Funky Size It
I like comics,
always have. I've been reading them since I was a little kid. That's why
it saddens me that for the most part, comics haven't grown up with me. Worse,
it seems like they've taken quite a few steps backwards. There is almost
NO variety... it's all about the Superheroes, which aren't my favorite,
not by a long shot... seems to me Spandex-clad characters took over and
demolished a thriving industry.
would be like going to a 20-screen multiplex theater, only to find that
all twenty screens were showing "Jurassic Park 5." Dinosaur movies
are fun and all, but if that's all that was in the theaters, people would
stop going to the movies Real Quick.
(the case has
been made that's exactly what happened in the 1980s and 90s as mergers in
the film production business created blockbuster-hungry Mega Corporations
who filled the screens with mindless action movie garbage, effectively exiling
all other types of films to the art house or cable, but that's neither here
When I mention
this, people usually say to me "oh, you're dreaming, it was never any
better than it is now," to which I say Bull. Take a look at the top
selling comics of the 1970s, pre-Xmen. They sold quite a few Westerns back
then, and a bunch of other types of comics (sci-fi, mystery, horror). "Yes,"
they say, "but that was the 1970s... people don't want those books
anymore," to which I say Bull.
Take a look
at how well 100 Bullets sells. Look how well the Blueberry series sold in
America (I'm not even going to mention how well it sold in Europe). Look
at Japan, look to Europe, and you see almost no superheroes. Is it because
we do superheroes so much better than they possibly could? I don't think
so. So what's the problem? I grew up in Italy reading crime comics in Italian...
why can't I do that here in the world's most prosperous nation? I blame
the comic companies and their complete terror of entering new markets.
I guarantee you that the comic book series based on the popular "Left
Behind" series of Right-Wing paranoid born-again Christian fundamentalist
novels outsold "Return of the Dark Knight" by 10 to 1. I
guarantee it. Do you know why? Because MILLIONS of people who don't buy
comics will buy "Left Behind" comics, whereas only thousands of
those same people will buy Batman comics. Why? Because "superheroes
are for kids." That's not me talking, mind you, thats 175 million American
adults speaking with their wallets . Why aren't there hundreds of professionals
rushing to fill this underserved audience of right-wing Christian fanatics?
Because the companies are too scared to print the books.
Because it might
upset their superhero readers.
So why aren't
we as an industry rushing forth into these new markets? I don't know.
I'm doing my part with books like AMERICAN CROSS and LOS DIABLOS, but I
can't even find publishers willing to print the stuff, so what's a guy to
I know what
I'd do if I were Joe Quesada. I'd have a copy of Garth Ennis' FURY printed
in Publisher's Trade Size format, (not the comic industry's idiotic trade-paperback
size book which stick out amongst my hardbacks and paperbacks like sore
thumbs, but rather the smaller, 8"x 5" format found in fine bookstores
everywhere). Then I'd print "Military Fiction" on the spine
and NOT have a comic book illustration on the front, but rather something
along the lines of a half-burnt flag draped over a coffin and a machine
gun atop that.
Then I'd send
it out to all of the Tom Clancy-type writers of Military Fiction out there
and try to get some killer cover blurs from the notables of that field.
send it out to Barnes & Noble where the bookstore workers are going
to take one look at the cover photo of a gun and bullet-punched flag, check
the spine, and file it under "E" for "Ennis & Robertson"
smack dab in the middle of the "Military Fiction" section... WHERE
IT WILL BE FOUND AND BOUGHT BY PEOPLE INTERESTED IN READING MILITARY FICTION
WHO WOULD NEVER HAVE GONE TO A COMIC STORE TO FIND IT.
See how that
works? Neat, huh? It's called adapting your product to fit the marketplace,
not demanding that the consumer adapt to fit your product. That last theory
is the reason that American comic companies are going out of business: because
the only place that DC/Marvel/Dark Horse want to sell their books is in
Direct Market Comicbook Stores where NO ONE wants to go other than comic
See, the problem
with comic trades in bookstores now is that they're put back in the darkest
back corner along with the science fiction, the role-playing games, the
Doctor Who novels and everything else that bookstore managers think of as
"geeky." Because, believe me, having worked at a Barnes and Noble
for two years while in college, "geeky" is how they think of comics.
Ever notice how close the comic books are to the Children's Book Section?
There's a reason for that.
book placement. Get your books out of the "comics" ghetto. Does
"100 Bullets" belong on the shelf next to "Archie" and
"Superman" at Walden Books? Hell No. Print it in Publisher's Trade
Size and get the freaking thing into the goddamn Mystery Section (the secret
is printing "Mystery" on the spine -- the spine is all the average
bookstore worker looks at when shelving new books!). So why doesn't DC Comics
do that? Hell, I dunno. Maybe they're just addicted to the easy money of
the Direct Market.
I recently spoke
to a comic book company President (I won't say who) and told him that I
thought his company should licence the books of a famous and popular Romance
Novelist (say: Barbara Courtland). "But Why?" he asked. Do I want
to read Barbara Courtland comics? Hell No. Do You want to read them? I sure
as Hell hope not. But you know who does? 65 Million American Housewives
who are barely literate in the first place.
Do you want
to know the shameful secret of the American bookstore? Here it is: Romance
Novels are the BEST SELLING books in any bookstore. Period. Romance Novels
keep the lights on and the workers paid... everything else is gravy. Believe
me, these women would SCOOP UP Romance Comics for for $7.99 apiece if you
printed them 200 pages thick in the STANDARD PAPERBACK SIZE!
Note how I keep
harping on size? It's because the comic book industry has sold itself on
the idea that the odd size of the comic book trade paperback is a good thing.
It's not. It gets Whiteout
shelved with Superboy instead of with Greg Rucka's mystery novels. If an
intelligent bookstore employee comes across the Whiteout trades and tries
to file them under Mystery, another employee will notice the odd size and
pull them out and shove them back by the Clifford the Big Red dog books
in the Children's Section. Don't believe me? Go try it at your own local
bookstore. Move "The Interman" to the adventure fiction section
and see how long it lasts.
As for me, I've
talked to Jim Lee about promoting a trade of "StormWatch: Team Achilles"
in magazines like Guns & Ammo and Soldier of Fortune and printing the
trade in Publisher Trade Format (not comic format) and write "Military
Fiction" on the spine and get a cover blurb from Charlton Heston saying
"Me am Chuck! Chuck loves Guns! Chuck say buy book!"
Then we'll see
who sells more trades to people outside the established comic book fanbase.
I'm betting it'll be me.
What's that 80's song by
the Misfits? "Die Die Die My Darling!"
That's how I feel about comics when I read online that shit like He-Man
is selling 80,000 copies per issue while good books languish and die unread
without ever having been placed onto a comic store shelf.
My theory is this: 80s nostalgia
books decimate the bottom tier of mainstream titles (including Wildstorm's
Eye of the Storm line, where I currently work). Comic store owners only
have a certain amount of money to spend, so they spend it on these Nostalgia
books, hoping to shift a ton of them. Well, guess what? Every store I've
been to lately has TONS of freaking He-Man rotting on the shelves and NO
copies of StormWatch: Team Achilles. Why? Because short-sighted store owners
are underordering my book in order to get 100 extra copies of He-Man and
his glistening pecs on the shelf.
Just so everyone is clear on something: Cartoon Network recently started
showing a new He-Man cartoon. I know many of the people who worked on it
and several of the people at the network. Those who worked on it are clear
about the fact that they've just made rewarmed crap. Those who are aring
it are not thrilled about the ratings its getting, and will probably not
order additional episodes beyond the initial order.
In other words, He-Man is
NOT selling to the Public At Large. Only to an infested pocket of man-children
looking to resussitate their childhoods through comic books which bring
back the feeling of being twelve again. Problem was, these stories weren't
good enough for twelve year olds the first time around.
And meanwhile, the store
owners are killing good books like "Sleeper," "Gotham Central,"
"StormWatch," and "The Resistance." Speaking of
The Reisistance, it was easily the best American Science-Fiction comic ever
and now it's gone because DC would NOT publicize it and shop owners wouldn't
take a chance on something Different -- but hey, that's cool. The
next time some punk retailer complains to me about how tough this business
is, I'll just say "Go eat a goddamn copy of He-Man then, Bitch."
This is not to blame all retailers... many of them do a fine job and are
great people... unfortunately, a bunch of them are awful and complain and
complain about how the business doesn't do "something" to fix
itself. Guess what? They ARE, but YOU won't help them out by
ordering NEW TYPES OF "DIFFERENT" PRODUCT!!!
It's like being at a "sports"
college -- I went to the University of Arizona, where the basketball team
was consistently in the top 4 teams in the nation (go 'Cats, whooooo!) and
made HUNDREDS of MILLIONS in ticket sales and merchandising... NONE of which
went to actually making the school better in any fashion. All money generated
by the basketball program went back into the sports programs, and although
that money did make it possible for the UofA to have a women's water polo
team whose matches I made it a point to see every week, it did not substantially
help make U of A a better school for learning because NONE of that money
went to hiring better professors.
If anything, it did the opposite
because it attracted stupid sports fan students from out of state who only
wanted to go to a school with an Final Four basketball team... a specific
type of mouth-breathing FraternityRow
mental midget who was definitely NOT at school to learn, but rather to drink
beer and root for our award-winning basketball team.
basketball program also high-jacked the administration's long-term thinking,
slowly forcing them to plan everything around our prize-winning sports teams,
leading to that awful sports-school mentality where atheletes could do such
things as take payments from alumni, steal cars, commit assault and rape
and get away with it all.
This is what I see to be
the long-term legacy of these 80's nostalgia comics... a narrowing of focus
at the major companies, a slow bleed of money away from new books into a
giant "let's buy us an expensive 80's nostalgia license" fund,
a winnowing of new and/or experimental work, and the top-selling comics
talent being able to commit assault and get away with it. Just
watch out for me and Rick Remender when our My Little Pony book goes because
we are going to Fuck Some Shit Up!
accused of being too negative on Retailers and I think this is a bum rap...
there are GREAT Retailers out there. My comic store owner Paul Grimshaw
of Secrets Comics is one of them. The greatest thing about
Paul is that he tries New and Different books. One of the books which
has been selling really well for him recently is a new book called "Y
the Last Man" by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra. The book tells
story of a mysterious wave of death which sweeps the world kill every man
except Yorrick, the Eponymous Y the Last Man of the title. The book is consistantly
interesting and has a great premise behind it. I push it on all non-comics-reading
people who care to hear about it. Why? Because it has NO pervert-suited
power fantasy losers punching each other through walls for one thing and
because it's told in a CLEAR and EASY TO UNDERSTAND fashion for another.
the #1 complaint I hear from other (probably jealous) creators and ill-bred
Retailers? "The art is boring." Duh... that's what
this industry needs: art that the Average Person can understand for once
instead of being so flashy that it obscures the story it's trying to tell.
I'll take Martin Scorcese over Michael Bay ANY DAY. Unfortunately
in comics, it's generally the other way around. There's a reason that The
Interman sold to a movie company for close to a Million dollars... because
the guys at the movie company could READ IT AND UNDERSTAND IT.
the icv2.com American Pre-Order Sales Numbers for Y-- these do NOT include
re-orders which were so high on this book that DC sold out of the book,
nor do they include foreign orders nor trade paperback sales which are high
and climbing. This book is the next "Preacher," mark my
Y THE LAST MAN #1 was #134
and sold 14,275
Y THE LAST MAN #2 was #168 and sold 11,797
Y THE LAST MAN #3 was #147 and sold 13,308
Y THE LAST MAN #4 was #123 and sold 14,517
Y THE LAST MAN #5 was #124 and sold 17,207
Y THE LAST MAN #6 was #124 and sold 17,207
Y THE LAST MAN #7 was #091 and sold 20,719
Y THE LAST MAN #8 was #084 and sold 21,779
Y THE LAST MAN #9 was #092 and sold 22,835
THE NUMBERS RACKET
The numbers above for Y The
Last Man came from somewhere. There's a website naned www.icv2.com.
If you go there near the end of every month, you can find out how many copies
every comic book on the market sold that month. From this list you
can figure out who's on top, who's Hot and who's Not.
Except when you can't.
See, the numbers from ICV2
are total bullshit. It's their best-guess estimates of what all the
books sold divined from looking at the numbers that Marvel Comics reports
and then divining from tea leaves and alternative math what the numbers
for the rest of the books on the list SHOULD be, compared to the Marvel
numbers and their relative places on the charts.
The ICV2.com numbers reflect
ONLY pre-ordered comics from North America. They DO NOT include foreign
orders, NOR do they include RE-ORDERS. Those final numbers aren't
known for a few months and sometimes WEEKS after the icv2 numbers are released.
So, in the case of most DC Comics books, these numbers can be off as much
as 30%, drastically skewing the sales charts and making Marvel seem much
more dominant than they really are.
Here's what happens: Marvel
refuses to "overprint" their comics. What does this mean?
Well, it means that Marvel will only print as many copies of The
Rawhide Kid as they have pre-orders for. Your local comic book store
pre-orders all of their books through Diamond's PREVIEWS Catalog.
What's this mean? Store owners get a HUGE 400 page catalog each month
and then have to plow through it, hoping that they don't miss something
they think their customers would like to buy. Some stores actually
allow their patrons to fill out a list stating everything that they want
to get that month, and then turn it in, making the store's job main order
pretty easy to do.
The problem comes into play
when these store owners get to the Marvel Comics section. Because Marvel
refuses to overprint their comics this forces store owners to pre-order
lots of extra copies of Marvel's books... after all, if they sell out, there's
no way for them to order MORE. Now, because a store owner only has so much
money on hand to pre-order books with, in order to order EXTRA Marvel Comics,
they have to CUT somewhere else. Generally they cut Advance Orders on DC
Comics... because DC overprints every book they publish. The store owners
know that if a DC book sells out they can always order more later, so they
put in a medium-sized order on DC titles in order to spend extra money on
the non-reorderable Marvel Comics.
Then at the end of the month when icv2.com "divines" the
sales numbers, Marvels's comics always seem to be doing BETTER than DC's... because
the icv2.com numbers don't take into account re-orders. Like I mentioned
earlier, this means that some DC comics pop up 20-30% higher on the sales
Let's take a look at my book,
"StormWatch: Team Achilles." My latest issue, #9 was #128 on the
top 300 comics of the month list.According
to icv2.com, we sold 15,428 issues, not a particularly good showing. Ah,
but once you figure in the reorders and foreign orders, the picture looks
a tad different.
I sell a lot of foreign copies...
the politics of the book appeal to the European sensibility, especially
in this wartime fervor in the USA as we hover on the brink of a war with
Iraq. Once you add in the foreign sales and the domestic reorders, let's
say it's 30% higher (it's usually a tad higher than that, but let's stick
with nice round numbers). This results in a sales number of 20,056. Let's
round that down to 20,000 copies and look at that icv2.com list of comics
sales again, shall we?
Ooops. Just leap-frogged
over The Black Panther at #121. Popped up over Fantastic Four Unstable Molecules
at #108. Stuggled even at #99 with Mekanix. Wow, my book just jumped 19
spots on the sales list! I'm in the Top 100 all of the sudden.
Even worse, the icv2.com
numbers only order SELL-IN numbers (the numbers ORDERED by stores) and not
the SELL-THROUGH numbers (the numbers of comics which leave the stores in
customer's hands). Marvel's "The Call" series about Firemen who
fight supervillains was REALLY high in pre-orders... but every store I know
has TONS of them sitting unwanted on the shelves because the books wasn't
good enough to sell-through and sell out.
NO comic store I ever visit
has more than, say, 5 copies of all 9 issues of StormWatch: Team Achilles
on the shelves. I get complaints via email from all over the country from
people complaining that my comic "isn't sold in their store" --
I always write back and assure them that it is FOR SALE in their store...
IF they force their retailer to pre-order (and re-order) enough copies.
This uncertain supply forces some readers to go without, which is bad for
everyone involved: (1) the reader who doesn't get to read my book, (2) the
retailer who misses out on a sale, and (3) me, who depends upon sales to
keep their book going.
The best non-comics example
I can think of would be if you got the "weekend box office numbers"
off of the Monday morning TV News and they said that "Earnest Saved
Christmas" was the number one movie of the week, beating out "Harry
Potter" and "Lord of the Rings." Oh, but Warner Brothers
did not report sales numbers for Saturday or Sunday... but never mind that,
"Earnest Saves Christmas" was the number one movie of the weekend.
People start to wonder to themselves: "what the Hell is wrong with
Harry Potter & the Lord of the Rings that they were beaten by Earnest
Saves Christmas?" Nothing, Warner Brothers just didn't report numbers
for Saturday and Sunday. Come Wednesday when they do report those numbers,
it's too late: everyone has forgotten that the numbers weren't accurate
and they've made up their minds: Harry Potter & the Lord of the Rings
must not be good films if more people wanted to see Earnest Saves Chrismas
that weekend... I'll be damned if I go see some Loser film next weekend...
since so many people liked Earnest, maybe I'll go watch him save Christmas
next weekend... after all, it was the #1 movie of the month.
The perception creates a false assumption about the quality of the work.
This is my problem with the
icv2 numbers. Putting out these advance sales numbers to the public is a
bad idea. They don't really give an idea of what actual sales are, but they
DO give information-crazed and overly-pessimistic internet comics buyers
a reason to NOT buy comics. A lot of people may look at these "sales"
numbers and decide not to buy books that they percieve as tanking, saleswise.
It's a comics mentality which results in the rats deserting a sinking ship
before the first issue is even on the stands.
I don't see why your average comics reader even needs access to Diamond's
advance orders. I don't have easy access to advance orders of most things
through the publishing industry (not that I've tried, but I doubt there's
a monthly list put out to anyone outside the industry). Most sales charts
that are released publicly indicate sell-through to customers, not speculative
sell-in sales to shopowners. These icv2.com numbers only REALLY tell me
what retailers are gambling on this month, and what they think they can
get reorders on later.
On the purely artistic side,
I think having these numbers put out every month has a tendency to make
creators overly worried about their advance orders instead of whether or
not they're creating good comics. Nearly every comics person I know talks
about their numbers before they talk about their work. I suppose that's
an inevitability in such a small market, but I think it's a trend that isn't
helping, probably. We've created an audience that's more concerned with
conflicts between publishers, between creators, between sales rankings --
the horserace they're watching is the one about making and selling the books,
not the stuff in between the covers. We spend so much time showing them
the man behind the curtain that it's no wonder they don't believe in the
Back when dinosaurs roamed
the earth, Killraven and Wolverine were new guys, and I was just figuring
out what SHIELD stood for, I had no idea which books sold what -- and was
surprised, years later, when I learned that IRON MAN and DAREDEVIL, just
to pick two, were traditionally poor sellers. How the hell would I know?
All I knew was that the books that I found exciting and involving were worth
buying, and the ones that weren't weren't. If you told me that HULK regularly
outsold X-MEN, I'd have found it hard to believe, because all I had to go
on were the stories and art.
If comics creators/publishers
were charging money for the horserace the customers are watching, it wouldn't
be any more fun, but it'd at least make more sense. But we're not -- Wizard
is, but we're not. Either make an accurate chart available or dump the entire
concept. I can't count the number of "rumors site" reporters,
clever wags in online chat boards and other uninformed jackasses I've seen
fortelling the imminent death of Wildstorm's new "Eye of The Storm"
imprint, for which Robbie Morrison, Ed Brubaker, Joe Casey and I write the
flagship books. I've had TONS of fans write me asking why the book is "getting
cancelled at #12."
When I ask them why they
would believe some bullshit they read online, invariably, the answer comes
back that they've been reading the sales charts and have tracked my book's
downward plunge from #1's supposed 27,700 sold to #9's 15,428. Now, both
of those numbers are extremely inaccurate... I'm assured by folks at DC
that #1's numbers were much closer to 32,000 and #9 was much closer to 22,000...
but does anyone besides me know that? They sure aren't being told by icv2.com.
Now, that downward trajectory
DOES show a trend. Know what that trend is? That comics retailers ordered
#1-3 blindly, not having read the first issue and so in order to protect
themselves from being stuck with usold merchandise, they ordered fewer and
fewer copies of #2 and #3. That's the ONLY trend here. It's the ONLY trend
that could be shown here... NO ONE had read #1 by the time they had to order
#3. The previews orders for #3 were due the week that #1 came out. We've
sold roughly the same number of copies from #3 to #9, but hey, don't let
that little fact confuse the truth any... it's so much more exciting to
write a story slamming Eye of the Storm as a total failure soon to be cancelled.
A point needs to be made
here that there are TWO important points for the major comic companies to
be promoting a book: prior to the order dates for #1 AND prior to the order
dates for #4. #1 has sold-through at that point... DC/Marvel NEED to re-promote
their existing newborn books. I know that many of the Eye of the Storm people
feel that at our launch we were shot out of a cannon with huge fanfare and
then the tent was packed up and the circus moved on before we hit the stores
and could start running on our own. Some follow-on advertising for all of
these books would be greatly appreciated.
Incidentally, since Eye
of the Storm is a Mature Readers title, the closest thing you could get
to compare our sales numbers to would be either Vertigo or Marvel Max. Last
time I checked icv2.com's highly inaccurate chart, both Wildcats and StormWatch
were outselling all of Vertigo's long-running series, including Hellblazer
(currently printing issue #190 or so--why wasn't that cancelled at #12?),
Transmetropolitan (one of the biggest sellers in trade format) and 100 Bullets
(again, big trade volume). Issue #1 of both Wildcats and StormWatch outsold
Marvel Max's Alias the month they came out.
I guess what I'm saying is
that we're firmly right there at the top of the "charts" as far
as Mature Readers titles go... but icv2.com's charts don't break anything
down past "There Here Comics Done Sold Good, Uh-Huh." It's a bit
like comparing the #1 Classical Music CD sales to Britney Spears and then
saying "Yep, it's only a matter of time until Universal Music shuts
that Deutsche Grammaphone label down... that Beethoven crap doesn't sell
as much as N*Sync."
Either make the charts accurate
or dump them. Separate out the books which aren't re-orderable. Separate
the independents into their own categories. Separate out the Black and White
books into their own charts. Track the re-orders. Track the long-term trade
sales. All merchandise flows through Diamond's hands... if they have computers
there and a decent spreadsheet program, they have the power to do all of
this. It's just a matter of bringing enough pressure upon them to force
them to do this.
There is a good reason for
Diamond and icv2.com to do this: Sales. If I'm looking for a good Classical
CD, I don't give two flying fish what Teenybopper Crap is atop the Soundscan
pop charts, but I WILL go to the Classical charts and look to see what's
selling well. Diamond could drastically increase the number of small indy
books and trades that they push each month just by doing this type of sub-chart
Sorry it was so long, but
I'm tired of explaining to people why StormWatch: Team Achilles isn't being
cancelled as of #12.