Thursday, February 28, 2008

Nobody But Me Finds This Funny

I gotta say, I'm really excited to hear about the upcoming 'Trinity' weekly series from DC. After a decades-long legendary stint as penciller of 'Amazing' and 'Ultimate Spider-Man', I'm really interested to see Mark Bagley's take on DC icons Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, especially with Kurt Busiek writing it all. But I suspect there's been a bit of an adjustment for Bagley as he moved from Marvel to DC; in fact, I can just picture the day that he turned in his first art for the series...

Editor: Hey, Mark, glad I could get in touch with you. I was looking over your art for 'Trinity' #1, and, um...there are some unusual touches I wanted to discuss with you.

Bagley: Like what?

Editor: Well, it's Batman, for starters. When you drew him, um...

Bagley: Yeah?

Editor: You made the eyepieces kind of big. Kind of really big.

Bagley: It's a stylistic thing. Todd McFarlane draws big capes, I draw big eyepieces. It's not going to be a big deal.

Editor: Um, OK...but what about this new "grappling gun" design? I don't recall Batman ever having a wrist-mounted grappling gun before.

Bagley: Batman's a tech-head, he's always coming up with new crime-fighting gadgets. With this baby, he won't even need the Batmobile! He'll just swing from building to building as he patrols Gotham!

Editor: Setting that aside for now...your Wonder Woman looks nice. She really does. But, um, you are aware she's not a red-head, right?

Bagley: She dyed it. Off-panel. Women change their look all the time, trust me. You have to admit, she looks better as a red-head, right?

Editor: Well, yes, but...we do have very specific looks for our characters we try to stick to here at DC. Like your Superman, for example.

Bagley: I kept to the colors there!

Editor: Yes, you kept to the red and blue...but what are all these black lines all over his costume?

Bagley: ...maybe it'll take me a little bit to adjust.

Editor: Perhaps. Although I like your "new look" Luthor. The crewcut and Hitler moustache really make him look more sinister...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Disturbing Cheerleader Meme

Chris Sims, over at his excellent blog, has decided to spend a solid week talking about the cheerleader movie franchise, 'Bring It On'. It's disturbing the way that talking about crappy cheerleader movies can get into your head. He asked for title suggestions, and he got over 150. Once you start thinking about it, it can be awfully difficult to stop. I came up with an idea for a "ninja cheerleader" movie, only to find out from his latest post that there have been two. But I think I've still got the market (specifically, the direct-to-video market) covered with my idea for:

Bring It On: Chimp Cheers!

It's a film that practically writes itself: An eccentric billionaire leaves a fortune to the high school to build a new gym, but with one proviso. The school must accept his pet chimp, Lucy, onto the cheerleading squad. The girls have to try to win at the State Cheerleading Competitions with a chimp on their squad...and, in an ironic twist, the girl who the chimp replaced is the niece of the billionaire, and she challenges his will! It all comes together at the end when they win State ("I checked the rulebook, and there's no rule that says you can't have a chimp on your squad") and the judge (who's attending the meet) is so moved that she decides to dismiss the case! And, of course, the girls find that with a graduating senior, there's room for the niece to get back on the squad.

It's the feel-good hit of the year, I tell you. Get Warner Brothers on the phone. (If Warner Brothers doesn't make the 'Bring It On' movies, they'll probably know who does, at the very least.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

An Urgent Message On Behalf of 'Marvel Saga'

Hello. Recently, Marvel released
The Essential Marvel Saga Volume One in trade paperback format, a compilation of the Peter Sanderson series that retold the history of the Marvel Universe in chronological order, from the first flight of the Fantastic Four up through the coming of Galactus. Unfortunately, many retailers have failed to order the book in any kind of significant quantity, meaning that many customers are aware of its existence.

Ladies and gentlemen, 'Marvel Saga' needs your help. It needs you to convince your local comics shop (or online retailer) to order a copy for you to purchase, and it needs it today. The very existence of an 'Essential Marvel Saga Volume Two' depends on your decision to spend 12-15 dollars (depending on what kind of discount you can get) on this book.

Why should you buy 'The Essential Marvel Saga'? If you have any interest in researching comics, either personally or professionally, it's an extremely important piece of work. (Even, yes, essential.) It's the only place, to my knowledge, where anyone attempted to explain exactly how the seminal events of the Marvel Universe fit together in a chronology, showing what was going on with the X-Men while the Fantastic Four were fighting Doctor Doom for the first time, detailing exactly when the Amazing Spider-Man had his show-business career, and so on. It is, of course, a document of its time, and some of its continuity points have since been retconned (for example, in issue 12 it says Bucky died in World War II), but it still retains huge amounts of very useful information.

It also presents this information in a clear, accessible fashion, by using actual panels from these classic comics interspersed with bridging text. So instead of just saying, "Then they formed the Avengers," it actually shows the panel of the team uniting for the first time. This makes it more entertaining to read than a simple history, and also functions as a nice abridged version of many classic Marvel stories, omitting the occasional silly moment. (For example, the 'Marvel Saga' version of the Fantastic Four's first encounter with the Skrulls uses text to gloss over the fact that according to Stan Lee, Skrulls couldn't tell the difference between photographs and Jack Kirby's artwork.) If you're someone who can't take "uncut" Silver Age comics, this provides a version you can stomach that still gives you all the classic moments.

It also features all of the extremely nice wrap-around covers for each issue ('Marvel Saga' had no ads in its original run, which meant wrap-around covers...and, incidentally, is why the 'Essential' only collects twelve issues.)

Most importantly, the more people who order 'Volume One', the greater the chance of seeing a 'Volume Two', and I really want 'Volume Two'. And, of course, I'm a tremendously egotistical person.

So think about buying 'The Essential Marvel Saga Volume One', won't you? If you were for sale, I'm sure it would buy you.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

How To Save Marvel Comics, Step Three

I've been joking for a while now that Marvel and DC only have three problems they need to overcome--unfortunately, those problems are content, marketing, and distribution. The first two columns in this little mini-series talked about content and marketing, and hopefully left Marvel in a place where they were once again in synch with their brand identity, and pulling audiences into the specialty stores that have become the core of their market. (Actually, "core" is misleading...more like "core, pulp, juice, skin, and everything but the stem".) This, in turn, leaves Marvel with some cash to start funding the third and final leg of their journey back to financial success...better distribution.

The first and most important part of this involves breaking off their exclusive deal with Diamond. This doesn't mean that they should stop doing business with Diamond...necessarily...but Marvel needs to understand that Diamond mostly does business with a network of hobby shops and specialty stores, that they don't have the inroads to major retail chains that Marvel needs to push their business to the places they need to go (i.e. everywhere), and that Diamond ultimately needs Marvel a lot more than Marvel needs Diamond. Marvel can find other distributors, but Diamond can't just make up about half their business walking away. So Marvel needs to do what's best for Marvel (a running theme in this column), and start working with other distributors to get themselves out there.

Where do I mean by "out there"? Everywhere. Marvel is a periodicals publisher, they publish short reads designed for impulse purchases, and that means that anywhere people buy things, Marvel can put their stuff and expect people to say, "Oh, and I'll add a comic, too!" Video game stores are a good place to start; put a Marvel comics rack next to the check-out at 'GameStop' or 'Best Buy', and there's a pretty good chance that the people buying video games are enough of a comics fan that they'll probably decide to grab an issue of Spidey or the Hulk if the cover looks interesting. (Which is another thing that needs to change; go look at old Silver Age comics, and you'll see something comics publishers used to know, but have forgotten--the cover is not a piece of artwork, it's an advertisement for your comic. You know why they did all those covers of Superman being a dick? It's because they knew people would pick up the comic to see why.) The collections of 'Penny Arcade' are already being sold in video games stores on this logic--and when two guys running a website in Seattle have more marketing savvy than your forty-five year old company, you're in trouble.

Beyond that, bookstores are an obvious place to go. Sure, some bookstores already have a comics rack--but it's in the wrong place. Comics shouldn't just be shelved with periodicals, where customers go looking for them; they should be at the check-out aisle, next to the candy and stationery, where kids waiting in line with their parents can say, "Ooh! Comic! Want!" The same holds true for grocery stores and drugstores. There's a reason you can still find those Archie digests in grocery stores, even today--it's because the 'Archie' guys know that ringing up a week's worth of groceries for a family of five takes about ten minutes, and if you've got a six year old with you, that's an eternity without something to do. So Mom or Dad tosses them an Archie digest, kid reads and is happy, and Archie makes another few bucks.

And if you've got an entire line of adult comics, why are you selling them at the same point of purchase as your kid-lit material? Half the problem with Marvel's 'MAX' line isn't that they shouldn't have an adult line, it's that they can't seem to differentiate it from their other lines in the key areas of marketing and distribution. Sell your adult comics in coffee shops, and let people pick up an issue of 'Fables' to read while they sip their venti latte. (And yes, I know DC publishes 'Fables'. That's back to Column #1 on the list: Get some actual decent series going in your 'MAX' line, Marvel, something with real grown-up cred like Vertigo has. Vertigo's backlist includes 'Sandman', 'Swamp Thing', 'Animal Man', 'Doom Patrol', 'Fables', '100 Bullets', 'Preacher', 'Transmetropolitan', 'Y: The Last Man', and 'Fables'. MAX has Garth Ennis' 'Punisher' series. Something must be done, here.)

(You probably can't sell comics in movie theaters, but this is as good a time as any to mention giving them away. It's marketing, not distribution, to give away free promotional comics with tickets to comic-book movies (an Iron Man comic for 'Iron Man', a 'Punisher' comic for 'Punisher: War Zone', et cetera), but giving away comics to movie theater patrons would probably buy you twice as many new customers as 'Free Comic Book Day' ever could, because it's targeting people who like comics characters but aren't going to comics stores.)

In short, at the end of this third column, anyone who wants comics can find them easily and buy them (which should translate into cheaper comics, since the more people buying, the cheaper you can sell them for.) And all this is predicated on a firm belief of mine: There are more potential comics fans out there than ever these days. All Marvel (and DC as well, let's not forget) needs to do is connect with them.

Will the fans like this step? By the end of this step, everyone will be a fan.