JMS: "Graphic novels are key to DC's future." UPDATED

Superman 701 heart attack JMS: "Graphic novels are key to DC's future." UPDATED
WOW — so much e-ink over the news that J. Michael Straczynski, a prominent comics writer and Hollywood show runner, is leaving monthly comics to write an OGN sequel. And now two interviews at CBR and Newsarama to explain what really happened:

At Newsarama, JMS drops perhaps the clearest soundbite of all:

DC, particularly Dan DiDio, feels that original hardcover graphic novels are key to DC’s future, not to supplant monthly comics, but on a parallel track.


Not an earth-shattering revelation, but one that is the boldest statement yet that there are two ways on the eightfold path.

BTW, before you read all of this, you might want to check out David Brothers who lays out “JMS: the case against” in pretty strong fashion. Brothers lays out what seems to be a clear pattern of lateness and abandoning projects halfway through, including BRAVE & THE BOLD, a JMS book which is now in limbo, and of course THE TWELVE.

In interviews, JMS takes on most of these complaints, while admitting that both his run on Superman and his run on Wonder Woman were always planned for 12 issues — something that wasn’t always clear in the promos for either book. However, he denies being late.

No. First, there’s only been one delay on Superman due to a recurring lung infection that has, happily, been resolved once and for all. There were no delays on Wonder Woman, and before the B&B hiatus, all of those issues came out on time.

Once the decision was made to shift me from the monthlies a few weeks ago, they put out the word that the next Wonder Woman issue would be pushed, but that was just to buy time to find a new writer to finish the story.

It’s funny…I turned out Spider-Man pretty much like clockwork for years, got the Surfer and Bullet Points and Strange minis out on schedule, I’ve written nearly 200 published comics in about 10 years, but nobody seems to notice when things come out on time, only when they’re late…and I’m more than happy to take the rap for it when it’s my fault, and sometimes it was, and sometimes it wasn’t. Them’s the breaks.


As regards THE TWELVE, an intriguing homage to Marvel’s original characters that got a strong response when it debuted in 2008, but has languished schedule-wise since. (Artist Chris Weston is seemingly a magnet for this kind of thing, as he was also saddled with the years late Ministry of Space by Warren Ellis.) JMS says THE TWELVE is still underway:

And to the inevitable question: yes, the Twelve is being finished. To recap: there were times I was off the grid, and times that Chris was off the grid in Hollywood, and we kept going round and round on who was available, when. I could never get too far ahead of the art because I always found something in Chris’s [Weston] art that made me want to adjust the story a bit to capitalize on what he can do in his amazing art, so it’s always been a case of me finishing an issue, giving it to Chris, he’s either on or off the grid, time passes, he gets it done, but now I’m off the grid…this past week he caught up on the last pages of script that I gave him, so now the ball is in my court to finish the last bit of this and bring it in for a landing. It’ll probably end up being published in graphic novel form, I hear.


Over at CBR, there’s much the same content, but a few variations:

CBR News: Let’s start with reactions to your recent announcement> There are those in the industry and on the forums that believe you shifting from writing monthly titles to graphic novels and limited series means you think the monthlies are dying. Is that the case?

J. Michael Straczynski: No, not at all. Never said it. I think that given their past success, and the growth of that industry, the original graphic novel form is becoming more acceptable, not that the monthly format is becoming less successful. The growth of one doesn’t mean the downfall of the other; that’s just silly. There are always a few folks out there who like to foment hysteria and turn something someone said around toward the negative, but that just doesn’t apply to what I actually said. I think the graphic novel form and miniseries, which are published monthly, is the future for me, certainly, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute, and DC believes that there there’s a coming wave in that area.


And reiterates that he feels the OGN is a sound venue for his writing:

I came to DC primarily to do “Superman: Earth One,” and filled out the time on “The Brave and the Bold.” That was DC’s reason for bringing me over in the first place. They think the OGN format is a promising venue, and they wanted to create that division. So I came over to do that. When I was finished with the OGN, I took on a 12-issue arc on “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” figuring I’d have time to finish both of them before the next OGN would need to get up and on the rails.

But when the GN broke all kinds of records, DC wanted to fast-track the next volume. I said that given the work on the “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” monthlies, I couldn’t do both those and give the next OGN the kind of care and attention it needed to get it right, especially since there would be so much more expectation for this one given how well the first volume did. There wasn’t even a hesitation at DC. They said, “No problem, we’ll slide you off the scripting duties on those two books, give the stories to two other writers to finish up those arcs, and let you concentrate solely on ‘Earth One.'”


Just to get back to grim David Brothers for a moment, several people were blaming JMS’s delays on health issues, but JMS isn’t. However, Brothers is more upset that two of DC’s four or five core books have been given to a writer and then kind of shunted aside when something more shiny comes up:

Doing it DC’s way taints the entire story. The response to JMS surrendering his series has been overwhelmingly negative, due in part to the abysmal quality of his Superman work. Fans, journalists, and pros have snarked about his reasons for leaving. Instead of the news being Chris Roberson and Phil Hester getting a shot at the big time, the news is “JMS Quits Series Again, Some Guys Are Gonna Wrap Up His Work, News at 11.


Meanwhile, Brian Hibbs takes umbrage at the idea that the SUPERMAN EARTH ONE shows some kind of sales importance for OGNs. According to Hibbs’ BookScan spy, SEO has sold 6,000 copies thus far in bookstores, which added to the 16000 reported from Diamond comes out to perhaps 23,000 copies allowing for fudging upwards. Sounds good, right? Well, not compared to the periodical:

Now the thing that I find interesting is when we look over into the comics charts for the same month. Superman #703, which is the fourth issue of JMS’ “Grounded” storyline, has reported sales of just over 50k copies (#700, which kicked off the storyline is listed at 67k copies in June)

Or, to put it another way, the middle of a late-shipping and critically-panned storyline, with the same character and the same writer, the periodical release of the ongoing Superman comic almost certainly sold more copies in the DM alone than the new, highly promoted and widely-reviewed new high profile OGN did in both channels. The periodical verifiably sold three times as many copies of the OGN in the Direct Market.


For some reason, Hibbs is equating units with dollars. They are not the same thing.

23,000 x $19.99 = $459,770

50,000 x $3.99 = $199,500

This is, of course, retail, but SEO made more than twice as much at retail than the periodical. That’s significant. And of course, the two products are not aimed at precisely the same audience. So, while DC’s ongoing interest in OGNs has been piqued, there is no reason they can’t continue to serve two different audiences with two different products. Where it got messy was hiring the same guy to do both — and even more messy, according to JMS’s account, is that he was brought over SPECIFICALLY to do the OGN and then just happened to take on the monthlies.

BTW, we wondered about Straczynski’s OTHER job, writing TV and movies and such. How much time will he be devoting to this kind of writing? His script for The Changeling was nominated for a BAFTA and very well received, and of course, he was the show runner on Babylon 5. We wrote to JMS to ask about this and he very graciously wrote back:

It doesn’t really affect the tv/film stuff one way or t’other.  I generally balance out x-amount of time for that and y-amount for comics, and while there may be a slight bit more time I can slide into x, I’d really rather prefer to keep y consistent and use that to be able to write more slowly, and write better.  The whole premise of going away from monthlies is to be able to take some extra time and do a few things, better.  If I shunt some of that time into tv/film, I have less time to write the comics stuff, and it defeats the purpose.
 
Post-Changeling, I’ve written about a dozen screenplays on assignment, usually 2-3 per year, and I don’t expect that to change. 

There is much, much, MUCH about all of this that doesn’t add up — we’re piecing together a few things based on bits and bobs of info we’ve hoarded over the years. Let’s just say a lot of the “origin” stories being told about a lot of this have definitely been retconned.

And there are the flat out weird things, like JMS getting old comics as presents:

I have to reiterate here just how amazingly great Dan DiDio has been in all this. He didn’t hesitate to make the call, and he’s been just breathtakingly supportive of this process. As a measure of how supportive DC has been, after we made the decision in-house to do this, which was a few weeks ago, and I was having second thoughts, worrying if I’d let DC down, that maybe I should gird up my loins and try to get it all done anyway even though I was afraid that being over-extended would harm the work…I got this amazing gift from DC Entertainment: a beautiful copy of Superman #16, the first Lois Lane cover. They wanted to emphasize how supportive they were of the switchover, and of my dedication to get the Superman reboot right. It was just an incredibly moving gesture on their part.


Is getting old comic books is now part of the DC compensation package?

BTW, comments on this are blocked. Speaking as someone who listened to his radio show, interviewing Jack Kirby and Harlan Ellison back in the day, and as a B5 admirer (if not expert) and so on, your guy is not above criticism, but he is above abuse. This entire matter shows that the pressures and overriding factors of comics publishing in 2010 are as messy as hell. And there are sure to be more messes down the road.
Superman 700 Just Walking JMS: "Graphic novels are key to DC's future." UPDATED

Comments

  1. Michael Churchill says:

    Something to keep in mind in the OGN vs. periodical dollar equation is page count. S:EO had about six issues worth of story, so you’re really comparing 300,000 comics at $3.99 a pop to the 23,000 books/GNs.

  2. Since she didn’t link the column, you can find it at http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=29364 Heh.

    >>>
    For some reason, Hibbs is equating units with dollar. They are not the same thing.

    23,000 x $19.99 = $459,770

    50,000 x $3.99 = $199,500
    <<<

    Um, the page count of SEO was basically the same as 6 periodical comics, so you need to multiply that $199,500 by six… which becomes $1,197,000 gross (but, of course, not NET — I don't have the tools to work that one with any degree of accuracy…)

    Then you get to add the collected HC version *and* the TP version ON TOP of the serialized income… and maybe even the Absolute version, etc. Multiple chances to sell a book are almost always better than one single chance to do so, from a strictly mercenary POV…

    -B

  3. Micah says:

    Brave and the Bold were one-shots to begin with, and each one was a fantastic issue in and of itself. This is how I will be reading any JMS books in the future. Each unit will need to be a self-contained story that has been reviewed and praised. Any of his on-going books will need to be in collected editions. This OGN direction is perfect for JMS. Now I just need to figure out what to do with these Wonder Woman issues I bought. At least Superman can just fly back to Metropolis.

  4. As I mentioned in private email, you also do not factor in shelf life, reorders and so on for the OGN.

    And the reality is that the mini series WOULD NOT HAVE SOLD 50K a month! We could run a model of sales decline as Ski alluded to in his interview, but the end result would NOT have been 300K periodicals sold.

    Also, we do not know what a collected “Birthright” would have sold. Or we do, and it wasn’t like SEO.

    Looking at the figures for the first HC volume of All-Star Superman — arguably the best reviewed superhero comic of the last decade — in its first month of sales, in August 2008, Diamond charted 6,143 copies sold, according to ICv2. That is significantly less than the — arguably — less well reviewed SEO. Superman Earth One did, however, get a HUGE publicity push based on the fact that it was all new, all different and targeted — seemingly — at a different audience that likes done in one.

    Of course, as you admit yourself, we are comparing apples and oranges. There are too many variables to really compare the two.

    Brian, I don’t know why we are even arguing. Two viable, non-cannibalizing products are better than one! That’s the bottom line.

  5. I think an important distinction need to be made… Joe choosing (and DC’s willingness) to do GNs over floppies is not indicative of any larger trend, just what one writer, J. Michael Straczynski, wants to do.

    As for his “abandoning” titles, well, JMS has a long history of not liking his work mucked with loonnng before he ever started writing comics regularly – see his experiences with Real Ghostbusters, Crusade, or Jeremiah. (I am admittedly a huge fan of his and have been following his work closely for more than 15 years.) His abandonment of Supreme Power and Thor were precipitated by crossovers forced by Marvel. While he has often said that he is fully aware that he is playing in other people’s sandboxes with these corporate characters, JMS really seems to want to tell stories independent of outside pressures from editorial or the weight of continuity, and his best runs were comic stories he could largely tell in a vacuum. It is not surprising in the least to see Joe go with GNs and minis over periodicals – it is more within his comfort zone, and he frankly tells better stories this way over his extended monthly work which can be very uneven. I never got the vibe that he was particularly passionate about Wonder Woman and his Superman (monthly) work seemed to rehash themes explored elsewhere in his body of work. Superman: Earth One, on the other hand, was clearly something he had wanted to do for a very long time, and having the GN format unencumbered by continuity allowed him to craft one hell of a story with a flavor and pacing not seen anywhere else in superhero comics today.

    As for sales, well, I’m just a worker-bee at a comic store, but from my view, Earth One was a hell of a lot more successful (not just creatively) as a GN then it would have been as a mini-turned-trade. Can I say for certain that the GN made us more money than we could have gotten selling the same content twice (floppy then trade)? No. But the nature of the project and the resultant hype really wouldn’t have been the same with your standard mini.

    The Wednesday crowd will not let periodicals die, and these GNs are not entirely aimed at the Wednesday crowd. This change means nothing for the industry, but alot for the creator in question. Looking at the long arc of his career this decision to focus on GNs doesn’t surprise me in the least. Dropping WW and Supes monthly is a risk, but it is not a poor decision or a back-track (One More Day, cough). As a fan of his work, on the one hand it’s a bummer that I can’t get a monthly fix from him, but on the other I am excited for the GNs to follow.

    And as someone who doesn’t care for the DCU or Superman in particular, I am looking forward to more Earth One from JMS.

    And of course, The Twelve.

    Jeffrey O. Gustafson

  6. The only thong I would take umbrage at would be that Chris Robeson is an also ran. His prose work and love of pulps ( and updating them: read Paragaea) is excellent.

  7. >>>And the reality is that the mini series WOULD NOT HAVE SOLD 50K a month! We could run a model of sales decline as Ski alluded to in his interview, but the end result would NOT have been 300K periodicals sold.<<>>I don’t know why we are even arguing. Two viable, non-cannibalizing products are better than one!<<<

    My argument, such as it is, is that serialization+multiple format reprints will yield more money (in short AND long term) than OGN-only.

    -B

  8. Damn it, I used brackets and not quotes… lets try that again….

    ****

    “And the reality is that the mini series WOULD NOT HAVE SOLD 50K a month! We could run a model of sales decline as Ski alluded to in his interview, but the end result would NOT have been 300K periodicals sold.”

    This is all armchair quarterbacking, natch, but my chart-watching model believes that “SEO #1 (of 6)” would have launched north of 80k, and would have been about 60k by the end.

    The fundamental difference between “SEO” and “Superman: Secret Origin” or “Superman: Birthright” is that one is “forward looking” (NEW Superman! NEW Status Quo! NEW Hoodie! Etc.), while the other two are “retro”, “continuity porn”-style series. Essentially the difference between, say, ULTIMATES and AVENGERS: YEAR ONE.

    So, yeah, I think SEO would have sold between 350k and 400k total units as a periodical.

    “Looking at the figures for the first HC volume of All-Star Superman — arguably the best reviewed superhero comic of the last decade — in its first month of sales, in August 2008, Diamond charted 6,143 copies sold, according to ICv2.”

    Sure… after selling 170k+ copies of issue #1 :)

    And, actually ASS v1 HC was released in April of 2007, with 6675 copies… are you looking at the TP, maybe?

    More importantly, I think? is that ASS v1 in TP is selling in the range of 500 copies of a month (in the DM, I mean), and has since it was released. Will SEO continue to do that? (I sure don’t know!)

    “I don’t know why we are even arguing. Two viable, non-cannibalizing products are better than one!”

    My argument, such as it is, is that serialization+multiple format reprints will yield more money (in short AND long term) than OGN-only.

    -B

  9. I was going to comment that comparing a single issue against an OGN in terms of total dollars doesn’t make sense, but Brian Hibbs already started on that track.
    My thoughts on it were that if you compare an OGN to a five issue comic arc and then take the total sales numbers there, then the OGN loses (and that doesn’t even factor in the trade collection of said comic arc which adds even more dollars).
    However, the one thing I would say in regards to an OGN is that DC is probably looking at the larger picture, and that is the long term sales of that same OGN. A trade collection of a comic series will sell a small number (probably in the 6K range) and then continue to sell a few hundred copies here and there over time. The OGN definitely hit with a larger number of sales than the typical trade collection, and I feel like its continue sales numbers would also be larger than those of a trade collection.
    So essentially there are pluses and minuses to how they can release material. Bringing a project out as a comic mini-series may mean more money up front, but there is the likelihood that an OGN will generate more revenues long term.

  10. Great overview and analysis of the coverage, Heidi. Indeed, there IS much that doesn’t add up….but thanks for staying on the case.

  11. DanielT says:

    What’s been lost in all this, and probably nobody cares about this but me, is The Brave & The Bold. His work on that wasn’t to my taste, but he said more than once he had some big plan that would gradually make it one of DC’s better-selling books. I’d love to know what that plan was.

  12. I was never really impressed by JMS’ comic work, which doesn’t make him a bad comic writer, just saying his work in comics just never particularly appealed to me.

    That said, I think his film work is excellent. I saw Changeling a couple of times and it was very, very good. Of course, in film, no man is an island and Clint Eastwood’s directing and Angelena Jolie’s excellent performance only helped bring out the shine in a very good script.

    On the topic of graphic novels, I see Brian Hibbs point from a retailer’s POV but from a readers point of view, I think there is a market for both OGN’s and monthly comics.

    Right now, there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the quality of the monthlies but they are not dead by any stretch. Put out quality product on a regular schedule so your readers know when to look for the item and readers will come back.

    Comics are a collectible market because they are tangible, you can hold it in your hand and that gives it a life afterwards in the back issue market. Because releasing trades of X-Men 1-10 doesn’t make the original, old issues any less desired.

    And there is certainly a market for OGNs, which have been around since the 80’s and DC was one of the pioneers of the format. Marvel did OGNs for a while too and they served as a bridge to new, ongoing series like New Mutants and She Hulk.

    DC’s OGN coming for Wolfman & Perez’s New Teen Titans is going to prove the theory that the market is strong for them, as personally, I think its going to outsell the Superman one, which will be great for DC.