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Sunday, August 21, 2011 

American companies try to boost sales overseas to salvage sales

The leftist BBC is reporting that Marvel and DC are trying to salvage their sales by turning to the foreign market:
With sales in decline at home, US comic-book giants Marvel and its old rival DC Comics have been looking towards foreign markets to grow their businesses.

"We're pushing to bring new people into stores," says CB Cebulski, senior vice-president and international talent scout at Marvel.

"Sales are down and we've been losing market share to things like video games, social media, to film, to piracy."
Predictably, he won't say that another key reason they're losing out is because the storytelling quality in their current output by and large is just plain, flat out poor.

This also tells that they're attempting something similar to what a lot of the US movie business is trying: to rely on foreign markets for sales. Trouble is, unlike the movies, even overseas comics sales today aren't something to crow over, at least not for American comics.
Meanwhile, the American comic-book companies have been reaching out to new audiences through movie franchises of characters such as Thor, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four.

But even with the help of movies, success is not guaranteed. And Marvel has been burned in the region before.

The company made an aggressive push in Japan and Korea in the 1990s, but by Mr Cebulski's admission, it did not have the formula right. "We tried to 'bully' our way in and then got pushed back, because we were trying to tell the Asian market what we thought they needed," he says.

"We've always found the Asian market a little bit impenetrable."

One of the reasons could be that Asians have long been under-represented in the comic-book world, both on the pages and in creative roles.
At least they're sufficiently honest in telling that the mistake they made was telling the audience in Asia what to think/believe. Or are they? I think that's what they must have done, and most importantly, if they didn't sell them in Asia based upon quality writing, and more upon gimmicks like crossovers and variant covers, then no wonder they didn't make it then, and aren't likely to even now. I don't think it's a case of under-representation so much as it is a case of banal writing that makes it hard to get in there (and in most manga/anime, there are plenty of caucasians, even if their character design isn't so different from those who are Asian). And in the past decade, increasingly disrespectful writing is just one of the problems.

This article also drags in diversity issues decades too late:
In the past there have been accusations that any characters of different ethnicities tend to be two-dimensional caricatures.

"The first 35 or 40 years of American comics basically told stories without race, without religion, without ethnicity," says former DC Comics president, and currently senior adviser Paul Levitz.

"Race, in terms of true diversity, was almost non-existent in those first few decades."
There's at least 2 problems to this argument: first, they tend to be very selective in what they consider "race", for example: blacks, Asians and Latinos have been pretty frequent in that time, but Armenians, Portuguese, Bulgarians, Burmese, Romanians, and even Ainu from Japan are almost non-existent in mainstream comics. And increasingly, we're seeing a lot of protagonists of different races being introduced as replacement superheroes instead of supporting cast members, or even heroes who can stand as their own role, and not be turned into forced replacements for white protagonists.

The problem is that, as things now stand, introduction of characters of different races has become very contrived and forced.
But now both DC Comics and Marvel have revamped their strategies in the region.

"To change these things you need to bring in fresh writers, fresh artists with fresh perspectives," says Mr Levitz.

Marvel's Mr Cebulski agrees that giving more creative control to local artists in Asia is one of the ways into the market.

Mixing styles

Benjamin Ang is one of those artists.

The 27-year-old Singaporean has recently been chosen to draw for Marvel, now the biggest comic book company in the US by market share. [...]

Mr Cebulski says Marvel wants these artists, as well as those from other parts of the world, to bring their influences into the Marvel universe.
Here too, there appears to be a telling flaw: they're being brought in as artists, but not as writers. Nor do any Europeans beyond British seem to be sought out as possible scriptwriters; nobody doing scriptwriting today seems to be from a non-English speaking country. Sure, artists can be a valuble asset, but writers are where the main vision starts. And if Marvel isn't seeking writers from non-English speaking countries - and DC doesn't seem to be either - then they're not doing much to convince. Certainly not if they continue to hold their universes hostage to horrible editorial mandates and deny the writers any creative freedom.

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"People in the US don't want to read the comics we're making."

"Whay's that?"

"Because it's mostly violent, profane, shoddily-written postmodern drivel with a heavy far left slant."

"What do you suggest?"

"Well, we could always try to give the people what they want: well-written, heroic, pro-American stories with actual beginnings, middles, and endings."

"Nah, that'll never work. Plan B?"

"If we won't give our audience what they want, we'll get a new audience and give them what we want them to want."

"Brilliant!"

Why, it's underpants gnome economics.

Step 1: Collect underpants

Step 2: ?

Step 3: Profit

Of course, the creators of South Park get it -- why can't Marvel or DC?

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