This is where it gets interesting.
Waiting for notes back on the second FF Tales script, and really making an effort to stop and appreciate having two books shipping from Marvel in February, along with my very first trade from Arcade Comics. Maybe it’s the season hitting me full force, but instead of plowing ahead onto the next thing, with little regard for the importance of what I just finished, seeing the official solicitations printed up in Previews, changes everything. There’s still a very transient, Twilight Zone sensation attached to it, the same kid that started habitually reading Previews every month back around the Death of Superman, now finding his name in it, and I know I’ve mentioned this before in past weeks, but man, I’m saying it again…I feel pretty incredible right now. This could very well be the next in a series of hit and run assignments from me, but it feels different this time, like the groundwork is being laid for something bigger. I wanted books dropping in at least 9 months of the upcoming year, and from February through May, I’m doubling up.
With the solicitations squared away, now begins the most important phase in regards to direct market comics, that period of time that forms the initial assault on the marketplace. I’m talkin’ pre-order madness, baby. And you know, as an observer constantly on the lookout for weekend box office figures, the Diamond 300, and those horribly clever month-to-month articles that The Pulse has been running for the last several months, I know it’s all about the numbers. So, naturally, I want my numbers lookin’ as pretty as humanly possible, and at my level in the game, it’s not enough to just write the scripts anymore. There’s a certain degree of hustle that’s necessary.
X-Force: Shatterstar is pretty set, I think. The new X-Force mini has consistently rested in the top 30, without the aid of retailer incentives or variant covers, so Rob’s presence up front on the covers and handling the actual plot should retain most of the core audience. The final script just has to keep them there, but honestly, this should sell pretty well without much help, even though there might be a special cover showing up soon. The word “chromium” was mentioned a few months back, but that might’ve been a rumor. Point being, that I probably won’t have to “push” this one into your Wednesday stacks too hard, just convert a few people resting on the fence. Marvel Age Fantastic Four Tales is an entirely different animal.
The Fantastic Four are involved of course, and all inertia will be rolling their way, with a potential blockbuster movie releasing in the summer, and without a doubt, a flood of material to capitalize on it. So pure visibility isn’t an issue. There is also a team-up dynamic attached to the first four issues, sporting guest appearances by Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Spider-Woman, and the Hulk. The unknown variable seems to be that Marvel Age logo in the corner, and even though it’s well established that there’s a significantly lower direct sales threshold to be met, the numbers I’ve seen give me the creeps, really. And I can hardly offer an appropriate response, without doing a bit of research, right? So, just thinking out loud here, the several thousand-dollar question is…why don’t the Marvel Age titles sell better in comic stores?
The most obvious answer is that nothing is selling, barring the upper echelons of the sales charts, but that seems a much larger issue. Equally knee-jerk is the counter that books for “kids” just won’t sell, least not in their current monthly serialized format, which has been proven to some degree, by the very potent stranglehold that manga has thrown around the industry, leaving everyone else but Tokyopop in a perpetual game of catch-up. With the Marvel Age sharing some of those sensibilities, with low price points and self-contained stories, added to the recognizable muscle of Marvel characters, shouldn’t the direct market sales reflect the common criticism that we’re effectively leaving the kids behind? The sales on the Johnny DC books are hovering around similar points, even with a pair of prominent Cartoon Network tie-ins. Is the contention that there exists a market for “all ages” material yet another of comics’ many urban legends, like the notion that there’s a strong desire to see new characters and concepts? Maybe it’s simply that the younger fans can’t find a comic shop to save their little lives, and the “low” price points still aren’t low enough.
It can’t help that the “All-Ages” tagging, meant to attract one audience, likely erects a barrier to another, triggering a stigma that the content is strictly “for kids.” I had only flipped through a couple MA books, excluding Spider-Girl, before I started doing research on the line, and while pacing out my first FF issue, I was still trying to figure out exactly why. What the billing should mean is that no matter the previous emersion into the larger comics landscape, if you drop 2.25 on these books, you should walk away with an enjoyable comic. No question.
From the creative standpoint side, the term “writing for kids” is about as nebulous as the “writing for the trades” one, in that the claim fits wherever it needs to, depending what side of the argument you’re standing on. My response to the prospect of “writing for kids” is that it means everything and absolutely nothing, at the same time.
Marvel Age guidelines are only as restrictive as you allow them to be, some things cosmetic, some stylistic. Little stuff like having the girls fully clothed, and trying to minimize my panel counts, so the eventual digests aren’t a cluttered mess. Nothing, really. Nothing that prevents me from making Black Panther look like the coolest cat alive, or trying to deliver on Dr. Strange’s promise that “with magic…anything is possible.” Nothing that’ll stop this ridiculous stuff I’m jotting down for the Spider-Woman and Hulk issues. Kids want the same things from their escapist fiction that adults do, powerful action sequences, crackling dialogue, and that sense of wonder lacing each and every page.
This is a different breed of “kid” we’re taking about anyway. These kids are operating in an incredibly connected and fast-paced environment, that’s attaching an e-mail address to them before they can even get out of the womb good. There are little dudes out there under the impression that video games always looked like they do on PS2, and that controllers always had analog sensitivity and shoulder mounted buttons. Just think of how many high-school students are checking the voicemail on their cell phones during their passing periods, or have a buddy list on their Instant Messenger that puts yours to absolute shame. I’m only in my mid-20s, and there’s already a definite generation gap between myself, and kids only 5 years younger than me.
Point being, that underestimating what these “kids” are capable of handling defeats the entire point of even going after them with comics. We might as well throw our hands up in frustration and concede all potential ground to Xbox and Harry Potter, if we’re going to spoon-feed them everything and gently hold their hand, when they’d really prefer we toss them off a building. So, I’m not trying to approach FF Tales as “writing for kids,” just writing stories that audiences of all ages could equally enjoy, but possibly for different reasons. Where fans of Priest’s run on Panther will see his young female bodyguard Tasmin and instantly realize that she’s Dora Milaje, the newcomer will just see that Panther’s assistant is an incredibly cool teenager with tech from the future. For 2.25, everybody should go home happy, and I’m only trying to figure out how to ensure that “everybody” applies to a larger number of readers.
So, what’s everyone else’s take on this? What can be done to strengthen the sales of this material in our local shops, and if you aren’t buying any books geared towards a general audience, what could be done to get you onboard? What does “comics for kids” mean to you? Please hit me back with your thoughts and suggestions on this, as I’ll be brainstorming over schemes to effectively spike the interest and scope of FF Tales in the coming months.
In the meantime, welcome back the Quotables, culled from last Wednesday’s releases, and sticking around as long as people keep bringing those hot lines. Enjoy.
Ultimate Fantastic Four #13 (Warren Ellis)
“Well, I could tell you about the tile I’ve developed that’s some 150 times better at handling heat and stress than the Space Shuttle’s ceramic tiles. I could mention the new applications for the Stark lifter engine that the U.S. Army shares patents in. I could throw in a radical new unpacking application. And a new thruster design that NASA might like for its compact unmanned probes. “
But it’s really very simple. I’ve had an idea.”- Reed Richards
Daredevil #67 (Brian Michael Bendis)
“Not the face. I have to be in court tomorrow.”- Matt Murdock/Daredevil
Supreme Power #13 (J. Michael Straczynski)
“Just because it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and shits on the sidewalk like a duck, doesn’t mean it’s a duck.
Sometimes it’s a hunter trying to make the other ducks think it’s a duck.”- Ted
Green Lantern: Rebirth #2 (Geoff Johns)
“You know what they say, J’Onny boy?
“Beware my power.”- Guy Gardner
The Authority: Revolution #2 (Ed Brubaker)
“What is this fucking world where everyone and their retarded nephew has access to teleporters?”- Jack Hawksmoor
Marvel Team-Up #2 (Robert Kirkman)
“Friggin’ Cyclops and his friggin’ new costumes.
We have to astonish them. Give me a break.”- Wolverine
The Flash #216 (Geoff Johns)
“I know what your predecessor attempted to do. Change human nature. Top The Top.
No one tops The Top, Flash.”- The Top
Frank Ironwine #1 (Warren Ellis)
“Keep pulling. I can’t feel my legs. Can you see my legs? My legs may have been stolen. Call the police. I’m a detective.”
“See, it’s not about blood chemistry and DNA and analyzing farts. It’s about people. And history. Every damn time.”
“You hug them, you hold their hands, you touch their faces, you kiss them if that’s what it takes. Anybody, anybody walking into an interrogation room is scared. I don’t care what they say, how they handle themselves–they’re scared of something.
Everybody in this entire city is scared of something, De Groot.”
“Amanda Milan was a transsexual. Her throat was slit just outside here, a few years back. Mostly because she was a transsexual and she didn’t give a shit what anyone thought about it. Nothing in this town’s new, De Groot. Nothing at all.”- Frank Ironwine