Friday, January 30, 2009

An Open Letter To Grant Morrison

Dear Mr. Morrison,

First, let me just apologize in advance if this expression of dissatisfaction comes across as depressing and personally abusive. Rest assured, I have a great respect for you as a writer--honestly, if you'd retired after 'Animal Man', I'd have a great respect for you as a writer, on the strength of that alone, and your later work has only helped your reputation.

That said, I think you might be slightly confused as to the source of some of the ire fans hold for the recent comics that you have written, and DC has published. This isn't necessarily your fault, of course. While I love the Internet greatly, I do find that some of the people that populate it aren't the best at articulating their thoughts and feelings. (Luckily, everyone who reads my blog is intelligent, articulate, and possessed of eminent taste and discretion.) But I do flatter myself that one of my strengths as a writer is in explaining things clearly, so let me go ahead and try to do just that.

In your recent interview at Newsarama, you express a great deal of confusion over the phrase "event fatigue", wondering exactly how someone could be "fatigued" with "events". You also express some confusion and dismay at the frustration fans felt with "Batman R.I.P.", and wondered why it was that these fans were so angry. The causes are distinct, but related. I'll try to tackle them in order.

The first one is very simple. "Event fatigue" is not a mental syndrome, but a financial one. I'm aware that most DC writers are put on the "comp list", where they get copies of the company's comics every month, so it might very well have been a while since you've had to pay for a comic yourself. I'm also assuming (and certainly hoping) that DC pays you pretty well for your efforts. Between these two things, you might have forgotten just how much one has to spend to follow an "event".

Newsarama has been kind enough to break down the cost here. If you who don't feel like wading through the article, it comes out to about $135, with an extra $152 for those who bought 'Countdown to Final Crisis', which you have said was not connected to 'Final Crisis'--a fact you politely waited until approximately one week after 'Countdown' had concluded to mention. Which does, of course, mean that the people most interested in 'Final Crisis' had already spent that money before finding that fact out. They also tack on an extra thirty bucks for 'Death of the New Gods', another series that was released as being "essential to 'Final Crisis'" that actually wasn't.

Note those last two points. Stories not connected to 'Final Crisis' were being sold as "essential to 'Final Crisis'." This is also an issue with "Batman R.I.P.", which was first sold as "the end of Batman", then sold as "the end of Batman that ties into 'Final Crisis'," then finally explained as "a Batman story that came out at roughly the same time as the end of Batman which happens in 'Final Crisis', because Dan DiDio asked me if we could have these two relate to each other so I made sure they happened at roughly the same time." (If I can slightly paraphrase your statements in the interview. I hope I'm not taking too severe a liberty with them; the link is, of course, there for those who want to read your exact words.)

These two issues relate there, at the convergence of DC's marketing strategy (which I could charitably describe as "disingenuous") and the rather large financial outlay required to pick up all of the stories that DC is marketing as "essential to 'Final Crisis'." Very few fans have unlimited financial resources that we can devote to comic books. We have to pick and choose the titles that we're interested in, and fit our purchases to a budget. Event crossovers are a strain on that budget, because of the extra purchases they require--asking fans to bear that burden too often, and essentially tricking them into bearing a larger burden than needed through deceptive advertising and deceptive public statements, invites discontent which eventually becomes frustration which eventually becomes exhaustion with the medium as a whole. Hence, "event fatigue".

Now naturally, you have the right to feel as though laying this at your doorstep is unfair. You are not DC's marketing department, nor are you DC's editor-in-chief. You didn't schedule 'Final Crisis', nor did you participate in the various marketing tactics that caused people to spend large amounts of money on comics that they didn't enjoy, and found out they didn't need only after they'd spent that money. In that sense, yes, the ire directed at you is entirely misplaced.

But as noted, you weren't exactly speaking up at the time to protect your fans' financial well-being. You waited until after we'd spent our money, then explained that of course we didn't need to spend that money in order to follow your story. Who could possibly have thought otherwise? And it's hard not to feel that you're being deliberately obtuse in that regard. Surely you had to know that they were marketing a full year of build-up to your story, one that would ultimately be nothing more than a waste of time and money? Surely you had to notice, as you did interviews leading into "Batman R.I.P.", that DC was promoting it as "the end of Batman," "the last Batman story", et cetera, something that you knew it wasn't going to be and wasn't intended to be? Surely you have to understand that it's a bad idea to create expectations of a work that you know it's not going to be able to fulfill?

In short, I think that if you want less dissatisfaction from fans, you need to take a greater hand in the promotion of your work at DC. I'm aware that such a thing is probably much easier said than done, but a good share of the frustration with 'Final Crisis' comes from a feeling--probably one a lot of fans couldn't even articulate to themselves, much less to others--that the series was badly misrepresented to us, and that DC walked away with a lot of our money based on that misrepresentation. That creates mistrust, which is a very dangerous thing in an industry that relies on its customers returning every week for the rest of their lives. The last thing you want is for your readers not to trust you, and clearly 'Final Crisis' proves that the promotion of your work can't be left in the hands of the DC marketing department. While you blithely suggest in the interview that dissatisfied fans "Do something else, buy cigarettes or booze or bananas," if they don't want to buy the series, I'm sure you don't want to see readers abandon DC en masse.

I hope that this proves helpful to you. But really, I'd settle for you ever actually seeing it in the first place.


John Seavey


Anonymous said...

Hey John,

Great article! I haven't checked this blog in a while and you had to go and write one of the better reads on why the events are getting old. I currently don't buy ANY comics for this reason. I'm 34 years old, married and have a kid. I just can't afford to shell out the kind of money required to keep up. Now I know I am not the target audience for DC, or Marvel, but who is? My son is 9 years old and the only way he has access to ANY comics is if I take him. My LCS is across the street of the movie theater we usually go to. Back when I was still buying, we would go there after seeing a movie. My son would usually pick up a Marvel Adventures comic, or something similar. Now we never go and not only have the lost my money, they have lost a potential lifetime reader reader. I got into comics when me and my friend would ride our bikes to the local 7-11 after baseball practice. Those days are over. I wonder when us "old-times" all end up quitting comics, where the next generation will come from....

The Damaged Life said...

Morrison did in fact hint that fans could skip some of the tie-ins.

"One fan asks about event burnout and wanted to get thoughts. Berganza mentions Crisis is fairly limited with no tie-ins, just a couple minis and one-shots. Morrison mentions that you don't have to buy all of some of the event tie-ins because some of the books are just crap (but not Johns and Rucka's stuff!). "There's other stuff you just shouldn't be bothering with."

To blame him because he didn't publically say 'don't buy the crap that DC's putting out' is a little misguided, since it would likely bring about the end of his employment with DC. In the first few interviews about Final Crisis, he was quite critical of DC editorial. Then, radio silence for 5 months, suggesting that he was more or less told to shut up about DC's internal problems, which are well known.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with your argument about economics. But I imagine that Morrison's comment re the curious notion of 'event fatigue' stems from the fact that, typically, we associate the term with things such as battle fatigue,' etc., ie real human suffering, as opposed to the weariness associated with bad comics.

John Seavey said...

I think my counter-argument would be, "If you're being muzzled so you can't tell fans not to buy the crap tie-ins and bad comics DC has shoveled onto your event, you should be polite enough to muzzle yourself when it comes time to publicly wonder why fans are so pissed off at DC."

The tone in that interview, I very much thought, was antagonistic and derisive towards fans who were upset with the way 'Final Crisis' all turned out. I feel that the finger needs to be pointed not at the upset fans, but at DC's marketing strategy for the crossover. If Morrison can't or won't put blame where it belongs, he should at least avoid putting it where it doesn't.

Unknown said...

Gotta agree with you, John. It's obvious that Morrison can't say "Look, DC is screwing you guys over, and they stopped me from telling you they were screwing you over." No problem, he's got a job to protect. But there's a middle ground between "not attacking your company" and "attacking (former) customers who are displeased with your company's practices."

I mean, here's a comics author, looking at something that's driving people away from comics, and what does he do? Aggravate the situation by insulting readers. There's brilliant business practice.

And, frankly, "event fatigue" is a perfect descriptor. Fans are getting tired and worn out over the "events" with hundreds of dollars of tie-ins, crossovers, and special issues. As comics get more and more expensive, companies need to focus on making the comics themselves worthwhile, not trying to trick fans into buying even more (and regretting it later). Whether it's "decompressing" a story to last several months instead of one issue, or slapping "Continued in Comic You Don't Normally Buy #666" on the end of an issue, it might lead to short-term boosts, but it inevitably wears out customers.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the new buzzword is the "optics" of the situation- not necessarily how it IS or how it WORKS, but how it LOOKS- as in "AIG may have perfectly sound business reasons for giving bonuses, but the optics of it isn't good." Whatever the argument here, it is clear that the optics aren't good.

John Seavey said...

I can see that--I always said something like, "From a PR standpoint," but I can see how it'd be nice to reduce it to one word.

Anonymous said...

My situation is almost exactly like the first responder. 34, married, kid about the same age, don't buy comics anymore.

But I've found everything about Final Crisis so intriguing, I caught up with one of the myriad disgruntled fans and offered to buy his copies for half-price. They are enroute.

I've already read the entire series in one sitting via torrents and I must say, I find it massively entertaining.

No fatigue here. Comics are at the mercy of my whims. This is the key to being a satisfied consumer, you ask me.

Thanks for listening,

Anonymous said...

But hasn't Grant Morrison also simply said that he likes to complain for no reason every once in a while?

Fans become angry, fans don't become angry -- these days, it has very little to do with the bottom line for him or for DC.

We live in an age when everyone is angry all the time so no one does anything about it and the perpetrators can get away scot-free.

As a wise politician once told me long ago, people who complain but never do anything about it are identical to people who never complain and never do anything about it. Let them complain but ignore their complaints, because it's not like they will ever actually do anything if you ignore them except produce a lot of outraged verbal flatulence.

That's true about voters and the public when it comes to politics, legislation, law enforcement, Supreme Court judgements, House of Representatives ongoing and openly admitted sabotage of the President and his party --

so why wouldn't it be just as true for comic books buyers?