Pipeline: Pipeline2, Issue #5

Fri, July 9th, 1999 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

PREAMBLE

Here it is the fifth edition of Pipeline2 already. I've only covered three different topics so far, this one included. I'm coming down with a bad case of sequelitis, aren't I? I promise you something new and different next week. It's going to be a review of a comic that has a sequel coming out this fall. So I'm back to that sequelitis thing again, aren't I? Sometimes, you just can't win.

YOUR MAN @ MARVEL REACTION

Some points have come up regarding last week's admitted rant against the Your Man @ Marvel column. Some should be addressed.

Firstly, I apologize for the unintended slight that was issued against the likes of veteran newsmen Beau Yarbrough and Michael Doran. I wrote that it was unfair that their Marvel news would only be coming secondhand from now on, since YM@M would have first dibs on everything.

This, of course, has not been the truth. Both have broken Marvel-related stories without the help of Marvel's publicity department, but rather by just talking to the creators themselves. What I meant to write was that the official announcements from Marvel would end up being issued solely to Your Man, where the others would have to pick up on them, second hand.

That wasn't nearly as controversial as my declaration of DEADPOOL as being a mutant title and not a Marvel Heroes title. Quite honestly, there's a good case to be made on either side. On the other side, DEADPOOL is solicited in PREVIEWS, going back at least a year, with the Marvel Heroes titles. (Thanks to Pipeline memory division officer Joe Torcivia for looking that up. Alas, that was as far back as either of us had PREVIEWS magalogs stored. Can anyone go back even further, to the very first issues of DEADPOOL solicitations, in whatever catalog they would have been in back then? Lemme know.) Deadpool himself has been revealed, likewise, not to be a mutant.

So what's the case for DEADPOOL being a mutant title?

Well, Deadpool's first appearance was in a latter-day NEW MUTANTS issue by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza. His first two mini-series, from which the on-going series was spun, was an unabashed mutant title, complete with mutant supporting cast. Each one of Deadpool's early connections goes to a mutant title. In addition, every subscription page since the title began carries DEADPOOL under the heading of "X-MEN" titles.

It is my contention that calling DEADPOOL a Marvel Heroes title is just a way for many of its fans to wash their hands of those "evil Marvel mutant books."

"It's too good to be an X-Title," they might say.

I don't think it works that easily.

Just to reiterate and remind everyone of the main point of the column: I think it's wrong of Marvel to put a publicist on their web page to hawk the latest news, and also to trash their own freelancers, such as he did in castigating Erik Larsen, rightly or wrongly. (I happen to think wrongly, but that's neither here nor there.) If YourMan is speaking for Marvel publicity, they're doing a piss-poor job in publicizing their books by bashing their creators.

Finally, my comments on the fate of HEROES FOR HIRE were based on some older information. It has been pointed out to me that the initial numbers the accountants were looking at were wrong. H4H wasn't making a profit at the time it was cancelled. That's a real shame, too, because it was a fun book, although I think John Ostrander's decision to fire the narrator lost him some sales. =)

(Thanks to Alan Earhart and John Sokol for help with those sales figures issues.)

MORE DIRECT MARKET DISCUSSION

The e-mail keeps poring in on the discussion about the direct market.

One, in particular, I thought had such great ideas that I wanted to reprint it here for all of you.

Ladies and gentlemen, live from Johannesburg, South Africa, I present Deon Maas:

"Comics need to get rid of its club feel and be marketed to the masses. To have a higher profile and break out into a mainstream market you have to have a combined effort between advertising, marketing and promotion. Nothing new in that statement. We all know that and most comic book readers have reflected that point of view."

Everyone who's ever been a fan of DILBERT just ran screaming at the thought of a comic book marketing department . . .

"The point most people and especially the marketers of comic books miss is what media to use. Television and radio advertising, in the beginning of a coordinated campaign to break comics mainstream, will play a small role and it will be money wasted. What will sell comics to another market is story lines and art and the only way to do it is through print advertising. People who can be lured into buying comic books (and I don't mean the current buyers) are of a certain personality profile, income group etc. Magazines like Entertainment Weekly, Premiere, Rolling Stone and even Vanity Fair should be used. Because ad rates in these mags are high, individual companies shouldn't advertise. There should be an organization that represents the Comic Book Publishers of America. CBPA membership fees will be determined by annual turnover. The only purpose of this organization is to promote comic books outside the comic book field. They will organize interviews with high profile creators, spend ad money etc. in the previously mentioned magazines. Look at how book publishers pulled themselves out of the doldrums over the past ten years. Douglas Coupland, Brett Easton Ellis and Jay McKirney are pop heroes. Look at how stand-up comedians made themselves into the new rock and roll. All by advertising, marketing and promoting to an audience who lapped it up. An audience who previously didn't know that they wanted those things. You create the need in people to want to have something and they will find a way into working that expense into their monthly expense budget."

I like the idea of the CBPA. Right now, though, with the two major publishers being owing to stockholders, it'll probably never happen. Profit margins are low enough (or nonexistent) to the point that the companies would strongly resist such an effort to pool their money together. They'd probably also do lots of quarreling and in fighting. Each would fight for the credit, whether it's due them or not. Your idea may be too smart and not near-sighted enough for them to profit by it. Nevertheless, it's a great idea.

Back to Deon:

"The current attempts by American comic book publishers to expand their market is juvenile and thought up by people who have been in the industry for too long. In order to get the bigger picture you have to stand back or bring people in from the outside. Marketing people have been doing the same job for too long and this affects vision and the ability to recognize new opportunities."

Another good idea. Your speaking of the marketing and publicity side, but it probably also holds true for the creative side. We need more fresh blood with outside experience. Lifelong fans write most comics. We're inbreeding at an awful rate. We have comics written by fans for fans. How do we expect to grow your audience that way? (In fairness, some of the more high-profile assignments have gone the other way, with writers such as Greg Rucka and Bob Gale and Kevin Smith now writing comics in addition to their "day jobs.")

On the other hand, you might wind up with issues of the tail wagging the dog. Creators might be forced to do silly things in the hopes of bringing in a more mainstream audience. They might be asked by the marketing department to dumb down the books so Joe Six-Pack can understand them. It's a tricky balancing act.

"A lot of people are scared off by comic books in the same way non music people get freaked out when they walk into a CD store. They don't know where to start and then tend to walk out without making a purchase. I only started reading comics at the age of 27 and it took me months of reading Wizard, Previews, Comic Book Journal as well as hundreds of comic books to figure out what goes for what. Stuff like what kind of comics I really like, what publishers do what kind of stuff. I had to hunt down back issues on comics I liked to pick up on story lines etc. This also cost me a lot of money. Not a lot of people are prepared to go that far in getting a new hobby. New readers won't find comic books. Comic books have to find new readers. At the end of the day you'll only achieve that by spending money and creating a unified voice for the industry."

Methinks you'd also need knowledgeable comics stores. I think, for the most part, we have that right now. Many of them, however, don't run in a very professional manner. This, of course, is the topic of a whole 'nother column.

Lacking that, some sort of Beginner's Guide might be a good thing to publish by the hypothetical CBPA. Friends of Lulu does something similar, I believe, for the hoped-for female market.

"Compare the structure of the American recording industry with that of the comic book industry. Look at what a unified organization has done for them. Compare the Grammy's to the Eisner Awards (and I mean on all levels - TV coverage, impact etc.). It's time for comics to grow up - not the creators (they are doing their part), but for the business people behind them. If not, comics will eat itself."

Thanks for your thoughtful letter, Deon. There are a number of interesting points to consider from it. I don't want to leave the impression that I think they're all completely absurd and not doable. They're a smart group of ideas. I just feel the need to play Devil's Advocate on some of them. Whatever road needs to be taken to make for better comics tomorrow will be tough and expensive and hellish. I wonder if any of us are ready for it?

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