We recently spent some time with Marvel publisher Dan Buckley for our annual discussion of the state of the comics business and Marvel's place in it.  In Part 2, we talk about Marvel's latest efforts to increase its sales to female consumers.  In Part 1, we went through the state of the market on a channel by channel basis, and asked how Marvel will handle its publishing program for its big movie year in 2007.  In Part 3, we discuss Marvel's editing policies for changing content for different audiences, its current Web strategy, and its perspective on legal and illegal comic downloads.  And in Part 4, we talk about the Civil War delays and the challenges and opportunities in 2007. 


We wanted to talk about an area that we touched on last year which was the female audience for comics.  You've taken some new steps, especially recently with the deal with the Dabel Brothers.  Their line isn't exclusively female-oriented, but they're strong in that area, with a couple of authors signed to do adaptations.  Was that deal a recognition that Marvel just wasn't finding enough ways internally to attract female readers in proportion to the size of the opportunity?

One thing we've identified is that we do really well with our genre and our genre is getting bigger in graphic fiction.  But there's definitely some interest from other categories.  Our category's gotten bigger, but the only genre where we have sophisticated genre development is our superhero action adventure stuff.  So looking at the growth in the bookstore business, we can see between the sales of manga and what we're doing, there's interest.  The bookstore business wants to support that, but we need to get more genres into the category to help drive that growth engine and at the same time, get new readers because of their dedication to that property already.


I think we suspected that when we had the Dark Tower deal.  When we announced Dark Tower the first time, a lot of our suspicions seemed to be true.  Were we specifically looking to say we need more women readers?  Not necessarily.  What we're looking for is what kinds of properties are out there that have a solid fan base that would be excited about seeing that property in our form of graphic fiction.  And we think we can translate that into commerce, and bring those people in to read, and then maybe we can get a couple of Anita Blake fans to pick up Spider-Man, and send them over to Mary Jane.  That gets them involved in this kind of storytelling, and that's what we were looking at.  It's great that it's female readers for Anita Blake, but Hedge Knight's going to have a completely different fan base.  Hopefully if we get enough people involved in this type of fiction, it will help us grow the category and Marvel can always benefit from that type of growth. 


Does that answer the question?


You took a broader perspective than just the demographics of the audience.  This deal took you into fantasy, it took you into horror, genres where Marvel has been present, but not as active or cutting edge as you are in superheroes.

Exactly.  I think one thing we recognized with Dabel Brothers when we met with them is they definitely have an understanding and expertise in the sword and sorcery and literary field.  They also have a passion for it, which is just as important.  We recognized there was an opportunity there if we could take their passion and understanding of those books and those genres and combine it with our ability to sell, market, distribute and help them with the packaging, production, and manufacturing.   We can come up with something that's greater than the sum of its parts.


I know you're talking specifically about females, but our thoughts are if we can look at properties that bring more readers to the table that are different demographics than Marvel's core group, then we have something.  If it's women, that's great; if it's sword and sorcery guys, that's great; if it's young readers, that's great; if it's gamers, which Halo represents, that's great.  It can only lead to a broader mix of consumers, which can only help.


That's why I kind of went off base with that.  The soap opera thing that we did, obviously that was specifically targeted at women and moms, and we're just seeing what comes out of it.  We got great buzz out of it and we're just going to see what happens in the stores when the stuff hits.


Yeah, that was pretty wild.  A year ago, that might have been the answer to the question, 'what's the least likely Marvel cross-promotional opportunity.'  How did that come about?

We have some guys in the office who had connections in that soap opera world from a creative standpoint.  And we have people in the office who are soap opera fans.  A lot of us have always joked that comics, especially Spider-Man and X-Men, are definitely soap opera types.  There's a lot of romance, people come back from the dead, people grow really fast, or really slow, there's a lot of melodrama and it's sequential, and it's happening all the time.


So from a storytelling perspective, it's not a huge leap.  From the fan base and the kinds of stories we're telling, it is a huge leap.  We had some connections with Guiding Light that we developed with Storm's dress for the Black Panther wedding.  Soap opera people designed that.  They expressed interest in doing another promotion, and that just led to conversations, saying, 'You know what, why don't we just take a shot and see what happens, how our fans react, how their fans react, can we get some excitement generated,' and see where it goes.  


Could a broader relationship develop?  Yes.  Do I know yet?  No, because those eight pages will start appearing at the end of the month.


When you distribute Anita Blake or a book based on the work of Jane Lindskold, both in comic form and book form, are you going to do anything different than you would do with a Marvel superhero product to try to reach the audience of the books?

Yes, we are.  The Internet does grant us a lot more direct contact with the fan base.  Bringing these IPs into Marvel would have been a much harder thing to execute from the sales and promotion side five to six years ago than it is now.  We have been sharing pages with Anita Blake's fan boards, message boards, and that's been generating some buzz.  And we've been putting the 1-800 store locater number on those materials, so people can find the product.


I'll be honest, getting the comics is probably going to be much more of a hunt for them than finding the trade, because that will be much more of the traditional area where they shop.  It might not be where their books are racked, but we're just trying to use the fan clubs and the fan base as much as possible.  We did run the Anita Blake ad with the 800 locater service number in our News America circulation that we've been doing across the country, which is millions of copies.


Then we're using all the traditional methods for the hobby shops:  providing them with postcards, giving them incentives, things that they're used to using to leverage up the sale.  It's a unique way to package Anita Blake.  Having Brett Booth drawing it helps.  Retailers are a little bit more comfortable with the art because of the Wildstorm connection.


In the book channel, are you planning to rack the books with the prose books?

I'd love to, but that business doesn't really allow for that; it will be in the graphic novel section while the prose books will be in either horror or fantasy, because of the buyer differences.  We will work on getting up front store promotions when they come out.  But when it falls into backlist and out of the front of store promotions, the Anita Blake graphic novels will be in the graphic novels section and the Anita Blake prose books will be in the prose section, because that's how they deal with the organization of their stores.


The only department we've seen to really break that down is children's.  There have been some really strong sales of books that are cross racked, like Nancy Drew or Babysitters Club.

We'd love to be able to do that; I just think it's a long shot.  The book on which we probably have the best shot at achieving something like that would be Dark Tower, just because King's name does carry that much weight.  It might be possible, we'll try to do it; but we'll definitely try to do some front of store promotions with the stuff racked together.



Click to go to Part 3.