Pipeline: Pipeline2, Issue #8: Marvel Comics Presents #2

Fri, July 30th, 1999 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

Proposal to Marvel: MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS 2

WHY?

There is a distinct lack of anthology titles in today's market. In a field which desperately needs to give its attention-deprived fans completed stories in a quick time, an anthology seems to be the perfect device. It can help to revive long-thought-dead characters, not to mention careers, and would give Marvel the opportunity to try out new talent.

FORMAT

I don't think that the original MCP format needs to be tinkered with all that much.

The title should be bi-weekly, contain no ads, and have four 8-page stories per issue. This allows for two additional pages for a letters column, which I think would also be essential for any anthology title. Sales are not the only factor which can tell you what makes your book successful. Reader feedback is important, too. That will tell you which of the four stories is the one that sold the book that month for you. You won't get much reader feedback unless the possibility of their letter getting published is there. (Your other option is to listen to those sages on the internet with comic book review columns. =)

Of the four stories, I would suggest no more than 1 be an on-going serial of no more than 8 parts. The suits are looking at me cross-eyed already. The reason for 8 part serials, they say, is that if the readers gets hooked early, the book is a guaranteed sale for the next 6 or 7 issues. Well, anthologies don't work that way as far as I'm concerned. Sure, you'll get people who buy it every week. But there will be those looking only for certain stories.

The only way to protect against that is to put out a pretty good book every month, hope for word of mouth, and maybe pull a few stunts and get some big names in there.

Once a serial gets past 64 pages, it's probably better fit for a mini-series format, anyway. Keep the other three for one-parters. Occasionally, for special stories or issues, you might be able to give one story 16 pages to complete. Or, one 10 page story and one 6 page story. That's the great thing with anthology titles. You can be more flexible.

STORY SELECTION

For the sake of selling the book, I think it would be OK to give one story spot a specific mutant focus, and one a Marvel Heroes focus. Everything else is wide open. I would suggest that the Mutant title feature lesser-used supporting characters (Cecilia Reyes comes to mind), or long-forgotten characters. At worst, it should be a solo tale for a regular X-Men, but I wouldn't suggest doing that too often. They get plenty of exposure in their regular titles.

The Marvel Heroes slot shouldn't probably be a Spider-Man story, unless you have some special creative team for it. Spidey's supporting cast might be fine, though. A Mary Jane adventure would be OK. Maybe a fanciful Peter Parker tale in which he can't, for some reason, change into Spider-Man. Ditto for Captain America or The Hulk or the Fantastic Four. We want this title to be different. No standard stories here. Fantastic Four stories would be solo adventures, as opposed to "F4 enter the Negative Zone"-type stories.

Under NO circumstances should previews of upcoming titles ever take up space in MCP2. This is one of the other downfalls of MCP. Readers don't want to pay Marvel money to read their advertising. If something like this needs to be done, make sure it's a new story, maybe a prelude or a smaller adventure.

Also, there will be no guaranteed slots for certain characters. MCP saved the first and fourth stories for Wolverine and Ghost Rider. Half the book ended up being held for characters already featured in multiple books. And when Ghost Rider's popularity burnt out (pun intended), so did MCP. MCP shouldn't be tied down to the ephemeral popularity of a certain character, nor should it rely on that for sales.

The original MCP started out with wrap-around covers, and then moved to two separate covers. What should this new series have? I'd prefer some sort of pin-up go on that back cover, like was done in early WOLVERINE issues, but I realize the necessity of the market. I might bow to the bean counters here and save that back cover for advertising. Every dollar counts, right?

Of course the most important rule for all these rules is that you shouldn't be afraid to break the right ones. If 32 creators pitch single-page story ideas, take them up on it. It might be an editorial mess, but run with it. It would be a great stunt issue. It would get the title some extra attention. (I use this as an example because I know Mark Millar has that idea in mind for his final SUPERMAN ADVENTURES issue.)

Get a mix of creators for the book, too. Use low-level, mid-level, and highly-popular creators for the book. You need that mix. Use a story a month for some untested talent, maybe paired up with a veteran. Use some alternative names, or creators from the "indy" scene once in a while. Get Jim Mahfood to do more work for you, or grab Kyle Baker for a story. If Chris Eliopoulos wants to do a cartoony Fantastic Four story, let him go nuts. (It breaks the rule about no standard F4 stories, but this wouldn't be standard, since it would be done in a completely different style.) This can be your testing ground for new talent. We always complain about the lack of new ideas and talent in comics today, but where can we try them out? This would be a perfect spot. The original MCP helped to launch the careers of Scott Lobdell and Joe Madureira, amongst others.

In much the same vein that I don't think any slot should be reserved for a particular character, maybe reserving a spot for a specific writer or artist wouldn't be a bad idea. Maybe there's even a writer with a high concept for an on-going series of one shots under the same umbrella. (For example, get Fred Hembeck to draw Spider-Ham stories on a regular basis. Each story brings in a different hero, so we get to see his rendition of same.)

Finally, I'd love to see an issue in which four different artists draw the same script. It wouldn't sell that well, most likely, but for us process junkies it would be a blast. (Make it a seven page story and reserve those extra four pages for the original script.)

COMPROMISES

Of course, I doubt this would work at all. I don't see Marvel biting on this. The problem with anthologies is that they're an editorial nightmare.

(Isaac Asimov only did as many as he did because he had someone else to deal with the financial nightmares of royalties and the like.) You have to deal with four creative teams at once, and in a day and age of assembly line comics, that means a lot of people. You'd have to start the book ahead of time to get enough stuff inventoried so you can cover for those who blow their deadlines.

Quite often, it's the characters that sell books. Marvel's made a living out of deluding themselves into that. And apparently it's working; it's not like they're in bankruptcy or anything! (Yes, that was a cheap shot.) So maybe we could reserve one slot for a rotating Big Name. Each month, the lead story would feature Wolverine or Spider-Man or Captain America or Deadpool or Daredevil. But never the same character for more than two issues in a row. The cover would say "Marvel Comics Presents -- Wolverine!" for example.

Maybe we could go for a second serial story, but I'd hope it would be no longer than four parts. One eight-part serial and one four-part serial per issue sounds OK, as limiting as it would be. I'd also prefer is this was timed out so that every other four-parter ended in the same issue as the eight-parter, but that's the reader in me and not the business man.

In any case I'm hoping all of this could be done in color for $2.95 a month. When MCP was out, it was always an extra quarter a month due to lack of advertising. In a day and age of books being $1.99 and $2.50, I don't think $2.95 is terribly out of line. I'd prefer $2.75, but I'm realistic enough.

At the end of the year you could even produce a nice thick TPB with the BEST OF... all these short stories, like they did with science-fiction short stories.

CONCLUSION

The original MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS died for a number of reasons. The first and foremost in my mind was a lack of anything new or different. Half the book was devoted to two already-overexposed characters. The rest was often uninspired.

Readers were increasingly asked to pay for previews of upcoming series. Asking a reader to pay for advertising is a bit much.

Finally, the on-going serials were too many and overlapped too much.

My proposal eliminates all of those problems to one degree or another. It gives the readers what they claim to want -- good short readable stories, and plenty of them on a frequent basis.

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