The annual ComicsPRO meeting is kind of like spring training for comic books. After convention season ends in the fall, everyone goes home to rest up and this late winter retailer meeting is where publishers, retailers and other interested parties get together to kick off publishing plans for the year.

ComicsPRO is always described to me as the most optimistic meeting of the year. With just the players in the room, it’s a place to explore ideas and discuss solutions to nagging problems in a collegial atmosphere.

It’s also closed to the press, meaning the news that does come out of it is often secondhand, or reported in “write around” style.

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I’ve been covering ComicsPRO from afar since it began, and while it would be great to be on the scene for the juicy details, I respect the limited press presence. In past years I’ve interviewed retailer and publisher participants for their impressions, and also reported on press releases from various publishers.

However, this is still comics publishers and retailers you’re talking about, not the Bohemian Grove or a party at Drake’s house. Nobody had to turn in their cell phones at the door. There are always tweets and leaks.

Last year, everyone was freaking out about Marvel. This year you have continuing anxiety about the state of the direct market, and departmental downsizing and reorganization at DC. Those factors definitely led to a lot more curiosity about what was going on behind closed doors. As in, everyone wanted to know what the deal was. And along the way, lots of misinformation was spread.

ComicsPRO kicked off with the DC presentation. It was an hour long and supposed to be confidential, as are all publisher presentations. I’m told that as soon as publisher  Dan DiDio began speaking, one of the retailers in the room started feeding information to another website, and that website ran their story while the meeting was still going on.

Which everyone in the room then became aware of, including DiDio.

The reaction from retailers other than the leaker, I’m told, was “furious.”

The leaker was shamed and had to cut his/her report short, meaning the story that ran was very incomplete and inaccurate. Unfortunately it was also shared nearly 2,000 times on social media, despite some push back on Twitter. Fake news: everyone’s doing it.

DC publisher Dan DiDio then took to a private retailer forum to set the record straight. WALMART_STHLWN_CV_5bb4fac948aa84.66565185And then a ret who WASN’T at the meeting then tweeted out another version of it that was, if not inaccurate, so poorly worded that  it was taken as the opposite of what  DC announced.

While all this was going on, I was at two memorials and also suffering from an injury that prevents me from typing for long stretches. So it was a little frustrating and hence why this report is so late.

I’ve seen DiDio’s post to the private forum, but won’t quote it. The salient points have been out there a while (best reported by Graphic Policy) but in case you’ve missed them here they are:

• DC has cut its line by 10-15% – a cut which has already taken place – in order to cut weaker titles and make more room for the kids/YA lines Zoom and Ink, debuting very soon.

Aside: I was curious to see how this cut played out. In February 2018 DC shipped 122 products. In January 2019 they shipped 118 products. I guess I picked the wrong two months to compare? For neither the first nor the last time, I miss Todd Allen.

•  DC is also cutting its collections, seeking to concentrate on stronger titles here as well.

• In the announcement that got garbled the most, the 100 Page DC Giants that were previously Walmart exclusive will now be going to comics shops as well. THEY ARE NOT CANCELLED. The Walmart only material already published will be collected for the DM and elsewhere. Returns on these books have been very low and the program is a success!

• Despite the cutbacks an layoffs, DC won’t be cutting rates to freelancers and will continue to develop talent – but the talent will be more closely aligned with DC’s publishing plans. I’m kinda paraphrasing here, but if you read that as “house style is go” maybe you aren’t wrong.

DiDio had to take to FB once more to clarify the Walmart thing:

Successful and continuing. For those fans of the DC Giants at Walmart, have to clear up some misinformation making the rounds. Just want to let you know these books are doing well, so well that we are looking to expand the number of original pages in each book and include distribution to the direct market. Look for these and new titles later this year. The promise is to keep it one of the best values and reading experiences in the market. Best, DD

A couple of notes on all this: there has definitely been some inner turmoil at DC over the last few months. Laying off people will do that in the best  of times, but a lot of ideas have also been floated up flagpoles. I think that’s where some of the more alarming rumors came from.

It is reasonable for the rest of the DM to want to know what the heck is happening at DC when they have laid off four VPs, as well. A few people spoke to me about the trust that goes into these meetings, and a lot of  the “reporting” was a breach of trust. And sadly, the corporate structure of WB/DC is not prone to sending out a lot of statements about this kind of thing. Luckily, Dan DiDio has a FB page and more accurate information was given out. I think it’s unfortunate the way everything rolled out, esp. in a time when everyone is on edge.

Other than that though, I’m told the ComicsPRO meeting went very well. Whereas last year everyone was all up in arms about whether Marvel was a threat or a menace to comics, they are mostly peacefully chugging along now. Marvel sales maven David Gabriel was on hand for the presentation but it was  some announcements everyone already knew and trailers everyone saw. But no one got mad.

The publisher who most impressed retailers was Boom! whose adventures in returnability have been very well received.

And in news that industry veterans will most appreciate, Sharon Liebowitz and Ryan Liebowitz of LA’s Golden Apple were on hand to receive the ComcsPRO Memorial Award for the late Bill Liebowitz who founded the Apple and was a mentor and friend to so many, myself included.

Overall, no one thinks the industry is dying, no one thinks the DM is doomed. Retailers have been saying there is too much product for a while, and DC cutting down on their line is something Boom! and Dynamite have already been doing.

But we all know there are some challenges. My wrist is too sore to go into them at length, but I don’t think we’ve completely quelled the Variant Menace. And there’s just a lack of exciting, magical books that people can’t wait to read. There are never enough of those.

Aside from the exclusive material that so had retailers up in arms, the DC Giants at Walmart are just the kind of entry-level, widely available product that retailers have been asking for for a while. Retailers also went more sharply curated lines and not endless bloated spin offs.  I foresee more change to come, but if we’re lucky it will be evolution and not a giant meteor.

17 COMMENTS

  1. “DC has cut its line by 10-15% – a cut which has already taken place — in order to cut weaker titles and make more room for the kids/YA lines”: This is completely true, and came up in my end-of-year reporting. DC went from 989 comics in 2017 to 887 in 2018, a drop of 10.4%. The cut happened already.

    I don’t read from the context that the line cut related to graphic novels, but that output also diminished, from 411 to 401 new graphic novels, a drop of 2.5%.

  2. Thank you for this report, Heidi and (John). It is very exciting that the 100 giants were a success. I would love to buy more physical… but the price vs. value is getting so much harder. A $4.99 100 page giant makes it almost even with a paperback novel in pricing… great price parity! I would much rather buy a smaller core story for Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Justice League, Flash, Impulse (I can dream), etc. with a bunch of reprints then a 24 page comic @ $4.99 or $5.99. Hopefully, we will see some of them down here in Puerto Rico since we are left out of so many of the new initiatives. Though Dido does visit Metro Comics a bunch….

  3. A reduction in monthly comics will carry over into a reduction in the resulting collected editions just from having less source material. And collectededitions.blogspot.com posted on their facebook in December that they’d noticed that trades of recent monthly comics were taking longer to come out, too. As a trade-only reader who mostly reads back content, I’m definitely waiting to see how this plays out for their back content trades. (If the final Ostrander Suicide Squad TPB gets canceled between now and May . . .)

  4. DC held off their slate of comics that would have been published in the fourth week of December 2018 and instead published them during the first week of January 2019; this would make January 2019 a poor month to compare to other months, as it was an atypical month with all of their January comics plus one week’s worth of December’s comics. (It would also make December 2018 a poor month to use for comparisons as well, as it only had three week’s worth of new comics.)

  5. I really do not see the cutting yet either. It seems more like replacing to me. New Age of Heroes out, Jinxworld and Sandman Universe in, so to speak. A lot of floppies are still shipped bi-weekly, and not for $2,99 anymore.
    There appears to be some shifting of gears in the book department: Essential Editions and Black Label Editions, but this seems to be aimed at general bookstores, giving them a more marketable streamlined catalog, which in the long run might indeed have a lower amount of available titles as result. Then again, they’ve split up Knightfall in 9(!) TPs for a 25th Anniversary Edition, so I might be wrong.

    I’m not psyched about the promise of a ‘house-style’. This was one of the things that Rebirth was supposed to tackle; less generic output! I think tight editorial control only works when you really strip the line to a maximum of 8 titles, but I do not think they will go that far. If you do not want to strip the line, you’ll have to allow for some individuality and personality to flourish in each title, and just let readers decide what appeals to them. Could ‘Mister Miracle’ still be published under the new regime? Would they demand changes to ‘V for Vendetta’ if Alan and David turned it in yesterday, instead of about 30 years ago?

    That being said, I still applaud DC for at least having an idea of where they want to be headed, and showing intention of restraint. With both ‘Hulkverines’ and ‘Wolverine and the Infinity Watch’ kicking off this month, it’s pretty clear that Marvel is still entirely clueless.

  6. I’m fascinated by the 100-Page Giant program, so I’m glad to see it succeeding. It’ll be interesting to see which reprinted material gets trimmed when the original material expands, and whether the expansion will result in a longer lead story, or more new 12-pagers in the mix (which is my hope).

  7. This may be a way to save floppies — make them all 100 pages (or 72 pages, as in the 1940s), and price them at no more than 5 bucks.

    At least people will feel they’re getting plenty to read when they part with their cash. They don’t feel that way when they pay $3-5 for 22 pages, or whatever it is these days.

  8. “floppies”. Good God, you grown men can just not bring yourself to call them “comics” or “comic books”, can you?

  9. In my reading, the terms “comics” and “comic books” apply equally to both thin, monthly, probably saddle-bound periodical comics (i.e., “floppies”) and larger, square-bound books (i.e., “graphic novels,” “trade paperbacks,” “collected editions,” etc.).

    To my reading, Bill’s comment is specifically about monthly periodical comics; saying “This may be a way to save comics” has a drastically different meaning (saying something about the industry as a whole or the artform as a whole) than “This may be a way to save floppies” (which is only about one specific physical form of comics).

  10. Personally, I never use the “floppies” term — it just doesn’t seem to connote much respect for the format that’s made it possible (and continues to make it possible) for so many people to make a living. “Comic books” continues to work just fine — occasionally, “periodicals” to avoid confusion. (None of the comics in my house are “floppy,” anyway — I store everything spine-out library-style, so everything’s bagged and boarded.)

    Because December and January are indeed so difficult to make comparisons with, I fused December and January and compared them with past December/Januaries. The number of new comics released across the two months was very slightly down, graphic novels very slightly up: https://blog.comichron.com/2019/02/january-comics-sales-start-2019-strong.html

  11. I’d like to see DC shut down their entire line and instead start issuing one twice monthly 100 page publication — call it Action Comics or DC Universe — containing all of their new DC universe content going forward, for sale everywhere: newsstands, Walmart, Costco, checkout lines, book shops, Amazon. Comic shops would still be the best place to find back issues, and might even see an uptick in business thanks to the increase in visibility leading to a new generation of print collectors bound to jump onboard for such a radical change in their publishing scheme. I’m thinking something like the 100 Page Giants, but more like 2000 AD or Heavy Metal, but trade paperback format for bookshelf display and with Batman, Superman and the Justice League rotating in the first 20 pages of each issue. My local comic shop doesn’t seem to regard its new comic accounts as its bread and butter any more anyway, which makes me wonder if comic shops might not breathe a sigh of relief to see the curtain fall on Diamond and the direct market, not least because the end of the floppy will undoubtedly lead to an explosion in the price of back issues. The larger DC universe could exist online as a proving ground for creators duking it out for their work to be included in the print mag: print readers could get a code in every issue that gives them access to this weeks online material, while online readers pay somewhat less for the same online experience but don’t get to own the collectible physical object.

  12. I call them floppies because that’s what people who work in the industry call them.

    And, yes, my comment was specifically about monthly periodicals. Graphic novels and trades don’t need saving (at least not at this point). It’s the periodical — or pamphlet or floppie — that may be endangered.

  13. ” “floppies”. Good God, you grown men can just not bring yourself to call them “comics” or “comic books”, can you?”

    An adult getting worked up about what another adult calls a certain product, and implying that calling said product something other than what you call said product denotes them as less mature? Ironic.

    Personally, I call them “singles”, but I don’t care what anyone chooses to call them.

  14. Here’s what I have in my stats for DC’s monthly comics output (“floppies” or “singles or whathaveyou) in the Diamond-NA market across 2017 & 2018:

    Jan 2017: 84
    Feb 2017: 82
    Mar 2017: 89
    Apr 2017: 75
    May 2017: 80
    Jun 2017: 83
    Jul 2017: 69
    Aug 2017: 78
    Sep 2017: 76
    Oct 2017: 77
    Nov 2017: 90
    Dec 2017: 79

    Jan 2018: 87
    Feb 2018: 88
    Mar 2018: 84
    Apr 2018: 81
    May 2018: 74
    Jun 2018: 74
    Jul 2018: 61
    Aug 2018: 72
    Sep 2018: 65
    Oct 2018: 78
    Nov 2018: 67
    Dec 2018: 52 *

    So yeah, just by eyeballing it you can see that in the last half of 2018 they’ve dropped their monthly output by around 10 titles per month. (Obviously there is a good deal of variability, including whether a months has 4 or 5 shipping weeks. And your exact count of titles per month may differ from mine depending on how and what you count.)

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