Comic shop owners and orderers gathered at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday for the annual SDCC retailer lunch. The session featured presentations from Diamond Comics Distributors, as well as sponsoring publishers Marvel, Valiant, Image, Boom!, Titan, DC, IDW, and Dark Horse Comics. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, the presenters outlined new initiatives and projects that will be rolling out for retailers in the coming months.
The lunch opened with a brief address from Diamond President Steve Geppi, who thanked retailers for their business, saying emphatically that the comic industry is alive and well. He called the industry resilient despite a few flat years, and assured retailers that Diamond is here to help them, and that they’re open to suggestions and feedback on what they’re doing wrong (or right).
The Diamond presentation began with a chart that illustrated the relative flatness of the market. The holiday shipping schedule was also reiterated, with no skip week for Christmas. Books releasing on Thursday, 12/26, will be sent to retailers the previous week, while the first new release date for 2020 will be January 1st.
Diamond VP of Operations Sean Hammond provided an update on the goings-on at the company’s various warehouses. Four months ago Diamond implemented a new process to get books picked more accurately for retailers. Barcodes on retailers boxes now have each retailer’s pull information embedded into it, which is intended to make the picking of books for each retailer more accurate. The process has already resulted in reduced shortage reports from both the Plattsburgh and Olive Branch warehouses.
Future enhancements to the process will include packing lists in individual boxes as opposed to the current full paper invoices, and significantly-improved box designs with 100% flat interiors, to help minimize damages. Hammond said he expected to see at least a 30% reduction in shipper-caused damages as a result of the new boxes, which will roll out fully to retailers in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Diamond next announced a partnership with American Express that will allow retailers to pay for their shipments with AmEx. They have also worked with AmEx on marketing for Free Comic Book Day. Paper AmEx statements to customers will include promo flyers for FCBD as the event approaches. On the subject of free comics, Diamond also plugged Halloween Comic Fest, the comics for which are in the July Previews catalog. The Kelley Jones-drawn t-shirt for the event will be in the August catalog, for shipment in mid-October.
Previews Pullbox was the next topic. The service allows customers to request holds and submit orders from participating comic shops via the PreviewsWorld website. Customers can also manage their subscriptions and view their weekly pull lists using the service. It was stressed that retailers set the terms of what they want to allow customers to do with the Pullbox service, and that Diamond has received positive feedback from beta testers on the program. Retailers can view a dashboard of their Pullbox information via the Retailer Portal.
Diamond reiterated that they are not selling directly to customers, and that all marketing messages will indicate customers should visit their LCS to purchase items. The service will be free for retailers to use until February 2020, after which it will cost up to $25 a month for brick-and-mortar shops to enroll.
Diamond Best Practice Award winners were reviewed next, including winners for Best Kids Section, Best FCBD Event, Best Online Ad Campaign, and Best Movie Themed Display. Fall nominations for BPA are open now, and winners will be announced at NYCC. The Hawkworth Comic Shop Improvement Award winner, who takes home a $5000 award, was also announced as Pensacola Pop Comics in Pensacola, FL. They plan to redo their kids section with the award.
With Diamond’s presentation completed, the program moved on to publisher sponsors for the panel.
David Gabriel thanked retailers for their support and feedback. He mentioned a ramp-up of promotion for Marvel Comics #1000 beginning in a couple of weeks, and that order numbers for Absolute Carnage have been very high. He then ran down some forthcoming new books and projects, including:
- A new Ghost Rider monthly series, and a November-shipping Marvel Tales: Ghost Rider one-shot
- A Red Goblin: Red Death one-shot
- Absolute Carnage #5, the extra issue that was added recently for the series
- Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Allegiance
- A Doctor Doom ongoing series
- A series of Future Fight Firsts one-shots to tie-in with the video game
- A Marvel Zombies: Respawn one-shot, which will lead to a new Marvel Zombies limited series in 2020
- The Spider-Man series by JJ and Henry Abrams
- A series of ‘Immortal’ variants inspired by an issue of Immortal Hulk
- The Amazing Mary Jane, a new ongoing series spinning out of Amazing Spider-Man, written by Leah Williams with art by Carlos Gomez. A series of Mary Jane-themed variant covers will celebrate the new title’s arrival.
- An interesting moment came before the announcement of the Mary Jane variants. Gabriel asked the room who liked open-order variant covers; this was met with just a small smattering of applause, clearly not the enthusiastic response Gabriel was expecting.
- A teaser for a 2099 event spinning out of Amazing Spider-Man; Marvel also tweeted the above version of the teaser
- A new Annihilation series coming in November, tying in to what Donny Cates is doing in Guardians of the Galaxy and the cosmic area of the Marvel Universe
- Dawn of X, with more details to come during Marvel’s Next Big Thing panel. The panel would reveal a slate of X-Men comics spinning out of Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X. Gabriel said this is just the first wave of new X-titles, with another round potentially coming in February, unofficially being called ‘Day of X’ around the Marvel offices
Finally, Gabriel showed a version of Marvel’s ‘events’ timeline, which they originally showed at C2E2. Gabriel said that a one-shot in December would pick up on connective tissue from the previous events shown on the timeline, and launch into Marvel’s next event in early 2020. Before shutting down the presentation, the slide briefly changed to reveal a mysterious logo featuring what looks like a ringed green circle engulfed in black flames.
Valiant reviewed a series of new titles coming from the publisher, including Tim Seeley and Brett Booth’s Bloodshot, and a new Rai series from Dan Abnett and Juan Jose Ryp. The first two issues of Rai were mentioned as being fully returnable by retailers. Also mentioned were series Roku and Doctor Mirage.
Jeff Stang introduced Scott Snyder and Charles Soule to talk about the newly-announced Undiscovered Country. Snyder described the genesis of the idea as coming about while he and Soule were on a run at a previous SDCC. He said they had wanted to do something together since they were both at DC but the opportunity had never arisen. Snyder described the series as ‘Land of the Lost meets Lewis & Clark,’ and about the dangers of isolationism on both a global and personal level. They have 30-plus issues planned. Giuseppe Camuncoli and Matt Wilson will provide the art for the series. Both Snyder and Soule are using their one ‘outs’ from DC and Marvel, respectively, to create this series, and they were waiting for the right moment and the right project to do it.
The writers described talking with a former CIA operative (who they’re both pretty sure is still active in the agency) about something called ‘Fortress America’, which is a real-world plan that’s in place to completely shut down America’s borders if the need should arise. They also described terrestrial fish monsters (which may or may not be based on a real thing) and techno-zombies that will all appear in the series. Retailers were given an ashcan of the first full issue of the series, minus a few surprise elements. Snyder made a lot of references to this book being a Walking Dead-like series that retailers will be able to hand-sell to customers easily.
Titan covered a number of topics during their entertaining presentation, including:
- Blade Runner 2019, the first issue of which is going to a second printing. They called the title the highest-selling Titan comic in two years.
- A new Robotech series, Robotech Remix
- A new holiday special for Doctor Who, written by Jody Houser
- New titles in the Hard Case Crime imprint, including a revival of Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty’s Ms. Tree, and Ryuko
- Literature comics including Rivers of London, a second volume of Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon, and the third volume of VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic series
- Video game tie-in titles Watch_Dogs and Life is Strange
- New hardcover graphic novel The Illuminati Ball from Cynthia Von Butler, the creator of Minky Woodcock
- A three-part prequel to Snowpiercer by original graphic novel artist Rochester and writer Matz
- More kids comics tying in to Secret Life of Pets, Minions, Frozen II, and The Lion King
- New Star Trek books tying in to Picard and Star Wars books tying in to The Rise of Skywalker
- Books featuring Firefly and The Addams Family
- New figures of the CW DC TV heroes and, in time for Christmas, The Monkees
DC began by addressing confusion around the recent re-labeling of their publishing line.
Displaying a chart that includes four different lines all rolling up to the DC label, they amended the previous announcement regarding the streamlining of their line:
- DC Zoom books will now be released as ‘DC Graphic Novels for Kids’
- DC Ink books will be released as ‘DC Graphic Novels for Young Adults’
- A majority of monthly comics will be released with simply the DC label
- Black Label will continue to publish different formats and content for mature readers
With that out of the way, the publisher ran down some upcoming projects, including:
- A brief discussion of Joe Hill’s Hill House Comics imprint
- A slate of titles with first issue returnability, including Basketful of Heads from Hill House, The Batman’s Grave #1, The Joker: Killer Smile #1, Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity #1, Metal Men #1, and Legion of Super-Heroes #1, with more to come.
- New 100-page giants, now with 24 pages of new content, which will be available at the same time to direct market retailers with new covers and to mass market retailers with reprint covers.
- Facsimile editions of classic comics will be released to tie-in to new releases; The publisher plans to only publish one of these per month.
- Two new titles for Batman Day, Batman: Nightwalker and The Batman Who Laughs #1 one-shot Metal tie-in. Certain Batman backlist titles will also be discounted an additional 10% for retailers.
- Batman/Superman #1 will go on sale August 28th, the same date as the hardcover collection of the Batman Who Laughs miniseries. The collection’s release date was moved up based on retailer feedback, so that it can be sold in time for the new series
- New Year of the Villain ‘Hostile Takeover’ titles will be released in November. Twenty-two DC books will feature acetate covers featuring the villain of the issue on the acetate layer and the hero underneath on the regular cover. These acetate covers will be advance solicited.
- The box cover art for the massive Crisis on Infinite Earths hardcover box set was revealed. Artists Nicola Scott and Jerry Ordway provided the cover art. FOC for this set has passed already, but DC has produced a healthy amount of the set, which includes a lot of material that has never been reprinted.
- Finally, Watchmen is, of course, coming to HBO later this year. More announcements related to Watchmen were teased as coming later this weekend.
Joel Elad from IDW began by teasing that more of Joe Hill’s Locke & Key is coming soon. He also announced that the Martini edition of Darwyn Cooke’s Richard Stark’s Parker would be returning, and that more news will be coming regarding Parker on Sunday.
Next, Elad announced that IDW would be incorporating Sunday Press and their catalog of books into their operations. He also plugged their slate of creator-owned titles including Star Pig written by Delilah S. Dawson, Mountainhead by John Lees and Ryan Lee, Pandemica created by Jonathan Maberry, and Walt Simonson’s Ragnarok, which is back for a new six-issue series.
IDW is also heavily promoting George Takei’s new graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, which was just released. Elad also touted the success of their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, particularly the debut of the new female turtle. He said they had a 60% overprint on TMNT #95, which sold out quickly, and teased that the character will get her yellow bandana in issue #97 of the series.
The popular Transformers reboot series, which has been shipping bi-weekly, will switch to monthly with issue #13, which retailers greeted with appreciation. Then Elad announced a new series, Transformers Galaxies, would be joining the line, which retailers greeted with a smattering of groans. Elad said the series wasn’t essential for following the main title.
After the success of the Star Trek: The Next Generation mirror universe series, a Voyager-centric mirror universe series is coming, as well as an Aftermath series for the conclusion of Star Trek: Discovery season 2.
Elad also plugged a new Dragonball Z tabletop came that will be coming to stores soon.
Filip Sablik introduced Once and Future from Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora, and welcomed the creators to the stage to talk more about the series. Gillen thanked retailers for all their support over the years, and praised Mora’s artwork on the series. Retailers in attendance for the panel received an exclusive copy of the first issue in advance of Monday’s FOC.
Sablik went on to cover the Boom Guarantee, a returnability program that now includes not only returnable single issues but graphic novels as well. Sablik further said that every issue of Once and Future will be returnable for retailers through the program. There will also be no variant covers for this series.
Dark Horse began their presentation by promoting the success of Aubrey Sitterson and Fico Ossio’s No One Left To Fight, for which the first issue is sold out. A second printing of the first issue is on FOC on Monday, with release timed for the release of NOLTF #2.
Black Hammer/Justice League #2 by Jeff Lemire and Michael Walsh is also on FOC on Monday. On the Black Hammer front, the publisher has announced a Black Hammer 3-for-$1 comic, which will include the first issues of Black Hammer and the Sherlock Frankenstein and The Quantum Age tie-in miniseries. Also announced was a new Black Hammer title, Skulldigger + Skeleton Boy.
Additional projects that have previously been announced were teased, including:
- The paperback collection of the digital-first Critical Role: Vox Machina Origins series
- A new Minecraft anthology graphic novel coming out in October
- Multiple Frozen titles that will be available to coincide with the release of Frozen II
- A New Stranger Things YA graphic novel, Zombie Boys, coming in February 2020
- From Berger Books, Everything, the first issue of which will be fully refundable for retailers and will come out in September
- John Allison’s Steeple
- The return of Matt Wagner’s Grendel in Grendel: Devil’s Odyssey, in which Grendel Prime travels into space to try to solve the end of humanity. The first two issues will be fully returnable for retailers. The series debuts in October.
- The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion TPB comes out in September, and oversized hardcover editions of the first two volumes will be out in September and November, respectively
- A new Umbrella Academy tie-in one-shot, Hazel & Cha Cha Save Christmas, which will be out in November.
With Dark Horse’s presentation completed, Diamond again thanked retailers for attending and for their support, and the annual SDCC retailer lunch session ended with attendees receiving bags of exclusive comics from each of the presenting publishers.