Change comes to one of Comics’ Biggest Publishers! Does it spell DC New or DC Eww??? or DC vs Marvel

Change comes to one of Comics’ Biggest Publishers! Does it spell DC New or DC Eww???

by
Heroic Times
Copyright Heroic Times Jun 2011
All Rights Reserved

Okay most of you comic fans reading this know the gist of the big news that has recently been released. Specifically the recent announcement by Top 2 Comic Book Publisher DC Comics, a subsidy of Time Warner, to in essence revamp their entire publishing line, and their publishing model in September of this year.

Comics being very much serialized entertainment, like soap operas or television shows they build up a history. Overtime, some view that history as a resource and some as baggage. In the face of dwindling sales DC is taking the latter approach and cleaning house, restarting their whole line of books, from number one.

Come September, 52 titles will be kicked out by DC, starting at # 1, with the characters and stories supposedly streamlined to allow easy adoption, by new readers. On top of this they will offer the books via digital distribution, as well as through the traditional dwindling markets of the comic book store.

It is an unprecedented and bold move, in an age where all print media, from newspapers to books, is losing readers. And specifically a necessary move for DC, that has seen its place in the market continue to slip, as its major competitor MARVEL COMICS GROUP owned by Disney, continues to trounce them in sales/market share.

So all in all, I think this bold move by DC, while unexpected, is overall a good one, as obviously they needed to do something.

It’s a hail-Mary pass, and I see it working for them in the short term, generating interest in their books through the line wide shake-up, and the day and date (digital publication that coincides with print publication) digital distribution option, opening them up to a world of new potential readers/consumers. If they capture just a fraction of the digital market, they could potentially move very quickly from servicing tens of thousands of people to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people per issue.

There are some potential roadblocks, most remarked on being the pricing of the digital comic, as most agree the 99 cent or $1.99 cent model is the better price-point for easy mass adoption. However I have no doubt the pricing structure will work itself out in time.

So in short term I see this being a success for the company, however potentially not as great a success as it could be, and potentially not a lasting success as their competitors invariably jump into Digital distribution to compete.

No, I see DC’s biggest drawback to this line-wide overhaul, is the appearance (now this is only going by the miniscule data so far released on the books to come out in September, this is speculation not fact) that the streamlined books suffer the same problem as the pre-streamlined books, which is basically… they are not that good or interesting.

That’s harsh to say, but that is the current problem with DC comics that they seem to, with well meaning overtures to price and distribution and character’s costumes, overlook.

The main problem DC overlooks, to why their sales are dwindling… is the fact that their books themselves, particularly when compared to their main competition Marvel Comics, are not that interesting, they are in fact… lacking.

And it pains me to say this as someone who is not a fan of much of what Marvel does, and infact actively does not purchase Marvel Comics’ individual issues. Generally because of ads breaking up the story, and lack of back-matter or letters pages, failing these things I’ll just wait for the trade, and monthly buy Indie books, such as CHEW or WALKING DEAD that do offer these extras, that for me make the individual issues… worth their price.

If there is a story from Marvel that is getting particular buzz I’ll wait for the trade and pick it up at my local library or on Ebay or not.

On the other hand, DC comics stories are not particularly interesting, I listen to a number of podcasts and read reviews and articles to stay abreast of what’s drawing the buzz in this niche market of comics, and DC seldom… draws the buzz, in any meaningful way. The ones that do I’ll pick up via Ebay or Library, and am generally underwhelmed.

Particularly glaring is the fact that DC’s artwork is bland to subpar. For a medium defined by its art.. that’s not good. In general (in general, not across the board) the writers and artist of DC are not setting the world on fire.

There are exceptions such as Irving Frazier, Basri, Jock, J.H. Williams III (to name ones that spring to mind) in the art camp, and Scott Snyder, Morrison (when he’s the good Morrison) and Rucka (who DC has lost) in the writing camp; but in general the rule applies.

And having looked at some of the talent launching their 52 new books (again not privy to all of them, just going by the early news released as of this date), I see the rule of bland storytellers and bland art and bland takes on characters… continuing.

Where is the talented, amazing writers that are blowing the roof off the place, and everyone is talking about for their Indie work? Where are the Remenders and Aarons and Hickmans and Van Lente’s and Spurrier’s?

With very few exceptions all the exciting writers in comics are working for Marvel. Add to that the fact that Marvel blows DC away in terms of art, and it is a powerful combination.

DC’s art style is largely still stuck in the 90s Image era, and with DC co-headed by Jim Lee, perhaps that’s no wonder, but it is a mistake.

This is the age of the Simone Bianchis and Copiels and Djurdevics and Eptings and Braithwaites and Molinas, guys who offer a level of detail and beauty and storytelling that makes you want to turn pages. And all those guys are Marvel artists.

Now it’s true none of those names, either writer or artist, is known to this new potential readership, that digital distribution offers the opportunity to tap, however my point is… quality will out.

Which means people may be introduced to comics through DCs digital books, but just as in the paper books… they will quickly transition to more sophisticated art and story; which means Independents and Marvel. And they will gravitate to the artists and writers that are steering, capably, the ship.

Now, best of luck to DC’s policy of giving artists they are trying to keep (they tend to lose creators to Marvel), writing assignments of popular characters… to entice them not to jump ship. However, It is a suspect policy.

Not every artist is a Frank Miller (who before being Hollywood Frank Miller, started out as an artist, than became an iconic writer, DARK KNIGHT, 300 etc) and even Frank Miller took a while to be THE Frank Miller.

I am saying it is idiotic to give your flagship titles/characters to unproven writers. No disrespect, beyond the truth, intended to David Finch and Tony Daniels (two popular DC artists and now Writer/Atists), but I’ve never been a huge fan of their art, and by all reports their writing isn’t setting the world on fire. Now it is quite possible with practice they could become kick-ass writers, but you don’t let them practice on your flagship characters such as Batman. It’s thinking like this from DC, again that 90s Image model, mantra of “art is all”, that has been hurting their market share.

Art is important, desperately important. But the writing is also desperately important. And when you can bring top writers AND top artists to a title (which is what Marvel does), then you have a title to hype and to generate sales. And DC fails with both aspects, the writing… and the art.

Nearly every single book Marvel puts out, looks great. That’s how deep their pool of artists is; as opposed to DC that has probably less than a handful of artists I consider great, and the rest, are a “grin and get through it” bunch.

Add to this Marvel Comics are better art designed, and you point out another major failing of DC. The first thing you see of a comic is its cover, and Marvel’s covers are not just better in terms of the actual cover art, they are better in terms of typography and design.

They are, as a whole, as a gestalt, the more interesting covers (exceptions to this being Sam Basri’s phenomenal covers for POWER GIRL).

And fault Marvel for what you will, I think a lot of this has to do with artists such as Quesada and Bendis, who have strong visual instincts, being in editorial control of Marvel and knowing what a compelling cover should look like.

These are the reasons Marvel is # 1. And this whole DC overhaul of their universe and digital delivery announcement while groundbreaking and exciting, will be less effective than it can be if it does not also look at improving quality.

For DC’s announcement to really have had teeth in it, and pit-bull like hang on staying power, they needed to release these 52 titles with a substantial number of amazing creative teams, and from the early solicits, I don’t see this happening.

The most high profile announcement of the new books is Geoff Johns and Jim Lee on the JLA.

Jim Lee’s style was interesting to me in the 90s, but I find it less so in the 2010s. I think part of that is… he’s not the artist he was 20 years ago, looking more like Lee acolyte Ed Benes… than himself, and paradoxically he’s enough of the old Jim Lee for his style to seem very dated. Of course that’s to me, there are huge fans of his, so no doubt the relaunched JLA will garner huge numbers. I just don’t think I’ll be among them.

Along with the art, another thing that raises early flags regarding this new JLA title… is the makeup of this new team. DC makes lip service to diversity, but tokenism is not diversity. First you remove John Stewart as the Green lantern, which is this generation’s Green Lantern (thanks to the JLA cartoon), and you fill it with a boring 70s lineup, and add Cyborg as a concession to tokenism?

I would prefer people not use any characters of color, then drag out just one Black character on a team. I hate seeing just one Black character on a team, give me at least two Black characters, or don’t do it at all. Because without exception that one Black character will be poorly and stupidly written.

And I dislike Cyborg in particular as a character. What is it with Black male characters in comics having to be missing limbs or in someway physically or psychologically damaged? What is that? for the writers to feel comfortable writing him? Be it Cyborg or War-machine over at the esteemed competition. Which is why if you’re going to do diversity, the mass media familiar John Stewart makes more sense than Cyborg, and toss in Vixen and/or Firestorm to go with him. Both characters offering a lot more to work with than the neutered Cyborg. Or don’t do it at all, because (say it with me) tokenism is not diversity.

And while we’re on the subject of Firestorm, what the eff is it with Black characters having to wear yellow? What is that about? You see all these sly little digs they get in? Even as a kid reading Power Man in the day, I was like…”he’s cool and all, but what the f–k is he wearing a big yellow shirt for?!” Even at age 7, I knew that just wasn’t kosher. I mean really? WTF?

Seriously, Mix non-people of color, writing people of color, and typically this is the kind of almost subconscious bs you get. Sad isn’t it? 🙂

Beyond the JLA, everything else mentioned suffers a bit from that underwhelming writer/artist syndrome that DC has.

Now I am interested in the MR. TERRIFIC comic announced, though I’m not familiar with the writer, and while the cover art is good, the interior art… not making me do handstands.

So yeah, it’s great that DC is doing this massive overhaul, and particularly pushing the digital distribution issue, but ultimately how ever you distribute the books… they have to be good, and if DC’s books, can’t currently compete with Marvel traditionally, digital delivery won’t change that.

DC will have the upper-hand for the time it takes Marvel to get a digital presence, but once the playing field is even again, DC loses again… unless they address the underlying problems with their comics. Those being: 1/ that they are still written for a white 1950s audience, rather than a multicultural 2011 audience, and 2/that they actively need to court the hot writers and artists, ala Marvel.

That’s the bottom line. There ain’t no more. I do wish DC well, and here’s hoping they evolve sooner rather than later.

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On DC Comics New york Comic Con 2010 News! Zuda Comics and Milestone comics! Price changes and more! Pt 1 of 2!

Well had hoped to be partaking of New York Comic Con goodness today, I had even prepped a nice itinerary of panels and events, but some last minute snafus got in the way. But (hopefully) that just means I get to bring you the Sunday perspective rather than Saturday, and with Sunday typically calmer, it should allow me to bring you some interesting coverage.

Plan is to head out in the AM so I can crash the Sunday Convention doors when they open. We’ll see how well that plan pans out. 🙂

But what I can bring you in the interim, is a bit of feedback on the first 2 days of the New York Comic Con (coverage/news has been surprisingly light), and following that offer a slightly sleep deprived, yet heartfelt questioning on what’s going on with DC Comics. Okay… onto the ranting 🙂 :

Home and the Grace of God

ComingSoon.Net– Has a 5 page gallery of pictures from the con. Uhhh— don’t know who their photographer is, but you are at one of the nations biggest cons and all you can think to take pictures of is toys and props???? Wow. Either that’s the most boring con ever, or ComingSoon needs a new photographer. :). Judge for yourself.

Newsarama- True to their name is on the ball with coverage of various panels. Though the bit of news that got my attention was DC’s price drop, dropping their price from the insane $3.99 price point back to the nearly as insane, but just this side of acceptable $2.99 price point.

Now the following stance is primarily regarding the physical form of comics. But drop a $1 off the pricing and the stance is valid for the digital form of the product. For more on my take on tangible versus digital, go here.

I guess their shrinking sales figures woke them up to the fact (a fact that just about everyone told them before they embarked on the path) that $3.99 (ie $4!!) for a couple dozen pages of paper that will take you ten minutes to read… is not good value for your money.

Ideally I’d like to see the big two comic book companies (Marvel owned by Disney and DC owned by Time-Warner) pick up and run with Warren Ellis’ Slimline/Fell model of pricing… $1.99. That’s the price-point you need, particularly in this economy where the Average person’s salary is stagnant or decreasing, to not only maintain existing reader interest, but to create a viable entry price point for new readers.

Now I’m not crazy that DC is cutting 2 pages of story, 20 rather than 22 pages, to bring the price-point back to $2.99. So they are pretty much screwing the people who were just getting $2.99 books, which was pretty much everybody. So to look at this another way you’re still forcing an across the line price increase by reducing the content for the regular $2.99 books, while still asking a $2.99 price tag for them.

Crap! That makes me mad.

Leave it to DC, to make a necessity, lower prices or lose market share, yet another way to screw the consumer.

I think it reeks of unhealthy quibbling from one of the more public faces of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate. I mean seriously, you’re going to stiff us across the line for 2 pages.

Johns, Dido, Lee, Wayne… (a company with entirely too many titles, and too few people really willing to steer the ship), are you watching this?! Great Caesar’s ghost! If we’re losing 2 pages across the line, kick the darn price down to $2.50!

Sigh.

I was taken in by this announcement until I really started thinking about it.

I mean don’t get me wrong it is a start. It’s a start… an underhanded, devious, greedy, backstabbing, slimy, smarmy, odious and stinky start. But it’s a start.

Now all they have to do is publish some books worth buying, and I might jump back on the DC bandwagon.

Oooh, riled a few of you huh?!

Here’s the thing, I’m not a DC basher. I like DC.

While Marvel was the comic company that, like most kids my age, galvanized my attention in my youth; heading into my teenage years it was DC who had picked up the coming challenge of the direct market and a more mature customer base and gave us a very sophisticated and yes literate body of work, in an amazingly short amount of time.

Wolfman and Perez’s NEW TEEN TITANS (look at that great cover! We’ll discuss in a minute how current day DC comics have a hard time producing great covers), Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s LEGION OF SUPERHEROES, Moore, Bisette and Totleben’s SWAMP THING, Miller’s DARK KNIGHT and YEAR ONE, Baron and Guice’s THE FLASH , Englehart and Joe Staton’s run on THE GREEN LANTERN, O’Neil and Cowan’s THE QUESTION, DeMatteis and Giffen’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, (preceded by the equally good run by Gerry Conway and Luke McDonnell on the closing issues of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA) and of course Wolfman and Perez on CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. All those books in relative spitting distance of each other and in many ways they still define what is best in this medium we call comics.

Those runs are memorable touchstones to a lost holy grail, that to this day, companies are still mining for, still trying to recapture. Not least of all DC itself.

DC

Here’s the thing I’m aware from podcasts that DC has quite a few talented creators out there, and some are doing good books. Some are doing FANTASTIC books! DC has one of the best creators, in my opinion, working in comics today in Mark Chiarello, Art Director (as of this writing) of DC Comics. His SOLO and his WEDNESDAY COMICS, in a time where the height of creativity or thinking outside the box in comics, was Zombie variant covers, or killing/resurrecting characters, are two projects, that continue to blow my mind. Just inventive, thinking out the box audacity. And that he’s also am amazing writer and artist (His Negro League cards are STUNNING!) in his own right, just makes it all the more odd that DC doesn’t just turn over the keys to him.

But they don’t.

Instead DC seems to be retreating from very innovative concepts and growth, growth that seemed to have been building up to a watershed of creativity perhaps akin to that 80s period I mentioned, but seemingly forestalled in what can only be seen as a homogenization of what was becoming an ethnically diverse line.

DCs problem today is the same problem that has always been an Achilles heel of comics. Braindead marketing, and over-saturation/flooding of the market.

“Oooohh. One Batman book is good. That mean’s 16 Batman titles would be great!” No you stupid, stupid men. Multiple titles of the same character introduces confusion into your consumers and into the brand. While you will always capture the one moron, with too much disposable income, who will buy, and probably not read, all 16 titles. Historically, and today currently, what happens instead is for that one who will buy into your gouging ploy, you have 600 people like me who will look at these 16 different Bat titles, scratch their head, and say I can’t be fucking arsed to figure out what title is the ‘good’ Batman title.

And I understand, that with so-called 2nd string titles not selling as well, the impetus is to go with a name, go with a name, go with a name. The problem with that is at $4 a pop, no one is going to experiment on a 22 page comic. At 60cents and 75cents I could take a risk on something called SWAMP THING or $1.25 on something called THE QUESTION. But DC, all comic companies have largely priced themselves out of the impulse buy market. At $4 the book has to offer a definite great experience for the reader’s money. In terms of both story, art, character, and payoff. And typically that’s a lot to ask of a new character where the first several issues is about building the character. And that’s a lot to ask of Dc, in particular, because DC cover artiist, for the most part, not very good. Anytime DC gets a halfway decent artist, Marvel swoops in and steals him away, till you look at today, and DCs covers for the most part look like garbage. The tradedress, the actual art, it’s just not something that wouls impel me to stop, pickup the book, and flip through it. If the cover artist sucks, I can only imagine how bad the interior art is.

I refuse to believe Mark Chiarello is signing off on these covers. But whoever it is, needs to tighten up the ship, because fault Marvel for what you will, but their books, their cover artists… are AMAZING! Like I said, I don’t even buy Marvel Comics with the exception of Brubaker’s CRIMINAL, but if I did I would be drawn to these marvel books.

Why is CRIMINAL the only Marvel/Icon book i buy?

Well, because I don’t buy individual issues that don’t come with a letterspage and/or backmatter/ additional conversational type material. One of the reasons I was such a huge fan of books such as FELL and GUTTSVILLE (Holy Hell I miss that book! Two of the most innovative, beautiful and brilliant books of the 21st, smothered to death by that little flooding the market thing I’m talking about) is because they offer this deeper insight into the material. in the case of Brubaker’s CRIMINAL it’s even more amazing material.

So yeah that’s why. If you can’t be bothered to put together a Stan’s Soapbox style bit for your readers, or do a letters page, I can’t be bothered to pay for your effing book.

However all things being equal, if Marvel and DC were to reinstate letters-pages/back-matter, and get the ads out tof the story, based on the quality of the Marvel artists and to some degree writers, I would clearly be buying Marvel comics.

While it’s inane to let a cover be the sole judge of a comic, this is a graphic medium, so the cover means a bit. It’s the resume that gets you in the door, or the hands of the reader, and it should impress.

Marvel Comics, from trade dress to actual artist, typically rocks.

DC typically sucks.

Examples?

Damn take your pick of nearly any DC comic released this month. Such as:

This is your flagship title, right? You couldn’t tell it by this cover. You could barely tell this is a JLA title. You make the title all but invisible? Really? It’s just piss-poor trade dress design. And the central image conveys and illicits no interest what so ever. No art director should have signed off on this.

This is a good artist, however the central image doesn’t really convey much. The Rebel’s title and trade dress doesn’t help to give any kind of interest to the cover. It’s the type of cover that in the old days would have been saved with a word balloon or caption, but evidently DC can be bothered these days with little things, like making their covers sell-able.

Honestly do I even have to point out how bad this cover is. And me not reading DC comics, this is my first time seeing the costume all the podcasters were talking about. I really have no stake in the character, so change away. But make it good, that costume is utter garbage. Beyond that the art just looks… awkward. I’m not sure if she’s preparing to fight or having some type of hemorrhoid attack. :).

Here are 3 more cover images, that just don’t cut it.

The DOOM PATROL central image is actually good, but the trade dress just does nothing to make it exciting. It’s just floating in a sea of boredom. The FLASH image is busy, but busy in a bad way, it’s just not engaging or interesting, but at least the Trade Dress, typography brings some interest to the image. Just not enough to overcome the weakness in the central image.

THE FLASH has some of the best covers ever, it has to do with artists with a great sense of design and placement, as well as a great color scheme, and finally fantastic typography, captions, and word balloons, a life and energy that is mostly missing from this modern issue.
So DC has only itself to blame that it’s new characters find a steep slope to acceptance. Even at $2 I’m open to dropping $5 and picking up 2 books a week. But when $5 will barely get you one book/story, and typically that $5 experience of piece of story is unsatisfying at best.

SUPERGIRL- I’ve heard nothing but good things about this Super-Girl run, but based on this cover alone, I would never pick up the book. Again the central image itself isn’t particularly bad, it’s just not particularly anything. And once again DCs lack of trade dress, typography, just calls attention to the fact that something is lacking.

How is it with nearly 80 years of comic covers to learn from, people still can’t get it right?

Marvel however, really has not only great artists, but as importantly they understand typography and the effective use of typography and cover organization. Bendis was well known for this with his POWERS work. Some examples of Marvel getting it right? (these are from the same month as the DC ones above):

The above Marvel images speak clearly for themselves.

Marvel just kicks ass on these covers (and this statement comes from me Heroic Times, someone who for the most part has turned his back on Marvel monthly comics)! Marvel has those stunning, painterly artists, such as Simone Bianchi that DC simply can’t hold onto.

Marvel is no less culpable than DC with their 6 THOR or 8 AVENGERS titles, but each issue looks orders of magnitude better than their DC counterparts. And Marvel seems, to come to each cover witn a sense of design and layout, for the most part lacking in the DC titles.

George Perez is still cranking out some masterpieces for DC. Relative newcomer Sami Basri , is knocking it out of the park with POWER GIRL (And if DC doesn’t pay this guy, I predict he’ll be the next artist Marvel takes away from them. He’s that good. Look at his cover to issue #16 of POWER GIL, a great use of negative, a great understanding of creating images that speak), as well as Alina Rusa’s attention grabbing cover to BOP.

But these are exceptions to DC’s rule of rather tired, boring, uninspired covers. Marvel on the other hand, while no less event heavy, and just as guilty of flooding the market, you get the sense it’s a rather cohesive vision driving the Marvel machine, and for the most part it really is creator and quality driven. With DC you get the sense it’s mostly editorial mandates, that tend to be a scattershot approach, and that quality across the board is more miss than hit.

Yet given all this, DC still looks to the consumers for the reason their books aren’t selling. The books aren’t selling first and foremost because they are too expensive. And two because, the DC comics I’ver read in the past few years, individual issues, just aren’t very good, even if they were $2, for giving you a good reading experience. The JLA is supposed to be the flagship title for DC, and in the last few years, they’ve been unable to get anyone excited or interested in these comics.

Part of this, most of this is, particularly with Dwayne McDuffie… editorial interference. I have yet to interview Dwayne McDuffie, but the sense I get was he was courted by DC, following his HUGELY successful JLA UNLIMITED series (which got the JLA absolutely right and is the best they’ve been in any medium in years) and given JLA, mainly to weasle the rights to MILESTONE away from him (more on Milestone in a bit). And once that was done he was pretty much saddled with crippling editorial interference, and a less than stellar art team, until he was pretty much shooed off the book.

So when a company’s flagship books are saddled with high prices, and poor, unsatisfying story and art, very few are going to risk dollars with secondary characters or untried characters from this company. It’s why I think ideas like Chiarello’s SOLO and WEDNESDAY COMICS, somewhat of a reinvention of the company’s SHOWCASE roots, are potentially the future of the medium. A monthly flagship title, containing a mix of classic and new characters, with letter pages, and back matter, and a real conversation like comics of old, with popular characters being spun off into their own titles.

The alternative is the diminishing returns model of current comics.

To be continued….