Kaiju Force

Yesterday we began pouring over Eric Stephenson’s speech at February’s ComicsPro event. Today we return thanks to Bleeding Cool’s transcript. Today: the womenfolk and the “evils” of licensed comics.

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

Don’t tell the writers of The Big Bang Theory.

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

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

Transformers Prime Beast Hunters #8

A woman wrote a tie-in comic that is one of the few GOOD Transformers series out of IDW.

Um…what?

Never mind that last sentence. There is indeed a lack of comics for women and women in the industry. Or at the big publishers. The internet is a good place to go and Comics Alliance has been doing just that with a series of articles called “Hire This Woman”. I have not read these comics, although I recently saw a review of Lazarus. They aren’t my thing because they’re for women. They’re not my thing because they’re dark, violent, and depressing. How about something for fans of lighter fare? Of both genders?

Oh, and women do like superheroes, too. Something that should be considered that isn’t. DC probably thinks Superman/Wonder Woman is a romance comic.

It is comics like SAGA that get new readers in your door. I know this, because I have met SAGA readers.

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

They read all of that and more, but even better still: They are hungry for more.

You want to save comics? Sell Image. 😛 I don’t have a problem with this but this alone isn’t drawing in new readers. The licensed comics he lambasted earlier are also interesting people. You think fans of G.I. Joe, Lost In Space, or My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic aren’t going to be introduced to the unique way comics can tell a story by hearing “more Pinkie Pie! WANT!”? They’re as much a gateway into comics as any novelist whose name is attached to a work…and possibly with better odds a story will feel like a comic and thus get them to try other comics. Having some non-superhero comics for them is a good thing since not everyone loves superhero stories. That said…..

There is a vast and growing readership out there that is excited about discovering comic books, but as long as we continue to present comics to the world in the Biff Bang Pow! context of Marvel and DC, with shop windows full of pictures of Spider-Man and Superman, we will fail to reach it. The biggest problem with comic books is that even now, even after all the amazing progress we’ve made as an industry over the last 20 years, the vast majority of people have no idea whatsoever about how much the comics medium has to offer.

As an industry, we still cling to the shortsighted and mistaken notion that presenting ourselves to the world as Marvel and DC, as superhero movies, is the key to reaching a wider audience, and it’s just not. People know what Spider-Man is. People know what Superman is. They know Batman. They know the X-Men. And you know what? They’ve already made their mind up about that stuff, and that’s why the success of those movies has yet to translate into an avalanche of readers into our industry.

We have trained the world to think of comics as “Marvel and DC superheroes.”And the world has stayed away. We need to fix that.

And there have been a number of non-superhero comics getting made into movies. Wanted. Cowboys And Aliens. Men In Black. Scott Pilgrim Versus The World. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. V For Vendetta. All comic book based movies that have nothing to do with superheroes and only Scott Pilgrim would be a “Biff Bang Pow” story. The problem isn’t the theaters. Honestly, it’s the press. The regular press DiDio has been courting like a John Hughes character. They see anything with superheroes like the 60’s Batman and they don’t always mention that the movies l listed were based on comic books.

We need to get the word out that comics have more variety than people think and we have a great tool for that: the internet! Specifically trailers on YouTube or entertainment sites that don’t cater to comics. Reach out to these sites. Make trailers for comics. Archie and numerous self-publishers, with or without pushing a Kickstarter, have made trailers promoting comics that don’t involve the usual comic fare and even stuff you WON’T find at Image or anyone else in a Diamond catalog.

If we want to reach out to new readers, to different readers, we need to look at what we’re pitching them. More than that, we need to look at who our customer base is – not just who is coming into the stores, but who ISN’T – and ask what we can do to make our marketplace more appealing to them. ANYONE who isn’t currently buying comics should be our target audience. THAT is who we want coming into comic book stores, and it is new creativity that is going to pave their way to your door.

It’s unlikely that every potential comic reader is going to go into a comic shop. That’s why they need to not stay in one place. I know of people who don’t even have a comic shop that isn’t hours away. But they have other stores. If comics are going to attract new readers they need to get beyond the walls of a comic store. They may end up only getting one or two titles. And those titles will be based on an old or new TV show, movie, or video game. It is also possible that they will discover other things and this may lead them to a comic store. However, magazine racks, local events like art expos (I’ve heard a number of self-publishers say they have better luck at an art show than a comic show),  and bookstores shouldn’t be overlooked as ways to introduce new people to comics. Comics should be everywhere, with comic stores promoted as meeting areas for comic fans when there aren’t any conventions or other gatherings going on.

We talk about being obsessed with expanding our audience, but if publishing lesser versions of people’s favorite cartoons, toys, and TV shows is the best we can do, then we are doomed to failure. Simply reframing work from other media as comic books is the absolute worst representation of comics. We can invite readers to innovate with us, but repurposing someone else’s ideas as comic books isn’t innovation – at best, it’s imitation, and we are all so much better than that.

Then stop publishing lesser versions. Comics can tell a story in a way TV can’t. A properly done tie-in can enhance the show, but also act as a gateway to original properties. You can’t find something that will lead people to discover Super Dinosaur? Here, let me combine this thought with his next comment.

Look at THE WALKING DEAD. I know, I know – it’s a hit television show. But before that – long before that – it was a hit comic book. THE WALKING DEAD came out of nowhere one October, and it increased in sales month over month, year after year, for a full five years before there was a television show. THE WALKING DEAD is one of the most successful franchises in the history of comics – we have sold millions of units of comic books, trade paperbacks, toys, statues, apparel, and hardcovers – and it is completely homegrown.

Scribblenauts Unmasked #2

The writer of this? Also wrote one of my new favorite Superman stories in a non-licensed comic.

And people found it because of the TV show. This is what gets me. I became a DC fan because of Superfriends. The first comic series I collected was The Transformers. Scribblenauts Unmasked, and the Mega Man and Godzilla comics are some of the best comics I’ve read recently. (Even Kingdom Of Monsters, a comic I had issues with, was something I enjoyed.) There does not need to be this war between the medium, with live action theatrical movies as the highest plateau. (My favorite Batman movie is Mask Of The Phantasm and I would love a properly done animated Superman movie on the big screen.)

All the mediums should be working together. I would love to see a property where the comics, novels, video games, TV shows, and movies were all canon together rather than simply based on one of the options. You shouldn’t need to read, watch, and play all the formats to enjoy your preferred experience but if you do you get a complete story and a fully fleshed-out universe that may lead people to check out more stories outside of that universe in a form they normally wouldn’t. I don’t mean loosely based tie-ins. I mean all the producers working together to create a combined experience. That would be amazing! (The hardest part would be the video game even if they have a great engine to start from.)

New creativity is the future of this industry, not the latest SPIDER-MAN #1. People come to comic book stores looking for original content, because it’s what we do best, not for comic book versions of things that are done better in other mediums. If we seriously want to expand the marketplace and appeal to new readers, different readers, we can only do that by developing new things that only exist in our market.

While the rest of the entertainment industry lays back in the cut and churns out sequel after remake after reboot after sequel, we need to be on the frontline with the biggest, boldest, and best of the new ideas that will keep this industry healthy and strong for years to come. Let the rest of the world come to US – let them make movies and TV shows and toys and cartoons based on what WE do. Their dearth of ideas and their continued fascination with our unbridled creativity will only make us stronger.

I agree and disagree with this. I mean, it’s nice to see someone who actually thinks comics are a good medium, at least on par with television and movies. It’s also good that he says that new ideas (or at least a fresh take on an old one) are what’s needed, not another relaunch. (And who wouldn’t want Amazing Spider-Man #1000?) But again we should not be at war with other mediums. We should work together to push a brand. You can still occasionally see comics used to push toys and toys based on comics. One isn’t better than the other.

Frankly, who cares where the idea came from? The point is to not screw it up when it’s in your hands.

Like I said, THE WALKING DEAD comic book was selling great before it was a television show. Now it sells even better. And that’s because the show made people aware of the comic – and those people came to your stores to get that comic. Because they want the real thing.

Not necessarily. I have both Jurassic Park novels and my mom, who like the movies, hasn’t asked to read them. I’m sure there are plenty of Walking Dead viewers who haven’t read the comics. How many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans are there who didn’t like the second animated series because it was closer to the comic than the first cartoon? To them the first cartoon is the “real thing” and not the source material. Getting away from comics, see also the Battlestar Galactica remake. There are Transformers fans who never owned a toy.

TRANSFORMERS comics will never be the real thing. GI JOE comics will never be the real thing. STAR WARS comics will never be the real thing. Those comics are for fans that love the real thing so much, they want more – but there’s the important thing to understand: They don’t want more comics – they just want more of the thing they love. Those comics are accessories to an existing interest, an add-on, an upsell, easy surplus for the parent products – icing on the cake.

And this is a bad thing why? I want more Transformers stories. (Sadly, IDW is not usually making the stories I want.) I want more Godzilla stories. People want more G.I. Joe or Star Wars stories. So what? And he does come off as saying he’s against these comics. Again, I don’t care where the idea came from, but how well it’s done. I don’t like the current Transformers comics. The same goes for Masters Of The Universe (although I have flipped through the latest DC crossover and Orko was semi-redeemed) and Voltron. There are Transformers and Voltron comics I am not buying because I don’t like the stories being told. The same goes for Superman and Iron Man. I liked the Savage Dragon cartoon. STILL not drawn to the comic book.

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

Yes, like Men In Black. Wait…. To be fair he does list some good ideas for comic stores:

So much of the comics experience is about sharing. We share our thoughts and feelings about comics with each other; we share the comics we love with our friends; writers and artists share the worlds they’ve created with their readers. Something that sets the Direct Market apart from the rest of the retail world is the amazing communal experience you can only find in comic book stores. That communal spirit has been part of the Direct Market’s success since its very inception, and now is the time to foster that spirit so that it continues to grow.

Do more signings. Plan more sales. Throw parties. Invite writers and artists to speak at your store, or in your community, as an adjunct to regular signings. A lot of stores are hosting book clubs – we need more of that, focused on as many subjects as your customers can think of. Host workshops and help foster new creativity yourselves, so that you’re directly involved in cultivating the next generation of comic book creators.

Be more inclusive – one of the best sales tools at your disposal is your ability to build a community around your store. Make your store a destination for everyone – men, women, and children of every background. I’ve been to a lot of your stores, and some of you are doing amazing work already, but there is always more that can be done. Ask yourself what you could do better, and what you could do to reach that one person you’re not bringing into the store. If there are people in your community who aren’t comfortable going into comic book stores, ask them why. Ask what you could be doing that you’re not.

These are some good ideas, something that comic stores can do that others can’t. Free Comic Book Day is a good example, but the local stores have to promote that to people outside their regular patrons. My local comic store hosted one of the 24 Hour comic events and special launch events sponsored by DC and Marvel. I’ve heard of larger stores with cafes or who have “ladies nights” events that are about making current and potential female readers feel at ease in a comic store. (And any male that shows up there should encourage that. Women are people, too. Shocking, I know.) Again, comic stores are a place for fans to get together when there isn’t a convention or other event around and just discuss comics without having to type everything.

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

YES WE DO!! IT WILL LEAD THEM INTO COMICS, WANTING TO SEE MORE, AND THEN CHECK OUT A COMIC BOOK STORE WHICH WILL HAVE MORE THAN SOME SAMPLE PACK-IN BUT FULL SERIES RUNS, BACK ISSUES, GRAPHIC NOVEL REPRINTS, AND OTHER COMICS LIKE THAT ONE THAT MAY GARNER SOME INTEREST AND MAYBE EVEN ONES THEY HADN’T SEEN BEFORE AND MIGHT FIND THEMSELVES BECOMING A FAN OF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Like the other images, this comes from He-Man.org. Because my copy is VERY well-read.

A good comic story and it came packed with a toy.

Tie-in comics should be seen as a way to promote the comics format, not as some detriment to “real comics”. And you don’t get to decide what is or isn’t a real comic anymore than someone gets to decide that Tim Burton’s Batman wasn’t a real movie because it isn’t the source material. Movies have screwed up the source material. So has television. So have video games. And so have comics!

I want a good story in whatever format I can get it. Let’s stop pretending one format is better than the other as a general rule instead of better (and also worse, based on the story) for one particular story. We’re all storytellers. We all have our preferred format to work in. Yours and mine just happens to be comics. Licensed comics are not a threat and they are not a savior. They are one more well to reach the audience with a good story and make them fall in love with a fictional universe to get away from their problems and perhaps learn something about life and themselves.

I love comics. I also love television, movies, video games, novels, and audio dramas. I don’t care what format an idea comes from. I want to see everybody get to play with the toys. The end result is only great stories for the fans.

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About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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  1. […] Vs. Eric Stephenson’s Speech (Part 1|Part 2): Image publisher Eric Stephenson gave a speech at ComicPRO, a gathering of comic retailers, that […]

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