Thursday, March 19, 2009

After Watchmen: the DC marketing blitz

There is no question that DC Comics and Marvel Comics have finally broken a lot of the stigma of the "comics are crap" tag that was stapled to the American public's mind for so long. Not only are the books in more book stores than they ever used to be, but we have a number of very successful movies that have faithfully adapted the stories that we loved into all ages entertainment. So wither the comics? What did Marvel do the capitalized on the success of 3, count 'em, 3 successful Spidermen films? Or Iron Man? How could Marvel have let the Iron Man collections not be in the warehouse to ship out when the film broke (because they didn't!). There have been any number of us comic bloggers that were ready to rake them over the coals for not having a single marketing initiative in place when those films opened.

Now DC has finally put together a 32 pamphlet, that takes me longer to read than your average comic book by the way, directing people to other books that they may want to read. To which I say:


It is marketing 101. And while it may be a small campaign (as I've not been privvy to whole scale of where they're putting it out there, although I'm damn curious), at least they're doing something. And, for some reason, Tucker Stone has a problem with that. Perhaps we're just looking at it from different angles.
Every comment section I've ever seen that follows the question "What should I recommend to my friend who just read ____ for the first time?" detoriates into the same thing: the answer is nothing, because the answer is everything.... That's not really the way you want a recommendation to work. It's the equivalent of going to a music store and saying "I really liked John Coltrane's Giant Steps. Where should I go next?", only for the clerk to smile and say "Buy anything in the store! They're all awesome and spectacular in their own way!"
And that is completely opposite to everything that I've seen in the last 25 years, and certainly now more than ever. First off, I love the music analogy, which is a perfect example. If someone I know admires Giant Steps in my CD collection, then I'm loaning them A Love Supreme and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and some Brubeck and sending them on their way. For the rest of the decade of the '80's the answer to Watchmen was Dark Knight and then... nothing. Believe me the answer was not Camelot 3000 or Justice League Europe. Perhaps Ronin, but Ronin was a bit more genre soaked. Now? The answer, if you're forming one to stock up for party talk in the future should be fairly short (just like my jazz recommendations) so that they don't get overwhelmed. Here's mine: Sandman: Doll's House, Why I Hate Saturn, Blue Pills, Signal to Noise or Violent Cases. I'll pick 3 and put them out there. You may have your own choices, but the answer is not "everything". The answer is be selective and don't limit them to superheroes. I've blogged before about the number of Doll's House trades that I lost in the 80's and 90's to women who would never have read comics and who fell in love with Sandman.
It's unlikely that anybody at DC took the time to ask any decent swath of retailers what they thought about After Watchmen in the first place.
And that, sadly is probably quite true. DC and by extension, Time Warner, have their own little feifdoms of marketing that i doubt talk to each other that often since that is so very corporate. Bringing in new readers to direct market shops that are damn near impossible to find is going to be very hard, although i have no doubt that Watchmen will certainly result in at least some new lookers at comics, if not new readers. Thats good, we'll take them. But lets put Tucker's comment in a spin: specialty comic shops, used to doing their way of business for last 30 years, may be the last place you want ideas on where to get new readers. You may want to go as far away from them as possible so that you really do get to a new audience. After all, if they're going to the comic shop to begin with, aren't they already coverted?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

De Blieck vs. Yoakum: Buying comics online

Someone actually came to my site by Googling: "the meaning of the movie watchmen". Which says to me: I don't think that you were really watching if you have to Google it.

And welcome to my readers from Singapore, Poland and Portugal.

Augie over at Comic Book Resources puts out a Watchmen-free column on waiting for the trade and buying your comics online. And I read it, now wondering where to start.

Augie has an interesting experiment with waiting to purchase comics for a week, writing a list, and then seeing a week later if you still want those comics. When he decides that very often you may change your mind a week later, I believe that it shows what sort of consumer he thinks we are. And perhaps the younger me fit that bill, but for now, I know that I'll want to read the new Guardians of the Galaxy as much today as I will one week from now. I don't impulse comics and if I do, its because I fell in love with the art or the story, things that are only available if you get the chance to flip through the issue.

When he makes the comment that it would be more satisfying to read all the issues together, I say "yes", but not always. Just like movies and TV, there are some stories serialized that work well in that fashion, but others that work much better in collection form. So yes, I enjoy reading Guardians of the Galaxy as a serial, and I am waiting for The Twelve in the trade. Hows that?

Quick experiment: Go to your local comic shop and see if those two books are currently in stock. I'd say you have a pretty good chance of the X-Men title being on a shelf somewhere. I wouldn't lay any bets on a random "Asterix" volume haunting the same bookshelves. And even if your retailer stocked "Asterix," would that particular one be on the shelf?

Sadly, that's the state of the North American comics market today.

Both books are available through Diamond (for now). If you wanted, you could place an order through your retailer, and you should be able to pick it up from them in a couple of weeks, if you're lucky.

But I would almost bet the house that they wouldn't give you a 30% discount for your order.

You're right. They wouldn't. Because they have to make money to keep the doors open.

Its really that simple. They cannot stock everything, but they could order it for you. And you would have no place to actually go and browse and look for anything new.

And this really is the crux of the matter. Try this experiment: imagine that you're a kid again, and your mom says, "I'm going to the store and I'll pick up your comics for you." (And, no, this never happened to me, nor would it ever have) If she walked in with the series you liked, (which in my eight year old brain would have meant getting the new Avengers, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and Captain Marvel), would it have been as satisfying as going to the spinner rack and flipping through them yourself? There is a joy to browsing that some people get and some don't.

I can name the number of regular series that I read (not collect, actually read) on two hands. Thats not much. I could simply regularly order them online and not think anything of it. But my LCS would. And without Blue Moon Comics in Novato Ca. in business, there would be no place to flip through anything new. I wouldn't have read Local, nor have found my two daughters responding to Simpsons Comics like they did. If you want them to stay open then you have to support them. And be aware that they have to make money just like you. You're day job must, at some poing make a profit to keep paying you. you have to aknowledge that others will too. Your LCS cannot stock everything, but if you can get them to order it, then you should. If you don't have a local shop then Amazon is your best buddy, I totally get that. But c'mon, cut those guys a break. If you want something as esoteric on the American market as a specific Asterix volume, then get them to order it.

to be continued....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In Review Of: Dave McKean

Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast has an interesting interview with Dave McKean with some great career retrospective moments along the way. You'll find lots of bits and pieces along the way that you probably hadn't seen before unless you were a dedicated fan.

i met Dave many years ago at the original San Diego Con, back when it was all randomly thrown in folding tables, and Dave and his wife were sitting there chatting with the few people that recognized that he was the artist behind the then recently released Black Orchid mini series. Dave had lots of lovely large pages from those issues, and had taken the time to not only paint the images but to glue down actual folliage. As I picked up the pages, his wife said in the sweetest possible voice, "Dave has pasted down actual bits of our garden on these pages." And so he had.

I had bought a couple of pieces of art from him along the way, and am proud to have a page from his Hellblazer story as well as an old Hellblazer cover, even if I don't have pieces of his garden pasted on.

Given that his output has been both large and diverse over the last few years, it is hard to actually keep a handle on the work. His stuff is made for publication, many of his Sandman covers were little multimedia constructions that needed to be photographed, and much of what looks like smeared photos with jam and Kryolite sealent were actually photos smeared with jam and sealent. But given that he has been directing movies as well as doing books like The Wolves in the Walls, it is the sort of work that has been in front of the eyes of millions and yet not in the eyes of the average comic fans at all.

The piece above is from my personal favorite series, Cages, a monumental work that sprawls and spirals and basically spun completely out of his control for ten rather interestingly scheduled issues and is since compiled into a rather fetching hardback. A number of intertwining stories work into different creation myths with the story of an artist looking to take a break and get away. Of course, the artist is both overwhelmed by his own neurosis, meeting the brilliant musician upstairs, Angel, the neighbor across the way, the mute gallery representative, and a whole host of other, interesting cast members.

Signal to Noise, which has been released with at least two different covers along the way, is also an interesting piece of work, one that was originally serialized in the UK and then collected into a square bound, tells the story of a dying director casting his final film in his head as his own clock winds down.

If you only know McKean from his Sandman covers, read this interview, and feast on a great collection of jpegs, including some new ones from the Graveyard book with Gaiman that I will now have to rush out and get. Feast away.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Watchmen: The Movie Review

Just got back from the preview of The Watchmen at San Francisco's Metreon, a benefit for the Cartoon Art Museum. The question that has been on my mind, and just about everyone elses is this: can you possibly translate the comic to the movie screen? Or is it simply unfilmable?

I got news for you: it is filmable. And it is well done. Anyone who doesn't see the craft in this film is missing the trees for the forest. It is a monumental piece of work to translate Morre and Gibbons work this faithfully. It is filmable when you take the comic and strip away some of the multiple layers of meaning and transition that were present, and so often talked about, in the original work. Instead of 8 layers of meaning, you get 2 layers of meaning, and some terrific performances along the way.

And yes, this review will contain spoilers. You are duly warned.

Patrick Wilson is excellent in an understated performance as Nite Owl, a role that requires some much quieter moments than Jackie Earl Haley's Rorschach. Wilson conveys the level of regret that Drieberg carries since giving up the mask very well, as well as his longing for Laurie. Certainly Haley's Rorschach will get a lot of attention, the most famous black and white vigilante since the Batman to make it to the big screen, and Haley's performance is up to the task. It is an astonishing transformation to see him take on the role, and play it with such conviction. Moore's best lines in the book are given to Rorschach, and practically none of them are edited out. Haley's performance and narration as the character grows through out the movie, but it is more that we have grown accustomed to his delivery than a change in his acting.

Carla Gugino is solid as Laurie, and Billy Crudup essentially does voice work for Doctor Manhattan. To the line, "We have met God, and he is American," I would add, "and he is circumsized." What does that say? Jeff Morgan practically steals the film as the Comedian, and for a dead character, he takes over just about every scene given to him in the first half of the movie. Done in bits and pieces, it is an excellent portrayal of a character hard to make sympathetic, and Morgan delivers on pretty much each and every scene given to him.

The most impressive performance, however, is the director's and the art direction. Working this faithfully must almost be a straightjacket to them, to translate the story and vision this directly. This movie, for all the ensemble cast, is a triumph of control by Zak Snyder, to not only coax all the performances out of the actors, but also to coax all the work out of the art department as well and assemble all the pieces in the editing room. This is a masterful creation that can only be assembled in a modern editing/compositing room. We get little tidbits, like a Rorschach walking down an alley and in the background of the shot is the storefront of "Treasure Island Comic Books", a nod to the original and abandoned Tales of the Black Freighter storyline. I'm sure that there will be tons that we will catch when the DVD comes out.

The worst performance, and in my mind the only bad one, is Matthew Goode as Veidt. Goode doesn't resemble the comic Veidt enough to make the character work, but that is less a criticism than the fact that i don't think he makes the character work on screen. The performance is somewhat wooden, and he simply doesn't convey the physicality, the handsome magnetism nor the arrogance that Veidt needs to have. It is a role that, while crucial to the plot, is the weakest in the film.

Much will be made of the change to the ending of the film, and perhaps this will be the most debated topic. I will put out here and now, I love the ending of the film. It is stronger and more interesting than the opening of issue #12, and it is a far better master plan for Veidt. Without the movie filming subplot, it certainly is a necessary change, but it simply works better. We do feel a bit rushed towards the ending of the film, not so much as to ruin it, but to simply give the impression that if we liked it, we can look forward to a Director's Cut on the DVD.

The movie simply feels like its missing about 30 minutes, in the same way that the Lord of the Rings movies, while longer, allow you to really luxuriate in the world that the filmmakers have created. We only get one scene at the Newsstand in Times Square, we only get a couple moments of the psychiatrist at the prison, some bits with the New Frontiersman paper; we barely get to see Laurie's resolution with her mother at the end. These are a ton of places that this expansive story was tightened up so much in the editing that we barely have room to breath in the theatrical version, a version that will likely not be the one that we will be watching on the Blu-Ray at home for years to come.

After all, coming down from Veidt's master plan we need a little time for our characters to come to terms with the new world that exists post Antarctica, and for us to see how they've handled it. There is more emotion there, more world building, just simply more ending. We will always miss the smile on Dr. Manhattan's face as he walks through Veidt's utopia, seeing Laurie curled up post-coital with Dan, and also his last conversation with Veidt, which is perhaps the only unsettling defeat for Adrian in the entire original comic. The realization that even his vision had limits, while John's has none. Here, his line is given to Laurie, and it is lighter in context than if John had delivered it.

My buddy Todd made this comment as we exited: "I think Moore will regret taking his name off of this. It is his vision. Its not a comic book, but it is his vision." And that is completely true. Moore may still be rightly pissed off by DC and has been willing to put his money where his mough is, so you cannot say that the man doens't have integrity. But someone finally got it right. They got the project and had the talent and balls to follow through, bringing Moore truly to life on the silver screen.

Roger Ebert has a wonderful review that can be found here: And lets face it, you trust Roger more than me don't you?

As well, here is a parody cartoon of Watchmen as a 1980's cartoon by HappyHarry that is really worth watching.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Post Post-Superheroes: Where do we go?

Steven Grant, under the influence of the flu a week or so ago, dragged out an older Master of the Obvious column, which I'm excerpting two paragraphs out of here:
A few years back, I coined the term "post-superhero" to represent a sea change in American superhero comics underway at the time, mostly at the hands of British writers. It was the first real shift in paradigm since Stan Lee introduced the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man – then commonly labeled "anti-heroes" – forty years ago.

These were superhero comics stripped of many familiar trappings, from costumes and unexamined kneejerk morality to subplots, though few stripped out everything at once. They often focused more on mood and character than action. (It's likely no coincidence that many who produced "post-superhero" comics cut their teeth on Britain's 2000 AD and short-form strips like "Judge Dredd.") Some (Warren Ellis on THE AUTHORITY; Joe Casey on WILDCATS 3.0) operated out of boredom with the superhero concept, some (Alan Moore on the ABC books, Grant Morrison on JLA and NEW X-MEN) were genuinely fond of superheroes but wanted to restore a sense of wonder to the genre and make it speak better to modern audiences.
And, without going down the same road as Steven, it dovetailed with my going to Wondercon this last weekend (just going on friday, and not even getting the chance to sit at my spot in artist's alley, which is just sad, but real life intruded upon my con plans. Not the first time....) and wondering just what the role of the hero is these days. I was struck, also, to see the marketing, logistical and organizational nightmare that is your 21st Century Con through the eyes of my 8 year old daughter.

Now, this is no neophyte to the world of fantasy and fiction. She is on the 5th Harry Potter book, regularly reads Wonder Woman, Justice League, New Frontier, Loony Tunes and the Simpsons comics, and has seen 5 of the 10 Doctor Whos and can answer questions about the Cybermen and Daleks quite well. Navigating the aisles of the convention, in search of some new action figures and the rest... well, that's a different story.

I was watching to see what she gravitated to as well: Struzman posters, McQuarrie production art for the original three Star Wars movies, Nightmare Before Christmas peppermints, DC and Doctor Who action figures to compliment the ones that she already has. What she had a perverse reaction to: the "Hot Zombie Chicks" booth. Zombie chicks in bikinis on T-shirts made her wrinkle up her nose as say, "That stuff is weird, I don't like it."

She straddles the two worlds: those of us who were raised reading the old guard comics of straight edge morality, and those who came along in the post-Dark Knight world of grim and gritty superheroes. She comes in reading things like Cooke's New Frontier, which present moral heroes that face a grittier world than Julie Schwartz ever dreamed of. She still sees heroes that make the right choices, but faces a more complex world to make those choices in. For her, Wonder Woman is a heroic figure fighting for the greater good against evils, but they are evils that are harder to understand (many times because of the cross-over and tie-ins, the current storyline for instance), and so Diana's heroic stance is lessened since the choices that she has to make are a little less comprehensible. My daughter has little need to delve into the psycho-sexual context of Wonder Woman; what she needs is a consistant character with stories that you can follow from issue to issue.

There will be time enough for grim and gritty, although I'm sure that what will follow instead will be things like Twilight, or Buffy-style material. And, getting back to Grant's comments on the post-superhero material, whatever it is will be more intense, since the better authors have spent a great deal more time throwing away many of strictures that kept our fiction relatively safe along the way. After all, until Moore, Gaiman and Morrison came along, we thought that we knew where the walls were in the DC Universe, and we knew that we were safe behind the fourth one. But Swamp Thing taught us that everything we knew was wrong, Animal Man taught us that there was human longing and lonliness behind the goggles and behind the typewriter, and the Sandman taught us that there were a lot of soft edges to our world in every place and time.

Conversely, as well, Moore taught us the interspecies love and sex was possible, Morrison taught us that believing in the Kingdom of Keys as real was a good thing, and Gaiman gave us a death we could live with meeting. In a way.

The better creators have restored a sense of wonder in their series, and it really doesn't matter where. My daughter and I thrill every time the doors of the Tardis open on a new time or new world, we enjoy when Diana conquers a new challenge that isn't part of a damn crossover, and we laugh everytime that we get a Scooby Doo that manages to subvert the standard formula cleverly. That sense of wonder can be revisionist superheros, fantasy or cartoony, it really doesn't matter. The world building in Harry Potter has captivated her, as has the Justice League, as has Star Wars. Post post-superhero to me means finally having deconstructed many of the convention that we can move on to telling more stories, without the sacred cows, whatever they may be. What do you all think?