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.
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. And 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.
So happy to give the @comicspro Memorial Award to Sharon and Ryan Liebowitz, honoring not only my late great friend Bill Liebowitz of @GAppleComics, but as a family business it’s also a family award. pic.twitter.com/Sclq5XgKRh
— Joe Field (@flycojoe) February 24, 2019
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.
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.