Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in
Two weeks ago I wrote a column suggesting one way that retailers can weather recent gasoline price spikes would be for them to just not order Marvel and DC titles which sell 15,000 copies and under (that is, according to the ICv2 Top 300 Actual Comics list). Since then, people have accused me of censorship, hectoring customers into liking books I like, market manipulation and trying to dictate what Marvel and DC should publish. Worst of all came in a series of e-mails sent directly to Super-Fly Comics & Games. The store was accused of refusing to order these comics for our customers and that I, through the column, was advocating the policy to other stores.
What all these charges have in common is that the respondents’ seem to have read something other than what I actually wrote.
Though I’ve got to admit I should have said that I meant retailers shouldn’t order these titles for the shelves. If you have file customers who want them, of course you should get them, likewise if walk-ins show up looking for those titles, you should immediately try to see if they can be special ordered. I’d like to think that is the very embodiment of “it goes without saying,” but you know, live and learn. And of course the ICv2 list doesn’t necessarily reflects what sells at your store, like, if your store is selling fifteen copies of Avengers Fairy Tales, well frankly I have a lot of questions.
But before going any further, I want to make it clear the views and opinions of this column do not necessarily reflect those of Super-Fly Comics & Games or its owners Tad Cleveland and Tony Barry, except of course when they do. They have been nothing but supportive of me, and we tend to agree more than disagree on what I write here, but the bottom line is that these are my opinions. Anyone wishing to comment on them should do so through the ICv2 website and not Super-Fly. Tad and Tony have enough to deal with on any given day without getting involved with this stuff.
I wasn’t suggesting the comics I listed weren’t “good” or that low sales were the final arbitrator of their quality; given the criteria I was using I really should have included Blue Beetle but it is (again, in my opinion) different enough to distinguish it from other superhero titles (plus with a little promotion it could appeal to the growing Hispanic segment of the population). It’s been “on the bubble,” as they say in the TV industry, for a while now, but since this version of the character is going to appear in the upcoming Batman: Brave & Bold animated series hopefully DC will leave it alone for a little while longer.
And there are definitely comics I’d consider “good” on that list, like Checkmate and Shadowpact from DC, that are worthy of retailer support, but it’s clear that no matter how “good” Checkmate is, your average superhero reader isn’t going to breathlessly await the next issue to find out how the pivotal U.N. Security Council resolution turns out.
But let's face it, most of them aren’t staggering works of genius that have tragically been unable to find an audience; they’re just more superhero titles, “more” being defined (by me) as “unnecessary.” We keep reviewing the same material over and over again but the way I see it:
1) There are only X number of potential comic book readers.
2) These readers can only buy X number of superhero comics.
3) Publishers continue to publish more superhero titles than X can buy.
These titles cannot possibly sell more copies than they do and in spite of the fact none of them will be published next year, it won’t stop Marvel and DC from coming up with another dozen or so new titles that will settle somewhere comfortably at the bottom of the list. I’ll happily admit to wanting to “manipulate the market.” I hate to be reasonable but maybe if what they publish isn’t selling, it’s time to publish something else. And now that I’ve warmed up to the topic in my next column I’ll issue my dictates to Marvel and DC.
Finally we’re constantly told there’s no way to market comic books to “today’s kids,” that they’re so deeply under the influence of videogames we should just give up. I’d like to refer them to a New York Times article by Douglas Quenqua titled “To Create Its Hits, a Company Takes its Toys On Tour” about the Bakugan Battle Brawlers phenomenon. I quote:
“Last summer, teams of college interns roamed the Canadian countryside in large, colorful vans introducing children at summer camps and local fairs to Bakugan Battle Brawlers, a game played with small plastic balls that snap open into monsters when rolled across magnetic trading cards.
“The trip took months before the toys were available in stores or advertised on television, but it generated plenty of under-age word of mouth. When the toys hit stores in September, they sold out almost immediately, and every today retailers struggle to keep them in stock.”
And if a bunch of college interns can help make marbles seem cool again, what’s keeping Marvel and DC from doing something similar for comic books--and, while they are there, doing research, actually asking the kids what they’d like to see in comic books?
Besides actually making an effort for once, I mean.
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.