Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It Had to Be Said #4

The goal of a comic book company is to sell comic books.

The goal isn't to make art, or even tell a good story. It certainly isn't to keep your imaginary friends alive.

A comic book publisher wants to, nay, needs to, sell books.

If that means putting subjectively bad but objectively popular artists on covers because more people will buy it, fine.

If that means occasionally pandering to immature fanboy sensibilities, fine.

If that means cosmetically changing a character to better match their more popular movie or TV incarnation, fine.

Even if that means canceling a much loved, well reviewed book because it isn't selling and is therefore losing money, fine.

Does that mean they shouldn't even try to put out a good comic? Of course not, because the long term goals of selling books and making money depend on making art, telling a good story, and, yes, keeping your imaginary friends alive. But in the short term, compromises sometimes have to be made.

If only there was a good example, some bit of news that hit today that could best illustrate my point...

Ah yes, Civil War is going to ship one month and two months late, and take four or five popular titles with it, so as not to spoil events in the main book.

Compare that to Infinite Crisis, which went to multiple artists and, by issue 7, un-inked art, in order to have the books ship on time. (Or close to on-time, I'm not sure. I think it slipped but I'm not sure by how much). What was important was that, like Civil War, Infinite Crisis tied into a lot of books, and if it had missed its ship dates, it would have thrown off the One Year Later launch and 52, which were both successes.

The publishers at Marvel chose quality art over business concerns. Those at DC chose to place the sales of the rest of their line over the quality of their flagship book. Which was the right choice?

As a fan, of course, I hope for nothing but the finest quality in the comics I buy. And as any fan of Astonishing X-Men knows, sometimes you just gotta wait. I'm pretty sure I'll be waiting for Seven Soldiers #1 for the next five years. And it will be worth it. And though I enjoyed the series overall, I was honestly disappointed with Infinite Crisis #7.

However, Brian Hibbs and every retailer who is pissed off right now are absolutely right! Some books you wait for. Your MASSIVE company-wide crossover is not one of them. It must ship, rain or shine, because too many other books depend on it. Even if you're sure you'll get the sales later, comic book stores operating on thin profit margins may not be able to wait for later. Deny them sales too often, and they go out of business, then you don't have a place to sell your late-ass but perfect books, and then you go out of business. And then all my imaginary friends die with you.

Business HAS TO come first. HAS TO. Nobody likes to put out a bad book but it's sometimes put out a bad book now or lose your opportunity to put out a good book later. That means hitting your deadlines, even if you think the book isn't perfect. That means selling to the audience that already exists. That means putting out stories like everybody else is doing because that's what sells. BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT SELLS and in the short term that's how you stay alive.

BUT... that only keeps you alive for today. If you still want to be around tomorrow, you ALSO have to try new and different stories, experimenting with genre, structure, style, tone. You also have to try to expand or create new audiences. You also have to give some artists a little more creative freedom because they just aren't going to make deadline. You have to try to create good art.

Because that's how you make the real money!

[Edit: Declarative Rabbit says in one sentence what I tried to get across in the whole long post.]


Dr Obvious said...

Sadly though, Marvel doesn't make its money off selling books. It makes its money from license deals. See my post here to see exactly why book sales really don't matter to them. Sadly, this isn't true for retailers, like you said.

Steven said...

Good point, but it's not quite the whole story. I'm going to create another post about it.