Home Publishers Marvel It is a period of CIVIL WAR

It is a period of CIVIL WAR

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Whose side are you on? No really. Retailers, readers or publishers/creators? The news of Civil War #4’s lateness, Marvel’s resultant line rescheduling and apologies/explanations from various members of the creative team split the internet in…several pieces yesterday, as a perfect storm of all the issues facing periodical comics came together in one great fell swoop of internet chatter that culminated with Bryan Hitch suggesting internet posters go out and lose their virginity. Truly, it was a day that would be long remembered by all.

It was a day of venting, spewing and foaming, but it did raise many issues that speak to the VERY CORE of today’s comic book business, so we’re going to have a go at it.

Brian Hibbs took no prisoners at Shiloh:

There have been (and continue to be) a number of very high profile, spectacularly late comics lately, and it needs to S-T-O-P. Stop fucking soliciting things that aren’t far enough along the creation process to have a CHANCE of shipping. This isn’t Marvel-exclusive, by any means — how is it even POSSIBLE that ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN #5 was originally solicited for April ’06, then rescheduled for July ’06, and now they’re telling us NO-FUCKING-VEMBER for it. How can that be?

I mean, I wasn’t the only person who laughed (defensively, in pain and fear) when they announced Adam Hughes on ALL-STAR WONDER WOMAN, right? I mean, why not retitle the whole ALL-STAR line as the ALL-LATE line?

This shit needs to stop, and it needs to stop now. We don’t need more late comics. We don’t need any more ULTIMATE HULK VS WOLVERINE #3 or DAREDEVIL FATHER #6. We don’t need the core books of the universe lines, like WONDER WOMAN or JUSTICE LEAGUE moving to 6 week schedules because the creators can’t hack monthly. No, damn it, 9 issues a year is NOT acceptable on what has to be a monthly book, I don’t care what pedigree the talent has.


Also representing the retailer, MacGuffin took a stand at Antietam:

I really thought I said everything I had to say about this yesterday, but I continue to see rants across the internet about how unprofessional and irresponsible “big name” creators are, as if that is the reason for this delay. The one single, solitary reason for Marvel’s need to delay 2/3 of their publishing schedule for the rest of the year is poor planning.


Jason at RIOT stages his own Mannassah

And, sadly, they’re right. I’ll bet 99% of retailers across the world will just tuck their sacks, hang their heads and keep ordering these books at the same levels. And the readers will continue to buy them whenever they come out because it’s an addiction, you want to see the ending, you HAVE to know what happens. As long as no one makes a stand or sends a message to them, the publishers will continue to do this and get away with it.

Meanwhile, retailers across the country are forced to come up with lame excuses and shoulder shrugs when the customers want their books. Then we get to watch people, money in hand, walk out of our stores and not come back…they lose interest or worse, they get angry and stop reading comics altogether. Money lost. Opportunity gone.


And then there’s Gettysburg, Tom Brevoort’s interview at Newsarama, but that’s going to get its very own post except for one or two soundbites. A few issues came up over and over again, so we’re going to break it down by category.

Reader rage: Reader reaction on the web, anyway, was pretty much evenly split between the “You go too far, Marvel!” camp and the “Mark and Steve, we understand.” In other words, “Good” and “On time” fought to a draw. We stand by our observations yesterday that fans who rant and rave about dropping this book because they can’t stand lateness any more rarely do so. The books they are ranting and raving about are usually selling well. UNDERWORLD — nobody rants and raves about that, because nobody buys it. Yes, readers complained when INFINITE CRISIS had “Divers Hand” art towards the end, but they kept on buying it… or at least the RETAILERS DID.

Retailer Rage: This is a crowd that knows how to rage. A few people have pointed out that the healthy sales figures on books with big delays refer to “Sell-in” not “Sell Through” which is a very good point, but the comics shop owner IS the customer of the Diamond direct market system. Of course there will be fan resentment and anger towards CIVIL WAR #4 when it comes out. And casual readers — as if a multi part crossover involving dozens of books COULD have casual readers — will drift away in the meantime. But on the day Civil War #4 does ship, people will hear about the titanic death contained within and the shocking surprises and slowly, slowly…quietly…they will drift over and…and…

We’ll that’s our prediction, any way.

Marvel Stands by its Men: Marvel is being pilloried for poor planning, and it’s hard to argue with that, but they are making a stand for a book that holds up in trade format. Brevoort makes that clear with a quote that had many comics retailers aghast:

…these days you simply have to factor in the eventual trade paperback or hardcover collections, as they’ve become a significant part of the revenue stream. As Bryan Hitch pointed out correctly, nobody today really remembers the four-month wait between Dark Knight Returns #2 and #3 — heck, most of the people reading this likely first read that story as a collected edition. And that’s because the work is strong, and has stood the test of time. It wasn’t compromised simply to meet the monthly schedule, and as a result, DC and the retailers will be able to sell it forever. I think that’s the model for the future.

The whole infrastructure of comic book retailing is changing, and I think what you’re starting to see is the beginning of the movement away from a monthly magazine publishing model over to something more akin to a book publishing model. This is very distressing to a lot of people who’ve grown up with the monthly model as a bedrock concept. But ever since we retreated almost wholly to the Direct Market in terms of the basic comic book product, there’s no compelling reason for the monthly release schedule outside of the need for retailers to have a predictable cash-flow that allows them to keep their doors open.


Can this be Tom Brevoort, last scion of the race of Continuity Editors, foretelling the Death of the Pamphlet? Or at least, the Supremacy of the Graphic Novel? Brevoort makes it pretty clear that the decision to stick with McNiven was to keep the quality of the book up, and to increase the desirability of the eventual trade. It’s another gamble on whether the bad reactions to the rescheduling will eventually be overcome by a fine comic book tale that will be read for years to come…we haven’t read CIVIL WAR so we wouldn’t be able to guess.

It’s all about the cash flow: The one undeniable loser in all this is retailer cash flow. Some store owners claim they will lose low five figures of revenue because of delayed product and reduced output for such strong sellers as CAPTAIN AMERICA. Is this over reacting, or legitimate cause for concern? Time will tell.

The Watchmen/Dark Knight card: Frankly, this is the one that annoys The Beat. Every time someone is late they say “But so was Watchmen! So was Dark Knight!” So was CAMELOT 3000, and that was a fun book but it wasn’t one of the 100 greatest novels of the last century or the most influential superhero comic of the modern era. If you want to be judged by the standards of Alan Moore and Frank Miller, well, I think you are going to come up a bit short.

Vast line-changing crossover epics that CHANGE EVERYTHING are a fact of life in today’s market. In the case of publicly-held Marvel, they are part of the company’s responsibility to the shareholders. But as Brevoort’s line above alludes to, we live in an “on demand” world. The consumers who say they want it good, not Wednesday are reflecting that. Yes, Marvel got into this pickle by having to put out a Summer Event no matter what. If the Summer Event was crappy, the readers would say so, too. In the end, it’s just feeding a need for change, and vast line-crossing epics.

Wednesday is irrelevant in a world of Tivos. Serial fiction, regularly produced, is a fine thing, a desirable thing. But that too, seems to be becoming increasingly irrelevant.

If you are really incensed by what Marvel has done, don’t buy more Marvel comics. Go try something from Dark Horse or Image or Tokyopop or Viz or Top Shelf or Fantagraphics or D&Q. There’s plenty of good stuff available right this very minute.

22 COMMENTS

  1. I see the obvious, biggest problem is that these books were solicited too soon. Some editor should’ve been better prepared for the pace of Steve’s pencils and planned the release accordingly. Like Hibbs said about AS Batman, it shouldn’t get resolicited again and again. They should solicit it when it’s ready.

    Good for Brevoort for seeing the bigger picture. The eventual TPB would be marred by having numerous artists finishing the book. I think that’s also what really hurts the Sandman trades. There are some really inconsistent, and frankly bad, artists on the first few trades of that.

    The next issue of many comics for Marvel will be late, and that’s the way it is. However, if they can keep the next issues on schedule, they’ll redeem themselves in retailer’s eyes. Or at least, their cash flow will just be a bit delayed. For some stores, this is a disaster, but they were probably poorly run businesses anyway. Smart stores should be more capable of weathering this type of storm.

  2. “If you are really incensed by what Marvel has done, don’t buy more Marvel comics. Go try something from Dark Horse or Image or Tokyopop or Viz or Top Shelf or Fantagraphics or D&Q. There’s plenty of good stuff available right this very minute.”

    I think I brought this up yesterday.

    Heidi, I do realize some retailers will feel a pinch next month when Civil War (and tie-ins) doesn’t arrive. But I find it hard to believe that some comic fans will leave the hobby completely due to this situation.

    Brian, I’m thinking of the shops near me (Springfield, MA) and I doubt they will close up shop.

  3. The Dark Knight/Watchmen card rings hollow. They were limited series not a company wide crossover. When Civil War is late all of the tie in books are delayed. So instead of 1 book late, now 6 issues or more at a time are late. Not to mention the delay in relaunching Thor and Alpha Flight (or whatever they are calling it) at Civil War’s end. It just is the same.

  4. since you are quoting Hibbs uncommented on this:
    per his comment here and on the following page (scroll down) http://www.byrnerobotics.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=13409&PN=1&TPN=4

    Adam Hughes is getting sufficient lead time from DC to finish All-Star Wonder Woman on time. I’ll gladly join you and Hibbs in calling for his head if it should be late and you be inclinded to do so. In the meantime however it strikes me as highly unfair to repeat Hibbs negative remarks without noting that the creator in question has acknowledged the problem and steps have been taken to correct it.

  5. — If you are really incensed by what Marvel has done, don’t buy more Marvel comics. Go try something from Dark Horse or Image or Tokyopop or Viz or Top Shelf or Fantagraphics or D&Q. There’s plenty of good stuff available right this very minute —

    Heidi, I *heart* you. Come on and save the mainstream media together!

  6. Ok lets see how this can be simplified. 3 choices:-

    A- 8 books worth of primo, Grade A Bryan Hitch or Adam Hughes

    B- 11 books worth of Grade B/C Bryan Hitch or Adam Hughes

    C- 24 books worth of Grade B/C STUDIO of Bryan Hitch or Adam Hughes

    I personally want the best comics that I can get, I’m willing to pay for that and I’m willing to wait.
    I would respectfully suggest that the people who are totally wedded to the monthly format should look into Manga, as they do that sort of thing very well.

    Si.

  7. I long ago dismissed the comics industry as being unable to hold a deadline. I lowered my expectations I let go of my need to have the next chapter NOW. And I loved me some trade paperbacks. The love affair continues to this day.

  8. At the end of the day, it’s not that certain books take x amount of time to produce. It’s the fact that they are initially promised as monthly publications and are rescheduled mid-stream, once people have already made an investment with their time and money. If “Civil War” were initially solicited as a bi-monthly event, both consumers and other Marvel creators could have planned accordingly from the begininng.

    Granted, I am but a lowly consumer with no publishing experience to base my opinions on. But my question to all of the comic book publishers is — why, after all of this time & experience, can you not forsee how much lead time will be needed to create & ship a book and solicit accordingly? If it is as Mr. Brevoort suggests, a changing medium where the monthly periodical is antiquated and obsolete, why even attempt to follow that paradigm and fail (repeatedly)? Why not instead begin a migration of the company policy toward a more creator-dictated release schedule?

  9. I wonder how much of this scheduling SNAFU was due to Marvel trying to push the first issue of Civil War to be released the same day as the last Infinity Crisis? Were they too interested in trying to one-up the competition, did they in turn sabotage themselves?

  10. Hey Raphe,

    That’s not true in the slightest. _Infinite Crisis_ was several weeks late by the time it came out. There’s no way Marvel would have known when it was coming out when they solicited the first issue of _Civil War_.

  11. Frankly, I’m on the side of fast and reliable artists who don’t get hired enough. :)

    I think it’s fair to cite Watchman as an example of late shipping. That series wasn’t the be-all-end-all “most influential superhero comic of the modern era” AT THE TIME, that only happened later in retrospect (and I’d still put the word “arguably” before the rest of it).

  12. Elayne, I think you underestimate the impact that Moore’s work had at the time.

    WATCHMEN and CAMELOT 3000 were both viewed as revolutionary works that would change the face of comics.

    I don’t care about pointing out that great work doens’t come out on a timetable, but by comparing yourself to a work that is taught in classrooms and listed on best novel lists, you invite…unwanted comparisons.

    Watchmen was only a few months late by the FINAL ISSUE. ULTIMATE WOLVERINE VS HULK is months late BY ISSUE THREE. I’m sure that it’s a fine, wonderful book. Perhaps it will be read and studied years from now.

    I accept waiting for superior work that represents the efforts of top creators in peak form. Waiting weeks and months for mundane work is another story.

  13. I think the most interesting part is that if superhero comics are released as graphic novels, they will come out of the small dark comic stores where few general readers tread, then the superhero companies will be forced to release work of actual high quality. Watchmen was true high quality, one of the most brilliant books of the 80’s [and, according to Time’s internet readers, of the 20th century], but Civil War– feh, predictable anti-Republican [it doesn’t matter whose side you’re on, the book is clearly in favor of Captain America despite Iron Man’s case having some great points…] book which reflected our times in a pretty great manner in the first issue, then spiraled into pure sci fi fantasy with a couple of muddled points here and there. The point is, if Marvel would expect people to spend 20$ on one adventure, the adventures should be worth it, and not merely escapism for the uber-fans.

    Although I absolutely hope they do go the direction of the anti-serial. The stories will indeed feel more complete, glorious, and more artistic, with independent cartoonists possibly joining in [after all, Bizarro Comics, To Hell and Back, and Batman in Black and White volume 2 were released as GN’s, and it certainly didn’t hurt thier reputations.] The best thing about a monthly comic is it creates the illusion of an actual on going event. Then again, so does Harry Potter. Solution- Make superheroes as compelling as Harry Potter. And then it allll woooorks….

  14. Watchmen AT THAT TIME.

    I remember being at a Stephen Bissette signing in ’86, and griping to him that Watchmen issue eight was late. This was at the time that I still believed in the sanctity of the all mighty shipping schedule, but Bissette (who was already a poster-child for the late artist) chided me.

    “Do you have any idea how much detail they’re putting into every page?” he said. “It’s amazing they’ve stayed on schedule this long.”

    We then chatted for awhile about what was going on in the pages, who might be behind all the mask killings and what the heck Alan Moore was doing with that Pirate Ship metaphor.

    Twenty years ago! Crazy!

    The point being that a) We had some clue as to just how amazing Watchmen was going to be even as it was being released and b) Watchmen went off schedule mid-stream, but only by a month or so.

    If anything I think my personal opinion of Watchmen has gone down in the intervening years because of its somewhat anti-climactic ending. That day, with five issues to go and the ending unknown, it seemed the greatest comic I’d read to date.

  15. At the end of the day, it’s not that certain books take x amount of time to produce. It’s the fact that they are initially promised as monthly publications and are rescheduled mid-stream, once people have already made an investment with their time and money. If “Civil Warâ€? were initially solicited as a bi-monthly event, both consumers and other Marvel creators could have planned accordingly from the begininng.

    Ryan, that’s exactly what bothers me about this situation. I don’t think the issue here is writers or artists’ speed but schedule managment from editorial. The nagging question in my mind why did it take so long for Marvel to announce a scheduling shift this big? Shouldn’t they have had a clue that the book would be a whole month late a few weeks earlier (which would give retailers more time to adjust) or did someone think a months’ worth of work would suddenly appear in a week’s time?

  16. Whose side am I on? I don’t really care. I buy comics online, so I don’t see a retailer crying about it every month when I get my comics. I’m buying Civil War, but I haven’t even read the first issue yet and I am certainly not buying any of the tie-in titles (does Punisher War Journal count? I’m only buying it for Fraction. Fraction rocks!) so this delay doesn’t even affect me as a reader. Also, I’m just tired of keeping track of late books in general so I can’t let the artists pass go and collect $200, but I also can’t draw so what do I know of an artist’s burden.

    I can’t imagine how much time and effort it takes to coordinate a line-wide event like Civil War. Sure retailers take a hit because they have so much money tied up in limbo waiting for what they paid for. I pre-pay for my comics too. How would you lose customers because of this delay? I understand there would be a loss of “heat”, but anyone who is reading it because they like it isn’t just going to drop it mid-story because it’s running a month late. Why does the average consumer even need to KNOW it’s running a month late?! If they’re buying off the rack, then they probably don’t even know the publishing schedule of every company. If they’re a subscription customer, you can almost guarantee they’ll stick around for it, and if they want to drop the title because it’s running a month late, make a deal with them! You’re not just a guy behind a register. You’re Retail Superman! Offer them a free comic for the skipped month if they change their mind and keep the title or offer them an extra 10% off that skipped month’s order or SOMETHING… ANYTHING to go with an explanation of why their precious printed material won’t be around to sate their hunger that month. Marvel–do the same! Keep your customers happy! Make the delayed issues returnable up to a certain percent. Offer free signed copies per every however many ordered. Or don’t get put in this position in the first place. You’re supposed to be big business with standards and such. You know the track records of your workers, you likely keep in touch to check on progress… You could have seen the warning signs. Simply switching to a 6-week schedule early in the game could have saved a lot of time and effort from everyone.

    Then again, this is the internet–the home of bitch and moan! Who won the bet when they predicted that the major contribution of the internet was going to be porn and armchair quarterbacking about every damn thing! When I think of what the internet could be used for to benefit mankind and how much bandwidth is taken up with double anal and “FIRSTIES!!!”…. what a waste. (yeah, I know.. the word hypocrite may come to mind for some of you. Try to focus on the message as it was intended to benefit a very small faction of mankind–the comics crowd)

  17. “It wasn’t compromised simply to meet the monthly schedule, and as a result, DC and the retailers will be able to sell it forever. I think that’s the model for the future.

    The whole infrastructure of comic book retailing is changing, and I think what you’re starting to see is the beginning of the movement away from a monthly magazine publishing model over to something more akin to a book publishing model.”

    Warren Ellis wins.

    AGAIN.

  18. You’d think Brian Hibbs suing Marvel for being chronically late might have been an early indicator that maybe you shouldn’t tie your personal fortunes to the publisher’s timeliness. But greed and the promise of short-term gain are historically more powerful than, well, paying attention to history. I cannot personally imagine allowing Marvel and/or Diamond to determine the health of my personal financial stability this late in the game. I have kids to feed.

    I’ve been reading both the timely 52 and the now-late Civil War for free from the internet’s Preferred Store (as it’s known). I like CW enough to actually buy the eventual hardcover, whenever the hell it comes out. I loathe 52 enough that I have stopped reading it even for free.

    The message to retailers, it seems to me, and it’s been apparent for at least a couple of years now, is that the day of the fucking floppy is over, and you need to transition to the new reality. In other words, when BORDERS starts bitching about how Civil War is late, then I’ll think it matters to comics as a whole.

    This “tragedy” is mainly impacting superhero convenience stores, who should know by now that Marvel’s Slurpees are an unreliable factor when planning out their long-term financial health. Over the next three or four months, the three-out-of-four people in my household who read comics every week will be affected exactly not at all by Civil War being late — two of them (my kids, on the very cusp of becoming independent, comics-buying adults) read graphic novels and non-Marvel periodicals, and the other, the fat old nerd that hooked them on comics, is waiting quite patiently and happily for the trade, which will have a consistent writer and artist all the way through, and which may not be Watchmen, but will still be of interest to sooperhero fans ten years from now, unlike the timely-as-hell 52.

    Diamond is no longer comics. Marvel is no longer comics. Look around, in libraries, in real bookstores. Comics is bigger than one distributor or one publisher, especially a distributor and publisher who historically cover their own asses to the detriment of those they do business with. Diamond and Marvel essentially supply Slurpees to sooperhero convenience stores, and they’re all managed by guys who, if they are professional businessmen — you know, have READ HIBBS’S BOOK ON BEING A PROFESSIONAL COMIC BOOK RETAILER — know they need to study the history of their industry and of their own store, and make sound business decisions based on the information they have. The information about Marvel has been clear forever, to anyone not suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Every smart retailer I know has spent the past few years diversifying their product line, opening up alternative lines of distribution so that their future and their financial well-being is not entirely, fatally tied to Marvel and Diamond.

    To allow Marvel to control 40 percent of your income (as Hibbs apparently has) is suicide — I can imagine quite a few sooperhero convenience shops going under because of this. And you know, I felt bad for the people who had 100 percent of their stock in Enron, too. But they should have known better. I know nothing about investing, but I know you have to diversify your portfolio if you want to be solvent and prosperous in the long-term.

    Diversification would have saved Enron’s investors, and in the long run, it’s the only thing that will allow comic book stores to exist in another five to ten years. The smart retailers already know this — walk into Million Year Picnic in Cambridge, Massachusetts or The Beguiling in Toronto. Yes, they have Marvel available. As one of the many, many publishers they carry. And they have diverse customer bases that wants comics of all sizes, shapes, genres and languages. What percentage of income do you think Marvel represents for Borders? The ones near me all have some Marvel stuff, and quite a bit more Manga.

    There’s room for superhero comics, especially in North America. But the day of Ellis’s Nurse Novel is long since over, and bravo to him for pointing this out so long ago:

    “I don’t doubt that there are excellent nurse novels in there. But the fact that in our nightmare bookstore, 90% of all books published everywhere are about nurses tends to choke off all other genres and a literary mainstream.”

    Diversify or die, comic book stores. The Civil War debacle is very likely the final warning bell.

  19. Just one note, ADD: Marvel isn’t anywhere near 40% of my business. Closer to 10%.

    I’m not interested in sucking up even a .01% loss to my sales because of someone else’s problems.

    -B

  20. Also, now that I’ve had a few more minutes to think, I never sued Marvel over comics being late — I sued them for not fufilling thier side of the contractually agreed bargin; ie that those late and missolicited books would then be made returnable, per the contract that they themselves dictated.

    Because of that, we got, arguably, a BETTER system for dealing with late books: the FOC system where we’re free to adjust books as we choose.

    (An exercise, might I add, I will be utilizing for CIVIL WAR #4)

    You write good rant, but I have to say, calling on the example of such a stunning sales hit (especially to the civilian-to-Marvel audience) as proof that “the day of the fucking floppy is over” is, well, kinda stupid, to say the least. The *reason* this is an issue is that it is large and sprawling and, above all else, successful.

    That superhero-only stores should probably diversify, yeah sure, I’m down with that 100%, but, really, the only thing that this is proof of is that publishers (of all stripes) have to stop soliciting things that aren’t far enough along the production cycle to be 99% sure they’ll hit thier solicited date. This is as true for Marvel as it is for Tokyopop as it is for Fantagraphics as it is for Joe Newbie doing his first comic out of mom’s basement.

    And it is as true for a periodical as it is for a book, ADD.

    -B

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