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#458723 - 01/31/01 05:29 PM TEN POINT PLAN FOR THE COMIC INDUSTRY'S REVIVAL
Chris Knowles Offline
Member

Registered: 01/23/99
Posts: 875
Loc: USA
Don't get excited! I don't have one-- yet.

I am making a call to all the smart folks on these boards to contribute to an ongoing discussion on how to help revive the Comics Industry and to help promulgate the artform.
At this point all of the so-called experts haven't done much to stop the bleeding at the retail level, and a lot of well-intentioned souls at the big publishing houses are too hemmed in by corporate protocol to really speak their minds or institute their agendas.

The great thing about this subculture is that people at every level are involved- most of the remaining retailers are diehard fans as are managment types in publishing and distribution. There is a sense of egalitarianism that is unique to Comics. "Powerful" figures in the Industry read message boards and newsgroups like this, and there is far greater chance that your ideas will at least be noticed by people in positions of influence than in any other medium.

I am especially interested in hearing from retailers, the folks who bear the lion's share of the financial burden in this business. A lot of folks complain about retailers, and they certainly have a point in some cases, but I think that there are some great retailers out there and these are the guys in the trenches.

In some of the recent discussions I've been involved with, I've seen some really insightful thinking on content, format and distribution. I realize that financial constraints limit the type of innovations that publishers and retailers can institute, but since we are dealing in pure speculation here, I hope that no one would censor themselves in the interest of pragmatism. I'll start off with a few points that I've been thinking about and that others have discussed.

1. A NEW FORMAT- My local retailer told me that he just doesn't think he can sell 32 page comics to kids anymore. They're too costly for the amount of entertainment and kids are used to more immediate gratification. Is Ultimate Marvel an answer? Should we see families of books (Xmen, Batman etc) folded into one monthly in a the "Heavy Metal" format? I love this idea. Batman Monthly- $5.95 for 68 or whatever pages of Batman and Batman related stories.

2. DIVERSITY IN CONTENT- The very same retailer told me that after Marvel cancelled Barbie he had people coming in looking for it for years. This is a complex issue, but if publishers are serious about the newstand and bookstores, why are they only offering direct-market styled material? Girls are more apt to read than boys and there are a lot of female writers who are very concerned with writing positve material for them.

3. DOCUMENTARY COMICS- I believe that Comics people need to "reacclimate" people out side the cult to the medium. Why not a Tiger Woods Golf for Kids instructional TPB, for instance? Even better- Tony Hawk Skateboarding Tips. Or a comic format cookbook with the kind of cartooning you will see in young women's magazines? Or how about more material in the vein of Larry Gonnick's cartoon histories or the "For Beginners" books?

4. UNIFORM CONTENT STANDARDS- I'm not talking about a new Comics Code, I'm talking about a list of standards based on readibilty and comprehension. For example, all stories should have beginnings, middles and ends and text ballons should be near the person talking and panels should all have gutters and coloring should not obscure the art- that kind of thing? Perhaps do market research for this- develop standards that people who don't regularly read comics can understand. Word ballons and panel continuity goes left to right, etc.

5. ENCOURAGE ENTREPRNEURS- Maybe all the folks who have money in comics (if there are any left, this is all speculative, mind you) can start a seed fund to help fledgling retailers open new shops. Maybe a special discount rate for new shops or new storeowners, some sort of special advertising account so new shops can advertise in their local press, etc etc. This is all crazy stuff, but let's face it- the crash was due to store bankruptcies and no amount of innovation will help sell more comics without new outlets.

Anyway, there are 5 crazy, unworkable ideas off the top of my head. I'm sure all you folks out there have plenty of ideas as well. And like on a comic page, we're not hemmed in by the rules of reality, so let's see some real innovative thinking. We can do what the Rock producer Brian Eno recommends- start from an extreme and then work our way back to a more practical position.

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#458724 - 01/31/01 06:48 PM Re: TEN POINT PLAN FOR THE COMIC INDUSTRY'S REVIVAL
jack Offline
Member

Registered: 11/11/99
Posts: 12596
Loc: Just south of NYC
We have LOTS of Barbies in stock, they are all backissue granted, but we manage to keep a few in the racks of that and most other non current obscura for the cheap (cover or less).

Something I've noticed the last couple of years is kids under twelve that read comics for the most part are not sequentially oriented. That means there is no such thing as a "back issue" to them. When you read Archies for example, does it matter say in the last ten years what order you read them in?

I've stocked the kids racks with older newsstand backissues of kids books in addition to the new titles as they come out (which lately have been selling out) at cover AND THE KIDS LOVE THEM, so do the parents, the prices are cheaper (1.25 to 1.75 cover for the most part) and they are in perfect shape. This may or may not be a local phenomena, I have no idea.

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#458725 - 01/31/01 07:42 PM Re: TEN POINT PLAN FOR THE COMIC INDUSTRY'S REVIVAL
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
A suggestion that is often made in discussions like these is that the industry should take out ads in newspapers and magazines saying something like 'got comics?.'

The problem is that it's expensive, and it's difficult to decide what kind of message would do any good. I was in contact with a guy who was trying to set up a comics industry ad council. He was very professional, and had lots of great ideas-- but what he was planning would've had to be a multi-million-dollar agency. I lost touch with him, he may still be working on it.

However, the idea I have is not as expensive or suspect as paid advertising.

In newspapers and on TV, you often see informative features on one thing or another that are related to a particular industry. On TV there is always a spokesman or expert ready to comment on various news and product-related events.

A lot of these features and sources are dug up by the news agencies themselves. But many, perhaps most, are provided to the news agencies by organized publicists and advocacy groups. These groups know that news coverage is both cheaper and more credible than paid advertising, and they'll do everything in their power to fulfill news agencies' endless apetite for 'content.'

Let me make it clear that much of this providing of 'content' is quite nefarious, and many news agencies are guilty of ethical lapses in using it without checking the facts. But in many cases it is a perfectly legitimate activity.

What I'm proposing is that the comic book industry create an advocacy group for itself like what I've described above. Let me emphasize that I'm not in favor of any kind of unethical advocacy-- if some group was trying to promote comics speculation for financial gain, I'd be adamantly opposed to it.

But say you have a group like this which has cultivated relationships with major news agencies all across the country. A comics-related news event happens-- the latest comic book movie, or a pulitzer for a graphic novel-- and this organization would send out emails with tons of information about it, and offers to help line up local and national spokespersons to comment and answer questions.

The organization would also diseminate information about less high-profile events, like the recent book award nomination for FROM HELL. It would assist and suppliment the publicity around the Harvey Awards and the Eisners. And in the case of events that might put comics in a bad light, this organization would be ready to help the comics community tell their side of the story.

It's something that would require a lot of work, and, unfortunately, money. But it's scalable-- a small organization would do some good, a larger one would do better, and so forth. The cost of running one full-page ad in USA Today could probably keep a vigorous advocacy group going for a year!
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Joe Zabel

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#458726 - 02/01/01 08:22 AM Re: TEN POINT PLAN FOR THE COMIC INDUSTRY'S REVIVAL
Pat ONeill Offline
Member

Registered: 08/18/99
Posts: 3064
Loc: PA, USA
Reposting from a previous topic:

...it must be available in the newsstand distribution system...in fact, I'd probably not even bother getting into the direct market until after I had a profitable product on the newsstands.

As for content? At least half the line would be strictly aimed at the under-13 crowd--with humor material that resembled (without blatantly copying) the biggest successes of PBS, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network--Arthur, Rugrats, Doug, Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Laboratory.

Another quarter of the line would be aimed at the 13-18 group--a line of humor/romance titles that broke the Archie mold by going with slightly less cartoony art and slightly more mature storylines...think Friends and the later seasons of Boy Meets World; a line of adventure titles that reflected the hit action movies; and an attempt to license some of the teen fads of the moment (this part would be changing on a six-month basis, I think).

The last part of the line would be aimed at the college crowd: a continuation of the romance/humor line with titles aimed at older readers (probably a little more explicit sex and language, maybe more titles that looked like soap operas rather than sit-coms); an adventure line that reflected the best-selling thriller and mystery novels; maybe even an attempt to license adaptations of some of those novels (or to use characters and concepts from them).
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Best, Pat

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#458727 - 02/01/01 11:26 AM Re: TEN POINT PLAN FOR THE COMIC INDUSTRY'S REVIVAL
Heidi MacDonald Offline
Member

Registered: 04/18/99
Posts: 1465
Loc: New York, New York
The "Milk Board" isn't a bad idea, but I don't think it's the *most* needed thing.Comics are getting tons of positive press in both mainstream and underground media. If folks don't know they're out there by now, they never will.

In fact, I think the money would be better spent on a survey of regular people, like the French one on the main page today. We don't need to survey comics readers again. If "people" is too broad a category, then I would suggest "people who read" or "people who shop at bookstores."

To reduce art to commerce for one moment, throwing a product on the market without a target audience is just silly. And we know very, very little about comics readers outside of the "Comic Book Guy" stereotype.
_________________________
Oh boy, sleep! That's where I'm a viking!

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#458728 - 02/01/01 12:38 PM Re: TEN POINT PLAN FOR THE COMIC INDUSTRY'S REVIVAL
Walt Stone Offline
Member

Registered: 01/01/01
Posts: 496
Loc: Katy, Tx
Ten point plan, eh? And you only have five listed?

Well, after all I've been ranting about how newstands are all good for comics, a quick disclaimer on how the market's looking less stellar than the recent past would indicate http://www.inside.com/jcs/Story?article_id=21322&pod_id=7
and http://www.inside.com/jcs/Story?article_id=21016&pod_id=7

But in a sense, the interpretation wouldn't have to be bad to any newcomer to the stands. With the folding of some of the magazines that aren't doing as well, it leaves spaces that could be negotiated for. Now could be the time to actually cut the better deal for space - as far as dealing with the newstand distributors.

One thing is key, though. Don't expect to have books selling at the newstands take away sales from the same books at direct market stores. Obscure titles won't sell well, either.

Powerpuff Girls and clones of the same cloth will work. Somebody get the license for putting Harry Potter on graphic novels or make it so a clone of Harry can make his/her way to the newstands for nine year olds, and add a few others besides. And for Kirby's sake, don't make them serialized if the books are aimed at those under 12!!

Oh. Last on the list. Find ads and place them in those comic books. I don't care if you have to give away the space. But when you do, DON'T allow advertising for movies or video games! I don't care if it's related to the darn book, or family of books. Advertise toothpaste or something. And a minimum of public service ads, if you please. This is escapist literature, not school.

I'll state this clearly, for those hard of thinking: The ads are important. They show that someone else besides the publisher and the reader values the publication. This buys automatic respect. In a subconsious way, when a TV show on the bubble only has public service or network show advertisements, it means that the soap sellers have pulled ads, and folks can tell.

Now, if the books go to the direct market, nobody cares about the ads, obviously.

If the direct market is going to live without newstand sales, then don't make kids oriented comic books!

But since there are very few NEW comic book buyers going into the direct market stores, attrition will eventually kill those sales.

And, of course, make use of the new media. Have one of the larger publishers put out a special holospecial covered comic filled with money shots from a jam session of NAME artists that don't have a current gig that then will be combined with a CD of the past issues from that comic hero character and then all be sealed in polybagged hell. The CD will have some of the music the artists listened to while they drew the comic... fills out the space on the CD, don't you know... Won't do much for new customers, but it'll keep the collectors happy for a month while they figure out a way to polybag the polybagged comic/CD so as not to damage the appearance of the inner polybag (UNOPENED, natch!) itself...

... When someone comes up with some practical ideas, I'll be interested!

Walt Stone

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#458729 - 02/01/01 12:42 PM Re: TEN POINT PLAN FOR THE COMIC INDUSTRY'S REVIVAL
ATKokmen Offline
Member

Registered: 05/22/00
Posts: 1170
Loc: New York, NY
Quote:
Originally posted by Chris Knowles:
4. UNIFORM CONTENT STANDARDS- I'm not talking about a new Comics Code, I'm talking about a list of standards based on readibilty and comprehension. For example, all stories should have beginnings, middles and ends and text ballons should be near the person talking and panels should all have gutters and coloring should not obscure the art- that kind of thing? Perhaps do market research for this- develop standards that people who don't regularly read comics can understand. Word ballons and panel continuity goes left to right, etc.


This is an interesting and overlooked notion. Though I'm more than a little hesitant to make a call for standardized elements of content and design, certainly some real, rational, studied, expert attention to the reading level of many comics today could be insightful.

Back in the 1970's, PBS & the Children's Television Workshop had a program called "The Electric Company" whose aim was to teach children to read. Marvel did a few things with the show (like airing a regular Spider-Man feature) which included publishing a tie-in comic "Spidey Super-Stories." As I recall, a fairly big deal was made of how "Spidey Super-Stories" had been specifically vetted for its educational merits-- vocabulary, readability, words per balloon, panels per page, size of imagery and type, etc..

It's telling and odd how inconceivable it is that a comic book today would cite such elements as selling points.

I could see, however, that how comics publishers might be reluctant to boldly cite age-appropriateness on their comics. Just as some creators and publishers resist notices like "Suggested for Mature Readers," I could see some blanching at age-specific notations. Still, it does make sense to actually take some time to actually study if the stuff you're creating can credibly be understood by the folks you think you're creating it for.


[This message has been edited by ATKokmen (edited 02-01-2001).]
_________________________
"[T]hough goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind." --John Phillips

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#458730 - 02/01/01 01:37 PM Re: TEN POINT PLAN FOR THE COMIC INDUSTRY'S REVIVAL
Chris Knowles Offline
Member

Registered: 01/23/99
Posts: 875
Loc: USA
Quote:
Originally posted by ATKokmen:
This is an interesting and overlooked notion. Though I'm more than a little hesitant to make a call for standardized elements of content and design, certainly some real, rational, studied, expert attention to the reading level of many comics today could be insightful.

Back in the 1970's, PBS & the Children's Television Workshop had a program called "The Electric Company" whose aim was to teach children to read. Marvel did a few things with the show (like airing a regular Spider-Man feature) which included publishing a tie-in comic "Spidey Super-Stories." As I recall, a fairly big deal was made of how "Spidey Super-Stories" had been specifically vetted for its educational merits-- vocabulary, readability, words per balloon, panels per page, size of imagery and type, etc..

It's telling and odd how inconceivable it is that a comic book today would cite such elements as selling points.

I could see, however, that how comics publishers might be reluctant to boldly cite age-appropriateness on their comics. Just as some creators and publishers resist notices like "Suggested for Mature Readers," I could see some blanching at age-specific notations. Still, it does make sense to actually take some time to actually study if the stuff you're creating can credibly be understood by the folks you think you're creating it for.


Excellent points. If Marvel or DC were really worried about readers, it would be a good idea to do a new Spidey Super Stories for elementary school libraries. It wouldn't even have to be the old characters, it could be new, more modern characters. Or the Cartoon Network characters.

If you're like me, then you believe that reading is the foundation of civilization. I think kids should read more and watch less, and I think that the visual appeal of comics is a great way to encourage kids to read for pleasure. But, you have to deal with what kids enjoy today, not what they enjoyed 40 or 60 years ago.

One public relations effort could be aimed at making comics seem acceptable for all ages, and promote the fact that different age groups can read different types of comics.

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#458731 - 02/01/01 05:53 PM Re: TEN POINT PLAN FOR THE COMIC INDUSTRY'S REVIVAL
Joe Zabel Offline
Member

Registered: 11/23/98
Posts: 2546
Loc: Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
Heidi said, 'Comics are getting tons of positive press in both mainstream and underground media. If folks don't know they're out there by now, they never will. '

You really think so? I think we could receive a lot more, and would benefit from it. I like your proposal for a survey; I think it would show what I've experienced, that the general public does not realize that comics other than superheroes and archies even exist.
_________________________
Joe Zabel

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#458732 - 02/01/01 06:53 PM Re: TEN POINT PLAN FOR THE COMIC INDUSTRY'S REVIVAL
jsunlight Offline
Member

Registered: 02/28/00
Posts: 76
Loc: AZ
I've said it five times, i'll say it again:
cheap or free b&w tabloid comics. Local rather than national. Local characters that tie in to local safety issues such as fire safety and the like with just plain entertainment. Support from city goverments who can use local creations to help with issues like drug use prevention and the like.
Educational/entertainment. LOCAL. No more monopolistic control by corporations of our entertainment. I am working very hard to get my, or OUR tabloid out by the spring. It is not as hard as people say it is, nor does it cost $5,000 to do it, if you know what you are doing. Also they keys to the future of comics: STOP TALKING and START DOING. Start using your ideas rather than armchair quarterbacking. Don't wait for the big companies to pull their head out of their ass. America is founded on the ideals of the independent thinker and business man. So, those of you with all this great ideas, find ways to MAKE THEM WORK in real life, and stop thinking in terms of "if only" or "if i were".

THAT will save comics

feel free to flame away...........


evan

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