RANTS


 The Superhero Ghetto
 Funky Size It

 Nostalgic Poison
 Something "Different" Succeeds
 The Numbers Racket



The Superhero Ghetto

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.

The equivalent 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 nor there)

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.

For instance: 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 do?


Funky Size It

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.

Finally, I'd 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 book geeks.

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.

So... stealth 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.


NOSTALGIC POISON

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.

The 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!


SOMETHING "DIFFERENT"

I'm constantly 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 House 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.

So what's 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. 

Here are 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 words.

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 charts.

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 Great Wizard.

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 work.

Sorry it was so long, but I'm tired of explaining to people why StormWatch: Team Achilles isn't being cancelled as of #12.


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