Can comics support truly new characters?

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201103041526 Can comics support truly new characters?

Is there anything new under the spinner rack? Only yesterday, Chris Irving quoted the late, great Dwayne McDuffie on the difficulty of launching anything new in comics:

“I look at the new Blue Beetle, which was really well done and really entertaining, even though it didn’t sell at all. The new things in the universe are pretty much impossible, and new things out of the universe are pretty unlikely, because people won’t try new things. I hope I’m wrong and there’s some wonderful new thing. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Static will break, but I don’t think people will try it, or that people at comics stores will even care. That book should have come out in 2002 when it was the #2 cartoon on television, and not 2010 when it was in reruns on Disney XD.”


Jason Wood expands on this idea at iFanboy by actually counting the characters on the charts:

I was listening to John Siuntres’ always excellent Bendis Tapes this week and something they discussed served as inspiration for this week’s column. During the Q&A, one of the questions related to whether Bendis would ever consider launching a new team book, akin to The Order, where he would get to establish an entirely new lineup of characters. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially Bendis made the point that he may someday get that urge, but the market currently isn’t very supportive of those kinds of initiatives. He and John went on to observe that had Bendis launched Alias in today’s market, its chances of success and staying on the shelves would’ve been far less likely. When you juxtapose Bendis and John’s comments with some of the more vocal complaints fans have had lately as their favorite books get cancelled, it brings up a great point. Can new teams or characters thrive in today’s direct market?


Wood goes on to count all the characters on the top 1000 characters of 2010 and comes up with the following list of 35 “newish characters:

1 American Vampire
2 Avengers Academy
3 Avengers Childrens’ Crusade
4 Avengers Initiative
5 Batgirl
6 Batman and Robin
7 Batwoman
8 Blackest Night
9 Daken Dark Wolverine
10 Dark Wolverine
11 Fall of Hulks Red Hulk
12 Fall of Hulks Savage She-Hulks
13 Generation Hope
14 Green Lantern Emerald Warriors
15 Guardians of Galaxy
16 Haunt
17 Heroes for Hire
18 Hulk
19 Incredible Hercules
20 Izombie
21 Joe the Barbarian
22 Kick Ass
23 Nemesis
24 Scarlet
25 Secret Six
26 Secret Warriors
27 S.H.I.E.L.D.
28 Superior
29 Thunderbolts
30 True Blood
31 Uncanny X-Force
32 Walking Dead
33 World War Hulks
34 X-23
35 X-Factor


Personally, we’d hesitate to call, say, X-Factor, which debuted in 1986 a NEW property — new characters, sure, but really NEW? Wood goes into his reasons for picking each one and breaks them down into Kirkman-verse, Millar-verse etc., etc. It’s a good analysis. The need to create new characters is something we’ve been harping on for YEARS — we vividly recall standing in Paul Levitz’s office once and asking him to come up with a new character that was less than 5 years old (the closest we came up with was TRANSMETROPOLTAN.)

Thus it’s even a little MORE alarming to see that Wood’s cut-off for a new character is….”10-15 years”?

WHAT THE FRAK?

Five years ago, there was no Glee, no AVATAR, no Hunger Games, no Bieber, no Gaga. Seven years ago there was no Twilight, no Lost, no Dexter. It’s a lot harder to find new characters in film because they are as risk-averse as comics, but in TV and books they are the lifeblood. Have comics REALLY become that ossified?

Wood asks if 20 years ago Cable and Deadpool would have been singled out as new characters, and I can tell you that 17 years ago, anyway, they absolutely were.

The idea that something 10-15 years old qualifies as a “new” idea is patently alarming. And the idea that we can’t launch something newer than that is even scarier.

Comments

  1. What about Runaways? Not currently running of course, but it had quite an impact when it came out.

  2. john layman says:

    Winter Soldier?

  3. There’s room for new characters in comics, but they really need to be something really new. Not new in the chronological sense, but new in the “hasn’t been tried yet” sense.

    I think the super-hero universe is pretty well covered. It’s to the point where it’s hard to come up with a decent super-hero name that hasn’t already been used somewhere already. I think that’s why new superheroes are usually derivatives of existing characters.

    On the other hand, in today’s comic market will a really interesting and unique character even have a chance to find an audience before it withers on the vine? These days a new character’s best chance comes from being part of a team book or as a supporting character in someone els’s book.

  4. What “market” are we talking about? What “comics”? Just direct market floppies? Because I see a wealth of “new characters” on the web and in OGNs.

  5. You’re making me miss NFL Superpro!

    I think comics can support new characters, but you need to have realistic benchmarks. According to DC Comics Month-to-Month Sales: November 2010, Batwoman #0 sold 43,891 which Marc-Oliver called “An okay number for another Batman spin-off.” I think that’s more than okay for a new character (especially on the Jason Wood Newness Scale).

  6. There are TONS of new characters in comics. Just not in superhero comics. Which shows us once again why superheros are not the future of the medium.

  7. Martha says:

    What’s this “we,” kemosabe?

  8. LobsterDragon says:

    I’d say Winter Solider is not a new character. New look and new details, but still born as Bucky.

  9. I think the only way new titles will succeed is to look at discontinuing current titles, and simply reprint the decades of stories we do have…then launch new titles and new characters for a new generation of readers.
    What interest does a reader have in trying something new, if what he/she is reading now is so familiar.

    The only other way for a new title to succeed is to use familiar creative teams, or gain some critical attention… maybe it becomes a critical success, but does it compete for top sales? Does it have a chance of becoming the new Batman? Or will new titles at best be a modest success, eventually canceled, or merged with another property. The only way I see new concepts becoming truly successful as a title is to stop producing the titles that already work. destroy.

  10. Wraith (AKA Blade X) says:

    First of all, a lot of those series Wood listed, feature more old characters than new ones.

    Secondly, the key to introducing new characters and making them stand out and/or become popular with readers is to (a) give them a unique and different power, as well as a unique and different personality and (b) to make them a member of the cast of a long running comic book.

  11. LobsterDragon says:

    One big part is to make sure that there is actual demand for a new character before giving them an “ongoing-series-that-retroactively-became-a-12-issue-maxi-series.”

    The new Blue Beetle is seriously a fun character, but how many comics did he appear in before they gave him his own series? I reckon he showed up in maybe 4 issues of Infinite Crisis before his ongoing launched. They should’ve used him as a supporting character in JLA or TT, and if fans vocalized an interest in his further adventures, take it from there.

  12. Hyman Rosen says:

    Morning Glories
    Hotwire
    Fables
    Garbage Man
    Air

  13. Maybe readers are more likely to follow writers and artists than characters, nowadays ?

    I agree with Naveen (there is a lot of new characters but they are meant to live indefinitely which is a good thing for readers have the feeling of knowing everything there’s to know about them) and Toby (a really good artist that can deliver a monthly comic-book with style can sell whatever character, imho).

  14. When Bendis introduced Jessica Jones in Alias he fit her past into Marvel continuity. So he introduced a hybrid of new and old. I wonder why it’s not tried more often?

    I would have put Rucka’s Dex Parios and Stumptown on the list of newish characters.

  15. Of the 35 features listed, WALKING DEAD seems to be one of the few, if not the only one, independent of tie-ins, earlier mythologies, et al. I qualify because I don’t recognize a couple of names there.

    Aside from WD, I can’t think of anything that came out of nowhere and garnered a growing fandom in the time-approved ELFQUEST/CEREBUS/SIP manner. Even the cooler indies like BLUE MONDAY and SCARY GODMOTHER don’t seem to gather enough of a market share to stay profitable.

    I can’t help wondering if this development has something to do with superhero fans having succumbed to Pavlovian training re: the “event syndrome” fostered by Big Jim Shooter.

    Alternately, it could be that the indies just aren’t on their “A” game these days.

  16. Monolith, Painkiller jane, The Tattered man, Time Bomb,Trailblazer, The Resistance, Ash, Tallulah black, Suspiria, Twilight Experiment, 22 Brides, Kid Death and Fluffy, Beautiful Killer, Gatecrasher, New West, The Pro, 21 Down, and so on.

    Not all new, some not best sellers…but a few had a nice shelf life and I will continue to add to the growing list and Painkiller Jane will be in a new series soon.

    It’s tough…but not impossible.

  17. I think not including Scott Pilgrim on the list is an oversight. Guess OGNs don’t count?

  18. Chris Hero says:

    Here’s a question I was talking about with someone one day…what is the “newest” character that someone outside of comics would recognize from either Marvel or DC? The “newest” we could come up with was Wolverine and he’s 35 years old. There was a window with Static, but that was lost.

  19. I don’t think it’s impossible to introduce new characters, but it’s obviously difficult in today’s market. In my opinion, you need a REALLY strong concept paired with top-notch writing and art that either grabs readers from the get-go or is capable of building buzz that garners more widespread attention.

    The main problem I see as I flip through the PREVIEWS catalog every month is that most new concepts and characters are so poorly executed that the rare quality stuff gets buried in the glut of crap from a variety of publishers. As great as it is to have options, it was a lot easier to find a quality new character or title when all you had to do was choose between DC, Marvel and maybe another independent publisher or two.

  20. No.

  21. LobsterDragon says:

    Chris: What about John Stewart? Debuted a couple years after Wolverine, and when the GL movie trailer went out, there were a ton of mainstream folks who were like “whoa, why is GL a white guy?”

    That being said, I’d say mainstream recognition as a gauge for this is pretty useless. There are probably only like 20 characters that non-fans recognize off the bat, so what’s the point? Why do we as comic fans need a 45 year old non comic reader in Kentucky to know about a new character?

  22. M.E. Baz says:

    The problem, also, is that writers (including a lot of the so-called heavy hitters in the industry) spend all of their time writing for established concepts. Somewhere along the way the creator and the writer became two separate things. I’m not sure why.

    Imagine if Kafka or Joyce or Orwell, instead of writing their own novels, had spent all of their time writing Shakespearean characters in “new” situations, and killed them and brought them back to life over and over and over again.

    Romeo didn’t really die and now he’s with Desdemona! Or, here we go: Hamlet, Inc!

    Many comic book writers that write established concepts are giving us little more than soap opera fodder. And I’m supposed to feel like *I’m* killing the comic book industry because I spend most of my money on OGN’s? That’s like Metallica blaming file sharing for having become completely irrelevant. Sorry, Lars – you got crusty.

    How did they introduce new characters in soaps? Maybe that’ll help.

  23. monopole says:

    Gravel
    Freakangels
    The Authority
    Promethia

    Plenty of new characters when you have a creative writer and an imprint which is willing to take chances. With a few exceptions the turnover in manga is much greater.

    I’d pin the problem on the large corporate publishers, lack of creator ownership and indefinite copyright.

    I’d particularly pin things on lack of creator ownership. If the choice was between a new character with potentially greater returns and doing work for hire on an established character quite a few artists would go with the latter. Despite excesses and eventual homogenisation, the advent of Image did drive a lot of creative development. Stormwatch, Gen13, DV8 were great.

  24. Joe Lawler says:

    “Here’s a question I was talking about with someone one day…what is the “newest” character that someone outside of comics would recognize from either Marvel or DC? The “newest” we could come up with was Wolverine and he’s 35 years old. There was a window with Static, but that was lost.”

    If we count Vertigo, Sandman and Death will have a fair amount of mainstream recognition, and John Constantine might qualify.

    Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen.

    Also, I see a lot of V for Vendetta costumes every Halloween.

  25. Sweet Tooth
    The Unwritten
    Daytripper
    Asterios Polyp
    Mouse Guard
    RASL

  26. I think that webcomics have this covered in spades. But for comic BOOK comics…

    There’s a world of difference between insular, self-contained comic books series such as those from Vertigo or Oni Press or Image Comics…and those from the corporate-owned, “shared universe” corners of comics.

    In superhero comics, I see a high resistance to change amongst the “fans.” It’s distressing. Yeah, the New Blue Beetle was awesome! If the market that shops for that kind of comics (monthly superhero magazines) cared about comics in general and not specific franchise tie-ins, Blue Beetle would have flown off the shelves, no prob! Pound for pound, page for page, that product had everything necessary to be a hit…except the prefix “Bat-” in the title.

    I read the fan boards and the theme that I see over and over is “does this book ‘MATTER?'” Fans, when faced with making cuts in their buying habits ask themselves which comics are important to the superlarge, overarching megastory of the comics that they like. Which, to me, a back issue dumpster-diver, is complete insanity.

    I’ve seen fans praise certain comic series but level the criticism “…but it needs to have a stronger relationship to the ‘Greater DCU/Marvel Universe.'” I have seen this, I have read this. This is actually how people think. They want their comics more dense, less diverse, less individual and more of an endless continuum of happenings in which Batman/Wolverine is omnipresent.

    Or, tl;dr version — these people don’t really like “comics.” They like certain familiar characters that happen to be IN comics.

  27. It is a chicken/egg situation. A lot of mainstream superhero comic fans (Marvel/DC fans) look for “importance” in their comics. But, both Marvel and DC have been beating this into them since IDENTITY CRISIS and DISASSEMBLED in 2004-2005. After years of throwing ideas against walls, climbing out of bankruptcy and/or trying a lot of new things, both Marvel and DC decided that crossovers were where the money was, and to return to them after a rest period of a few years. And they got what they wanted – high sales from 2006-2008, and a fan base devoted to the “important” book, which were the books that often got the A-List talent and the universe critical stories. Now the market isn’t as friendly. Shops have closed, fans have lost their jobs or savings, and are tightening belts. Now those crossovers, whose gains were always short lived, aren’t what they used to be. Now Marvel AND DC realize how difficult it truly is to get any new launch to last long. Hey, AVENGERS ACADEMY is a great title, featuring genuinely new characters (and well written old ones), and it may struggle to survive past issue #15. And even that is a milestone compared to titles like SWORD or DOCTOR VOODOO. DC of course canceled Wildstorm and Zuda due to low sales and is rethinking Vertigo launches and reprints.

    The lesson for both of the big two is to be careful what you sow, because eventually you will reap it. It will take at least as many years to try to convince fans to not dive solely into “importance” as it took them to program in that recent fetish, and one wonders if the direct market can easily commit to such a strategy for the next 5 years. Do the big two even care to try? Or is a quick boost for a death or a renumbering or a relaunch and then back to the monthly declines truly the best and only strategy they have?

  28. We’re in a post-creative century where the “classics” give us restatement while the upstarts give us recombination — Superman may be going in circles but refreshed archetypes since Watchmen bring new turns of the wheel. Hello, Mark Waid’s Irredeemable and Incorruptible characters? Guggenheim & Butters’ Halcyon? Gail Simone’s Welcome to Tranquility? Brubaker’s Incognito? All legitimate pop-mythic types seen in ways that make them new. That’s keeping it within the superhero aisle of the pop big-box store, some hits, some not, but all enduring, and on the non-postmodern-pastiche shelves, the kids of Avengers Academy and the stars of the Stan Lee Boom books seem like artistic and sales successes to me (as was X-Statix in its day). Though some of the search is misdirected; a number of characters have shown sticking power with readers in the last ten or so years, but they tend toward the human end of the spectrum (a reconciliation with indie, perhaps?) — Valeria Richards, Amadeus Cho, Maria Hill, Victoria Hand. And those who cross back over the line toward pulp may not be the most marketable but are certainly the most memorable of the last decade — Fallen Angel, Doktor Sleepless, The Anchor. How soon we forget Moore’s ABC characters, though one poster here didn’t. Madman, Savage Dragon, Hellboy and the B.P.R.D. are all around the 20-year mark, but a distinct generation beyond the Big Two “properties,” and still in their stride. Godland, 8-Opus, Buzzboy, Billy Dogma, Caveman Robot, Karmikaze are barely out of their training-tights; The Umbrella Academy is a certified phenomenon. What’s truly new may always be an isolated island in the heedless mainstream, but even at Marvel and DC I didn’t expect to have three years and counting to enjoy edgy, eccentric ideas like Avengers Initiative/Academy and Secret Six — so maybe the market is learning to be original like it absorbs everything, slowly…

  29. To quote Tonto, “What is this ‘WE’ shit, kemosabe?”

  30. X-fan says:

    I presume John Layman meant Brett Lewis’ excellent Winter Men and not the resurrection of Bucky Barnes. If not he should have. He should also have mentioned his own Chew book.

    Comics could easily support new characters if Marvel and DC stopped publishing 4 titles a month of each character that evenly remotely gets a following.

  31. Oh, I see. Jason Wood is only looking at floppies. That would explain his results. Because floppies have been such a growth sector lately.

  32. Apollokid9000 says:

    Creator owned books have a definite advantage in terms of introducing new characters. They also have what some would see as the big two disadvantage as they don’t have a machine to hype them up.

    Time after time, I see the Big Two mishandle oppurtunitites to introduce new characters to not just those in the know but, the mainstream public.

    ie- the recent development of Stark Resilient in the Iron Man books. The sheer idea could not only work as a comic but also a hour long drama.

    New series without a know lead don’t sell you say.
    How about debating it as a digital comic, the 1st issue free.
    And no 12 page throw away product here, you allow the main Iron Man series writer to produce the story.

    To promote – you could create a facebook page for a newly formed company looking for applicants. Friend any and all.

    Pay for ads in actual business mags as if it really is a newly formed business with the facebook page and Marvel.com link

    Various ads have employee profiles of the series’ main characters

    As it gets closer to the release date of the book, you make it more apparent that no, it’s not a new job opening but simply a bit if an absurd but relevent ad for a new digital comic series.

    1st issue free, following issues priced at .99

    In six monthes time, on schedule with regular Marvel U time, you release a grapic novel collecting the 1st 6 issues with a brief preview of issue 7.
    All those who purchased the graphic novel will be able to acces the 7th issue for free 2 days early.

    Or, in the case of Jaime Reyes, instead of throwing him out in the flooded superhero dominated direct market by his lonesome only to fail ( no matter how well written), place him in a team book with other younger, well regarded characters who may also struggle going solo. Like, for instance, a book with Static. And Connor Kent. And Bart Allen. And Wonder Girl. And Damian Wayne. And… well, you probably get the point.

    For a creator owned book, the main thing to hang you hat on so to speak would be the concept. What is your story about?

    In some form or another, from the local bar to the water cooler to the barber shop to the long, slow line at the store, we all play the role of storyteller. What is it that makes your story not only worth telling but worth following?

    Answer that, and you certainly can present a character worth knowing.

    Similar yet different suggestion on how to roll out a new series full of new characters in a “book that matters”.

  33. Horatio Weisfeld says:

    Sure. Anything is possible.

  34. “[T]hese people don’t really like ‘comics.’ They like certain familiar characters that happen to be IN comics.”
    EXACTLY. You nailed it, Darryl B.

    So, “Can comics support truly new characters?”
    Without a doubt; the medium has, the medium is, and the medium always will.

  35. I suppose the question then becomes, can retailers and readers support or try out new characters?

    It is, again, a chicken/egg syndrome. Titles featuring new or new-ish or “less established” characters tend to be under ordered and then don’t sell well. Maybe this means retailers and fans are just stubborn, and I imagine some are. But I also imagine some are used to Marvel, and sometimes DC, abandoning a new franchise title at the first sign of struggle and then doing nothing with it for years. Thus, upon seeing a new know, they assume, “ah, that won’t last a year” and either wait for the trade or don’t bother.

    Marvel in particular seems to believe their promotional strategy is brilliant wit, when anyone with even modest experience in the comic market can probably predict it like a boss in a MEGAMAN game.

  36. Buds, Dean Haspiel and Adam McGovern alerted me to this topic and I couldn’t help but chime in (apologetic prologue):

    I’ve whined and praised on this topic for years. Being a ridiculous optimist, and looking at the overall historical “big picture” I think we’ve made amazing progress–especially since the 80s and the indie-comics/comic book-shop-boom (which inspired my childlike brain to take the leap at the start of the 90s).

    My own personal experience of massive success with all-new characters was fleeting when Peter Milligan and I co-created all-new Marvel Mutants for X-Force/X-Statix and were stunned to find we had literally killed the Comics Code @ Marvel and found ourselves on the top ten best sellers list.

    But I don’t think Peter or I ever saw ourselves working on the series endlessly or even had a desire to see anyone else pick up our characters after we left them (the last issue of the series is proof of our intent). But I’ll admit a tinge of joy when I see Doop pop up from time to time (Axel Alonso called Doop the Marvel Universe’s most powerful character. Tah-Dah! Yes, he could crush the Hulk.). But what is our legacy? Could we have secured our creations into a higher, lasting, more “significant” level of familiarity? Could we have worked our way back up to no.1?

    Obviously, not actively producing and plugging a creation is not good for securing it into any historical Pantheon. And, obviously, it doesn’t behoove a corporation to actively produce and plug something they don’t own and completely control (This is where I promise you that I loved every moment with and got incredible support and energy from Axel and Joe Q. Sincerely. More than I could have ever expected or deserved. The best of times.).

    So there’s the rub.

    I often wonder if I should have done something differently or worked harder, more “commercially” to lock us in to something beyond “cult fave” at Marvel.

    My favorite books, music, movies, and comics are more often “cult faves” as opposed to mainstream monsters. Do I subconsciously work to keep my stuff from being “too successful?”

    I hope not. I want my work to reach as many human earthlings as possible!

    The only reason my most successful creation, Frank “Madman” Einstein is still around after almost two decades is because :

    1- I got really lucky. Right place right time. Right support. Right people nurturing, encouraging, and guiding me (Dan Vado, Matt Wagner, Kevin Eastman, Bob Schreck, Mike Richardson, Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, Geof Darrow, Denis Kitchen, Ann Eagan, Diana Schutz, Jamie S. Rich, Neil Gaiman, Joe Nozemack…and many more-Moore as in Alan Moore. Name dropping stopped for now.) Every publisher has always treated me terrifically. Lucky.

    2-The unexplainable loyalty of fans.

    3-And my insatiable desire for making my own comic book stories and characters for Frank Einstein to play with.

    Good ideas and talent mixed with hard work can and does succeed even from self-published efforts or small press publishers: Jeff Smith’s “Bone” and Craig Thompson’s “Blankets”, for example, continue to be re-printed endlessly and are now legendary rich works. And marketed PERFECTLY.

    An example of something that I think could match or maybe even surpass the success of Jeff and Craig’s original works is Paul Pope’s “THB”. The greatest poorly marketed (in my humble opinion) creation of the past twenty years. Paul spills everything he has into that incredible world he’s built. But it’s almost impossible to find when I turn folks on to it. And I won’t loan my copies (wink). Now Paul is a known entity of unique commerciality. He can sell books. But for some reason his greatest opus isn’t given the focus and accessibility it deserves. I blame Paul. It’s like he loves it dearly, but too much. Like he’s protecting it from the masses until it’s perfectly perfect.

    I’ll be watching with great interest to see how his next epic, “Battling Boy” is launched. Will it get the sales and icon status Paul’s original creations deserve? I hope so.

    What I celebrate the most about our little subculture cult of a medium is how eager we all are when it comes to celebrating, sharing, and lifting up each others work. Technology has now broken open to spread the word beyond anything we could previously have imagined. Look where I’m writing and you are reading right now. Hard to know who else will have this discussion reach the front of their consciousness.

    New creations are always coming. I’m hopeful that the quality independent creations will get the same chance to reach mass readership on par with the “Big Two” and rub shoulders with the legendary icons we all know and love.

    Ever the optimist, right?

    Bottom line for me personally? It’s not a big movie getting made so my toys become household buzz (though that’d be fun). It’s the comics the matter.
    And it’s not just about “new characters” for me. It’s about keeping the characters in the hands of the creators so they reach their purest result.

    Company owned legendary characters are great fun I’m sure I’ll play in that sandbox from time to time. And I would never discourage any of my peers from playing with other’s creations. Darwyn Cooke’s wonderfully inspired “New Frontier”, and his “Parker” adaptations wouldn’t exist otherwise.

    Or my favorite example of “playing well with others”, Miller and Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One. Classic. But my favorite work of both of theirs is completely their own. “Sin City” and “Asterios Polyp”, respectively. You’ll always get the absolute best from what is yours. It’s like home ownership. Your less likely to let the plumbing rust.

    I’d like to see the big companies nurture creators and their new characters more and more like the way regular book publishers do. Imagine the Icon (I miss Epic. Oooh, those Moebius collections!)) and the Vertigo imprints being the top tier books at Marvel and DC.

    I’m having a ball at DC/Vertigo with “iZombie”. It’s the baby of Chris Roberson and yours truly, and our editor Shelly Bond, Karen Berger, and Co. have created that nurturing supportive environment needed to open us to our best work and potential success with our special little monster book.

    So, headed in the right direction. And the Comic Book Biz is still around, though every year I’ve heard rumblings it was on its last leg.

    New CREATOR-OWNED characters are our future.

    And I’m just stunned, humbled, and happy that I haven’t had to have a “real job” since January of 1990.

    VIVA CREATOR-OWNED COMICS!

    Back to the ol’ drawing board. Literally.

  37. If you’re like me and only read 2 or so floppy comics every 1-2 months, than reading a Batman story can be pretty damn exciting.

    Also, I know that any new character is going to be restricted in what it can do by being in the Marvel or DC universe, probably wont have the best talent on it (amazing creators take their potentially groundbreaking characters to creator owned work) and will probably have to be subservient to the plot lines in the books of other, more established characters. Not worth the risk.

    And its not like there is a lack of new characters out there, Fear Agent, Casanova, Powers, Scalped, Joe the Barbarian, Chew, Morning Glories, Umbrella Academy, The Goon, Skull Kickers, Acme Novelty Library, Aphrodisiac, the list goes on.

    I suspect that the complaint about the lack of new characters comes from people who reader far too many superhero comics and not enough of the other amazing material that comes out in in single issues, OGNs and even in webcomics.

  38. There’s an element of vicious circle here: publishers don’t believe new characters are a good investment, therefore they don’t promote them, therefore they fail. It’s true that it’s been a long, long time since a truly new property was a big hit – but when was the last time a truly new property was seriously promoted in a way that was likely to make it one? It’s perhaps no coincidence that comics’ most fervent self-publicist, Mark Millar, is also the one who can get his creator-owned book KICK-ASS to sell in the same quantities as AVENGERS. Imagine if Marvel promoted their own books as effectively as Millar promotes his. Perhaps they could create some new franchises too.

  39. Thanks to Heidi for referencing my article, and thanks to everyone here for a reasoned, articulate and passionate response. Very refreshing to see.

    In the article, I probably didn’t make a clear enough distinction between “new characters” and the concept of lasting characters that sell well in the direct market.

    That’s why I used the Top 1,000 comic issues of last year as the test case. But if you think about it, the Top 1000 comics really only accounts for roughly 80 comics per month, and we’re all used to seeing the Top 300 from Diamond each month. And we know that 500-600 single issues get solicited and distributed through Diamond monthly.

    So the 1,000 comics was arbitrary (it was the largest data set that I could find quickly) and, by virtue of it’s makeup, really zeroed in on the Marvel/DC side of the equation.

    Let’s be clear…there has always been, and will continue to be, great new ideas and characters created in comics. It’s an artistic medium full of fantastic minds. As someone that reads comics from all walks of life, I could make a list of 1,000 “new” characters that I adore and would love to see more of. You’ve got Jeff Lemire’s amazing Essex County world, or Gus and his counterparts in Sweet Tooth. You’ve got Tony Chu in Chew. Skinner Sweet in American Vampire. The BPRD franchise. Heath Houston & his fellow Fear Agents. Pim & Francie. John Prufrock. Afrodisiac. Docktor Sleepless. Casanova. And on and on and on.

    But what’s unfortunate is that so many of these fantastic creator-owned (or independent/small press depending) works don’t register on the direct market Richter scale. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that sales of some of these properties are strong in international and book markets, because they’re not (with a few exceptions like Hellboy) getting the financial benefits their creations otherwise deserve.

    In the meantime, all we can do is tout the things we love. I know that’s what Heidi does here, and what we try to do on our podcast (11 O’Clock Comics) and what iFanboy does and so many other places. NOTHING gets me more excited than hearing from a listener or a reader of my column telling me they tried a new series out on our recommendation. Best feeling there is.

    Thanks again everyone, appreciate the feedback.

  40. After Mike’s generous and wise insider view and Jason’s erudite expansion on this theme it seems churlish to add an epilogue…but there’s never a last word with fanboys & girls. I left out some more human or humanish characters that have taken hold in the last ten years — Derek Khanata, Abigail Brand, Monica Rappaccini — and these super-agents and super-scientists (but often not superbeings) show a trend to the preferencing of the personality that’s also seen in the fervent fan followings for guys-behind-the-mask (i.e., the passionate factions for various Green Lanterns). The widespread use of new AIM boss Rappaccini shows another trend that’s worth speculation: the hesitancy to create new heroes for the Big Two to own is well-known, but for some reason there isn’t the same embargo on villains. The weird mariachi murder-balladeer Don of the Dead is just one of a cornucopia in Fred Van Lente’s recent Taskmaster mini (and Fred’s a font of such oddities, in addition to having created both Khanata and Rapaccini in the kinda-new Scorpion strip). The heroes need someone to talk to and yell at, so I guess in some ways those who want to make it interesting still have no choice but to create…

  41. Well, I’d say “comics” supports new characters all the time — Scott Pilgrim, Kick-Ass, the WALKING DEAD crew, Tony Chu, etc.

    If we’re talking about the direct-market Top 10, though, then I’d question whether Marvel or DC are really all that interested in new characters. I don’t think they are — they’ve got a pretty good stable that works for them, and the lack of promotion that Paul is talking about is no accident. It takes money and effort to establish new franchises, and they evidently figure those resources are better spent keeping their existing properties strong and shiny.

    Also — and correct me if I’m wrong, please –, I wouldn’t expect many creators to be ecstatic about the prospect of creating commercially successful characters without any real share in their ownership. For established talent, the allure of working for Marvel and DC seems to be to play with existing characters and add to their backstory. If they want to create promising properties, then — with very few exceptions like Brian K. Vaughan — they want to own them.

    So, even if Marvel and DC wanted new properties, they’d probably have to make some drastic changes to the way they do business with creators.

  42. This topic sounds a bit like complaining that you never see any Gen-X couples celebrating their golden wedding anniversaries. Because what it’s really asking about is new characters who become old characters: ones who get introduced, then kept around and have new stories written about them and so on. So they aren’t really new anymore.

    That’s one way to measure success, I suppose, but it’s not really one I’d see as primary. Of the various comics projects I have in the pipeline, all but one are self-contained. When Fetus Christ is finished, that’s it. Stick a fork (or spear of destiny) in him: he’s done. Captain Miracle will be a one-shot; I have no intention of coming back to him. It’d be gratifying to have demand for a character to return and continue, but that’s not a goal, and I don’t think I ever would.

    Who cares that Charles Foster Kane never appeared in a second film? Or that there was never another book about Atticus Finch? Who here doesn’t think that the world would’ve been better off without another movie about Tony Manero or Mr Miyagi?

    But that’s being judgmental of others’ tastes, I suppose. Some people like old characters, and there are plenty of them for those people. Some people like (really) new characters, and there are plenty for them. Maybe there just aren’t enough people in the audience who like new-old characters.

  43. I like what EhC said.

  44. As it stands now: Old myopic superhero audience that fears change + Old myopic superhero publishers that fear change = Old myopic properties that never change. So the answer to the question is, “No.”

    Once the direct market goes the way of the dodo and the superhero publishers are forced to compete in a market they can’t dominate (the internet) then you’ll see innovation from them again.

  45. @ Paul O’Brien: Excellent point, as usual. I have been a longtime reader of your blog and listener of your podcast, BTW.

    Take AVENGERS ACADEMY. It features quite a few new characters; some created just for that title. Perhaps the most famous is Reptil, because he was created for the “MARVEL SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW” cartoon and line of toys first – his appearance in an AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE one shot to introduce him into proper Marvel Comics came after. As such, he could be this generation’s Firestar (or even Harley Quinn or Renee Montoya for DC fans). Marvel was able to turn a character made for the “X-MEN EVOLUTION” cartoon show in 2003, X-23, into a viable spin off franchise that has seen modest success, and is at the very least recognizable. However, has Marvel pushed Reptil in the same way? Or does one have to be a clone of Wolverine or a female character, who can thus make broke-back poses in skin tight outfits, to get ahead?

    I would argue more people have watched “MARVEL SUPER HERO SQUAD SHOW” on Cartoon Network and/or Disney XD than EVER read comics; even low ratings on cable would be sales numbers most mainstream comics would kill for. Why not produce a commercial for AVENGERS ACADEMY to run with the show? Why not offer a little pamphlet in a DVD case that offers, say, a few pages from his Marvel comics debut and maybe, God forbid, offer a redeemable coupon for a trade?

    The problem is, as O’Brien notes, it takes a degree of investment and vested interest to successfully promote a new franchise. Creators pushing their own franchises like Mark Millar are often hungrier than big two editorial brass are, who got to their position because they were awesome 20 years ago and have mostly been sitting on that rep since.

    I write a small Examiner comic column, as well as write on Super Hero Hype message boards, but I can personally attest to getting people to try out things like AVENGERS ACADEMY or Jay Faerber’s DYNAMO 5 over at Image based on my recommendations, which is always nice. But word of mouth alone won’t cut it.

    Although since they did have feature films and video games made, I do think characters like Hellboy and Scott Pilgrim have penetrated the zeitgiest.

  46. Cyborger says:

    I’m not much of a comic book reader and even I can see that his comments pertain to superheroes.

  47. Sphinx Magoo says:

    As a follower of the Big Two, it’s tough to get behind ant new book or character that they create. Why? Today’s new character is tomorrow’s cannon fodder for their next Big Event.

    Grant Morrison’s Aztek? Killed in JLA.
    Infinity Inc.? Slowly whittled down from their original ranks.
    Doom Patrol? Pfft. Please.
    Spider-Girl? Arana? Azrael? Various Teen Titans or Legions of Superheroes? Blue Beetle?

    Why emotionally invest in a character when some new creative team upsets the applecart to go in a “bold new direction”?

    Plus, the Image guys taught that it’s not right to create any new characters for the Big Two if there are no economic incentives in case the character takes off. Marv Wolfman showed that with Blade. Siegel and Schuster showed that with Superman. What new creator is going to give away a character nowadays?

  48. Christopher says:

    Ed Brubaker’s Incognito seems to sell pretty well for a new character.

  49. horsth says:

    any new-born character needs an appropriate environment to grow into. The big- two universes are not that kind of environment. Its that simple.

  50. I liked the news, I learned about 35 new characters. I also think that comic books can support new characters, but should have realistic targets. It seems to me that the way to a new name in order to achieve success is to use the creative teams.

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