Recently I posted a news item about the new Badger book from Devil’s Due having low orders. Writer/creator Mike Baron reached out to me about it, and I presume he reached out to some other folks who remember the Badger from his 80s run. Part of the Capitol Comics/First Comics indie era, The Badger was a crazed guy with various mental problems who was also a superhero. Think Deadpool before Deadpool. But with a Wisconsin accent. (In case you don’t follow college sports, the Badgers are also the teams from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the badger is the state animal.)
Johanna Draper Carlson, who is a resident of Madison herself, nonetheless set aside team spirit and was not impressed with the plea, and wrote a post called You Are Not Owed Pre-Orders Because You’ve Been Around Before. Johanna points out that no matter what kind of track record you have, it’s always about selling NOW, and this version of the Badger didn’t have a lot of promotion:
It doesn’t matter that this guy has been around for decades. (That may actually be a detriment.) You still have to sell him to an audience that has a ton of choices every month, and many of them seem more relevant to their interests. What effort did the publisher and/or writer put in to showing retailers and readers why they’d want to spend $3.99 an issue for this story? Not much information was in the Previews solicitation:
She goes on to document a lot of ways that the book didn’t have what’s considered standard promotion now. The matter of The Badger was also discussed in a couple of posts at ICv2, one from Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio who was on the “Give the guy a look!” side of the fence:
And, finally, I’m Facebook friends with writer Mike Baron, creator of (with Steve Rude) Nexus and The Badger, which may sound like bragging but I’m fairly certain you could be one too if you just asked nicely. Baron is one of my favorite writers and The Badger one of my all-time favorite comics. So I was distressed to discover a recent post from Baron where he called the initial orders of the first issue of the five-issue The Badger mini-series from Devil’s Due/1First Comics LLC “pathetic.”
￼Now, for the record, The Badger #1 doesn’t come out until February 3 so I know I’m judging a comic sight unseen. The same way I know that every comic is somebody’s favorite, and just because this one is mine doesn’t mean it’s going to be yours and I can’t and won’t tell you what will sell in your stores. But Badger isn’t exactly an unknown property, and neither is the work of Mike Baron or artist Jim Fern (for the record Tony Akins will drawing #2 with Val Mayerik, another favorite artist of mine, doing the rest of the series).
However, Jay Bardyla of Happy Harbor Comics & Toys in Edmonton had a different take on the matter:
Should the creators of The Badger be upset over initial orders of their books the first question they should ask is, “What have I done to promote this book?” Was there any outreach to retailers? Advance .pdfs? Discount incentives? Promo posters? Not that we saw. As a sizable shop (we currently have about 450 active files, 110 of which get Previews, and only 1 file subscribed to it) we saw nothing of this title other than its listing in Previews. From a purely business sense, I don’t see a demand (or support) for this book so why would I invest money into it?
I’m guessing that Bardyla has no nostalgia factor for the comic, hence the salty outlook.
Tom Spurgeon also mentioned this with an even more ominous warning for those still living in the Bronze Age:
* there’s a post over at The Beat about Over The Garden Wall becoming an ongoing that also puts out the call for Badger fans to support that comic in its newest print iteration or bad things might happen in terms of its viability. Both are worth noting. I wonder how much room there is for certain properties that are 25-30 years old now just in terms of building an audience and/or regaining the one they have. Not every property is Superman or something that will endure for decade after decade. At the same time, comics does have some success stories in terms of reviving old properties. I’d love for this to become a viable market overall, is what I’m saying, but I have some real doubts.
Even in a world where every old comics property is being rebooted every 10 minutes, and books that the current comics audience has less than zero interest in (T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents, cough cough) are the subject of hotly contested legal wrangling, the truth is…
Tom is right. Some things should be left where they were.
Some comics by people we love and admire are just going to be added to the Green Turtle pile of history.
FOR INSTANCE. Let’s take a look at the comics industry of exactly 70 years ago, January 1946, courtesy of Mike’s Amazing World. I’m not an expert on the Golden Age and this would seem to be only a smattering of the comics published in that time, but it’s a representative smattering™.
We see many sturdy characters still making billions in IP like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Archie, Captain America and so on. We see obscure characters still revised in relevant (if problematic) ways like Airboy. And things that might look familiar on bootleg Times Square T-shirts or cable channels in the 200s (Mighty Mouse.) Things that art fans still slaver over (Planet Comics, Walt Disney Comics & Stories) and comics that still have little pockets of fanbases (Black Terror).
But then there are things that no one remembers. And no one wants to remember.
Let’s take, oh, Don Winslow of the Navy.
I never even heard of this comic, but it’s already up to its 31st issue. Google tells me that rather than the adventures of the time travelling author of Savages and The Cartel, it’s based on a comic strip that ran for 21 years, from 1933 to 1954.
The idea for Don Winslow was conceived by Lieutenant Commander Frank V. Martinek USNR, himself a storied veteran of World War I Naval intelligence, after Admiral Wat T. Cluverius complained to him about the difficulties of recruiting in the Midwest. Ruminating on the challenge, Martinek decided that a comic strip that focused on Naval tradition and courage would educate and fascinate America’s youth. He had previously used the character Don Winslow in some novels he wrote, so he had the main concept readymade. Colonel Frank Knox, later Secretary of the Navy helped sell the idea to the Bell Syndicate.
As soon as you recover from the shock that a Star Wars character managed to make it into real life as Admiral Wat Cluverius, you’d have to admit that, for a propaganda comic, Don Winslow was pretty successful. The strip was so popular that it gave rise to a successful movie serial and later an original comic book. It had a 20 year run as a comic strip and 69 issues as a comic. Charlton attempted a revival in 1955 but that was, I think, the last time we ever heard of Don Winslow of the Navy, a once successful franchise that employed many people.
I’m pretty sure that The Badger, created in the fulsome enthusiasm of the first flush of indie comics creator ownership, is a better and more durable piece of art than Don Winslow. And almost surely will be remembered longer and better. And I’m not saying that the current revival of the The Badger should fail; as the folks above note, it needs to be promoted with modern methods, in the modern style, and not rely on nostalgia of any kind. Hence the above Paul Pope variant cover, which is for Kickstarter backers. I think a good argument can be made that this title is very much relevant to our current comics industry and with more promotion can be viable in today’s market.
Comics folks have long check lists and longer memories. A lot of money is made catering to comics nostalgia. But not everything is going to get placed in that capsule on the Galactica. Most of everything ever created by humans gets put in the dustbin of history and sometimes good stuff gets rescued (Fletcher Hanks). I think a lot of us amateur comics historians dream of uncovering some great lost masterpiece, Henry Darger style. But sometimes its good to move on to new things, as well.
FINALLY, any discussion of diversity in today comics industry should study this historical record of 60 years ago, when comics sold in 100,000 not 10,000 increments. Although overt racism is evident everywhere, it’s obvious that all kind of comics were being published in multiple genres, and the styles are more like what you’d find on tumblr today than the “house superhero style” that many think is essential to the form. A lot to parse.
Brief Update: If this has stirred you to read the original Don Winslow of the Navy Comics, to see how they stand up, just go over to Comic Book Plus; downloads are legal since it’s in the public domain now.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.