Where Were the Creators For DC’s Relaunch?

Where Were the Creators For DC’s Relaunch?

rebirthBeware.  Unsolicited opinion on the way.

DC decided to announce their “Rebirth” initiative… whatever it will really be… at the COMICSPRO retailer summit.  Which is all well and good, because DC needs strong retailer buy-in and strong in-store subscriptions (pullboxes, if you prefer) if a new initiative is going to fly.

And let’s face it, DC is not in a particularly strong place at the moment.  Last year’s relaunch tanked.  Retailer confidence is not high.  Even monthly sales on Batman seemed to be down with the “Robo-Gordon” as Batman arc.  On top of that, DC’s going to be leaning heavily on bi-weekly titles.

Let’s talk about bi-weekly titles for a moment.  The first thing you need to know about bi-weekly titles is that it means standard attrition can happen twice a month.  You know how most titles lose 1%-3% each month?  OK, OK… 1%-5%?  Well, that happens twice a month when the title is bi-weekly.  Gives you more incentive to launch hot out of the gate.  We’ll come back to this in a second, but it means DC really needs retailers invested at launch and pushing the books or the party is over twice as quickly as it would be with monthly books.

But here’s the thing.

DC announced what the titles will be and what the frequency of those titles will be… but they didn’t announce who the creators will be.

There’s a school of thought that says this is supposed to build anticipation and buzz.  I’m not a member of that school.  Oh, as a journalist, it’s easy content if they start dropping one team each day.  As reader?  As a reader, it makes me feel like I’m being talked down to.  It makes me wonder where DC’s priorities are.

“Hey, look at these great titles.  Go set up a pullbox.  It doesn’t matter who’s on the creative team.”

That’s what these kind of announcements say to me.  That the brand is supposed to matter to me more than the creators.  And that’s usually not the case.

Or that they don’t have all the creative teams set yet.

One hears stories that DC likes to commission first issues from different creative teams and decide who gets the title at a later date.  There were some hurt feelings around the New 52 launch when some creators didn’t end up getting the titles they were under the impression they’d been greenlit for.

When I see this kind of an announcement, that’s one of the things that comes to mind.

When you’re doing bi-weekly titles, it’s much more important to have issues in the bank and some runway.  When Steve Wacker was editing Spidey, he had things planned out fairly far ahead and had different teams working on arcs.  That’s the better way to be doing this.  Nobody really wants to pick up a comic that alternates artists 2x-3x in the same story arc.  If you’re not very, very careful about complimentary art styles that’s even worse for the collected edition.  And let’s face it, DC doesn’t have the best reputation for not needing fill-in artists to begin with.

If I wanted to go full-on conspiracy theory, I could speculate DC’s still hoping they can convince some “name” talent to hop on over from Marvel and slot them in at the last minute.  While that would be sad and desperate, it would also be playing the anticipation hype game.

Which is to all to say, announcing titles and frequency without creators gives the impression Rebirth isn’t so much carefully planned out as several somebodies just might be flying by the seat of their collective pants.

What I read today was a corporate publishing plan, not a proper announcement of new titles.  The sort of thing where the publishers and sales huddle and quickly cook something up because they’re getting heat from upstairs.

  • We absolutely can’t sell 52 different titles
  • Yes, we’re still fixated on the number “52”
  • Let’s make any property that sells remotely well or has a transmedia tie-in bi-weekly and hope we can consolidate sales
  • We’ll drop the price to $2.99 and see if we can lure readers in by not being over-priced… but it will cost them $5.98 for two issues of Batman and the other better selling titles each month, not $3.99. We should gain $1.99/month from each reader!
  • We’ll act like we did when we rebooted for New 52. (See: $2.99)
  • Profit!

Did you see any creators selling comics in that plan?  Nope.

Instead of talking about who’s working on these relaunched/rebooted/whatever titles and anything that’s different about the new comics – you know, talking about the actual content that someone might want to buy and read – Geoff Johns was trotted out to act as the face and soul of this new initiative.  To talk about character legacies.  To talk about hopes and dreams.  An appeal to emotion more than anything else.

It didn’t help that Geoff Johns decided to use his Flash reboot (as opposed to his original run) and Flashpoint as his examples of how to get back to basics.  It absolutely ruined the argument when Johns started talking about his writer’s room and whiteboard of what they want to do.  And then a bit later talks about individual voices.

Well, that just feeds into the complaints about writers appearing to be writing towards editorial agendas.  “Here’s what we decided we love about The Inferior Five – can you write it, with this villain for the first four issues and you need to have Chemo in issue 5 because we’ve got an event coming up?”

Those whispers about creators who thought they’d been greenlit?  That’s supposedly when they’re hired to do dueling takes on the characters and perhaps the desired blueprint.  Only they don’t realize it’s a duel.  Allegedly.

Which is to say, this all sounds like the same old dreary relaunch -> tank ->relaunch cycle DC’s been in since they decided to reboot with New 52 where the only thing that’s been constant is Batman.  Except Synder’s off it now, isn’t he?  Or is he?  Do we really know?

If DC actually wanted to excite me as a reader, I’d want to see creative teams on these titles.  I’d want to know what their take was, not necessarily what editorial writer’s room take was.  I’m tired of DC and Marvel acting like they’re licensing their characters from the licensing department.  I’m tired of color-by-number rollouts.

The most ridiculous part of the entire rollout is the part where DC pledges to release the all creative teams at WonderCon on March 26th.  That’s nice.  Except the June solicitations will be out a couple weeks before that, so I expect we can start getting a trickle – doled out or leaked one at a time – of the June relaunches in about two weeks.  It’s not going to be all at once.  It can’t be.

It’s not like this should be surprising, so much as the creator-free slate announcement is even more transparent than usual.

Am I being cynical?  Maybe.  But there was nothing in the announcement to give me hope for better comics.  Just the same editors who’ve been saying the same thing for close to 10 years.

I would prefer to live in a world with a healthy DC.  The least DC could do is act a bit more like the content matters.

While somebody may have eventually realized that announcing titles and shipping frequencies was an utterly soulless way to give the impression a new leaf was being turned over, there wasn’t enough meat to the announcement to stave off extended eye rolling.

Call me when you’ve got some creators lined up and perhaps I can spare a care at that point.  Until then, the mechanizations of sales are just that – mechanical.

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book,Economics of Digital Comics.

Comments

  1. Kyle Pinion says

    As I see it, this is DC attempting to institute brand loyalty off the back of their upcoming films and their fairly successful television shows.

    Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that the only really sustainable business model at the Big Two has to come through characters taking precedent over creators per se. I think this is some of the trouble that Marvel is running into right now with All New, All Different, where just prior to that, they had nobly highlighted creators first and the properties second. But what happens when those creators head over to Image? It’s hard to expect those readers to stick around if Matt Fraction, Rick Remender or Ales Kot were your big selling points.

    I personally find that less enticing, but c’est la vie.

    For DC’s part, they have to secure the LCS base again first, those very customers they lost during the New 52 era and pivot off the *hopeful success* of their film franchises for new and curious readers. There’s a reason those June launch books are all Batman v Superman characters and CW stars.

  2. says

    I think Kyle raises some good points. As a long time reader, I know you are interested in the creators, Todd, but I wonder how important that is to the majority of DC readers/potential readers/lapsed readers and to the retailers.

  3. Shawn Kane says

    I’m a believer that they need to focus on their characters and not the people who are creating them. Put Big Name A on Superman and make a big deal out of it and maybe Big Name A’s fans start reading Superman. When Big Name A leaves, so does the fan. Market to Superman fans and you have a chance at keeping the fan (as long as the comic is good, of course).

  4. Robb says

    Didn’t really see it that way. They said up front that they’re announcing who the creative teams are at WonderCon. Close to home for DC Corporate and in front of more fans than retailers. It’s a month from now and all they’re doing is building hype for their books. Cut them a little slack. Not much, but a little.

    Putting Geoff Johns front and center will definitely bring relief to long time readers. He’s about as close as we’ve got to an advocate at DC. If he says trust him, I have no reason not to at this point.

  5. Mo Walker says

    I agree, informed decisions about the product cannot be made without knowing the creative teams. Regarding your issue with the double shipping, books such as Amazing Spider-Man and Extraordinary X-Men have been on an accelerated shipping schedule since they started at $3.99. Ultimate Spider-Man double shipped through most of Mark Bagley’s run. I am not a huge proponent of double shipping, but if I am on a budget the $2.99 price point sounds like the better option. Again, we need to know more about the content before making any real decisions. I also hope DC thinks about the structure of their stories arcs. Everything does not need to be a 6 issue arc. Batgirl does a really good job of done-in-ones with a continuing subplot.

  6. Carl says

    Since I rarely follow creators DC not announcing teams yet does not bother me. I know which properties I like from the list they presented, and I’ll decide based on both the creative teams and title descriptions.

  7. comicsatemybrain says

    Kyle raises some important points. As I posted in the MMW boards almost a month ago, I’m wondering if upper management (as in *really* upper management, the ones up above Johns, Lee and Didio) have the view that as long as DC editorial carries out management’s edicts, they are in fact doing their job. In other words, maybe upper management places a substantially greater emphasis on having a particular publishing strategy rather than fostering creativity and good storytelling from those folks who are actually working on the books. You need *both* to be a successful comics company. Good creatives without a publishing plan will result in underselling your product just as having a publishing plan without proper attention to creatives will result in low-selling product.

    That’s a purely speculative hypothesis on my part, of course, but it might explain why so much of DC feels like they don’t really know what to do with their characters. I started buying a lot more DC during the lead-up into Infinity Crisis and was enjoying the overall DC Universe up through around Final Crisis. But after that, more and more areas of the DCU felt rudderless to me — not just with New52 and DCyou but even before the New 52 launch.

    In theory, the new exclusive contracts with creators might be a signal that the pendulum will begin to swing back to something more balanced. But we’ll have to see if DC is able to give their creatives the space to do the kinds of stories that will bring in readers.

  8. Torsten Adair says

    My suggestion:
    Roll out a new title every week (if you need to maintain “52”) or month.
    DC PR does everything by clockwork… one week you announce the title, one week you schedule interviews, one week you send out previews, one week you push the sales…

    Make the title a miniseries, but don’t tell anyone outside the office.
    Let the creative team pitch any idea, in any universe/timeline/whatever.
    If sales tank after six issues, end it, solicit the trade, and see how that works.
    If it does, restart the series again, and see how it continues.

    Everything is completed before publication. All six issues.
    If the series is strong, then you renew immediately, getting the creators rescheduled.

    If it doesn’t work, you place it in the vault, and maybe someone revisits the property five years from now.

    If nothing else, DC gets to test new talent, and let existing talent create something outside the restrictions of editorial.
    DC gains some cred for trying new things, battling Image for innovation.

    Maybe you get a new Sandman. Maybe you get an All-Star Superman. Maybe you get ‘Mazing Man.
    Maybe you find the next Gaiman.

  9. kag says

    One advantage of just having the titles is that we can imagine any variation on the concept that we like. So obviously the Super-Sons book is going to be based on a trove of Bob Haney scripts discovered during the cross-country move.

  10. Tim says

    I think DC thinks Sam Humphries is a get? And Tom King does nothing for me; sry Int3rn3t. I haven’t read but a smattering of Snyder’s Batman because Grant Morrison broke Batman for me…but hey, Batman: consumers are a superstitious cowardly lot. I liked me some, hmm, 02-08 Geoff Johns?

    I do like the DCYou approach over the New52 one, but y’know with good creators. Like, Wednesday Comics good. Think Future Quest. The DC rolodex feels drab. Anything where Amanda Conner does covers and that’s it, doesn’t get a shot. Nice try DC.

    Anyway, enough about me let’s talk about The Batman. Is it possible to watch for both creator and character?

    Mentioned Batman is broke for me. I don’t care about Batman. I think I kinda don’t like Batman and I don’t want to read how hard his life is. So outside of Alan Moore writing Batman (or someone equally as impossible), I’m not going to read a Batman comic. And that disinterest trickles down to everything in something that might be categorized as a Bat-family title. If no effs are given for a Batman, the logical reaction to a Batgirl or Batdog or Batmonkeybaby would be even more diminished? Copy of a copy of a copy of a copy.

    So with Batman ruling the roost, lotta DC comics I don’t have to read.

    In summary, DC needs creator and character to make it work: more marketable creators, better character takes that recognize historically persistent/successful/embraced qualities and how best to contemporize them.

  11. Glenn Simpson says

    Log me in as not so concerned about the specific creators. Granted, nothing matters until it’s time to fill out my order at Discount Comic Book Service, but in terms of just being relatively excited, I get excited by concepts, not creators. There are very few writers or artists that thrill me specifically all on their lonesome, and there’s not enough of them to go around. Plus, George Perez is just too slow for a monthly nowadays, and Peter David is presumably busy with other things.

    But the notion of reading about the adventures of a grown-up Dick Grayson with his own super-identity where we get all the adventure of Batman with none of the frowning, I’m in. That’s all I need to know.

  12. Zach says

    I think it’s not a super big deal that we don’t know the creators yet, assuming that the creators involved are A) actually planned B) good C) going to stick around. Unfortunately, DC rarely has the ability to hit even one of those, much less all three.

  13. Tim says

    DC is probably better served emphasizing characters over creators. And I’d imagine most of the cape&tights readers don’t care about creators as much as characters

    …as though the stories aren’t really stories told by flesh&blood people, different people who don’t have the same voice/style/talent, but instead materialize every month anew from the faceless multinational corporation that houses these tiny fictional universes.

    DC should do like a match.com style website where comic readers can find out which of their favorite characters they would be most relationally compatible with.

  14. Supererah says

    With the DCYou initiative DC placed creators front and center. Half of their slate were new creator-driven Image-style concepts. On the other half, creators were told to go big with their pitches, turn the universe inside out and not to worry about continuity. And well, that did not work. Image-like approaches will lead to image-like market share. Critically a lot of the DCYou books were applauded (look at Omega Men!!!!) but sales-wise failed. DC needs to cater to its fanbase, mostly made up of DC character lovers who care about continuity and are excited by coherence across their books.
    Few creator names may give you a sales bump but that would be very temporary and may result in diminishing returns if the fanbase is not catered to.

  15. says

    I really hope DC comes back one day but I just don’t see it. I just cannot understand why the current management is still in place at DC. DC is expecting the same “Gang of Idiots” who have destroyed DC to fix it. That is MAD! What other industry would tolerate this level of incompetence from management. They would have been fired long ago or at any other company or at the very least demoted. Why do they get a pass? Has the Federal Government taken over DC? DC is certainly run like the Federal Government. You would think DC management consists of Senators and Congressmen…….

  16. Skottie says

    “Last year’s relaunch tanked.”

    What relaunch? They launched a bunch of new titles. They didn’t relaunch the line. Maybe just Constantine/Hellblazer. Do you know what this word means?

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