Loose Cannon: Issue #5

Fri, February 9th, 2001 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Larry Young, Columnist

ALL ACCESS PASS

I was on the phone the other day with Chris Schaff, the Brand Manager over at Diamond Comics Distributors who handles the solicitation and trafficking of all things related to AiT/Planet Lar, which, as you'll recall, is the publishing house I run. I've had the opportunity to have dealings with quite a few folks over there at Diamond, and I have to say, ol' Chris is the guy who really keeps up his end of things the best. He's always got a good idea when things look stale; he makes the cockamamie marketing plans I have happen somehow; he's got a good joke or two when things get tense, and he's always looking for ways to make things run smoother, work better, and be as painless as possible.

Chris knows what time it is without looking at a clock, and if I were his boss, I'd give the guy a raise.

But the point of all that background isn't to shine Schaff's shoes, it's to explain what I was doing on the phone with him after we'd done our publishing-related business. If you've been reading these columns so far, you've probably been able to figure out that I'm mostly a no-nonsense guy. As my father says, "I laugh, joke, take a little dope; but I don't play."

No, I don't really know what it means, either, but as near as I can figure, it's along the lines of "Sure, I've got a sense of humor, but when it's time to get down to business, I roll up my sleeves."

Lotsa colorful metaphors and homespun witticisms around the Young homestead when I was a lad. 'Splains a lot, I guess.

So, back to Schaff.

We'd finished up our business, and Chris lets slip that he's coming to San Francisco for the Alternative Press Expo, and starts belly-aching that he's going to be working and glad-handing the whole time, and he's sorry he won't be able to catch a Demons game even if they were playing at home that weekend, which they aren't.

"The XFL team?" I ask.

[XFL]"Oh, yeah," Chris says. "I've been following the whole thing. Can't wait. Looks like a good idea. They just need a team closer to Baltimore than New York/New Jersey."

So we talk about the XFL for a while, and the sheer brilliance of the marketing of the league. By October of last year, well before any player had been "drafted" and five full months before the first kick-off of opening day, www.XFL.com had logged over 250,000 unique visitors. Before they had anything to talk about, people were interested. According to Business 2.0, 40,000 season tickets had been sold by early November, with well over half of them coming from sales on the web.

Now, say what you want about the XFL appealing to the lowest common denominator… you have to admit that's just good marketing… and the target demographic is obviously web-savvy.

Hmmm, I think.

Chris and I talk about the pros-and-cons of launching any new business, much less one designed at the get-go to compete, if not exactly head-to-head with an established brand, at least playing on the same field for the same dollars from an under-served audience. I start to see so many parallels with the comics industry that I have to just come out and ask Chris what the one thing is that makes the very concept of the XFL so appealing to him.

"It's the all-access pass you get to see the games," he says. "All the cameras on the field, the miked players and refs… there's a camera crew on the field during plays. It's like you're really there. You can see it all."

And what Chris pointed out in his, frankly, quite charming enthusiasm is pretty much the broad appeal of the XFL, it seems to me: you can see it all. As the good guy says, "Magic ain't nothin' but a bunny and a hat" and there is an undeniable appeal to seeing behind the curtain and knowing how the tricks are done.

This appeal is obviously shared by those web-savvy cats who bought all the XFL season tickets, you can be sure. Folks who use the Internet are early-adopters of nascent technology, which is just a fancy new-media way of saying they like to be in on The Secret. To see behind the curtain. To be First On Their Block.

It's the way we were raised; the way we were marketed to as kids.

But I can't help but think that the XFL's in trouble, in the long run, because I'm pretty sure this is what happened to comics.

Right around the time the Internet started becoming a way to get instant information, the marketing of comics started to lose its luster. The sources of information on comics news shifted from print sources like The Comics Buyer's Guide and Amazing Heroes to websites like Comic Book Resources and Digital Webbing.

Why provide in-depth analysis of an art form, when you can break news about it as fast as you can type html?

But delivering instant gratification will callous your audience, eventually, if not initially. Glen Gordon Caron probably calls this "The Moonlighting Effect" as he mutters around the house in his pajamas.

The XFL boasts of the complete access its fans have to the grim-and-gritty; putting the folks in the stands RIGHT THERE in the middle of the action. The cameras sweep every vantage point; the players are interviewed on the JumboTron during the game; at the Las Vegas Outlaws game last Saturday, it looked to me like cheerleaders were in the stands giving lap dances.

And that's the comic book industry in 2001.

The comic book industry is so desperate for media attention, they're doing lap dances in the stands.

Comics fans have an unprecedented access to the folks who make the comics, and the folks who make comics have instantaneous feedback if they want it. I was contemplating a bit of this article, and I thought, "I wonder what some smart comics fans think about all this?"

So I went on the Warren Ellis Forum on www.delphi.com/ellis/chat, to see who was awake at that hour and talking about comics. If you're on Warren's chat, you're a smart comics fan, and that's a fact.

"The comic book industry is so desperate for media attention, they're doing lap dances in the stands."

So, since these chats happen in real-time, and are limited only by how fast you can type, I wrote quickly, "How do you feel about the unlimited access you guys have to comic book information? To other fans? To pros? To news?" Here's what I got:

.Jacob Corbin> I could do without the eight hundred thousand news sites and the endless press releases. If I read another press release I shall bleed from the eyes. But I like the sense of community.

Andi> I think that the access to information is sometimes far too excessive. You end up having groups of fans who expect to control the outcome simply because they have access to certain people.

.Silence> far superior to access of other relative "celebrities", decent info about coming events and products, access to obscure items via Ebay etc.

.Stuart Nathan> There are some people whose voices I could do without. But one thing about internet use - you very quickly learn that you have to filter. Sites like the WEF help sort the signal from the noise.

.Jacob Corbin> I like the interaction with other readers. I don't know many comics readers in KC aside from my immediate circle of friends. It's nice getting other people's perspectives and recommendations.

So it seems to me that the day is coming soon when fans see the comic book industry get up in the morning, it's not going to look as pretty as it did the night before.

The Internet is a harsh mistress…

All of this may be a little arch from a guy who uses the Internet to his advantage to help put his funny books into your hands, and is writing to you here on the premier comic book news website.

But it's the beginning of the Time When It All Changed.

And we're all just sorting out our dance partners.

Next week at this time, I'll be getting ready for the Alternative Press Expo, held just down the street from Chateau Lar at the Herbst Pavillion at Fort Mason in San Francisco on February 17 and 18th. For more info on APE, hit this link.

All the hipsters and cool kids are reading Double Image #1, available in better comic shops on Valentine's Day. Featuring "Codeflesh" by Joe Casey and Charlie Adlard, and "The Bod" by Jazzy John Heebink and yours truly, Double Image is a one-two blast of entertaining comics goodness.

Email about this column should be sent to larry@comicbookresources.com. My dusty and sadly-and-mostly-ignored URL is http://www.ait-planetlar.com but you'd be better served checking out the sublime new content on http://www.skyape.com anyhow. If you've got it going on, you can shake your groove thing at the Loose Cannon Message Board. Who knows what'll happen?

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