Sometimes it just takes an honest question to bring out honest answers. Writer Marc Bernadin’s frank questioning over the relative sales failure of his Wildstorm mini-series The Highwaymen has got a lot of people talking. perhaps because Bernadin is a seasoned writer in another field (he’s an editor at Entertainment Weekly) and writing comics isn’t his main gig, he’s coming right out and saying what other people are only thinking? At any rate, the responses both in our own comment section and elsewhere have raised more questions than they answer, perhaps.
Jason Michelitch suggests that the book’s failure is more relative than anything else.
Because as far as I can tell, Highwaymen did sell.
What’s that? How can I say that, when as Jim Lee just said, it hasn’t performed sales-wise, and is being cancelled?
Well, let’s take a look at the numbers*.
Highwaymen #1 (June 2007) 9,360
HIghwaymen #2 (July 2007) 6,108 (-35%)
Highwaymen #3 (August 2007) 5,718 (-06%)
Now, sure, if we’re comparing Highwaymen to Batman, the numbers don’t look too great. Like Bernardin said, opened near 10,000 and went over a steep drop from issue one to issue two. But let’s keep in mind: the steep drop-off between first and second issues is more or less an industry axiom. It’s a rare runaway hit that doesn’t suffer a similar drop. And the fact that orders for issue three only dropped a further 6% is, believe it or not, pretty good.
Michelitch compares THE HIGHWAYMEN numbers to other Image miniseries which are considered successes a lower sales levels, a not entirely apt comparison, to be sure, since IMage does have a much lower sales threshhold.
As usual, Valerie D’Orazio comes out and says what everyone is thinking:
What might have been the problem with “Wildstorm?”
What IS Wildstorm?
A wing of DC?
A publisher of “Old Imagey” type comics like “Gen 13,” etc?
The edgy publishers of “The Authority?”
Purveyors of fine Alan Moore products?
A prestige artist’s studio?
Publisher of licensed product like “World of Warcraft?”
What is Wildstorm?
What does the Wildstorm brand promise me so that I would run into “The Highwaymen” in the store and take a chance on it?
Johanna is similarly blunt.
There is no reason to buy a miniseries any more. If you’re going to do all that promotional work (and they did), then you should be pushing something that will keep selling. That’s true of series — if a reader signs on, there’s another one every month to buy — and books — as long as they’re kept in print, new customers can be found on an ongoing basis — but not of limited-run projects. What’s the point in pushing it when three or five months later, your hard work doesn’t have any more payback?
For his part, Bernadin takes it all in and remains philosophical:
Maybe, finally, the answer to the “why” is: The market just isn’t set up to support a book like this because, ultimately, the readers don’t want a book like this. If they did, there’d be more of them. There’d be more romance books, and more action books, and more war books, and more straight sci-fi books, and more police procedural books. I’d say it was as myopic as TV, but then you’d have to posit a TV landscape where there were only sitcoms set in a bar.
A lot of the answers take the Wildstorm brand itself to task. It’s worth noting that the imprint is in a bit of a state of flux now — Executive Editor Scott Dunbier was removed several months ago, a major personnel move covered only in a so-called “gossip column” and some now removed message board joking. We have several thoughts about this — the first being that Dunbier is a dear friend of ours, and we wish him all the best.
The second is just how wacky comics book “news” is. While the executive shuffle in Hollywood is covered on a minute-by-minute basis by the entertainment trades, no one seems to have even asked about Dunbier’s departure at a Wildstorm panels mere days after the news “got out”. Either comic books are too piddly to really bother with, or the comics press wouldn’t know a juicy story if it bit them on the ass. (I include myself in that, but my friendship with Dunbier more or less recused me from the story.)
At any rate, Ben Abernathy has been promoted to Senior Editor at Wildstorm, and things seem to have settled down a bit or at least be regrouping. Which still doesn’t answer the question of whether anyone wants to read miniseries about new characters. That question seems to go on and on.