Anyone who is familiar with my column The Burning Mind knows that it once had a chaotic history and schedule. Unfortunately, the chaos that often plagued The Burning Mind has migrated over to this interview.
There was a point when it seemed like this interview wouldn't even happen. It was twice postponed, and even the morning of the interview itself, it seemed to take a super-human effort to actually do. Of course, all this chaos only makes for great drama and a story worthy of any title in the New 52.
It was a nice and cool morning on Thursday, October 27th. The epic heat of the Arizona summer had subsided, leading to some nicer — and more tolerable — weather. I made my way to Drawn to Comics in downtown Glendale, AZ to interview Ken Brown about the New DC.
Ken, along with his wife Susan, is the owner of Drawn to Comics. He has been in business for about six years and has weathered the storm of recent store closures in metropolitan Phoenix.
With digital voice recorder in hand, I was hyped to finally do the interview, only to be greeted with a surprising site once I arrived — posters and pieces of metal spewed throughout the front of the store, as if someone had burst through the side wall.
My heart sank at first. I thought something "chaotic" had happened, and thoughts of the interview being postponed — again — fleeted through my mind as Susan worked on clearing the mess and Ken made calls trying to find a new poster rack.
It turned out that their wall-hanging poster rack had fallen sometime during the night and spilled the posters across the floor. Sucking it up, I helped Susan pick up and organize the posters as Ken made his calls.
After about half an hour later, the posters were picked up and the floor was cleared of the dangerous pieces of metal that was once the poster rack. Having no luck on the phones and needing his morning cup of coffee to get going, Ken walked with me over to a local coffee shop, sat down and finally discussed the New DC.
Ace Masters: Let's start with the first question I really want to know the answer to. As a retailer, do you think the reboot was needed in the first place?
Ken Brown: Let me start by saying that I have no problem with DC, Marvel or any company. These are just my opinions as a retailer. I love DC Comics. I love Marvel Comics. I love Dark Horse. I love Image Comics. I think all publishers are doing a really good job trying to push their product.
I really thought when DC brought on Geoff Johns a few years back as their main brainchild of the DC Universe that things started going in the right direction without doing a reboot. Geoff Johns really reinvigorated the Flash and Justice Society. I mean, when was the last time people wanted to read the Justice Society?
Masters: The '50s.
Brown: He reinvigorated that title. Much less what he did with Green Lantern. Rebooting and making Green Lantern from a B-lister to an A-lister.
Masters: And that was an in-continuity reboot itself.
Masters: It was not a true reboot, as it didn't wipe out what happened before. But it took what happened before and used it as the basis to reinvigorate the series.
Brown: And that is stuff DC has been doing since… I would say 1956 when they rebooted for the first time and debuted the Barry Allen Flash. And that was more or less a whole new reincarnation of the character. And later with Hal Jordon as Green Lantern and then Ollie Queen as Green Arrow, this brand new character.
Masters: This is not the first time DC has rebooted.
Brown: Right. But now they have decided to reboot everything at one time, thinking, "we need to do something drastic." Drastic does make a splash, but at the same time, long term, what's really going to mean something is the quality of the product. Quality will sell the books no matter what number is on them.
Masters: A number of theories have been talked about what the reason behind the DC Reboot is. Initially, it was to bring in new readers. Now some are saying it's because DC wanted to give a new injection of life to the industry as a whole. Do you have any thoughts on the reason DC did the reboot?
Brown: There are all kinds of things I have been researching about it since it was announced. The most disturbing thing that I read about it was that they were concerned about Marvel being so far ahead of them in sales. And I don't really think you reboot a whole company just because your competitor is beating you at the time.
It's risky. Obviously you have to try and compete, but when you look at the percentages, you guys own like 96 percent of the market.
Masters: Marvel and DC combined.
Brown: You're not doing something wrong. It is just that some fans prefer one over the other. DC felt forced. It felt like their attitude was, "okay, we've done everything, what are we going to do now?" And the thing is that, if you keep on doing things people are going to read them.
You can't tell me Infinite Crisis sales were horrible. Or that Final Crisis sales were horrible. Or that Blackest Night sales were horrible. Those were all incredible sales.
Masters: Blackest Night was the number one selling book for a while with well over 100 thousand sales. And Green Lantern was right behind it, hovering around the 100 thousand mark.
Where did you find that competition with Marvel was one of the reasons behind the reboot?
Brown: When it was announced, I read a lot of stuff on Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, Comic Book Resources, where there were interviews with Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and others. One of the things I was reading was, "why were they doing this?" Most it was to refresh the characters and make it easy for new readers.
But I did read an article [saying that] DC really needed to improve statically and get more than two titles in the top ten. Marvel had eight titles in the top ten every month. DC needed to do something that was going to change that and this is what they came up with.
Another thing I heard was about the Superman licenses right.
Masters: That was going to be my next question. Do you think the lawsuit they lost over Superman may have had something to do with this?
Brown: There are a lot of theories about that, too. The funny thing is that Grant Morrison has been quoted in articles [saying] that he wants to bring Superman back to how he originally was back in Action Comics' early days.
That kind of throws me off a little bit. That is a little interesting; if they are trying to get away from that Superman [the original Siegel and Shuster creation], why go back to how he was in the original Action Comics #1?
Masters: Some people have complained that the DCU and the characters are not the same anymore. But that is the point of a reboot. If it's a true reboot, then everything changes and what happened before is forgotten and things start from scratch.
Brown: That's the weird thing. DC has kept resisting the word reboot and
revamp. They've just called it a relaunch. And the relaunch is kinda interesting. Everything that happened in the past is still there, it's just different now. I'm kind of going, what's the grey area? Are you doing a reboot or revamp?
Masters: When they first announced it, I was under the impression they were going to be starting over from scratch. Maybe they are splitting hairs and not trying to go the Star Trek route and piss off the original fan base. When the Chris Pine Star Trek came out, originally it was a remake, then somebody with the production claimed it was a reboot and that went over bad. Then it became an alternate timeline, meaning that the original still happened.
Brown: It's a Flashpoint kinda thing there, top. It's like Star Trek had its own Flashpoint.
Masters: With Star Trek, the alternate timeline can make sense considering the Mirror Universe and other stories. With DC, it can also make sense considering the multiverse. And, if this does fail, I'm sure they have a way to bring it back to the prime continuity.
Brown: That's what is kinda weird about this whole thing, too. They have turned the Crisis Stories into time streams. Now, let's just mess with the time stream, because we've already messed with all of the realities. And the funny thing, too, is that Final Crisis reopened the multiverse, if I remember correctly.
Masters: Yeah, at one time they wiped it out to make everything one and then brought it back.
How much have the characters changed?
Brown: I read that was a major factor to the DC reboot. They wanted to freshen up the characters and make them their characters. At the same time, I'm not seeing much change. I think the costumes have changes.
I think Starfire was the biggest change that I noticed. Blue Beetle had a little bit of change to his origin. Firestorm had a little bit of a change. They brought him back to high school again.
DC is also trying to break racial stereotypes.
It sounds kind of sad, and I don't want to say this, but it's like they are trying to reach out to Marvel readers. Where Marvel is really good at [representing real-life] society, DC is more or less your escapism type of thing. Let's see the good guy win, and let's see something fantastic. That was DC's thing for years.
Masters: Have you had anyone complain about the characters not being the same?
Brown: It's been a mixture. It's funny. I've heard people glorify some of the changes. And other people are saying, "there's no way." The big one, obviously, was Starfire. The attitude they gave Starfire more resembles her sister Blackfire — warmonger, doesn't like humans.
You wonder if they are doing this on purpose just to piss fans off, or is it a plot point that diehard fans will catch onto and that new fans will go, "oh, it's awesome," when the reveal is made.
Masters: If it is a plot point, a reveal may mean nothing to a new fan if they don't know anything about the past of the characters.
Brown: It's in how they explain it.
One thing I think DC really has got to do is hold on to the classic fan. And that is something I have seen, old DC fans saying, "this is absurd," while others love it. Casual DC fans love it. Long time die-hard fans are more like, "what's going on here?" I've been trying to pay close attention to the fans and listen to their feedback after they read the titles.
Masters: Let's talk sales. When numbers were first floating around for Justice League #1, we were hearing numbers of 250,000. When the Diamond numbers came in, they were about 171,000. DC and Diamond were announcing it was sold out about a week before it hit stores. Then the day it hit stores, they announced it was going to a second printing and the first issue was unavailable. What do you think of all of that?
Brown: Man, dude. In what respect do you mean?
Masters: The announcements that the books were sold out before they even hit the stores.
Brown: That's unfair to say. I still had copies of issue one for about five days after Wednesday. All the announcement of the sellouts nationwide got people pouring into my store and I'm sure other stores as well.
The announcement of the sellout before hand was a good PR move for DC as it created a buzz and showed what they are doing is working. The second printings being sold out and allocated was a little suprising to me. [With] Justice League #1, they were telling us that only 33% of what we ordered would be shipped to us. I ordered 25 second printings, to have some copies just in case. They only sent me eight.
And so, when you have only eight of that order coming through, something's going on. I think it may have been a defined print run. So when orders came in that were higher than the print run, Diamond allocated [the books] based off of what DC already had for a second print. Again, I am not DC or Diamond. I don't know anything. This is just a theory of what was going on.
Masters: There's always that possibility.
Brown: I don't think DC wanted to overprint. I think that a major X-factor here is that DC's out clause is that it's available on digital. And they don't want to overprint it because of the cost of over printing.
Masters: You mentioned digital. What do you think of the digital day-and-date release with DC? Do you think they are pushing digital over the physical media?
Brown: Yes, I think that long term DC is pushing digital, due to the financial benefits of digital being more cost-efficient than print. Financially, they get more profit publishing something online once and they don't have to worry about paper cost. And they are getting the same amount the first week digital as they would be from the printed comic cover price.
This is very frustrating as a store owner. I try to be intelligent rather than emotional about every situation going on in the industry.
But, I think comics are always going to be a physical collecting medium. My debate to the whole thing of digital is that if you are a casual reader, it's awesome for you. If you are a hardcore collector, you're not going to give someone your iPad to read your comics. You may say, "hey dude, read this comic." If I let them borrow my comic and I don't get it back I'll go buy another one. You're not going to say, "here dude, here's my iPad, borrow it."
Masters: Going back to Justice League, are you sold out of #1's? Second printings and all?
Brown: I did sell out of it. First printings are gone. Second printings are gone. Third printings… I still have some left over.
Masters: How do you think subsequent issues are going to do? Do you still have some good orders for it?
Brown: I don't think there will be people buying two or three copies. I did know some people wanting to by two or three copies of #1. I had one person who wanted to by five copies, and I told him if I still have copies at the end of the night, I'd let him buy five. But I don't want to encourage people buying multiple copies as much I want to encourage new people to start reading.
Masters: You get false sales numbers out of tha
t. Do you think that is a lot of the "investor collectors," who are probably going online and selling the copies?
Brown: Yeah, I think there has been a lot of that the first month. I had one guy come through three times to buy the same book, hoping I wouldn't notice. Of course, I don't sit there and argue with the customer, I think that is kind of dumb to a point. But it is fun to see how customers react when you recognize them.
Masters: There are stores I've seen that have signs up that state that only one copy is allowed per customer for most of the DC issues. That's something that some people don't seem to realize, that there are a lot of people buying multiple copies of the first few issues of the titles and selling them on eBay for jacked up prices.
Brown: Yes. What I think is interesting about number two is that, even though DC says they are sold out, the distributor still has copies left over. And I am sure that is people doing the wait-and-see.
Masters: Justice League, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern… those were the big event titles, the most anticipated ones. How did they sell for you?
Brown: Man, dude, I had complete sell outs of Detective Comics, Superman, Flash, Green Lantern and Action Comics. All the big ones. Wonder Woman even had a complete sellout. I mean, pretty much the majority of stuff sold out for me. Which was kind of absurd. I've never seen anything like that.
There are other factors out here; we've lost two major retailers — one with four stores — in a six-week period. I don't think a lot of the stores left were prepared for the influx of new customers from the stores that shut down.
And with the DC relaunch at the same time, it made everyone in the Phoenix market scramble for it. And because the relaunch was so successful nationwide, it made it hard in the Phoenix market to gauge what's not enough, what's too much.
Masters: We lost two retailers and five stores. That's almost half the stores in Phoenix.
Brown: It's a major, major percentage. I don't know what kind of market share Atomic Comics had, but I would say about 40 to 50 percent of sales were coming out of their four stores.
Masters: I'd say that was fair. Have you read Justice League or any of the big titles?
Brown: Justice League was okay. The artwork was gorgeous. Jim Lee is a hard person to make a complaint about. I did see it's more or less time dating everything. DC is more or less confusing the readers as to when this is taking place compared to the other books.
Batman and Detective Comics are all taking place as if nothing changed, except Dick Grayson decides to become Nightwing again and Red Robin decides to go form this new group called the Teen Titans and Damien is back with daddy again. And that seems like nothing has changed.
Masters: That brings up a point that some fans have said, "we don't need continuity, we don't need everything to make sense, we just need good stories."
Brown: DC has had consistency for 60 years. Even when they introduced new characters, DC still had consistency. If you train readers, no matter how long they have been reading, to be used to this being all the same universe and then all of a sudden they start this whole new thing…
I think this is a gimmick still. I hate saying that. I think if it doesn't work they will revert back to [the old DCU]. If it does work, they will keep telling stories this way. But then they might revert back to [the old continuity] because of that little mystery lady that is appearing in the back of each book. Like Where's Waldo.
Masters: If this doesn't work in the long run, you have to know DC is smart enough to have a way to revert back. Is this is it?
Brown: That could be the route. I mean, why have her in every book if this is a brand new universe?
Masters: Unless she's going to be the big character in the first crossover to bring everything together.
Brown: I didn't see her in any of the #2's. I don't know if this is just her being Mother Time, witnessing what she created or what.
Masters: Red Hood, Catwoman and a couple of other titles have been ripped apart by critics and fans. Has that hurt sales?
Brown: Man, dude. Catwoman sold out for me. Red Hood and the Outlaws did not sell out, but I really thought that book was going to be great because Ken Rocafort artwork is really breathtaking.
Masters: There are a lot of oddball titles out there right now — Men of War, I, Vampire, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. Have any of these titles just really flopped in terms of sales?
Brown: I lot of my customers tried a little bit of everything. Like Deadman [in DC Universe Presents]. I didn't expect that to do very well. My numbers were lower on it obviously, but I still sold out of it. Even Men of War, I sold out of my order of issue #1. I've only had a few people pick up Men of War #2.
Masters: There is the problem. Everyone is saying it's a success because of the first issue sales. But it's the second, third and fourth issues that will tell the story. When we hit January, February and March, that is when we will know how much of a success it is.
Brown: Exactly. If the numbers for the titles drop back down to where there were before the reboot, then… Justice League is one of the titles that I think is going to sustain the numbers, as long as they have Jim Lee on the book. If you take Jim Lee off the book, the sales are going to drop again.
However, it will be interesting to see what happens in six months, once the readers decide they are not being pleased with the new DC. DC really needs to use this not as an opportunity to put out new number one's but to do what they said and reinvigorate the characters.
Masters: Has anyone dropped all DC books since the reboot?
Brown: Let's see. Only one or two people. What I saw more of was people dropping the titles before the relaunch, thinking the titles just didn't mean anything. It's like, "Why do I need to read the rest of Birds of Prey, if it's just going to be their ending?"
Masters: What do you think the future holds for the relaunch and DC?
Brown: If the story content is good, people will keep buying it. If it becomes a gimmick, people will see it right away. I've already heard some people call it a gimmick.
What DC did, in my opinion, is reboot all their B-Listers and keep their A-Listers mostly the same.
The chaos I mentioned in the intro didn't end with the actual happening of the interview. Just to get it to this point (posted for all to read) was another chore. Life intervened a number of times, as is bound to happen.
This interview was transcribed, edited and ready to go three weeks ago. Of course, nothing happens smoothly and t
he chaos hit again. As I was backing up my computer to an external drive, my system crashed. I lost the computer AND external drive, meaning that I lost the interview and a ton of other materials.
After buying a new laptop I set about to re-transcribe the interview and do all the work over again. Hopefully it was worthwhile and you will get something out of this interview.
The whole process of doing this interview played out like a classic super-hero story — conflict, good versus evil, plot twists, surprises and a rousing climax.