Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Interblog Dialogue. 

(Hey, that rhymes!)

Dave over at The Intermittent speculates on just what it is that causes titles to sink: Is it really the lack of advertising or knowledge, or simply the preference of the fans in action?

So how can it be a failure of advertising when good comics die? How many of the hundred thousand or so regular comics readers out haven't heard that Sleeper is a good comic? Can there really be that many? This isn't snark; I'm really curious. Is the problem really, pace Steven Grant, that folks aren't finding out about good comics....or is it that the people who make up the bulk of the direct market simply have very different ideas then the comics cognoscenti as to what constitutes a "good comic?"

I suspect it might be the latter. And this is not a slam on the direct market; the market is what it is. And while I'd love it if tons of others shared my loves, I don't see divergent tastes as evidence of moral failure. Different strokes, and all that. But pinpointing why a book like WildC.A.T.S. v. 3.0 didn't sell is important, if only so its mistakes can be avoided (assuming that's possible). Maybe a lack of advertising really is to blame, at least in part. Before we accept that as recieved wisdom, though, let's make sure it's true.

The "received wisdom" part was linked to my entry regarding helping out titles while they're still alive, the one where I assigned my readers to go out and buy an issue of Lone and Runaways.

Dave's onto something, but first I want to clarify what my received wisdom was.

I agree with Steven Grant that retroactive activism is a waste of time and doesn't serve any real purpose. It's kvetching for the sake of kvetching, and lord knows us online comics fans love to bitch. I simply want them to take a more active role in the health of the titles they love.

I do believe that advertising now is greater than it probably ever has been, in the comics community. Back up: that's true, to a degree. How often do you see Fables advertised in Superman/Batman? Not very bloody often, that's what. Part of that is advertising to the demographic; part of that is a willful ghettoizing of titles. This is a reductive system: if you advertise Vertigo titles only to Vertigo readers, it stands to reason your base readership isn't really going to grow, is it?

Yes, there are the retarded segment of the fanboys that wear their aversion to anything new proudly on their sleeves. Yes, there are insufferable snobs on the other end of the spectrum, sniffing their noses at anything with a cape on the cover, foretelling the End of Comics As We Know It whenever they see another Wolverine guest appearance. These people are equally as backwards as the fanboys; their drug of choice (to the exclusion of all else) is simply different. Same shit, different pile.

Those people resist change like no other, and remain insular to the point of creative death. But they are the extreme minority, repeat EXTREME MINORITY of the comic book fanbase, the two opposing points on the spectrum. There's a fuckton of parity in between those two points, of people who read 90% superhero books and maybe a little bit of Planetary, to the guy who reads nothing but AiT/PlanetLar's booklist with a little dash of Batman for seasoning. There's something for every taste in the comics world, but not all of it is getting equal shelf space in every DM store from coast to coast.

So I don't know that the argument that "the market is what it is" is enough for me.

Let's say, as a hypothetical, public television is absolutely nothing but cop dramas. If you want a little bit of variety, maybe some law dramas and hospital dramas, you get your basic cable installed for a bit of a fee and a bit of a hassle. If you really want some variety, maybe some comedies, some horror, and so on and so forth, you have to get premium cable, for a larger fee and a greater hassle.

And if you want every possible bit of fiction and nonfiction alike, you have to get some mega-service, like 500 channels of cable or satellite TV. This costs you installation fees, absurd monthly fees, the hassle of dealing with service changes, changing rates, and a lot of extra baggage besides.

It's feasible that a person with nothing but cop dramas wants more out of his TV, but he doesn't have the time, patience, and/or available service to get more. The market is what it is, sure, but willing customers are also limited by outside factors. Have you seen the crap on the three networks lately? Does any of that speak to you? Does it speak to the majority of the people you know?

Most likely the answer is "no." But you have to deal with it, because that's what takes up the most space and gets the most exposure.

I would also say that Dave's argument is based on the assumption that every single comic book fan is tapped into the blogosphere, news sites, and Wizard magazine on a regular basis. I say this isn't so. How many regulars do you know on message boards and blogs? Maybe a thousand, in all? Two thousand? The major blogs (such as Fanboy Rampage) get about 800 unique visitors a day -- a miniscule percentage of the estimated couple hundred thousand comic book readers.

We are not all tapped into the pulse of the industry, due in part to sheer ignorance of the matter or willful avoidance. I would suggest that the online talkers, like us, are the extreme minority of fandom.

The rest just don't know about Rocket Comics. Or Oni. Or Avatar. The DM stores don't advertise them and in many cases can't afford to give them shelf space. So they're not talking about them, and their shoppers never learn. The "the market is what it is" argument presupposes that every single comic book buyer knows everything there is to know and acts on it accordingly. I do not believe this is the case. They just need exposure.

Which is where what I was talking about earlier today comes into play: comics advocacy. If you like something, spread the word. The response I got from people over the GREAT LOSERS GIVEAWAY was enough proof to me that there's comic fans and non-comic fans alike who want to see something new and different, and were almost searching for an excuse to try out a new title they knew nothing about.

People are not ignorant unless you treat them as ignorant.

Which is what, I think, most comic book companies do, unconsciously. They aren't trying to snare new fans; they're trying to keep the same fans in circulation on similar titles. There's no growth, and no organized push for growth. So, bit by bit, that's what me and my good buddies are trying to do. Create awareness. Create growth. Reach new audiences. Spread the word.

And you know what?

It works.

ADDENDUM: Rick over at Eat More People chimes in with his two cents, and it's worth taking a gander at. Us bloggers get lucid and prolific in the wee hours of the morning, don't we?

ADDENDUM, PART DEUX: Shane chimes in with his thoughts on the advertising/market debate, taking more of a center role (being that Shane is a rational person.) Interesting thoughts, and a quick analysis of what a gaming magazine's ads look like compared to the ads in a comic book. It's enlightening.

NeilAlien also chimes in and, in his usual style, summarizes everything perfectly in like a paragraph. That bastard.

(Whew. Kind of went off on a rant there, didn't I? Don't get me wrong, Dave -- I'm not pissed at you or something, not even close. You said something provocative, and I responded. Bravo.)

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