A Whole Lotta Shaking?

twitter A Whole Lotta Shaking?0facebook A Whole Lotta Shaking?0google A Whole Lotta Shaking?0pinterest A Whole Lotta Shaking?0tumblr A Whole Lotta Shaking?reddit A Whole Lotta Shaking?0stumbleupon A Whole Lotta Shaking?0email A Whole Lotta Shaking?

10 Days A Whole Lotta Shaking?A year ago, two major events happened in the world of comics -– it was dubbed The 10 Days That Shook the World. On August 29, 2009 it was announced that Marvel was being acquired by Disney. A few short days later on September 9, DC Comics became DC Entertainment. It was also announced that Paul Levitz -– who had been at DC for some 37 years — would be stepping down. The world held its breath to see what would happen next. There were big changes brewing at the big two. How would Disney and Warner Bros. change the face of comic book publishing as we know it?

The last twelve months must have been a time of change and turmoil at both of the publishers…excuse me, “media companies”. Let’s take a look at the big events and by big events I mean not character or story line changes. Those are everyday business as usual events. So don’t look for me to spend time on things like characters dying or becoming a lesbian -– I am talking about major core business changes.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

DC Comics
• Closed down their manga imprint CMX
• Closed down their web comics site Zuda
• They replaced upper management with upper management they already had
• They finally went digital with an iPad app
• Had a few movies bomb
• DC staffers bought additional antiperspirant to help them sweat out a possible move to the West Coast
• A few characters moved from Vertigo to the DCU
• Paul Levitz and Gregory Noveck walked out the door
• Batman peed his pants

Well, that was quite a year. But really, what has changed; they closed down a few imprints; they’ve done that before — Milestone, Paradox Press, and Piranha Press are all defunct imprints. They changed some of their staff (hell, I was a staff change a few years ago) but that is not a new practice for any company. As for movies that bomb, isn’t that supposed to be one of the reasons it’s now DC Entertainment? Do I need to mention STEEL and CATWOMAN? Beside THE DARK KNIGHT, there hasn’t been much to celebrate; THE LOSERS lost, and you needed to be hexed to see JONAH HEX. But to be fair, I guess that technically they weren’t released under the new administration.

As for the staff sweating out their jobs -– I feel for them. It is hell not being secure in your job. Will it still exist? Will I have to move my family to a new city? Can I sell my house in this economy? Those are truly stressful conditions to work and live under. For my friends who are still employed there -– I know what hell is it to have uncertainty at your job; it takes a toll. You are in my thoughts.

And yes, I said I wasn’t going to talk about what happened with the characters, but Batman saying he had a “bladder spasm” – I can’t ignore it! Nor would I ignore the Thing passing a stone.

I guess the biggest change was that DC finally jumped on the digital bandwagon. But who hasn’t? All you heard for the last few years in publishing was, “Do you have a digital strategy?” It is not shocking that they partnered with Apple, nor is it surprising it took them this long to launch the business.

The question that was on everyone’s mind still waits to be answered. How will the Levitz era be different from the Nelson/Caldon/DiDio/Lee/Johns/Rood era? Paul had more than three decades to leave his mark; I guess we need to give the new team some slack. I really hope that packing up and moving west isn’t the answer. I think the reasons would be more of convenience than necessity. Warner seems to operate just fine with the Time Warner Headquarters up in Columbus Circle. Hell, Cartoon Network, which is under the Warner Bros. umbrella, is in Atlanta. We will hold our collective breath and wait to see what will come of DC Entertainment.

Marvel
• Announced that their non-comic book books (kids titles, art books, etc.) would be published by sister company Hyperion
• Switched bookstore distribution from Diamond Book Distributors to Hachette Book Group
• Hired some people who were already kind of working for them
• Released a hit movie
• Had a big ass golden throne at San Diego Comic-Con
• Launched a iPad app before DC
• Retained control of their bladders

Marvel would have gotten bigger kudos on launching their digital comics, but Dark Horse and IDW beat them to the punch with iPhone apps. The success of IRON MAN 2 was just business as usual for the company. They’ve proven over the last several years that they produce successful movies. Even with a few bombs thrown in, they have a much better batting average than DC even without Disney as a corporate parent. And because Marvel was an independent company for so many years, they have deals with so many companies that dramatic changes will be unfolding at a different pace. I don’t expect any big news anytime soon — like a Marvel section at the Disney theme parks. I assume that because of the relationship they’ve had with Universal Studios theme parks for so many years that either the licensing agreement would need to run out or Disney would need to buy the contract out. Someday I am sure you will see Wolverine dancing down Main Street with Snow White -– but it will take time.

The biggest change is the switch to Hachette, but that deal is only now going into effect and it remains to be seen if Hachette can have an impact on their sales. This is important because the bookstore market is the only arena where DC tops Marvel in sales. All the years I was at DC Comics this was true and it remains true to this day. Even if you take out the amazing sales of WATCHMEN, they are still trounced by DC. But I had heard rumors that Marvel had been looking into a new distributor for quite some time, so it really can’t be attributed to the acquisition by Disney.

So it seems the biggest thing at Marvel besides the Hachette deal was that Marvel and their characters managed to control their bladders even with a new parent company. Not a small feat.

From someone on the outside looking in, it looked like both companies circled the wagons and went back to basics. Neither company seemed to do much in the bookstore or library markets. They actually seemed to be retreating from these markets. Neither company exhibited at BEA or ALA. DC was marginally represented by Random House at these shows; only a few of their books were on display at ALA and Random House had a greatly reduced presence at BEA. At the very least both companies should have a least one staffer around to answer questions. I only saw one DC executive at BEA and didn’t see anyone from Marvel. Compare this to the army of people they send to San Diego Comic-Con.

No talent from Marvel or DC toured bookstores or libraries and I didn’t see any significant expansion of either publisher’s books on the shelves. Now I know a lot of you will comment, “But DC had the crazy success of WATCHMEN in bookstores!” I saw little that DC did besides print books to keep up with demand. Even the signage I saw was from Titan Books to support their title, Who Is Watching The Watchmen, not for the graphic novel. They were riding the wave from the movie, and by the way, it’s easier to ride a wave than create one.

The same can be said for Marvel. They did not attend the above mentioned shows and I didn’t see any major promotions at retail. Not even when KICK-ASS and IRON MAN 2 came out. I also heard complaints that when KICK-ASS was released, there wasn’t enough inventory to support it. I heard the same for Iron Man titles when the second movie was out.

I know that the retail book market is in a state of flux, but the business has not totally gone away, has it? Did either company back off on their support of the direct market when comic book shops were closing left and right in the early 1990s? Did they stop exhibiting or sending staff to the cons when that market was experiencing some problems? They were both there this year and I see them on the exhibitors list for New York Comic Con. Dan DiDio was quoted recently saying, “And there was a point where we were expecting the book store market to probably overtake the direct market in the volume of sales that we were doing. But now we’ve got a nice balance between the two and the direct market still remains strong for us and that’s a good thing because you always have a good base to work from. ” The balance may be there in terms of sales, but it doesn’t appear that promotions, marketing and trade show support have any equity at all in the mix.

Maybe it’s best to describe this period is with the old saying, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

Comments

  1. ChristopherH says:

    Any word on what happens to Boom! Studios’ license on Disney anthropomorphic characters now that Marvel is under the Disney corporate stewardship?

  2. We’ll see if Hachette will better promote Marvel at trade shows. Otherwise, Marvel’s appearance at BEA has been spotty ever since the first Graphic Novel pavilion in 2002. As for Random House, they had an appointment-only booth this year at BEA.

    Hyperion? Those books won’t carry a Marvel stamp? And do you mean Hyperion kids, or Disney Press? (Also, nobody noticed that Todd McFarlane did work for hire for Disney this year, on the “Prince of Persia: Before the Sandstorm” GN.)

    Given what’s been happening recently, Ten Days 2.0 might be just as significant. I hope not…

  3. R. Maheras says:

    Marvel had a hit movie because Jon Favreau is a comics film-making god. He’s smart, has a great sense of humor, has humility and compassion, has common sense, and most of all, he respects his audience AND the source material.

    I repeat, he repects his audience AND the source material.

    One more time, with feeling… he repects his audience AND the source material!!!

    I only hope upcoming Marvel films like Captain America do the same.

  4. Brett says:

    Heidi,

    I just peed my pants laughing after reading your DC Comics Top Eight.

    That was HYSTERICAL.

    I love you.

    You should be writing for Letterman.

  5. Rich Johnson says:

    Brett

    I am confused. Are you refering to this piece? Heidi didn’t write this I did.

    Rich Johnson

  6. Steve says:

    Maybe the pants peeing references confused her?

    Seriously: good analysis…

  7. DC Entertainment really should move to the west coast. Of Michigan. Office space and cost-of-living-wages are profoundly cheaper here, there’s hungry creative talent and business expertise all over the place, and the tax breaks for locating their movie-making staff and production here would be enough for even a Brother Power feature film to have a shot at profitability. Buy some cheap broadband and teleconference with the suits in Hollywoodland. The surfing isn’t as good as in LA, but the fishing’s better then either there or NYC. And Geoff Johns will feel right at home. I am absolutely serious.

  8. Tommy Raiko says:

    “We’ll see if Hachette will better promote Marvel at trade shows.”

    Actually, I wonder if the real story isn’t so much that Hachette gained Marvel’s book trade distribution as it is that Diamond Book Distributors lost it.

    Especially in light of the more recent news of Toon Books and Cartoon Books making other arrangements for their book trade distribution (I think both of them had been with Diamond Book Distribution previously,) perhaps the real story bubbling under the surface is about why Diamond isn’t retaining these clients for the book trade part of the business.

  9. Rich,

    Sorry, credit where credit is due. I didn’t see the byline and thought it was Heidi who wrote the piece.

    So yeah, you made me laugh so hard, I peed just like Batman. See, Grant Morrison was right, anyone can be Batman.

    Seriously, I loved the piece. And the bit about Batman peeing is so true. Maybe he peed in his pants when he heard the DC braintrust might be moving to the West Coast.

  10. Oh, and even though Heidi didn’t write the piece, I still love her for posting it.

    And you for writing it!

    ;)

    The laugh made my day.

  11. nice article

  12. John Warren says:

    Stupid glitch–the page is telling me that a comment I didn’t make (“Double shakes!”) is awaiting moderation. Please moderate that one (and this one) out of existence.

  13. Synsidar says:

    Marvel’s and DC’s business practices haven’t changed much, but then, the content of the superhero comics has changed very little over the past decades. It’s possible that the heroes’ costumes and fights aren’t what restrict the readership; rather, the conventions, such as the non-aging of characters, going into suspended animation between issues, the absence of day/night cycles and realistic daily routines, and lack of development generally are what make the stories hard to get into and, after variable lengths of time, drive most readers of a series away.

    As long as the characters and their stories remain so simple and unrealistic, they won’t provide the reading experiences that even formula fiction prose novels do. Part of the reasons that so many new characters fail to catch on isn’t that new characters are so much inferior to Spider-Man, the FF, et al.; it’s because the simplicity of the characters and their general similarities to the existing ones, combined with overly familiar, formulaic plots, make them derivative and boring immediately. The small details in characterizations, plots, settings, etc. are what separate novels in a genre from each other. Those details are usually missing from comics stories.

    SRS

  14. Rich Johnson says:

    John,

    Thanks for clarifying the remark about the double shakes – it had me scratching my head.

    Syndisar

    I think if we look back on one of the most creative times in comics it seems that one of the most creative times in the history of comic books was the 1980’s. You had talent who had grown up on the medium getting their hands on the characters they loved so much and saying, “What if we did this?” As a result you got The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Batman: Year One among other. It also gave rise to the independent publisher and allowed people like Art Spiegelman to publish Maus.

    Everyone now seems to be looking at comics as a means to another end -” Let’s do comics so we can have IP as transmedia that we can strategically leverage”, blah, blah, blah. How about just making up a good story, with interesting characters? How about letting the talent take the characters and experiment with them, without worrying how it might affect continuity or if it will piss off someone at corporate who worries that the character is on a lunch box.

  15. Synsidar says:

    How about letting the talent take the characters and experiment with them, without worrying how it might affect continuity or if it will piss off someone at corporate who worries that the character is on a lunch box.

    I’m all for GNs that are loosely tied to continuity, but the powers that be at Marvel, at least, don’t seem to know how to market such things. Three recent examples of creative failures:

    Dr. VOODOO. Rick Remender, a superhero veteran, wrote Voodoo as a superhero who utilized magic as a power. For the villains in the first arc, he chose Nightmare and Dr. Doom, two tired characters, and slotted them into a formulaic “Hero faces his worst fears” plot. Readers who wanted sorcery didn’t get it; readers who wanted superhero action might have been put off by the superficial magic elements; the “Hero faces his worst fears” plot could have bored everybody. No wonder the series bombed.

    The STRANGE miniseries. Writer Mark Waid hadn’t written Dr. Strange before, and it showed. He was ignorant of well-known aspects of Strange’s background, and his ideas for the miniseries — selling souls to demons, magic glasses, transference spell, combined with a spunky heroine — had practically nothing to do with Dr. Strange specifically. STRANGE was a case of a good genre writer trying to write a story in a genre he lacked experience in.

    NEW AVENGERS. The current arc stars Dr. Strange and is supposedly going to rewrite the rules of magic, but Bendis has gotten major aspects of Strange’s background wrong to the extent that there’s basically no plot. The premise is nonsensically mistaken on several points. Yet some readers and a bunch of reviewers are giving the arc favorable notices, because they apparently don’t know anything about Strange’s history either, or, if the storyline grossly violates Strange’s history — so what? It’s just comics.

    The illusion of change policy that Marvel adheres to doesn’t serve a useful policy anymore, if it ever did. All it does is limit story possibilities.

    One approach to a standalone GN would be to take a group of heroes and heroines, strand them on some world, and force them to decide whether they’re going to give up and die or form a new society. That would entail group marriages, world-building. non-superheroic daily routines, etc. I’d think that would work fine as an SF novel that focused on the characters, as they evolved to deal with situations, but I’d wager that Marvel Editorial would never approve the idea because they and readers couldn’t deal with the different approaches to the characters.

    If the day ever comes when Marvel abandons series in favor of GNs, I’ll celebrate.

    SRS

  16. Scott says:

    Wait,
    Marvel has had better films than DC?

    I’m confused. I thought X-men I, II, and III were Marvel. Ditto on Spiderman 1-3.

    Those films were dreadful.

    Daredevil? Elektra? Ghost Rider?!?!

    Yech.

    DC has had Superman Returns, Batman Begins, and Dark Knight.

    And then a whole bunch that if the big DC didn’t flash up in front of the preview, you’d never know they were DC comics.

    It’s not like they’ve made a bunch of shitty Flash, Green Lantern, Shazam, Wonder Woman movies. That would be different. When you only have so much to work with (looking at you – Jonah Hex), there’s a cap to how good the film can be.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] more things change, the more they stay the same”: Writing for The Beat, Rich Johnson looks at the many changes—and/or lack thereof—at DC and Marvel in the year or so since the direct market leaders [...]

Speak Your Mind

*