31 January 2007

Let's Stop Blaming Retailers, and Start Blaming Publishers

This started out as a quick comment over at The Beat, in reference to someone blaming retailers for dim road ahead for the recently canceled The Boys series, post-DC, because retailers will order less copies from the eventual new publisher thanks to the likelihood of lower discounts than they receive from DC.

It's a knee-jerk response, and one I've made often in general reference to retailers who focus only on the Big Two, but in thinking about it, I've changed my mind a bit.

Marvel/DC-only retailers are like the corner bodega: they stock a basic supply of staple goods from major suppliers that are reflective of their clientele. Milk, bread, dish soap, canned goods...all from the usual suspects, or in my neighborhood, Goya. These guys aren't Pathmark -- whose inventory can vary wildly by neighborhood -- and they're certainly not Whole Foods, but they're not trying to be, so complaining about their limited selection makes no sense at all.

Instead, the question should be why aren't there more comics versions of Pathmark and Whole Foods -- other than the obvious food=necessity, comics=luxury -- and what would it take to encourage such franchises to spring forth?

Answering my own question, and thus becoming a post of its own:

There are comics versions of Pathmark and Whole Foods. They're called bookstores, ferchrissakes! From Barnes & Noble to Borders to Shakespeare & Company, they all sell a wide selection of books (some wider than others), including graphic novels and, in some cases, even actual comic books.

The problem then lies not with direct market retailers and their often limited selections, but with comics publishers, the food equivalent of breakfast cereal, perhaps, dominated by the likes of Kellogg's, Post and General Mills. The Kashis and Bear Nakeds and Peace Cereals -- the indies of the cereal world -- aren't focused on stealing shelf space from Rice Krispies at my local bodega. They're targeting a specific niche directly, marketing to it directly and building a demand for their product that makes the big retailers take notice.

In comics, the problem lies with flawed, undercapitalized business models that are overly dependent on the direct market's non-returnability -- initial orders too low? stop the presses! -- while being hamstrung by its narrower-than-narrow core demographic and bass-ackwards way of doing things that doesn't translate over to the real world.

So I'm calling for a moratorium on laying blame at your local retailer's doorstep when you can't find a copy of [insert indie darling here]. It's not their fault, it's the publisher's fault.

30 January 2007

"Driving Bigger Wedges in to Society"

I was going to sit this one out but it really does fall right into my wheelhouse...

The unflappable Loren Javier has been hosting a handful of interesting debates over the past couple of weeks at his One Diverse Comic Book Nation blog -- which is showing promising signs of becoming exactly the kind of niche site I think the comics internet needs -- and I've jumped into a couple of them, partly because I appreciate the civil tone he sets, even when he's being unfairly attacked.

After mixing it up with Gail Simone yesterday over The All New Atom, I finally jumped into the debate over the teaser image DC released last week that set the internet on fire with a flurry of responses from "Oh, cool! Pirate Batman!" to "Oh, yet another overwrought cash grab that will change everything we've ever known?" to "Where the white women at?" (None of these are actual quotes...as far as I know, at least!)

I saw it and leaned towards the "Meh." side of the tracks but certainly enjoyed reading through the varied responses, constructing my own mental Fanboy Rampage entry for possible future reference. Javier's latest post, though, struck a nerve, as he wondered aloud whether or not he was being overly sensitive in reference to a comment suggesting he was "driving bigger wedges in to society" with his reaction to the aforementioned image's lack of diversity.

My initial response was, of course, "no."

While I did think the hubbub over the picture's lack of diversity was a bit of a tangential pile-on, DC did leave themselves open for it by promoting the Brave New World of Diverse Comics and instead delivering, effectively, a handful of peripheral token players. The picture certainly can be read to serve as a reminder of who the big guns really are, and will always be, in the DCU, so no, I don't think you were off base in your concern.

The commenter's opinion that "you're driving bigger wedges in to society" is a laughable bit of hyperbole, though. If only we blogger's [sic] had such super powers...
If only, indeed! Just in case, though -- because we all know that "With great power, comes great responsibility. Amen!" -- I've decided to use my powers for good to help DC undo the white thing:

The Brave New World of Diverse Comics
5 Steps to Quickly, Effectively Diversifying the DCU

5) Stop replacing C-list characters with minority alter egos. It doesn't work and it's pandering on one hand, self-destructive on the other.

4) Send Hal Jordan off into space in Green Lantern Corps and make John Stewart the primary Green Lantern in the Justice League of America. Don't make him a background character. Millions of kids know him from the cartoon, so don't make the same mistake you made with Static.

3) Since you're bringing back the Multiverse, introduce an Earth where Europeans didn't run roughshod over the planet and cast all of its superhero icons as minorites. In that Earth's version of the JLA (Justice League of Africa or Asia, perhaps?), have one white male and call him White Lightning. Robin and Jimmy Olsen may also remain white.

2) Hire more writers of color, more female writers and more GLBT writers, ideally in various combinations. (NOTE: WRITERS, not artists.) They're out there, some of them are really good, and even the decent ones can't possibly be any worse than Judd Winick or Jeph Loeb. Let them create brand new characters and give them some real marketing support.

1) Force Paul Levitz into retirement.

On The Shelves: 1/31/07

Reading is fundamental. Don't waste your time reading bad comics out of habit!

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 1/31/07. The full shipping list, as always, is available at ComicList.

[NOTE: Not all of these titles will actually arrive in all stores. If your LCBS offers a pre-ordering service, be sure to take advantage of it. If not, find another one; or try Khepri.com or MidtownComics.com]


Why Are You Doing This?

Batman And The Mad Monk #6 (Of 6), $3.50
Blue Beetle #11, $2.99
Uncle Sam And The Freedom Fighters #7 (Of 8), $2.99

Relatively quiet but solid week from DC as these are three of my current favorites of theirs, two of which will unfortunately be finished by March. The other, Blue Beetle, has sales figures that make me think it won't be around much longer than that. Looks like 2007's "Countdown" will be referring to the amount of time before I'm pretty much back to only having Batman-related titles on the DC section of my pull list. That's pretty sad considering Identity Crisis was one of the things that broadened my list and made me look forward to hitting Midtown as early as possible every Wednesday, not so very long ago. Seems like a lifetime...

Eberron Eye Of The Wolf Collectors Ed, $5.99

This was a fun peek into the world of Eberron, but a Collector's Edition feels like Devil's Due is milking the magic cow a bit too often.

Digital Webbing Presents #32, $3.99

I didn't realize when I posted about Free Comic Book Day 2007 last week that Digital Webbing's offering was going to include a three-page preview of Joshua Hale Fialkov and Kody Chamberlain's whacked-out Punks! What other secrets do they have that I've overlooked all these years?

Why Are You Doing This GN, $12.95

This must be a re-offering, but whatever the reason, it's a great read. My first exposure to Jason and I immediately became a fan.

Daredevil #93, $2.99
Essential Ghost Rider Vol 2 TPB, $16.99

Slim pickings from the House of [Running out of] Ideas. Brubaker still has the golden touch, though, and the more I see of the Ghost Rider movie, the more I think it might actually be a fun romp. I'm tempted to pick up the Essential Volume One for shits and giggles.

Geek Monthly #2, $5.99

Hmmm... This kind of looks like it wants to be Maxim for geeks, not really my cuppa, but if it's on the shelves, I'll give it a flip-through out of curiousity.


That's it? I might not bother stopping in at Midtown this week with such a light haul. That's a recipe for going crazy on TPBs and random shelf-surfing pickups. I think instead I'll finish reading the excellent-so-far Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City, about my all-time favorite team of superheroes, the 1977 New York Yankees!

29 January 2007

Numbers Game: Shuffling Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Marc-Oliver Frisch's always enlightening sales analysis is now posted at The Beat, looking at DC's estimated numbers for December 2006, and buried towards the end is a very interesting breakdown of the Average Sales per Title of their three primary imprints. I've spotlighted the DCU as a point of interest:


12/2003: 29,263
12/2004: 36,925
12/2005: 44,993
12/2006: 44,641
6 months: -12.6%
1 year : - 0.8%
2 years : +20.9%
3 years : +52.6%
As would be expected, the main DCU has seen some impressive growth over the past three years, fueled largely by Infinite Crisis and its numerous lead-ins, crossovers, tie-ins and spinoffs. What's hidden beneath that growth, though, is how few books are actually selling above that 45k average: 12 of the 48 titles that shipped in December (not counting multiple issues of the same title), including the fading-fast Flash relaunch and two mini-series whose runs will end by this summer (52 and Justice). To be generous, four other DCU titles that have been selling above 45k copies didn't ship in December, so let's call it 16 out of 52, which means that only 31% of their line is selling "above average".

Much of the bottom-end of the scale is made up of failed Brave New World / Infinite Crisis spinoffs, or trademark placeholders featuring B-list characters with limited fanbases (and the majority of those are selling less than 30k/issue) so as has been rumored, it looks like 2007 will definitely see yet another Universe-spanning crossover that will boost the short-term bottom line (maybe...) while further eroding their mid-list.

[Side Note: Check out Vertigo's painful three-year decline!]

One question that often comes up in reference to the Big Two is why they don't simply scale back the number of titles they publish since, in theory, retailers (and fans) would be more likely to take a chance on one or two strong Infinite Crisis spinoffs as opposed to six marginal efforts, especially if they weren't also shelling out for three variations of Batman and Superman each (not counting out-of-continuity mini-series), and a couple of hardcore, mid-list favorites. It's a valid question that, aforementioned protection of trademarks aside, is perhaps best answered by a rather simplistic variation on the Long Tail theory: if they don't, Image, Dark Horse or some other enterprising publisher will. AKA, market share.

The Big Two can usually strong-arm retailers into ordering a decent amount of almost anything with a #1 on it, while sustaining those sales figures has proven incredibly difficult. As a result, we get unnecessary and ill-conceived relaunches and spinoffs, or a slew of ill-fated brand new series featuring characters who can't actually support one (and aren't given the marketing support to even give them a fighting chance) and are eventually replaced on the schedule by yet another new ongoing (or, in an increasingly more frequent momentary flash of realism, a mini-series)...lather, rinse, repeat -- effectively guaranteeing a chokehold on their respective 35-40% market shares. And retailers, of course, continue to play the game, virtually forced to in order to maintain the discount levels that keeps their doors open.

It's a hell of a Catch-22 that doesn't exactly encourage responsible behavior, but it's the way the game will continue to be played until someone comes along and figures out a way to crack the code. I'd venture to say that it's clearly not Image's approach of flooding the market with an uneven mix of variations on the Big Two's bread and butter (with a healthy dose of Vertigo on the side), at least not for the majority of their creators who get lost in their undermarketed flood month after month.

Marketing Monday: First Things First

Marketing MondayAmong the myriad challenges comics publishers of all sizes face, one of the biggest -- and most frustrating, personally -- is marketing. Way too many publishers believe that marketing is little more than sending out badly written press releases and snagging previews, reviews and interviews from Wizard, Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, et al. While some recognize industry trade shows and fan conventions as being a necessary part of any marketing plan, few understand what it takes to maximize their presence at such events. Perhaps most astoundingly, many publishers don't even have the sense to invest in a solid web site that gives potential fans and retailers a place to get more information about their publication(s).

"Marketing Monday" is going to be a weekly series of columns wherein I focus on marketing fundamentals, strategies and best practices for comics publishers and creators. I'll be drawing on 14 years of publishing experience, as well as numerous examples of the good and bad I see happening in the comics industry today. Where possible, I'll interview publishers and creators who have found success both in common sense practices as well as out-of-the-box efforts.

To start, though, I want to establish a baseline definition for marketing, and for that, I turn to Investopedia, which offers a succinct, comprehensive definition:

Many people believe that marketing is just about advertising or sales. However, marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them. Even the small tasks like writing thank-you letters, playing golf with a prospective client, returning calls promptly and meeting with a past client for coffee can be thought of as marketing. The ultimate goal of marketing is to match a company's products and services to the people who need and want them, thereby ensure [sic] profitability.
That final word, "profitability", is important, because anybody can publish comics at a loss, and if "profitability" at some point in the future isn't part of a publisher's overall plan, then they're playing in a ballpark that's irrelevant to this particular discussion. The goal of any legitimate marketing plan, especially these days when "Return on Investment" (ROI) is a codified corporate mantra, has to ultimately be about achieving profitability.

Kevin Stirtz, writing for AllBusiness.com, put forth his "Smart Marketing System" as a simple, 5-step blueprint for building and implementing a successful marketing plan, and is a good starting point for comics publishers (and creators) to work from:

1. The GOALS or objectives you want to accomplish
2. The MARKET you want to reach
3. The MESSAGE you want to deliver to your market
4. The MONEY you are willing to spend to deliver your message
5. The MEDIA you will use to deliver your message
Next week, I'll start to examine each of these steps specifically in reference to marketing comics.

26 January 2007

Blogaround Challenge 2007 Update

...and the Massive Archaia, Viper & Spider-Man Giveaway!

3 Prize Packs, 33 comic books...FREE SHIPPING!!!

On your own blog, in a post titled "Blogaround Challenge 2007", write a brief review of three blogs that are not currently on your personal blogroll. Mine the blogrolls of your favorite blogs, Google's Blog Search, the Watchtower, or the all-new Comics Weblog Update; discover (or re-discover) three blogs that have piqued your interest, and briefly review them. In that post, also link back to the original Giveaway post, and then leave me a comment with the link back to your post so I can compile them all in a future post that will announce the three "winners" of the Massive Giveaway.

Pretty simple, yes? It's FREE COMICS, people! Get on the stick.

[NOTE: Due to light response so far, I'm going to extend the giveaway another week, to February 4th. ]

25 January 2007

Free Comic Book Day 2007

This year's Free Comic Book Day is on Saturday, May 5 -- the same weekend Spider-Man 3 opens -- and the list of comics that will be available is pretty impressive. My initial thoughts on some of them:

Archie Comics (Gold): Archie Comics Little Archie 2007
Archie Comics (Silver): Sonic the Hedgehog 2007

My son loves Sonic, so I'll definitely grab one for him. I'm guessing Little Archies is something new?

DC Comics (Gold): Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century 2007
DC Comics (Silver): Justice League of America # 0 2007

Smart selection on the Gold title as all-ages accessibility should be the goal for the Big Two on FCBD, but their Silver offering should have been for something from the Vertigo or Wildstorm line, or even a Minx sampler.

IDW (Gold): Transformers the Movie Prequel #1 2007

No-brainer for IDW here, though I wonder if they wouldn't have been better served by giving Fallen Angel a boost, if not at the Gold level, then certainly as a Silver offering.

Image Comics (Gold): Astounding Wolf-Man #1 2007

Golden Boy Robert Kirkman gets the Image slot, and I have to wonder how they determined this since they're not technically publishers but a vanity press/distributor hybrid. Can other Image creators release FCBD material under the Image banner? Coupled with their second annual no-show at the New York Comic-Con, I'm forced yet again to question their continued position as a so-called Premiere Publisher in the direct market.

Marvel Comics (Gold): Amazing Spider-Man Swing Shift 2007
Marvel Comics (Silver): Marvel Adventures Three-In-One 2007

Considering a Spider-Man title is a no-brainer this year, you'd think Marvel would have maximized the opportunity by flip-flopping these offerings and giving the Gold spotlight to the all-ages Marvel Adventures, especially considering it's new material. It's not like retailers wouldn't order the Spider-Man issue at the Silver level, but you know many won't bother with the "kiddie" title.

TOKYOPOP (Gold): Tokyopop Choose Your Weapon 2007

As a manga neophyte, these samplers are always great to see. While I've yet to follow up on anything I've come across in any of them, preferring to periodically browse the shelves and pick up whatever looks interesting at that moment, they have that browsing more likely and more frequent.

Arcana Studio (Silver): Arcana Studio Presents 2007

While Arcana has fallen off my radar a bit over the past year, new 100 Girls material is always a good thing!

Boom! Studios (Silver): Hunter's Moon / Salvador Flip Book 2007
First Second Books (Silver): The Train Was Bang On Time 2007
Virgin Comics (Silver): Ramayan 3392AD 2007

Always nice to see new publishers getting into the FCBD mix.

Fantagraphics Books (Silver): The Unseen Peanuts 2007

An interesting choice for Fantagraphics, and one I'll definitely pick up.

Keenspot Entertainment (Silver): Keenspot Spotlight 2007

The 2005 edition was an impressive package that I still flip through now and then. As I'm trying to get into webcomics a bit more, I'll definitely look out for this one.

Legion of Evil Press (Silver): Comics Festival 2007

The 2005 edition was one of my favorites of the year, so I'm really looking forward to this one.

Renaissance Press (Silver): Amelia Rules! Hangin' Out 2007

Amelia does indeed rule! If your favorite retailer doesn't get this one, you need to find a new retailer.

NOTE: Speaking of FREE comics, don't forget about our Massive Archaia, Viper & Spider-Man Giveaway -- 3 Prize Packs, 33 comic books...FREE SHIPPING!!!

Vs. TCG 2007 Preview

Last week Guy and I played our first Vs. game in months, so the following announcement came out at great time. Over at Metagame, they have an article previewing the Vs. System Product Line-up for 2007. Before last week's game, it had been awhile since I wanted to play, my enthusiasm had been quelled due to the lack of interest in the expansion sets released over the past year.

Four expansion sets released, and four misses for my taste. X-Men, Infinite Crisis, Heralds of Galactus, and Legion of Superheroes registered a Zero on the excitement scale for me. I have to admit, I did spend some time and money on Infinite Crisis, but it was short-lived.

Things are looking up for 2007, though. Vs. is going back to its roots and hitting the big guns at Marvel and DC. Not only are old rosters being updated, but so are their game mechanics. Get ready to dust off some old decks and make room for new ones! We are looking at updates for Spider-Friends, Gotham Knights, Fantastic Four, Team Superman and many others. Also, some new rosters will make their first splash in 2007, including The Defenders and Birds of Prey.

It's still early and not all the details are out, but make no mistake I'm betting the guys at Upper Deck have some more surprises up their sleeves. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the Hellboy Essential Collection that's due to hit the streets any day now.

So, if you haven't gotten into Vs. yet, now is your chance. In fact, you have all year to choose a set to jump in with, so just go ahead and do it.

If that doesn't get you ready to play Vs., maybe this sweet preview card will:

Go to Metagame to get all the details on the latest version of Spider-Man.

Also don't forget to check out the Marvel Team-Up Sneak Preview in 2 weeks: February 10th - 11th, shops across the nation will be holding tournaments. Log on to Upper Deck for store locations and a look at the free giveaways. I have to say, that's a nice playmat.

Til Next Time..

24 January 2007

PANEL: Bone Volume 3: Eyes of the Storm

Bone Volume 3: Eyes of the Storm
By Jeff Smith
Color by Steve Hamaker
February 2006, Scholastic/GRAPHIX

Suburban Dysfunction & Blaxploitation

Ghost World
By Daniel Clowes (Fantagraphics Books, 1998; $11.95)

I skipped the movie version of Ghost World when it came out because I could tell from the previews that it wasn't my cup of tea; stories of suburban angst make my skin crawl (ie: I hated American Beauty), suburban teenage angst even more so. But, I convinced myself a while back, there's no way I could not read the critically acclaimed graphic novel it was based on, right? In retrospect, that was as silly as thinking I couldn't just skip House of M and Infinite Crisis, and in all three cases I ended up poorer for the effort.

Best friends Enid and Rebecca are two unappealingly self-absorbed teenagers who project their own self-loathing onto everyone around them, stumbling through their final year of high school while slowly drifting apart from each other. Daniel Clowes chooses to tell their story almost too-subtly, offering discordant slice of life vignettes that attempt to illustrate their "growth" but mainly serve to remind the reader how annoying and shallow they are. It falls into the same trap many autobiographical efforts do, in every medium, of believing one's life is more interesting than it actually is, and I came close to putting it down, unfinished, several times.

Clowes' artwork is the main highlight here -- clean and, at times, unexpectedly emotive -- but it's neither enough to inject life into his dull, plodding story nor make his lead characters the least bit interesting. Charles Burns' Black Hole covers similar ground in a much more intriguing fashion, with a compelling story that is equal to his impressive artwork.

Ghost World: Don't believe the hype.

Shot Callerz
By Gary Phillips & Brett Weldele (Oni Press, 2003; $11.95)

Shot Callerz came completely out of left field for me, as I picked it up one day on a lark because I recognized Brett Weldele's name from The Surrogates, a mini-series from last year that I still haven't finished reading, but whose scratchy, stylized artwork stayed with me. If its title didn't scream blaxploitation loudly enough, the cover certainly did, but I gave it a shot anyway and was surprised to find it is an unexpectedly entertaining read. The whole blaxploitation genre is one I generally don't like, but like any genre, in the right hands, it can result in an entertaining tale.

By day, Gary Phillips is apparently a novelist in the vein of the influential Donald Goines, and judging by his crisp writing in Shot Callerz -- a classic hardboiled, bullets-and-broads tale of double and triple-crossing, blaxploitation meter unabashedly set to full-throttle -- he's not only a master of the form, but one who clearly has a genuine love for it. (As opposed to, say, Quentin Tarantino's fetishistic obsession.) After a short story "prelude" introduces the main players and sets things up, Phillips jumps right into the action as his lead, Nea Garvin, is shot in the back by her boyfriend on the heels of a successful heist where she served as the inside woman, and is left for dead. What follows is a fast-paced tale of revenge that is highlighted by Nea's evolution from naive hoodrat to pistol-packin' mama, complemented by a colorful cast of supporting characters and an unexpectedly sentimental ending.

Weldele's sketchy black-and-white artwork is an effective mix of the realistic and impressionistic, complementing the morally grey tone of the story very well. His dynamic page layouts and camera angles communicate the fast pace of the story while allowing it to breathe when necessary, and each of his characters are distinctive and emotive, both facially and in their body language.

I'm still not a fan of blaxploitation, but credit where credit's due. Shot Callerz isn't high art by any means, but if you enjoy hardcore, gritty crime stories like Ed Brubaker's Criminal -- or, god forbid, thought Wings of Anansi was any good -- you'll love what Phillips and Weldele have to offer.

23 January 2007

On The Shelves: 1/24/07

Reading is fundamental. Don't waste your time reading bad comics out of habit!

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 1/24/07. The full shipping list, as always, is available at ComicList.

[NOTE: Not all of these titles will actually arrive in all stores. If your LCBS offers a pre-ordering service, be sure to take advantage of it. If not, find another one; or try Khepri.com or MidtownComics.com]


Cover image to come...

Fallen Angel #12

Mouse Guard #6 (Of 6), $3.50

Good news: Mouse Guard is a great read, and one of my Best of 2006! Bad news: The first mini-series ends with this issue. Good news: A hardcover collection, Mouse Guard Volume One: Fall 1152, is due out in April, including 12 pages of bonus material!

Sonic Quest Death Egg Saga #1 (AA), $1.50
Sonic Quest Death Egg Saga #2 (AA), $1.50
Sonic Quest Death Egg Saga #3 (AA), $1.50
Sonic The Hedgehog #171, $2.25

When we were down in Virginia over the holidays, my son picked up a couple of Sonic digests and loved them. He's been carrying them around with him in his bookbag ever since.

Ninja Tales #1, $6.99
Savage Brothers #3 (Of 3), $3.99
Tag #3 (Of 3), $3.99

Boom!'s anthology books have been hit and miss, as is to be expected, but Ninja Tales looks like it might be fun. Not sure about $6.99 worth of fun, though. *** Savage Brothers and Tag are two of Boom!'s better high concept, made-for-Hollywood releases, the latter of which has already been optioned and has a sequel launching next month.

Connor Hawke Dragons Blood #3 (Of 6), $2.99
Helmet Of Fate Ibis The Invincible #1, $2.99
Robin #158, $2.99
Showcase Presents Brave & Bold Batman Teamups Vol 1, $16.99

Not many people are reading Connor Hawke, but it's managed to generate a mini-controversy over Oliver Queen's rape at the hands of Shado that offers some interesting grounds for debate. Probably not what DC had in mind when they gave it the greenlight it, I'd guess. *** Helmet of Fate: Detective Chimp did just enough to keep me interested last week, and having the mini-series (?) come out on a weekly basis was a smart move as I'm more likely to follow it all the way through.

Fallen Angel Idw #12, $3.99

Finally caught up with the last three issues this past weekend and it is once again firmly entrenched on my pull list. $3.99 is a bit steep for each issue, but David offers up just enough character bits to keep me coming back. Fallen Angel #10 was one of the best single issues of 2006, quite possibly THE best.

All New Off Hb Marvel Univ A Z Update #1 (Of 4), $3.99
Criminal #4, $2.99
Heroes For Hire #6, $2.99
Moon Knight #7 CW, $2.99
X-Factor #15, $2.99

Damn OHOTMU! They roped me in for the full 12 issues and now there's a 4-issue "update" I'm going to have to buy. My rationalization is that sometime in the near future I'm going to do a series of posts about some of the more peripheral players and come up with short pitches for each of them. *** Like Infinite Crisis before it, Civil War has claimed several victims, allowing me to pare down my pull list over the past six months. Heroes for Hire, which also loses Graymiotti to a DC exclusive as of this issue, is the most recent victim. *** Fresh off the heels of being reestablished in the MU, Moon Knight crossing over with Civil War does not excite me at all. *** Criminal and X-Factor, however, excite me quite me a bit!

Dummys Guide To Danger #4 (Of 4), $3.25

This oddball black comedy/slasher mini comes to a satisfying conclusion. Jason Burns has issues. NOTE: The complete mini-series is part of our Massive Archaia, Viper & Spider-Man Giveaway.

Walk-In #2, $2.99

The first issue of Walk-In was satisfyingly weird, and I'm looking forward to more.

Game Trade Magazine #84, AR

I want to track down a copy of Game Trade because I'm curious to see if there's anything about the Vs. TCG in it. A retailer in Virginia mentioned the game had died in his shop as Upper Deck has been shifting their attention and resources to the World of Warcraft TCG, and the last few expansions have done little to excite me personally. Dan and I finally played a game a couple of weeks back, and while still fun, the spark had definitely faded a bit. It'll be interesting to see if the Hellboy release does anything to help raise its profile again.

22 January 2007

Amazon POD Update: Raves for Sale!

Last month I posted a brief item about Amazon's Print-on-Demand services, offered in partnership with BookSurge, suggesting it might be "worthy of consideration for potential self- and micro-publishers." On Friday, Slate posted an interesting article entitled "Raves For Sale" that reveals one of the options available to its customers is "a personally crafted review written by 'New York Times bestselling author, Ellen Tanner Marsh.'"

Amazon.com's recently acquired print-on-demand division, BookSurge.com, offers several tiers of publishing programs with menus of services starting at $99.

The most interesting add-on BookSurge offers is, for $399, a personally crafted review written by "New York Times bestselling author, Ellen Tanner Marsh." (Ellen Tanner Marsh's bodice-rippers Reap the Savage Wind and Wrap Me in Splendor graced the New York Times trade- paperback bestseller list in 1982 and 1983.) Not surprisingly, many BookSurge titles boast enthusiastic reviews by Marsh. "For anyone seeking a health program that really works ... a motivating and significant book," Marsh gushed about The Beer Drinkers [sic] "Diet".
The article includes a scan of a letter one of its customers received in response to suggested edits for Ms. Marsh's review of his book, which Marsh agreed to and offered a rewrite!

The book -- ironically titled EXPOSED Turn Up The Heat -- is listed on Amazon with Ms. Marsh's "review". Interestingly, the publisher is listed as BookSurge Publishing (is one of the "add-ons" the ability to use your own publishing imprint? -- which, if it wasn't a red flag to booksellers before, probably is now -- and as I type this, the book is currently ranked #11,946 in Books!

A quick Google search turns up a few comic books I've never heard of published through BookSurge, including work by/from Dick Briefer, Donna Barr and Open Book Press.

I never did get a response to my email querying BookSurge about their services, but needless to say, my opinion of it has changed rather dramatically as it's clearly no better than the usual scammy vanity publishing outfits, and perhaps much worse, thanks to its association with Amazon and the rather purposeful implication that books published through them have a better shot of selling via Amazon than those of other vanity publishers.

As always, caveat emptor.

"There's no accounting for taste"

There's no accounting for taste
Our new seal and motto: "de gustibus non est disputandum"

21 January 2007

Chat Review: Batman: Year One Hundred

Batman: Year One Hundred
By Paul Pope
DC Comics, 2007; $19.99

(via Gmail Chat)

me: BTW I was kind of disappointed w/ Batman 100

Guy: yeah?

me: It was like having a tasty cupcake, It was good, but doesn't have a lasting appeal
the ending sucked, and left a lot of questions

Guy: i can see that. definitely a bit of style over substance kind of thing.
i like his style, though. good character bits here and there.

me: is he setting up a sequel?
style wise was great. the story was good too, but it left too many loose ends for my tastes.

Guy: not that i've heard. probably depend on how well the tpb sells. it wasn't a huge hit or anything when it first came out. just solid.

me: it felt more like an ongoing story arc, than a miniseries.

Guy: considering his indie cred, even beyond comics, i could see a sequel being part of DC's plan to expand beyond the direct market.

me: Dan Diaz gives Batman 100 2 outta 5 batarangs

Guy: ouch! 2 not even 2.5?

me: Don't push me man! It's 2 batarangs.

Guy: LOL!

me: 2.5 if my expectations were low, but this was supposed to be great.

Guy: gotcha. out of 4 or 5?

me: 2 out of 5
this should be a post

20 January 2007

CBC's Massive Archaia, Viper & Spider-Man Giveaway

...and the return of the Blogaround Challenge!

Back in September 2005, Laura "Tegan" Gjovaag of Bloggity-Blog-Blog-Blog issued the Blogaround Challenge, asking comics bloggers to poke around the blogiverse and write a short bit about the blogs they came across, the goal being "to meet new bloggers and see new stuff." (My entry is here.) Since then, a ton of new bloggers have popped up (and, sadly, several of my favorites have faded into history) so I thought it would be a good time to re-issue the challenge as a tie-in to our long-delayed Massive Archaia, Viper & Spider-Man Giveaway.

3 Prize Packs, 33 comic books...FREE SHIPPING!!!

What exactly do you have to do to win one of these great prize packs? Well, I'm not as crazy as Greg Burgas, so I'm not going to put together one of the most insane comics trivia contests imaginable. (HINT: #12 is from one of the comics I'm giving away here!) No, I wanted to keep it simple, while making it something that mirrored my intent behind giving away these comics in the first place, sharing the love, and so, the Challenge is issued again!

Blogaround Challenge 2007

On your own blog, in a post titled "Blogaround Challenge 2007", write a brief review of three blogs that are not currently on your personal blogroll. Mine the blogrolls of your favorite blogs, Google's Blog Search, or the Watchtower; discover (or re-discover) three blogs that have piqued your interest, and briefly review them. In that post, also link back to this one, and then leave me a comment with the link back to your post so I can compile them all in a future post that will announce the three "winners" of the Massive Giveaway:

Prize Pack #1 Archaia Studios Press
Artesia: First Book of Dooms TPB
Artesia Beseiged #1-2
The Killer #1-2
Mouse Guard #1-5
--->NOTE: #1 is the 3rd printing. Speculators go away!
Okko: Cycle of Water, Book One
Robotika #1-4

Prize Pack #2: Viper Comics
A Dummy's Guide to Danger #1-4
Dead@17 #1-2
Dead@17: Revolution #1-4
Emily Edison TPB (Digest)
Lost Books of Eve #1
The Middle Man: Vol. 2 #1-4
Mosh Girls + Monsters: Vol 2

Prize Pack #3: Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt TPB
--->NOTE: This is a first printing, but it's a reading copy. Speculators go away!
Don't do it for the prizes, though; do it for the love, because the "winners" will determined at random!

Contest ends next Sunday, January 28th Sunday, February, 4th, and the "winners" will be announced on Thursday, February 1st 8th. The blogs you discover, though, will last forever. Hopefully...

[NOTE: The Massive Giveaway is only open to U.S. residents, because postage is expensive, especially for the first two Prize Packs. Foreign bloggers will be considered eligible if they're willing to pay postage via PayPal.]

18 January 2007

Smallville's "Justice" Was Pretty Damn Good

It's been a long while since I caught a full episode of Smallville, but there was no way I was missing tonight's episode, "Justice", even if it meant skipping my latest addiction, Ugly Betty. (One year after "Code Black", Grey's Anatomy remains my numero uno!)

Bart Allen is the only one of the nascent Justice League I'd ever seen before, and while I still didn't particularly like him, I think the kid who plays him does so perfectly, because if I did like him, something would be wrong. Victor Stone was cool, a rare combination of brains and brawn (even if the former is computerized) for a minority character, but Arthur Curry seemed as lame as one would expect Aquaman to be, and I still can't believe someone thought he'd make a good character to base a spin-off around.

Oliver Queen, though, was a revelation. It's almost like Warner Brothers wouldn't approve the use of Bruce Wayne, so they used him anyway, simply changing his name and costume. They even had Chloe, still my favorite supporting character, playing Oracle in the Watchtower! There's your spinoff right there!

I loved the costumes, a nice compromise between colorful tights and capes and the X-Men's subdued leather duds, and the code names were a hoot, especially Clark as "Boy Scout". That's the kind of fan service that makes me break out in a big old stupid grin. Michael Rosenberg was as menacingly good as I remember him ever being as Lex; Erica Durance, though, looked like she'd aged 10 years since I last watched and got a boob job. Weird...

By the end of the episode, I wanted either a Justice League or Green Arrow/Cyborg spinoff to launch next week, and I'm now really tempted to pick up some Green Arrow next time I'm at Midtown. I'm thinking either the Showcase reprints or Mike Grell's Longbow Hunters story arc. Any G.A. fans out there with suggestions?

UPDATE: Check out this great behind-the-scenes video of the episode, courtesy of New Mexico's CW network.

17 January 2007

Stephanie Fierman: Villain, Victim...or Scapegoat?

According to Rich Johnston, as reported in yesterday's Lying in the Gutters, DC's outgoing SVP of Sales & Marketing, Stephanie Fierman, "is still on contract at DC for another year and will work on special projects with DC Publisher and President Paul Levitz while she looks for a new position within Time Warner." If true, it suggests that what's happening is very likely personality-driven and not based solely on her performance, because contract or not, if it were the latter, they'd simply fire her outright and offer her a severance package.

My wild guess is that her primary "special project" will be to focus on launching their Minx imprint, which will ultimately serve as a blueprint for their future efforts to break into the mass market, either as a how-to or a how-not-to, depending on the results. Meanwhile, Bob Wayne and John Cunningham will be tasked with keeping the flagship DCU moving steadily forward, with no immediate successor being named before the 3rd Quarter, if at all. Again, that's my wild, if slightly educated, guess.

I'm still tracking the situation as it develops in the original post, but what's more interesting to me is at what point the spotlight gets turned over to Paul Levitz, DC's President and Publisher, and his apparent inability to steer DC in the right direction into new waters?

Even the best sales and marketing teams are limited by the product they have to sell and market, and DC's editorial staff hasn't exactly made their jobs easy. Big EventsTM like Infinite Crisis and 52 suck up internal resources and make it difficult for anything not tied into them to receive any significant marketing attention. Plus, they're short-term cash grabs gambits that do nothing for the future except raise the finance department's expectations for the next year, effectively guaranteeing having to take another dip into the well of diminishing returns.

[Side note: Our comp plans for 2007 just came out at my 9-to-5, and one of the things that jumped out is how we're effectively "punished" for "lightning in a bottle" situations. ie: That unrepeatable, one-shot $50k custom publishing package that was gravy last year because it wasn't budgeted for? It's now in the budget for this year, with 10% growth expected on top of it!]

Add badly coordinated Big EventsTM to the mix -- ie: the All Star line -- that receive a similarly big marketing push only to see it all go to waste when the end-product isn't delivered in a timely manner, and toss in a slew of ill-conceived Long Tail efforts that receive practically no marketing support at all (posters and buttons at conventions do not represent legitimate marketing support), and you have a recipe for disaster.

According to research by executive search firm Spencer Stuart in August, the tenure for CMOs at the 100 top consumer branded companies continued to decline in 2006 to an average of a little more than 23 months. The average for 2006 was 23.2 months, compared with 23.5 months in 2005 and 23.6 in 2004. ("Marketing job market 'sizzling'", B-to-B Magazine)
When Fierman was originally hired, it was generally understood that DC was purposely bringing in an outsider for a fresh perspective in an attempt to reach new audiences. While the CMO often takes the fall when things don't go as planned, eventually the buck has to stop higher up the chain, in this case, at the Publisher's feet.

Paul Levitz is an old school guy who, I'm pretty sure, has never held a job outside of the comics industry. As Wayne put it, speaking about himself, but one could easily imagine the same applying to Levitz: "I'm a comic book guy from way back, but I don't always know how to reach those people; Stephanie can help us in that way."

Possible personality issues aside (welcome to Corporate America, people; grow up!), maybe the words attributed to Nellie Kurtzman hold a clue to what's happening at DC:

"When she quit, she told everyone that she had no idea that comics was such a backwards kind of business and that she knew right away that she couldn't get anything done. Stephanie asked her to stay - Nellie's question back was, why would anyone in marketng stay?"
Why, indeed?

PANEL: You'll Have That, Vol 2

You'll Have That, Vol. 2
Written and Drawn by Wes Molebash
December 2006, Viper Comics

16 January 2007

On The Shelves: 1/17/07

Reading is fundamental. Don't waste your time reading bad comics out of habit!

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 1/17/07. The full shipping list, as always, is available at ComicList.

[NOTE: Not all of these titles will actually arrive in all stores. If your LCBS offers a pre-ordering service, be sure to take advantage of it. If not, find another one; or try Khepri.com or MidtownComics.com]


Batman: Year One Hundred

Tron #3, $3.50

As a casual fan who was intrigued by the first issue -- which came out last April! -- I'm quickly losing interest in Tron. IIRC, this issue gets a new artist, which may or may not help matters as Louie Di Martinis work was solid, if unspectacular.

Barrons Graphic Classics Hunchback Of Notre Dame SC, $8.99
Barrons Graphic Classics Moby Dick SC, $8.99
Barrons Graphic Classics Oliver Twist HC, $15.99
Barrons Graphic Classics Treasure Island HC, $15.99

These actually look pretty interesting, and considering I've avoided reading any of them in their original form, might be a good way to get a few required reading classics under my belt!

Bone Vol 5 Rock Jaw Master Of Eastern Border Color Ed SC, $9.99

This is apparently the latest Scholastic color edition of Bone, from their GRAPHIX imprint, so I'm not sure why it's listed under Cartoon Books. The first volume was excellent and I'm looking forward to getting through the entire series.

Conan #36, $2.99
Conan & The Midnight God #1 (Of 5), $2.99

The latest Conan spinoff is written by Joshua Dysart, who penned the excellent Captain Gravity and the Power of the Vril, so I'm really looking forward to this: "Barbarian hordes! Crafty political wizards! A profound emotional loss for an older, wiser Conan! Armies on the march! Every man for himself and Crom against all!"

Batman Year One Hundred TPB, $19.99
Helmet Of Fate Detective Chimp #1, $2.99

I wasn't familiar with Paul Pope's work when I picked up the first issue of Batman: Year One Hundred, and it took the second issue to really hook me, but it's a fun, dystopian future take on Batman that doesn't ape Miller's Dark Knight too much. (Recently read 100% and enjoyed that, too.) *** Dr, Fate is one of those random characters I have an inexplicable affinity for, largely because I love his costume. These one-shots are tempting, especially with the recently announced ongoing series launching in April by Steve Gerber.

Spider-Man Reign #2 (Of 4), $3.99
Storm Premiere HC Var Ed, $19.99
Storm Premiere HC, $19.99

Spider-Man: Reign may be an unabashed riff on Dark Knight, but the first issue proved there was some potential in the concept and I'm looking forward to reading Dan's copy. *** A variant edition of the Storm hardcover? Some much for Marvel acting responsibly and "being willing to walk away from short-term money".

Bronze Novel Of Terror SC, $14.95
Hart & Boot & Other Stories, $14.95
Imaro Vol 2 Quest For Cush SC, $14.95

Not sure why these are listed with the comics as they appear to be novels, but Night Shade's web site is worth a peek for fans of genre fiction. Imaro sounds particulary intriguing: "Imaro 2: The Quest For Cush is the second book in Charles Saunders' series of African inspired heroic fantasy. It begins with the reunion of Imaro, and his kidnapped lover Tanisha, who has been taken to the ruined City of Madness. With the help of their new found friend, Pomphis, a Pygmay from the eastern forests of Nyumbani, they learn of the sorcerous forces that may have been behind the dark wizard that destroyed Imaro's youth. "

Villains Vol 1 Thick As Thieves TPB, $12.95

I think I missed the final issue of this mini-series, which I was enjoying very much.

Back Issue #20, $6.95

Midtown always seems to get Back Issue a week early, so I've already devoured most of this "Secret Identities" issue. There's a great (and timely) interview with Steve Engelhart and Sal Buscema on Captain America's days as Nomad, as well as articles on Firestorm, Moon Knight, the Question, and an impassioned defense of the much-maligned Vince Colletta by Bob McCleod.

15 January 2007

Review: Robotika

By Alex Sheikman and Joel Chua (Archaia Studios Press, 2006; $19.95)

It's rare for a mini-series whose first issue turned me off the way Robotika's did gets a second chance, but thanks to Alex Sheikman's commitment to his work -- emailing me to clarify something from the first issue that I didn't like get, and sending me the second issue that I would have otherwise passed on -- it got one and I am pleased it did. I previously described it, somewhat snarkily, as "a sci-fi cyber-samurai yarn conceived by an artsy SoHo hipster," and a "visually impressive if somewhat convoluted story that edges up to the border of pretentiousness while nudging you with a friendly elbow and raised eyebrow."

In retrospect -- with the benefit of both hindsight and a second, more thorough reading -- I'd say that Robotika stands alongside Archaia Studios Press' Artesia and Mouse Guard as some of the best work published in 2006, better than 99% of what's on the shelves any given Wednesday.

"Robotika comes during a time when almost everything has such a staid formula to it. But it's anything but formula.

What it is is totally damn brilliant."
Those are Ted McKeever's words of praise from the Hardcover edition's Fore Word, and I quote them here because I think he nails what makes this a special piece of sequential art.

What Sheikman has crafted is a visually stunning (props to Joel Chua for his outstanding color work) sci-fi spaghetti western that ultimately serves as an entertaining and thought-provoking introduction to three very intriguing characters -- the silent swordsman (samurai? ronin?) Niko; the enigmatic Cherokee Geisha; and the two-gun toting, cybernetic eye-having Bronski -- and an equally intriguing "far future" where technology has run amok. The four collected issues tell two separate but connected stories, both centering on Niko, while offering a peek at a much larger world that is tantalizingly full of storytelling potential -- not unlike Archaia publisher Mark Smylie's Artesia, which spawned an award-winning role-playing game. There are two backup stories included that add some depth to Cherokee Geisha and Bronski's characters, and the Steampunk Samurai Sketchbook offers a look at Sheikman's amazing pencil work.

This is an absolutely beautiful hardcover edition -- Archaia clearly doesn't know how to roll any other way -- and Robotika is very different from anything I've ever read, an impressive artistic vision that mixes several familiar elements into something very unique. It is, I daresay, an ambitious masterpiece -- not without its flaws, but impressive, nevertheless -- and highly recommended.

[Review copy provided by Sphinx Group, for Archaia Studios Press.]

Review: The Dreamland Chronicles: Book One

The Dreamland Chronicles: Book One
By Scott Christian Sava (Blue Dream Studios, 2006; $19.95)

I have to admit that I was initially put off by the computer animated artwork when I first flipped through The Dreamland Chronicles, especially compared to Diego Jourdan's more familiar cartoony style in Scott Christian Sava's Ed's Terrestrials, which I received in the same review package. At first glance, it struck me as too similar to fumetti or cinemanga, the characters seeming unnaturally stiff, almost like the worst of Greg Land's work for Marvel over the past few years. Having enjoyed Sava's writing in Ed's Terrestrials, however, and always intrigued by the concept of our dreams actually being other worlds, I gave it a chance and halfway through, was extremely glad I did.

The Dreamland Chronicles: Book One is a fun and entertaining all-ages tale that posits the existence of a magical world of fantastic creatures, visited by children in their dreams. Alexander Carter used to visit every night as a child, and upon waking, would tell his twin brother, Dan, of his adventures, who would write them down and eventually be inspired to become a writer. Now college roommates, Alexander returns to Dreamland after nearly eight years of not dreaming, only to discover he is destined to play a part in the upcoming war between Dreamland and the Nightmare Realm. Sava has once again created an excellent cast of characters -- Paddington Rumblebottom III, the adorable dancing rock giant, is my favorite -- and deftly balances the two worlds by crafting a realistic relationship between the two brothers that is equal in dramatic weight to the more fantastic elements of Dreamland.

As the story reeled me in, I warmed up to the artwork and was eventually able to appreciate its dexterity, as the impressive team of computer artists Sava assembled not only offer distinctive character designs and settings, but manage to communicate emotion surprisingly well. Sava helps by taking full advantage of his nearly 300 pages, pacing the story in a way that allows it to breathe without feeling decompressed. The extras include a look at some of his original painted pages as well as an assortment of character models and page layouts that give the book the feel of a big-budget CGI movie.

Highly recommended for fantasy fans young and old!

[Review copy provided by Sphinx Group, for Blue Dream Studios.]

14 January 2007

Review: The Guardian Line

Joe and Max #1
By Jason Medley, Claude St. Aubin & Chris Chuckery

Genesis 5 #1
By Lovern Kindzierski, Claude St. Aubin & Chris Chuckery

Code #1
By Mike Baron, Lovern Kindzierski, Howard Simpson, Dave Ross & Chris Chuckery
(All published by The Guardian line, December 2006)

Any sincere attempt by a comics publisher to reach new audiences (particularly from an all-ages perspective) is deserving of high praise, and Urban Ministries is doing exactly that with The Guardian Line, targeting the Christian demographic for whom the adventures of the superheroes they grew up with are neither representative of their beliefs nor appropriate for their children.

Of course, while good intentions are important, the final judgement should be based on the most basic of criteria: are they any good? The answer to that question is...they could be.

Joe & Max is the Terminator-style story of Joseph Julian Davis (the titular Joe), a young boy who is destined to defeat Steven Dark, a billionaire who appears to be an avatar or right-hand man of Satan himself. Dark has seen the future, knows that Joe will defeat him but not how, and offers him a Faustian bargain in exchange for his life. Max is an angel, chosen by God to watch over and protect Joe, to ensure he lives to fulfill his destiny. Despite the overt religious themes, Jason Medley delivers a satisfying read that won't alienate a secular audience, using a light touch and injecting humor throughout the story. Having Max speak only in biblical verse, quoting appropriate scripture, could have been a deal-breaker, but it actually works, partly because Joe himself admits, "This is going to get really annoying." Medley's entertaining, well-paced script is nicely complemented by Claude St. Aubin's excellent artwork and Chris Chuckery's eye-catching color palette. There's a Saturday morning cartoon appeal to the visuals and St. Aubin is a solid storyteller with a great eye for character design.

Genesis 5 and Code both feature similarly appealing artwork but, unfortunately, suffer from choppy pacing and considerably less secular appeal thanks to their respective religous themes being handled with noticeably heavier hands. Both are awkwardly paced setups that include appearances by Steven Dark, but unlike Joe and Max, their tone is a lot, um, darker, particularly Code, whose titular hero resembles Laurence Fishburne in full Morpheus mode, fighting demons.

Of these three launch titles, Joe and Max has the most crossover potential for non-Christians and I look forward to that story developing further. Code has potential, and I'll likely give it another issue or two for Mike Baron and Lovern Kindzierski to work out its kinks. Genesis 5, though, was the weakest of the bunch, and if not for its explicit connection to the other two titles, I'd probably skip it entirely next time around. That also represents the biggest challenge for Guardian, though, ensuring these titles can be read and enjoyed on their own merits, while still giving the sense that they are a part of something larger.

A couple of side notes: Michael Davis, the "Creator of The Guardian Line", has a letter to readers at the back of each issue that begins, "I love comics!" Of course, it's no surprise that the co-founder of Milestone Media loves comics, but his explanation of what they mean to him sets the right tone for the fledgling publisher and gives me hope that The Guardian Line can find its niche and succeed in offering "heroes who try to do the right thing."

I was also pleased to see that the advertising in all three books reflected the audience they're targeting -- HarperCollins imprint, Amistad Press, promoting Justine Simmons' children's book, God, Can You Hear Me?; Rock the Vote; Wheaton College's Entrenuity program; Comics Buyer's Guide.

13 January 2007

Spider-Man 3: Here's Venom!

Yesterday Superhero Hype posted a link to Medicom Toy Corporation's release of Spider-Man 3 12-inch action figures. The web site, Sideshow Collectibles, had posted galleries of Spider-Man, Black-Suited Spider-Man, and Venom.

If you follow this **Spoiler** link **Spoiler** you will find clear shots of Venom in his movie incarnation.

To quote a co-worker of mine, "Venom looks badass!"

Click on the image for the big reveal!

Nuff Said!

[Update]: Sideshow Collectibles has taken down the gallery featuring Medicom's Spider-Man 3 figures. Use this **Spoiler** link **Spoiler** to reach Empire Online's article, that only features Venom.

12 January 2007

Fierman Out at DC Comics

NOTE: I've rearranged the updates, so if you're checking this for the first time, scroll all the way down for the original post.

***** UPDATE (1/16 @ 12:49m): The Beat's latest update stirs the pot a bit as former and current DC staffers debate the story. It's mostly he said/she said stuff involving Vinnie Costa's take on working for Fierman, but there's an interesting bit about Nellie Kurtzman's departure from a current staffer, Joe Castleman [not sure if that's his real name or not], that possibly sheds some light on things:

"...everyone in marketing worked with Nelie Kurtzman. Really nice person. Stephanie Fierman went out of her way to hire Nellie. I was kind of in the process - way out of her way. Nellie came for sentimental reasons because of her dad. When she quit, she told everyone that she had no idea that comics was such a backwards kind of business and that she knew right away that she couldn't get anything done. Stephanie asked her to stay - Nellie's question back was, why would anyone in marketng stay?"
I got a similar impression of the situation when I interviewed to be Kurtzman's replacement, that there were some logistical problems within the newly divided department (between sales and marketing, not pro- and anti-Fierman) and some potential friction as a result.

Kurtzman's alleged opinion that "comics was such a backwards kind of business" probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who is remotely familiar with comics and the direct market, and that was one of the challenges they faced in their desire to re-fill the position with someone from the traditional side of the industry. It's the kind of job that requires, almost demands, a love of the medium, because the sacrifices one must make to work in it are rarely offset by the salary alone.

***** UPDATE (1/16 @ 10:14am): A little industry tidbit to add some perspective to Fierman's fate, via a B-to-B Magazine article entitled, "Marketing job market 'sizzling'":

Meanwhile, marketing professionals at the top of the ticket continue to face enormous challenges--compounded by a shrinking time frame in which to prove their worth before being replaced.

According to research by executive search firm Spencer Stuart in August, the tenure for CMOs at the 100 top consumer branded companies continued to decline in 2006 to an average of a little more than 23 months. The average for 2006 was 23.2 months, compared with 23.5 months in 2005 and 23.6 in 2004.

"We are seeing that holding on to your current employees is going to be critical, because it is getting much more difficult to find good folks," said John Hollon, editor of Workforce Management (published by Crain Communications Inc., which also publishes BtoB ). "And, it's even more cirtical [sic] to hold on to the critical talent, those key contributors who represent just 15% of a company's work force." According to Towers Perrin, an HR consulting firm, the unemployment rate for those employees stands at a scant 1.7%.
Despite Paul Levitz' rather terse statement, it's quite possible, as some have speculated, that Fierman's contract was either up or close to it, and DC knew they weren't planning on renewing it. This time of year tends to see a lot of movement as employers retrench for the new year and employees, fresh off cashing in end-of-year bonuses -- or still clenching their teeth over the lack thereof -- explore new opportunities, so it would be in both parties best interests to move forward as quickly as possible.

I'll be interested to see how quickly they replace Fierman, either directly or via another re-organization, as I can't imagine they'll take as long as they did replacing Nellie Kurtzman, who was two levels lower on the org chart.

***** UPDATE (1/15 @ 1:44pm): Vinnie Costa, a former DC staffer, goes on the record about his experience working under Fierman:

I'd been loving my job in Sales and Marketing for over a year when Stephanie was brought in. We all had one-on-ones with her and I admit, I was impressed with her answers to my outlandish comic book related testing and felt her hiring was going to be good for the company -- I'd be proven wrong rather quickly.

There wasn't a mass exodus of underlings as expected, just one or two and a massive restructuring of the department; nothing I couldn't handle, I thought.

But, then the knives came out and everyone watched their backs...

What started as a hey-folks-we-work-in-comic-books-how-freaking-awesome-is-that! job, a job I was proud of and good at, under Fierman's reign, it quickly became clear that those who cared the most (the people earning the least) were getting the short end of the stick.
More as this story develops...

***** UPDATE (1/31 @ 1:16am): Googled around a bit more and found this Newsarama interview with Fierman (and Bob Wayne, the old school guy she was installed ahead of in her then-newly created position) conducted a few days after she started.

Stephanie Fierman: As good a job as we've done to invite new readers into the franchise through the mass markets, the direct market will be the core of this business for a long time to come.

The core of this job, though, is how much more can we do? There's an explosion of new kinds of products-- graphic novels, manga, etc. We're learning that, to some extent, there are very different kinds of customers for these products, and these customers have different expectations; they shop in different places. We have to ensure that we reach those customers, and we have to bring in more of them. We want to do a better job of putting our marketing efforts for all kinds of customers under one roof, thinking more strategically about our customers and our channels and finding more of both. This will be the first time in a while that all of the sales and marketing functions are managed as part of a single team.

Bob Wayne: There have always been things that we have talked about that we'd have liked to do, but we didn't have the time to do them or the expertise to do them. Rather than try to by trial and error, it made a lot more sense to bring someone in who already had that skill set to accomplish those goals. We always wanted to bring more people into reading comics, not so much focused on the various channels of distribution; we wanted to attract people who were interested in the diverse ways we can deliver the comic book experience, from our superhero line to Vertigo to WildStorm to CMX to Humanoids to 2000AD. These don't always appeal to the same person; we're reaching out to find ways to appeal to those people. I'm a comic book guy from way back, but I don't always know how to reach those people; Stephanie can help us in that way.
Off the top of my head: Humanoids was dropped; CMX still isn't a major player in manga; Wildstorm is in the middle of big relaunch that isn't exactly burning up the charts; Vertigo is still Vertigo, treading water with a handful of relatively successful titles and a bunch of flatliners; and despite the success of Infinite Crisis and 52, and a broader range of offerings overall, DC is still running behind Marvel in the direct market.

On the positive side: MINX has some potential and actually has a legitimate marketing plan in place to help it achieve that potential; DMZ and Pride of Baghdad were both critical successes, receiving notable mainstream attention; V for Vendetta sold extremely well; um...they redesigned the logo; and, er, lesbian Batwoman made a big splash in the news...?

When I interviewed for their Marketing Director position last year -- vacated by Nellie Kurtzman less than four months after she was hired -- John Cunningham (Vice President, Marketing) was in the middle of an ambitious bit of rebuilding, shuffling people and positions, while still getting a handle on the various product lines he was responsible for. (He knew next to nothing about CMX or the toy line, DC Direct.) One of his bigger challenges was the difference in scheduling for the direct market vs. the mass market -- the latter requiring much more lead time and offering much less flexibility, and not being terribly compatible with the looser, less reliable schedules the periodicals are on -- and, as an example, I'm pretty sure I remember him saying they had to push Pride of Bagdhad to the fall in order to properly market it outside of the direct market.

I was a longshot candidate, lacking the book industry experience they were seeking, so I wasn't surprised that I didn't get the job, but I was surprised to find that two months later (four months after Kurtzman had left) it still wasn't filled and had been reposted on Time Warner's site. I never noticed a press release but a Gayley Carillo is listed as "Director - Marketing" in DC's lineup of staff attending attending Wizard World Chicago last August, so she was hired somewhere between April and then. Assuming it's the same person, Carillo came from Random House Children's Books where she was senior manager of trade marketing, so they ended up finding their book industry candidate after all, and even better, one who fulfilled the corporate diversity mandate.

With Fierman now out, the weight they put on her knowledge of the mass market, and the fact that, two years later, they haven't made a dent there yet raises an eyebrow. Was it as simple as her not playing well with others finally wore thin, or is there something bigger afoot?

To his credit, Cunningham comes from the book world, too -- noting that one of the reasons he made the jump was because graphic novels were one of the only growth segments in the industry -- as does Carillo, and with Minx waiting in the wings, I'd be surprised if there was something bigger to come, but stranger things have happened at both Time Warner and DC in the past.

***** UPDATE (7:14pm): Poking around for more information, I just noticed an interesting comment at The Beat's announcement of Fierman's hiring back in January of 2005:

Maybe this doesn't belong here but I don't really care. Remove it if it's a problem. Anyway, I worked with Stephanie for a year and I wish anyone who works with her the best of luck and a Valium. She is harsh, sarcastic, unpleasant, dictatorial, overly sensitive, governed by radical mood swings and generally impossible to work with. Her 360 degree performance reviews were among the worst I had ever heard of. Now, all of this would not be a problem if she actually was great at what she did, but alas, she was not. She has had about 400 jobs in 10 years and I expect she will be at DC for about 2 years as publishers are notoriously slow at catching on. Again, good luck to her subordinates and believe me that's just what they are to her.

Posted by: Mykal San | February 15, 2005 11:13 PM
While harsh [and surprisingly prescient], that pretty much jibes with what I've always heard behind the scenes.

Oddly, her [presumed] firing comes on the heels of DC's announcement of their MINX line of graphic novels aimed at teenage girls, for which they're investing a significant amount of marketing $$$ to promote in partnership with Alloy Marketing. That's a pretty big project to have in the works -- and a relatively high-profile one, too -- to turn around and make such a big staffing change.

***** (Original Post, 1/12/07 @ 5:17pm): From PW Daily:

PW Daily has learned that Stephanie Fierman, senior v-p of sales and marketing at DC Comics, is leaving the company.

Paul Levitz, president and publisher of DC Comics, confirmed that Fierman, "is not going to continue in her present position." Levitz added that Fierman, "could work on other projects at Time Warner" the parent company of DC.

Fierman joined DC in January of 2005 to oversee sales in the comics market and as part of the comics publisher's efforts to expand its presence in the book trade. Before joining DC, Fierman was chief sales and marketing officer at Zagat Survey.
Wow! I'm not totally surprised since her tenure has been controversial, to put it mildly, as old school clashed with new school, and she was generally disliked by most of her colleagues and notoriously difficult to work for/with.

There's no question that 2006 didn't quite go the way they'd hoped in the Direct Market, and they're still a minor player in bookstores, so she's presumbably taking the fall for that, but it will be interesting to see who else gets axed in the coming weeks as she had a few avid supporters who bought into her no-nonsense style, and many more who didn't.