[Okay, maybe we have -- but when fearless leader JK Parkin suggested that DC blogger Tom Bondurant and retailer/Marvel blogger Carla Hoffman could do a back-and-forth about it, we were happy to oblige. The following was conducted via email from June 17 through June 22.]
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[When we left off yesterday, the question was whether long-established characters or relative newcomers were easier to sell.]
Carla: I know DC has said there will be new characters, but how do you think that’s going to go? Will these be the next Booster Gold or the latest Chase? (P.S.: I sort of remembered that last name so I just looked that up and I was right! There was a character called Chase! I started selling comics when Chase was on the stands!)
Now, as for what I’m going to emphasize to customers as they look up and shout “Save us!”… and I’m going to have to whisper “no” on this one, Tom. The whole point of this re-something is to let a new reader pick up a book with a fresh start and a feeling of confidence that they are beginning at the beginning. Now, if someone wanted to read a Superman issue before, well… where did one begin? That’s where your LCS should factor in; clerks should be there to help people find the book they’re looking for. Most times, one of us at Metro will have read something that a customer is looking for. In this way, we can ask what they like in general (‘What movies do you like?’, etc.) and then direct from there. Does this make sense?
What’s the point?
This is like hosting the best block party for three months straight, and then suddenly the guy next door rents an outdoor projector and starts playing “Best of the Web” YouTube videos on the side of his house. People just can’t help but turn their heads. Is it a wise idea? Aren’t these just constant clips of low-rent YouTube versions of Jackass? Why can’t I look away?
So here we are, minding our own business, when the Distinguished Competition comes out with a hefty announcement for their September line-up. It’s bright and shiny and controversial and loud, and maybe this is what the other half feels like every time Marvel announces that they are going to create a studio to make their own movies, make a push for trade paperbacks, support digital comics or kick off a whole new universe where characters are younger and more movie-savvy for the modern comic reader.
Yeah! So let’s look at September, people! Let’s face front to the future and remind ourselves that no matter the number on the cover, it’s the content that counts. What’s Marvel bringing to the fore in September?
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X-Men writer Chris Claremont gets the Graphic NYC treatment this week: A stylish photograph by Seth Kushner and an in-depth interview with Christopher Irving. And this is just part one. Claremont starts out with an account of what might have been: His first foray into comics was thanks to a required internship while he was a student at Bard College. Not sure of what to do, he asked family friend Al Jaffee if he could do an internship at Mad Magazine.
“As it turned out, he went to my parents and said ‘There is no way in hell I’m going to recommend your son for an intern—Do you know what we do? Do you know what happens when we get together? You’d never forgive me!’
“He said ‘I’m friends with Stan Lee. Would you be willing to work for Marvel?’ and I said ‘Hell, yes.’”
“So, Al called Stan, Stan called me, and I told him I’d work for free. Stan, and Marvel, were never one to turn down a free lunch in those days, and he said ‘Come in and be a gopher for two months.’”
The rest, as they say, is history, and the interview that follows is a must for anyone interested in the inner workings of Marvel Comics back in the day.
Everyone has a a particular favorite in the X-Men. I mean, there’s so many to choose from! The list of Marvel’s merry mutants goes on and on, so it’s not surprising that someone’s a fan of that one guy from issue #86, third from the left (his name was Vindaloo). You may not be able to stand Meggan from Excalibur, but trust me. Someone has a livejournal devoted to her. Super fans dress up like Jubilee and campaigned to get her back in the X-books. Through staff dedication and fan outcry, we have two volumes of the Essential Dazzler. I am certain there is a comic convention by-law where for every so many people, there has to be a question posed for the return of an obscure X-Men character. Bring back Chrome! There are an amazing amount of X-characters contained in the Marvel Universe (despite Wanda’s wishes) and all of them are facets to the unique jewel of the X-titles.
So, who’s the guy who asked for Azazel?
I didn’t think he had a fan club. I didn’t think people wanted to remember the unbelievable “The Draco” storyline he came from. And now, he’s in a movie? Why? Out of all the characters who have had better origins, purposes and basic character design, why in Cerebro’s name did they pick a cheesy self-styled Satan for one of their antagonists?
WARNING: We are spoiler free!
If you’re reading this, you had a first comic. You probably can even remember the issue number. Often times, just the words “first comic” automatically conjure up images and speech bubbles freshly discovered to new eyes. Some of you may have liked your first comic, some of you may have had to read a couple before that shining moment of comic book glory arrived, but without a doubt, there’s always your first.
It’s odd to think, then, that there’s a segment of the pop culture populace that doesn’t really know how comics work. It’s like being aware of a hit TV show for them; yeah, they heard the name or saw a commercial when watching Dancing With the Stars, but they don’t watch it. Comic shop employees have probably heard the stupefied question, “They still make comic books?” on more than one occasion in a store that has comic books clearly on display. They might even have “comic books” in the name of their establishment, leading me to wonder whether people have walked into shoe stores surprised that they still put laces on the things. Still, they are out there: the new readers. It’s a just and important cause to make sure you are “new reader friendly” in the industry, because no matter how much money movies bring in, comics are a steady serial income. They are a unique staple of Americana in their own way, and it would be a sad day when you couldn’t read sequential pictures and words that tell a story on a monthly basis.
So let’s attract that new reader! Let’s be new reader friendly! I believe that children are our future, show them Spider-Man and let them lead the way! But should we give them everything? Should we be so reader-friendly that everyone who stuck with the Clone Saga and Chuck Austen’s X-Men be left in the cold for their dedication? New isn’t always better, and a continual reboot of your product or characters may leave them kind of teflon-like, where no story sticks and all your attachment wipes clean with a #1 issue.
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So here we are, looking ahead to August. The confetti and streamers from what will probably be the most successful year of Marvel films to date (three summer movies released consecutively helps!) will be quietly swept up, the San Diego Comic Con will have probably released tantalizing footage of the next year’s main event, the Avengers movie and oh, yeah. Something something comics something.
Looking to my extensive notes, I have dusted off the leather tomes of yesteryear and found that 2010 wasn’t half as lively as this year is shaping up to be. Sure, it was a month of endings and beginnings, plus vampires were everywhere and Shadowland was just kicking out the jams in all its mini-series glory but … looking back now, maybe it’s the nostalgia that keeps me from thinking better of the books that came out in August last year. Maybe it’s because I already know what became of each ending or beginning, how important vampires turned out to be and that yes, the Cable & the New Mutants: X-Force HC was a clue that Nate Summers was going to bow out at the end of Second Coming (man, Second Coming was last year? It feels like it’s been longer than that…).
With that in mind, can I tell you how excited I am for Fear Itself #5? Come look ahead at August and see what Marvel has in store after their banner year in film.
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Updated: Though many of the comments about this article (below and elsewhere) indicate that people read the entire thing and understood my point, enough didn’t that I now realize that the tile of this post is unintentionally misleading. This is not a post about how the story presented in the movie is better than the best stories presented in the comics. It’s about how Marvel’s trade program is impenetrable enough and how the quality of stories over a series’ 50-year history varies enough that people who enjoy Marvel movies and would enjoy reading some similar comics often end up just throwing their hands in the air and deciding to watch the movie again instead. Sincere apologies to those for whom this was not clear.
In his response to the news that Marvel’s putting a lot of their cartoons on Netflix, Tom Spurgeon noted that “the Marvel cartoons are probably a bigger factor than we realize in building a core audience for many of their properties, but I haven’t seen anyone seriously engage that subject since the first X-Men movie came out.”
I don’t expect that this article constitutes “serious engagement,” but Spurgeon did remind me of my own reaction to last weekend’s Thor movie. My dominant thought as I watched it (and one that lingered into the parking lot and beyond) was that I enjoyed it more than I’ve enjoyed a Thor comic in a long, long time. Since I was a kid really. The same is true of the Iron Man films – even the second one – only replace “in a long, long time” with “ever.”
Take into consideration that I’ve yet to read Walt Simonson’s Thor or any of Matt Fraction’s stuff with either character, so I realize that my viewpoint is extremely limited. But that’s not the point. I’m not trying to claim that the story presented in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is objectively better than every comic ever written about the same character. I do suspect however that the experience of watching it is – for most people – a more satisfying thing than the experience of trying to read the books on which it’s based. As a life-long comics fan, my surprise is that I’m not only sympathetic to that perspective, but have adopted it myself.
Last Saturday, I was nearly beside myself in grief as a long time fan and comics aficionado completely struck Amazing Spider-Man from his comics pull list at the comic shop where I work. This is someone who used to get two copies of every book, even when it came out three times a month. Someone I certainly respect, as we had whiled away moments at the store talking comics, character and storytelling. A fan who knows what he likes and is adamant about what he doesn’t.
Amazing Spider-Man had crossed a line that he would not follow. Holding up a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #657 (give the man a break, it had been awhile since he’d dropped by), he simply stated he was done. He declared that Stan and Jack would have said everything that needed to be said in three panels regarding Johnny Storm’s demise and that the issue had dragged it out too long. Keep in mind, he didn’t even read the Fantastic Four, so just 28 pages dedicated to a classic character’s death had taken it over the line. He thought the costume was stupid and that there had been too many changes to Spidey’s look.
But most importantly, the thing that got me thinking was his downcast declaration of “Spider-Man shouldn’t be on the Fantastic Four.” And you know? He was right. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t help but agree. I fully admit I hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye with this particular Spider-Fan (sorry, but Brubaker’s Captain America was pretty brilliant), but he has just the right way of holding true to the tenants of comic book storytelling. And he was most certainly right.
Spider-Man should not nor ever be a member of the Fantastic Four. Should he even be a member of the FF?
The average comic is around 21 to 24 pages of story. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but in all, we can agree that there’s some breathing room in comparison to your standard Sunday comic strip. In those 21 to 24 pages, there is space to tell a story or, in our current state of affairs, part of one. Despite the shaken fists to the sky and grumbles from the masses, there are comic book writers who write for the trade paperback, making each issue a piece of a much larger puzzle. Your monthly comic would then hold a clue or a twist that would add to the readers’ understanding of the over-arcing plot, causing them to come back for more in search of the final resolution.
This creates an audience. Wondering what comes next or “whodunnit” keeps readers turning pages and the writer with some steady income as they bring the story to life in their allotted time and space once a month. It’s hard work these days to keep the public’s attention, so taking a story of significant impact and drawing it out over a few months has a beneficial side if you’re thinking fiscally. This practice can leave a lot of people in the cold, especially those who come in at the middle of the story rather than its start. Let’s say someone wanted to pick up an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, just to see where Peter Parker had gotten himself to lately. Considering he’s working in a high-tech science lab rather than the life of the common Joe might be a little confusing for some, but add to that his side jobs with the Avengers or, more importantly, the Future Foundation, and you have a lot of explaining to do about why he took those jobs and what the heck a Future Foundation is.
To help usher in the new reader and perhaps give long-term readers a little space between major arcs, Marvel released Point One issues: single issues of story to explain a little about the character and where he’s at. Something that began and ended within that book. For the Invincible Iron Man, it was a character study about who Tony Stark was then and who he is now. For Wolverine, it was a well-meant birthday party with his supporting cast and a dust up with some bad guys. Some times more, some times less, these Point One issues were created to communicate the concept of the book, storyline or even just the character in 21 to 24 pages.
But! What if I told you that you (yes you!) could introduce someone to a book, storyline and character in just three panels! Sound amazing? Let me show you how!
(WARNING: this Fifth Color will contain spoilers for Avenges Academy #12. Three panels worth to be exact. If you haven’t read it yet then run, don’t walk, to you local comic shop and ask for it by name! You could also take a car if it’s a long walk.)
July is daunting. I almost fear the month itself, because it could possibly be the month of overload. I may have to take a vacation, and not to the San Diego Comic-Con! Just think of what the world is going to look like just a few months from now: two Marvel blockbusters (maybe three) will have hit the big screen. The ever-present and ever-daunting Comic Con, where even more movie, TV and comic print news will be announced. We’ll be in the middle of a major event, ending an Ultimate event and the starting two new ones. Normally, we get this kind of action (sans the movies) around December or January, when the full road to Marvel Universe Destruction has made the final leg of its journey and the Aftermath/Dark Reign/Initiative months kick in. This is a lot of action, and it’s all happening in July. Readers will certainly need a road map, if not a Sherpa and a well-stocked base camp.
So let’s prepare for the journey ahead and read on!
In the past few weeks, there have been a plethora of comic book conventions, each with their own unique announcements, promotions and exclusives. But rarely do you get the juicy gossip! These guys have their patter down so well that fans get what they came for, and no one slips up and calls anybody a whore in public (although we still hold out hope for a Frank Miller sighting next year). Marvel’s long-awaited return to San Francisco, home of the X-Men and Axel Alonso, was surprisingly polite and succinct. No major movie news, no grand proclamations, but still an exciting look forward to what lies ahead in 2011.
But you were kinda hoping somebody threw a chair.
Saturday at the Spotlight on Jason Aaron panel I heard something so ridiculous that I marched out of that room with my jaw on the floor. Sadly, Jason Aaron didn’t say it; in fact I would much rather be talking about him and his work. Aaron is a humble, talented and completely brilliant writer, but what EiC Axel Alonso said was far more controversial. Something that left Alonso and myself just stupefied.
Axel Alonso said in front of a very modest crowd at WonderCon that he works with people that think Marvel Comics should not make R-rated content. That there are some professionals in the industry that believe every comic should be PG rated or lower.
He didn’t understand it and neither do I.
You’re going to have to bear with me on this one, but I promise the metaphor is apt: People like piñatas. They are bright, colorful, cartoonish and, best of all, when you get a group together and beat it with a stick, candy comes out for everyone to enjoy. Imagine if no one hit a piñata, that they just gave the birthday boy or girl this big papier-mâché candy container. The construction is sometimes pretty cool and I’ve seen some piñata that are shaped like Wall-E or festive (and gruesome) zombie piñatas that one might want to keep, but that’s a waste of good candy and a good time. No matter how delicate its construction or elaborate its presentation, piñatas were made to be broken and enjoyed in its component parts.
See where this is going? Check the title. Yeah, I want to disassemble The New Avengers. Just whack on that book like a blindfolded elementary schooler until all the candy falls out. Because it is withholding candy from us. One of Marvel’s most popular books, not to mention a cornerstone in this New Era of comics that came from Avengers Disassembled and Civil War. It was the first book of the new regime and has lasted consistently since, all helmed under Brian Michael Bendis. Because of this, New Avengers specifically has had a major effect on Marvel comics and how our heroes are presented to us. His Avengers are now the across-the-board norm, and to disband these new heroes would be like disbanding as old an institution as the Fantastic Fo- … Oh, yeah. To hell with them, them. Let’s crack that papier-mâché creature in half!
WARNING: I’ll be talking about the last few issues of New Avengers, and talking about them rather disparagingly. So be warned, someone may indeed be shot, but I’d say it’s safe to venture forth.
It’s been awhile, but did the hair rise up on the back of your neck as of late? Did a cold wind blow through you? Even before I caught the news of the major editorial change at ol’ Marvel HQ, something didn’t feel …right.
And it’s not Axel Alonso. I’m actually stupendously happy that we have such an awesome new EIC; not only do a bunch of cool writers constantly refer to him as the man who got them their first writing gig at the House of Ideas, but the way he balances this new talent with the old brings out the best stories in each of them. He’s a really great editor and, with his name in the indicia, you know you’re going to get a quality story.
Not to mention he has been just about the only Marvel envoy at the West Coast WonderCon for the past few years and is fervent in his desire to keep the X-Men in San Fransisco, so he’s got this California girl’s support.
No, it was something else about the announcement that got me a little spooked. That “Chief Creative Officer” part. The fact that Joe Quesada isn’t so much stepping down from his position as stepping up. Chief Creative Officer makes me think of rank. I mean, a Chief Petty Officer is one thing, a but a Chief Creative Officer? From the same guy who got ‘creative’ with Spider-Man’s marriage?
Oh yeah, there’s that chill. Yikes.
There are two constants in this world: death & taxes. And because no one wants to watch the X-Men note their deductibles in a double-sized gate-fold covered extravaganza, we see a lot of death in comics. Much like origin stories, deaths are a reward to read because we are witness to moments of change and a new beginning in an old, familiar life.
By now I take it for granted that everyone knows who Spider-Man is. Pop culture has evolved in such a way that people can recognize a lot of obscure heroes that we normally reserved for the True Believer. But that doesn’t mean people know everything and, like I said, people are excited to be there when it first happened, or even just when the last thing happened.
Ratings go up when the last episode of a television show airs. No one ever asks me at my comic shop for the most recent volume of the Walking Dead when they are inspired by the new TV show, they want the first volume even though it will recap some information they’ve already seen. Marvel’s Point One program could be that entry point for curious readers who at least know the basics, but want to have that thrill of being there when it first happened, whatever that may be.
Then what? Yeah, we all want to be there when Peter slings his first web or when the puny Banner transforms into the brutish Hulk for the first time, but there’s always more to that story than just its beginning. You can’t just string a bunch of events together, over and over, starting something and never finishing it. Stories that highlight this brave new start have to go on after that moment and never be the same again. If you use a death to highlight a moment in your story, things simply can’t return to normal the next issue. These beginnings and endings have to matter for the reader to be enticed to the next issue. Sure, Stacy X died in an issue of the most recent incarnation of the New Warriors, but that death meant nothing to the greater comics stories at large, no one important took it to heart and most likely she’ll come back as a zombie or a movie cameo, and that moment will be empty.
Two books came out this week in a double whammy of mourning, teaching me at least a little about how to do these beginnings and endings right. I’d like to give these two issues a toast, to the future of these characters and the undiscovered country that awaits them both.
(WARNING: Hey everybody, people died in comics! If you don’t know who these people are or haven’t caught up on the Fantastic Four or Amazing Spider-Man, please go do so. These are pretty phenomenal books right now, and they will win you over with excellent storytelling and astounding artwork. If you already know who lives and dies, read on and let’s discover some country. Read on!)
Can you believe it? By this time, in May, we’ll have seen the Thor movie. Released May 6, Thor is only a herald of things to come, a major movie move all through the summer with X-Men: First Class on June 3 and Captain America: the First Avenger on July 22. May is the start of a huge multimedia push, endearing the public to the Marvel brand and putting out the characters we’ve known and loved into the buying public.
Oh, hopefully someone will read some comics along the way, too.
And in that vein I have the May 2011 Marvel Solicitations, my crystal ball and the overwhelming feeling that Thor is going to be the best movie I see this year.
Let’s take a look: