Lots of books that I think are badly executed nonetheless find readers (see: Marvel’s Civil War). The question is, can they find the market where such readers might be available? I argued yesterday that because Virgin’s outreach seems to have been restricted to the Wednesday Crowd, the answer was effectively “No.”and the truth, as they used to say in the 90's, was out there. I don't recall seeing a single Virgin TPB at any of the stores that I go into. They were playing to a calcified audience, one that is simply too locked into prior patterns to want or to be able to support the new.
And that is their perogative. I'm all about comics audiences voting with their money, as for years they supported bad series and poor editorial choices because they had to have a complete run of Black Goliath and Night Nurse.
The problem is that the business model really is broken to get new work in front of new eyes. Not, and lets be clear here, old work in front of new eyes, or new work in front of old eyes. The powers that be have every intention, we know by now, of sitting on thier butts and staying with what isn't working until they're forced out on the street.
And yet the new business model is working. Jeff Smith didn't get to where he is by doing Spider man before doing Bone. The manga audience has come in droves for what American publishers were sure they wouldn't buy. Diary of a Wimpy Kid has only moved a few copies since being picked up off of the web.
There you go, three different business models to follow, and the powers that be in marvel and DC aren't doing any of them. Scholastic has an entirely different distribution model, manga digests are filling the shelves in Borders and B & N, and the web is filled with tiny little pockets of coolness that can prove the effectiveness of micropayments.
The answer here, with all of Virgin's money, is to simply not go the Marvel/DC route. Don't try to compete with that universe. The audience won't accept it, period. Cross Gen and Virgin simply bare this out. There was solid talent here, putting in time and money to create books that were halfway between something alternative and Marvel/DC. And that space is clearly NOT a good place to be.
When i was in Paris a month ago, in a Virgin Megastore on the most famous boulevard in the fabled city of lights, I went to the top floor and found a huge area of graphic novels. And in the middle of the day were all sorts of professional adults, on lunch hour, lounging, browsing and reading graphic novels. The vast majority would have separated well into the similar catagories that we stuff movies into at the video store: Adventure, romance, comedy, adult, a little fantastic history or sci fi, but then again, thats the whole point. There was a huge range of graphic novel for everyone, just as even the tiniest video store is filled with something for everyone. My average comic shop can't say that, almost none of them can.
And I can recall seeing pretty much none of Virgin Comic's work in the Paris Megastore. Why? Can't guess, but if I was Richard Branson, I'd have made sure that some of it was there. Unless comics mean a lot more to us than Richard Branson.