SPIDER-MANDATE: The Lowe-down on "Secret Wars," Tie-Ins and Stacey Lee
Cue the Welcome Back, Kotter theme music: At a live press conference from NYC’s Midtown Comics today, Marvel unveiled “Fear Itself,” a line-wide event beginning in March. Featuring a prologue one-shot by Ed Brubaker and Scot Eaton, tie-ins, spin-off stand-alone miniseries, and an April-launching seven-issue core limited series by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immonen, it’s very much in the vein of past mega-events like “Civil War,” a comparison company personnel made repeatedly at the presser. If anything, it sounds even bigger than “Civil War,” as the two core Marvel franchises who’ve traditionally been kept at arms’ length from the big events of late, the Hulk and the X-Men, look to be playing an integral role right along with the Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and so on.
“Event Marketing” ultimately conditioned the majority of consumers to not want books that weren’t part of events, weren’t part of the “core continuity.” The over-proliferation of line expansions (seriously who wants eleven different “Thor” comics solicited to ship in a single month? Thor, historically, can barely support a single title) did the same….The thing is: this is a self-inflicted wound. Event marketing, line expansions, overproduction of minis and new #1s, price increases — these were all things that publishers chose to do in order to make as much money as they could. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se — we live in a system of capitalism, and capitalism demands greater profits. But we’ve systematically made what seemed like sound short-term decisions that largely gutted the long-term market for most of the product within it. Ooops!…We have to strip lines down, hard, to just the brilliant shiny heart of it all and have the message be, “Yeah, we’re publishing half of what we used to, but, damn, if we published any more awesome stuff that you just can’t wait to get the next issue of, we’d all explode!”
–Retailer and CBR columnist Brian Hibbs, arguing that the proliferation of comics about the same characters has been a disaster and publishers need to radically cut back.
[Reader Question:] Do you think less having titles would be workable? Would having e.g. Batman in only one (or at most two) title be a high-enough seller in the long term (due to not diluting the franchise) to offset the loss of sales from multiple books?
[Tom Brevoort:] No, not at all. Every time this sort of thing has been tried in the past, the results have been the same. For the most part, multiple titles featuring the same character(s) don’t cannibalize sales from one another, nor do the sales aggregate when you eliminate the other books.
–Marvel Senior V.P. – Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, arguing that radically cutting back would be a disaster and the proliferation of comics about the same characters is just fine.
One of these men is wrong. But who?
“My not-terribly insightful comic book epiphany of the day: right now, we’ve got a bunch of top-flight writers in the field, and the next generation on the horizon. But what we could really use is a new, young generation of break-out artists. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got a lot of excellent artists. But who was the last hot young guy who just exploded into the field? I feel like the pump is primed for one or more fresh young artists to just explode in a major, commercial way. When was the last time that happened? We could use an infusion of visual excitement in the books–across all companies.”
–Thus spoke Tom Brevoort, Marvel Senior VP – Executive Editor, on Twitter last night. Personally, I think he’s probably right to wonder about this. Like he says, the point isn’t that there are no good or even great relatively young/relatively new artists right now — there are plenty. Personally I’ve been knocked out by Gabriel Hardman‘s work on Atlas and Hulk over the past year or so, just for example. But what Brevoort is looking for is an artist who just skyrockets to superstardom more or less out of the blue. That requires quite a delicate alchemy. The artist in question must be young enough or new enough or have been working far way enough from the Big Two’s audiences for their work to have “the shock of the new” when fans first see it. They must bring something different to the table than what established artists are doing, so that their work stands out, but they must also be working in a style that’s recognizable and acceptable to large numbers of superhero fans. Their work doesn’t necessarily have to be to your taste, but you should at least be able to understand what others see in it, even if you don’t see it yourself.
“For those who’ve been asking, yes, JMS is finishing The Twelve. #9 & 10 are done, and Chris [Weston] is waiting on script from JMS this week.”
–Marvel Senior VP – Executive Editor Tom Brevoort on the other book J. Michael Straczynski departed mid-stream, the long-delayed Marvel maxi-series The Twelve with artist Chris Weston. Perhaps this is one of the “high-visibility mini series…with a beginning, middle and end” to which JMS was referring in his statement about leaving Superman and Wonder Woman to focus on non-monthly comics. (The “and end” part’s the kicker.)
Feel like it’s perhaps time to drop some knowledge–or what passes for it at any rate–to young writers. I’ve run into a couple of moments this week where I’d swear, you guys don’t quite understand what your job as storytellers is.
Tom Rule #1: Know what your story is about. Not what the plot is, but what the point is. Why you’re telling it beyond collecting a check. If you can swap out your leads for other characters and it changes nothing meaningful, you story does not work. It’s all about characters.
Tom Rule #2: Do not try to impress me or others with Byzantine structures or pseudo-clever narrative devices. These tools all have their place, but they don’t in the slightest make up for not making me care about the characters. When in doubt, simpler is better. Start at start, as much as possible. Take the time to make me give a damn about these people.
While they’ve become industry standard, devices like “Dueling Narrators”, where two characters have a back-and-forth conversation over barely-related visuals is inherently confusing and pulls people out of the story. Clarity is your friend, and your job. Impress me with the conflicts your characters face, and the choices that they make. Don’t be overblown for it’s own sake.
Also, dropping a lot of references to old stories isn’t the same thing as making me care about people. By itself, it’s lazy, counting on good will and interest in the characters created by your predecessors. Your job is to make me care every issue. Emotional Truth!
Your mission is to tell your story directly, and well. In general, novices love technique, pros love content. Don’t confuse them. Remember, you’re asking readers to drop at least three bucks and twenty minutes of their lives for this experience. Earn it.
I will remember a story that touched me or moved me far longer than one that was over-clever in its execution. It is in no way passé or uncool to be direct.
Also, watch any episode of any television show and count how many times characters are named. Tell me your cast’s damn names! Every issue!
Alan Moore is incredibly talented. He can break the rules, because he knows how. You are not Alan Moore. Not yet. Walk first, then run. There are a million ways to write a comic book, but nobody enjoys being baffled, or uninvolved, or just plain bored.
And that’s one to grow on.
–Marvel Senior VP-Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, in an epic Twitter “rant” (his word, not mine — this is way too reasonable to constitute ranting) last week. Who says you have to be “stupid and provocative” to get on Robot 6, Tom? (Although the tweets did apparently trigger a miniature stampede of creators concerned Brevoort was talking about them…)
The widely circulated news that Marvel would lower prices to $2.99 on new titles was “either misreported or misconstrued,” says Vice President-Executive Editor Tom Brevoort.
The reports stem from remarks made on Oct. 7 by David Gabriel, Marvel’s senior vice president of sales & circulation, at the ICv2 Conference on Comics & Digital at New York Comic Con, less than an hour after DC Comics announced its across-the-board price cut. Gabriel’s announcement, characterized as a reduction from $3.99 to $2.99 for new titles beginning in January, was carried in separate panel reports by Comic Book Resources, Robot 6, The Beat, ICv2.com and other sites.
According to The Beat, Gabriel confirmed the information after the conference. His announcement seemed to be supported the following day in at least two Marvel panels in comments by Brevoort and Arune Singh, manager of sales communications. In the more than three weeks since the conference, Marvel hasn’t issued a press release outlining its pricing policy or clarifying the widespread online reports.
But in the latest “Marvel T&A” interview with Comic Book Resources, Brevoort says there’s been a lot of public confusion about Gabriel’s actual comments.
When Marvel VP-Executive Editor Tom Brevoort answered the following question on his Formspring account this weekend, he answered a question I’ve had for a long time as well:
what are Marvel’s most popular selling comics in bookstores?
As a group, the Ultimate titles.
Veteran chart watchers have no doubt tracked the slow decline of the Ultimate line — or Ultimate Comics, as they’re currently called on their covers, if not their indicia — for years now, something the Ultimatum event and subsequent title revamps and relaunches didn’t really stop. Moreover, several of the big selling points for the line when it was created — a lack of years of convoluted continuity, more timely cultural references — necessarily get diluted as the books age. Marvel has long justified the continuation of the Ultimate Universe by referring to it as a place where the “rules” for the mainline Marvel books do not apply, a place where some of the company’s biggest writers (Bendis, Millar, Loeb) can run wild. But if Brevoort’s right and comics branded with the “Ultimate” moniker have a leg up in the bookstore market, that’s probably reason no. 1 why Marvel still has the books’ back.
The other day we linked you to the saga of Coober Skeber 2, the Marvel-spoofing, copyright-defying anthology put together by influential alternative comics publisher Tom Devlin and a small galaxy of future alternative-comics stars in the late 1990s. Well, now it’s time for genuine superhero-comics superstar Kurt Busiek to weigh in on the book. On his blog, the Buse shares his memories of getting a copy at Comic-Con International in 1997 and digging it so much he helped get one participant hired by Marvel:
I liked the Hulk story so much that when I got home, I photocopied the story and faxed it to Tom Brevoort at Marvel (this was in those halcyon days before scanners were common), and urged him to get someone to buy it from Kochalka and have it colored and run it as a backup somewhere. It was too cool not to show to Hulk fans everywhere.
Tom wasn’t editing Hulk at the time, but he took over the book a little later, and eventually did try to buy the story. Kochalka wanted to re-do it, so Tom hired him to re-do the story, in color, and it ran in Hulk 2001, that year’s Annual.
Click the link to read the whole story — and to get a look at the full pencils for Seth’s cover, which Busiek bought. This makes me wonder: Does Astro City have a hipster enclave full of superheroes that look like Fort Thunder drawings?
Robot 6’s Charismatic Mr. Collins assisted Marvel Editor Tom Brevoort in asking a particular question back on Monday to our assembled Robot readers. After hearing a lot of frazzled fans at this year’s Baltimore Comic-Con, Mr. Brevoort wants to know what readers think of event books. Enough news and views have happened in the week, but this question is super important and cannot be ignored by Yours Truly.
Event books are a touchy subject. One one hand, they sell a lot of comics based on the sturm und drang of their stories; on the other hand, they ruin a sense of stability for the reader. Some of them have been truly game-changing events, and others have been World War Hulk. Now, you can dress up an event book in the uniform of a particular character and call them more ‘localized’ events like Curse of the Mutants and Shadowland, but people picking them up off the shelves and taking them to the sales counter know what they really are: an event book, just like all the others have been.
I would like to thank Mr. Brevoort for being brave enough to unleash such a subject into the wilds of the internet. We of the internets are an opinionated and passionate bunch who will tell you exactly what we think (sometimes to our own detriment). Event books are the holofoil covers of our time, just another way to promote a book and perpetuate interest, and it’s cool that a Real Live Editor(tm) might really want to know how much interest they’re perpetuating. I hope he reads each and every one of our readers wonderful comments; I know I’ll be certainly going over a lot of the stuff they originally said over here but in the end, it’s all going to come down to one answer.
This answer will make both long-time readers happy, interest new readers and generate sales in the long term for our House of Ideas. It will slice, dice and also make Julian fries. The answer is HERE, my friends! Not a dream, not an imaginary hoax, the real true answer to the event book question is live and in person and right below that continue reading link! It’s there! Get yours today!
Tom Brevoort has a question for you. During his regularly scheduled “Marvel T&A” Q&A alongside fellow Vice President-Executive Editor Axel Alonso, the outspoken editor wondered aloud whether Marvel’s new model for event comics — several smaller ones spread throughout various franchise families rather than one massive line-wide mega-story — was being received by the readership as Marvel had intended. So he decided to take it straight to the source and ask the readers what they think:
There’s one thing I want to ask the readership before we wrap things up this week. At the Baltimore show I held the “Marvel: Your Universe” panel on Sunday, which is our casual conversation panel where we solicit feedback to see what our fans are thinking and feeling about our stuff. And one of the things I came away from that panel with was that a great number of our fans seem to feel that, rather than doing fewer events, we’re doing nothing BUT events. From my point of view – and I don’t think Axel feels any differently – we shifted away from the model of doing one massive, concentrated event as we moved from SIEGE into The Heroic Age, with the idea of making every individual title its own event. And in some cases, every little subgroup forms its own event that’s a little smaller, a little easier to digest and a little easier for fans to get their teeth around. But at least judging by the casual reaction I got in Baltimore, the message they’re picking up from that is “Oh my God! There are events everywhere! I can’t read anything!”
So I’m curious as to what people are thinking about “Second Coming” and “Shadowland” and “Chaos War” coming up, or “Three” and the first arc of “Avengers” – all these smaller so-called events that we’re doing. We’ve very specifically stayed away since the end of “Siege” from doing any one, big, massive event. And yet, that doesn’t seem to be the message people are taking away from us. So I’d like to get a sense as to how people are feeling about what we’re doing right now – what they like, what they don’t like and how we could be doing things better.
Well, Robot 6 readers, what say you? How is Marvel handling its events and crossovers, and how is it affecting your enjoyment of the books, your budget, or both? Let us — and Brevoort — know in the comments below.
“I see Robert Kirkman has joined the Erik Larsen ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ club when it comes to the content in mainstream super hero comics. Guys, you’ve got all the freedom in the world to do whatever kinds of comics you want, and so do we. It’s unapologetically ironic that the guy publishing INVINCIBLE, probably the bloodiest, goriest super hero comics in years, is the one casting these stones. And yes, I know he tries to contextualize it, but it’s still ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ If you want those kinds of comics, MAKE THEM! I think it’s absurdly hypocritical to publish a violent book that looks like an issue of Teen Titans on the racks, then take this stance. And just to be clear: I like both Robert’s and Erik’s work. Never miss an issue of WALKING DEAD or INVINCIBLE.”
I have a few thoughts on this:
1) It pains the yellow journalist in me to have to include the conciliatory bit at the end there, but I’m all about ethics.
2) As I told Brevoort over Twitter, I think both the hyprocrisy angle and “If you want those kinds of comics, MAKE THEM!” is a bit unfair. Let’s say Jay-Z wants to hear a good country song every now and then — should he stop rapping? Kirkman seems much better suited to what he’s doing with Invincible and The Walking Dead than to traditional Big Two supercomics, but that doesn’t pre-invalidate his opinions on those comics, opinions that ought to be allowed to rise or fall on their own merits. Attack the idea he’s advancing, don’t go the pot/kettle route. Well, at least don’t do it over Invincible, which as a creator-owned book Kirkman made up from scratch is pretty different kettle of fish. But Marvel Zombies, on the other hand…
It’s a classic case of “sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” Marvel made waves earlier this year with a swap offer in which they’d send retailers a rare Deadpool variant of Siege #3 for every 50 stripped covers of DC’s “ring books” — Blackest Night tie-ins retailers had to order in bulk to qualify for promotional plastic power rings for the various Lantern corps — they received in return.
Then earlier this month, Marvel flipped the script, offering a rare Deadpool variant of the upcoming Wolverine #1 relaunch in exchange for every 50 covers they receive from Marvel event tie-ins, specifically books from the X-Men: Second Coming and Siege events.
An update on our current Marvel book-swap. With one week to go till cut-off, we’ve gotten less than 15% as many books as we did ring-books. In other words, for every 3 Marvel books returned, we’d previously gotten 20 ring-books. Could be that people wanted the SIEGE variant more.
… or, as one could infer, it could be that the Siege and Second Coming tie-ins eligible for this trade genuinely sold through to readers better than the Blackest Night tie-in “ring books” did, so retailers have fewer unwanted leftovers to unload. But far be it for Tom Brevoort to tweak the competition!
Sure, Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort’s formspring account — on which anyone can ask him anything they want — is often little more than a Festivus-style airing of grievances for people outraged that a) Jean Grey is/isn’t dead/Hope; b) Spider-Man and Mary Jane are no longer married; c) Thor lost a battle to [insert name of any character Thor ever lost a battle to]; or d) the awesome Ronan the Accuser/Unus the Untouchable crossover idea you wrote down on the back of a box of Wheat Thins doesn’t count as being a “published writer” for the purposes of Marvel hiring you to write Uncanny X-Men. But every once in a while something really interesting will pop up. Case in point: the following exchange…
Since its so tough to sustain new titles (Atlas, Cap Britain etc) is there any chance we could see an ongoing split feature like the old Cap/Iron Man Tales of Suspense? Maybe fans of two low selling titles are enough to support one shared book.
I’ve been thinking about this very thing recently–just haven’t concluded which two features would have the greatest chance of success.
“We’re not done with Philly per se, but we do seem to be done, at least for the moment, with the Wizard conventions.”
–Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, answering a Formspring question about Marvel’s third Wizard World Philadelphia no-show in a row by making Marvel’s severance from Wizard’s convention wing more-or-less official. (On its blog, Wizard reports that this year’s Philadelphia show “broke ever [sic] attendance record EVER!! The show was a HUGE success!”)
One of the most welcome aspects of yesterday’s big DC digital-comics announcement from a creator-rights perspective is that “creator incentive payments” are a part of it. In his interview with CBR’s Kiel Phegley, co-publisher Jim Lee compared the payments to the royalties creators receive for print sales, saying “the freelance community will be happy that they’re being compensated in every way their stories are being sold.” That aspect of the arrival of digital comics publishing has been shrouded in mystery up until now, so DC’s move is a big first step.
Sorry, DC, but despite what your nice letter says, you are NOT “the first to announce a participation plan for talent” for digital comics. I’m not sniping at DC, just correcting misinformation that’s being sent out freelancers, some who work for both companies.