Marvel President Dan Buckley was the keynote speaker at the recent ComicsPRO Annual Meeting (see “Marvel President Dan Buckley to Deliver Keynote”), and provided us with this transcript.  We asked follow-up questions on many of these topics in our recent interview (see “Interview with Dan Buckley, Part 1”).

Howdy folks. Thank you for having me. And a special thank you to Jenn Haines, it’s been a pleasure meeting you, and we really appreciate what you’re doing here for the industry.

I’m here today to remind you how essential retailers are to us, to the community of comic fans, and to the future of our industry.

We all remember the moment that we got hooked on comics.

Maybe you were introduced to comics by a family member, or through the explorations of a garage sale, or through the spinner rack at your neighborhood candy store.

Most of us got sucked right into these stories not only for the adventures that captured our imaginations, but reinforced the teachings of right and wrong, and when they were at their best, showed you that doing the right thing was not easy, and that the world was filled with shades of grey.

After getting hooked, the challenge was not wanting more stories, but how could I get more!

Yes, my family, local newsstands and candy shops introduced me to this world, but it was not until I walked into my first comic shop in Saratoga Springs, NY in the summer of 1982 looking for issues of, believe it or not, DC’s Camelot 3000 (still looking!) that I was truly hooked.

I was home! I had people to talk to about the comics I loved, and those very same people could help me find more great stories to read.

That place let me know that the thing I loved could grow and flourish in my everyday life.  It flourished because I finally had a community in which to share these vibrant imaginary worlds.  Yes, the heroes and the storytellers sparked my imagination, but it was that store, that community, that allowed my imagination to be fed.

I know that this experience is not unique to me, and that everyone in this room has an experience similar to the one that I had in 1982.

As I see it, the challenge we all have in front of us is to make sure that we continue to offer this community to all readers young and old.  How do we work together to ensure that the local comics shop community is growing and vibrant?

In order to move forward and reinvigorate our future, we need to understand and appreciate our past.

The world of comics and our industry has seen tremendous change since the inception of the direct market over 50 years ago. In 1978 we all saw Superman FLY.  In the mid-80s, The Dark Knight, Watchmen and Maus made comics “legit” with all three being NY Times bestsellers.  The early 90s brought us a sales “Boom” and books like X-Men #1, which reached sales numbers that our industry had never seen before.  In 1992, Image Comics launched and inspired the reality of creator-owned publishing, which was the same year that we saw our community’s X-Men dominate the world of kids animated TV.

We then saw the speculator crash, distributor consolidation, and Marvel’s 1997 bankruptcy.  2002 saw Spider-Man shockingly break box office records.  In the aughts we also saw the ascendance of Graphic Novels and Manga in bookstores; the collapse of comic distribution at newsstands; the iPhone and iPad provide a legitimate home for Digital Comics; and the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Most recently, we have all been challenged by the pandemic, supply chain madness, inflation, and a significant shift in the distribution landscape.

I will admit that this list of events is by no means complete, but this list most certainly shows that it has been quite a ride.

I also want to make it clear that, while the current challenges and changes are significant, I have faith in our ability to move forward.

It would be unwise and presumptuous of me to say that we, Marvel, can address every challenge in the industry, but we do recognize that we have a leadership role and that our decisions can have an outsized impact on everyone in this room.

2024 is a good time to reset... for both Marvel Comics and the direct market.

We, as a group, need to step back and accept that the world we are operating in is very different than the one before February of 2020.  We have been moving so fast, figuring out how to survive, that we have not slowed down enough to review this survival process to see what it has created.

We are in a new environment that is a mix of the familiar and the unknown.

This led us to say that we need to get back to THE BASICS.

Now what are the basics?

The basics is a very subjective term, so I will lay them out how we see them at Marvel.  First, asking “where are we?”  Second, we need to re-evaluate the Four P’s – product, price, placement and promotion.  And third, to have some fun & look to the future.

Let's start with WHERE WE ARE.

As all of you know, the changes in distribution have made it very hard for any of us to figure out where we, the industry, are compared to where we have been, and that this required us to reach out to others to determine the following:

  • What is the size of the industry?
  • Do we have the right definition of the industry?
  • Is the industry growing or retracting?
  • How are each of our products performing in the marketplace?

A little over a year ago, we realized that we were unsure of where we “actually” were from an industry and company perspective.  Yes, we know our own sales numbers, but we needed context to actually set a meaningful course forward.

Working with the team here at ComicsPro and others, we’ve been committed to finding better ways for all of us to continue improving and standardizing access to that data again.  These are ongoing conversations that will take some time, but I’m confident that as a group we will be able to pull together the data we need in the short and long term to help make the right impact for everyone in this room.

Now let’s move onto the FOUR P’s - Product, Price, Placement and Promotion.

Product, at least to me, is the one that is in ALL CAPS and in BOLD.  If the core product does not deliver, then the pricing, placement and promotion have little effect on the long-term success of any offering.

So, we are going to start with the core Product: comics.

We are very proud of how our editorial and creative teams performed during the pandemic, but we knew we needed to get everyone back together.  The recent re-establishment of face-to-face conversations and editorial retreats has reinvigorated the creative and collaborative environment that has always defined Marvel.  The retreats by themselves have birthed and/or elevated Civil War, World War Hulk, Death of Captain America, Miles Morales, the Spider-Verse, Superior Spider-Man, and the Krakoan Age of X, to name a few.

One of the key mantras of these meetings is making sure that we ask each creative team why this story matters and what could be the outcome of this story that leads to the next organically exciting story.

Basically, the discipline here is to make sure that the creative is taking the lead, and that marketing and sales are enhancing the results.  That is why those aforementioned projects were so successful.  Retailers and readers know when something is creatively driven.

This environmental shift has set a new tone that each of you have seen, with the recent success of titles like Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Black Panther, Ultimate X-Men, and Avengers: Twilight.  And we are confident that fresh tone will extend to our upcoming Deadpool & Wolverine offerings and the X-Men “From the Ashes” launch in July.

Blood Hunt is the most obvious example of this approach. Jed MacKay has been building up to this story organically from his very successful run of Moon Knight over the past couple of years.  He presented the story in the room... .and creators and editors were clearly inspired by it.  Needless to say, we’re very excited about what will be arriving in your stores in May and by what is coming next!

Now onto the next point: Price.

We know that pricing is an area we need to adjust to fit your needs. We want to make it consistent for you and for your customers.  The bulk of the line will be $3.99, with new #1’s and 8 to 10 core titles with top talent and top characters being priced at $4.99.  There will be exceptions for event books, one-shots, and anniversary books, but you will also see a more consistent pricing approach to those offerings, too.

Now onto Promotion & Placement.  These two are inseparable in our industry.  Our promotions are focused where the bulk of our comics are “placed”—the direct market.

The marketing and sales teams have reestablished closer ties to the editorial and creative teams to ensure we are pulling the proper PR and digital marketing levers that were quite frankly not coordinated as well as they could have been over the past couple of years. We are also working much more closely with Marvel Studios to drum up excitement for comics relating to major studio events.  This coordination is specific to each studio offering, and sometimes even leads to surprises – like the unplanned recent post on social media from Ryan Reynolds for the upcoming Deadpool & Wolverine: WWIII by Joe Kelly and Adam Kubert.

It is a priority for Marvel Comics to leverage the power of Marvel Studios to generate awareness, trial, and traffic with the intent to convert those MCU fans into customers for you. With that being said, one of the most important promotional objectives for 2024 is driving foot traffic into your stores.  To that end, we are developing products and programs that will hopefully get some new folks into your stores, and most importantly get your existing customers into your store more often.

It’s always easier to sell to people who want to buy right away than to convert a new customer.  We’re going to work on both, but we need to get people back.

The free Marvel Must Haves program that is launching this March is an example of this effort.  We are hoping this free high-quality direct market-only offering will give you a new tool to get customers into your stores, and that those customers will try the associated trade or jump onto the current series.

Another specific example are the Red Band versions of Bloodhunt.

These versions will ONLY appear in print comic form for the foreseeable future, Mr. Gabriel forgot to mention this yesterday, to get these bloody takes, fans will need to pick up the comics in your stores.

We will also be continuing our free surprise direct market offerings in hopes of generating excitement and urgency for our readers.  The basic concept is you cannot get it if you were not there to buy it.

David Gabriel and the team are also developing sales programs with PRH that will allow you to have access to specific products without placing a further financial burden on you.

Last and most important, we need to have some fun and look to the future.

I am not saying that we are going to shut down the telling of dystopian future stories, they sell.  But we, at Marvel, need to embrace and convey the fun of working with super talented creators and beloved characters.

We need to convey the fun that Stan, and so many other creators and editors in this industry since, have projected, because it is infectious.

I have been lucky enough to sit in the room for the creation of Miles Morales, the genesis of Civil War and the group conversation with Dan Slott telling him that Superior Spider-Man and Spider-Verse are two separate stories, to let them breath, and to not tell them at the same time.  Yes, he was going to have Doc Ock save the multiverse. How fun is that!

This commitment will present itself in different ways.  From the reappearance of Bullpen Bulletins, Deadpool surprises, and projects like Uncle Scrooge and the Infinity Dime by Jason Aaron.

The fun will attract more readers and help us build an optimistic future.

My optimism has been burnished by the recent explosion in sales in Manga and Original Graphic Novels for early, middle-grade, and young adult readers.  And while these products are not predominantly sold in your shops, this is a booming new audience of young readers of graphic fiction.

And just like the newsstands did for many of us, this youth driven OGN and Manga market is training new readers for us to acquire.

Your distributors and publishers are here to work with you to develop programs to bring these readers into your shops or make it easier to give your best customers comic products that they can use to hook their daughters, sons, nieces or nephews.

In recognition of this initiative, we will be providing a program this summer that will provide low-cost access to Spidey and his Amazing Friends comics.  That should be happening in July or August.

We want to recreate that feeling of discovering your first comic and get readers genuinely excited for what’s hitting the stands each month.  We want to reinvigorate the sense of community and belonging that comic shops offer and the feeling that keeps customers coming back time after time.

You’re the only people who can really provide that.  And for that, we thank you.

No matter who you are or where you’re from, we are all united by our passion for comic books.  From the bustling streets of New York City to a quiet small-town spot, your shops serve as a place for fans of all ages to gather and find a community.

Your shops are at the center of pop culture, and for many, they’re a safe haven and escape from the realities of everyday life.

And who knows, maybe a young kid will wander in and find their next adventure, just like I did.

Each one of you plays an integral role in bringing the magic of comics storytelling to our fans.  Thank you for your dedication, your hard work, and your commitment to the world of comics.

Thank you once again for welcoming me back to ComicsPRO.  I’m honored to be here, and excited to see what the future holds for us all.