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Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Best Column in Comics. 

I'm tardy in reporting on it, but Steven Grant's got a new Permanent Damage up over at CBR. There's some stuff at the front about Micah Wright, but I believe the story barely deserves thinking about, let alone repeating or opining on, for pretty much the same reason Grant does.

Nobody died because of Micah Wright's fabrication.

So enough of that.

The real meat of the column, the stuff that actually does have an affect on comics as a whole, is Grant's unerring cross-section of CrossGen's myriad failures. He empashizes, again and again, the reality that if you don't have enough product to back up your hype, you'll fail, no matter how much money you throw at the market.

When Dave Olbrich was editor at Malibu, he was fond of saying perception is reality, but that's not true and it never has been. Perception can be a building block for reality, but perception unrooted (at least a little) in reality will ultimately collapse. For awhile, you can create a public perception of yourself or your company, but, again, unless you can back it up with something solid, eventually everyone cops to the emperor's new clothes and past that point it's hard to win any credibility back on your say-so alone. A problem with a lot of would-be comics publishers is that they've come to believe enough hype will make itself come true. They also convince themselves that all they have to do is publish, and both readers and ancillary income stream deals – movies, toys, amusement park rides, whatever – will come raining onto them. Too many predicate their long term success on that. Certainly in the last couple years Alessi was more prone to talk about his upcoming media deals (and their potential for saving the company, though none have yet materialized) than about the comics.

I would argue that this holds true for the Big Two, as well. It's easy to take this diagram of failure and look at Marvel's less savory practices, but I would suggest DC's lackadaisical approach to their DCU titles is equally as irresponsible and dangerously static. (If you're not Superman or Batman, for instance, you can forget about getting high-profile creative teams and gargantuan marketing pushes.)

The lesson is twofold:

For young and wannabe publishers, the conceit is that cult of personality will be enough to get your titles sold, and if you have gobs of money to make everything purdy and buy your way into large distribution, all the better. In short, if you have a noisy business presence, you don't need to be doing much creatively.

For folks like the Big Two, the reasoning is different, but the end result is the same. The Big Two seem to be operating on the idea that the fans will, by and large, buy up anything they put out. Sadly, this is true -- to a degree. Marvel arrogantly shoves out just about anything they want and doesn't even bother to check what the fan base thinks, and DC lets its much-smaller imprints garner artistic cred while doing almost nothing of interest on their DCU titles. The end conceit is, as above, that if you have a noisy (and staid) business presence, you don't need to be doing much creatively. People will come because by god, you're motherfucking Marvel, and the fans should be thankful you're casting pearls before them in the first place.

Does this mean that to succeed, a start-up should be comprised exclusively of creative dreamers who can balance a checkbook, and let it all work from there?

No. Because you need business sense, too.

What does it mean needs to be done?

I can't tell you. I'm just here to pose the question.

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