A good publicist makes a lot of friends, but it’s safe to say that few comics publicists have as many friends as Alex Segura Jr. Last week Segura announced he was leaving DC Comics after four years as Publicity Manager, during which time he oversaw getting the word out about some crises, final and otherwise, and even some blackest nights. On Monday he announced his new position as Executive Director of Publicity and Marketing at Archie Comics, another comics institution which is going through many transitions following the deaths of its long-time executive team, and new leadership under co-CEO Jon Goldwater. It seemed like a good time to ask Segura to look back and forward — when we first met him, we were just starting a daily comics news site and he was a comics-loving copy editor for the Miami Herald. So much has changed with comics, marketing and Archie in that time, and Segura has been at ground zero for much of it, so who better to give us some insights on where things are going:
THE BEAT: Alex, you have had a signature career for the media age — from copy editor at a print newspaper, the Miami Herald, through blogger to publicity to now marketing for a company full of American idols. What’s the common element of all those jobs?
SEGURA: I appreciate how you’ve presented my career – and it feels weird to even call it that, but I guess it is one. I’d like to think my work has managed to ride along with the changing trends in how we get, gather and deliver information. I started as a reporting intern who’s main concern was writing for print, then became an editor who edited copy for print. After that, it was editing stories in a trade for a print magazine with little online component at the time. When I returned to The Miami Herald, it was managing content on the website. Then I was a publicist, and for the last two years I’ve been a publicist who spends a lot of time blogging and interacting with people via other means, and so on. So, I’d like to think I’ve been fairly flexible and maybe slightly intuitive about how people are getting or looking for information. That’s fairly common – I’m not patting myself on the back too much.
Personally, I really like tinkering with social media – whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare or whatever the next thing is. It feeds an OCD piece of my personality and also allows me to connect with people I’d otherwise never know or see regularly. And, someone early on in my professional life said that the best way to guarantee at least a modicum of happiness in your work is to decide what you like doing and make it your job. I like comics. I like talking about comics. And I like reading comics and about them. So far, that’s served me well.
THE BEAT: Conversely, media and marketing have changed radically in that time. What’s the biggest adjustment in going from media to publicity?
SEGURA: You have to rewire yourself slightly. As a journalist – even if you’re just tinkering with someone else’s reporting/content – your goal is to present the story as best you can, whether it’s a short brief for print or a longer feature presented online. Especially working at a daily newspaper, where you want to give as much context and relevant information in as concise and readable way as possible.
Publicity – at least in my view – is about already knowing the story and sharing that narrative with the people and places that can make hay of it. It’s more, “Hey, you should check this out and spread the word” and less “This just happened and here’s why it’s important.” The tough part is knowing when to do the hard sell or let it sit because it’s not working for whatever reason – and everything in-between. But that’s a case-by-case thing that involves a zillion factors.
THE BEAT: You worked for Archie before going to DC. What did you do then?
SEGURA: I’d just finished my time as an Associate Editor at Wizard Magazine and moved back home to Miami and started working at The Herald. But I knew I wanted to stay involved in the comic book business somehow. I’d done some freelance writing for places like Newsarama, but I wanted to be on the other side of the fence. As opposed to writing about what was happening, I wanted to help make stuff happen, even if in a support role. So, I basically did the rounds of some of the publishers and let them know I was interested in doing freelance PR. I had just moved back home, so I didn’t want to relocate and I already had a job, so it was only something I could do on a part-time basis. I’d made some contacts with the guys at Archie when I was at Wizard and we figured out an arrangement where I would basically consult with them on publicity decisions and serve as a liaison between them and the trade press – setting up interviews, providing art, writing press releases. It was a great experience, and it really helped me get my feet wet as far as comic book publicity went. And, I liked it enough to keep in contact with guys like Mike Pellerito, Archie’s President, who was instrumental in bringing me over to take on this new role.
THE BEAT: Archie itself has changed quite a bit in that time. As I remarked to a colleague the other day, they have remained among the best known characters in American comics history without using even making that much effort. But now they seem to be making a lot of noise. What will you be doing in your new position? How much of moving to Archie is because of the new ownership situation?
SEGURA: My title is Executive Director of Publicity and Marketing, and that sums up my tasks pretty well – I’ll oversee Archie’s efforts as far as mainstream and trade press publicity and social media along with marketing our books to the direct and book markets. I don’t want to go into too much detail just yet, but that’s the gist of it.
The new ownership had a lot to do with my decision, definitely. Jon Goldwater’s got a lot of great ideas, energy and vision. It’s an exciting time for the company. Knowing that Archie is willing to try new things and be more of a player in the industry was a huge factor in coming over, and a lot of that comes from conversations with Jon and Archie President Mike Pellerito. Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica, Josie and the Pussycats, Sabrina – these are characters that everyone knows about and are invested in, and Jon and Mike really want to push them forward and in front of as many people as possible, while still respecting the long and storied history of the company.
THE BEAT: What are the challenges in working with characters as iconic as Archie and Veronica and Betty?
SEGURA: It’s similar to the challenges of working with icons like Superman and Batman. The core essence of Archie – a lovable everyman teen you can relate to but also laugh at – should remain unchanged, but you also don’t want to present him or his fellow Riverdale residents as “retro” or overly nostalgic. Sometimes you nail it and sometimes you veer a little too far in either direction. From talking to Jon and Mike, I’m confident they’re going to strike that balance and be respectful to what came before, without closing any doors in regards to what these characters can do.
THE BEAT: Archie has also gotten a lot of attention for things like Kevin Keller their gay character, and having political figures show up. How do you keep getting attention in a very noisy media landscape?
SEGURA: Archie’s always been of the times – he’s crossed paths with trends, celebrities, themes that are prevalent in society at any given moment. The challenge, whether you’re featuring Obama on the cover or doing a “Riverdale Shore” spoof, is to not make it a gimmick. If the story makes sense and also can tie into the public consciousness, then great. But you don’t want anything to seem overly forced or calculated. Kevin Keller is a perfect example. He’s a new character who is part of a long line of great characters that have been introduced into Archie’s world. The fact that Kevin is gay is only part of his character. When he first appeared, he had a fully-formed personality and style.
THE BEAT: You previously did publicity to the comics media for Archie — both comics industry media and mainstream media interest in comics has exploded in recent years. What’s the biggest change in how comics media covers comics since you started? And the biggest change to the mainstream media?
SEGURA: That’s an excellent question, Heidi. It’s also one that, as a publicist, you have to grapple with regularly. At DC, I got the chance to work with some really smart and media-savvy people, like my former boss David Hyde and my colleagues Pamela Mullin and Austin Trunick, and a lot of our brainstorming time was spent discussing the ever-changing landscape of media. Years ago, print was a different animal. Online didn’t really rate. Now, it’s all about where news breaks and how it gets picked up. With comics, you’ve seen a huge uptick in the number of places that cover the industry and related media. A few years ago, you had a handful of sites and publications dedicated to covering comics. Now it’s odd to see a “mainstream” outlet without some kind of comic book or graphic novel component, whether it’s a daily blog or regular reviews. And that’s great. More voices mean more options and more opportunities for our material to get out there. But, like you said, that also turns up the volume. So, it becomes a question of “Which outlet presents the story best?” and which place will allow for the most people to read or experience said story.
The lines between “mainstream” and “comics” media have really blurred, too. You see sites becoming part of entertainment networks or publications/entertainment companies creating comic-centric blogs or news sites. Everyone wants to tap into this audience, and that’s a huge compliment. I think the challenge for the comics media, and I don’t envy it, is how do you make your content matter to the more inside baseball reader and also leave the door open to attracting new readers looking for information on the medium? Places like Comic Book Resources, IGN, iFanboy, ComicVine and Newsarama, to throw just a few names out there, get that – they have the staffing and knowledge to present the stories that matter to the hardcore fans while also knowing when a story is going to get more traction outside of comics. And that’s a really important skill to have.
For the mainstream, I think it’s about avoiding the “Wham! Pow!” trap – comic fans are smart. They want information and they want it presented cohesively and with knowledge of what’s going on. I think most people are getting that, too. You have great sites like Time’s TECHLAND, WIRED’s Underwire, NPR’s Monkey See, and Gawker’s io9, just to name a few. When they write about comics, video games, tech, TV or movies, I never feel like I’m reading a watered-down or less-informed version of a story. Quite the opposite.
THE BEAT: DC also evolved quite a bit in your four years there. What were some highlights for you?
SEGURA: I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record, but working at DC was a dream come true for me. There were a lot of “pinch me” moments. One of my earliest memories on the job was trudging through a snowstorm in early 2006 to make my first event – Toy Fair. The DC Direct team was really welcoming and warm to me, and that really set the tone for my tenure at DC.
The buildup, launch and follow-through with The Source was great, thanks to the hard work of DC’s Publicity, Editorial, Marketing and Creative Services departments. It was one of those moments where everyone was really invested in having something succeed, and that was wonderful to be a part of. Seeing it continue to evolve, grow and build will be a treat, too.
The bigger mainstream press spotlight on comics really made for some fun opportunities, too. I’ve sat in on many a Grant Morrison interview, and none have sounded the same. Just getting the chance to sit back and listen to him talk about the industry, his interests, how he crafts a story – just unforgettable stuff.
Even when I let my imagination run wild, I never thought I’d get to write something that DC would publish. So getting the opportunity to write a story in this year’s DCU HALLOWEEN SPECIAL was a huge honor, doubly cool because I got to write one of my favorite characters in Barry Allen/The Flash. I’m really grateful to DC – specifically Dan DiDio, Mike Marts and David Hyde – for giving me that opportunity. It was just cool. I’m at a loss for a better way to describe it.
The chance to interact and support such a wide array of creative people was really a blessing. I’ve made a lot of great friends over the last five years. There are way too many personal and professional moments to list here without shortchanging the rest. Working at DC was a lot of fun, and I’m really honored to take those experiences and start a new chapter with Archie.
THE BEAT: It was also a time when every joke on a convention panel became grist for online fodder. I can’t think of another industry where every utterance of even business people is poured over so much. Was it hard dealing with that level of scrutiny?
SEGURA: You know, it was and it wasn’t. People are hungry for information and outlets are always looking for a unique story to present first. Armed with that knowledge, it was on us to know how best to relay stuff to the fans at conventions. Luckily, DC’s staffed with some very talented and professional people that know how to make for fun, engaging and informative panels. DC NATION panels in particular are just unique and cool experiences. You really felt that fans were being included in the process, and that’s a really special thing.
Sure, it’s frustrating when something is taken out of context or over-analyzed, but that’s the risk you run every time you put yourself out there, which is easy for me to say, because I was just the guy sitting off to the side watching Dan, Jim [Lee, DC co-publisher] and Ian [Sattler], run the panels. But at the end of the day, it’s about making the panels engaging and interesting. My role in that, beyond consulting on the publicity side along with David in regards to what would be announced in conjunction with the panels, was pretty minimal.
THE BEAT: What are you most looking forward to at Archie?
SEGURA: I’m feeling really energized and excited to have the chance to spread the word about these characters I grew up reading. Jon and Mike and the great team at Archie are really doing some exciting and new stuff, so it’s really about making sure what’s being done is presented and promoted in the best and most thoughtful way. It’s an exciting challenge, but one I feel really prepared for thanks to my time at DC.
I’m looking forward to helping show that new things are happening at Archie and that things are moving forward in a unique way. I’m hoping to reconnect with a lot of people in the industry in this new role. It’s a great time to be an Archie reader. When the books are good, the job of the publicist is much easier, and the Archie books are really trying new things while still staying true to the characters and concepts that made the company’s name.
THE BEAT: I may not be the first, but I won’t be the last: Betty or Veronica?
SEGURA: Tough one. I’m not sure I can decide!
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.