Home Publishers Marvel Covers an evolutionary dead end?

Covers an evolutionary dead end?

0

Twas Graeme who once again alerted us to this fascinating post about covers by Marvel Editor Tom Brevoort, in which he explains that, as the Rock might have put it, It Doesn’t Matter.

There was a time not so long ago when it was Marvel policy that every cover should have a single iconic figure, and no direct relevance to the story in that given issue. And fans far and wide screamed about it–yet it did nothing to hurt sales overall. And now that we’ve returned to mixing up the cover approach, it hasn’t materially affected sales either. I regularly hear from a small group of people who don’t like the mostly-iconic covers we’ve been running on NEW AVENGERS, but those covers clearly have not been hurting the sales on that book–and the more story-driven covers on, say, THING didn’t materially increase the sales on that book.

The place where cover art can help or hurt your book’s sales these days is really the Previews catalogue, the tool that retailers and readers use to advance order their books. So it’s not like the cover art is irrelevant or anything. But even within that venue, just having a strong image isn’t enough in most cases to sell the magazine–other factors such as story content, creative team, relevance to the larger Marvel Universe, and the amount of coverage given seem to be more important elements in making a decision for most retailers and fans. I’d hazard a guess that, were we to solicit a new ULTIMATE project with, let’s say, Brian Bendis writing and Greg Land penciling, but we didn’t show any image at all, it would still be ordered quite well–retailers would be very upset with us, because they hate having to take a position on any title without the maximum amount of information they can get, but I expect that most of them would weigh the factors they did have–especially if the story content promised important elements for the ULTIMATE line–and would order acordingly.


Matt also calls this out, since it’s a pretty stark reminder that the comic book industry is run on a generally content free basis. Which isn’t to say that people don’t prefer good stories and art, but it’s all creator and company brand names that sell books, and anything else is an extremely uphill battle. The system remains indifferent to impulse purchases and marketing to new readers. Granted, more people than ever are already hooked on the product, but it’s a sobering thought.

  1. If the book has something habitual to it, then yes, the cover is pointless for sales. Habitual as in a recognizable creator, character or company. Then sales are directly tied to expected content.
    But if the comic isn’t from a recognized creator or company, or isn’t a recognized character, then the cover is of HUGE importance to the sale. The cover is all an indy book has to develop expected content.
    And on the other side of things, the cover will always, always add to the artistic value of the final product.

  2. In this day and age, in order to survive any indie book – in fact, any book period – is going to have to embark on a marketing drive that plays a far bigger part than the covers ever will. Really, as long as the covers make the book recognisable, they’ve done their job. (I’d argue that the “iconic” Marvel covers often fell down in that respect, if only because I often genuinely couldn’t remember whether I owned the issue or not without checking inside.)

  3. In the (so far small) discussion that’s ensued, I haven’t seen anybody talking about the last time a great cover image caused someone to pre-order or purchase a comic that they wouldn’t have otherwise bought. I’m as guilty of this as anybody — the last comics I can remember buying because of great cover images were an issue of Justice League Unlimited and Season of the Witch #0.

    Of those comics, the JLU comic was OK but Season of the Witch was a major disappointment, mostly because the whimsy that was present on the cover was entirely absent in the comic book itself.

  4. My biggest complaint (and quite frankly my only complaint) about the iconic comic book covers is the very fact that they have no relevance to the inside story. More often than not, I have been in a store when there is a sale of bagged and boarded comics, and since every cover is generic I have no ability discern whether I have that issue. Assuming that I don’t have some comic book list in hand which I don’t carry around with me. So usually, I just opt to not buy stuff, although I would otherwise, because it is too hard to differentiate between issues when Spiderman or Batman merely are merely striking a generic action-pose on the cover.

  5. The irrelevance of covers has more to do with the microscopic size of the US comic book market than anything else. The smaller the market, the more pre-defined the connection between “fans” and “product” will be, especially since there are many comic book stores that have a horrendous way of displaying the books in the first place and the bulk of long-running series are sold by pre-order.

    A cover’s main marketing thrust is to make it stand out at a newsstand, something only the British mass market magazine designers fully understand, since they have to approach a rather quickly changing potential audience with each new issue. A good cover is designed to make you pick up the mag and flip through it, get to to the table of contents and go: hmmm, think I will buy this.

    In the US, cover designs outside the supermarket crappies like InTouch, People or US Weekly, have been much more artistic, since the primary market structure is no longer geared towards the newsstands and most magazines are brought to the customer through subscriptions…a way very similar to the pre-order of comic books.

    This could be very well one of the reasons why people outside the comic book realm do not have any interest in those books while they walk past. Just as speciality mags, the way the covers are done now are basically saying: “You don’t know what this is about. The people I want to reach will read me anyways, so fuck off”.

    Another piece of the mosaic that makes comic books not mass market.

  6. Oh, something I forgot: If you need to sell in bookstores, spine design is something equally important, since most books and graphic novels are stacked with the spine showing and not much else. Again, most of the TPBs I own are horrible that way. When I picked up THE INVISBLES as a TPB, I had no clue which TPB was which, there was no numbering there, just as there was no numbering on the cover itself, and the book store had bagged those TPBs as well… it took me ages to figure out what book to buy…

  7. Quote:
    2In the US, cover designs outside the supermarket crappies like InTouch, People or US Weekly, have been much more artistic, since the primary market structure is no longer geared towards the newsstands and most magazines are brought to the customer through subscriptions…a way very similar to the pre-order of comic books.”

    But when you look at magazine covers, most of them are more or less generic too. The cover of Rolling Stones or InStyle or Premiere etc all have the same staple of celebrities on the cover in differing poses. How is that different from having a rotating cast of Avengers each month?

    Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE a good cover (my favourite is the gag on the cover of Excalbur (first series) #4 by Alan Davis (check it out at http://www.comiccovers.com/watermark.php?src=comiccovers-280/Excalibur%20%5bMarvel%5d%20V1/0004.jpg).

    But seeing as according to Tom covers DON’T affect sales – let’s start making them more creative anyway!

  8. Even if a cover did effect *consumer* sales, a publisher would have no way of knowing unless there was a fair amount of unexplained re-order activity. For much of the time they were doing iconic-only covers, there weren’t reorders at Marvel, so its a little hard to compare.

    Now if you wanted to compare what’s left of newsstand sales (Borders and 7-11?) on the basis over cover, that might be interesting to look at. As has been said before, the direct market isn’t exactly a browser’s market.

    That said, Alex Ross covers are supposed to drive up sales, especially on indies. Brian Bolland and Greg Horn are sought-after as cover artists. Does the cover artist make a difference and not the style of cover, or is that bunk as well?

  9. >>>In the US, cover designs outside the supermarket crappies like InTouch, People or US Weekly, have been much more artistic, since the primary market structure is no longer geared towards the newsstands and most magazines are brought to the customer through subscriptions…a way very similar to the pre-order of comic books.

    All of this points to the fact that the casual consumer is no longer a target for many entertainment sectors. Is that due to the internet? Perhaps.

  10. When I picked up THE INVISBLES as a TPB, I had no clue which TPB was which, there was no numbering there, just as there was no numbering on the cover itself, and the book store had bagged those TPBs as well… it took me ages to figure out what book to buy…

    I always thought that was the weirdest thing, the odd reticence of comic publishers (until just recently) to number sequential volumes. A friend in the book publishing industry explained to me that book publishers have traditionally avoided identifying novels on their covers as being sequels or parts of continuing series. The theory was that readers of the earlier books would already know the new ones were sequels, while new readers would be less likely to impulse-buy new books if they thought they needed to read older ones first.

    Presumably comic companies were operating on the same logic until Tokyopop et al succeeded so overwhelmingly with their numbered volumes. I’d guess the number of Marvel and DC readers complaining about the lack of numbering increased at that point as well.

  11. I look at this whole kerfuffle as yet another example of readers sometimes forgetting that by and large they’re not the publishers’ direct customers – retailers are the publishers’ customers. So if Marvel is determining popularity by direct market sales, the only time what the readers like or don’t like comes into play (and this goes for covers, plots, characterization, whatever) is when retailers make their purchasing decisions based on THEIR customers’ input.

  12. —All of this points to the fact that the casual consumer is no longer a target for many entertainment sectors. Is that due to the internet? Perhaps—

    I wouldn’t even say it is due to the internet. It is, in my opinion, the final stage of the TV evolution of the consumer market. New technologies take a lot of time before the reach the point of changing mass markets, and the web hasn’t done that yet, regardless of what PR gurus will tell you.

    The hostile takeover of our Western culture by TV in the 1970s and 1980s is what still influences print publishing today in terms of entertainment content. It led to lower reading numbers, or so publishers forecast and in true bean counting way, they made their own predictions happen. They took out pulp novels, comic books and literature magazines from the mass market, because specialised stores in their mind minimized risks and “hardly anybody was reading anyways” In other words, they killed their own potential markets and went with the core, the ones who would ACTIVELY seek out certain types of content.

    That, however, managed to backfire quite badly, because there was nothing on the mass market that could take the place of those things and a new generation of potentials grew up without them. Keep that in mind, please. We are going to skip a few years now and get to roundabout 1999.

    The rise of the internet at that point showed two things: A) to that new generation that grew up almost entirely without the newsstand as their cultural watercooler started using the web to create their own little way of entertainment, and most of that was interactive (insert porn joke here), with little sites, little communities etc… and B) virtual interaction without the buden of personal interaction in the real world provided almost instant gratification, yes Angela 666?

    The next generation is already using the web as their own little playground, which annoys the Telcos so much they want to take over control of the technological backbone and thus create permanent fixtures in the web structures that allows 19th century linear publishing to take place online again.

    In the real world, meanwhile, the only thing that seemed to be working well were the Celebritiy crappies, because they ARE what you read while you are sitting on the loo. What else can bring people of all nations, creeds and races more together than that? It was the one market that everybody still seemed to have in common, and people tried to ram as many different titles in your throats as they could think of: InStyle, InTouch, US Weekly, The Star…

  13. — But when you look at magazine covers, most of them are more or less generic too. The cover of Rolling Stones or InStyle or Premiere etc all have the same staple of celebrities on the cover in differing poses. How is that different from having a rotating cast of Avengers each month? —

    Chad. that was exactly my point. There IS no difference between a largely celebrity-driven speciality mag that says: Hey, we got Lindsay Lohan this time, why don’t we make her look like Liz Taylor (or was that Harper’s?) and try to sell it this way.

    I’ve worked a loooooong time (in dog years) as a launch editor, and here are the three rules a publisher will give you in advance…

    1. Women sell magazines. Put a woman on a cover and make her look sexy
    2. Celebrities sell magazines. Put a celebrity on a cover and…
    3. Combine points 1 and 2

    Before Heidi comes down on me like a ton of bricks, yes I know that is sexist, and it is also not true. In the UK, the best-selling issue of Q Magazine is still one that had Sam Jackson on it, in B/W…

    The reason for this is quite simple. Money. A cover shoot will cost you anywhere between 10 and 30 grand. A celebrity cover shoot might cost you nothing, since it can (and often is) part of the promotional budget for a new film/CD/whatever. A celebrity, so the rationale, is an easy identification item stuck on top of your magazine. A story-based cover might not do that (and remember kids, it WILL COST YOU MONEY…)

    In comic books, the celebrity is the so-called “celebrity artist”. Hey, look! It has a Michael Turner/Alex Ross/TweedleDee/TweedleDum cover. However, the rationale behind that is different, since – as Elyane pointed out – the customer is NOT the reader, but the comicshop owner, and in that market, they still often operate on the “collector’s” notion (if I get 10 Michael Turners, I can price them x percent higher and I have 20 Michael Turner fans in my shop, keep the two in my mind, adding up to…)

  14. I won’t come down like a ton of bricks — women like to look at other women as much as men do, apparently. That is smart marketing. I do find this interetsing however:

    In the real world, meanwhile, the only thing that seemed to be working well were the Celebritiy crappies, because they ARE what you read while you are sitting on the loo. What else can bring people of all nations, creeds and races more together than that? It was the one market that everybody still seemed to have in common, and people tried to ram as many different titles in your throats as they could think of: InStyle, InTouch, US Weekly, The Star…

    So once again, the material that is TARGETED at the casual consumer…reaches the casual consumer. I think the current era of narrowcasting — or even, as Warren Ellis said it is now called “slivercasting” — is a self fulfilling property. As we aim more and more material in ALL media at the educated, invetsed fanbase, the general audience is lost more and more.

    Or to put it another way: if JK Rowling wrote her novels for the Harry Potter fans out there, they wouldn’t sell nearly as well.

  15. — Or to put it another way: if JK Rowling wrote her novels for the Harry Potter fans out there, they wouldn’t sell nearly as well. —

    Smartest thing I have heard in ages.

    Just like cover design has become increasingly self-referential (Demi Moore pregnant -> Madonna pregnant -> Britney Spears pregnant), the content itself has become self-referential. In comic books, it is called continuity, in movies remake, in books re-imagining.

    One of the things that makes (at least I think so) Harry Potter so incredibly successful, other than being the quintessential English children’s book, is the fact that it doesn’t reference the real world for the most part. You won’t find cell phones, allusions to “modern” living, celebrities, etc…

    It stands on its own. Most writers today are simply incapable of creating something that stands on its own. I call them pop culture content managers, and most of them move their plots from one “oh” and “ah” moment to the next. Mark Millar is a brilliant example of that. The later books of Alan Moore are as well. Oh, Freddy Prinze Junior reference (in The Ultimates). Ah, Alice is a lesbian (in Lost Girls).

    “Creators” have become extremely lazy, as has the entire entertainment industry… and then you wind up with…. PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN 2!

    I’ve started writing a kid’s book for a publisher, and one of the first things I told them was: there will be no references to the details of the modern world. And then I had to explain for hours why A.A. Milne’s Winne the Pooh still works today and why most modern YA books will be forgotten in two years time. (I call them the Slut books…you know the ones, the I wanna be Paris Hilton and be on MTV’s Super Sweet Sixteen, waaaaaaaah! Where is my pony???? books)

Exit mobile version