Comic Fodder

The Silence of the Low-Selling Title

Three separate things popped up early this week that got my puzzler puzzling.

A) The DC solicits for November

B) A story in Rich Johnston's "Lying in the Gutters" regarding a slate of DC Comics that are probably going to get the axe

C) Fanboy Wonder's "Comic Consolidation Challenge"

It is true that I live in a certain bubble, and my attention is drawn to super hero comics, and so I'm going to frame this discussion mostly around product from DC (as always, my model), but I have some open ended questions about both the comics of the Big 2, and pretty darn well near everything else.

A quick look at's monthly reporting of comic sales is a good starting point. It's not too difficult to see where books start to fall off certain sales figures for the Big 2, and that leads to their cancellation. Whether a book has a strong cult audience of 15,000 or so, that may not work in DC's books as a viable number for breaking even after everyone gets paid, and they figure in overhead. (I'm not sure what this means for Vertigo, Wildstorm, etc... all of whom seem to have a much lower threshold for cancellation.)

Who's reading this stuff?

One of the deadliest signs for a comic is when nobody is talking about it. And by "talking about it", I mean comic reviews showing up on any of the well-trafficked sites, or any buzz appearing online what-so-ever about a series. Reviewing DC's November releases I picked out two titles that particularly caught my attention as examples of books that I don't recall anyone, ever, discussing anywhere.

INFINITY INC. VOL. 2: THE BOGEYMAN TP Written by Peter Milligan Art by Pete Woods, Matt Camp and Max Fiumara Cover by Pete Woods Features issues #6-10 of the acclaimed series spinning out of the events of 52! Spotlighting the metahuman team Lex Luthor created, this trade paperback includes guest appearances by Superman and Batman as Infinity Inc. get team costumes and face a crazed killer! Advance-solicited; on sale December 31 • 128 pg, FC, $14.99 US


TANGENT COMICS: SUPERMAN’S REIGN #9 Written by Dan Jurgens and Ron Marz Art by Wes Craig and Mark McKenna Cover by Brad Walker It’s Batman and Batman vs. the world! The Tangent Batman’s group of “Outsiders” must hold their ground against the Tangent Superman’s armada! On sale November 19 • 9 of 12, 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US

Both books feature well known talent, if not megastars (such as Mark Millar and/ or Jim Lee). Both feature established characters. But neither book seems to have gained any traction from a fan buzz standpoint.

I've enjoyed Peter Milligan's work from time to time in the past, but his attempt to relaunch his Allred drawn "X-Force" within the DCU was poorly conceived from the first confusing and disappointing issue. Milligan has his strengths, but this book was a misfire from the beginning, showing no discernible plot, lumping together multiple unlikeable characters, and seemingly entirely missing the point of the Infinity Inc./ Luthor super-people storyline from 52. And absolutely missing any of the charm of the established Steel and Natasha characters.

Throw in murky art and characters with no discernible visual features (including personality), and I didn't make it too far into the series.

But I also don't remember anyone else reading the series when I was onboard. At least, I don't remember any reviews after the first issue, or anyone talking about the series at all. Which means even the reviews were fairly banal, if they existed.

As a sometime-reviewer, I can tell you that I mostly only write reviews when there's a sense of passion (one way or another) about a comic. And Infinity Inc, from issue 1, utterly failed to instill ANY sense of wonder. And at $2.99 an issue with 400 comics a month out there, its no wonder the series seems to have disappeared. (And yet DC still issues the trade...)

Similarly, I have never seen a review for the Tangent-inspired "Superman's Reign" mini-series, nor ever heard of anyone reading it. And yet DC seems to have set the series to run for a full year. (As of issue #4, the series came in at #100, selling about 21,000 copies).

But the silence is deafening.

And these titles certainly aren't alone. DC alone puts out several books you rarely hear discussed, especially their mini-series. It's a declining number of books, as DC seems to be reducing ancillary titles (more on that later), leaving the core characters who have always supported DC through good times and not-so-good. Their sales vary, but these books simply do not have the fan impact that a JSA, JLA, Superman, Batman, GL or Wonder Woman title has.

Marvel has its own series which aren't drawing reviews, criticism, etc...

The DC Series Calculator

I do not work at DC Comics. I am merely an unpaid blogger who thrills to the exploits of many of the World's Greatest Superheroes. So I do not know what process is used to launch new titles, change creative teams, etc... I don't know if there's some DC-Bat-Computer into which they add variables to see how many issues they can move, and thus predict profitability.

Hero/ Team: Enemy Ace
Villain: Pterodactyls
Location (leave blank if Gotham): Pacific
Writer: Bruce Jones
Artist: N/A
Number of issues (leave blank if more than 8): 8
***bleep bloop bloop bleep***
Estimated copies moved for issue 1: 6,000
Final issue: 300
Profit: Enough for Jann Jones' @#$% alpaca
Decision: Run it!*

It seems all too entirely possible, doesn't it?

Some series seem necessary, despite what will surely be low sales. The sole purpose of the current, relatively unpopular "Batgirl" series is do right by the Batgirl fans who were freaked out by DC's poorly-constructed OYL treatment of the character. In some ways, resetting continuity to make things right again is probably worth a marginal series for DC, and it does it without having to use up pages in Bat-books that have otherwise moved on (as have their fans).

Other books, such as "Huntress: Year One" might be floated to gauge interest in a character for their own series, I suppose (we'll shelve the seeming pointlessness of the series for another conversation).

Neither series was much discussed prior to its release, failing to generate any buzz at major news sites, and a quick glance suggests that either series landed much more than the most perfunctory of reviews.

Simon Dark continues to rattle around some unknown corner of the DCU, Steve Niles milking whatever Didio and Co. thought he could bring with him from his horror background. Again... radio silence.

What's stunning is how little of the decision making process seems to come out of what fans say they want. Honestly, its largely out there on the interweb. Were fans clamoring for more Huntress? Metamorpho? Heck... did they care if Bat Lash got a new mini-series?

To split hairs, fans might be excited about a new Power Girl series (as DC keeps telling us is coming), but are they excited by a Palmiotti/ Gray "Power Girl"? Only Johns has seemed to have any feel for the character since Justice League Europe, and some appearances in Birds of Prey.

There is buzz out there, and the Bat-Computer isn't taking it into account.

Enjoy the silence?

It's almost as if DC has a strategy to promote second-tier characters shrouded in mystery, and/ or has absolutely no understanding of how to promote their own product.

Aside from large storylines such as Final Crisis, DC just doesn't do much to promote many of their newer series, mini-series, etc... in their own books. In the 80's, DC and Marvel knew how to use the interior pages of their comics to push new comics, and they knew how to use a comic page to give a reader an idea of what to expect for a new series.

If I'm already reading a DC comic, I don't really need to have "Batman Monthly" ad taking up a full page. I know all about Batman's monthly release status. But it might be helpful to know why I should be picking up "Blue Beetle".**

Relying on monthly solicits and a mandatory interview or two on Newsarama prior to a series' launch do not a series' launch make. With a phone-book sized previews and superheroes littering the comic landscape, there's simply too much noise for the signal to be weak and still reach any significant number of the existing comics market (a market which may already have their needs met by existing titles, like that "Batman - Monthly" ad).

Further, audiences are pretty skeptical at this point of the 2nd or 3rd issue guest-star appearance by Batman, Superman, etc... in their new title. With as much exposure as most of DC's big guns get, Batman showing up in a series you aren't already reading, its going to take the freak Bat-completionist to get suckered in by that move. Instead, DC needs to find a way to make their new heroes relevant to the rest of the DCU.

No matter the introductory method, neither DC nor Marvel seem to be willing to get behind their own new series in any concrete fashion. What works for successful ongoing titles (such as it is), will not work if the audience has no real reason to check out a newly minted character, title, etc...

Blame the Fans!

DC seems to be moving into a strategy of supporting a number of tentpole characters and titles, and reconsidering their strategy when it comes to second and third tier characters. Or at least no longer supporting them beyond a certain sales point.

An older audience might seem to be a welcome change from the days of kids spending their nickels on comics. Adults have discretionary income, and don't need Mom and Dad's generosity to purchase comics.

But they've also been there, done that with so much of the comic industry. They have fixed preferences, favorite characters, titles, writers, etc... in which they're already invested. Especially when they know what becomes of most new series... Which means for DC to introduce any characters who didn't appear in a comic prior to 1987 are going to require some additional TLC.

What's to convince them that for their $3.00, they should invest it in a copy of Infinity Inc., if they're not a fan of writer Milligan? Or feel the story intended for Luthor's super-men has already been told? Especially when they suspect the series will probably fold, anyway... These are (such as they are) savvy shoppers. They know their comics, and can spot a comic that probably won't make it instinctively at this point.

Only the publisher and editorial can make the right decisions at the beginning about a series from square one. And only they can present a package to audiences that makes a series worth checking out. Perhaps this is the role of one of the endless revolving door positions you see for DC suits that never seem to stay filled. Or perhaps its just not in the budget to do much more than get the darn comics on the shelf.

Its not a moral imperative that comic readers try every new series, and signs point to a much wider audience for first issues than second, third, etc... So it does seem readers are willing to at least risk $3.00 to salve that old comic collector itch to invest in first issues. But its also possible the comic geeks ARE willing to try a new series. But something about most first issues just doesn't do much to grab them.

Blame the Bloggers!

DC would probably like to be able to blame their lower sales on fan fickleness, and possibly even the lack of enthusiasm bloggers seem to show for new series not launched by mega-star writers. In truth, this column is about the lack of buzz around new series. So DO comic bloggers too often neglect series that are trying to give it a go?

While, again, there's no moral imperative to cover new comics, especially from a giant like DC or Marvel, it does seem that quite often bloggers (myself included) stick with what we know. Bloggers are, after all, these same adult fans with fairly defined tastes and preferred material and creators that were discussed above.

In order to get that buzz going for a series, it needs to strike like lightning, with a strong hook and a reason for bloggers to want to make buzz for the series. Titles like "Manhunter" have survived more off of internet buzz than actual sales figures, and that's not a bad position to be in for writers like Andreyko. After all, its a lot easier to build a fan base based on blog reviews and word-of-mouth than off of solicitation material, which many other smaller series seem to rely on.

What can a comic company do to get attention for a book?

Reach out to bloggers:
Right now DC is handling bloggers as if they don't exist. And that's putting your head in the sand. It's the bloggers reporting on their presentations at Comic-Con and getting the word out to the 100's of 1000's NOT at the Con. They're ignoring the potential sites other than Newsarama can have as a ripple effect.

And they're ignoring the fact that if they reach out to a blogger, that person is far, far more likely to do their promotional work for them.

Promo Copies:
In addition to acting as a lowly columnist at Comic Fodder, where Travis lets me write if I empty the wastebaskets and he's allowed to throw wadded up paper at me, I also run a personal blog. Somehow a marketing company identified me as a comics enthusiast, and I'm now on their mailing list for people who get first looks every once in a while at DVDs.

Record companies don't ask for reviewers like SPIN magazine or Rolling Stone to go out and buy their albums. They send promo copies not just to those publications, but to record stores (at least we used to get promo copies of albums at Camelot Records where I worked in college).

The bottom line was, the word was out before the record ever hit the shelf. And comics need to figure out how to do the same thing. Get comics in the hands of reviewers a week or two before the release of the comic so folks can hear whether they want to buy it the actual week it comes out. Not during the days after the comic is released.

That's not to say everyone with a blogspot account should get free comics. But it seems like DC could figure a system for getting copies out to a fairly diverse audience of folks for preview reviews (and at sites that aren't in the pocket of the Big 2. Independence is key).

In-House Advertising:
DC says they fully support Blue Beetle and believe in the book. So where's the in-house ads? Jaime isn't iconic yet, so how does one pitch BB if putting him in a generically heroic pose in a single image isn't enough?

Comics used to be littered with promo material for other titles. You might find Infinity Inc, ads in Teen Titans, or ads for a spotlight title, etc... Its called selling to your audience.

Putting Jaime (Blue Beetle) in Teen Titans would have been a great idea if they'd done it sooner, and not waited for the change in creative teams. He needs exposure in more than the two books if DC fans are going to find out who this kid is, and find out why they should care.

Robin and Blue Beetle in a two-issue cross-over isn't unthinkable, and is somewhat natural.

You might have to spend actual ad dollars:
Cramming in yet another creator interview on Newsarama isn't enough. At this point, any regular reader can regurgitate the canned answers they're likely to get in the typical Newsarama interview.

But they might notice an ad banner on Newsarama. Especially if it connects to an interesting website, and not just another website with the solicitation materials.

A web presence for a new series (or even an ongoing one) would be a welcome change. It doesn't need to be some 3D, interactive nonsense. But it does need to tell you what the series is about, and why you should care. A layer or two of depth is always great.

Marvel's site isn't to my design tastes, but its not as spartan in content as DC's database of solicitation materials. They tend to at least have canned, in-house "news articles". Looking to websites for individual indie comics might be a great place to start for what a marketing site might look like for a title.

Lower the price:
I know, I know... these things are barely breaking even, but it's an incentive to at least check out the title, isn't it? It's the same concept as putting out a coupon. Lower the price, and at least get some sales.

A $0.50 plastic "Blue Beetle Scarab" give away at a retailer at least gets people thinking about your title. I still recall picking up Green Lantern again because a retailer was selling $1.00 plastic GL rings when I was in high school.
It doesn't matter what it is, but if you can put something free in someone's hands, they're more likely to think warmly of your comic.

Culling the Quiet Titles

DC is pretty clearly working to brace up their major franchise characters, and that's a great strategy. Get the best talent on your most important characters.

Meanwhile, DC runs mini-series after mini-series, but to what end? Perhaps to have a natural arc to a series rather than have to admit failure with a cancellation. It seems its these mini's that draw the least amount of noise from the peanut gallery, mostly because... how invested can the blogger/ internet masses get?

Its not that most of these series are, in fact, that bad (I guess. I don't read all of them.). But with such a short shelf-life, mini's need the most noise of all before they ever hit the shop.

So In Conclusion...

The Big 2 are trying. But they need to move into 1999 and learn how to use the internet to their advantage. Their approach to digital comics should be enough of a signal to their marketing departments to tell them they aren't properly approaching their fanbase and the opportunity presented by the navel gazing that goes on here.

Its not enough to rely upon the goodwill of the aged fanboy. The failure of too many good titles isn't occurring because the books aren't as good as books that are making it. It's happening because DC doesn't know how to bring the readers to new titles in the first place.

* I am actually reading "The War that Time Forgot". It's not as bad as you'd think. Plus: Enemy Ace.

** You should be reading Blue Beetle because its one of the best comics DC's got, and nobody seems to notice. The fact BB isn't moving 35,000+ copies a month is a crime.

Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at

You forgot to mention, write stories that don't suck. Also interesting is that you didn't mention Flash as one of the major DC characters....

A longer commentary on the rest of your excellent commentary would require more time than I currently have....

-- Posted by: Mike Shields at August 22, 2008 3:17 PM

I do consider all of the JLA Original 7 to be the most important characters in the DCU. Even poor ol' Martian Manhunter.

The Flash's treatment since Johns left the series years ago has been nothing short of criminal. I would go so far as to say that Flash, while hugely important, is NOT a major title to DC at the moment, or they wouldn't be handling the Flash family in the ham-handed way you've seen since Wally took Superboy into the Speedforce during Infinite Crisis.

I think my point regarding "buzz", noise vs. silence, etc... actually sort of goes beyond good writing. I think it's a key factor, yeah... But I'm mostly concerned here with their utter failure to take steps to shore up their titles with anything BUT the talent and characters in the pages.

That said, I am often baffled at what is considered "good writing" by virtue of the fact that DC let a book hit the stands. But even more baffled when I see certain writers championed and others bagged upon.

For example: I respect the hell out of FanBoy Wonder, but he and I just ahve to agree to disagree on certain stuff, such as Final Crisis. (I also think All-Star Batman and Robin is a great comic. When it comes out.)

-- Posted by: Ryan at August 22, 2008 10:06 PM

Hey Ryan,

Thanks so much for the mention. I was just blowing off some steam when posting my “Consolidation Challenge” and I never thought I would spark this kind of debate but it’s a talk worth having….so thanks…I’m flattered.

You hit the nail right on the head regarding some books that are all but invisible to the “professional” reviewers on the comics trade Websites.

Until you mentioned Infinity Inc. I totally forgot about that book. I…like many other people apparently viewed the book on the shelf, didn’t like what I saw and never gave it another thought. A frustration for the few remaining Infinity fans I’m sure.

I feel the same way with the Amazing Spider Girl. This is the little book that could yet it barely gets noticed except for the occasional Newsarama story declaring the title still not dead.

But Tangent was a bad idea the first time in ’98 and the less said about it the better. I only hope that Dan Jergens cashes the check on that particular job forthwith.

I’ve been reading comics….mostly DC for about 30 years and this is as bad as I’ve ever seen things and I see no sign that things are bound to improve—not with current management and I don’t see current management either being inclined to learn from their (many) past mistakes nor do I see current management going anywhere.

And I agree with Mike……they have to stop sucking. Quality control has really gone down the toilet at DC.

Cheers for Now,

-- Posted by: FanBoyWonder at August 23, 2008 1:40 AM

I think this Tangent revival was all part of the (misguided) post-52 attempt to build new brands out of the 52 worlds... but it all just felt so unnecessary. I was also not a fan of the Tangent event when it came out, and was more than a little baffled that DC decided to dig the concept up as if fans had really been clamoring for more Tangent.

I'm not ready to say things are as bad as they've ever been. I was genuinely ready to drop the Batbooks prior to Infinite Crisis (I was very tired of SOB Batman and his enabling, abuse-ridden supporting cast), and the entire last year or two of Superman books before Infinite Crisis needed to be folded into nothingness by Infinite Crisis. (I'm also not a fan of "mullet-era" Superman).

DC just doesn't have a deep enough bench of all-stars, but Didio seems to want to keep his stable of loyalists rather than poaching better writers, or developing new talent.

Part of me wonders if DC's policy to quit reviewing submissions hasn't done more harm than good in the long run.

-- Posted by: Ryan at August 23, 2008 12:39 PM