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Monday, August 24, 2009 

Wash. Post is right: publishers missing opportunities

The Washington Post writes about how the big two are missing out on the big chance to capitalize on the success of movies based on their books/characters:
The film "Iron Man 2" isn't set to come out until next summer, but you would never have guessed that from a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly featuring Robert Downey Jr. summoning all the gravitas a man in red plastic can muster.

To be fair, the magazine was covering the cinematic buzz coming out of the San Diego Comic-Con last month. The gathering served as a marketing vehicle for upcoming movies, including "Jonah Hex" and "Iron Man 2." But when people weren't gawking at Megan Fox ("Jonah Hex") and Scarlett Johansson ("Iron Man 2"), they may have taken in a panel with comics writers. After all, Comic-Con started as a way for comic fans to buy, sell and discuss the objects of their passion.

But the celebrity dazzle obscured the strange reality: Movies based on comic books often turn into box-office hits, but their sources rarely see a related boost. Why? And why aren't comics publishers doing more to sell their material to moviegoers when their business has been dampened by the recession?


The daunting task of diving into a story that is already underway is one reason moviegoers stay away. Unlike the authors of Harry Potter or Twilight books, comic publishers keep developing their franchises' story lines as they're shaped for the big screen. Customers expect their monthly fix. Plus it's hard-baked into their business model. Comics podcast host Brian Eison points out that Marvel's and DC's sales are pegged to series plotted for years at a time. Since the publishers have sunk capital into these series, it makes no sense for them to alienate their core base by suspending or rewriting series to tie in to a movie.

But it's equally senseless to waste the opportunity to cultivate new readers. If someone were to walk out of "Wolverine" and into a comic shop, they would have no idea what to read, given the character's colorful back stories. And a neophyte comics reader is at the mercy of the shop employee for recommendations, because there are few clear entry points. Plus, there aren't many comics titles aimed squarely at new readers.
They got that right, but it's a shame that, as people who are clearly outside the world of comics and understand little about what goes on inside, they can't do anything to provide the real answers, nor can they bring themselves to be seriously critical of the editors for doing things that don't suit their properties.

The funny thing is that, a decade ago, when the first X-Men movie debuted, Marvel actually did try to capitalize on it, but in the wrong way: they brought Chris Claremont back to the helm based on name value only. He wrote a few story elements that intended to mirror those seen in the movies, yet still managed to make them confusing and incoherent. And soon after, Grant Morrison took over and made them even more dreadful, while simultaneously draining the color by giving the X-Men uniforms like in the movie for almost 3 years. And yet, sales did not improve, and slowly began to drop below 100,000 in sales.

If they had really wanted to capitalize, they would've been wiser to refrain from putting in too many elements similar to the movies, while at the same time writing some coherent stories that were even stand-alone, and they could've just limited the cast to several of the most prominent members. Also, they needn't worry about remaining true to prior approaches used since the 60s, 70s, and 80s, certainly not in characterization. The idea that the audience wouldn't realize that there are differences to be found in the source material and couldn't get the hang of it is absurd.

So a decade ago, they almost tried to capitalize on the movies, but in the wrong way. Now, the irony is that they're not, probably because they saw that it wasn't working, yet didn't see it as their own faults, so they resorted to the crossovers and other publicity stunts for survival, even though that too is starting to lose ground. And as long as Quesada and DiDio are in charge of the big two, I think it's clear by now that there's no chance they'll be able to bring in new audience. The truth is, they're not interested in new audiences so much as they are interested in dumbing down and destroying what made their properties click in the first place. If the Wash. Post doesn't understand that, and doesn't point it out, nobody will ever be able to understand why so many opportunities are being missed.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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