ComicsPRO: Image’s Eric Stephenson addresses retailers “I want to make your stores stronger”

saga 14 ComicsPRO: Images Eric Stephenson addresses retailers I want to make your stores stronger

SAGA #14 cover art by Fiona Staples

Image Publisher Eric Stephenson delivered a speech to retailers this morning and here’s the text, courtesy of Image comics:


I hope you don’t mind if I deviate from standard practice, but instead of talking about Image Comics this morning, I’d like to talk about you.

This is my fourth year at ComicsPRO, and one of the reasons I keep coming back is because I feel like the retailers who make up this organization have a genuine interest in improving this industry.

We get a lot of great feedback at this event, and I think you only have to look at the many changes Image has made over the last few years to see that it’s feedback we take to heart.

More than any other industry gathering, I feel like a lot of important work gets done here, and I’m proud to be involved in that process.

You talk, we listen, and I think that ongoing dialogue between publishers and retailers is one of the things that make the Direct Market so unique.

Simply put: You care.

As a result, while other stores – other comic book stores, mass-market bookstores, entire chains – have disappeared from the retail landscape, you’re still here, and in many cases, you’re stronger than ever.

Sales will always fluctuate, but given that print was being pronounced dead as early as 20 years ago, the comics market has remained remarkably stable.

It’s funny, when I first started working at Image back in 2001, the bookstore market was just beginning to take comics and graphic novels seriously. Some predicted this would have an adverse effect on the direct market, but you’re still here.

Not too long after that, when digital comics emerged as an alternative to print, there were even more gloomy predictions, but still, the Direct Market survived.

And the Direct Market will continue to survive, as long as there are people like you.

Every publisher here talks to your counterparts in the bookstore market, and do you know what they’re telling us?

They’re telling us graphic novels are one of the only categories of print publishing that is growing.

That’s something you should be proud of, because while a growing graphic novel section in your local Barnes & Noble might not seem like something you should be happy about, you can rest assured that even the largest of those graphic novel sections is smaller than your own.

Even though, on the surface, it may seem discouraging that sales for graphic novels are soaring on Amazon, what that really means is that the audience for comics is continuing to grow.

And it’s our job – yours, mine, all of ours – to figure out how to reach that growing audience and drive them to the Direct Market, because as bookstores continue to close and chains continue to disappear, the best place to get comics in the future will continue to be the best place to get comics now:

Your stores.

And I want to make your stores stronger.

Now, you probably already know this about me, but I’m not particularly content with the status quo.

We know what this business was like in the past, and it’s plain enough to see how it is now.

What we should be focusing on is the future.

We should all be challenging ourselves to make things better, and I want to challenge us all to build a better industry.

One of the first things we need to do is stop looking at the comics market as the “big two” or the “big three.”

There are only two kinds of comics that matter: good comics and bad comics.

Everything else should be irrelevant.

So stop letting publishers lie to you and deceive you and your readers so they can prop up their position in this industry in their craven attempts to appease shareholders.

That may help them in the short-term, and maybe it puts an extra couple coins in your change purse at the end of the week, but the reality of the situation is they have literally everything BUT your best interests at heart.

It starts with bi-weekly and weekly shipping and it extends into pricing.

Are $4.99 and $7.99 comics going to help our industry in the long run?

No, but they sure help the bottom line at the end of the year.

Same with gimmick covers and insane incentives to qualify for variants that will only have a limited appeal for a limited amount of time.

Everybody moans about variants, but here’s the honest to goodness truth:

You stop ordering variants; we’ll stop making them.

They are only produced to shore up market share, that’s it and that’s all, and when used in conjunction with quantity-based incentives, they don’t sell more comics, they just result in stacks of unsold books that send the wrong message to your customers about the titles, your stores, and our industry.

That type of marketing is built on short-term sales goals that do little to grow and sustain readership, and it’s a trick that’s been done to death in other industries, to diminishing returns.

If you want an example of how this works outside of comics – just look at the music industry, where they’ve nearly re-issued, re-mastered, and re-packaged themselves into an early grave.

Box sets, deluxe sets, double-packs, multi-packs, and premium prices for premium packaging. In an age where virtually everything is available digitally and for less money, the record companies chose to milk their nostalgia-starved customer base for every last penny, and look where it’s gotten them.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Beatlemania is only going to line their pockets for so long, and there are only so many “unreleased” Hendrix albums that are going to bring people in the door of the precious few record stores that are left standing in the wake of years of short-term thinking.

But that’s the music industry.

We can do better than that.

If we seriously want a better comics industry, the number one priority of every single person in this room should be the sustainability of this medium and the vitality of the marketplace.

Constantly re-launching, re-numbering, and re-booting series after series, staging contrived events designed to appeal to a demographic destined only to a slow march toward attrition, and pretending that endless waves of nostalgia for old movies, old toys, old cartoons, and old video games somehow equals ideas or innovation will not make us stronger.

Nostalgia has its place, and I’ll admit, there can be a certain sepia-toned appeal to fondly looking back on our younger, more innocent days, but if we want this industry to outlive us, we have to start looking at things like grown ups.

Superheroes are great.

I grew up reading superhero comics.

But over the years, when the writers and artists and editors and publishers I looked up to talked about advancing the medium, about producing more challenging content, and creating comics that appealed to adults, never once did I mistake what they were saying to be, “We need to find a way for superhero comics to appeal to more adults.”

This is the comic book industry, not the superhero industry, and if we want to stick around for the long haul, we need to recognize that and capitalize on that, because as much as I fond as I am of the superhero comics I read when I was younger, the full scope of what comics are and what comics can be is what will ultimately bring the world into your stores.

Right now, the fastest growing demographic for Image Comics, and I’m willing to speculate, for the entire industry, is women.

For years, I’ve listened to people talk about bringing more women into the marketplace.

Over the last few years, with your help, we’ve been doing exactly that.

You’ve seen the audience that’s building up around SAGA. You’ve seen how female readers respond to books like SEX CRIMINALS, LAZARUS, VELVET, PRETTY DEADLY, ROCKET GIRL, and RAT QUEENS, and one of our best-received announcements at Image Expo was Kelly Sue DeConnick’s new series BITCH PLANET.

We’re not the first to put out material that appealed to women – there’s a whole roomful of incredible people I wouldn’t be able to look in the eye if I made that kind of ludicrous claim – but I think we are among a select group in this industry who realize that there’s more to gain from broadening our horizons than by remaining staunchly beholden to the shrinking fan base that is supposedly excited about sequels to decrepit old crossovers like SECRET WARS II.

It is comics like SAGA that get new readers in your door.

I know this, because I have met SAGA readers.

They read SAGA, they read RACHEL RISING, they read Julia Wertz, they read FABLES, they read Nicole Georges and Kate Beaton, they read Hope Larson, Jeffrey Brown, and LOVE & ROCKETS…

They read all of that and more, but even better still:

They are hungry for more.

There is a vast and growing readership out there that is excited about discovering comic books, but as long as we continue to present comics to the world in the Biff Bang Pow! context of Marvel and DC, with shop windows full of pictures of Spider-Man and Superman, we will fail to reach it.

The biggest problem with comic books is that even now, even after all the amazing progress we’ve made as an industry over the last 20 years, the vast majority of people have no idea whatsoever about how much the comics medium has to offer.

As an industry, we still cling to the shortsighted and mistaken notion that presenting ourselves to the world as Marvel and DC, as superhero movies, is the key to reaching a wider audience, and it’s just not.

People know what Spider-Man is. People know what Superman is. They know Batman. They know the X-Men.

And you know what? They’ve already made their mind up about that stuff, and that’s why the success of those movies has yet to translate into an avalanche of readers into our industry.

We have trained the world to think of comics as “Marvel and DC superheroes.”

And the world has stayed away.

We need to fix that.

If we want to reach out to new readers, to different readers, we need to look at what we’re pitching them.

More than that, we need to look at who our customer base is – not just who is coming into the stores, but who ISN’T – and ask what we can do to make our marketplace more appealing to them.

ANYONE who isn’t currently buying comics should be our target audience.

THAT is who we want coming into comic book stores, and it is new creativity that is going to pave their way to your door.

We talk about being obsessed with expanding our audience, but if publishing lesser versions of people’s favorite cartoons, toys, and TV shows is the best we can do, then we are doomed to failure.

Simply reframing work from other media as comic books is the absolute worst representation of comics.

We can invite readers to innovate with us, but repurposing someone else’s ideas as comic books isn’t innovation – at best, it’s imitation, and we are all so much better than that.

New creativity that is native to comics is what makes this industry stronger. It shows what comics do, what comics can BE.

Look at THE WALKING DEAD.

I know, I know – it’s a hit television show.

But before that – long before that – it was a hit comic book.

THE WALKING DEAD came out of nowhere one October, and it increased in sales month over month, year after year, for a full five years before there was a television show.

THE WALKING DEAD is one of the most successful franchises in the history of comics – we have sold millions of units of comic books, trade paperbacks, toys, statues, apparel, and hardcovers – and it is completely homegrown.

It started right here, in the Direct Market, with new creativity – with your support of new creativity.

THE WALKING DEAD is a towering achievement, an incredible success.

And YOU helped make that happen.

YOU helped build that success.

Robert Kirkman, Image Comics, you – we did that TOGETHER.

And we’re working together to build the next WALKING DEAD as we speak.

If you look at THE WALKING DEAD’s sales pre-television show, back in the days when sales were just great, as opposed to phenomenal, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ SAGA is just kicking the shit of those numbers.

The trade paperbacks, the comics – SAGA is a massive success.

And I will say it once again: It all started with new creativity and your support of new creativity.

Both of those books – THE WALKING DEAD and SAGA – have brought a lot of new readers into your stores.

It is not a coincidence that both of those books are published by Image.

And we publish a lot more books that can help you expand this market.

New creativity is the future of this industry, not the latest SPIDER-MAN #1.

People come to comic book stores looking for original content, because it’s what we do best, not for comic book versions of things that are done better in other mediums.

If we seriously want to expand the marketplace and appeal to new readers, different readers, we can only do that by developing new things that only exist in our market.

While the rest of the entertainment industry lays back in the cut and churns out sequel after remake after reboot after sequel, we need to be on the frontline with the biggest, boldest, and best of the new ideas that will keep this industry healthy and strong for years to come.

Let the rest of the world come to US – let them make movies and TV shows and toys and cartoons based on what WE do.

Their dearth of ideas and their continued fascination with our unbridled creativity will only make us stronger.

THE WALKING DEAD is proof of this.

Like I said, THE WALKING DEAD comic book was selling great before it was a television show.

Now it sells even better.

And that’s because the show made people aware of the comic – and those people came to your stores to get that comic.

Because they want the real thing.

TRANSFORMERS comics will never be the real thing.

GI JOE comics will never be the real thing.

STAR WARS comics will never be the real thing.

Those comics are for fans that love the real thing so much, they want more – but there’s the important thing to understand:

They don’t want more comics – they just want more of the thing they love.

Those comics are accessories to an existing interest, an add-on, an upsell, easy surplus for the parent products – icing on the cake.

Comics are so much more than that, and this industry has existed as long as it has because of the ingenuity of men and women all over the world who yearn to share the fruits of their imaginations, not simply find new ways to prolong the life of existing IPs.

So much of the comics experience is about sharing.

We share our thoughts and feelings about comics with each other; we share the comics we love with our friends; writers and artists share the worlds they’ve created with their readers.

Something that sets the Direct Market apart from the rest of the retail world is the amazing communal experience you can only find in comic book stores.

That communal spirit has been part of the Direct Market’s success since its very inception, and now is the time to foster that spirit so that it continues to grow.

Do more signings. Plan more sales. Throw parties. Invite writers and artists to speak at your store, or in your community, as an adjunct to regular signings.

A lot of stores are hosting book clubs – we need more of that, focused on as many subjects as your customers can think of.

Host workshops and help foster new creativity yourselves, so that you’re directly involved in cultivating the next generation of comic book creators.

Be more inclusive – one of the best sales tools at your disposal is your ability to build a community around your store. Make your store a destination for everyone – men, women, and children of every background.

I’ve been to a lot of your stores, and some of you are doing amazing work already, but there is always more that can be done.

Ask yourself what you could do better, and what you could do to reach that one person you’re not bringing into the store.

If there are people in your community who aren’t comfortable going into comic book stores, ask them why. Ask what you could be doing that you’re not.

Comic book stores are one of our industry’s most valuable resources, and we should all be doing everything we can to make sure that continues to be the case for years into the future.

We don’t want people buying their comics in Targets or Wal-Marts, or as a giveaway with a toy. We want people to come right here to the very heart of our business.

We want them to come to you.

Comments

  1. Erik Scott says:

    This was a really really amazing speech. Eric Stephenson is among the most forward thinking people in comics right now.

  2. Now if only anyone from Image could make an amazing speech without slagging off anyone who doesn’t make comics the exact way they do.

    That dismissiveness just overshadows the rest for me.

  3. jacob lyon goddard says:

    I can’t help but think that this speech would carry a lot more weight if Image comics didn’t publish work that looks exactly like marvel/dc comics to an average non-reader.

    If they want to differentiate themselves from the big two in the eyes of new readers, they probably shouldn’t copy marvel/dc’s format, dimensions, page counts, paper types, colors, and creative team mixes.

  4. You’ve really got to credit the art you use in your posts.

  5. jacob lyon goddard says:

    Also, what Ben said.

  6. @jacob lyon goddard

    The creators of Image books choose the formats they present them in. They can go into different formats — see Riley Rossmo’s Dia Des Los Muertos as an example. A lot of these comics creators are used to a particular standard so that’s how they have their works published. Also, the costs of going off standard production methods is higher and that cost is carried by creators publishing through Image.

    The paper size of the larger North American publishers isn’t really an issue. Think about prose paperback novels; they all tend to come in pretty standard sizes and purchasing public seem to understand that different creators mean different content.

    Content wise, a lot if not all of what you get from creators publishing through Image is completely different than what Marvel/DC put out.

  7. Henry Barajas says:

    Fiona’s signature is on the art? The Beat isn’t claiming her art, Ben.

  8. Joe S. Walker says:

    Image (and Marvel and DC) would throw the DM under a bus if something better came along.

  9. @Henry Barajas — I didn’t say The Beat was claiming the art. What I said is they need to credit artists. You know, in case people don’t know what said signature stands for? Or are unfamiliar with an artists work? It’s just a nice, easy way to ensure artists receive the credit they deserve. It’s also just a good journalistic practice.

  10. jacob lyon goddard says:

    I’ve been begging Heidi to credit artists for a while now, with little luck.

    And to new and first time readers, the only thing different between marvel/dc and image is a lack of ads and generally more cursing.

  11. jacob lyon goddard says:

    *most* image comics

    Meant to say most image comics.

  12. Rich H says:

    Image are cowards, really. They complain about the direct market and other publishers, obviously not happy with the current system. But complaining is reactive and cowardly.

    But if they were really progressive and forward thinking, they’d use that pissed-off energy and go find new readers in other markets (like the Young Adult market). Or go create a new system. But they won’t. They expect Marvel and DC to do that.

    Eric Stephenson is too lazy to actually be truly progressive. Trying to look cool, by slagging off other companies, isn’t worth a dime.

  13. @Rich H- But that mode of thinking is not working with the comic book stores / community. This was a retailer summit and he is suggesting how to continue working together into the future. Everyone is trying to do outreach. Every. one. That’s the magic ticket we’re all trying to solve.

  14. JoeC_Mommy says:

    Here’s something that for me, stuck out like a sore thumb:
    “Let the rest of the world come to US–let them make movies and TV shows and toys and cartoons based on what WE do. Their dearth of ideas and their continued fascination with our unbridled creativity will only make us stronger. THE WALKING DEAD is proof of this. Like I said, THE WALKING DEAD comic book was selling great before it was a television show. Now it sells even better. And that’s because the show made people aware of the comic–and those people came to your stores to get that comic. Because they want the real thing. TRANSFORMERS comics will never be the real thing. GI JOE comics will never be the real thing. STAR WARS comics will never be the real thing. Those comics are for fans that love the real thing so much, they want more–but there’s the important thing to understand: They don’t want more comics–they just want more of the thing they love. Those comics are accessories to an existing interest, an add-on, an upsell, easy surplus for the parent products–icing on the cake.”

    I bet that for lotsa people who came to the comic The Walking Dead because of the television The Walking Dead, the television one is their real thing and the comic one is their accessory, their add-on. To think otherwise is presumptuous. (To say otherwise? Shrug. That’s the kinda stuff corporate cheerleaders say. And here, Mr. Stephenson played the role of a corporate cheerleader, which tells you why he was sorta snide about his competition.)

    Comics like GI Joe, Transformers, and Star Wars *are* accessories, add-ons to long-lived, long-loved franchises. So’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. That’s turned a bunch of, oh, GIRLS into regular readers. Not too shabby for a tie-in to some ‘toons and toys, huh?

    I bet that the reason people buy, and publishers print, the likes of GI Joe and Star Wars is that they’re known. To spend $3, $4 on two-dozen pages of unknown “unbridled creativity” is a risk. The devil you know, well, you know.

  15. JoeC_Mommy says:

    After I posted that, I scrolled through Twitter. At least one other person had the same, or very similar, thoughts. And they tweeted about a half-hour before I posted.

    Alas, I’m not the real thing.

  16. @JoeC_Mommy – You’ve got valid points as for assessing the current aftermarket / add-on / accessory. However, that doesn’t take away that The Walking Dead was successful before the TV show. And it was successful for a host of reasons — which I think is the pith of what Stephenson is saying.

    As for new readers turned on to the add-ons… the question is what’s next? What is the future of someone who reads Adventure Time, or My Little Pony once they grow out of it, or when the fad fades or when the show is cancelled. We can only hope that something new will come along and keep them with us… or, we can work actively to make that happen.

    I admit, I don’t have concrete solutions. And I’m not a retailer. If I did my comic would also be a success story. I think we’re all trying… Stephenson is too. This is just his way to trying.

  17. Johnny Memeonic says:

    I’m not sure it’s fair to say Transformers and GI Joe comics aren’t the real thing. I seem to recall that Marvel writers actually did come up with most of the backstory for Transformers and GI Joe that was eventually used in comics, toys, TV, film, etc.

  18. I am sad more people did not recognize Fiona Staples iconic art for Saga, but I have swapped out the art without logo for a cover with.

    BTW, it seems more publishers are releasing cover art without any kind of credits or IDs, even Marvel which used to have a little red band at the bottom.

  19. Hufnagel says:

    @RichH – Man, you’re a ways off base here. He’s saying that the direct market can flourish if publishers and retailers work together to shift the focus of comics from superheroes to creative ideas. If folks realized there was more to comics than capes and tights, then more people would read them. Do you disagree with this?

    @JoeC_Mommy – Yeah, that was my only gripe with his points. I’ve personally turned two family members into comic readers by first introducing them to familiar franchises in the medium. But to Jimmie’s point, where do they go if their interests (or that comic’s sales) fade?

  20. I could’ve done without the unnecessary swipes at other companies.

  21. Torsten Adair says:

    My first comicbook was an “accessory”: Spidey Super Stories #4.

    I discovered Spider-Man on… PBS. The Electric Company.
    So naturally, my mother bought me a comic book which had the CTW logo, and 40 years later…

    Image is a bit hampered… they can only publish what people submit. But they are developing more titles for kids and adolescents, which is where the real money is. (Libraries LOVE comics.) Right now, Image is filling the vacuum created by Vertigo when DC changed the contract. Those women reading Saga, etc. Same demographic that was reading Sandman 20 years ago.

    As for the last part of his speech: basically, he’s telling the retailers to copy Barnes & Noble. Make your stores as inviting. Clear your windows. Vacuum. DUST. Delegate to an assistant manager the responsibility of outreach to every public library and school library in a 25 mile radius. (B&N calls them “Community Relation Managers”. They handle events, publicity, and institutional sales.)

    Of course, there’s A LOT of money being lost in comics shops. Most don’t have a website store. Most don’t even think of setting up an account with Baker & Taylor or Ingram as a backstop to Diamond’s inventory. With that account, you can offer to special order ANYTHING from those distributor’s catalog. Maybe it’s a Lord of the Rings hardcover. Maybe it’s the book-on-tape of Neil Gaiman reading Lemony Snicket! (GREAT SHADES OF ELVIS! HOW COOL IS THAT?!?) Maybe it’s a DVD, or a dictionary, or a picture book… and maybe those sales will become new categories which help the store to become the Coolest Place in Five Counties.

  22. Especially when his own company was publishing GI Joe at one point. But I like another comment I saw about his speech. He says he started working at Image in 2001. Yet he was writing comics published through Image/Extreme Studios back in the 90’s. So is he going to really split hairs about being a freelancer for the company vs being on the company payroll?

  23. Or does he just want to hope people forget he ever wrote during that period, much less the material.

  24. Awesome as always, it so crazy to see people so afraid of change.

  25. JoeC_Mommy says:

    @Jimmie Robinson: I never wanted to take away from the success that TWD had before TV. I’m sorry that I came across thataway. I’ve tried to think through why that section of the speech rubbed me the wrong way. And I think it kinda, sorta sounds like the same song, different verse of Real Geek, Fake Geek. (You gotta read the comic TWD before you can say that you’re really a Walker, you’re more-better if you read the comic TWD before it was a bestseller or on TV, blah, blah, blah.) Maybe I’m the only one who heard that. I *did* hit my head really, really hard a couple-three hours before I read the speech.

    @Jimmie Robinson and @Hufnagel: That’s the money question! When your schoolgirl MLP reader becomes a tween, a teen? The Runaway TPBs? Dunno. Here’s how I think it should work: You outgrow, oh, Adventure Time. Someone at your LCS sees that you’ve outgrown it and recommends another title for you. Or, say MLP is canceled. Someone at your LCS sees that in the solicits, sees that you, your parents buy it regularly, and recommends another title for you, something similar. That is, if something similar is, well, is. Most of the responsibility here is on the LCS … Maybe that’s not very practical or realistic. That’s more like how it works at a library.

    You know, your question isn’t limited to children or licensed-character comics. Where will they turn, the brand-new, casual readers brought in by Saga, when Saga has run its course? Shouldn’t someone at their LCS recommend something similar? Maybe loan them the first one?

    I’ve put lotsa responsibility on LCS. But it’s shared by the publishers. They gotta print stuff that’ll fill the holes left when a girl outgrows MLP, when something like Saga stops. I think that Image is okay on the latter.

  26. I don’t know about Transformers but writer/editor/occasional artist Larry Hama created a large portion of 80s GI Joe, which they based the cartoons and movies on. The cartoons even had comic book talent on them, notably Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Martin Pasko, and Buzz Dixon. Larry is still writing GI Joe A Real American Hero comic today. He was actually writing it while he was in the hospital recently.

  27. hsssh says:

    While reading this one thing poped to my head – is he worried that IDW is so close to them in market/dollar share that he felt the need to, almost, directly assault their entire publishing model?

  28. This is a great speech, and those that are focusing on the few parts they disagree with… I feel sorry for y’all. The speaker is not slagging his competitors, he’s saying there are ways of doing business he disagrees with. And you know what? This business needs more people to express strong opinions.

  29. Anniesocial says:

    I love this part:
    “it’s a trick that’s been done to death in other industries, to diminishing returns.

    If you want an example of how this works outside of comics – just look at the music industry, where they’ve nearly re-issued, re-mastered, and re-packaged themselves into an early grave.

    Box sets, deluxe sets, double-packs, multi-packs, and premium prices for premium packaging. In an age where virtually everything is available digitally and for less money, the record companies chose to milk their nostalgia-starved customer base for every last penny, and look where it’s gotten them.”

    Hasn’t Walking Dead been repackaged at least 5 different ways? You have the comics, the TPBs, the OHCs, the “Absolute Edition”, the thick Compendium, and the novelizations.

    Has there ever been a comic that has been as re-issued, re-mastered, and re-packaged as many times in its short life as Walking Dead?

  30. @Anniesocial – please keep in mind that at Image the comic is often engineered by the creators – not – the publisher.

    Image is a creator-first publishing company. Even with my own Image book it is up to *me* to have a variant cover or not. I’ve done it twice (Bomb Queen vol. 3 and Five Weapons #6). One opportunity was given to me and I approved it, and the second time I pursued it and asked Image to do it. BOTH times it was offered with a second order code (retailers did *not* have to order a certain number to get the variant, they could just order which ones they wanted).

    Stephenson is talking about certain publishers who make this a marketing tactic — especially when retailers feel forced to order at least 20 copies just to get 5 variant covers. That inflates the order numbers for that book just to get the incentives. Anyway, if there are variant covers under the Image umbrella then I suggest those questions be taken directly to the creator, because I doubt you’ll find Image ever telling a creator what they can and cannot do. That’s one of the main reasons the founders left Marvel in the first place.

  31. Torsten Adair says:

    What to read next when you’re bored?
    That was the question I asked a decade ago, when I saw the title [sic] wave in manga, and all the teens surfing that wave after school in the Barnes & Noble where I worked.

    Myself? Well, I didn’t ask for assistance. I had read Harlan Ellison’s essay in Playboy, and that gave some suggestions. There was Don Thompson’s recommendations in the Comics Buyer’s Guide. Oh, and my LCS, Dragon’s Lair, actually stocked a lot of titles without the necessity of preordering. This was late 1980s, so there was the B&W implosion still in the air.

    I was still reading superhero titles, but eventually, I had to drop titles due to a limit budget.

    The other million dollar question:
    How do you get the lapsed readers, the adults who read comics when they were kids? And how do you convince the parents to buy comics for their kids?

  32. Matthew J says:

    Wow — who knew the fans of the Marvel/DC status quo were such a sensitive bunch? If Eric did anything wrong in the speech, it was not ripping on those companies enough. The Big Two’s constant stunts, reboots, renumbering, and bloated “events” — it’s all so cynical and desperate and off-putting. And I say that as someone who loves superheroes.

    Also, anyone who says Image’s books look just like the Big Two’s is out of his or her mind. I’m not an Image fanatic; I think I’m reading four titles. But just imagine a shelf stocked with current Image books — let’s say it includes Walking Dead, Saga, Secret, Pretty Deadly, the Bounce, Sex Criminals, Chew, Satellite Sam and, starting later this month, Stray Bullets. You really think that shelf would look pretty much the same as a Marvel/DC one?? No way. I applaud Eric for his vocal and passionate lobbying for original work. When you look at what Image is doing, along with Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly and other companies committed to new comics work, this is a pretty amazing time to be a fan of the medium.

  33. Yeah, for the original Transformers, Hasbro went to Marvel Comics and had Jim Shooter and Dennis O’Neil create the back story for the toy line. Meanwhile it was Marvel writer Bob Budiansky created many of the names of the characters and wrote the descriptive “tech spec” bios that were on the back of the toys. Budiansky wrote almost all the Transformer comics until somewhere at around issue 50.

    I am interested in creators making original comics, but licensed comics have a good history of getting people into the comic book stores. The mentioned Transformers & GI Joes, got tons of kids in the 1980’s into stores. Then more recently there’s been the continuation of Buffy that has gotten fans who never stepped into a comic book store to do so.

    I do agree that the core point should be just really good comics rather than bad comics. Events or custom covers might temporary sell more copies, but really good story and art keeps them coming back for more. Licensed comics can also be really good comics and I think that’s the only area that should be the main concern. Give someone an absolutely amazing Star Wars comic and it doesn’t matter if it’s an upsell or whatever, but that good comic means they will likely appreciate the medium and possibly want more comics than just from Star Wars.

  34. brain says:

    Properties: I think Stephenson was talking about today Transformers (the books published after the series of movies) not 30 years ago Transformers :) Also I guess history proves true the fact that temporary occurencies doesn’t bring new regular readers into shops (any successfull movie / tv properties translated in comics failed to do that, they just brought readers until that thing was hot), different is the case of comics like Saga that cross the boundaries and brings non-comics readers in shops to buy actual original comics (they discover the medium and could be interested in other books). These books (except Star Wars) doesn’t sell that good anyway.

    Format: I think market, tradition and distribution model define the format, if anyone prints, distributes and reads comics in those formats (floppies and TPB) probably they are the cheaper to print, distribute and easier to sell. Example: in my country (Italy) THE format is monthly 16cmx21cm 96 pages B&W book for the equivalent of 5.5$, would a format like that be successful in USA? I don’t think so, because everything is different in how these books have to be made: you have 4-5 writers for characters and at least a dozen artists that rotate issue after issues (and each issue is a done in one). Also the best sellers sell more than Batman and the less successfull would be considered successful in USA market; this (and the fact that our geographical exentension is minuscule in respect to America) probably determines the price, distribution model and consequent affordability (24 B&W pages of the successfull WD cost just a little more than a B&W 96 pages book here).

    Arrogance: he just pushes his vision. Wouldn’t work well if it said “We believe our vision for the future of comics is the best going forward BUT the other ones are equally good”. It’s just what businessmen do.

  35. Mikael says:

    Once again I have to marvel at how quickly some in this comment thread jump to generalizations. No – it’s not “fans of Marvel/DC” that are up in arms. It’s people who take issue when a publisher junks on their pull list. I read comics. That’s it. From all publishers. And had this been a different spin, advocating the publishing goals from one of the big two, the arguments would’ve been reversed for sure.

    None of these are new points. Treating ES as the second coming of Comic Book Jesus is silly. Those with issues with the speech are exactly right – it’s poor form. Especially when he’s slagging off practices to a room full of retailers who have to diversify. It’s a rare store that can survive on comics alone. And the retailers who attend ComicsPro are high level ones or ones that have the money to travel, who have the money to even belong to ComicsPro. And had I been there, I would’ve booed him for the “you stop ordering variants, we’ll stop making them”. What a crock that was.

    I wonder if there was a QnA for this? Because some high profile Image books are notoriously late month to month – sometimes longer. If books like Jupiter’s Legacy and Saga and Chew, etc are good ways to build audience and add profits – then maybe don’t solicit them until you know the creative team can deliver. How does soliciting a book – so a retailer thinks they are going to sell that book in a given month and maybe get a little higher cash flow only to have it not show up for weeks/months – help the retailer? Or have series not even finish? Slag off IDW and Dark Horse all you want, but they finish their series. Slag off DC and Marvel but guess what – DC gets their books out. Retailers can tell their customers how many weeks to wait. Marvel isn’t so good in that aspect. Heck, the last issue of Hawkeye was 22 weeks late. So late they publlshed the last two issues out of order. But for Image – where’s Nonplayer? Where’s Image United? Where’s Activity? Why is an issue of Cyber Force 19 weeks late? Why is an issue of Chew 11 weeks late? Why is Prophet several issues behind? Rocket Girl? Retailers can’t sell solicited books that never show up.

    And this is where the comments of “well that’s up to the creators”. Guess what – retailers don’t want to hear that. You’re just giving excuses the same way you blame the Big Two for. Image is a publishing house. Retailers are their customers. Either solicit the books when you can see an endpoint or put them under a realistic schedule. Because you are NOT making the retailers stronger by having a line of delayed books.

  36. Whatever says:

    I hate the big two, mostly but to walk in like you are the Jesus Christ of comics is remarkable. You better hope the zombie fad continues and people don’t tire of Kirkman’s weird fascination with torture and mutilation. I hope my local comic shop owner tells my 5 year old daughter to f’off when she comes in for her MLP comic ’cause isn’t a “real” comic. What an ass-hat. I read at least 4 image books now but I can change that when I read stupid shit like this.

  37. JoeC_Mommy says:

    I like that the comic-book business has a publisher like Image Comics. I like that us readers have a publisher that prints something different, something outside the (long)box.

    I believe that the comic-book business should look more like a Baskin-Robbins than that busted soft-serve machine beside the all-you-can-eat buffet. And at Baskin-Robbins, the tried-and-tired chocolate and vanilla taste better, too.

    Yet I can still see that the speech had its faults.

    Yes, Mr. Stephenson spoke to retailers, for retailers and I’m NOT a retailer.

    Yet I can still see that the speech had its faults. I can see that, no matter what titles I pull from what publisher. I have a brain, I have eyes. Sometimes, they work together. (Not late Friday, it seems. Boy, was I all over the place in that post.)

    Mr. Stephenson is a man of courage. He is a man of foresight. And here, he comes across as a man of hubris. It’s a turnoff and it turns the spotlight that much hotter on what’s wrong in his speech.

    His statement about variants. His distaste for record-companies’ reissue, repackage sales strategy, when at least one of his titles has been reissued and repackaged ad nauseam. (Oh, the irony, as pointed out by poster Anniesocial.)

    His succession of real-thing statements. Sigh. First, I still hear strains of Real Geek, Fake Geek. But I have no trouble saying, or thinking, that it’s just me. Second, I, and others, hear putdowns of licensed-properties and of another publisher (IDW). I can see what he tried to say, what he wanted to say, that his outfit prints the novel and original stories that film and television want to license, unlike the publishers that license films, television, and toys for their titles. But he should’ve drawn his examples from more of his competitors, because it comes across as snide toward IDW.

    What Mr. Stephenson said reminds me of something that I read on The Wall Street Journal’s site in 2009, an interview with the then-President of ABC Daytime, Brian Frons. The interviewer asked him about the recently announced cancellation of another network’s soap opera, Guiding Light, on which he’d worked earlier in his career:

    WSJ: So it’s not a big deal that Guiding Light is ending? BF: We’ve gotten used to soaps lasting so many years, the death of one takes on all this drama. But Guiding Light has been a poor performer for many many years. WSJ: What about personally for you? It’s kind of like your old high school being demolished, no? BF: No. It’s taking a patient off life support, not a sudden tragic death in the family or anything. I was sadder when I heard about production changes, lots of technical behind-the-scenes stuff that starts to affect talent and quality.

    I remember it because GL was one of the two soap operas that as a girl, I watched with Nana, who’d died in late 2008. (That death-in-the-family analogy? Fell flat for me.) And I remember that after I read it, I thought, “What a tacky, ungracious statement. Wait until something like that happens to him.” Boy, did it. In 2011, he announced the cancellation of not one, but two, of his soap operas. By 2012, he was no longer president, or anything, of ABC Daytime.

    I’d like to think that if I were a businessperson, I’d conduct myself such that competitors wouldn’t want to dance on my grave. (Motorhead!) Maybe I’m naive. But I’m nice.

  38. Johnny Memeonic says:

    But for Image – where’s Nonplayer? Where’s Image United? Where’s Activity? Why is an issue of Cyber Force 19 weeks late? Why is an issue of Chew 11 weeks late? Why is Prophet several issues behind? Rocket Girl? Retailers can’t sell solicited books that never show up.

    Because Image’s business model is that of a vanity publisher. They don’t own the rights to this material, they just take the fee to publish it whenever it’s ready.

    Your actual beef over late comics would be with the creative teams behind those books since they are the true owners and content creators.

    And most of them would probably reply to you that books are late because they make them in their spare time as comics aren’t their day job. Sales on most Image books aren’t that high and thus the creators can’t afford to live off that small revenue, assuming they even made any money in the first place.

  39. Torsten Adair says:

    @Johnny Memeonic:

    Part of the complaint was:
    “How does soliciting a book – so a retailer thinks they are going to sell that book in a given month and maybe get a little higher cash flow only to have it not show up for weeks/months – help the retailer?”

    Image (and every other publisher) should not solicit a story unless it is ready to ship. If it fails to ship on time, then it should be fully returnable.

    But this is a problem Image had when they started. How did they solve it then? They fired a lot of creators who couldn’t keep to schedule.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Beat has text of the entire speech, but I wanted to dig in and pull out some interesting […]

  2. […] -Eric Stephenson, publisher of Image Comics. From his comments at ComicsPRO, the comics retailer trade association. via ComicsBeat. […]

  3. […] was going to write something at some point about Eric Stephenson’s speech to retailers (see Heidi’s writeup for the whole thing) but have simply had no time. Just to summarise though, Stephenson’s the publisher at Image […]

  4. […] We’re really focused on trying to expand the direct market in that way. I read the thing that Eric Stephenson said at ComicsPRO today and obviously, for whatever reason, he decided to take pot shots at us, but Eric seems to think […]

  5. […] things happened recently that set me on the path to writing this post. The first was Eric Stephenson’s speech at ComicsPRO 2014, the second was getting to see Dear Mr. Watterson recently, and learning about Watterson’s […]

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