Tagged: John Romita Jr.

Martha Thomases: The Comic Book Fan as Retailer

The New York Comic-Con is this week, which is hardly about comics at all anymore. It attracts more than a hundred thousand people to the unbearable Javits Center, all of them drawn to a celebration of pop culture, fantasy, and science fiction.

With all these people clearly interested in the genre, why do so few of them buy comics?

There isn’t one single answer, of course, but today I’m going to discuss the way the comic book publishers market their wares. Specifically, I’m going to talk about how they sell their books to retailers.

Comic books used to be distributed to the marketplace like other periodicals. The publishers would print and ship many more copies than they thought they could sell, ship them to newsstands and other outlets, and accept returns on the unsold copies. Because most comics and graphic novels are now distributed through the direct market, retailers order (and pay for) only the quantity they think they can sell.

Therefore, the primary customer for the publishers is the retailer and not the reader. The publisher does not care, in the short terms, if the retailer sells all the copies ordered. The publisher still gets paid. Of course, a thoughtful publisher will realize that selling the retailer too many copies will eventually cause the retailer to go bankrupt.

Too many publishers are not thoughtful. And too many retailers get into the business only because they love comics, not because they understand marketing. Or business.

If you read the (brilliant, I think) post in the link, you’ll see what information retailers are given to make their ordering decisions. He cites the example of Superman Unchained as a tragic lost opportunity. The book began at the same time the Man of Steel movie was released. It had Scott Snyder on script and Jim Lee on art. It should have been a huge hit.

Instead, it’s dribbling to a close.

The writer of the original post gives a lot of good reasons why he thinks this happened (bad title, unreliable scheduling). I think, if we step back, there are even more reasons.

The biggest problem is that the publisher thinks every possible customer is just like the retailer.

I love Scott Snyder as a writer, and I think Jim Lee’s art is dynamic and appealing. That said, I don’t think very many of the people who went to the movie know who either man is. Therefore, any new series designed to take advantage of the buzz about the movie needs to stress the character and the story more than the creative team.

The same is true for this summer’s bit Superman event, the Geoff Johns/John Romita, Jr. team. To comics fans this is great, but to the average person, a complete enigma. This is especially sad because I think Johns does a great job when he focuses on the most human and engaging aspects of the characters. His Superman is open and appealing to everyone, not just people who have been reading comics for decades.

And those people won’t ever know it, if the only way the title is promoted is to hype the creative team.

One of the biggest changes to happen to comics in my lifetime is that we now celebrate the talent. Fans know their favorite writers and artists, and will sample many different kinds of books because their favorites are involved. This is a terrific development. It shows the marketplace has matured, and allows creators to leverage their popularity into actual money.

The downside is when publishers think hiring great talent is all they need to do. Writers and artists can do fantastic work, but if the publishers don’t market these creations so that customers know what they are buying, it won’t matter.

Retailers have a responsibility as well. A well-promoted and designed store will invite in new customers and display merchandise in a way that is both fun and informative.

Consider other entertainment options that you purchase. When you decide to go to a movie, for example, you might consider the cast and, if you’re more involved, the director and the screenwriter. But first you want to know if it will make you laugh or cry, shiver with terror or clap your hands with delight. You want to know what kind of experience is being offered.

Comic book stores and comic book publishers who rely only on customers who are already customers will fail. We, as an industry, need to create new customers every day.

Or at least every Wednesday.


Marc Alan Fishman: Dr. Photoshoot…


How I learned to stop caring what someone more talented than I can do, and love my models instead.

When last we spoke, I’d revealed the initial steps to Unshaven Comics building a book from the ground up. We covered our notes process, outlining, and then the breakdown. That leads us to the first steps that require artistic direction. Shall we venture forth then, true believer?

The Gestalt of Gestures

With our breakdowns in hand, Matt Wright (penciler, inker, craft beer drinker) and I then build each page in loose gestures; I create the final digital page and the panels, and Matt and I frame each figure within the panel. When complete, we’re better able to see if the story we’re telling is compelling. We can test the ebb and flow of action, as well as pace out the most dramatic beats. In short, our gestural comps help us literally sketch out a complete comic.

DreadnutsThis is by no means a step to wash over quickly, albeit it’s not one that takes incredibly long to complete. Case in point, we finished an issue this past Saturday night. Most of the time we would read aloud the beat from the breakdown and then discuss how we envisioned it being laid out on a page. Matt had a trusty sketch book next to him, alongside my open page in Adobe Illustrator, where I lay out the panels, as well as digitally ink my pages. Over those final six hours we tend to bicker and banter about the best ways to capture action, and drama. We pour over graphic novels of our favorite artists (John Romita Jr., Alex Ross, and Brent Anderson come to mind and to finger, often). We sketch, erase, debate, sketch, agree, and then retranslate to loose (“terrible looking”) sketches within the pre-made pages. These comps now serve as visual shorthand for our next steps.

While we’ll obviously refine compositions and continue to craft the page as we go… this step is the most heavy lifting we do during pre-production. Shortly thereafter? It’s time to gather our resources. In simpler terms, it’s Photoshoot time!

Just Shoot Me. Well not me… Them.

The picture that came emblazoned at the beginning of this post was taken a week ago at our fifth Samurnaut photoshoot. A bit of backstory:

When Unshaven Comics sported mere stubble on our chinny-chin-chins, Matt was our only artist. While I did do all the coloring, letter, half of the writing, and all of the graphic design… I feared venturing out of my comfort zone. Because Matt is very much my brother from another mother, he had no fear looking me in the eye and calling me out – get drawing, or die trying. I did get a BFA with a concentration in drawing and printmaking. I did know how to draw. But my fear that a comic creator worth his salt had to be able to work without reference kept me clinging to those tasks I was more than qualified for. Long story short, I swallowed my pride and accepted the fact that I could make sequential panel art that I was satisfied with (as in: I’m happy with it, but I’d never be one to say it’s anything more than passable)… so long as I had reference for literally everything I’d need to draw.

So when we created the Samurnauts, we needed models. Lucky for me, I am wealthy with friends. Even luckier: many of them are naturally gifted and funny folks willing to become super heroes and zombie-cyborg space pirates for the price of some pizza and access to my cache of Nerf weaponry. With each comic we create, Unshaven Comics open-casts our way through each part, and rents out a local venue that will leave us alone long enough to literally stage each panel, and capture it on digital film. Thank Rao we have no shame acting like 13 year-olds around each other.

And, after a few short hours of contorting, twisting, punching, kicking, nerfing, and general whackado, we break so that we Unshaven Lads can return to our lair for the next portion of comic creation.

Sage Advice I Was Once Given

“Learn to highlight your strengths and hide your weaknesses from the public eye. But behind the scenes, never stop learning or challenging yourself to overcome those things you fear. If you can’t draw hands, then you need to draw them everyday until you no longer fret over them. You’ll never have to love your work – you’ll just need to be able to live with it.”

And next week…

… I’ll pull the curtain back even further in a chapter I like to call “Your Mother’s A Tracer!”