ICv2 continues its series of interviews with comic publishers with a talk with Marvel publisher Dan Buckley (who asked VP Sales David Gabriel to join in).  In Part 3, we talk about publishing Amazing Spider-Man three times a month, lessons learned from Anita Blake and Dark Tower, and where graphic novels should be racked in bookstores.  In Part 4, we discuss Marvel's classics line, lessons from the death of Captain America event, Webcomics, and more.  In Part 1, we talked about the state of the market and the reasons for the success of Civil War in bookstores as well as comic stores.  In Part 2, we talked about more of the newer distribution channels for Marvel books, and Marvel's publishing plans to tie into its 2008 movies.

It was interesting to see the announcement about Amazing Spider-Man coming out three times a month.  Can you talk about the reasons you're doing that and what you expect to achieve?
DB:  Amazing is the strongest title, and we're looking to lift the sales of Spider-Man across the board.  We're also looking at taking a slightly different tack telling the story around Spider-Man.  We have a good starting point with JMS [J. Michael Straczynski] finishing up his eight-year run, with Joe [Quesada] on One More Day, and we wanted to get into more of a melodrama/soap opera approach with Peter and have him connect more.

We felt that having Amazing Spider-Man continue on a consistent basis with a solid writing team working together and sharing thoughts and concepts to keep that soap opera aspect to it is the best way to maximize consumer interest, break the clutter, and get sales.

It will also deliver unique storytelling that we haven't done in a long time with Spider-Man.  It's something that Joe has been challenging the editorial team about for two or three years, and I've been killing it for two or three years.  Then when [Executive Editor] Tom Brevoort and his editorial team saw that JMS was finishing up, they thought 'wow, we could really do something interesting from a storytelling standpoint.'  And that's how we got into it.

It's great for marketing and sales, but they needed to have an idea of how they were going to tell the story, and mechanically how they were going to tell the story.  We wanted to make sure we have top notch writers working on it.  The harder part is to make sure we coordinate and execute a high-level artistic delivery; we don't want this to feel like a filler book at all.  They've gotten off the ground pretty well with that.  We've put solid teams on this, with McNiven, Bachalo and other people.  We spent six months just working through the logistics, and when Tom and I got comfortable, we said all right, we'll give it a fly.

How long will the Amazing Spider-Man schedule continue?
DB:  At minimum a year. If it works out well, we'll go longer.

So you're going to put out 36 issues of Amazing Spider-Man next year?
DB:  Yes.

You mentioned a series of other projects to expand the audience that Marvel reaches.  One of those was the relationship with the Dabels and Anita Blake, which has obviously been very successful in both channels.  Now that you've published together for a year, what have you learned about publishing both for that audience and in these other genres in which Marvel has previously not been as active?
DB:  The most important thing we learned, which is what we suspected, is that there are a lot of fanatics for other properties that are interested in comic book storytelling, and if it's done well, they'll buy it.  And they do see it as a legitimate form of entertainment and fiction, even if they're not ardent comic book fans.  The Anita Blake fans have proven that they want to see more Anita Blake material; they're more than happy to read it and buy it.  Stephen King Dark Tower fans, same thing.  It really comes down to the size of the audience that they already have in their base medium, for lack of a better term (a base medium for Anita Blake would be the prose novels, a base medium for Halo would be the video games).

Operationally it's more challenging for us.  At Marvel, we're very used to just writing a story, drawing it and printing it.  Now we have to work through the logistics of not owning the property, how best to communicate to the I.P. holders and their constituency (whoever's involved with the approval process), and what makes them feel comfortable.

For some of these properties, we're the first visualization.  With Dark Tower, there were paintings and stuff, but for day-in and day-out visualization, we're doing it for the first time.  We've learned that each property holder and the way they want to nurture their property is slightly different.  How do you want to work with character design?  What stages make you feel comfortable in approving storytelling and approving how the comic book looks?  How is it going to be colored?  That's the part we're working through and learning a lot about.  We've done pretty well with it, but there have been some mistakes along the way.  Our editors are getting used to having someone else involved creatively.

Again, the most important thing we learned is there are fans out there of sci-fi and horror and prose fiction that will buy our comics and they're excited to.  If we can get them excited about comics, they'll buy other comics that aren't that property.  We're getting communications from retailers that that is happening.  Actually, we've probably done more to help the Vertigo books than ourselves this year (laughs).

Marvel did a midnight release event with retailers for the first issue of Dark Tower.  The collection title is coming out in November, which could be your biggest book store title ever; do you have any big events planned for that release?
DB:  Getting it there is the big event (chuckles).

We talked about this a little last fall, but we're starting to see more titles that are connected to prose IP racked near the original IP where that customer base can find it.  One recent example is Warriors that Tokyopop was able to get racked near the young adult fiction section.  Are you working on any opportunities to try to reach those fans in the stores in places other than the graphic novel department?
DG :  We are.  Some of them are a little too early to discuss, but we do recognize that it's an issue we need to look at.  We don't want to say much more about that right now.

DB:  It's kind of challenging because you're dealing with different buyer budgets and they have to navigate a lot of stuff to make it happen, but I think everyone's been very cooperative and supportive.

DG:  We're getting things racked in the children's area now.  Rather than having the Marvel Adventures in the adult section of graphic novels, a lot of bookstores are moving them to the children's section where they really belong.

We talked about the Dark Tower book a lot with some of the buyers.  Some will put our graphic novels in with Stephen King books to test it out and see if it moves faster.  We wanted it in the graphic novel section to pull the Stephen King fans into the graphic novel section, then everyone benefits by having our books there, but absolutely we're looking into it.  It might mean that it takes having two formats out there at the same time.

DB:  The kids thing is probably the first time we've made some traction on it.  It's a huge 'W' for us.

Click here for Part 4.