The Hot Seat

Mon, February 4th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
The Hot Seat, Columnist

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The Hot Seat is a column written by a rotating group of comics professionals representing a specific portion of the comics industry. Last week saw a comics retailer in The Hot Seat. This week we let a comics publisher keep the seat warm.

CrossGen Comics publisher Mark Alessi is our contributor this week. He asked to talk a bit more about a new initiative announced last week. We were happy to give him the time to discuss his company and this project. Here's Mark.

"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." - Charles Darwin

[CrossGen Comics]Over the last few years, as I've traveled around the country and shared time and thoughts with fans, creators and retailers of comic books, one realization has grabbed my consciousness like a vise, refusing to yield. It is the fact that comics have changed in just about every facet possible: the fans are demographically different, the retailers have evolved, the creators are smarter and the comics themselves have become more dynamic than any other time in the history of the medium. Even the amount of respect given to the medium from people outside of it has risen. Yet, the industry itself - how we publish comics, how we sell comics and how we deliver them to a mass audience - has not changed at all in the same period of time.

Nature abhors a vacuum, yet that is what we have created in this publishing medium today. It's a vacuum. Small publishers continue to struggle, while those who once grew fat off exploiting a dwindling readership continue to try to find ways to continue exploiting and continue feeding, even in the face of math that simply doesn't work. You cannot sell increasing amounts of goods at ever-increasing prices to a dwindling number of people and expect to survive. Euclid himself coming back from the dead and engaging the assistance of Dr. Stephen Hawking could not find a solution for that equation. But to change courses means to take a risk, and large corporations prefer the path of least resistance - to not make any decision for fear of making the wrong one - instead of using vision and logic to steer away from the iceberg.

So, to make a long story significantly shorter, I was fortunate enough and lucky enough to find creators and executives with a bit of vision and lot of courage to join together and take this wheel. This will sound cocky and arrogant, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I'm saying these things. CrossGeneration Comics was founded to do nothing short of change this industry. Period. What begins now is the first salvo of many that will be fired over the next few months as our first wave of change. These changes represent the better part of the last two years of research, development, planning and execution by the hardest working, most passionate and smartest people in this industry across the board. It will take time, perseverance and effort to make these changes stick, but we're confident we have the right strategy, the right timing and the right material to succeed.

Last week, we announced a new type of comic book, which we call Compendia, and it is modeled to address some basic changes that need to take place in the comics industry if we are to expose comics to an audience beyond those who currently read comics. We need comics that are less expensive, more value-packed, with sturdier packages and that attract readers back every month like the more traditional single issues. We need a published product that can be racked and stacked without being damaged easily, and which can, as a whole, become a collection unto themselves. We've studied Japanese Manga, European publishing models and current Western graphic novels and trade paperbacks to create a hybrid that exemplifies the idea of selling something that has more content, yet is less expensive, to a broader number of people.

At $9.95, the initial pricing of our 240 page Compendia - the first two of which are called FORGE and EDGE - presents an immediate value, and additional choice for current consumers of comics as well as readers new to the genre. These books will ship monthly, and contain full color stories with the same high production values our current fans enjoy in our single issues, and they will feature five titles in each book, with as many as eight stories initially. We'll also include some text pieces we've featured in past issues to help new readers get acquainted with the characters and stories. The books will come in trade paperback size and may vary in page count and price as we include more content as time goes by.

For current buyers of single issues, the regular monthly issues will continue. FORGE and EDGE offer a perfect solution for those of you wanting to try additional titles, and they make the perfect entry point for new readers curious to see what CrossGen is about, and in a package mainstream consumers will understand.

We are making these because we believe new readers will like them, and existing readers can use them as an additional choice in their buying habits. In the consumer marketplace, everyone wants choices. My marketing team has been using this analogy: Let's take for example your favorite soft drink. That soft drink is offered in many different forms for purchase. You can buy the 12oz. can, 16oz. bottle, 20oz. bottle, 32oz. bottle, 1 liter bottle, 64oz. bottle, or you can get it from a soda fountain. Lots of choices, but in the end it is all the same product. Whether it is single issues, Compendia or trade paperback, the CrossGen Universe is going to have a price performance and format that fits just about any customer - and we're not even done yet. To extend the metaphor, you can even consider our various genres as different flavors.

Like our regular single-issue comics, these will adhere to a regular schedule. To start, we will be bringing them out on the second and last week of every month, and they are currently being solicited monthly through Previews so you can order them at your local comic store. And as always, you can trust that one of the growing ranks of the CrossGen Premier Retailer Program will always have copies on hand.

For years, comics retailers and pundits have been advocating the exploration of new formats like this one. The only reason why no one else has tried them is because the very large corporations and the very small publishing houses, by the very nature of their structure, are extremely risk averse. They are not set up to take risks, let alone explore the logic behind new ideas.

So it falls to us. CrossGen is the only publisher positioned to take the risk and lead the way in providing this choice. This is a proven model that has worked for many years in Japan and Europe and we are putting our name on the belief that we can make our interpretation of it function as effectively in our marketplace.

With the first salvo being a mainstream-friendly comic book package, the next logical question might be, "Where is this new audience coming from, and will it come at the cost of forsaking your current audience?"

But that is a question for another day. Stay tuned. In a few weeks, we'll tell you part two of this story.

-- Mark Alessi

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