Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Most-Read Stories on

Currently, they are, in descending order:
1. Castle Greyhawk (Dungeons & Dragons story)
2. The Last Fantastic Four Story
3. And Death Shall Come (Spider-Man story)
4. Night of the Collector (Avengers story)
5. Superman's Race

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Multi-Tier Model for Comic Book Publishing

[Expanded from a short essay originally posted to Superland in 2006]

The comic book industry needs to cope with certain realities.

Reality #1: Comic book sales have seen some increase in the last six years, but no where near as high as they have been in the past.
Reality #2: The collectors market for comic books is gone and is likely never coming back.
Reality #3: Specialty comic book stores need help staying afloat.
Reality #4: Comic books need wider distribution.
Reality #5: A viable, for-profit model needs to be found for online comics.

The only remaining large publishers of traditional American-style comic books publishing 20+ titles per month are DC Comics and Marvel Comics. These two companies need to be in the vanguard of re-shaping the field.

Trade paperbacks reprinting monthly story arcs have proven themselves to be profitable. Right now, publishers are printing both trade paperbacks and monthly comic books on high quality paper with glossy covers and computerized coloring, essentially doing the same job twice, but the first time (monthly comics) inefficiently and then reprinting them (as trade paperbacks) efficiently.

Few comic books published in the last few decades have achieved collectability (through scarcity) because these collectable-quality comic books are long-lasting and durable.

Comic books have had difficulty finding widespread distribution for years because, with their high cover prices, they are no longer an impulse purchase.

I propose that the major companies reduce collectable-quality monthly comics to 10 titles per month. Popularity should determine the ranks of the top 10, with the company’s best overall selling titles for one whole year being the top 10 titles for the following year. This top tier will conform to how comics are being currently published.

The next 20 titles below the top 10 in sales should be downgraded to a new middle tier. Going back to basics and abandoning the collectable standard of the top tier, these comics should be published as cheaply as possible – recycled newsprint, cheaper coloring, or even black-and-white only. The goals achieved here are a) making comics scarce again (because middle tier comics will not age as well, and b) reduce the price of comics as much as possible to the point where they can be impulse purchases. The former is beneficial to the goal of specialty comic book stores that sell rare comics to collectors and the latter is beneficial to the goal of restoring old venues of comic book distribution, such as grocery stores and drug stores, both of which are looking for impulsive shoppers rather than collectors.

All titles below the top 30 should go web-only (“bottom” tier in this model). Users can buy online comics on an individual issue basis via a service like Paypal or they can subscribe to the online service, pay up front for a certain number of issues per year, and then select those issues themselves as they become available until their tab runs out.

A comic book can, after a year, move up or down from one tier to the next. Anything moving up a tier would be guaranteed to have the previous year’s issues reprinted in trade paperback compilations. Low sales would not force comics off the bottom tier (though more electronic ads might be necessary to offset loss in sales revenue).

Top tier comics would continue to cater to the needs of specialty comic book stores. Middle tier comics would re-open old opportunities to sell cheap, budget-conscious comic books in other stores without directly interfering with specialty comic book store sales. Bottom tier comics with a near-infinite existence on the Web would keep low-selling, but still worthy titles (and more importantly, potentially valuable intellectual properties in the future) from disappearing. By keeping comics segregated into these tiers without printing the same comics in multiple formats, it will keep these three sales outlets from directly competing with each other, while encouraging readers to try different titles in the different formats.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Evolution of the Superhero Action Figure

I remember my first action figures, the 12” tall,
cheaply-made Marvel super heroes from Mego. I had
Spider-Man, Captain America, the Hulk, and Iron Man.
For those who have never seen them, they had
individualized plastic heads, but on identical bodies
with only a cloth costume (even Iron Man!)
distinguishing them from each other. Compared to
these, Kenner’s Star Wars figures from later in the
‘70s actually seemed good!

Things have changed a lot. MacFarlane Toys has made a
name for itself with high production values that do
not make it easy to play with their toys, but makes
them great collectables (I had to pack away my Conan
figure after my young son played with it and parts
started breaking). Toy Biz and Hasbro have lagged
behind with their Marvel action figures. They are
currently too obsessed with points of articulation,
putting them in strange places that detract from the
figures. Kudos to them for daring to release a Baron
Zemo action figure (see any kids flocking to play with
Zemo, one of the few villains left dead for over 20
years?), but there is a round bending joint in their
stomach that makes all characters appear to be

DC Direct has been leading the pack for awhile now.
Directly affiliated with DC Comics, DC Direct produced
a fantastic First Appearance line of action figures (I
have Captain Marvel and Green Lantern) and a line
based on Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier mini-series that
may possibly look even better (though I sadly don’t
own any yet).

What really excited me and led to my writing this,
though, is that I now have two figures from DC
Direct’s Classics line – Orion and the Devil. These
figures look great – perhaps not as authentically
Kirby-esque as they would be in the First Appearance
line (is it even possible to translate Jack Kirby’s
art into action figures?), but they look fantastic and
are the epitome of articulation. The heads don’t just
turn side-to-side – they are on ball joints that
swivel! Better still, the arm articulation looks more
natural than on most action figures and the ankle
joints – usually the doom of a figure’s stability, if
they bend their at all – appear sturdy. Such
innovation! Sigh, we have come so far from the toys
of my youth. I wish I’d had these back then!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More Reading Program Artwork

The names around the edges of the book were added by someone else (and, I feel, detract from it). The image was not used extensively in promotion, but at least it lasted throughout the program instead of being replaced by new art, like the frog picture...