts about, say, Starfire:

http://www.shortpacked.com/2011/comic/book-13/04-remedial-adulthood/math/

This. Definitely this. There’s already a base of animation-loving potential readers who could have easily been brought in to a rebooted DCU that would have actually been closer to what they already loved.

I would explore some of the less-well-known characters, just not all of the obscure ones from scratch. (One option could be to have an ongoing Showcase-style title and see what people like, of course, and work from there.)

“Next up, availability: I would cut Diamond Distributors out of the deal and set up a DC distribution office to handle shipping of the books, to comic shops, grocery stores, drugstores, bookstores, convenience stores–any place where someone young or old could pick up a comic and it could be their first comic. I would also enforce the idea that all ‘floppies’ carry a $1.99 price tag, while the thicker books would be the $2.99 ones.”

I simply don’t know that this is feasible. Part of the problem is that $1.99 may not be an option at all anymore. I’m not even sure TV Guide is that cheap. Pulling out of Diamond may have its own array of problems, as well. Now, one solution to this could be, as you touch on with manga, to put out some anthology titles for distribution to all of those places you mention, to get people interested in going further–they could even be black and white printings.

“Also, I would cut costs by switching back to the previous kind of paper used in the books, instead of the glossy junk presently in our comics. Look at John Byrne’s “Trio” over at IDW–the paper stock is the closest thing to comics before 1996.”

Which is, alas, $3.99 an issue. I’m not sure the paper stock is helping lower costs.

“For the amount of titles produced, I would establish a mandate that all genres of comics be offered by the company–superhero, sci-fi, horror, comedy, western, military, kids, even romance–so that all types of audiences could be appealed to, in any location.”

Defnitely would do this, and perhaps not even focus on having them all in the same bloody universe. Or, if they were in the same universe, there’d be no need to tie them in as closely as they have been since the reboot. Jonah Hex and Sgt. Rock have been part of the DCU for decades now, but overall in their own stories you wouldn’t really know it for the most part. Knowing that Jonah definitely WON’T solve the problem of the group which will become the Court of Owls in Batman stories I have no interest in–well, I still love the Palmiotti Jonah Hex stuff, but I’d rather see less of that unless it’s in another title. (I.e., JLA time-travels back and meets Jonah in their own book, great; but in his own book, Jonah lives a super-hero-free life.)

I’d also add the caveat that all of those genres, while done with more current writers of course, need not be made “grim and gritty and dark.” There was a miniseries called Twilight years ago by, I think, Howard Chaykin, which took a lot of DC’s non-Legion “future science fiction” characters and managed to put them all in a grim dystopia. Does the world really need Dark Space Cabbie?

But yes, making sure that at least ONE title in each genre is out there, even with low sales, even if it means that a regular anthology title for that genre just squeaks along, would be a good long-term strategy for all kinds of reasons. The next Scott Pilgrim or what have you could come out of that. Maybe even comics genres which weren’t around in the past but are definitely there now (slice of life stories and the like). Of course, making that appealing to new writers so they could get that exposure AND somehow keep their own creations, while still being profitable to DC, would be a good thing, so the creator of the next Scott Pilgrim doesn’t wind up getting cheated…

“Mandate #2: All bigger-selling characters–Superman, Batman–will only be given two titles (Action Comics and Superman, and Detective Comics and Batman, respectively) to reduce the amount of overexposure. Action and Detective would become anthology titles again, with each story getting the same amount of pages.”

I see no reason to do this, actually. If people want more Superman and Batman, let them have it. (But that’s a real “want” issue, not a “let’s saturate the market” issue, too.) Also, not all stories NEED to be the same number of pages.

“Mandate #4: all creative teams would begin following the “Bechdel test” so that they would avoid putting into the stories EVERYTHING that people like Heidi MacDonald would criticize about comics. I’d have them refer to select commentaries I’ve read by people such as Jim Shooter and others for reasons why.”

I think that having the “Bechdel test” more well-known to the writers is a good thing. I think MANDATING it is not a good thing–just on general principle. It could be something to keep in mind, but I’d be cautious, just on general principle, of trying to make every story in every title conform to it.

“Mandate #5: EVERY character gets a chance, new or old and obscure. No more multiple books (mainly in the 5-8 range) featuring ONE overexposed character or another. New stories, new characters, new concepts every month, alongside your usual suspects.”

Again, I think DC’s catalogue of characters is so incredibly vast that this is nigh-impossible to pull off. There really are just too many. In the hands of an extremely good writer, some great things could be done with, say, the Red Bee, but there are already quite a few good, less obscure characters that could use some TLC. See above re multiple books. New characters every month kind of breeds new, forgettable characters every month (see also: large chunks of the 1990s. I’m looking at you, characters who debuted in Bloodlines and Marvel’s parallel set of annuals–each annual created a new character, most of whom were painfully forgettable and in many, many cases, seemed to sort of throw together whatever was trendy at the time, with names like “Adam-X the X-Treme”!).

“Mandate #6: Event comics would be put on hiatus, or squared out on an Olympics-style schedule, so as to raise and nurture good old-fashioned storytelling. This also includes eliminating ‘writing for the trade’.”

I would tend to agree with this. There could be “events” which would not interrupt the flow of the monthly comics, too–the Elseworlds annuals, the Year One or Year Zero or -1 stories, the One Million comics, the Dead Earth annuals, etc.

It’s very frustrating to know that if I go and pick up a random comic at the shop it will almost assuredly have only a fragment of a story. For $2.99 at least. Ugh.

“Like the governing body I mentioned earlier, there would be a similar group established to keep track of the history of the company’s relationship with different creators, while at the same time isolating and dealing with any ‘injustices’ served by the company to the creator.”

I think this is good, but I don’t know what constraints DC is under (from, for instance, Warner) to allow, modify, or prevent things like this. I would do whatever is allowed in this regard, though, and make things as right as humanly possible. This applies to Moore, Siegel and Shuster, Isabella, etc.

“I would announce that the company would now be making more sincere and honest efforts to market to BOTH male and female audiences, and YES, I would take the risk of alienating the core audiences without regret. Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, right? But this is a psychological approach–by doing this, I am subtly encouraging those who do get alienated to move on and find something new to fill the void. (Something positive, I hope…)”

Excellent! But why would anyone get alienated by that?

@Brigid and Blade X — I think what happens with kids and superhero comics specifically (as opposed to all comics generally) is that there’s not much incentive for kids to come to the kid-version comics, either because of marketing and access or because reading-age kids generally turn their nose up at “kiddie” versions of anything. (It’s probably a mix of all three of those, actually.) But those DM sales of kid-version superhero titles aren’t the only measure.

Both DC and Marvel do a great job getting kids interested in the overall brands through their licensing programs, especially the licensed picturebooks and early readers and TV shows. Once the kids are old enough to seek out a comic store on their own, they’re predisposed to superheroes and are probably too old to qualify as kids anymore, so they go right to the mainline titles, which is just fine.

That’s actually what happened with me as a kid — I started with the Superman movie and the Spider-Man TV show, then my very smart parents started filling up the Christmas stockings with Superman and Spider-Man comics.

@Dennis — Sure, saying that people shouldn’t be offended is certainly a different point than your original point, which was that publishers don’t have to do anything different because the offended parties aren’t large enough to matter.

I may still disagree with your point as it evolved (it’s really not legit to decide when it’s OK for someone else to be offended) but I think we’re now straying into “to each his own” territory.

@Jesse — actually I think that the mainline titles at DC have gone horribly awry for the most part, so I am eager for the next reboot to come as fast as humanly possible…

@David
Regarding some of the bits of analysis you did on my piece, here’s my response:

“DC’s got such a MASSIVE array of characters that if you tried to do that, it would take decades or longer. I would definitely work to sort out readership bases, though. One thing I’d do is look at what HAS worked over the years and see what could be developed more–taking the successful animated series over the last batch of years as one of the starting points, not least of which would mean not making the whole bloody DCU so dark. There’s already a base of animation-loving potential readers who could have easily been brought in to a rebooted DCU that would have actually been closer to what they already loved.
“I’d also add the caveat that all of those genres, while done with more current writers of course, need not be made ‘grim and gritty and dark.’ There was a miniseries called Twilight years ago by, I think, Howard Chaykin [and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez], which took a lot of DC’s non-Legion ‘future science fiction’ characters and managed to put them all in a grim dystopia. Does the world really need Dark Space Cabbie?”
Making them dark and gritty never was, nor would ever be, my intent at all with those characters. Your point about the animated stuff being good material to possibly expand is a good one.

“I would explore some of the less-well-known characters, just not all of the obscure ones from scratch. (One option could be to have an ongoing Showcase-style title and see what people like, of course, and work from there.)
“…perhaps not even focus on having them all in the same bloody universe. Or, if they were in the same universe, there’d be no need to tie them in as closely as they have been since the reboot. Jonah Hex and Sgt. Rock have been part of the DCU for decades now, but overall in their own stories you wouldn’t really know it for the most part. Knowing that Jonah definitely WON’T solve the problem of the group which will become the Court of Owls in Batman stories I have no interest in–well, I still love the Palmiotti Jonah Hex stuff, but I’d rather see less of that unless it’s in another title. (I.e., JLA time-travels back and meets Jonah in their own book, great; but in his own book, Jonah lives a super-hero-free life.)”
“But yes, making sure that at least ONE title in each genre is out there, even with low sales, even if it means that a regular anthology title for that genre just squeaks along, would be a good long-term strategy for all kinds of reasons. The next Scott Pilgrim or what have you could come out of that. Maybe even comics genres which weren’t around in the past but are definitely there now (slice of life stories and the like). Of course, making that appealing to new writers so they could get that exposure AND somehow keep their own creations, while still being profitable to DC, would be a good thing, so the creator of the next Scott Pilgrim doesn’t wind up getting cheated…”
The anthology title method was part of my intent with my piece, it’s the best way in my book, as was having historical characters not interact as often with the rest of the DCU. And like I mentioned before, I’d have DC reorganized as a comic book “SNL” for up-and-coming talent to get their feet wet. And so they wouldn’t be cheated, they’d co-own whatever stories they had published or whatever concepts or characters they created that have gone on to be used again. AND each ‘creation’ would be set on the record to avoid legal fiascoes.

“Again, I think DC’s catalogue of characters is so incredibly vast that this is nigh-impossible to pull off. There really are just too many. In the hands of an extremely good writer, some great things could be done with, say, the Red Bee, but there are already quite a few good, less obscure characters that could use some TLC. See above re multiple books. New characters every month kind of breeds new, forgettable characters every month (see also: large chunks of the 1990s. I’m looking at you, characters who debuted in Bloodlines and Marvel’s parallel set of annuals–each annual created a new character, most of whom were painfully forgettable and in many, many cases, seemed to sort of throw together whatever was trendy at the time, with names like “Adam-X the X-Treme”!).”
I knew this sort of argument would be brought up, so again, anthology method, BUT, regarding characters that could be reinterpreted (unless the creator(s) want to do a new one), the creators get to CHOOSE the characters they want to work with, as long as their story is standalone–no guest-appearance by a headliner, just the new guy or gal.

“I simply don’t know that this is feasible. Part of the problem is that $1.99 may not be an option at all anymore. I’m not even sure TV Guide is that cheap. Pulling out of Diamond may have its own array of problems, as well. Now, one solution to this could be, as you touch on with manga, to put out some anthology titles for distribution to all of those places you mention, to get people interested in going further–they could even be black and white printings.”
Yeah, something told me you’d bring this up. Look, (had I taken over DC) I intended to MAKE $1.99 an option again, even if it meant taking a loss or two. I’d rewrite the book on that subject. And the anthology title using the Shonen Jump method is exactly what I had in mind, black and white or color. As for the Diamond thing–many people have said that Diamond has grown more flawed (pun intended) over the years, and more monopolistic. Besides–what’s wrong with the company distributing the product itself? (I’m not talking about partnering or starting with something like the Heroes World debacle.)

“I see no reason to do this, actually. If people want more Superman and Batman, let them have it. (But that’s a real “want” issue, not a “let’s saturate the market” issue, too.) Also, not all stories NEED to be the same number of pages.”
Have you seen the DC Animated films from the past few years? No matter if it’s a Justice League movie, Batman and Superman have been the subject of almost each release–and Green Lantern and Wonder Woman’s films barely made any sales, despite being good films. That’s the big problem I see–no one can find a new and possibly interesting character because the market’s cluttered with nothing but the big character sellers (that was the problem with the He-Man toy series from 2002, most cases had almost nothing but He-Man and Skeletor figures, or to the more recent phenomena with Transformers where the peg-warmers are Bumblebee variants). By not giving the big-sellers more than two titles, I nurture untapped curiosity in the public that inspires them to see that there’s more to DC than Superman and Batman. As for the page length–Democratic Comics. (Sarcastically telling off DC/Warner Bros.: “You know what? Why don’t you just cancel every other book and publish nothing but Superman and Batman? You’ll still make a buck or two…”)

“I think that having the “Bechdel test” more well-known to the writers is a good thing. I think MANDATING it is not a good thing–just on general principle. It could be something to keep in mind, but I’d be cautious, just on general principle, of trying to make every story in every title conform to it.”
I’d have a chart outlining the test put up on every office wall for someone to occasionally glance at and then start to think as they write their scripts or draw their figures. I’d be trying to encourage the talent to think before they act.

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