Tuesday, June 21, 2011

If I'd been in charge of the DC relaunch...

I've seen quite a few posts from bloggers trying to imagine what they would have done differently if they had been in charge of relaunching the entire DC line of books. In most of them, the author propose 52 titles they'd like to read (or think would sell well) with their dream creative teams.

I've give this a lot of thought myself, and I'd like to suggest something different. Had I been in charge of this relaunch, I wouldn't have done 52 new ongoings. Here's what I would have done:

1. Cancel every book except Action and Detective!

I still think it was a big mistake to renumber these two books. The appeal of these two classic titles is that they are a part of comic book history. There's something kind of magical about the fact that the book that featured the first-ever appearance of a superhero back in 1938 was still coming out on a monthly basis. The numbers approaching 1,000 was proof of that and a pretty big deal. The new #1s might boost the sales briefly, but not for long. In the end, it just doesn't seem worth it.

I would have kept Scott Snyder on Detective Comics. Snyder's current run is critically acclaimed and has just started, so it had the potential to build into an epic and classic run. I think he's actually the first writer to find the right tone for Dick as Batman, and his collaboration with artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla seemed like a match made in heaven, so I basically wouldn't have changed anything. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

And I would have gone with team of Morrison and Morales on Action Comics. If they have a bold new vision for the character, then let them go for it. I don't believe that the number on the cover makes that much of a difference - not with this creative team. People would've gone for it anyway.

2. Launch all the other new books as mini-series!

That's right. Every single new book would be a mini-series. With a beginning and an end. Similar to the way Hellboy or Atomic Robo get published. Hellboy doesn't follow any real pattern. Every issue is either a one-shot or a short mini-series. So new readers always know exactly where they can start picking it up. That's how I got on board. Atomic Robo does it a little differently. Each six-issue series is considered a "volume." You could also call it a "season" or whatever. Again, there's a sense of continuity from one mini-series to the next, but also a clear sense of where a story begins and ends, so new readers are always invited to come onboard.

The obvious advantage of this is the clear jump-on point for new readers, but the other more subtle advantage is that DC would NEVER HAVE TO CANCEL A BOOK AGAIN! If a series sells well, then they do another one with the same creative team or the same characters or whatever. If it doesn't sell, then they it just ends as planned and nobody ever speaks of it again. Cancelling books is bad publicity. It says: "We failed." It pisses off the fans who were buying it, because they feel like they made a commitment to a book that didn't go anywhere. None of this is even a consideration with mini-series.

3. Promise to stick to the same creative team for the duration of each mini-series!

There have been several reports that DC intends to keep the books on schedule and if necessary they plan to crack down on writers and artists who don't meet deadlines. THAT'S THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT I WANT TO HEAR! I know that late books are a pain in the ass. That's true for retailers and it's true for readers. But there's a very simple way to avoid delays: Give your creative teams enough lead time to get several issues in the can before you launch it.

This is another reason why the mini-series format makes sense, because for continuing books, it allows the team to take a break between "seasons." For example, if you solicit a six-issue mini-series, you simply wait for however many issues to be completed before it's safe to start putting them out monthly. Meanwhile, you either have the next creative team already planning the next mini-series, or you take a break after it's done until you have something ready for the next one. With enough mini-series being launched each month on a rotating basis, you'd always have enough books coming out. Everything would be on schedule and you wouldn't have to rely on fill-in artists.

Collecting these min-series in trades would also make more sense. People would know exactly which issues will end up in which collection. And in the end, you'd have collected books featuring self-contained stories, done by a single creative team, and which you can put in a bookstore for non-regular comics readers to pick up and feel like they're buying a "graphic novel." (Which is what most people think they're getting when they walk into a non-specialized comics store and head over to the "graphic novel" section.)

4. Don't launch 52 new title at the same time!

Yeah, I know it's a magic number in the DCU and it sounds impressive and radical and bold and important to launch all those books in the same month. But by doing so, DC is just setting up all the "little guys" to fail. It's great that characters like Mister Terrific and Static Shock are getting their own titles. A lot of us have been asking for this kind of diversity, and these are two characters who probably have enough of a fan following for a successful run. But when you're launching them in the same month as new Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Justice League #1's, these books have no chance of winning. Most readers - new and old - will go for the big titles, especially since those tend to be the ones that feature superstar artists and writers, and the rest will get cancelled due to disappointing sales. And then the next time someone asks, "Why don't you have more black superhero solo books?" DC will say, "Well, we tried, but nobody bought them." Stupid.

5. Fuck continuity!

You want to have a new Batgirl title with Barbara Gordon? Fine. Have one. It's only a mini-series, right? Just set it in the pre-Killing Joke days. Have it be self-contained. With Gail Simone writing it, fans of Barbara Gordon would have been ALL OVER THAT SHIT. Nobody would have felt like Oracle was being shelved. Everybody wins.

There's no reason why every series that comes out needs to be set in the present. We already have the Batman Beyond books that are set in the near future, and the Legion of Super-Hero books that are set in the distant future. Why not also have a line of books set in the recent past? Instead of replacing legacy heroes with the originals, why not just put out books that are set in the past and that feature the original characters? Are comic book fans so obsessed with the current status quo that they would refuse to buy books because they're set in a different time period? (Don't answer that. I don't want to know.)


I'm sure there are a million reasons why those suggestions don't make sense for DC's marketing point of view. Maybe none of my suggestions make any sense because they know something about the market that I don't know. Maybe I have too much faith in comic book fans in assuming that they'd be open to this different way of doing things.

I'd like to know what others think.


Caio M.R. June 21, 2011 at 8:14 PM  

Comics are a weird medium. It's stuck in a 19th century model of publication. You'd serialize the novel in the magazine, then you'd collect it for the shelves. But publishers don't serialize novels anymore. Why do comics still do it?

(Warren Ellis discusses this somewhere in this lenghty series of videos.)

I agree with you, Yan, on all points. But I think we're still a long way from seeing a shift from the mainstream monthlies to mini-series. Just look as this table from Diamond Distributors. The top selling single issue (Fear Itself #2) sold close to 100,000 copies. The top selling trade (Crossed 3D Vol. 1) sold little more than 5,000. I imagine The Big Two looking at these figures and going "Nu-uh." Then again, if they did something crazy - like, I don't know, relaunching their entire line? - the fans would probably follow.

Personally, I would be happy with they just did it, but didn't tell anyone. They could still keep the damn numbering, but change the creative team every, maybe, sixty issues?

Anyway, sorry for the somewhat long comment. Bye.

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