Retailers speak on Thor: The Mighty Avenger

When the news of the cancellation of the well-liked THOR: THE MIGHTY AVENGER hit, there was the usual wave of hand-wringing and everyone had their own theory as to what killed it, who, and why. Rather than just sit around and make up own own ideas, we decided to go to the source and asked a few prominent retailers three questions:

1) What kind of readership did THOR: THE MIGHTY AVENGER have in your store?

2) Why do you think it didn’t find a bigger audience?

3) These kind of self-contained books seem to have a hard time succeeding at Marvel and DC these days. What do you think could be done to find a bigger readership for them?

Answers below:

201011191254.jpgBrian Hibbs, Comix Experience:
1) Roughly a third of that of the Main THOR title; but it was growing for us, albeit slowly, which is rare in this day and age. With more time I suspect that the book COULD be “grown” up to non-cancellation point, but that would take concentrated effort to make happen, and, well, look at #2
 
2) As a general rule the long-term sales of ongoing books are largely set by their opening frame; and those opening numbers are determined by retailer confidence. Marvel has a lot of “unnecessary” line expansions right now, and, for the most part, those books are just simply not selling through to the consumer. While it was an “All Ages” book, that covers a pretty large amount of ground – everything from OZ adaptations to cartoony kiddy books (SUPER HERO SQUAD) to MARVEL ADVENTURES which has stories that could have been published pretty much as-is in the 70s/80s as the “real” version – some of that sells fairly well (OZ, particularly) The closest thing I could “map” T:TMA from the solicitation descriptions was to was IRON MAN LEGACY which literally only sold a single copy in my store by issue #3.  I ordered more than that, though!
 
The issue is, I think, that with too many choices facing consumers, even (or especially) *within* a single comics “universe”, it becomes very easy to believe that anything that isn’t a “main” title in Marvel or DC’s continuity “doesn’t matter”, and since the consumer is spoilt for choice, yet not (typically) possessing the cash to consummate allll those possible choices, well the “non-continuity” book is probably going to be the one that loses.
 
What’s funny is that in a different time, T:TMA could very well have *been* the “real” THOR comic – and I mean pretty much “anytime before CIVIL WAR, really”…
 
But one thing I’d like to point out is that Marvel still has copies available to order right this second for #1, 2, and 4, and they even have a “bumper” collection reprinting #1 & 2 in a single $3.99 version (looks like it was only offered in a “PREVIEWS Update”, so not through the regular monthly solicitation process), and very few Marvel comics are really available for reorder which really shows that there’s just not the broad consumer demand for this book that the blogosphere would have you believe.
 
3) Marvel and DC have largely created the problem here themselves. They’ve built universes where “continuity counts more than content”, so they will largely fail with books that are “not continuity” because that isn’t what they’re specifically trained their customers to purchase. How do you change that? Change the culture.
 
The odd thing is that if Langridge & Samnee had been announced as the incoming team on THOR (without publishing T;TMA), rather than Fraction and Ferry, and they produced the same content, it probably would have sold as well as the parent book. Audience expectation is a funny, yet powerful thing.

201011191255.jpgJoe Field, Flying Colors Comics
1) It was selling at about 20% of the current THOR series (started out at about 35%). Still respectable enough to carry rack copies (all of our sales on T:TMA have been rack copies…. no one added it to their pull here).

2) —-For the same reason there aren’t many G-rated movies. Even Disney’s kids movies seem to be mostly rated PG these days. Slap that “all-ages” tag on the cover of the book and it seems to be a customer repellent for the 25-50 superhero crowd.
 
—-It has been a title I’ve suggested to consumers on many occasions, but the selling points on it were its characterizations, its gentler stories…and with any number of titles with Thor really getting all Thor and mighty-like on every page, then something as quiet and humble as T:TMA with its softer approach is going to pale by comparison. I’ve enjoyed Roger Langridge’s stories and Chris Samnee’s Jesse Marsh-reminiscent art, but the book may have looked too “old-school” for many THOR readers.

—-Also, and this is one of those two-buck answers to million dollar questions, is that there was no discernible promotion of the title. It was sent into the wilderness of the marketplace with only the hopes that it would stick. When there are numerous THOR titles and super-numerous superhero comics fighting for attention, T:TMA just got lost. A Marvel Previews listing and a few stories on the usually suspected online comic sites is just not enough to drive traffic to a title.

3) —Better communication between publisher and retailers and fans. How did Marvel management see this title fitting in? What were their sales projections on it? What were their plans to introduce it to readers, to make readers aware of it?
—Find a way to fit it into continuity.
—Introduce it in the pages of THOR first (there were a number of fill-in types stories in the main THOR title leading to the release of T:TMA), as bonus pages (not as part of a $3.99 or $4.99 “special issue”), then spin it into its own title.
— Do a price promotion on it…maybe give retailers an accelerated discount on the first few issues to incentivize ordering.
—Don’t introduce it into such a crowded market. Sometimes I get the feeling that publishers see every title as a widget that needs to fill a small gap in its numbers…instead of organically growing their lines in ways that give each new title a time in the spotlight.

201011191258.jpgGerry Gladston and Gahl Buslov, Midtown Comics
 1) (Gahl) Unfortunately, well below what we’ve found to be the sustainable threshold for a Marvel non-licensed, non-Marvel Adventures. However, it was also much stronger than any Marvel Adventures book as well as most of the licensed books.
 
2) (Gahl) In general, even a critically acclaimed all-ages title is not the *core* title. Budget conscious shoppers are going to leave these titles behind in favor of the those written into the main continuity, especially when there are so many titles to choose from (and most retailers will order that way as well). The other possibility, and I’m taking a wild guess here, I’m assuming that Marvel has a larger newsstand distribution for their Marvel Adventures titles, otherwise it doesn’t make sense why those can survive but TMA couldn’t. Maybe it failed or wasn’t distributed to newsstands. It may also have been a bit early to launch an all ages Thor title so far in advance of the release of the upcoming Thor movie.  Consumer awareness is not really there yet, and folks may not yet be ready to go looking for Thor material. The ending of Iron Man 2 contained a great “Easter egg” in showing Thor’s hammer, which certainly whet the appetite for core fans. For those unfamiliar with the Marvel Universe, the scene may not have had the right impact to send fans into stores asking for Thor titles (no fault of the film, it’s a great scene).
 
3) (Gerry) Perhaps marketing that reaches outside the comic book community would help. At Midtown, we do believe that there’s an audience out there starving for good comic books (we sell to them every day!), but the NY marketplace does not exist everywhere, which is why we suggest different marketing strategies and campaigns to promote all-ages titles.
 

There’s also this from Tom Adams of Bergen Street Comics, as quoted on Robot 6:
“About cancellation of Thor: The Mighty Avenger: Want to see a big part of the problem? Just look at next week’s schedule…TMA out same week as Astonishing Thor #1 and Thunderstrike #1. Add to ongoing Thor, Thor: For Asgard, Thor: First Thunder, Ultimate Thor, recent Loki, Sif, Warriors Four and Warriors Three minis/one-shots. Count in Avengers, Avengers Prime, New Ultimates…Mighty Avenger was clearly the best of the bunch, but how was it meant to stand out amongst the glut?”

We’re going to call this the “Less Than Hulk Zero Factor” and move on.

Comments

  1. Chris Hero says:

    I asked my comic shop guy for the “Roger Landridge Thor comic” and he had no idea what I meant. I told him, “You know, the dude who did Fred the Clown and is now doing the Muppet Show?” and he still drew a blank on Landridge and started rattling off random Thor books. It’s not the comic shop dude’s fault, though. I think he was put on the spot because how many comic shops know anything not “core” Marvel/DC? That’s their business, you know?

    I think there’s a lot of problems here, but I think one thread stood out in these replies. The book was dumped out into the marketplace with zero promotion or thought given to how to sell it. Comic shops can’t be expected to champion every title.

  2. mahatmazombie says:

    This is tough cookie to swallow, but it doesn’t mean we can’t put up a fight. If you love the book, go pre-order the trade, buy up some old issues for holiday gifts, and join us at the facebook fan page

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Thor-The-Mighty-Avenger/143000499082324

  3. @Chris – I would have killed for you to come into my store and ask me that. That said, in all my years in business, I’ve never had someone come in and ask for a Roger Landridge comic of any stripe. There’s about ten of us out there that remember Fred the Clown or Zoot!, which is a shame, but it is the way it is.

    And I want to point out in response to what Joe Field said, Marvel *did* incentivize the first issue of TTMA. There was a very reasonable order threshold to clear in order to be able to order a good quantity of the book at very low cost. I used the offer to get copies into the hands of my Thor subs for very low cost or free, and the response was minimal, sadly.

  4. Just wanted to say I like this kind of article. More stuff like this, please.

  5. In response to Tim mentioning the “very reasonable” incentive for T:MA, here’s the text of that incentive from the Marvel Mailer sent to retailers in advance of issue #1′s FOC date:

    “THOR THE MIGHTY AVENGER #1 FREE COMICS OFFER
    Exceed your total orders by FOC of BLACK WIDOW #1 (FEB100448, Shipped 4/14/10) with your orders by FOC for THOR THE MIGHTY AVENGER #1 (MAY100621, current FOC of 6/17/10) and all copies of THOR THE MIGHTY AVENGER #1 ordered up to 200% by FOC OVER your orders for BLACK WIDOW #1 will be free (excluding associated S&H charges). All copies of THOR THE MIGHTY AVENGER #1 ordered by FOC over 200% of your orders by FOC of BLACK WIDOW #1 will be at regular price. For example, if you ordered 100 copies of BLACK WIDOW #1 by FOC and you ordered 101 copies of THOR THE MIGHTY AVENGER #1 by FOC, you would be eligible to order up to 200 free copies of THOR THE MIGHTY AVENGER #1 by FOC.”

    However, BLACK WIDOW #1 orders were also the subject of an incentive:

    “BLACK WIDOW #1 FREE COMICS OFFER
    Exceed your total orders by FOC of INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #22 (NOV090474, Shipped 1/13/10) with your orders by FOC for BLACK WIDOW #1 (FEB100448, current FOC of 3/18/10) and all qualifying retailers will receive an extra 10% of your total ordered copies placed by FOC of BLACK WIDOW #1 for free (excluding associated S&H charges).”

    Besides the overly complicated structure of Marvel’s “incentives”… the fact that the THOR Mighty Avenger deal was based on the BLACK WIDOW issue that was paired with the much better selling IRON MAN for its incentive, sort of took the wind out of the sails for T:MA for any retailer that qualified for the Black Widow deal.

    Less convoluted sales incentives would help Marvel. I’m sure the T:MA incentive was do-able for a decent number of retailers, but having these incentives tie back to the sales of two other previous titles likely dimmed their impact for T:MA.

    I still gave T:MA a strong opening order and had 30% of my non-incentivized order left over after 8 weeks on display.

    Short story: good book, lost in a crowded market, hoping the creative team comes back with something that gets this much attention before the first issue drops.

  6. I agree with Doug, this is what the Beat does best

  7. I’m trying!

  8. Todd VerBeek says:

    ‘Marvel and DC have largely created the problem here themselves. They’ve built universes where “continuity counts more than content”, so they will largely fail with books that are “not continuity” because that isn’t what they’re specifically trained their customers to purchase. How do you change that? Change the culture.’

    Yahtzee.

    I’ve gotten the distinct impression from DC and Marvel that they don’t want customers who buy only a few ongoing series. I actually look for stand-alone series to buy, but I can’t find them, so I’m not buying them, so the publishers are left with just the crossover/event/continuity fans.

  9. I agree with Doug and natsch… good stuff, really enjoy hearing from shop owners.

  10. Joe – Personally, the incentives make the cost per book so ridiculously low that I think the only correct choice is to take advantage of them. YMMV, as always. I wish other publishers were trying such things instead of just offering 1:X variants, even if these other promotions are a bit convoluted.

    Todd – May I recommend taking a look ay S.H.I.E.L.D by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver? Fantastic read and completely stand alone book. Best book Marvel is publishing in my opinion.

  11. Mike Thompson says:

    I think I posted this elsewhere but I’ll try again – Why doesn’t Marvel create two lines, or at least a new line? The established/current comic line for the direct market: in-continuity, glossy paper, variants, etc…

    Another for the “mainstream”: stand-alone stories, “pulpy” paper, cheap cover price ($1.99?), content a little closer to all-ages/PG, found in grocery/big box stores, no issue numbers perhaps, just Month/Year indicia (doing that won’t scare off new readers who might not bother with issue #2 on if they don’t have #1)

    Some of the DM inventory can be reprinted in the mainstream line down the road, plus of course classic stories and runs from years gone by. I’d love to find Claremont/Byrne X-Men published as a cheap twofer in a rack near the check out line at Price Chopper for $2 for about 50 pages of cool comics. I know my son would as well.

    It makes sense to me, and it seems the big challenge is finding a place to sell this new “mainstream” line.

    Hey, Marvel, give me a call – I’ll set this up for you!

  12. Tim… this is a case where our mileage does vary.

    I didn’t qualify for the Thor” The Mighty Avenger incentive because my previous numbers on Black Widow and Iron Man were already quite high.

    Still, I ordered #1 aggressively without the incentive and was still left with 30% unsold after 8 weeks.

    I can only imagine how many copies I’d be swimming in if I actually did reach that “incentive.”

  13. evan dorkin says:

    How many quirky, even slightly off the beaten track, well-regarded comics from the Big 2 last for any real amount of time? I’m not being snarky, I’m actually asking . Because this is not some new phenomena here, and I’m speaking from experience as a professional and as a reader.

    As both I’ve always considered books like this — from Marvel and DC, in general, because of their business model/history etc — 6-12 issues of paychecks for creators who probably really need the money. Anything else — a collection or whatever — is gravy. Look at the fits and starts of Agents of Atlas and title like it, how many times was Spider-Girl canceled — and that has a solid tie-in to a franchise, and couldn’t really become anything more than a cult hanging on by its fingertips.

    It’s a shame things work this way, but did anyone really expect to see an issue 25 of this title because the internet comicscenti liked it? I wish that were the case. I’m a longtime, huge Roger Langridge fan. I’m happy he’s getting semi-steady work from Marvel on quirks like Fin Fang Four and this, and more people have discovered him (not too mention thru Boom’s Muppet work, etc). You take what you can get when it comes to these sorts of projects, but I dunno how much anyone should expect. These books are basically born to die and be well-remembered and written up on message board threads about beloved canceled comics.

  14. David Scholes says:

    Great article!

    As an Aussie science fiction writer I’ve been a Marvel Thor fan since the original Journey into Mystery of August 1962.

    If you get a chance check out some of my Marvel (mainly Odin and Thor) fan fiction. Just scroll down below my author profile and you will see over 40 fan fiction stories here:

    http://www.fanfiction.net/u/1276881/David_Scholes

  15. Alan Waid says:

    At least this is different to people who blame it all on the fans. Oh wait..

  16. /off topic/

    David, I think you’re past the point of diminishing returns with posting links to your fan fiction everywhere. I’ve seen them so many times in so many places that I know I’ll never look due to pure annoyance. Take from that what you will.

    /resume discussion/

  17. Another problem may have been the original solicitation. As I recall, both issue 1 and 2 were in the May Previews. This meant that stores had to have orders in for issue #2 before they even saw or knew the interest in #1. I view this technique as a way to bump orders on bad books. I got burned on Marvel Apes (didn’t sell a single copy of #1 but already had 10 copies of #2 locked in). I actually view it as Marvel’s sales department’s way of telling us its a bad book. Add in the promotion to get us to order lots of #1 and I was wary of the book from the get go.

    I think Marvel would have done themselves a favor by simply explaining the book and their planned positioning of it to us. As it was, it was another Thor book (right after a second Iron Man book hit the shelves with a thud) with red flags surrounding it. Plus, no one came in asking about it.

  18. In our 4 stores we ordered about 15 copies per store of #1 and then dropped down to 6-4 copies per store of the rest of the series. It just didn’t grab general readers. I moved it over to the all ages section in it’s 2nd week of release of #1 and it started to move a little as parents were looking for stuff for the kids. It performed about as well as the Marvel Super Heroes title for us.

  19. Evan said – “How many quirky, even slightly off the beaten track, well-regarded comics from the Big 2 last for any real amount of time? ”

    Exactly, point on. The last book I can think of in this vein that lasted any amount of time was Runaways, and that title is now completely lost in limbo due to the flailing sales after BKV moved on.

    And while I understand a lot of the angst over this book and books like it, I hope that people realize that this situation isn’t unique to comics.

    TV sees plenty of properties that find a small following but never really catch on and are killed off sooner than the fans would like. Movies see lots of unique, quirky films that only find an audience among serious film goers and never make a ton of money.

    I believe it is simply more frustrating in monthly comics because we want or expect to see an ongoing series for years, and we’re frustrated when the experience feels like it has been cut off.

    TTMA isn’t some kind of proof that there is something “wrong” with comics, which is what some people tend to try to read out of this situation.

  20. Wraith says:

    Here’s what I said over on the Robot 6 talkback (my user name on that forum is Blade X).

    “As for the question of whether or not all ages comics can sell in the DM, the answer is a big “YES”. Here’s the thing that many pros,fans,and retailers either don’t know or want to admit, up until Quesada became EIC the over whelming majority of Marvel superhero comics were LAYERED all ages comics that could be read by anyone. Those books also regularly outsold the more “mature” DC superhero comics. Those LAYERED all ages Marvel comics sold well because they (a) didn’t announce to their readers and the retailers that their books were written and drawn in a LAYERED all ages manner with strict and consistent guidelines on language,violence, and sex in their books (b) were not over sanitized and sugar coated (c) did not talk/write down to the readers (d) had more action and less talking heads (e) delt with mature subject matter in a tasteful and subtle LAYERED all ages manner and (f) the books (no matter how dark some of them would get) were still fun and upbeat and did not decend completely into a self loathing naval gazing emo fest.”

  21. Ursula 1000 says:

    Quite honestly, I just didn’t have the time or patience for another continuity. It’s bad enough with all the Siege tie-ins, etc following just the regular time line. Same goes for the Ultimate line. My brain hurts.
    That said, T:TMA looked amazing.

  22. volde says:

    “Quite honestly, I just didn’t have the time or patience for another continuity.”

    But as far as i understand that book was made for you, because it had no continuity to follow =/

  23. Ursula 1000 says:

    what I meant was a “new” continuity.
    I jumped on board the JMS train having read Thor super sporadically in the past. Got into it. Then the Siege thing happened and w/ the new movie coming out, of course Marvel goes on their usual onslaught/over saturation thing…For Asgard, First Thunder, all the one shots…If TMA was also a one shot/What If? release, I think it this current glut, would have worked better. But that’s just me.

  24. Richard J. Marcej says:

    @ Pete Kilmer “It just didn’t grab general readers.”

    Well, no, it didn’t grab the general readers who buy comics at a comic shop
    (which I’m assuming you alluding to a shop you work at) and those customers are no where near being considered “general readers”.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Kids will read comic books. They would love to read comic books. But as long as:
    • The price stays at a ridiculous amount ($2.99-3.99) for a 20 page read that’s usually nothing more than a chapter of a larger story, with no specific beginning or end)
    • The majority of book’s stories remain aimed at pleasing ONLY the aging readership
    • Comics remain available to the public ONLY at specialty stores (Comic Shops)

    The industry will continue to lose generation after generation of readers.

  25. Brian Winkeler says:

    I buy tons of comics for my 7-year-old (he loves videogames so Archie’s SONIC titles are his favorites) and he’s mentioned to me that he’s the only kid in his 2nd grade class who’s really aware of the existence of comics.

    And if I wasn’t a 40-year-old reader buying them for him, he probably wouldn’t know they existed either. I have to assume that the vast majority of kids reading comics are kids of adult comic readers.

    I mourn for books like this because I personally buy few in-continuity mainstream titles. And I find the racks at my LCS overwhelming with tons and tons of product, so I skew to all-ages because they’re more fun and I can share ‘em with my son.

    Kids who are exposed to comics tend to really dig them, but I wonder if ANYTHING can be done these days to truly attract this lost generation of readers. If Marvel or DC has put any sort of research dollars or mainstream marketing efforts to reverse this trend I’m not aware of it.

  26. “there’s just not the broad consumer demand for this book that the blogosphere would have you believe.”

    Who was saying that? I can’t speak for the entire comics blogosphere, but what I and most of the blogs I read were talking about was that it was a shame that a quality title like T:TMA didn’t have broad consumer demand, and laying that blame on Marvel’s publishing too many books, too many Thor books, and giving it very little promotion nor time to find its audience. Saying that there ‘should’ be a huge demand for this title is not the same as saying that there ‘is.’

  27. Back in the late 1980s, I worked in the magazine department at the college library . One of my tasks was taking the daily pile of magazine renewal notices and checking them against our master list. If we subscribed via a service, we tossed the bill, since this service automatically renewed the subscription and sent us one simple bill.

    So, Marvel should know which libraries subscribe to their magazines. They should also know EVERYONE who subscribes to their magazines. They should also know about potential subscribers to their magazines via Disney Publishing Worldwide, which has an even more robust database.

    So did Marvel mail out a free preview copy of T:TMA with a copy of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man or MA Superheroes (or even the regular Thor comic)? Perhaps offer a special subscription rate for twelve issues? Marvel could then subsidize the printing of the first twelve issues via subscriptions AND sales, which results in two digest-sized collections. If it doesn’t succeed by issue ten, then cancel the series and try again.

  28. Mr Dorkin said it best.

    And I’ll add that the biggest problem with mainstream comics is it’s fickle fans. who complain about crossovers and gimmicks, who want fresh stories, but will never buy them when it comes out cause it’s not created by fan favorite creators or hell just doesn’t have deadpool, wolverine, or some scantily clad lady on the covers. Seriously fans keep buying the same books they say they hate and thus this happens. Or most of the dudes that buy these books don’t go on the web too much to complain about such things. I mean i think a huge part of the mainstream audience is dudes that’s been buying these at least since the sixties. (I know i saw alot of them come in on wednesdays at my local shop)

    How many people from that generation do you know that regularly go on the internet, especially comic forums, to voice what they want? No they just buy it, and that’s what the sales show. I really do think instead of doing web related research into what mainstream fans want. I think there should be someone sitting in shops asking those who come in what they want.

    But regardless you can’t really blame Marvel for this. Blame fans who really don’t want change.

  29. The Beat says:

    Evan:

    >>>These books are basically born to die and be well-remembered and written up on message board threads about beloved canceled comics.

    Agreed but in years past these books ended up being the Killravens, Warlocks and Omega the Unknowns of future endless re-purposing.

  30. Barry Buchanan says:

    Don’t know if someone brought this up, but it might have been a little more prudent to bring this book out right BEFORE the THOR movie hits and makes him a household name and the kids embrace him as we older folk do. My five year old nephew is an now an Iron Man fan due to the movie.

  31. Barry… Marvel is flooding the market NOW with various monthly mini-series so that they can market the trade collections LATER when the movie hits. Moviegoers won’t visit a comics shop, but they will see a display in a bookstore. (Thor also appears in Marvel Adventures Superheroes every month, and he’s in the Disney XD Avengers cartoon, and Marvel Superhero Squad.)

    Also, there is a market for curious readers. My store began selling copies of “I Am Legend” a full year before the movie hit, and we all know about Watchmen after Dark Knight.

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