Pipeline: Of Cyber Forces And Comic-Cons

Tue, July 10th, 2012 at 2:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

KICKSTARTER AND CYBER FORCE

Marc Silvestri is using Kickstarter to fund a new Cyber Force mini-series. I should be excited by this, but it raises a lot of questions. I'm sure we'll hear more about this at the convention this weekend, but here's a good start:

  • Will potential backers of the project be put off by backing a project that doesn't need it? Surely, a new Cyber Force mini-series could keep its head above water on its own for five issues while selling through traditional markets.

  • Is Marc Silvestri stealing money from the less promoted creators out there who need the Kickstarter funding to get their projects off the ground? "Stealing" is a loaded term, but I'm sure that's how some people will see it. This is, in some ways, an expansion of the Kickstarter model, using it less to fund works that need it to create a new business model and more for someone who could have worked inside the system successfully.

  • Will potential backers pay for a free product before even seeing it? Obviously, there needs to be some strong incentives for backers of the project to put up their money to subsidize a free project.

  • Will the Direct Market support this? There is no such thing as free in the direct market. There are still costs to distributing comics. At the very least, retailers have shipping costs they have to pay for these free books. Even Free Comic Book Day comics aren't free to retailers. They're extremely cheap, but they're still an expense. Will retailers not support this effort? They've notoriously rallied for the bigger margins of $3.99 comics over the fan-friendlier $2.99. Will Diamond not support it for the same reason: low margin items aren't worth the hassle. Free is, after all, the lowest of profit margins.

  • What is the Kickstarter money going towards? Is it just to pay the creators and print the comics? Is it being used to pay for distribution or shipping to retailers?

  • How much will it take to fund five free issues of comics? Is it possible that such overhead is so great that reaching the funding level isn't likely? Is this just a great promotional effort for the comic, instead? (That's a bit tin foil hat, yes, but I'm sure someone is thinking it right now.)

Kickstarter's business model is still in flux. As exciting as it is -- and I really wish I had lots of money to throw at lots of exciting projects there -- people have formed expectations already of what it is and what it should be. But it's only a platform for its users. Those are notoriously subject to change over time as more people use it in different ways. Remember how Flickr was originally a video game screen shot sharing site, for example, or how Twitter was created with SMS in mind.

Is Kickstarter some glorious high-minded model of independent funding greatness? Or is just another tool to bring money in for any project that has a business model that might use it? Will the Kickstarter faithful rebel against projects that they find "unnecessary"? Will Kickstarter "go corporate"? Will those people just have to go to IndieGoGo.com instead while Kickstarter goes upmarket?

It's too early to tell, but it'll be fun to watch.

For now, I think of Kickstarter as an alternate to Diamond. It's a great system for pre-ordering comics, with some small bonuses kicked in along the way. Whoever wants to use it can use it. It's not like the physical shelving at the local comic shop, where "big names" like Marc Silvestri will be crowding out the grinding artist whose less popular work needs the attention and the money to ever exist in the first place.

For some, however, a Kickstarter for a project like this one might smack of chutzpah. It's an open system and everyone is encouraged to work with it, but has the audience already determined what the site is? Or does something like this represent a moment for Kickstarter to expand its market in one niche area?

Let's hope some of these questions get answers this weekend. Color me curious.

[Editor: Some of Augie's questions were answered earlier today in CBR's interview with Top Cow President and COO Matt Hawkins. You can read it here.]

HOW TO GET TO CCI: SAN DIEGO

It'll be a long walk through town to get to the convention center, so just sit back and let's guide you through it.

First, you'll pass by "Nerd HQ," the alternative convention happening in parallel to Comic-Con to cater to the vastly under-served audience craving television and movie pop culture celebrities.

Then, you'll make a left turn at ShiftyLook's makeshift arcade set-up at the Hilton. (Truth be told, since they're focused on the classic arcade games of my youth and do have a comic tie-in, I find it hard to pick on them. Still, you'll notice a pattern here in a second. Please play along.)

You're not staying at the Hilton, but if you were you might like your room key card, which is probably sponsored by some random television show debuting this fall on The CW that features hot vampires.

Speaking of whom, you'll be passing by the "Twilight" encampment that has shadowed Hall H for the last 24 hours soon enough.

Across the street is a baseball stadium hosting an obstacle course based on -- shock! -- a popular comic book series.

First, you'll have to get past Warner Bros' set-up, where Extra is filming for the weekend, focusing on Hollywood's role at Comic-Con. Six Batmobiles will be there, lurking silently behind the Lord of the Rings video game display and Billy Bush.

Here's your first collectible freebie of the convention, too, as they'll be handing out the new edition of "TV Guide" tied in to the comic book convention, featuring covers of "Big Bang Theory," "Fringe," "Supernatural," and "The Vampire Diaries." Weren't those all Jack Kirby creations?

Over to your right now is NBC, who've set up by the Tin Fish, complete with a "Grimm" theme that has its own hashtag. Also, they'll be pimping a new end of the world drama coming to the network in the fall.

Don't look now, but there's Yahoo! Movies across the way, setting up a "Movieland" theme park that's done in partnership with classic comic publishers Universal Pictures, Sony, Lionsgate, and Paramount.

This, of course, makes you chuckle. There's no website in greater disarray right now than Yahoo!, who once famously turned down a Microsoft buyout offer at a valuation of 2x or 3x what they're worth today. Since then, the rotating doors of leadership at the company have led to massive confusion and an exodus of top talent. Yahoo! is the RIMM of web companies, spiraling towards oblivion at an alarming rate, saved only by one or two popular sub-sites and some old search deals. But they have money to set up 2000 square feet across the street from a comic book convention to pimp some movies for their partners.

The only thing more crazy would be is Yahoo! announced a new tablet project at the show, complete with its own ecosystem based on RealAudio and Flash.

Ignore that billboard that's 20 stories tall in front of the hotel over on the other side of the train tracks. That movie will likely tank.

And then just before you go into the convention, be sure to go into surgery to help promote a reboot of an old Michael Crichton novel turned movie. Hey, if you're a comics fan, you have to love a rehash of an old rehash, right?

"Immersive" is the overhyped buzzword of the convention this year.

Don't worry; we're getting to the comics. Once you get to the convention center, where should you best enter? You have entry points from Hall A to Hall G. Split the difference and walk in at Hall D. Say hello to Hasbro and Lucasfilm and Konami. Hang a right at Toynami, go past Mattel, wave to Lego, and --

Yes! Comics! Pick up your Warner Bros bag to carry everything in. You'll have your choice of a half dozen different ones, one of which actually includes a pen and ink drawing, while the rest promote various television shows. And let's face it, "Big Bang Theory" needs more advertisements at this show.

Judging by the floor plan, your best bet to find comics is in Halls A - B. When I went to my first San Diego Comic-Con (as it was known then), the entire show was in Halls A and B, and it felt so stinking huge that I didn't know how I'd cover it all in four days.

We were so naive back then.

THE SAN DIEGO FESTIVAL

There was a time we all thought that the way for Comic-Con International to expand and to "grow its base" was to morph into a more Angouleme-esque festival, with comic events spread out across the city. As it turns out, the convention has spread itself all over the city. Or, at least, companies looking to draft off the convention's success have created that festival atmosphere.

On the other hand, read the show's mission statement carefully, with emphasis mine:

Comic-Con International is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.

Maybe turning the convention into Geek Cannes is the best way to grow the comics market? We've all hoped that the success of superhero movies and television shows would lead to greater interest in the related comics, but that hasn't really happened. It's definitely happened with "The Walking Dead," which is a testament to how streamlined and focused an effort that is. It's easy to recommend a comic based on that TV show. Try recommending a Spider-Man comic to someone who just saw that movie. Where would you even begin, amongst the alternate realities, the numerous titles, the spin-offs, the renumberings, etc. etc.? "Normal" people don't want to wade through that muck. Only the hardcore fans do, and the publishers cater to that.

If the movies can't do it directly, maybe a convention that ties into the movies and television shows can outwit an unsuspecting audience and expose them to comics as an artform?

In any case: if the convention turns into something that panders completely to other media interests and winds up only attracting fans of those things, comics might gain fans by introducing those outsiders to the best of our wares once a year at the convention. Even with a small concentration of comics people at the show, if they turn their attention on attracting that outside audience with their diverse and easy-to-get-into wares, the comics industry can only be helped. Yes, a lot of the old reliable guard at the convention would go away and move to other shows. Traditions would die fast. But maybe that's just evolution. Comic-Con International: San Diego is true to its word: It's a non-profit attempt to show the artform to outsiders. It's just that their new tactic is putting on a Hollywood show and slipping comics into it where those people might least expect it.

The only sad thing about this metamorphosis is that the term "Comic-Con" has been tarnished. It's used by anyone putting on a multimedia show now. It doesn't even mean comics. It means "genre programming" or sci-fi/fantasy/horror or tv/movies.

If you want a comics convention, the good news is that there are plenty of good comics-focused shows that are popular and still growing. It's the usual batch of suspects: Heroes Con, Emerald City, APE, etc. As a bonus, you won't get a headache walking to the convention from a block away.

LINKS TO CLICK ON

  • Nate Piekos has a new webcomic called "The Beserker's Daughter" starting up this fall. The site has a preview of the first strip right now. I'm in love with it at first glance because he's going with the DuoTone type of look. I miss that stuff, and will give anything with it a chance to wow me. I like the look even better than Photoshop coloring and graywashes. Piekos is a good cartoonist, so he's got a strong foundation for the technique. And, yes, the lettering pops off the page, too. I love the fishing line in front of the word balloon in that first panel.

    If you know of any other webcomics using the technique, please let me know. I'd be interested in taking a look.

  • This is probably a good time to point out that both Blambot and Comicraft usually have sales on their fonts during Comic-Con this weekend. Keep your eyes peeled.

  • You know how DC likes to do the whole generational hero thing? It seems that the Beach Boys like the concept, too. That's how we have a band named "California Saga" running around. It's comprised of the children of the Beach Boys. Another 51 bands like this, and iTunes will be in business!

  • I wrote a review of "The Walking Dead" #100 for the CBR Reviews section this week. I might have more to say about it next week, but I can't say much without spoilers. I'll spot you six days to read the issue and then put any comments under a big fat spoiler warning. If you're at the convention, it makes for great airplane reading material. The random stranger sitting next to you who might accidentally see a page in the second half of the book might disagree, though.

  • Tim Callahan is right: Monkeybrains is a big deal for all the reasons he lists. I feel guilty not expanding on it past that, but I'll just link to him rather than repeat it. On a slower news week, this might have been the whole column. Let's keep an eye on how the imprint develops and take another look sometime in the near future.

  • I hope the creators working on the new Valiant comics fully realize that all they're doing is feeding Hollywood their raw material. Not that there's any comics publisher these days not banking on Hollywood to keep their book publishing. . .

Yes, QR codes still make for bad comics, as the Unofficial Apple Weblog pronounces Valiant's talking comic book cover "surprisingly cheesy." I think they're being kind. Who does this surprise? Just watching that video in the article made me wince in pain.

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TAGS:  pipeline, top cow, cyber force, image comics, cci2012, marc silvestri

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