On Business: Foil Covers, Take 2

By | Monday, July 21, 2014 2 comments
Last week saw several comic announcements of note in advance of Comic-Con. (And for those expressing any level of surprise that they didn't wait until Comic-Con, I have to ask if you've been paying attention? You haven't been able to announce anything AT Comic-Con if you wanted it to get any attention for at least six or eight years now.) Regardless of what you think of the announcements themselves, Marvel probably did the best job of working the media outlets, devulging upcoming revelations on The View and The Colbert Report. I don't recall hearing about any major changes in Marvel's PR/marketing department, but they've either hired a wicked-talented CMO to little fanfare, or they're been getting a lot of help/attention from Disney. Either way, good on them for stepping up their marketing game.

But I'm sitting back here at Kleefeld HQ, and watching the various debates around gay characters in Archie, racism in Captain America and sexism in Batgirl; and there are a lot of interesting points being brought up. "You were okay with Frog Thor, but not okay with a female Thor?" "Is this going to be a Black Captain America, or a Captain America in blackface?" "How are lace-up boots less practical than spandex and high heels?" And so on. Lots of valid points being made there, as I said.

I've seen a few other people note that all this buzz isn't going to do much good because the books are pretty impenatrable to new readers. The Archie issue evidently has two full pages of backstory to get people caught up to speed. Two pages! On Archie, what has historically been one of the most consistently accessible franchises in the past 40-50 years!

So people hear some of the buzz, and call their LCS and maybe pick up a copy or two. Because it's important. Because it's significant. Because it's a piece of comic book history. Because it's collectible.

And therein lies my concern. You know, it was a nice bit of marketing a few years ago when Marvel killed off Captain America. They got some good PR out of it, and it got a lot of people to pick up the book who might not otherwise. But that was done pretty much in isolation. It happened to be a slow news day, as I recall, which helped but that was pretty much the only comic announcement of consequence for some time on either side of that date. It was an event because it stood out as an event.

But with all the publishers jumping on the "we have a PR-worthy event" bandwagon, it cheapens the importance of all of them. How much has the Batgirl talk died down in the wake of a female Thor? Hell, the most I heard about Batgirl after that were jokes about how DC was making these super-timid advances, even compared to Marvel's pretty timid advances.

But that whole "everybody's doing something special which makes nothing special" idea? That was last seen in comicdom when we were inundated with a flood of foil covers, embossed covers, die-cut covers, neon ink covers... And, as you'll recall, that led to a pretty nasty collapse when all the non-comics people realized that they were buying gimmicks that ultimately wouldn't be worth the fortune they thought they would be and stopped buying altogether.

Now, granted, a good story in a comic is more likely than a foil cover to pull in a reader for the long-term, even if the initial hook is pretty gimmicky. And all the announcements we've seen could potentially lead to good, even great, stories.

But, we've heard retailers weigh in and talk about how they would get a flood of phone calls after, say, Spider-Man teamed up with Barack Obama, and a bunch of people would rush in to buy the issue, and the retailer would never see those customers again. So the question I'm wondering is: will these media event stories be the cause of another comics industry implosion? I certainly hope not, but it's something I'll be keep my eye on to see other signs for.
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Anonymous said...

i don't know how much more the industry even can implode. there's only, what, like a couple hundred thousand regular comics readers!

Matt K said...

Marvel (and, to some extent, other publishers) basically mastered the recipe for what mainstream media will bite on, and have been serving it up regularly for at least a few years now. It does feel, with "look, a black Captain America!" and "look, Thor's a woman now!" within days of one another, like they're approaching some kind of point of diminishing returns…

But I have to wonder whether that's just me. I'm not sure when or if media will tire of this schtick; in this day and age the appetite for clickbait is almost bottomless. Meanwhile, Marvel and DC both have been running gimmick after gimmick after gimmick for so long, now, that the suggestion "eventually this will stop working" strikes me as not necessarily wrong but not really persuasive any more, either.

As Mr. Criste points out, the implosion has basically happened. The comics industry has already gone nova, leaving behind a burnt-out core, i.e. the modern market. I presume that eventually, that too will pass. But so will everything. At some point, the hard core that has continued spending money on big publishers' products through every absurdity of the past 20 years won't be there… but who knows when. Forty years? More?

I'm just not sure that the big, traditional comics publishers have enough left to lose (in terms of selling comic books, as opposed to the licensing operations of which the former has basically become a vestigial appendage) for any kind of sudden collapse to be plausible. Could happen… but, people are still buying cars from GM, so… I've gotta have my doubts.