28 February 2007

Random Thoughts and an Update

So yeah, "minor" surgery is still surgery, and coupled with a drug industry and medical profession that takes "side effects" a bit too casually, I missed the entire NY Comic Con. The whole damn thing. The PopCultureShock party, too, which pisses me off the most, actually, as I was hoping to meet up with some people I hadn't seen in a while as well as putting some faces to blogs I enjoy.


Anybody out there who did attend the party? I can live vicariously through your feedback!

I spent most of the past week laid up in bed, periodically hobbling around the apartment to take a break from marathon sessions on my rarely used Xbox: Destroy All Humans!, Just Cause and Fable: The Lost Chapters. Not a single comic book tie-in among them, although throughout Fable I was thinking what a great license it would be to adapt for comics. It features a pretty solid storyline that's ripe for embellishment, especially since the main character is so malleable, by design, but driven towards his destiny by forces beyond his control, that much of the subtext takes place in the player's head.

I wonder if the rights are available and how ridiculously expensive they might be?

Other than video games and checking in on work here and there, I didn't do much else, including staying on top of the world of comics. That meant no Marketing Monday or On the Shelves this week. I've also got more than 300 posts in my Bloglines Comics folder that I'm skimming through now, but since most of them are probably about the Con that won't be a big deal.

One that caught my eye quickly, though, was 4thletter's David "hermanos" Brothers' "New York State of Mind" about the Black Panel and, more specifically, Michael Davis' "We define us." statement regarding the attempt to change the name from "The Black Panel" to "The African-American Panel". Having raised an eyebrow originally, Davis' take on it made me reconsider my overly PC gut reaction, especially since I personally have never taken to the label "African-American" because Africa is so many generations removed from my extremely mixed bloodline that it doesn't ring true. For me. And nobody defines me but me, so kudos to Davis for laying that out so succinctly.

I really wish I had caught that panel.

Double Ugh.

Anyway, things will probably get back to normal here in the next couplafew days; definitely by next Monday when Marketing Monday will return to its weekly schedule!

22 February 2007

NY Comic Con: T-Minus 12 Hours

My surgery went well, and other than passing out on the way home, presumably from the combination of Valium and hunger -- head back, mouth open, wife yelling for help kind of passing out! -- I'm feeling pretty good now. Relatively speaking.

My 9:30am appointment got pushed back to 11:15am, so my wife and I walked across town to the Javits Center to pick up my Press Pass and get the lay of the land. We couldn't get past security and on to the Convention Floor itself, but we got a good look at things from the entrance and I took a few pictures before they told me to put the camera away.

There were about a dozen or so pros registering and a couple of other people down in the Press Room, but the only person I recognized was Heidi MacDonald who arrived as we were leaving. I've still yet to meet her in person, but will hopefully rectify that at some point during the Con.

I doubt I'll be back on my feet before Saturday, so it looks like I'll only be able to catch the latter part of that day's session and/or Sunday. I'm still going to the PCS After-Party, though, even if I need a cane and a bottle of Motrin!

21 February 2007

NY Comic Con: T-Minus 2 Days

I haven't been nearly as enthuastic about this year's NY Comic Con as I was about last year's, but that's primarily because last year's was so exhausting, my level of direct participation this year is drastically reduced, and I stupidly scheduled some minor surgery for tomorrow without realizing it was the day before the Con.

Despite dragging my feet, my press registration has been secured (Thanks, Phoenix!) and as long as all goes smoothly tomorrow and I'm on my feet as expected by Friday, here's what I'm hoping to catch this weekend:


10:30AM - 11:30AM
Kids Comics: The Category Waiting to Explode

Nice to see they picked up this theme again this year, though it's too bad that it's scheduled during the trade-only portion of the show. Of course, considering the majority of the audience for my similar panel last year consisted of retailers and a couple of pros, it makes sense, I guess. Glad to see Jimmy Gownley in the mix, too, as Amelia Rules! is an excellent comic deserving of much more attention.

1:30PM - 2:30PM
Graphic Novels: Direct Distribution or Book Wholesalers?

Last year's version of this panel was incredibly informative and woefully underattended by publishers and professionals. It's a little disappointing to see the distributor representation on the panel isn't as strong as it was last year, though.

2:30PM - 3:30PM
Capturing Female Readers: The Fastest Growing Audience for Comics
Comics Bloggers: Rewriting the Rules of Tastemaking and Trade Influence

Tough call here, as I'd love to see both, but I'm currently leaning towards the "Female Readers" panel as I figure the bloggers will post the details of their own panel. I am curious to hear what MediaBistro's Ron Hogan has to say, though.

4:30PM - 5:30PM
MARVEL: World War Hulk

I've really been enjoying "Planet Hulk", and considering it was Greg Pak himself who convinced me to try it out during his appearance at last year's NYCC, this should be a fun panel.

6:30PM - 7:30PM
Mothers & Daughters: Female Graphic Novelists and the Family

If I'm not completely burned out, I may check this out out as it has the makings of a candid, insightful session.


12:30PM - 1:30PM
Don't Quit Your Day Job! The Truth About Breaking Into Comics

I believe this is the panel Rich Johnston has been added to, which should make for an interesting discussion.

2:00PM - 3:00PM
The Black Panel

Terrible name, but interesting lineup makes this a must-see.

6:00PM - 7:00PM
Who Reads Graphic Novels? Who Doesn't!

Intriguing line-up here.


2:00PM - 3:00PM
NYCC Comics School: Writing Under Pressure

Another intriguing line-up.

And, of course, don't forget Saturday night's PopCultureShock's After-Party!

20 February 2007

On the Shelves: 2/21/07

Reading is fundamental. Read what you like; don't waste your time reading bad comics out of habit!

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 2/21/07. 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]


House of Sugar

Conan #37, $2.99

I'm finally caught up on my post-Busiek Conan reading and am happy to see that Truman has taken the baton relatively cleanly and is running forward with it. If I wasn't a hard-won fan of the series, I'd probably consider waiting for the trades at this point, but there's something to be said for consistently entertaining serial adventures at a time where that's increasingly difficult to come by.

Brave And The Bold Cvr A #1, $2.99
Helmet Of Fate Black Alice #1, $2.99
Robin #159, $2.99

The Big Two need a solid team-up book, featuring done-in-one (or two, at the most) stories that pair up their handful of A-list characters with an assortment of B- and C-list characters and send them on continuity-free adventures. Marvel Team-Up was nowhere near to being that book, but hopefully Brave and the Bold will be. *** Damn Helmet of Fate sucked me in via a completely irrational affection for Dr. Fate and while none of the stories have been terribly compelling so far, they've been solid enough to keep me onboard until the main series launches. *** I've enjoyed Adam Beechen's OYL take on Robin, and I've been hoping for a long while that Geoff Johns would step aside and let someone else take over Teen Titans, so having Beechen on both is a promising turn of events that will hopefully result in some meaningful character development for Tim Drake over the next year or two.

Heartbreak Soup Palomar Vol 1 TPB, $14.95
Maggie The Mechanic Locas Vol 1 TPB, $14.95

I've wanted to get into Love & Rockets and Los. Bros Hernandez for a long time now, so maybe these will be the gateway collections that finally make it happen.

Burning New York Graffiti NYC TPB (resolicited), $39.95

This is a pricey tome but it looks interesting and Gingko did right by me last time I picked up a couple of their books. Still, yet another non-comic book in the comic book section of the list. Seriously, how's that work?

Reinventing Comics TPB (Harper Collins Ed), $22.95

I'm about halfway through Scott McCloud's Making Comics and it is an amazing piece of work, absolutely essential reading for anyone creating or writing about comic books. Based on that, and the equally essential Understanding Comics, I'm going to have to finally stop procrastinating and check out Reinventing Comics.

Annihilation Book 1 HC, $29.99
Civil War 1 For 75 Turner Sketch Var #7 (Of 7), AR
Immortal Iron Fist #3, $2.99
Legion Of Monsters Werewolf By Night #1, $2.99
Powers #23, $2.95

I've seen so many positive reviews for Annihilation, and coupled with the fact that Quesada admitted that he didn't hype it too much because it wasn't his cup of tea, my interest is piqued. Not sure about the Hardcover only collecting half of the saga, but I might pick up the eventual TPBs if I like what I see when I flip through them. *** So, what does it take to get a 1-for-75 variant cover? Assume the average retailer is paying approx. $1.46/copy for the regular issue, so that's approx. a $109.50 investment for each variant copy, most of which will likely be flipped for at least half that much if not more on eBay, except for the major retailers who are ordering 300+ copies of the issue anyway, and can afford to price them lower. Retailers who give into this scheme in the name of superior customer service are ultimately harming themselves because Marvel and DC justify the continued use of variants as supplying the demand. So, who's killing comics?

House Of Sugar GN, $10.00

Well, check this out! A book I've never heard of, and the publisher, Tulip Tree Press, has a nicely designed web site that turns up on the first page of a Google search for "House of Sugar"; detailed information and samples of the book (the WHOLE book, actually); and ordering and contact information for the creator and publisher. Imagine that! It does get a demerit, however, for its lack of availability on Amazon.

Devi Sp Extended Coll Ed #1 & #2, $6.99
Sadhu Sp Extended Coll Ed #1 & #2, $6.99
Snakewoman Sp Extended Coll Ed #1 & #2, $6.99
Walk-In #3, $2.99

Nice to see Virgin making their comics accessible by releasing these bumper editions of the first two issues, but their Web site makes no reference to them or why they seem to cost more than the two issues did individually. Is there extra content? Dunno. Too bad, too, as I might have been tempted into getting one or two of them, but lacking that info, it will now depend on them actually being on the shelves when I get to Midtown, quite likely for a large retailer, but what about those LCBS' with tighter budgets and less experimental clientele? Missed opportunity, I think.

19 February 2007

Marketing Monday: No-Brainer Marketing Efforts

Marketing MondayThanks to Adam Kubert, today's Marketing Monday column will be delayed until later this evening.*

So far, we've looked at the five basic steps to developing a simple marketing plan and how they specifically relate to marketing comics. Last week, I put forth five specific marketing efforts, no-brainers that every aspiring publisher should be ready (and able) to implement in order to separate themselves from the hobbyists with a Previews solicitation, a blog, and idiotic message board posts** whining about the state of the industry and how stupid superhero comics fans are. (Oh, look! Another one. Sigh...) This week, we'll take a closer look at a couple of them.

Marketing No-Brainers

1) Professionally designed logos and trade dress.

2) A non-Flash Web site, with a regularly updated blog; separate landing pages for each title and creator, with links to reviews and interviews; PDF and JPG samples of all titles, current, upcoming and backlist; publisher and creator contact information; release schedules and retailers list; viral downloadables, ie: wallpaper, screensavers, AIM icons, signature banners, podcasts, etc.

3) A PowerPoint presentation promoting the publisher's niche in the marketplace (actual and/or hoped for); titles -- current, upcoming and backlist; creators, awards, reviews, press, etc.

4) Basic marketing materials, ie: business cards, booth signage, brochures, postcards, pins, pens, etc.

5) Well-written, informational press releases with a specific call-to-action.
The latter two are pretty obvious, if not always properly implemented, and I'm not going to spend any time on them right now. There are tons of non-comics-specific resources available that address both of them, and other than booth signage and promotional giveaways, they're all free or relatively inexpensive. The first three items, though, are extremely important and can be the difference between distributors and retailers ordering none, a couple or several copies of your comic book or graphic novel.

Simple Marketing Fact #3: Vestis virum reddit.

"Vestis virum reddit" is the only Latin phrase I remember from my one-and-a-half years of high school Latin -- it means "the clothes make the man" -- and I had to Google it to get the spelling right. Nevertheless, it is a marketing truism, the publishing equivalent of the most common advice to new salespeople to "look the part" and "act like you know".

The next time you're in your favorite LCBS, take a step back and scan the shelves in front of you. Which front-facing titles stand out from the crowd? Which spines are immediately identifiable, no matter the thickness? Which logos properly communicate the tone of the story underneath the covers?

Focusing on the spines of TPBs and OGNs for a second, one thing that stands out to me is how Marvel and Image prioritize their own branding, placing their logos at the top of the spine, while DC, Scholastic and First Second, among others, all give the title of the individual publication that primary position, placing their logos at the bottom of the spine. Neither approach is right or wrong, but both are very specific and notable long-term marketing decisions that are important to consider at the beginning.

Now, visit your local bookstore and do the same thing. What's similar, and what's different? How does a Stephen King novel differ from a Charlie Huston novel, and how do they both differ from the latest Star Wars or Forgotten Realms novels? Can you tell a Harper Perennial from a Beacon from a Soft Skull? Do you need to?

When developing the logos and trade dress for your own comic books, don't assume that just because you have a great artist that they're also a great designer, too; logos are to art as poetry is to fiction, and rarely does the talent for both reside in one person. You also have to look way beyond the comics industry for good examples, especially those publishers whose attention is focused primarily on the direct market. One of the most important marketing investments you'll make in the beginning will be in your logos and trade dress, and there are many resources available that focus on these things, either offering advice on how to do it yourself, or companies who specialize in designing them for you. Use them.

Simple Marketing Fact #4: Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Your Previews solicitation cannot be the first time someone hears of your book. When developing a marketing plan for a new comic book -- whether an ongoing or mini-series, trade paperback or original graphic novel -- the implementation needs to begin 6-12 months before its expected publication date. The process will be somewhat different for a periodical publication targeting the direct market vs. a TPB or OGN targeting the direct and mass markets, particularly the timeline, but the ultimate goal for both is the same: maximizing your publication's visibility and convincing distributors and retailers of its saleability.

Having a fully functional, informational, search engine optimized Web site is an essential second step. Once your logos and trade dress are designed and approved, before the first press release goes out to announce your existence, you MUST have a viable Web site established. It can be via a free service like Blogger or WordPress, or it can be something fancier, if your budget allows, but it's an absolute must-have and you'll need adequate storage space and bandwidth available to avoid any unwanted surprises.

Registering at least a primary .com domain is not prohibitively expensive, and there are hosting plans as cheap as $4.95/month, so there's simply no excuse not to have a Web site.

As I said last week and repeated above, this Web site should NOT be Flash-based, because not everyone can, or wants to, view Flash sites. They're also not search engine friendly and are more difficult to update than a traditional HTML-based site. Flash sites look cool, but letting your ego make your marketing decisions for you is a recipe for disaster.

Your Web site should, at a minimum, include:

1) Definitive URLs (".com" and ".net") for the publisher and individual titles

2) A regularly updated blog

3) Individual landing pages for every publication and creator

4) PDF and JPG samples of all publications, current, upcoming and backlist

5) Mailing list

6) Publisher and creator contact information

7) Release schedules and distributor/retailers list

8) Online store, via CafePress or similar POD provider, for brand-extension merchandising
Additionally, any feasible viral downloadables should be made available, including wallpapers, AIM icons, signature banners, podcasts, screensavers, etc. These are the things that can encourage virtual street teams to organically develop, spreading your marketing message far and wide, acting as brand advocates and demonstrating your publication's ability to attract an audience.

I've purposefully left message boards off of this list because they are a tricky proposition and can lead to various levels of frustration and/or embarrassment. Poke around the various forums on Image's site and in most of them you'll find a dozen or so people hanging around, an awkward combination of fans and sycophants, most aspiring creators themselves, cheerleading the efforts of their fellow creators or talking smack amongst themselves as if they were hanging out in each others' living rooms. Several other publishers host almost barren forums that are little more than repositories for unread press releases and updates on shipping delays.

An abrupt To Be Continued... this week as this one's getting too long and we still have to cover The Presentation and its importance in reaching distributors and retailers you may never have the opportunity to meet with face-to-face.


Geoff Johns: Weasel* Quick Marketing Tip: Throwing colleagues under the bus is a major no-no, even if you're Geoff Johns and you apparently think your shit doesn't stink.

Doing so to "protect" one colleague over another is even worse.

Comics are a collaborative art, extremely dependent on a level of trust between all involved to ensure the best possible end result, and as Salvador Larroca made clear a little while back, an artist who doesn't have a vested interest in a story is one less inclined to stay on schedule: "When I am not so interested on the story, I tend to work less and take time to play tennis and other sports."

Johns should know better.

** SIDE NOTE: Snarking on the internet is not a smart idea for fledgling publishers (or creators). It's an insular, thin-skinned industry and as easy a target as some people may be, snark is best left to pundits with nothing to lose, or established, influential creators who can [theoretically] afford to piss in other people's Cheerios. Remember, marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them.

18 February 2007

Comic Book Commentary v2.0 and Other Stuff

Random, somewhat connected thoughts on the site, traffic and future plans...

ITEM: Ever since I got back on the blogging horse late last year, traffic has been on a steady upswing, which is very nice. January was our best month since our peak early last summer, and February is tracking quite nicely. Many, many thanks to Dirk Deppey in particular, who drives a ton of traffic here every time he posts a link on Journalista!. Thanks also to Johanna Draper Carlson, whose Blogs Worth Reading link sends a regular stream of traffic this way, too.

ITEM: Speaking of Deppey, If I'd have known how much traffic I could get from an off-the-cuff post about Wizard, I'd have made it a monthly column! Who would have thought that Journalista! readers were more interested in Wizard's sculpted butts and busts than in Stephanie Fierman (another unexpectedly popular post) or a series of columns on marketing comics? Rubber-neckers!

ITEM: Speaking of linking, our own Blogs of Note links in the sidebar represents personal blogs of note and not obligatory link swaps. While I'm always flattered by someone linking here, it doesn't automatically mean I'm going to reciprocate. That expectation goes the other way, too, as I don't expect reciprocity from those I link to. The Watchtower, on the other hand, includes links to pretty much every comics blog I come across.

NOTE: For those who DO link here, the preferred URL is www.comiccommentary.com, which currently redirects to the blog, and will simplify the eventual transition to Comic Book Commentary v2.0.

ITEM: A few new tweaks to the site include the addition of an email option for notification of new posts to the blog, via FeedBurner; a Babelfish translator, via AltaVista, for our non-English speaking visitors; and a bookmarking feature, via AddThis, that offers access to your favorite social bookmarking functions (all over in the left sidebar). The Creator Directory is being updated periodically, focusing on lesser-known, up-and-coming creators as I come across them; and the CBC Bookstore, powered by Amazon.com, is perfect for some focused grapic novel and TPB shopping, with a variety of suggestions for almost every taste.

ITEM: I've been on Blogger since 2003 and despite their painfully slow adoption of new features, haven't been terribly compelled to switch to another service. I recently considered WordPress but the thought of converting everything for what seems like a marginal upgrade was off-putting. Last week, though, I discovered iJoomla Magazine, and fell in love. It offers the kind of functionality that fits perfectly with my vision of Comic Book Commentary v2.0, which I've been brainstorming ideas for since I relaunched the site under loudpoet.com last summer, as well as better fitting into my larger plans for my own writing this year.

ITEM: I've signed up for Robert McKee's Story Seminar in March, a huge first step in my shift from simply talking about wanting to focus more on my own writing and actually focusing more on my own writing! I left the poetry scene back in 2003 (though really, my heart stopped being in it back at the end of 2001) and fell into comics blogging by accident in 2004 (not unlike how I got into poetry, actually, believing I could do better than most of what I'd seen) and while it's been great for keeping the juices flowing from a mechanical perspective, creatively, it's been a bit of an obstacle as it sucks up the depressingly little bit of free time I have. The Story Seminar is an investment in, and a commitment to, changing that. Comic Book Commentary v2.0 will fit into that quite nicely, I think.

I hope...

16 February 2007

More Fun With Civil War

Another Civil War parody in the mother-f***ing house, as Spencer Carnage makes with the funny, GYWO style!

Why are these parodies all so much better than the story itself?

NOTE: There's a giveaway tied to this, too, so click through, laugh your ass off, and then take a shot at winning a cool assortment of TPBs, including the first three volumes of Y: The Last Man.

15 February 2007

More Uncle Sam & the Freedom Fighters, Please

Newsarama has an interview with Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters co-writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray that includes some commentary on the evolution of the mini-series from Grant Morrison's initial revamp of the characters -- with no credit given to Will Eisner, Lou Fine, Arthur Peddy, Paul Gustavson, Len Wein or Dick Dillin for the original creations -- to the story I've been enjoying far beyond my expectations when it was previewed in Brave New World.

Justin Gray: It's interesting how the series has evolved behind the scenes. Two years ago we started working with a blueprint developed by Grant Morrison. We had character foundations and a series of plot lines that he put together, but as we began to live with these new Freedom Fighters, things began to evolve in different ways.

...rolling into the second issue we began making significant changes to the direction of the book and the characters. Jimmy and I knew we'd have to make people pay attention because the team itself wasn't going to be a huge draw. Ray Terrill and Miss America became a big part of that plan. The one thing we had working in our favor was the connection to legacy characters and with that we hoped to draw the attention of JSA fans. Another part of the plan was to give Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters a unique voice and style, something to separate it from other team books. When your lead character is Uncle Sam, you might as well go over the top in terms of story ideas and villains. That's why we took Grant's idea of Gonzo and pushed him in a different direction.
My review of the first issue noted the surface similarities to Civil War, crediting Graymiotti for "doing more with less" and hoping that it might fulfill its potential by the end, and with one issue left to go, I'd say it has done that and more. Great ensemble cast with solid character development; good old fashioned fisticuffs; a nice balance of real-world and DCU political ideology; distinctive artwork; a genuine sense of consequence; separate but not completely removed from the primary DCU.

I plan to do a full review when the mini-series is completed, but Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters and American Way are two of the best superhero comics DC has published over the past few years, far surpassing the overhyped likes of Civil Crisis, et al.

So, yeah, more Uncle Sam & the Freedom Fighters, please!

You're On Notice!

Comics on notice!

Call somebody out!

14 February 2007

The Difference Between Juvenile and Wizard

My kids are juvenile.

Wizard is simply pathetic.

[via: Wizard's New Low]

[via Wizard Magazine: Pay No Attention To The Industry Behind The Curtain]

Wonder how the new Editor-in-Chief is working ou--, oh wait; the position is still open! The optimist in me wants to believe that this means there's still hope for the nominal face of the comics industry to stop trying to be a low[er]brow Maxim, because the chances of any serious competition coming along to challenge them are slim-to-none since they'd need Marvel and DC's support and clearly neither company gives a damn about the industry's image as long as the status quo continues to pay off.

On Soliciting Reviews, Entitlement and Reaction Sheets

"You get what you get, and you don't get upset."
--Isaac D. Gonzalez, 6 years old
An interesting debate broke out over the weekend at Johanna Draper Carlson's blog, Comics Worth Reading, in response to a post entitled, Stupid Publisher Tricks: Review Copies and Guilt Trips (and its follow-up, Another Argument Against Review Copies), that took an unnamed creator to task for attempting to make her feel guilty about not having reviewed his unsolicited work:

I know you've never been a fan of my work...but despite that...I took my marketing guy's advice and added you to our review copy list. I just wanted to say that I was quite disappointed when I saw not even a week later that you had both [books] up for sale on Amazon.

I waited weeks to see if you would do the right thing and either write a review (good or bad) or at least contact me to let me know that you received them. All you had to do was say "thank you but no thank you" and I would have paid to ship them back.
Johanna is one of a handful of comics bloggers I genuinely respect, as do many professionals in the industry, so I was surprised by the creator's wrongheaded approach to the situation.

An overblown sense of entitlement isn't something that's limited to continuity obsessed fans, and the worst thing a creator (or publisher) can do assume that their work deserves a review. Challenging a reviewer on anything other than a purely factual level is a no-win situation; the creator is usually the one with more at stake, especially if the challenge occurs in a public forum. While this particular communication was via a backchannel email, the tone of it suggests someone who is prone to getting into public pissing matches*, which is an excellent example of bad marketing.

Remember, "marketing is everything a company does to acquire customers and maintain a relationship with them", and that includes interactions with the Press, especially online where Google remembers everything.

One interesting point that came out of the discussion was the suggestion that creators offer "reaction sheets" to simplify the process of getting feedback from reviewers who may, for a variety of reasons, decide to not review a particular piece of work.

A typical reaction sheet I sent out would have sections for the individual tracks on the record, if the DJ/reviewer liked it, how often he played it, if he liked the sound, and what the crowd reaction in the club was.

Like it, hate it, don't ever send something to me again.

That could easily be translated to sections for artwork, writing, design, plot/story, genre and whatever else you want to know. 5-10 boxes filled and one send button later you have your reaction, the reviewer doesn't feel bad and everyone's... well, at least not unhappy.

You can weed out the people who don't like your work, or keep people in mind, who enjoy your art/writing but maybe not the genre of your story, for future output. Also, that's how I handled it, two times no reaction and you're off the list.
This is a great idea, and one I'm going to implement for myself in the hopes that creators (and publishers, publicists, etc.) pick up on it and incorporate it into their regular solicitation process. There have been many times where I've read something that I decided against reviewing, either because 1) it wasn't very good, but not so bad as to deserve being taken to the Woodshed; 2) it defied a brief review but didn't inspire or merit an in-depth look; 3) it was clearly an early effort to build up one's skills and/or resume.

That last one is the trickiest, I think. Because of the relatively low barrier for entry, comics, like poetry, seems to encourage people to "publish" before they're actually ready for broad consumption, resulting in something that is more portfolio piece than viable end product. While I love to read such work because I can sometimes find the promise of something greater to come and adjust my radar accordingly, I have a different set of criteria for judging it that, in the spirit of encouragement, tends to skew a review to seem more positive than perhaps it should be and is more appropriate for direct feedback.

Plus, I do tend to fall behind on things I actually want to review, never mind the things I'd simply like to review because someone asked for my feedback, so the ability to offer feedback without the pressure of an outright review for public consumption is appealing. The prospect of receiving constructive criticism behind the scenes instead of in a public forum should be appealing to creators, too.

So, reaction sheets it shall be from now on when I can't get to a full review; a simple 5-point diagnostic with a sentence or two for each and a brief, blurbable summary:

Comic Book Commentary Feedback

1) Concept
2) Presentation
3) Script
4) Art
5) Synergy

Summary: _________________
Positive feedback I'll likely post here in some manner as a brief review, while the negative feedback will stay between the creator and I. With few exceptions, there's no good reason to savage anybody's hard work, no matter how amateurish it is, unless it's clearly an opportunistic cash grab or ridiculously overrated dreck, in which case it deserves its 40 lashes!

On a side note, I want to point out that Johanna's "How to Review" primer has served as my personal guide to reviewing since I first came across it a couple of years ago and, I think, has served me pretty well in my efforts. It should be required reading for all reviewers.

*NOTE, the second: I'm not speculating on the creator's identity; the linked confrontation is simply an example of how not to handle such situations. For more examples of bad marketing, check out Johanna's Stupid Publisher Tricks archive.

13 February 2007

Mark Your Calendar: Kids' Comic Con

A kid-centric comic convention, in the Bronx?!?! Alex Simmons is my hero!

Kid's Comic Con Slated for the Bronx

Known for his work as a writer of comics, prose and plays as well as an ongoing series of popular kids comics workshops held around New York City, Alex Simmons announced plans to hold the first Kid's Comic Con on the campus of the Bronx Community College, April 28. The first Kids' Comic Con will feature a variety of entertaining events and demonstrations on comics aimed at kids as well as workshops and exhibits focused on using comics as an educational tool for parents, teachers and librarians...

The one-day event will feature a Kid's Corner, where kids can create their own comics; workshops for educators and on drawing for aspiring young cartoonists. There will be exhibits of original art and demonstrations and portfolio reviews by industry professionals. The guest list includes a wide range of comics professionals, among them artists Eric Battle (The Spectre, Batman and Tarzan), Jamal Ingle (Firestorm and Nightwing), Jerry Craft (Momma's Boyz), writer/creator Jane Fisher (WHJC!) and comics editors Joan Hilty, Michael Wright (DC Comics) and Jim Salicrup (Papercutz). Also participating are comics historian Prof. William Foster, novelist and comics industry expert Danny Fingeroth; colorist Chris Sotomayer and many others. The event is receiving organizational support from Bronx Community College; Maurice White and Yumi Odum, organizers of Philadelphia's East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC); Diamond Comics and from the Museum for Comic and Cartoon Art.
On the now requisite marketing note, it's unfortunate that there's no web presence at all for this event yet beyond the PW article and one on Scoop, but there's still time, so I'm going to offer whatever assistance I can give to Simmons now.

Mark Your Calendar: NYCC 2007 After-Party

Last year's PopCultureShock-hosted After Party was so much fun, we're doing it again...Bigger, Better and FREER!

Saturday, February 24th
10pm - Until...?

54 West 21st Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues)

** No Cover Charge; No Guest List
** With DJs Dylan Garrett and Mr. Brown
** 2 Floors of Music, Drinks and Billiards
** Free, Exclusive Giveaway from Marvel for the first 200 guests to arrive!!!

[NOTE: Apologies again to those I emailed about this and forgot to BCC the list! Very, very bad marketing!]

On the Shelves: 2/14/07

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

In honor of Valentine's Day, my weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 2/14/07 is all about the love. No snark; no bad reviews; just the good, might-be-good and hope-it's-good stuff. As a result, it's a pretty light read, too! 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]


Franklin Richards: Lab Brat Digest

Star Wars Legacy #8, $2.99

Possibly the best licensed comic going right now, Ostrander and Duursema are doing for Star Wars what Busiek and Nord did for Conan.

Forgotten Realms Streams Silver Cvr A #1, $5.50

Okay, this is purely observation not snark, but "WTF?" with Devil's Due's recent price increases? $3.50 for G.I. Joe, now $5.50 for the Forgotten Realms adaptations? That's the sign for me to shift these to trade-wait status, which is bad for them since I was actually buying them along with the floppies.

Battlestar Galactica Zarek #2, $3.50

I finally caught an episode of Battlestar Galactica the other night -- with special guest star, Richard Hatch! -- and was surprised that it was as good as people have said it is. I really liked the NYPD Blue camera work, and Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell are appealing actors who give it some credibility, so I might check in on it now and then. Might even give the comic book a look, too.

Ron Jeremy The Hardest Working Man In Showbiz HC, $25.95

Another regular book listed in the comics section...?

Casanova #7, $1.99

Now THIS is love. Good comics, cheap price.

Franklin Richards Lab Brat Digest TPB, $7.99
Thunderbolts Presents Zemo Born Better #1 (Of 4), $2.99

When you're holding back the snark, there's often so much less to say about the ongoing adventures of the spandex set. Funny that.

12 February 2007

Marketing Monday: A Simple Plan, Part II

Marketing MondayLast week I covered the first three steps of Kevin Stirtz' "Smart Marketing System", focusing on a marketing plan's Goals, Market and Message, and this week I'll take a look at the final two pieces of this simple but apparently often confounding puzzle:

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
Money and Media, of course, are pretty much inseparable, with the former usually dictating the latter, and they're also the two aspects of a marketing plan most comics publishers seem to approach like a game of darts with Previews ads in the Bullseye, if not representing the entire dartboard.

Simple Fact #1: You have to spend money to make money.

There are many basic marketing efforts publishers can implement at little or no cost, and most of them are relative no-brainers that aren't going to set them apart from the real competition, but will at least give the impression that they're a legitimate publisher with a shot at still being around a couple of years from now.

Marketing No-Brainers

1) Professionally designed logos and trade dress.

2) A non-Flash Web site, with a regularly updated blog; separate landing pages for each title and creator, with links to reviews and interviews; PDF and JPG samples of all titles, current, upcoming and backlist; publisher and creator contact information; release schedules and retailers list; viral downloadables, ie: wallpaper, screensavers, AIM icons, signature banners, podcasts, etc.

3) A PowerPoint presentation promoting the publisher's niche in the marketplace (actual and/or hoped for); titles -- current, upcoming and backlist; creators, awards, reviews, press, etc.

4) Basic marketing materials, ie: business cards, booth signage, brochures, postcards, pins, pens, etc.

5) Well-written, informational press releases with a specific call-to-action.
If a publisher doesn't have these five items taken care of before they solicit their first publication to Diamond (or Ingram, or Bookazine, or whomever), they're simply not ready for prime time. These items, alongside other fundamentals like contracting with a printer and securing ISBNs, represent the most basic aspects that separate the hobbyist from the professional, and without them, your chances for profitability are pretty slim.

And what's the primary goal of marketing? Profitability.

So, that's the no-brainer, stop-reading-now-if-you-don't-have-them-in-order stuff. What about the fun stuff? The display ads in Previews, Wizard, and Entertainment Weekly; the 20x20 trade show booth; the local radio and TV commercials; the t-shirts, hats and private label beer?

All things in time, grasshopper.

Simple Fact #2: Wax on, wax off.

Taking nothing for granted, we have to focus on the fundamentals first. For most publishers, these No-Brainer items represent a significant investment in both time and money, and are the most likely things to be overlooked or half-assed in the rush to the printer.

If you flip through the back of the current issue of Previews, I'd wager that more than half of the publishers soliciting material there don't have all five of these items covered. Even Marvel and DC screw up the informational press release, and almost every publishers' Web site is lacking at least one or two of the items needed to maximize their usefulness as an effective marketing tool in the Google Era. This applies to mass market publishers, too, many of whom have Web sites that were conceived and designed back in the 20th Century and have not been updated since.

Next week, I'll break down these Marketing No-Brainers, showing why they are the most important step in determining the Money and Media portion of our Simple Plan, the crude oil that, once refined, will become the high octane fuel that drives our profit-making marketing machine forward.

10 February 2007

On the Web: Comic Book Movie Round-Up

It's quite likely that Spider-Man 3 will end up being the best superhero movie ever -- an honor currently shared, IMO, by Unbreakable and Batman -- and this clip from National CineMedia doesn't do anything to suggest otherwise.

I think Ghost Rider is going to surpass expectations and turn out to be a pretty good movie, though that acknowledgement may come long after it leaves theaters. It reminds me a bit of ConAir, Nicholas Cage's underrated action romp that reset the bar for loud, over-the-top action movies.

300 looks like it will be a visual masterpiece, not unlike the source material, and with Gladiator far in the rearview mirror, if Zack Snyder and company can flesh out Frank Miller's rather...er, spartan story into a full-length drama, it's going to be a huge hit and Gerard Butler's going to hav free reign to dish out beatdowns to bellhops across the country.

I've still not seen the first Fantastic Four (nor Catwoman, Daredevil or Superman Returns), partly because every preview I saw for it looked boring and uninspired, but the teaser for the sequel not only got me psyched about it, I now want to see the original, too.

PANEL: Civil Wards, Part IV

Civil Wards, Part IV: "The Final Part"
Art By Chris Giarrusso
Written by Marc Sumerak & Chris Giarrusso
February 2007, Marvel Comics

08 February 2007

5 Good Reasons Against Opening a Comic Book Store

1) "Bookshops' latest sad plot twist"

THIS is the paradox of modern bookselling. Even in an entertainment-saturated age, people still buy books. But the casual reader has many other places to get bestsellers and topical books, from warehouse stores to the mall. Meanwhile, book nuts -- the ones who simply must buy several volumes a week -- are lured online. Few businesses can survive that lose customers from both ends of the spectrum.

In 1995, anyone seeking a book that was the least bit uncommon had to have a store special order it from the publisher. If it was out of print, the would-be reader needed to trudge to the local secondhand shop, which would run a classified advertisement in AB Bookman's Weekly, a magazine that circulated among book dealers. It was a hit-or-miss proposition.

AB Bookman's Weekly went out of business in late 1999, an early Internet casualty. There are now half a dozen major Internet search engines that specialize in books. On one of them, AbeBooks.com, there are 44 copies of "The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop."

It's hard for any single used bookstore to compete against this bounty, just as it's impossible for any shop carrying new books to rival the electronic plenitude of Amazon. Because the Internet retailer doesn't have to pay rent for display space or charge sales tax, its books are almost invariably cheaper too.

"I'd be really hard pressed to come up with a single social or demographic trend that is in favor of bookstores," said Tom Haydon, whose Wessex Books in Menlo Park was for decades the best secondhand store in the 50-mile stretch between San Francisco and San Jose.
2) "Will the Dark Tower be a gateway comic?"


Marvel's trying, though...the few ads in the Dark Tower's initial issue are for an adaptation for The Last of the Mohicans, the hardcover collection of The Eternals (with an emphasis on "New York Times best-selling author, Neil Gaiman"), and a Dark Tower handbook. Incongruously, there's also an ad for a collection of Civil War, which I guess Marvel had to squeeze in there to show off the characters that are their main bread 'n' butter. But the ads were nicely designed, looking like real print ads that one might see in a magazine read by the general populace, and not too disruptive to the flow of the book. Thank goodness there wasn't one of those damned Wii ads stuck in the center.

The comic did sell very well on Wednesday...most of our regulars picked it up, and we did have several unfamiliar faces come in specifically for it. Having been through this sort of thing before, I know that a lot of these new faces probably won't move into buying other comics aside from whatever particular focus of interest brought them through our door in the first place...and most of them will probably stop buying the comic long before the series is completed anyway. But, at least we can be polite, friendly, and helpful to them while they are shopping with us, and that will be more likely to bring them back to the store than, say, trying to hardsell them on other comics in order to force the "gateway" aspect of this event.
3) "It's time to kill the 22 page story. Seriously."

Got into a couple conversations about this over the past few weeks - there seems to be something in the water - and it turns out writers hate the 22 page story. Artists aren't that crazy about it. Readers generally find it frustrating, particularly as prices creep upward. Retailers mostly seem fine with it, since it semi-guarantees a steady flow of product. Publishers? It's the familiar format for most of them, but most, particularly small publishers, probably aren't seeing much in the way of profit from them anymore. I doubt many editors would care one way or the other...

Readers aren't particularly drawn to 22 page stories anymore for all kinds of reasons, but they've also been trained now to avoid mini-series, and they're also resistant to anthologies and backup stories, which doesn't leave publishers with a lot of options. As I've mentioned before, the logical step is a shift from many monthly, 22 page story comics to far fewer original graphic novels of varying length. It's not quite here yet, but it's not far off either. Monthly comics will always have a function - for keeping talent in the public eye, they're apparently essential - but the 22 page story doesn't, not really. It's time to abandon the standard and let stories determine their own lengths - and publish/price accordingly.
4) "Closing the Store: Step Two"

And then, here's the kicker, I would also receive an invoice for "restocking." Yes, I will be charged a 10% fee for every single item I ordered over the last three months that hasn't been shipped (or in some cases even printed) yet.

This is where my feathers ruffle.

Sure, I ordered the items and, in a perfect world, I would pay for them when they arrive, place them on my shelves and offer them to my customers for purchase. However, why am I the one taking the hit for companies not getting their product out on time? If I ordered "Book A" back in October, with the explicit expectation that it would be on my shelf in December and then it doesn't show up until well into February or even later, how is that my fault?

The sad thing is, a lot of these unshipped items were special orders for customers who will never receive them (at least not from me). So I'm, in a sense, being penalized for wanting to provide excellent customer service.
5) "Book 'Em becomes bygone"

"We started out by buying a used book and comic book store that was sharing a space over by the Royal Bank, Jamieson says. "This lady had a bunch of used books for sale and we looked at it. I always wanted to be involved in books so my sister and I thought, at the very least, we would be buying a whole bunch of reading material if things didn't work out."

"We were subletting a little space from what was then a pet store and trophy place. We did that for about a year then we moved into the mall and started to (bring in) new books. We learned as we went. After a while, we went across the hall in the mall into a bigger space."

Clearly, things were going well for Book 'Em in the early years. What happened for Jamieson to move out of the mall and sell the business? Basically, it came down to her making a choice. "My son is autistic. He needed more attention than I could give him and run a business at the same time. So, you want to pick one thing to do well, so I chose to be the parent."

With that, she approached Ray Stern with an offer to sell Book 'Em to him and to operate it jointly with Lakeside Office Supplies and Cartridge World.

"When I first spoke to Ray about having this kind of thing in his store, I told him that it is not a stand alone business in Slave Lake. Not just because of Slave Lake, it's rather cultural at this point. People are buying (fewer) books. There are just too many other forms of entertainment out there completing with books today."
Despite all of this, and so many other good reasons against it, there's still a part of me that entertains the thought, fantasizing that somewhere down the road the bookstore / cafe / art space I've always imagined myself owning will become a reality.

Book 'Em's Carol Jamieson -- "So, you want to pick one thing to do well, so I chose to be the parent." -- was a jarring reality check, though. If / when the dream becomes reality (whether that's the store, or the directly connected dread dream* of full-time writing), it likely won't be until my kids are at least in high school, which is at least 8-10 years down the road. Who knows what the industry will look like by then, and whether or not I'll even care anymore?

* Typo, or Freudian slip?

07 February 2007

Strip Club: Lust & Marriage

Opening Lines, Pinky Probes, and L-Bombs: The Girls & Sports Dating and Relationship Playbook
By Justin Borus and Andrew Feinstein (Santa Monica Press, 2006; $14.95)

While I was vaugely familiar with the Girls & Sports comic strip from the Daily News, thanks to the main crossword puzzle appearing in the comics section, it was never one of the handful of strips I typically seek out for a chuckle to brighten my bleary-eyed morning commute. (Those would currently be Dilbert, Rose is Rose, Mutts, One Big Happy and, periodically, Doonesbury.) As such, I'd most likely have never thought to pick up Opening Lines, Pinky Probes, and L-Bombs: The Girls & Sports Dating and Relationship Playbook, the strip's first collected edition, which G&S co-author Andrew Feinstein graciously sent me a copy of for reviewing purposes.

Eschewing the traditional format of a sequential collection, Feinstein and co-author Justin Borus have smartly reconceived their strip as an endearingly sarcastic self-help guide to dating for guys, aiming just above the heads of the average Maxim reader to skewer the lighter side of male and female stereotypes without resorting to juvenile potty humor. They manage to get a lot of entertaining mileage out of what is effectively a one-dimensional joke, largely thanks to the many, many, many sports metaphors they employ to cover every imaginable base, from "The Art of Conversation" to "The Break-Up" to, of course, "Watching Sports With Girls" -- and they cover a lot of ground, leaving almost no stereotype unexploited.

Much of Opening Lines...'s humor is admittedly frat boyish, and on occasion, unexpectedly politically correct (making for a couple of awkward moments where it feels like they pulled their punches a bit), but overall it's good clean fun -- sometimes laugh-out-loud fun -- and would make a great gag gift for Valentine's Day as a "How-NOT-To" for your single friends, male or female.

You'll Have That, Volume 2
By Wes Molebash (Viper Comics, 2006; $4.95)

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Wes Molebash's You'll Have That, an unexpectedly sweet take on marriage that got more knowing grins than laugh-out-loud guffaws from me. Focusing on newlyweds Andy and Katie, it's like a CBS sitcom before the husband gets fat and the tone becomes cynical.

Each strip is concise and punchy, filled with understated observations about relationships that favor character development over stereotypes. What I enjoyed most about Andy and Kate's relationship is that it feels sincere; they're snarky and loving, with Andy frequently ending up the butt of a joke, and Molebash's clean artwork and expressive faces perfectly communicates that feeling.

The webcomic returned to its regular daily schedule this week, so I'm looking forward to following it and, if there's any justice in the world, newspapers will eventually pick it up because it's much better than a lot of more established strips currently running.

06 February 2007

On the Shelves: 2/7/07

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

My weekly look at select comic books being released Wednesday, 2/7/07. 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]


The American Way

Cthulhu Tales Rising One Shot, $6.99
Tag Cursed #1 (Of 5), $3.99

I'm not a Cthulu fan, but Boom!'s previous effort seems to have worked for those who are, and it's nice to see them sticking with the anthology format. *** The first Tag mini-series ended rather abruptly but set up an interesting enough premise that I'll probably check out the sequel if I don't gag on the too-steep $3.99 cover price.

American Way TPB, $19.99
Batman Year One Deluxe SC, $14.99
Detective Comics #828, $2.99
Helmet Of Fate Sargon The Sorcerer #1, $2.99
Jonah Hex #16, $2.99
Shazam The Monster Society Of Evil #1 (Of 4), $5.99

American Way narrowly missed making my Best of 2006 list, but it was an excellent read and one of the most underrated titles of the year. Hopefully more people check it out in TPB form. *** I'm up to the 5th volume of Jeff Smith's colorized Bone series from Scholastic and am completely and utterly hooked. As a result, I'm curious to check out his take on the Big Red Cheese.

GI Joe Americas Elite #20, $3.50

When did the cover price go up?!?! [checks...] Ah, as of this issue, the conclusion of two-issue transitional arc. Not cool! $3 is my tipping point for comics, when I think a little bit harder about whether or not I really need to buy a particular title. I've been enjoying this latest version of G.I. Joe, but with a new creative team coming onboard, a price increase is like a "Jump-off Point" neon sign.

Lucky At Cards MMPB, $6.99
Peddler MMPB, $6.99
Shards Of Crimson MMPB, $7.99

I'm a bit confused as to why, a) these novels are listed with in the comic book section; and b) why they're listed under Harper Collins when in fact the first two are published by Hard Case Crime, and the other by Dorchester Publishing, which claims to be "the oldest independent mass market publisher in America," and of whom Hard Case is an imprint. Confusion aside, Hard Case's author list is like my personal Who's Who list of "Writers I Wish Would Tackle Batman", including my absolute favorite, Lawrence Block.

Fell #7 (resolicited), $1.99

I vaguely remember really liking this comic book. Hopefully absence has made the heart grow fonder.

Dark Tower Gunslinger Born #1 (Of 7), $3.99
Ghost Rider Team-Up TPB, $15.99
Incredible Hulk #103, $2.99
Spider-Man And Power Pack #4 (Of 4), $2.99

Am I not a team player because I'm not the least bit jazzed about Dark Tower? I'll give Marvel credit for pulling off the midnight release PR stunt, though. They're already downplaying the pre-order sales, so I'll be curious to see what kind of response it gets in media, and how far, if at all, it carries over. *** What is the Ghost Rider Team-Up TPB? Sounds like it might be fun! *** Spider-Man And Power Pack has been the epitome of fun and I'm thrilled that Marvel keeps cranking them out.

Regards From Serbia GN, $19.95

This sounds very interesting: "This volume includes Zograf's entire e-mail correspondence to his friends throughout the world during the bombing of his hometown of Pancevo, as well as all of his comic strips produced over the decade Bosnian/Serbian war."

Books With Pictures #1, $2.95

Interesting title, interest piqued [Googles...] and that interest is now gone completely because there's no web presence where I can get more information about it. Not very dynamic at all, unfortunately.

05 February 2007

Make the F***ing Comics

Fables: Homelands, Vol. 7
Cheryl Lynn of Digital Femme, frustrated by the state of the comics union, nails the solution:

"I can see that I am going to have to make the fucking comics.

...right now I'm doing the second easiest thing. And that is to not-so-politely bitch. Because I suppose I'm still hoping that someone else will make the fucking comics. Because there are a ton of people out there with infinitely more talent and monetary resources than I possess. People who already have an established reputation and a publishing house that adores them. And I don't. But they don't give a damn. And I do."
It certainly seems that way some times, doesn't it? Not to say there aren't any capable, well-intentioned writers out there working in comics writing stories that represent a broader range of the American experience (never mind that of other cultures), but there certainly aren't enough of them.

There can never be enough, really.

"It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves great results. The wish to preserve the past rather that the hope of creating the future dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young."
--Bertrand Russell
But it's not just about making the comics, it has to be about publishing them, too, because unless you're already established like Kyle Baker -- or willing to compromise by producing "color" variations of the same old, same old -- you're probably not walking into an Image contract, and even if you are, you're certainly not going to be handed the keys to Spider-Man, Batman, et al.

"I've always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do."
--Steve Jobs
And honestly, if we're being serious about doing this right, Marvel, DC, Image, etc. aren't really the answer because they either don't get it or aren't built in a way to do anything about it.

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."
--Mahatma Gandhi
So Cheryl is right; we're going to have to make the fucking comics, then we're going to have to publish the fucking comics and market the fucking comics to make sure that people know about them so we can keep publishing them until retailers have no choice but to take notice and other publishers have no choice but to take notice and eventually posts like these become unnecessary and future generations look back in surprise that there was ever a need.

That's a serious challenge that requires not just the passion to see it happen but a serious commitment to making it happen, because it's not going to happen overnight and there are plenty of people who will say it can't be done. Of course, those people already have their stories being told, so we can ignore them.

Marketing Monday: A Simple Plan, Part I

Marketing MondayBefore I go any further with this, I want to establish the three basic principles that will represent the foundation for the Marketing Monday series of columns:

1) Publishing comics is a business, not a hobby;
2) Proftability within 3-5 years, if not sooner, is the goal.
3) The ultimate goal of marketing is to match a company's products and services to the people who need and want them, thereby [ensuring] profitability. (Investopedia)
Last week, I referenced Kevin Stirtz' "Smart Marketing System", a simple, 5-step blueprint for building and implementing a successful marketing plan, and posited it as 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
This week, I want to break down the first three components of his system as it specifically relates to comics.

1. The GOALS or objectives you want to accomplish

In developing a marketing plan, a publisher (or creator) needs to define 3-5 very specific objectives and establish the metrics by which their plan's success or failure will be measured. Will you be focusing on branding on direct action? On a specific publication, creator or the entire line? Are you looking for short-term results or long-term growth?

Sample goals and objectives might include:

1) Build brand awareness among the retail community, direct and mass market, with emphasis on the publisher's brand and the quality of its titles and creators.

2) Achieve 2% Actual Dollar Market Share in the North American direct market by Fiscal Year 2009.

3) Build electronic marketing databases for retailers, media and audience with full contact information, demographics and psychographics.
2. The MARKET you want to reach

Who is your target audience, specifically?

Every small publisher, even imprints of the larger publishing houses, needs to define their target audience as closely as possible. Targeting "teenage girls", or "white males aged 18-34", or "discerning comics fans" isn't enough unless you have a relatively mainstream product and a healthy budget to promote it -- quite frankly, if you're publishing comics, you don't.

No, stop; you really don't.

You have to dig deeper and find your niche, ideally one that's underserved, but not one that's so narrow it can't realistically sustain you. It's a common trap many fans fall into, believing that if only publishers put out the stuff they think is great, they'd be rolling in dough. A single laser-targeted title can be a good place to establish your brand, but unless you want to be a one-hit wonder, your focus needs to be a little bit broader. The Guardian Line and Charlie Foxtrot Entertainment are two recent examples of targeting specific audiences that are broad enough to have a realistic shot at being successful and allow for a pretty wide range of products, assuming of course that they're properly capitalized. (The key difference between a legitimate business and a hobby.)

Another thing to consider is the difference between demographics (who is your audience?) and psychographics (why do they buy what they buy?), which I'll get into in a later column. Greg Burgas got some great feedback last week to a post that asked "How do we choose the comics we read?"; while not exactly scientific evidence, it serves as an excellent anecdote that people buy comic books for very different reasons and the market cannot be approached as some monolothic entity like "teenage girls" or "the black vote".

3. The MESSAGE you want to deliver to your market

One of the key aspects of marketing that often gets lost is that it's not really about you or your product; it's about your audience and how they connect with you and your product. There are a ton of books of all kinds published every year, but the ones that typically stand out do so not simply because they're good -- in fact, many times they're not -- but because they make a connection of some kind with their intended audience, usually an emotional one.

There's a saying in sales that people "shop with logic but buy on emotion," and as stereotypes go, it's pretty accurate. Look at almost everything from real estate to consumer electronics to comic books, and the things people buy often defy logic -- whether it's the house they can't afford but the kitchen is absolutely perfect for dinner parties; the 52-inch projection TV that takes up half the living room but makes the Super Bowl much more exciting; or the multi-title spanning crossover that's going to change everything in a universe where nothing really ever changes for long.

Most human beings are slaves to their emotions and if you can tap into that in some way with your marketing efforts, you'll be a step ahead of your competition.


These first three components of your marketing plan are effectively the engine, and over the life of this column, we'll return to them frequently. Next week, though, we'll take our first look at the fuel needed to make that engine run smoothly: the MONEY and the MEDIA.

04 February 2007

Blogaround Challenge 2007 "Winners"

Well, damn! Who knew giving away FREE comics would be harder than selling gas-guzzling SUVs when gas prices are $2/gallon and rising?!?!

I was corresponding with a fellow blogger recently, one who's been around since the Usenet days, and she noted how the Comics Blog Boom of the past couple of years seems to have faded a bit. It used to annoy me when I'd read self-proclaimed 1.0 bloggers reminiscing about the "good old days" when, as I understand it, Journalista! and the Warren Ellis Forum were the focal point that ultimately birthed the Blogiverse.

Since I started blogging about comics back in late-2004, I've seen some great blogs come and go, and the number of new ones still seem to be spawning at an exponential rate. It seems that lasting more than a year is a badge of honor; more than two, an increasing rarity.

Anyway, before this rambles off into a post about something other than originally intended, I want to congratulate the two winners of our Massive Archaia, Viper & Spider-Man Giveaway: A Trout in the Milk's Plok and Kleefeld on Comics' Sean Kleefeld.

They also happened to be the only two entrants -- which sucks since part of the reason for the contest was to generate some cross-blog pollination in the hopes that we might all discover a new blog we hadn't come across before. Maybe it was too much to ask for a nice batch of free comics? Ah, well; plans, mice and men, c'est la vie, and all that!

Despite his being from North of the Border, I'll give Plok first pick for which of the three prize packets he wants, and then Kleefeld can pick from the remaining two. Depending on which one neither of them pick, I may come up with another (simpler?) giveaway or just donate them to the library or something.

Plok & Sean, leave your respective choices here as a comment and then email me your mailing addresses to glecharles at gmail dot com. I'll get the books out within the next week or so. Congratulations and thanks for playing!

03 February 2007

Tidbits: Movies, Retail and Writing Aspirations

ITEM UPDATE: Wonder Woman Spec Script Review

Latino Review's El Mayimbe has a preview/review of the Wonder Woman spec script that seemingly helped get Joss Whedon axed from the movie.

Overall, a very great read. The writers did their homework. As a comic book character origin movie - it is just as good as Batman Begins.

I can see why Silver supposedly took it off the spec market. If I was a betting man, I figure this is the origin story that Warners might stick with. My note to the studio is to not touch the script, leave it intact, get yourself a good director and shoot this script. It is all there on the page.
From what he describes, in the right director's hands with a strong supporting cast, I totally agree. Coupled with the rumor that the movie has now been "fast-tracked" despite having no director attached, it's quite possible that we may be seeing the Amazon demi-goddess hit the silver screen before Superman's next go-round, which could be a very good thing for Warner Brothers if it turns out to be a hit and does so within a year of the Batman sequel.

ITEM: Joss Whedon off Wonder Woman, David Goyer off Flash.

In the next week or two, I need to do a follow-up on my coverage of Superman Returns, and part of it will deal with how its box office performance likely led to both of these decisions. While the Flash will probably never work as a live-action movie, with the right script, it could totally work as a Pixar-style animated movie. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, has some potential, but in light of Superman Returns' relatively disappointing performance, Whedon simply wasn't the right guy for the movie. He's a cult figure with no box office credibility, not unlike Bryan Singer and Sam Raimi were when they first took on X-Men and Spider-Man, but the expectations and the stakes are so much higher now. His reported preference for the bland, relatively unknown Cobie Smulders in the lead role was probably the final nail in his coffin.

It'll be interesting to see which direction they go in now. A low-profile director/high-profile actress, a la Tim Story/Jessica Alba in Fantastic Four, is my gut feeling, though I'd love to see Julie Taymor take a shot at it with a completely unknown actress in the lead, and a solid supporting cast of established character actors behind them.

ITEM: RIOT Comics + Culture to Close

Yeah, it's been brewing for a while now. And, honestly, I couldn't be happier.

Don't get me wrong. I still LOVE comic books (and will continue to buy them by mailorder so I can be a geek in the privacy of my own home), but I'm not sure I was ever in love with selling comic books. There's a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that I was so blissfully ignorant about, from scheduling problems to freight charges, marketing gimmicks to creator meltdowns, that I'd much prefer to just be a reader again.
Sad, sad news, but at least there's a positive spin to it. I trekked out to visit Riot a couplafew weeks after it opened and thought Jason had the right idea about what a comic book store could aspire to; an open and inviting location with a diverse selection to choose from, a lounge area to relax and read or talk, a gallery space to promote local artists. There's apparently some snarky rejoicing going on behind the scenes as Jason was an outspoken advocate of doing things differently, but the Isotope's James Sime -- another retailer with a vision of how to sell comics better -- offers the best angle on things:

With Riot, Richards did exactly what he set out to do two years ago and if he feels that his mission in comics retail is done then we applaud him for making the decision he has. Because make no mistake he did succeed in his mission, he did it with style and gusto, and his impact on the future of comics retail is undeniable.

Here's what I wrote to Jason directly yesterday, since he understandably is blocking comments right now: "Thanks for allowing me (and everyone else) an honest inside look into the process of opening, running and, ultimately, closing a store. It's an oddly sobering yet still inspiring story, and if/when you write a book about it, I'll definitely pick it up. Hell, if my own plans play out right, maybe I'll make you a pitch to publish it! LOL!"

Best wishes to Jason and his family, and hopefully Sime is correct and the industry will learn something from both Riot's existence and ultimate demise.

ITEM: Diversity Dustup Turns Civil, Productive?

The debate over The All-New Atom continued to rage throughout the week across several blogs, but over the last day or so, has started to take a turn towards the positive at One Diverse Comic Book Nation as the focus began to shift from the specifics of Ryan Choi to the broader subject of diversity and how to improve the situation in comics. Perhaps due to her own origins as a comics pundit/satirist, Gail Simone has been a real trooper in the discussion, getting heated and indignant at times but never walking away from the debate, for which she has gained my total respect. As a result, I think, eyes have been opened on all sides and there might actually be some good to come out of it all.

In the midst of it all, she asked what ended up being a perfectly timed question for me: "Who here has written or hopes to write comics someday? Show of hands." It wasn't in the typical, "What do you know? Have you ever written a comic?" defensive mode of a Tom Beland, but rather framed in the more constructive context of "...who is actually thinking of fighting the bear from INSIDE the arena."

On the heels of yesterday's post about poetry and comics, my blogmate, friend and neighbor, Dan asked me last night to collaborate on this great story concept he'd first told me about a while back and I bit. It's been a long time since I've done any creative writing, and this blog is a bit of a double-edged sword. It was originally intended to keep the juices flowing until I had time to commit to my own writing again, but it's become a labor of love that has pretty much prevented that free time from becoming available.

My writing process has always been inspirational, driven by the immediate need to get something out and onto the paper hard drive as quickly as possible and often influenced by depression, frustration and/or alcohol. Much of my poetry came from that place, and after a few years of marriage and being a father, that well had all but dried up. It's the reason journalism was never a full-time option, because the thought of covering stories or people I have no particular interest in has zero appeal.

The opportunity to collaborate with someone else on an interesting story is appealing for a lot of reasons, though, and has become even more so ever since I started following the Grey's Anatomy Writers' Blog (now blogrolled on the left and tracked in the Watchtower). Dan's got a great concept that I already added a couple of wrinkles to when he first told me about it, so I'm really excited about the whole thing.