Let’s say you realize the dream. By some incredible twist of fate, you run one of the major corporate comic book companies. What would you do to fix the current problems? Because they are epic problems and ones that will most likely never be fixed. But let’s take a stab at it.
A fanboy can dream, can’t he?
Step 1: Acquiring the Power
For any plan to work, you need the corporate power to make the changes. And not just the warmed over, pseudo power of a middle management technocrat, just trying to keep the company afloat— No, you would need the authority to make sweeping changes for years to rectify and reverse the many problems.
The obvious choice for corporate guys would be to return to someone who had done it before. You’d need some head honcho with a fantastic track record and the will to make the necessary changes. The only editor from the old days that I could think of that would fit that bill is Jim Shooter. He’s 72 now. Might be too old to pull it off, but he would be my choice.
Barring someone like that, you’d need an almost Trumpian figure that would be bold, brash, and willing to take the slings and arrows of the comic book and entertainment media. And let me tell you something, pulling this off— You would get tremendous pushback from the Marxists that got us in this mess.
The “based” choice might be someone like Ethan Van Sciver, Eric July, or Ya Boi Zack, but these guys are making money on their own creations. Using their street cred to build back Marvel or DC slows or stops the progress of their own work. They’re already making millions of dollars on their projects; why derail that to save the competition? I wouldn’t.
A guy like me would take the gig because I’m not as high profile, and I’m certainly not making millions of dollars. I’d be in it for the money, but so would anyone else that would take this job. But you can’t pick a figurehead who is only about money. It has to be someone passionate about the medium and willing to try some new and bold strategies. One of the high-profile creators may be able to step in, as Joe Quesada did, but because of the current talent pool at the Big Two— No names come to mind.
If it were me, I’d have no problem instituting a plan of action. I’m not beholden to the corporate interests, and even if I fail, my profile would be higher and my pockets full of cash. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, it is me. What to do first.
Step 2: Identify the Problems
It’s not just about the woke, although the woke mind virus is currently the biggest problem. But let’s list the major ones in order of importance:
- The Woke Mind Virus has infected the industry and the company, damaging the character’s brand, reputation, and creative viability.
- The trust between the fans and the company has never been worse.
- Comic book sales are in the toilet compared to where they were at their modern peak.
- Comic books are too expensive.
- The business model of comics hasn’t led it to success in recent years and needs an update.
- The comic book division needs to stand apart from the movies and TV division to become more than just a petri dish for them.
- The comic book division needs to be profitable so the company will allow it to continue to operate and not sacrifice it to boost something else in another division.
- Comic books’ reputation must be lifted to expand the industry.
Okay, now that we’ve identified some of the problems, let’s start solving them now that I’m in charge.
Step 3: Fire Everyone
The Woke Mind Virus has tainted the industry, and I probably don’t need to go over that history in great detail for fans of ClownfishTV. Everyone from the editors to the talent to the EIC has probably tweeted something woketarded that angered the fanbase. At this point, the damage is so widespread it would seem pointless to attempt to salvage the handful of employees that kept their heads down and kept their jobs. It’s time for a new atmosphere in the office, and starting fresh— Including new talent— Sets the tone for a new era. Any lost talent could come back when things were stable again.
I would fire everyone.
Step 4: Shutdown for Six Months to a Year
Hiring a new full-time staff will take a while, and there won’t be any comics for several months. There’s no sense in continuing the failed policies and storylines of the past. My plan would be to close it down and relaunch it without any baggage from the previous regime. Six months to a year and we could plan a relaunch with the new staff.
Ideally, you would attempt to time it so that the shutdown and relaunch were controlled and planned. But it’s more essential to institute the changes than to rush back into production and risk going right back into the toilet. You could line up several reprints of classic editions and finish out any contracts to keep some product in the pipeline, but the gap in publication would be a strong signal to the fans that things will really change.
Step 5: Set the tone for the new order
I’ve heard rumors that in one corporate comic book company’s offices, the male characters have been humiliated on the walls and cubicles of the offices. (I wrote a parody of a corporate comics company in Hollywoke: Another Novel where this scenario happens.) All this would have to go. A fresh coat of paint, a new professional look, and a plan moving forward that’s about servicing the fans and growing the industry.
Nothing from the previous regime must be present when the new staff arrives. Nothing. The new hires either must not be infected with the woke mind virus. There will be no DEI department, no ESG, no tolerance of virtue signaling politics— None.
Step 6: Hire the support staff and editors
Support staff who are not editors or talent would be trained. For them, it’s vital that they are not leaking any secrets to storylines. This would be forbidden and written into the employment contracts.
This would also be true for the editors, along with a strict social media policy to avoid the previous regime’s mistakes. Employees would be expected to be positive on social media, especially to the fans, and to keep their political takes far away from anything work-related.
The easiest way to avoid social media problems is to address them before they become a problem. Telling your employees what’s expected of them (and what’s not) is far better than letting them run amok and then informing them. Generally, when you tell people they could lose their job if they insist on arguing politics with fans, they would tend to avoid doing that. You can’t fire someone for their politics, but you can fire someone who makes the company look bad. Arguing with fans makes the company look bad.
And I would hire editors who actually want to be editors- not writers who are only doing editing to get a writing job down the line. You’d need professionals that keep the talent on-brand but also give them enough leeway to be creative and do what they do best. The editor’s job is not to police language and politics but to keep the writers on-brand, clean up their typos and keep them from driving the storyline off a cliff. Good talent takes risks, so they need some latitude, but editors must know when to reign them in.
Step 7: Hire the Talent
Writers to the front of the line first. The scripts need to go into production as soon as possible. This will be a loss leader for the company, so it would be essential to convince them from the outset that a total teardown and rebuild is necessary. The talent should be experienced comic writers, perhaps some familiar faces marginalized during the dark days. I would also offer jobs to popular crowd funders that could bring a significant audience share with them. And I’m talking about a real fanbase, as in sales, not a faux fanbase on social media.
The Battle Plan: Remaking the Business Side
Okay, we have an office full of new staff that aren’t a bunch of activists. We’re funded (for now), and we’ve recruited talent that isn’t a bunch of activists. How do we remodel the business end?
Cover price is a huge hurdle to overcome in modern American comics. Look at what you get right now— Most comics at DC and Marvel are either $3.99 or $4.99. This is for a comic that’s about 40 pages, but almost half of it is ads. Imagine watching a half-hour sitcom with 15 minutes of commercials spread throughout. I’d doubt you’d ever watch that show again.
We need a new format and a new price. Five issues for five bucks. That’s 110 pages of story with the same amount of ads, so a total of 128 pages per book. You’d group the titles according to a theme.
For instance: House of the Bat might have Detective Comics, Batman, Robin, Nightwing, and Catwoman. A Spiderman Anthology might have Amazing Spiderman, Spectacular Spiderman, Web of Spiderman, Spiderman, and Venom. Each would be priced at $4.99.
Under the current sales model, that wouldn’t be very profitable. The top comic only sells around a few hundred thousand on a good day. Those are rookie numbers. The goal would be to get all the main books over a million sales within five years. You make less money per book but sell more books. Combine the audiences and up the quality. No more overpriced mini-series that spiral down the drain for six issues and disappear.
More comic book sales mean you can increase the rate for the ad buys. So those 18 pages will start bringing in a lot more revenue, which further offsets your costs and adds to the profit. To appease our corporate masters and raise the profile of comic books, the money has to come in. Otherwise, it’s over.
A relaunch would also allow corporate publishers to return to cheaper newsprint. To entice collectors, corporate comics followed the collectible market down a dark rabbit hole from which it has yet to emerge. In the process, they became far more concerned with astroturfing collectibles than making the comic popular enough to collect in the first place. If something’s popular, people will collect it. First and foremost, this is the goal. This is just a luxury the medium doesn’t need.
No more special covers for every fifty or 100 issues ordered, no more chromium covers, no more alternate covers— No more trying to make the comics appeal to collectors. Build the readership, and people will collect. It’s what made them collect in the first place.
The Anthology Format
And by concentrating the page length in fewer comics, you not only combine their audiences but you give editorial more flexibility. If one story has to go longer, so be it. You just need to take away from another issue. Artist miss a deadline? No problem, simply insert one of the many inventory stories you’ve got lying around.
In fact, you could reprint classic stories within the anthology to offset costs. This way, when you reintroduce a character that hasn’t been seen in decades, you could also reprint his first appearance to give the reader a refresher course on what he’s all about. And if the story hasn’t been seen in 20 years, most fans aren’t going to be upset you reprinted it since they’re not old enough to have read it the first time it came out.
This format lets you introduce new titles and characters sandwiched between popular ones. This way, you can give the character a chance to develop an audience rather than throwing him to the wolves and going down in flames in a six-issue mini-series.
You could redesign the anthology like this: House of the Bat: Two Batman Titles, one Robin title, one Villain title, and one new character related to Batman.
According to CreatorResource.com, DC Comics is paying about $200 for a penciler and inker together, while Marvel is paying $250 for a line artist to do both. Writers can get $100 a page or more, and you also have to add the colorists and letterers, who earn less than the artist. Let’s ballpark it at $400 per page for everything on each team. So for 110 pages, you’re gonna need $44,000 for the interiors.
You’ll also need a cover, an editor, promotion, and all the other expenses in running a company spread out over the entire line of comics. Let’s say roughly (very roughly) it will cost you around $50,000 an issue to make for production costs.
Out of the $4.99, how much is profit? Retailers typically get 60% discounts on big corporate comics, so the distributor only collects two dollars a book. You have to sell to the distributor for a dollar, which means— In order to double your investment, you need to make the entire comic book for fifty cents or less. Let’s say you get it to precisely fifty cents, so you are making fifty cents per comic. That means you need to sell 100,000 copies just to break even and 200,000 to make a good profit. Maybe even 300,000 to be safe since we’re not factoring in shipping costs, promotional costs, and other unforeseen factors.
So selling a million copies monthly should cover it nicely, but our floor is around 200-250K per monthly issue. Remember, we’re selling fewer comics with all the titles combined. The cost vs. benefit for the fan is so high they buy everything that comes out because it’s affordable. I would start things at two anthologies a week and ramp it up after 6-8 months after the sales projections. It may take as long as two years to win the fans back.
The Editorial Battle Plan
Now, how do we do this hard reset without boring the fans? Simple, you go back to the basics and what’s worked over the years: Clark Kent pines for Lois Lane because she has no idea he’s Superman. Spiderman is a single guy living with Aunt May in Queens, struggling to get by— Not married to his high school crush, Mary Jane Watson. Batman broods in the Batcave while the Rogues Gallery hides in Gotham or chills out in Arkham Asylum.
But we don’t start at the beginning with an origin; we just do a quick recap. And just like a classic comic, we start in the middle of the action. Our hero doing what he does best, fighting crimes and taking names. Which history will be considered canon, and which will not? That’s going to have to be thought out much more thoroughly than we have space for here. Suffice it to say, the woketardry of the last ten years is out, but I also wouldn’t want to spend two years’ worth of issues treading old ground with origin stories everyone knows.
By digging through the history of the characters, one might pinpoint a moment in the character’s history where the comic went from being on-brand to off-brand and then continue it from the good issue. You might just telescope the history of the characters ignoring the bad and keeping the good, but you would want it streamlined. You would want to avoid a dozen characters in costume running around the Batcave.
Each 22-page issue would be one story complete. The only exception would be within the anthology itself. So if you wanted to do a 44-page story, you would take space with one of the other issues. Perhaps you would stagger the creative teams, allowing one to go “fallow” for a month so a double-sized story could be inserted. Again, this gives us more editorial flexibility, and it’s more dynamic for the reader experience.
In a superhero universe, continuity is king. One of the reasons people read corporate superhero comics was that the comic books were a window into another universe. You weren’t reading a story but catching up on what was happening in this other world. Again, this has enormous reader appeal and drives the sales of additional comics, especially when you mention them in other stories: “Captain America’s Avenger’s Quinjet was damaged in his battle with the Red Skull during Captain America Issue #780, part of the Avengers Monthly!”
Part of our staff would include a Continuity Coordinator whose job is to take approved scripts and plug in relevant character updates into an online database that only the team can access. This would allow writers and editors to know what was happening in each other’s comic books and coordinate appropriately. Additionally, they would be responsible for a “bible” for each comic book to know who is the lead character, his origin, equipment, powers, etc. Any new writer brought in could be got up to speed as quickly as possible.
Any business needs innovation, and the comic book industry is desperate for it. I would put a two-year moratorium on old villains. Just put them aside and tell the creative teams all new opponents. Mix it up; give us something new. (That wouldn’t mean you couldn’t mention the old villains. This would be especially important if you’re starting in the middle, but people need to want to see the old villains again. Give them time off and bring them back when their appearance means something.)
Mostly, we just need new blood. New villains and new superheroes and just regular people running around the corporate comic universe. In fact, to further attract the crowd funders, I would allow them to bring in their own creator-owned characters for an issue (where appropriate). They could keep their rights; I’m only interested in the print rights for that particular story to print it as is.
Some might say this would give a creator a leg up with his creator-owned work. Then he walks away with the audience means for the corporate comic universe. I see that as a win-win for corporate comics. The PR would be good. Indeed, the creator community would be happy, which could lead to further crossovers in the future. Why wouldn’t I want to be known for discovering talent? Whether it’s an artist, writer, and/or character— If the company I’m running is doing all the discovering, guess whose comics become valuable? Guess where the best place to be is if you want to keep up with the innovation going on in the medium?
Some people believe that if someone else does well, you’re somehow doing not as well. This isn’t true. The pie isn’t a finite thing that we must fight over. Comic books have a tremendous amount of room to expand. And with the money and resources of a corporate comic book company, the possibilities are endless. Wasting your time trying to silence the competition is a short-term gain.
The Battle Plan: Marketing and Promotion
Okay, so we’ve spent a lot of money, changed how we do business, and now we need to start making this work. If the cash doesn’t roll in, we’re screwed, and everything falls apart. So the big question is, how do we get people to buy corporate comics again?
Tell the Story
The first big announcement, besides the relaunch, is why the relaunch happened and everything that has changed. Comic book fans, especially those who left, would have to be told that there have been major changes. If they just give the corporate comic books a second look, we can win back the fans. The value per dollar and the quality of the stories— This will bring back the fanboys.
Build the Readership
Readership can only be grown with exciting stories. Yes, famous artists can add a great visual style to the comics, but when the story goes nowhere, the comic is quickly forgotten. Storytelling has to be the lynchpin for an all-new era. The possibilities in a comic book used to feel endless. It has to feel that way again in the new generation. When fans inside the comic book conventions are talking about the stories again, we’ll know we’ve won them back.
Television played a significant role in the launch of Image Comics in the 90s. After Rob Liefeld appeared in a Levi’s commercial, everyone knew who he was, even if they didn’t know any of his comic book characters. Image also gave away custom skateboards with their characters on MTV’s Remote Control game show, which was popular at the time.
Too often, corporate comics have relied on name recognition alone to get the word out. Part of the problem is because they are part of a multinational corporation, no one at corporate wanted the comic book guys making a different version of their movie character popular. (You wouldn’t want the Azrael Batman to be out when a new Batman movie was on the horizon. Just like you probably didn’t want to kill off Ms. Marvel before the movie came out.)
Before initiating any of these plans, I would have to clarify to the corporate honchos that the comic book company needs dynamic marketing initiatives like the ones I mentioned from Image. This means that either the media giant puts my talent in the pipeline for interviews, gives us product placement on the corporate TV shows and movies, and allows us some flexibility in making our name, or what’s the point? If I do all this work and you leave it to die on the vine, I can’t sell a million comics a month.
Stan Lee wasn’t just a publisher and writer; he became a comic book icon. His catchphrase, his look— It all worked together so fans could join up and be part of the Marvel experience. Rob Liefeld’s popularity helped him. I knew him way better than any of his characters. If you have seen any of my videos, you know I can handle that aspect of the gig easily, but it just wouldn’t be me.
A corporate comics company would need a few friendly faces and especially that of the talent. Public personas must be honest and genuine, but they must also be kept from serious controversy that could negatively impact the brand. Even well-intentioned promotions can go sideways and make the company look bad, so everything must be coordinated to be on-brand and positive.
And here’s where it gets dangerous. Back in the day, advertising in print, doing interviews, and even going on television and radio was limited. On the Internet, podcasts can sometimes drag out for hours allowing someone to say something in the final minutes that gets clipped and then goes viral negatively.
These days, it’s almost impossible to keep a lid on this stuff. If one of the talent says something stupid, you need to do damage control and wait for it to blow over. Initially, the social media of the talent would be tightly controlled. The focus of the launch must be the stories and the fans. Slowly, we’d roll out the talent for podcasts and social media clips and keep things controlled by having our own weekly recorded podcast. (That way, we could edit out any potential accident leaks.)
Later, once the company was stable, we could slowly loosen the restrictions and do some live streams with the fans. The critical part would be to train all our employees to stay away from negative interactions that could hurt them and the company.
We’re going to have a lot of extra comics during the early days, and that’s fine. I would overprint quite a bit initially because comics are very cheap to print, and the company can leverage them to its advantage. So what do we do with those extra comics? Giveaways.
Radio stations, contests, prizes at schools— Perhaps a mobile van that goes to schools the district has singled out for an excellent job. You give comics to all the middle schoolers.
Comic book retailers might balk, but the reality is we’re helping them. A kid that gets a free comic and suddenly realizes how incredible The Hulk is again is more likely to go to the comic book store to get the next issue. I’m not just talking about Free Comic Book Day; I’m talking about a regular concerted effort to get comic books into the hands of potential fans nationwide.
This is the advantage of being part of a multinational corporation that comic book companies must take advantage of. These corporate entities have representatives in every population center worldwide, especially in the United States. You just have to give them the assignment, ship the comics, and the deed is done. It costs some money, but not the millions upon millions a national ad campaign might cost.
E-Comics have to be cheaper. That’s just the reality. Amazon sells hard books, print on demand, for reasonable prices, and ebooks much cheaper. Comic books need to be the same way. This is not taking away from the comic book stores. It’s growing the fanbase, so there are more potential customers for them.
If a print comic book is $4.99, then I would price the e-comic at $1.99. This is roughly the same ratio, print to digital, that Amazon does with my book, The Pineys. It would be straight-up files you could read with no frills. The focus is the story and art, not an exciting new platform where the word balloons appear and disappear in order, and there are effects and movement. That’s not comic books; that’s something else.
I would also start a small webcomics division with daily content based on the characters in the comic books. The daily comic would be free, but the library would only be accessible with one of the paid subscriptions on the site after a while. Yes, some of the comics would be pirated and passed around; that’s to be expected. That happened in print before the Internet, believe it or not. That’s a good sign when your content is good enough that people want to steal it. How many people do you think will bother stealing the wedding issue of Tony Stark and the White Queen?
Corporate comic books need to return to the racks that people walk past daily. This used to be located at the newspaper stand, but no more. The supermarket was probably the last bastion of magazines and print, and even that is mostly starting to fade. So where do we go other than the comic book stores?
That largely depends on which corporate brand and their access to places like Walmart, Target, and other department stores. Cutting deals with mini-mart stories like 7-Eleven, Buc ee’s, Wawa, Pilot Flying J’s, Loves, etc., would also be critical. When you’re on a trip with your kid, you need something to keep them occupied. Buying them a comic book is just the thing.
Again, this isn’t competing with the comic book stores; it’s helping them. A comic book fan goes to a comic book store because they want a nice copy of an issue and don’t want to miss one. These other stores are not full of white boxes and mylar bags. You get customers interested in reading, and eventually, they graduate to the comic book store, so they don’t miss an issue. That’s how it used to work, and it can work that way again.
So I’ve outlined the plan; the question is: Will it happen? Very likely not. While I think profit would come within 3-5 years, it is a risk, and corporations are not known for taking them. Sadly, anyone in the pipeline to take over the major corporate comic book companies is unlikely to initiate such a plan since it would risk their job. It’s easier to keep your head down and do what the corporate guys want, even if that leads to your eventual termination for lack of sales. You can always blame the talent or the fans until the corporate guys get sick of your excuses.
At least when it all burns down, you can point to the plan and say, “See? We told you how to save yourselves!”
Until next time fanboys, see you at the con!
Check out our previous Comic-Con 101: Top 20 Reasons Feminism is Ruining Comics.
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