Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Comic Book Distribution- Part 3

First This

One more thing about mass-market distribution….

The other day, while making a point about digital piracy, Nick Yankovec said that “…most of the stuff available is overpriced and not good enough.” 

Yep.  In response, I said this:   
I think I've been pretty clear in all my rants that "not good enough" is the main problem with comics today. Price and other concerns exacerbate the problem.
(…)
Quality is key. 
November 18, 2011 6:47 PM

People in and around the comic book industry, and especially creators who aren’t knowledgeable about the business side, often blame poor sales on bad distribution. 

I attended a Friends of Lulu meeting some years back at which the main thing being discussed—as is often the case—was the poor and declining sales of comic books, in that instance, especially those by, for or about women. Every one of the several dozen people in that room agreed that the problem was distribution. Except me.

People said the usual: If only the books got “out there…!” Why can’t there be a comic book rack in every Starbuck’s? The books should be at checkout counters everywhere! Why aren’t there more bookstores selling comics? And why are they so badly displayed in the ones that do sell them? Toys R Us!  McDonald’s! Etc.

As the one and only person in the room who knew much about distribution and had experience dealing with all manner of channels of distribution, I finally spoke up. I started to talk about the difficulties.

To sell at the checkout counter you have to pay for the “real estate,” and that’s some pretty expensive real estate. You have to “buy the wire,” that is, the racks. You have to service those racks with your own field force or a jobber—the store personnel aren’t going to take proper care to see that your books, and only your books are in your racks. That’s why the National Enquirer back then had a field force of well over a thousand people. Compare Curtis Circulation, National Distributor for Marvel and many others, which had around half a dozen field reps.

Selling into Toys R Us or any big retail chain is difficult and expensive, usually involving the creation of dumps or other displays. They demand special, deep discounts. They demand special packaging. They set strict conditions for delivery. Then, the charge-backs start. Delivery came an hour late, not during the specified window? Labels on the boxes not placed correctly according to their specs? Displays don’t match specs you were never given? They send you bills for things like that! They squeeze you dry. Hard not to lose money…unless your products blow out the door. Then, after a while, they might start treating you better.

I never got started on Starbuck’s, bookstores, McDonald’s, etc….

The Friends of Lulu more or less shouted me down. Then, people who didn’t have a clue went back to expounding about the vast numbers of new readers that could be had if only the publishers weren’t too stupid to pursue their wonderful ideas about getting the books “out there.” They preferred their fantasies. They had no interest in reality. Didn’t want to hear it.

So, I skipped ahead to the part they really didn’t want to hear. To interest vast numbers of new readers, comics would have to be a lot more accessible and a lot more entertaining—in a word, better.

Shouted down again. They were all very sure that the comics they made, their favorites and almost all comics were plenty good enough. Millions of people would love them, if only they got out there! It was a distribution problem, plain and simple.

That sort of thing happened a lot. If a bunch of creators and/or other interested parties got together anywhere and the subject of poor sales came up, bet your pristine mint Amazing Fantasy #15 the consensus would be that bad distribution was to blame.

I hate to break it to some Friends of Lulu and many other comic book creators and others, but comics with impenetrable, convoluted, incoherent, badly written, banal or outright dumb stories and/or indecipherable or just plain bad art—sadly, that means most of them—are not going to sell millions of copies.

Distribution could be better, of course. Better distribution might do some good. But, comic books aren’t going to succeed in the big, wide world as long as they’re not good enough.

In answer to a comment some time ago, I wrote the following: 
The comic book industry today is rife with creators who don't know their craft -- creators who are in love with their ignorance and defiantly cling to their destructive self-indulgence. That's the greatest reason for the decline of the industry. It's not poor distribution, lack of promotion or anything else. If there was a comic book shop on every street corner with big neon signs, people still wouldn't buy un-entertaining, impenetrable, rehashed, derivative masturbatory crap.
Ill-conceived storylines, reliance upon "shocking" or sensational events, dependence on gimmicks and marketing ploys, oppressively derivative material and the dearth of new ideas are all evidence of visionless, clueless creative leadership at the top and untrained, clueless (though often very talented) creators on the firing line.
It's really not the corporate execs. Yes, they want to generate revenues and increase shareholder equity, but almost without exception they have no idea of how to make that happen and, therefore, rely upon the comics people, from creative management to the troops.
Whether Aunt May dies or not isn't the question. If she dies, does it mean anything beyond a brief sales spike because collectors/speculators think they'll be able to make a profit selling the book later? That is the question. Back when, Stan and company won our hearts and minds. I cared about Spider-Man and the other Marvel characters as though they were friends. I cared every time Aunt May got sick. That's what good creative work does.
Sometimes I think that unless you're around my age and you experienced the total involvement we, the readers, had with Spider-Man and the other Marvel peoples' lives -- yes, they seemed more like people than characters -- back in the early 1960's, courtesy of Stan, Jack, Steve, Dick, and many other creators who had a clue, you just can't grok what it should be like.
If we as an industry now routinely created wonderful, compelling works, if comics were as good as they could be and ought to be -- and as clear and accessible as most TV, movies, books and other entertainment media offerings -- the audience would find us. Just as the audience found a wonderfully well-written property in a genre that had pretty much been confined to the fringes before, Harry Potter.
I stand by that.


Fish in a Barrel 

In the mid to late 1970’s, the comic book Direct Market started to evolve.

The story of its origins is told better than I could ever tell it, starting here:

I differ from Chuck Rozanski’s accounts only in details, which are in the big picture, of no consequence. To wit, I believe that I was present for his first meeting with President Jim Galton and, in fact, played a part in making that meeting happen.

Whatever.

The Direct Market, embraced by Marvel and soon thereafter by DC, began to flourish.

Galton offered me responsibility for Direct Market sales. He wanted me to oversee a new, Direct Market Sales Department.

I declined. I said that the Direct Market business should fall under the Circulation Department’s purview. The creative stuff was plenty for me to deal with.

Ed Shukin, V.P. of Circulation came to me afterwards and sincerely thanked me. He said I’d saved his job and given him a future.

Ed, who knew the magazine distribution biz, but knew little about comics content-wise, or much about the budding Direct market, soon hired a Direct Market Sales Manager, a new position approved by Galton. His first hire for that position was Mike Friedrich. He vetted his choice through me. It seemed okay. Mike had done some publishing and knew the Direct biz inside out. Good choice, I thought.

Mike was good, but had a downside.

I had sold Galton on the idea of publishing graphic novels in a trade paperback format, inspired by what I’d seen in Europe. Mike and others had earlier come up with the same idea. Mike had a finished graphic novel, Elric, left over from his publishing days, ready to go. Galton embraced the graphic novel idea.

At a meeting—Galton, Mike Friedrich and me—Mike asked Galton to be put in charge of Marvel’s graphic novels. Right in front of me, he was trying to poach a piece of my job. Mike turned to me and said, “I don’t want your job, I want your future.” Ask him. He’s an honest man, he will confirm this.

Galton, who despite his egregious flaws, was a proper businessman said, “Jim makes the books. You sell them.”

I insisted that the first Marvel Graphic Novel should feature a Marvel character, and so it did. The Death of Captain Marvel. For the first time, a character died of natural causes. Cancer. Author Jim Starlin’s father was dying of cancer while he was creating this book. Did you know that?

That book still brings tears to my eyes. My father died of cancer, too.

Elric became the second Marvel Graphic Novel. Friedrich stupidly tried to manipulate the Direct Market into supporting Elric, in which he had a stake, while actively militating (pun intentional) against G.I. JOE, which he didn’t like.

As a result, Friedrich was fired.

Ed Shukin hired Carol Kalish as Mike’s replacement. He was feeling more confident by then, so he didn’t consult me. When I learned that Ed hired Kalish, I pointed out to him that she was known as a Marvel-basher. She’d written scathing denunciations of Marvel for trade magazines and fan magazines.  He sort of shrugged it off.

Kalish did a lot of good things. One of the best was her cash register program, which helped comics shops get cash registers so they wouldn’t have to be making change out of shoe boxes.

The Direct Market boomed. Here is one of Kalish’s reports:

Interestingly, the Direct Market did not seem to be cannibalizing the newsstand market. 

Don’t get me wrong, the newsstand market was limping along around breakeven. I wrote about that HERE. But, it had been going like that before the advent of the Direct Market. And, it was nonetheless accounting for the great majority of comics sold.

What seemed to be happening was this: The Newsstand market, with its many tens of thousands of outlets (around 75,000, I think) served by the 400+ ID Wholesalers in North America was continually bringing in new readers. Some of them became enthusiasts and found their way to the comics shops. But new newsstand buyers kept turning up to replace them.

Titles like G.I. JOE, Transformers and Star Wars helped attract new readers at the newsstands. Most people, especially kids, didn’t know or care who Iron Man was, but every kid knew G.I. JOE. Sooner or later, a kid with a Snake Eyes figure in his pocket was bound to pass a spinner rack somewhere. 

The newsstand cast a wide net. It funneled wannabe collectors into the comics shops. In a way, the spotty, unreliable, inconsistent nature of newsstand distribution was a good thing, because someone who just had to have every issue was more or less forced to seek out a comics shop.

Copies printed for the newsstand elevated the total print run and brought down the unit cost. Larger print runs amortize the fixed costs over more copies, making each copy cost less to produce. (Generally. Of course, if the print run is astronomical, the savings level off due to replating costs, etc.) So, because of the newsstand portion of the run, the Direct Market copies cost less per book, and were therefore more profitable!

Newsstand sales also raised our total circulation, which enabled us to charge more for advertising space in the books.

Given the economies of scale and other benefits the newsstand provided, it made sense to remain in that market even if we were only breaking even there. Even if we were losing a little money!

At the end of 1980, Marvel published the first regular comic book that was sold exclusively through the Direct Market, Dazzler #1. It sold 428,000 copies. (The story of Dazzler is HERE.)

After that success, many more Direct-only offerings were published by Marvel and others.

As the Direct Market boomed, increasingly it became the focus at Marvel. It was a low-margin business, yes, but it was firm sale, and it was pretty easy to target Direct Market consumers. We knew what they wanted.

It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Kalish loved it. Direct Market success meant success for her. She pushed hard to make it our main business. She wanted it to be our only business. The Direct Market was her turf. 

But all Marvel was my turf. I felt that we needed the newsstand market. That, if we became completely dependent on the Direct Market, we’d wind up in the same position as when we’d been entirely dependent on the newsstand market. Up the creek without a paddle. Screwed. Helpless. At their mercy.

I spoke with Marvel’s newsstand sales manager, Denise Bové. Denise was in charge of our dealings with Curtis. Like me, she felt the pendulum had swung too far. So did our Curtis account people.

We came up with a number of support-the-newsstand-distribution ideas. I suggested, for instance, doing a newsstand exclusive. Why not? You know the Direct Market shops would go to their local ID’s and buy copies anyway. It would be a big hit for the ID’s, and maybe the retailers they served. And great PR in that market. Maybe get them interested in comics again. A little.

That would have been in 1986. At that point, I was engaged in daily battles with the President and the other owners of Marvel. The board of Cadence Industries, as “Cadence Management, Inc.” had taken the company private. It was owned by the seven of them at that point. They got rid of one along the way, and then there were six. 

Anyway, they were trying to sell the company and were far more interested in the bottom line tomorrow than what was good for the company in years to come. Companies like Marvel are sold for a multiple of cash flow, so every penny of profit mattered. My battles with them had to do with things like their eliminating the pension plan, drastically reducing healthcare and other benefits…more on that someday.

Defending my troops, and for that matter, all the non-owners had not made me popular with the owners. They couldn’t get rid of me because I was a “key man,” but they weren’t inclined to go along with anything I wanted.

Kalish vehemently opposed a newsstand exclusive. She vehemently objected to any support of any kind for the newsstand. She claimed that the Direct Distributors and shop owners would see any such things as betrayal, rise up in anger and retaliate against Marvel. Why not just hand the Direct Market over to DC?

The Direct Market was easy money, quick money, sure money to the brass—not that any of them had ever set foot in a comics shop or even opened a comic book. To them it was about moving the units and collecting the cash. Might as well have been widgets we were selling. But, they knew the Direct Market was shooting fish in a barrel. Why jeopardize that?

Circulation V.P. Ed Shukin, both Kalish and Denise’s boss, kept his head low and his mouth shut. He knew which way the wind was blowing upstairs.

So, Denise and I lost and Kalish won.

I was gone from Marvel not too long afterwards, so, it was my problem no longer.

Kalish passed away in 1991, but ultimately Marvel arrived where she wanted it. 

And that’s where we are now.


NEXT:  Man in a Can - Another Review

152 comments:

Anonymous said...

GIJoe was the first comic I bought regularly, but not because of seeing it on a rack first - I saw the TV ads. Unfortunately, no one I knew had a Snake Eyes in their pocket ... we couldn't find him! He was too popular!

And I still read GIJoe to this day, even tho it's not made by Marvel. If I ever give up on all other comics completely I expect I'll still read GIJoe, because Larry Hama made the characters worth reading.

But I can't go to the corner convenience store or the supermarket and get a comic book anymore.

(the first comic I ever had was Spec Spidey #27, by Frank Miller, which was in one of those supermarket 3-packs you can't get anymore either ... must have read it fifty times ...)

-salamurai

Nicoco B. said...

I'm entirely with you when you say :

"If we as an industry now routinely created wonderful, compelling works, if comics were as good as they could be and ought to be -- and as clear and accessible as most TV, movies, books and other entertainment media offerings -- the audience would find us. Just as the audience found a wonderfully well-written property in a genre that had pretty much been confined to the fringes before, Harry Potter."

...but I can't help to ask myself if the success of the Harry Potter franchise (or Twilight or even Lord of the Ring, for that matter), is not because they are limited, with a clear end and real characters evolution ?

Isn't it a question of longevity ?

I mean, is there still really something to tell about all those characters DC had to reboot a few months ago ? Can the non-reader (and maybe the reader) still really care for Aunt May, even with the best writing and best art ever, when we know that nothing really change ? Did we overused our heroes without making them evolve ?

I really love super-heroes, but those from the big two seem so glued into statut quo, I ask myself, as a creator and as a reader, how can we make them fresh and readable for a bigger/new audience, if we can't change them to the core ?

PC said...

Nice how this ties to your your statement about quality and good comics.

Marvel's reliance on the direct market led to easy availability of every issue, whic led to convoluted storylines.

Last year, in Marvel's 70th Anniversary magazine, Tom DeFalco talked about how he wanted to plan storylines years down the line. He could now plan a giant crossover because he knew where the comic was going to be in 2 or 3 years.

I think it started with the themed annuals (1988's "Evolutionary War" and 1989's "Atlantis Attacks"). After that, it was "Acts of Vengeance", a gimmick story where everyone switched villains. By 1992, the crossover was obligatory, usually in the summer, like the X-Men's "X-Tinction Song" and the Avengers' "Operation Galactic Storm". In 1994, Spider-Man's four monthly titles effectively became a weekly Spider-Man book.

It would have been impossible to coordinate this with newsstand distribution, as there were no guarantees you'd be able to find every single issue out there. And anyone picking up a comic here and there would be irredeemably confused.

Some time after the direct market's collapse, around 1996 or 1997, I think circulation statements for Marvel's magazines about the time put newsstand sales at about 20-25% of what they were selling in the DM. If X-Men was selling 110-120k to comic shops, they were selling 25k in the stands.

Defiant1 said...

Yikes. Should we expect a word from Peter David soon? Corporate mentality these days is that it's better to have one point of contact with the customer (in this case distributor) rather than maintain a staff who deals with multiple accounts. If the direct market consisted of 18 or more distributors, I'd agree that distribution wasn't a problem today. You'd have distributors aggressively competing for the retail accounts. You'd have each ordering what they could sell plus a safety margin of extra books for reorders or returns. There would be a pad built in and multiplied by a dozen that would help the publishers. The problem we have now is that there is no pad of extra books ordered. There is no creative effort to acquire retail accounts. There is no massive looming consequence if Diamond screw over the retailer. The retailer has to suck it up and either do exactly what Diamond wants, or they abandon selling new comics altogether.

In the 90's when comics were selling, every comic fan had a dream of running a comic book store. Every established retailer had a dream of becoming a distributor. Their dreams were seemingly within reach. The stores were big on sub-distribution. If they could find a handful of convention dealer to order 20 or 30 of a new comic to take and sell at comic shows, they were maximizing their reach beyond what their fixed brick and mortar store location could ever hope to achieve. The convention dealers which I call "weekend warriors" were salesmen. They had very little overhead and they took the message that comics were cool out into the community. If their neighbor had young girls living next door to them, they were probably ordering Barbie comics for them and grabbing a sale at the street level. My friend Sean was big on sub-distribution. He had a small bookstore that bought comics from him in quantities that were too low for Capital City and Diamond to consider. Later, after the Baseball strike, sports card dealers were desperate for customers to replace the ones who weren't buying sports cards. He sub-distributed to sports card dealers. My guess is that the peak of his operation was the week Valiant's Turok #1 came out. He ordered 6,000 copies. 90% or more were presold. He was left with just enough for his customers. His order was so large that week, that he enlisted about 4 people including myself to help pick up his order that week at Diamond distribution center in Atlanta. In retrospect, a large number of others were doing the same, and many people had overordered. Eventually, Diamond banned sub-distribution which cut off the weekend warriors from buying new comics at a discount. Publishers signed up with Diamond with an exclusive contract making it hard for Capital City to compete. Eventually, they went under.

Ay the time, I was in communication with a small press publisher. He told me that when Capital City went under, his hope was that the orders would increase through Diamond. To his surprise, they didn't. He lost all his sales to Capital City and his Diamond orders didn't increase. Later, in an attempt to increase sales, a Diamond rep suggest he start over the 12 issue series he'd published and suggested he start with a new #1 issue. The sales didn't jump enough to make a difference. The sales dropped to the point that it wasn't worth publishing anymore.

Marvel later bought the Heroes World distributor, who could not manage the increase in volume. They shut down and all that was left is Diamond. Diamond having a lock on the distribution means that they can do what they want without looking over their shoulder for a competitor. If a retailer was displeased with Diamond's service or purchasing terms... too bad. There is no alternative.

Defiant1 said...

Retailers need an alternative. Publisher need more distributors so the orders are padded with a reasonable allowance for reorders. This would immediate increase print runs and allow the publishers to print healthier print runs.

The weekend warriors were the street level sales force that is desperately lacking today.

Phillip Beadham said...

My brother and I always thought Captain Marvel was different from any other hero, at that time, as he was depicted as a father-figure (a man of wisdom and experience), not a younger man. Perhaps Jim Starlin had in mind the best example to inspire young readers he could think of. Very interesting, and moving.

Jason Seas said...

Interesting what you say about the newsrack spinners and GIJoe. GIJoe was my gateway into comic books, and if I remember right, I bought it at the local 7-11 near my house off the rack. At that age, 8 or 9, I had not yet learned about publishing schedules, but I would always go back to that 7-11 looking for my next issues. At some point there my dad started taking me to a local book store every few weeks that had a good sized comic section and back issue bins, and I started filling out my collection and picking up new issues. It was also off of another 7-11 newsstand that I bought my first X-Men comic, that led to me finding out about our local comic book store where I became a "member" for the next 15 or 20 years and expanded my comic book purchasing and reading. I would have to wonder if I would of found any of that if it wasn't for a spinner rack in a 7-11 when I was there to buy a Slurpee.

Anonymous said...

The only viable way to end Diamond's monopoly is for the Big Two to get together and end their exclusive contracts at the same time, look for other distributors.

Diamond used to force indies to somehow sell at least 1,000 copies or be dropped from their catalogue. Now, they want --what is it?-- $2,500 profit for each title sold or they will not carry it.

All publishers are at the mercy of Diamond's. And Diamond is doing whatever they want. It's the retailers who are really supporting the industry now.

Cheers.
Rick Dee

Roger Owen Green said...

I met Carol Kalish at some show, either in San Diego or NYC. While supportive of helping the comic shops - I worked in one at the time - I always thought she kept her cards close to the vest, as though something else was going on.

Seeing that list of distributors, the first nine of which we dealt with regularly, made me oddly nostalgic.

Thunder said...

I also discovered GIJOE on the spinner rack and became a regular comic reader (I'd occasionally bought comics before that sometimes but this was my first comic I followed regularly).
Yeah, it seems like the comics companies put all their eggs in one basket. And with digital comics, they're poised to do it all over again.

Bouncelot said...

Hi Jim,

I think that the question of distribution versus quality is a both/and rather than an either/or. If comics get back to having mass distribution without an improvement in quality then they obviously won't pull in a significant number of new readers. But if the quality of stories goes up without more widespread distribution, then it's difficult to see how new readers will get their hands on them.

I'm a big fan of the TV Show Doctor Who and its multimedia spin-offs, and the non-TV stuff provides some good examples of very good stories which haven't attracted new fans.

In 1999, a fan company called Big Finish Productions started producing licensed Doctor Who audio plays. Audio drama is at least as niche a format as comics have become, and although their stories were, for the most part, better than most of the TV Series they spawned from, Big Finish never really attracted new fans - although they did cause some old ones to return to the fold. The main reason they didn't really attract new fans was because the only people who would come across them were people who were genre fans or who were already buying audio drama in the few mainstream stores that stocked them.

There have also been spin-offs from Doctor Who which deserve wider success - the Faction Paradox novels and Time Hunter novellas were short-lived series (spun off from Doctor Who novels) that are every bit as good as any other science fiction currently being professionally published. But because they've been produced by small press companies, and are seen as spin-offs of a spin-off they're pretty much unknown outside of Doctor Who fandom.

On the other hand, the Doctor Who New Adventures novels in the early to mid 1990s dominated British Science Fiction sales, bringing plenty of new fans into the fold, despite the TV show having been cancelled. They not only told good stories, but also achieved widespread distribution - every British bookshop stocked them, and many had a prominent display of them within the Sci Fi and Fantasy section.

All of which goes to show that good stories don't necessarily sell unless there's a way for people to get hold of them. Yes, you're right to insist that the quality of stories comes first. But unless we can also get good comics into peoples' hands, the medium is going to die out (at least in the US - here in the UK the medium isn't what it once was, but we still have a new generation of readers coming through).

Jason Morgan said...

I think G.I.JOE added more comic book readers than any other property in the 1980s. No wonder I loved that decade so much.

Red Sabre said...

Forget distributors like Diamond - within a few years, I'm thinking, most comics will actually be sold digitally, on iPads and other tablets. You'll be able to go to Marvel or DC's websites, or a site like amazon.com, pay three or four dollars per issue, and download the comics to your iPad or Samsung Galaxy tab. Wizard magazine is already web-only. Within a decade distributors like Diamond - and unfortunately most comic shops - will be out of business.

jimshooter said...

Dear Nicoco,

Give me a week. I'll come up with a dozen new stories for Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Spider-Man, Superman, Frodo Baggins or any character you want, no matter how long they've been around or how many stories about them have been done, all fresh and readable for a bigger audience. No need to "change them to the core," though some carefully thought-through changes might be good, and fun. If you helped me, we'd come up with three dozen.

jimshooter said...

Dear Rick,

Meaning no ill will toward my friend Steve Geppi, I am amazed that DC, which owns a piece of Diamond and has the right to buy Geppi out entirely has not done so. I am amazed that Disney/Marvel has not started its own distribution, which is eminently practical these days and easily within the power of Disney, given their infrastructure already in place.

Anonymous said...

As a kid all my comics came from a little gas station about a mile away from my house, the comics I bought were mainly sci-fi; Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Whitman's relaunch of Buck Rogers.

No offense to Mr. Shooter, but in the 70's Whitman was my favorite comic company.

Defiant1 said...

Anonymous,

There's no reason for Jim to be offended. Everyone has different tastes and Jim's guidelines are a template to appeal to the largest audience possible, not each and every specific desire.

Anonymous said...

Defiant1

As I got older, I LOVED Marvel. My sixth birthday occurred in 1980, so Whitman had a certain appeal to me.

I can remember looking at the cover of Man-Thing vrs the Micronauts and thinking "This is weird, I'll take Uncle Scrooge instead."

By the time I was eight Marvel was all I bought.

Eventually Mr. Shooter was ousted and I stopped reading comics, thinking I had just outgrown them when in reality they just started suck so bad after he left. I missed out on Valiant and Defiant because I wasn't reading comics anymore.

Fernando Ramirez said...

I recently bought the new JUSTICE LEAGUE #3 for $4 plus tax... it took me all of 5 minutes to read it. The art was amazing... the story was sort of interesting... but it was way too short. I didn't feel like I got the bang for my buck.

Back in the day (early 80s... I'm thinking the XMEN during it's Claremont/Byrne/Austin run), it would take me at least 30 minutes to read a comic. There would be cliff hangers, but that one issue you read gave you lots of satisfaction... there was a beginning, middle, and end to the story, and you learned something new about the characters. And you wanted to know what came next... you couldn't wait to get the next issue. Now, don't get me wrong... there were lots of clunkers back then, too. But when a great team worked together like Claremont/Byrne/Austin... and they gave us a good storytelling experience by following basic rules... then a special team like that was able to shine... and they were able to give us a great storytelling experience. Magic. This doesn't happen much nowadays. Which is interesting, because comics NOW look so much more fantastic than they used to due to technological advances in lettering, coloring, and the awesome newer paper stocks. But all that muscle doesn't make a comic better without good stories / storytelling.

I didn't feel that buying that issue of Justice League was worth my money for what I got out of it. And this is what's wrong with comics nowadays.

It's rare for me to buy single issues nowadays. I've grown to feel that the impending trade paperback is much more rewarding (as far as getting more time out of it), but because of the way comics are done nowadays... the brevity of storytelling that has appeared (and the disappearance of the omniscient word boxes... which I can't figure out why they are no longer there)... that trade paperback will only take me 30 minutes to read.... what it used to take me to read just one comic under the Shooter years.

I agree with Jim's thoughts on the stories, and how they have to be better. A lot of these newer writers need to go back to the basics. They need to 'unlearn' what they have 'learned.'
Until they do this... and people start wanting them... only then can comics can make a BIG comeback. If people start wanting the comics, only then will the impetus be there for distributors to start doing what they can to MAKE comics available. There has to be a reason for them to want to try harder. And good storytelling is it.

Cousin Vinny said...

Physical distribution will all be but a quaint memory in within a decade. How this paradigm shift to digital distribution will affect the comic book industry is anyone's guess.

Not only that, there are online platforms that allow creative talents to self-publish on demand. Even Amazon allows a publisher to have a 'shelf' where they'll hold your physical goods and you can market/sell them via their website. And then there's always the DIY'er, individual creators hawking their stuff on their websites and their ecommerce frontends.

I think it all boils down to quality as Jim Shooter explained in this entry. All of this distribution, new, old, or just plain cutting-edge, will be for naught if the content isn't compelling and of high quality.

Those comic book publishers that quickly embrace new and emerging distribution paradigms will seize new business opportunities to capture and expand their market. Those who are slow and/or unwilling to adapt will simply fall to the wayside.

Marvelman said...

Jim, it seems at this point that the suits have little interest in whether comics actually sell or not. The characters just exist to be licensed out for toys and movies. But someone at the big two should hire you as a consulting editor - as someone to educate the editors on the ins and outs of storytelling. It seems to me a shame that your knowledge and experience isn't being properly utilized.

Anonymous said...

"Ill-conceived storylines, reliance upon "shocking" or sensational events, dependence on gimmicks and marketing ploys, oppressively derivative material and the dearth of new ideas are all evidence of visionless, clueless creative leadership at the top and untrained, clueless (though often very talented) creators on the firing line."

Oh man, you just described Brian Bendis and Mark Millar perfectly.

Marvelman said...

Give me a week. I'll come up with a dozen new stories for Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Spider-Man, Superman, Frodo Baggins or any character you want, no matter how long they've been around or how many stories about them have been done, all fresh and readable for a bigger audience. No need to "change them to the core," though some carefully thought-through changes might be good, and fun. If you helped me, we'd come up with three dozen.

Jim, one fo the biggest problems for long-time readers such as myself is that I came to the realization a long time ago that characters like Spider-Man can't ever really change. There are only so many places you can take the character of Peter Parker before he stops being Spider-Man. And he must remain Spider-Man so that Marvel can continue to sell comics and, more importantly it seems, licenses. But once your audience realizes that nothing important can ever really change it is very difficult to sustain their interest. The most you can hope for is that someone like Frank Miller, who used to be a gifted creator, will come along with a unique vision and put his own personal spin on a character like Daredevil or Batman. Originality becomes even more problematic when the characters are part of a shared universe. Obviously, Galactus can't eat the Earth over in the FF because the Earth still exists over in Spider-Man and the X-Men. I think this why stuff like Millar's Ultimates and Bendis' Ultimate Spider-Man appeal to many old guard readers. These readers know that no matter what travails the X-Men undergo, at some point, a certain status quo is going to be restored. So, what's the point? I think this problem has led to a lot of what you, Jim, call "masturbation." (By this, I presume you mean stories that appeal only to comic book savvy readers.) Of course, that is no excuse for producing work that is inaccessible to new readers.

Jason said...

Marvelman: If you search the old posts for the stories Jim has told regarding his most recent run on Legion of Superheroes, it will become clear pretty quickly that he's simply not welcome at DC. Shooter-hatred runs deep, apparently.

I've no idea how things are at Marvel, but the fact that Joe Quesada -- who got his start at VALIANT -- was Editor in Chief for a decade or so and never saw fit to throw any work Jim's way suggests that things are no better there, and possibly much worse. (The frivolous lawsuit against DEFIANT, resulting in a federal judge scolding the owners of Marvel on the record, probably doesn't help either.)

It would be awesome if Disney would hire him to set things right, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards.

Jason said...

Marvelman (again): Dude. Hie thee out and purchase, borrow, or steal Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries. He wrote that series from (IIRC) 1934 to 1974 (stopping only because he passed away), keeping pretty much the same cast, more or less in stasis. And yet the later books are just as entertaining (if not more so) than the early ones. Even to long-time readers. It's totally possible to keep things fresh without changing characters deeply.

Anonymous said...

Jim
Are you able to shed some light on this story?
http://www.bleedingcool.com/2011/11/22/and-finally-another-mike-golden-cover-for-avengers-annual-10/

How come Marvel didn't publish Golden's cover?

Jay C said...

re: that Golden cover

apparently that's a recreation done recently for a commission.

All that was apparently declined by Marvel was Golden's 'pitch', as that art shown was only a completion of the pitch.

Joseph Tages said...

I first got into comics thanks to the newsstand system, which was how mini-marts operated. The one by our apartment was a U Totem run by one guy with balding hair and a handlebar mustache. This was around May of 1981 because the first issues I bought were cover dated for September. U Totem kept their comics on shelves behind the front counter and rack toys on the spinner rack. Great place for kids as soda fountains were long gone and pharmacies had changed a lot by the 80's.

So U Totem had their DC's lined up with the DC Bullet appearing quite prominent. Marvels stood out even more thanks to those great cover corners featuring different characters or team head shots. They also carried Harvey (which was on its way out) and Archie titles. Whitman comics were Direct Sales only in my neck of the woods (Anaheim, CA) so I didn't find out about them until they too, ceased publication. Comics arrived once a week and the mustached guy was so nice that he would untie the stacks of new arrivals so I could get first dibs. He was really great to my mom and I, first class all the way. I didn't begin reading through the licensed titles, but books like G.I. Joe certainly helped later on. 7-Eleven was my second choice but their stock was more limited and kept in the traditional spinners.

My third source was The Book Harbor, a place in downtown Fullerton which also sold new comics Then one day, a full-fledged comic shop (The Comic Castle) opened around the corner from The Book Harbor and I suddenly noticed that they had issues #15 and #16 of G.I. Joe when I had just gotten #14 at the U Totem on that very same week! The comic shop owner was nowhere as friendly like my friend at U Totem, but I soon figured out that I could get my books faster through him. You can guess how that affected my newsstand purchases at the mini-marts.

An easy decision back then, but I can't help feeling guilty after reading this piece because newsstand sales really did keep the industry chugging along. Years later, I went back to reading comics after a brief dry spell and the place that brought me back was the spinner rack at Jewel Supermarket in the Chicago suburbs, right by the milk and eggs section.

Needless to say that newsstand sales are sorely missed.

Marvelman said...

Why would there be bad blood between Jim and Joe Quesada? I didn't follow the Valiant saga very much. Was Joe one of the people who got Jim ousted?

Dan said...

Although I had read comics for years in the 70s, thanks to a neighbor lady who bought EVERYTHING off the newsstand. She let me read them when she was done. I was a comic addict from 2nd grade through 6th ('74-77). She stopped when she got ill.

Then I became a sci-fi nut, particularly Star Wars. No comics. All Starlog, etc.

Then, in the summer before 9th grade, comic racks appeared in all my local grocery stores. At first I passed them by. I remember seeing a Thor and thinking "I don't read comics anymore."

Then I stumbled across STAR WARS #49. Well, that was different! I had to have it. And coincidentally my brother's girlfriend's brother was a comics nut--and that started it all back again. I've been buying comics ever since.

But my return would never have happened if not for two things: (1) Comics coming to me, and (2) content that I desired.

I can't help but think that Marvel and DC are in bad shape because they failed to maintain the newsstands. Just think if M/DC were offering a monthly Harry Potter series? Or a Twilight series? And those issues were available to the kids (not in shops)?

M/DC keep leaving money behind because they insist that COMICS = (our) SUPERHEROES. Total disaster. Superheroes are going the way of the Jungle and Cowboy heroes.

When Shooter says the content isn't good enough, that doesn't just mean the writing and art, it means the GENRE isn't matching up with what people want to read.

My students would consider a Halo comic or Call of Duty comic (or vampire or whatever's hot) -- IF they could find it.

These kids just don't have the opportunity to stumble across comics they'd want to read. Because even if the comics existed, they're sequestered in comic shops far away.

ELS said...

There is plenty of dreck on the comic book front these days - presumably. I dropped Marvel when I had to buy books that were part of company-wide crossovers, when I had to see five Avengers books, six Spider-Man books, and Wolverine in EVERYTHING. DCpU followed quickly in that I simply didn't like what I was buying and reading before Flashpoint, and felt no obligation to continue with brand new... well, it seems to be junk to me, and I haven't seen any reviews (including Mr. Shooter's) to convince me that the new stuff is worth it.

Good comics will sell. Not only will they sell, but they will increase in sales because people who like them will tell others. (How do you think "Lost" or Facebook got so big? I can assure you that twenty million (?) viewers didn't watch "Lost" from the first episode, or half of the USA got on Facebook when it launched.)

As for new stories... Mr. Shooter is absolutely right. There are directions to go and stories to tell, and they don't need to be about digging into the main characters. Has Superman's story been plumbed as far as it can? Maybe... but Superman stories used to tell stories of what Superman did, not what he was about. When every issue of Captain America becomes a character study, then yes, you run out of story quickly.

But storytelling is about more than that, and there is so much that can still be told! As Mr. Shooter has noted, ANYTHING is possible. That's where comics COULD be going... if DC and Marvel weren't being pretty short sighted.

Mr. Shooter, I am 50 years old, so I'm in your era of readers if not your age (all hail the wizened one! :) I have seen 'em come and seen 'em go, and I agree with you; there are still a LOT of stories to tel. But they have to be good, or they're just more bricks on the road to oblivion.

Hi JayJay! Happy Thanksgiving! (I didn't have anything for the blog elf, but I didn't want to leave her out...) Happy Turkey Day to all you blog readers too!

I remain,
Sincerely,
Eric L. Sofer
x<]:o){
The Silver Age Fogey

Tue Sørensen said...

Anonymous said:
"It seems to me a shame that your knowledge and experience isn't being properly utilized."

Seconded. Jim, when are we going to see a book from you along the lines of "How to Write Good Comics"? Seriously, you should do it. It would inspire thousands of writings, both working and aspiring.

Rich said...

Absolutely fascinating reading. As a creator who has frequently defended the 'better distribution would solve all of our problems' argument. I can't tell you what an eye-opener this blog is proving to be. Thank you.

Aaron Scott Johnson said...

As much as I agree that the quality of comic books does need to increase, quality, whether good or bad, doesn't automatically attract or lose new readers. The Da Vinci Code and Twilight, for example, are two of the biggest mass market book series to come in the last decade or so, and from a writer's perspective, they're just terrible; but something about them captured the zeitgeist, and they became eminently successful because of it. Meanwhile, widely-acclaimed books (and movies, TV, etc) continue to go unnoticed. Quality needs to become the top standard for comics, I wholeheartedly agree, but I can't say that it's going to automatically make people care about comics that don't already.

Also, I'm a relative youngin' on this page, having started reading comics in 1989, at the age of 5, but I also started reading only because my local grocery store carried comics, and I could convince my mother to pony up the $1.00 cover price each week we went grocery shopping. The comic book market has become a market for 20+ year olds because 1.) Comics just aren't available enough to the general public, and 2.) They're too freaking expensive! No way I could ever convince my Mom to buy me a $4.00 comic each week; I was lucky to get a new Thundercats action figure every couple of months!

Tue Sørensen said...

"writings" should be "writers", of course...

Dan said...

It seems obvious to me that DC is actually on the right track regarding distribution. Why rely on stores to be your sellers when you can be your own -- online.

Most everyone who can buy comics has access to the internet. And the production costs are significantly lower.

It's the only way to reach more people and hold costs down.

Dan said...

My only problem with the argument that quality is the barrier is that quality isn't a barrier for novels, movies, dvds, music, etc.

Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crap.

In truth, I believe this is a medium problem. People just don't want drawn fiction.

Anonymous said...

Access to the internet is different than a desire to read a comic on a screen or even owning a tablet or what not that makes it doable in a non crappy way. I dont own a tablet and reading comics on my computer is not fun.

I wish there was a way to see wht kind of numbers they are doing online. I supsect it is not the panacea people make it out to be-at least for a few decades.
Rob

Mister.44 said...

Mr Shooter:

Here is an idea - create a writer's workshop. A web-based one would even work. I am sure there are many people who would like the opportunity to explore and hone their craft. With the web being semi-anonymous, one could even be a current professional and participate.

For years I have had what I consider good ideas bouncing around in my head. I have committed a few outlines to paper. I even started a few full stories. For what ever reason - lack of confidence, screwed up priorities - I have never really finished anything.

I would welcome the opportunity to be "forced" to finish something, and then have it critiqued and refined into a usable story by someone with your experience. I am sure many would pay for something like that.

Gary Dunaier said...

Back in the early days of direct sales, I made it my business to buy all of my Marvels on newsstands, even though it meant waiting two weeks before I could read them (if memory serves me right, back then the comic shops got the new books two weeks before the newsstands did). I live in NYC, so it wasn't a case of not having easy access to a comic shop.

I just HATED the diamond symbol Marvel used to differentiate direct sale copies from newsstand copies! I didn't like the fact that the issue numbers were so small, compared to how they were on the "regular" copies.

I hated the diamond symbol so much that I even went so far as to write to Marvel a couple of times voicing my displeasure and offering ideas on alternate designs. This would be '81 and '82 - and both times I received a response from Mike Friedrich politely rejecting my ideas. Oh well.

Of course, when it came to the direct-only titles like Dazzler #1 and Marvel Fanfare, I had no choice...

(Yes, some of us actually take that kind of stuff seriously! It always annoyed me that the Marvels of the day were perpetually "Volume 1," whereas DC changed the volume number every year. Of course, that's all gone out the window - according to their indicias, the October '11 issue of Action Comics is "ACTION COMICS 904," and the next issue, the November '11 edition, is simply "ACTION COMICS 1" as if the previous 904 issues, the previous 73 years, never existed... to me, it's the comic book version of demolishing the original Yankee Stadium and replacing it with the fake impostor across the street...

www.flickr.com/photos/gary_dunaier/6125448011/ )

Al Bigley said...

THANK YOU! I've been screaming this for years! Nobody wants to look at the CONTENT as far as falling sales are concerned!

I've always said: why not have both lines? One direct, one newsstand?

Keep your old numbering and creative folks on the newsstand line, so older readers coming back into the fold won't be befuddled as to "is this 'MY HULK?'" or such...If not the old creators, then those who can create in that mold...

Do all your wacky stuff, with wacky creators, in the direct comic store lines! Be as nutty as you want, re-number, re-start, etc...Leave us old timers the good stuff on newsstands.

Why not create TWO revenue streams? When one falters...Comics are SO in love with the idea of "this ain't your daddy's SPDIER-MAN, punk!"

I DO think other distribution venues must always be looked into, like any respectible business would do...

Al Bigley

Defiant1 said...

Dan,

You said:
"In truth, I believe this is a medium problem. People just don't want drawn fiction."

How much would you pay for a bag of dirt? The reason I ask is that your first thought might be "Why would I buy dirt?" People buy dirt under the name "potting soil". Pallets of fancy dirt ship and sell regularly.

Marketing is the psychology behind selling. It's the art of presenting a product so that it does appeal to people.

Some of the structural story issues that Jim suggests relate to marketing. How a story is told affects whether people want to see the end. I think your current assessment that people don't want drawn fiction is probably true based upon current sales data. It is a publisher's responsibility to convince the consumer that they do want it. Jim Shooter is one of the few people that actually took the time to learn what Stan Lee and the heads of DC were doing to make people want comics. Jim Lee and Joe Quesada haven't got a significant fraction the knowledge Jim Shooter has on the topic.


A story:
A friend and I stopped by a neighborhood garage sale one day in the early 90's. We didn't see anything interesting. My friend tells the homeowner that he was looking for old electronics. The homeowner says "We have a broken VCR in the house!" My friend say "Can I see it?". He takes a look and says "Will you sell it for $5?" The owner says "Sure". We drive away and I ask my friend why he bought a broken VCR. He says enthusiastically "Because in 9 out of 10 cases I can fix it. if I can get it working, it's worth a lot more than $5. I'm willing to take the risk" I scoffed. We got back to his home and he started taking it apart. I saw a little broken plastic piece that couldn't be replaced. He argued that the broken plastic piece wasn't the problem. I left for a few days. I stopped by again and asked if he'd gotten it fixed. He replied "No, I sold it for $10". I said "What?" He was so enthusiastic about thinking he could fix a VCR and have a working one for $5, that he was able to convince someone else that they could have a working VCR for $10." Both guys were willing to gamble for such a small investment. The only difference is that my friend actually turned a profit buying and selling a product that was broken.

My point is that if you can make a profit on a broken VCR, you can make a consumer want an interesting and intelligently written story. Marketing and how you present your product is EVERYTHING.

Todd said...

There are way more tablets than there are Toys R Us out there and you'll never have to hire rack fluffers or run out of products with digital racks.
BUT digital comics need to drop in price per issue or get bundled into package deals after a couple months. I want digital comics, they look great and are great for storage - but no way am I gonna pay more for 8 digital issues of Legion than I'd pay for the shipped book from Amazon. They also need to take a page from MP3 distribution and be platform neutral because people want to own their content and have it available- not rent it on each device. Get digital comics (including back issues) on iTunes and Android market for $0.99 and then see if you aren't improving your sales *and* growing the audience.
As for piracy - it's already going on (and apparently was long before digital if you count the shady returns business), just remember that people will pay for bottled water (ease of use).

PC said...

A small thought about newsstand sellers: they're the only salespeople in the world who have no interest in selling anything they have in the store or in getting additional customers. They're the only salespeople who are untrained.

Go into a clothing store, the salesperson will try to find you something you like in your size and color. Go buy a car, they'll try to give you the options you want without going overboard on the price. Go to a book store, they'll check if they have something in stock or offer to order it for you.

Go into a newsstand, and they'll tell you "if it ain't there, we ain't got it" or shrug. They have no special training. Never count on a newsstand to help you find the magazine you're looking for.

Of course, this comes with a horror story. Back in 2003 or 2004, a comics publisher here in Portugal had a co-publishing with a major daily newspaper. They published 20 comic books with different properties, as an extra with the sunday paper. One issue, I stopped at a stand and asked for the paper with the comic (I didn't really want the paper). The girl was upset with me because I "forced" her to get up from her seat and unwrap the comics. She didn't care about the extra €6.95 I was putting in her register. She'd rather seat down.

Shawn James said...

Comic book content has been a problem for I'd say about 25 years. Storytelling has taken a backseat to shock gimmicks, shock, gore, new costumes.

And when that fails...REBOOT with a new number one issue and start the cycle all over again. Yeah there's a DCnU or an event at Marvel, But why should the Reader CARE to buy them? That's the answer Dan Didio and Joe Quesada STILL don't know how to answer.

Good stories sell. Unfortunately, no one in the industry today is skilled enough or experienced enough in craft to understand how to put together a tight, compact story in 21 pages.

A good creative team who knows their craft knows it's story that makes readers CARE enough to buy comics. And it's story that makes them CARE enough to keep buying.

A lot of today's writers and artists are big names, but none of them have honed their skills as storytellers. Their entire game is gimmicks, shock and flash, not substance. They haven't gone back to read the classics like Lee/Ditko Spider-man, Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four, the Korvac Saga, The Gruenwald run of Captain America, or the Claremont/Byrne run of X-men to see how stories are told. They haven't broken down those stories to their base elements to see what structure and form are in a comic. How character relationships work. What character traits people will identify with and what to push to the forefront and what to keep in the background. how to build a scene, and that action defines characters. There's a lot more to storytelling than big panels of graphic violence.

Long-term if the customer doesn't care, it doesn't matter if a book is on premium paper with digital coloring. Nor will it matter if its digital. Customers need an incentive to keep buying and today's comics just aren't good enoug h for retail at a supermarket or big box store. Most managers would probably refuse to stock comics today because they would just languish for months there, or parents would protest about the content.

I've been saying for years that comics need a good editor to show these rookies the ropes and give them guidance. It's clear that many in the industry haven't learned what they need to and it's reflecting in today's comics.

Shawn James said...

I also hear Jim on the racks in the markets. I used to work in a supermarket around 96-97. Goya, Pepsi, Nabisco, Brooklyn Brewery and Coca-Cola pay for their space in these stores and send guys (territory reps) to stock it. If a store owner puts stuff in the "holes" it's moved off and placed on the sales floor. They are very particular about keeping their space clear for their products.

Also Way back in the 90's 20/20 did a report on supermarkets and slotting fees. Just like grocers, Publishers pay for that space in the markets. If product doesn't sell, the publisher loses money. It's a big risk to spend money on space, and product has to meet a certain standard to get stocked.

On another note I'm wondering why there's no Twilight comic, Halo comic or Call of Duty Comic? That's the kind of comic that would appeal to today's kids and get them reading.

But at the end of the day it comes down to the quality of the product. It has to be great to create enough demand for customers to go look for it. It has to be great to build a buzz among the public. It has to be great so people have enough reason to CARE.

The one thing I learned from screenwriting is that there are three questions a writer has to answer in ten pages:

Who is the main character?
What do they want?
Why should we care?

The question why should we care is the toughest one to answer for a screenwriter. But if they can answer that question they'll sell that script. The same applies for comics.

JC said...

The state of comics today reminds me of the story of the greedy dog who sees a reflection of himself in a lake, that 'other' dog also has a bone in his mouth, of course the dog wants another bone and drops the one he was holding into the lake in an attempt to take the bone away from the 'other' dog, now he has no bones.

Ultimately greed, laziness and over consumption will be our downfall. Comics needed 'crop rotation' like the farmers practice, otherwise the harvest will diminish each season.

Dan said...

The problem is publishing philosophy.

If you look at the history of comics, the publishers saw themselves as publishers of comics--meaning they the subject matter was secondary. If funny animals sold, they produced funny animals. They tried to appeal to current tastes. The goal was to keep selling comic books.

Marvel and DC today are not publishers, not in that way. They are sellers of the subject matter--superhero properties. If they make money with comics, fine. But the goal is licensing out their properties for movies, video games, pajamas, etc. The comics only exist to keep their franchises warm.

Marvel and DC aren't owned by Big Media Corporations because they're masters of their form. The licensing possibilities are what's valuable.

So is it any wonder that craft is a dead element? The goal for M/DC isn't to return to selling millions of comics (tho that would be nice). It's to sell the licenses for millions of dollars.

If anyone is going to revitalize the medium, it will have to be someone else.

Defiant1 said...

Dan,

I understand what you are saying, but comics aren't really keeping the franchises warm. The comics are actually dragging down the franchises. I think they'd love to see comics selling better, but creativity and exploitation operate on different wavelengths. They need to be in sync to maximize profits and add value to the properties.

Jason said...

Marvelman: I did not say that there is any bad blood between Quesada and Shooter. As far as I know, there is not.

My point was, Shooter gave Quesada his start which, I imagine, should mean that Quesada has at least a certain measure of respect for Jim.

And yet, in his tenure as EIC at Marvel, no collaborations -- which I take to be a result of bad blood between *Marvel* and Jim. The Perelmans still have a stake in Marvel, and I believe they were the owners at the time of the DEFIANT lawsuit. That, along with the Hate Shooter brigade among the creative staff still being there, would seem to have nixed the possibility of Jim writing for Marvel again.

It's mostly surmise on my part, extrapolation from various data points, like the way Jim was viewed at DC per this late '90s interview:

http://www.valiantfan.com/valiant/joe/shooter/
(search "Jim Shooter's last Legion story")

If that's how much resistance there was at DC, it's tough to believe things would have been easier at Marvel.

tedbragg said...

The product stinks, period.

I had to scrap plans to open a comics shop, not because Diamond was too expensive/tough to deal with, or not enough people or avenues for promotion -- the comicbooks were the problem! They were confusing, filled with sloppy storytelling and artwork that relied so heavily on visual 'shorthand', you couldn't tell what was going on. Nothing I picked up made me care. The indies were in worse shape. I couldn't sell that crap and sleep at night...

Opened a hair salon, instead. Did really good, too.

Anonymous said...

Reading wise... it doesn't get any better than this. Thanks Jim.

ja said...

Dan said: "In truth, I believe this is a medium problem. People just don't want drawn fiction."

All the more reason that everything should be of the highest quality, yes? Several breakthrough projects with amazing quality happen, then a few more, and a few more... can result in a whole new standard.

Never give up, never surrender. Always gotta keep pushing for better.

The alternative is to just plain give up. Where's the fun in that?

jimshooter said...

Dear Anonymous,

Re: Golden's cover

I don't remember. However, at a glance, I'd guess that Golden's cover wasn't used because he didn't allow room for the contest banner at the top, which we were obligated to run. The cover that did run looks like it was cobbled together at the last minute. The Golden cover appears to have my signature on it, meaning I approved it. Maybe someone upstairs noticed that the contest banner was missing. But, I don't know for sure.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marvelman,

The people who got me "ousted" at VALIANT were the partners -- Steve Massarsky, Melanie Okun (a principal of Triumph Capital, who was Massarsky's wife by then) and Michael Nugent (the other principal of Triumph). None of them were capable of running the place -- Massarsky was a lawyer and he hadn't paid much attention to the comics until the plan to steal the company evolved. The other two were financial people. Therefore, before firing me, they made secret deals with Bob Layton, Barry Windsor-Smith and Jon Hartz -- they bought each them off for seven-figure sums. Fred Pierce was an employee of Triumph, so he was already their tool. He worked at VALIANT while serving asTriumph's monitor on the scene. Massarsky, his wife and Nugent appointed Fred to the board in order to have enough votes to fire me. P.S. Later, they screwed Barry out of his cut. They also tried to screw Fred, but I heard that he sued them and won.

They wanted to sell VALIANT. First offers from Paramount and others were in the $250 million range. According to the man who conducted the sale, Enrique Senior of Allen & Company, they ended up getting less because I was no longer part of the package, and sales had declined. The got $65 million in Acclaim stock, which subsequently went up, so the value of the deal was actually higher. Before selling the company, they also stripped a great deal of cash out of the company and dividended it to themselves. I believe they ended up with a profit well over $150 million.

They will tell you that I was an obstacle to the company's success, that I was blocking any sale of the company, which supposedly would ensure greater success. They will tell you that I would not allow the company to be sold because I would no longer have total control. It's so easy to trot out the old "everybody knows Shooter is a megalomaniac" thing whenever you need it. The fact is, I could not prevent a sale, since I didn't have a majority. The fact is that I agreed to a sale. However, the terms of the sale set forth were draconian for me. Only me. A ten-year employment contract that specified no particular position and no particular salary. Being replaced as President by Massarsky's brother-in-law. Clauses that enabled them to claw back all my stock on a whim: "failure to report" to the brother-in-law: forget to mention something to him someday, and there go my shares. "Failure to engender good morale": piss off Bob Layton one time, and there goes the stock, for no compensation. And other things. And they demanded that I sign a stack of reps and warranties that were patently false. If any problems arose after the transaction, I'd be the one to take the fall and end up in jail.

In truth, what they wanted was my stock, which, at that point, figured to be worth $62.5 million. So, they sought to put me in a position where, at their leisure, they could sieze my stock. If I'd signed their documents and stayed, they could have seized my shares any old time. Not signing meant they'd have to do it the hard way, by firing me and forcing an arbitration. I wouldn't sign, so they did it the ugly way.

They falsified documents, lied under oath, and trumped up a bogus valuation based on an "offer" by Massarsky's brother-in-law. Though I owned 25% of the company, they managed to claw back or otherwise take away my shares for chump change. I didn't come out of the arbitration they forced with enough money to pay my lawyer.

jimshooter said...

Quesada worked for VALIANT briefly very early on, coloring Nintendo books. I never had any serious contentions with any creative people while I was at VALIANT, certainly not Quesada. VALIANT hired him again after I was gone. Though the Korvac Saga sequel he asked me to do never happened because editor Tom Brevoort seemed be intent on treating me like a rookie -- no thanks -- as far as I know, there wasn't and isn't bad blood between Quesada and me. Unless my recent reviews and evaluations of Marvel have pissed him off.

jimshooter said...

Dear Aaron,

Exactly right. There's no guarantee that any comic book, no matter how good, will sell. Sometimes the damndest things capture the zeitgeist while good things lie there and cough up blood. However, I firmly believe that excellence increases your chances of success. A level swing improves your batting average. And, God we need a hit. Get your rally caps on....

Nicoco B. said...

jimshooter said...

"Dear Nicoco,

Give me a week. I'll come up with a dozen new stories for Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Spider-Man, Superman, Frodo Baggins or any character you want, no matter how long they've been around or how many stories about them have been done, all fresh and readable for a bigger audience. No need to "change them to the core," though some carefully thought-through changes might be good, and fun. If you helped me, we'd come up with three dozen."


Don't tempt me, I may take you seriously on that one !

I'm sure it's possible to do great stories with those characters we love. Still, I'm wondering how their longevity and their continuous presence affect the idea we, as readers, have of them ?

JayJayJackson said...

I don't know if there are a lot of licensed comics out there, but I've read the True Blood comics and picked up a few of the World of Warcraft comics and I thought those were ok. Not extremely well done, but good enough if you are a fan of the show or the game, I guess.

JayJayJackson said...

So simple, but so true:

"The one thing I learned from screenwriting is that there are three questions a writer has to answer in ten pages:

Who is the main character?
What do they want?
Why should we care?"

How many comics don't even do such a simple thing in the first few pages. Or even the first issue.

Kev from Atl said...

Speaking of content brings up one of my sorest points with comics, and that is the subject of character deaths. They are just ridiculous. I remember when the Death of Superman got all the media attention. Of course, every comics reader knew that the top licensed character in history was not going to stay dead-no way, no how. But of course every non-comics reader fell for it. How many did we have after that? Captain America? Right, with a movie in the works and The Avengers movie I'm sure he's staying dead. The Human Torch? No way the Fantastic Four will ever be anything other than Reed, Sue, Ben, and Johnny on any long-term basis.

But it is not the media attention-grabbing deaths that are the real problem, it is just the sheer ludicrous nature of character deaths in the first place. For the life of me I can't figure out why sales ever go up on an issue where a character dies. Every character that dies will return, period. I know Captain Marvel has not yet, but trust me, he will. I mean Bucky came back. I don't care whether you enjoy those stories or not, the death of Bucky was an emotional touchstone in Captain America's career, and that tragedy gave a real poignancy to the Captain America character that is now gone. And that is the real issue. No character death today has any emotional resonance whatsoever. We all know that they will all be back.
To the outside world this has to look so childish and ridiculous that it totally undermines the whole "comics aren't just for kids" anymore public relations campaign that comics have been seemingly waging forever. Really, they aren't? Name another medium where characters, almost every single one, die and come back on a regular basis, almost every single time.
Jim's blog is a good place to bring this up, because the death of Ferro Lad was one of the best superhero deaths ever. It was well-written, heroic, poignant, and clearly meant to be permanent (correct me if I'm wrong on that last one Jim). Other great character deaths were those of Jean Grey (of course it was completely ruined by bringing her back just to launch another damned mutant book). The death of Adam Warlock I liked (has that one been undone? If not, don't worry, it will be). I believe this is one of the things that turns people off of comics-character deaths have no meaning, and therefore always feel like a money grab. I would like to hear Jim's comments on this.

ja said...

Kev from Atl,

Character deaths are part of the structure of fictional fantasy stories. Fictional characters rise up all the time, and have for hundreds of years. Jesus Christ, just look at Jesus Christ! Biggest fictional character death & resurrection story ever.

The key is, was, and always will be to do the stories well. Make them well-written and compelling. It's probably a good argument that you shouldn't go to the death/resurrection foil too often, though.

You keep sending Lassie to that well too often, no one's going to care about Timmy anymore.

Bobby P. said...

Dear Mr. Shooter,

A great series of blog posts about comic book distribution.

Yes, I'm sure most of the comic book creators have no idea what exactly goes on in the distribution end of things. It really is all business, numbers and money.

Not exactly a topic to hold the interests of most writers or artists. It seems far more suited for business people to figure out that end of things.

You are right again about making better quality books that are accessible.

I tried reading the X-men, after being away for a decade and it is incomprehensible!

The writer takes for granted I know who these people are, their powers, and what plot wise is going on.

Needless to say, they did not get a new fan, and I am not following the X-books currently.

Back to the main topic and speaking of distribution.

I wonder if you will write a series about VALIANT and what went on at the distribution level?

Kev from Atl said...

'Character deaths are part of the structure of fictional fantasy stories. Fictional characters rise up all the time, and have for hundreds of years. Jesus Christ, just look at Jesus Christ! Biggest fictional character death & resurrection story ever.'
Far as I can remember exactly 2 characters died and were resurrected in the Bible-Jesus and Lazarus. Every sinlge character who died in the "bibleverse" was not resurrected. Can you point out other characters who died and were resurrected in fiction (except for those for whom death and resurrection is a vital part of their story, like Dracula)?

Bouncelot said...

Ja: "Fictional characters rise up all the time, and have for hundreds of years. Jesus Christ, just look at Jesus Christ! Biggest fictional character death & resurrection story ever."

Except that Jesus was a real person. Even hardcore atheists like Richard Dawkins will admit that he existed. Whether you believe he rose from the dead or not, he's as much a fictional character as JFK or Winston Churchill.


And, in any case, it doesn't make your case - it's one religious text, rather than a whole medium. You'd be on firmer ground arguing that nobody stays dead in animation, which is the only other medium which might contradict Kev's point.

ja said...

Kev from Atl,

I never said other characters in the Bible were or weren't resurrected. Who cares about listing how many characters were resurrected? It's been established. The Death of Superman was such a media success, that other companies and creators believe it's something to be emulated.

Whether it's Gandalf, or Spock, or Bobby Ewing, it's a device that is used. If you're gonna do it, then do it well.

Bouncelot,

Excuse me for not being that specific. I was referring to the fiction of Jesus rising from the dead.

I believe I made my case was made very well, thank you. One fictional religious text is still is in the medium of fiction. I'm on very firm ground making the points I made, even though you can argue all you wish about details that don't apply to the point at hand.

However, adding animation to the argument is a sound point, though it's not an exclusive one.

Pete said...

"On another note I'm wondering why there's no Twilight comic, Halo comic or Call of Duty Comic? That's the kind of comic that would appeal to today's kids and get them reading. "

Marvel published a couple of Halo miniseries in the last few years.

ja said...

"I believe I made my case was made very well, thank you."? Yikes, what a terrible sentence.

"I believe I made my case very well, thank you."

There, that's better. =P

Kev from Atl said...

ja...

Sorry, until it becomes standard practice that practically every character that dies in a medium is resurrected (that is why it matters to count the characters that are resurrected) your example does not prove your point in any way. And actually tell me where in animation that practically every character that dies is resurrected? I can't think of any. Again, my point is that people cannot get emotionally invested in the dangers comic characters face because death means absolutely nothing in comics. It makes a silly medium look even sillier. I trace the end of my comic reading as beginning when Jean Grey was resurrected, in a lousy story for another completely unnecessary mutant book, thereby reversing one of the greatest character deaths ever.

Defiant1 said...

Duh! If you'd read Psalms 22 & 24, it gives you a huge clue that he never was going to really die. He ascended. He wasn't the first person to ascend either. Jesus was quoting Psalms 22 on the cross which had already predicted what he was enduring. Psalms 24 tells you he was worthy of standing in the presence of God. It just seems to me that readers weren't paying attention. The foreshadowing was there.

Kinda like the Terminator movie where the Terminator runs over a toy truck at the beginning of the movie and then at the end a truck runs over him? Duh!!!

Pay attention readers!

ja said...

Kev,

When you read the point someone makes, you should not add (as you're reading) your own extra words to what someone said, thereby creating a whole new and different point that you disagree with.

I love how you misinterpret my points. Never did I say that "practically every character that dies is resurrected". Those are your words, not mine. You're the one who insists on listing how many did this, in what medium... that distracts from the point I made with my own words, not the ones you added for fictional effect.

It doesn't matter to count characters that were/are resurrected. Has nothing to do with the point I made.

You feel a death in comics "makes a silly medium look even sillier". That's your interpretation. I don't mind it, if it's done well. However, as I did *ahem* actually *ahem* say, if you keep going to that device too often, people will start to not care about this approach.

ja said...

Jesus ascended!

See? Fiction. It's all in how you sell it! Very dramatic.

That device has worked well in Star Trek, Babylon 5, and in many other fictional stories.

Phillip Beadham said...

The Death & Rebirth motif is universal - the 'wake up' motif is very similar. I think a literary critic called Northrop Frye made a study of this; but it's 20 years + since I was at university, so I forget. Apart from the examples mentioned from the Bible, another very famous example of death & rebirth, is the story of the Fisher King. It also relates to the cycle of the seasons, and solar myths. I can think of at least twenty examples of death and rebirth in fiction/mythology.

As regards the death & rebirth motif in Marvel, I would draw a distinction (I'm talking about the 70s/early 80s - I not interested in talking about the modern trash) between characters who die, supposedly for good, only to be brought back, and characters whereby death & rebirth is part of their origin. Phoenix, Adam Warlock, and Captain Marvell died, supposedly for good, whereas in the case of Moonknight, Drax, and Wonderman, death & rebirth is part of their origin stories.

On the whole, I don't like characters being bumped off. However, with Captain Marvell, in a way, I was pleased. With Marvell, the quality had been incredibly high almost throughout his run, it ending with Scot Edelman, followed by Doug Moench & Pat Broderick's fantastic Titan Saga. These epic stories usually happen for teams (the Dark Phoenix Saga & Jim's Korvac Saga). With Captain Marvell, Moench & Broderick did it for a single character. If Captain Marvell died, it meant no one could spoil him, like a TV show that went on too long. In other words, readers would always remember the book as being good. Even if Captain Marvell is revived and spoilt, his death drew a line under the comic, and, as far as I'm concerned, whatever is brought back to life isn't Captain Marvell. I'm sure lots of other readers feel the same.

Gasp! I feel better for getting that off my chest.

Kev from Atl said...

ja..

I still completely fail to grasp whatever point it is you are trying to make and to see how it remotely relates to what I said in the first place. Call me stupid.

Jim, I would like to see your comments on how the revolving door of character deaths does or does not affect the public's perception of the medium and whether it has/has not contributed to the medium's collapse. I actually think that you are one of the best people to comment on this as, other than the Comet's death at MLJ in the 1940s, the death of Ferro Lad is the earliest superhero death I can think of.

Dan said...

M/DC have lost sight of what made comic books appealing for decades:

1) They are a CHEAPER alternative to other literature.

2) The stories are more easily consumed than other literature.

Who's making comics where one complete story is cheaper than a novel? (Trades: $15-25. Novels: $8-10.)

Who's making comics that are easier to read than a novel? (Novels don't make you wait 6 months to get to the end. Novels don't ignore introducing characters and resolving major plotlines.)

Dan said...

Adding to my previous post:

Reading faster doesn't necessarily mean reading more easily.

ja said...

Kev,

I don't think you're stupid at all. You made your points, then I made mine.

No need to get itchy over it. =)

jimshooter said...

Dear Kev,

I think you make an excellent argument. I intended for Ferro Lad to remain dead. I intended for Phoenix and Elektra to remain dead. I think dead means dead, I think it is a betrayal of the bond of trust between the entertainment -- notice I didn't say the writer -- and the audience to un-kill a character or undo any change that should, by rights, be permanent. With regard to Phoenix, I was under constant pressure from upstairs to add more X-titles. When, on top of that, the creative folk downstairs occasionally pushed for a new X-title, as Chris did with New Mutants, it became difficult to say no. When X-Factor was proposed, at first it did not include Jean Grey. But then, the instigators decided they reallyreallyreally wanted her and came up with a reasonble way to explain that she didn't really die I caved in. Same with Elektra. Frank and Denny reallyreallyreally wanted to bring her back. Frank sold me on his extremely inventive method. I caved in.

I hope no one brings back Ferro Lad, Warlock or especially Captain Marvel, whose death resonated with me and many others. May they rest in peace.

Kev from Atl said...

Thanks Jim. God I can't believe I forgot Elektra, probably my third favorite character death of all time. And yes, Frank Miller thought up a creative way to bring her back, but I would still prefer he live with the pain of knowing she was gone forever. Actually, the issue after her death (Daredevil 182 I believe it was) of Daredevil hugging her tombstone is one of my favorite covers of all time. That image says it all and truly shows how death can define a character.

But the death of Jean Grey was sheer poetry. No way that should have ever been undone.

bmcmolo said...

One of my favorite bits from Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X-Men:

Emma Frost: Jean Grey is dead.
Agent Brand: Yeah. That'll last.

bmcmolo said...

As for Ferro Lad, I really quite enjoyed the Ghost of Ferro Lad story that's in the Showcase tpb I bought a few months back. It struck me as I read it that it wouldn't resonate with me if I didn't know the character really was dead, really was gone. I kept waiting for one of the October posts to go down the Ghost of Ferro Lad road, but alas no.

Kev from Atl said...

bmcmolo-
Agreed, the Ghost of Ferro Lad is a great story and means absolutely nothing if we know Ferro Lad will be back.

Here is a post that really set me off on this recently: http://www.newsarama.com/comics/marvel-point-one-returning-characters-110929-1.html. This article discusses how Bucky, after having been revived nearly 50 years after his death was revealed, having then died again, and then being revived only 4 months later (see, he can never really be dead again), and then how we can bring back 10 other characters who are dead. I have a really creative idea: leave them dead. To be truthful I don't really care anymore, but it just encapsulates the problem.

Kev from Atl said...

Oh and Jim-
My mother died of cancer also, so The Death of Captain Marvel resonates with me as well. And in addition it was a great story with great art.

Defiant1 said...

I think there is too much pressure to bring back a popular character. It is a creative asset of the publisher. It equates to money to a publisher if people want to see the character and you don't bring him back. I'd much rather a character be brought back from the dead than endure ten thousand flashback stories. I'd much rather a character be brought back from the dead than be deprived of the thousand other positive stories that could be told. I'm sick of seeing Jor-el put Superman in the space ship. I'm sick of hearing about Batman's parents dying. I was sick of flashbacks about Bucky's death. Death is the antithesis of why superheroes are inspiring. Death makes a superhero a loser and I've never been too interested in reading about losers. Didn't Ditko say heroes don't have flaws? I'm of a similar mindset.

I liked Captain Marvel as a character. I didn't like his death story. I wouldn't want to read a story about the death of my dad. It doesn't make me accept failure. Life has enough depressing things in it. I don't read stories to make me settle for inadequacies. I read stories so that I'm inspired to overcome them. If I want to see death, I'll close a book and go sit in a cemetery looking at slabs of stone sticking out of the ground. People need reasons to care about superheroes, death isn't one. It's a train wreck. Train wrecks fascinate people, but it isn't an inspiring story.

ja said...

The good logic of leaving characters dead (which I would actually prefer, over terribly executed resurrections) would make the current lot of comics creators and editors confused and bewildered.

They wouldn't know what to do with themselves, being deprived of an easy 'go-to' device, because they generally can't come up with anything more compelling. Or relevant. Or creative.

Author James Frey formed "Full Fathom Five," a young adult novel publishing company that aimed to create highly commercial, high concept novels like Twilight.

Jim, I wonder if something like this could ever work in the comics industry?

It would have to be executed in a more equitable manner, though. Quoting from Wikipedia: "In November 2010, controversy arose when an MFA student who had been in talks to create content for the company released her extremely limiting contract online. The contract allows Frey license to remove an author from a project at any time, does not require him to give the author credit for their work, and only pays a standard advance of $250."

I don't mind a structure like this. Anything to help get new ideas out in the marketplace. However, I wonder how it could be improved, to better credit and compensate those who contribute? Dial 'H' for Hero included the fans. I'm sure the James Frey structure could extend that, so long as the very complicated levels of who gets compensated and how are worked out.

Could they actually be worked out? Hmm...

Kev from Atl said...

Defiant1-
Death is a character flaw? I've never looked at it like that before and hope I never do.

Death makes a hero a loser? Ferro Lad punches a weakened Superboy out, grabs the bomb, then flies it into the heart of the Sun Eater, sacrificing his own life to save not only Superboy, but countless star systems threatened by the Sun Eater. The only way to destory the Sun Eater was to deliver the bomb to the heart of it. Superboy was going to do it, but he was severely weakened and very unlikely to survive the explosion. That makes Ferro Lad a loser? It makes him the truest hero in my estimation, especially since this is a character who has been shunned by society his whole life due to his deformed features.

Jean Grey knows that she cannot contain the Phoenix Force forever, and rather than risk destroying any more innocent lives she sacrifices herself. The greater good for the greater number. Does that make her a loser?

Spock exposes himself to lethal radiation in order to bring the Enterprise's warp engines online so the Enterprise, and its crew of hundreds, can go to warp speed and get away before the Reliant explodes and takes the Enterprise with it. Does that make him a loser?

Is a soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers a loser?

If it were clear that character deaths were permanent there would not be as many of them and there would be a greater effort to do them well and to make them meaningful. Death is a part of life and I want it to be a part of fictional life as well. I just want it done well and to have some meaning besides a temporary boost in sales.

Defiant1 said...

An inspirational hero has providence. To quote the bible: "Wisdom is better than sacrifice." I don't expect stories to be free of death, but I think it's misleading to take a character like Captain Marvel that sold hundreds of thousands of comics and then kill him off. Reed Richards was cool because he found a way to overcome everything. Hulk was cool because he never gave up. I read the death of Gwen Stacy and never cared about reading Spider-man again. I did read it, but it took all the enjoyment out of the character for me. There was noemotional connection invested in the death of Thunderbird, so that didn't bother me so much.

A soldier who sacrifices his life is simply doing the job he signed up to do. He was a hero for what he accomplished, not a hero for dying.

Spock never really died, so I just thought the ending was a crappy way to close the movie.

If there are stories to tell, keep telling the stories and quit looking back for 10, 20, or 60 years.

Our eyes are on the front of our faces so we can look forward, not behind us.

Yeah, if Superman died, don't bring him back. Have the testicles to kill your most popular character if the company wants to play those games. I didn't buy the story. I don't care how he died. Move on.

When my dad was on his death bed, I knew it. I left the hospital and let the rest of my family say their goodbyes. He could only have two visitors in intensive care. They called me when he passed, but I had already experienced the loss and the awarenessin my mind as it ran through the scenarios and possibilities. I didn't need to see his final breath unless he needed me to be there. There was nothing I could do to change anything.

When a hero dies, his stories are over. I have no reason to buy the comic anymore. Publishers are forced to appease their customers and bring the character back for monetary reasons or leave them dissatisfied. It's a lose/lose scenario.

I never saw how the Human Torch died awhile back. I don't care how he died. I'll remember him by his victories. If he comes back (maybe he already has), then I'll never be as excited to read about him.

By the same token, I can't stand watching movies where the supposed hero always gets by because he's lucky. These just aren't stories that interest me.

Chris Calloway said...

"Why can’t there be a comic book rack in every Starbuck’s? The books should be at checkout counters everywhere! Why aren’t there more bookstores selling comics?"

Wow. I heard a similar statement working in publishing. Not comics publishing, but publishing just the same. Maybe not everyone wants "it". I'll hear things like, "We need to to be everywhere." Do we? At what cost? Does it make business sense? If the content is compelling, if it's that good, readers will seek it out. More importantly, they will come back again and again because of the content. Sure, we want to be accessible, we want want to be in the right places. But you have to do more than just "show up", you have to put on a good show (or in comics, tell a good story).

What are your thoughts and recommendations regarding digital distribution of comics? Good stories will sell regardless of the format. But do they need to be everywhere?(e.g. Kindle, Fire, Nook, iPad, Android Tablets). And can print and digital comics support each other and boost overall sales of good, well written comics? Based on your approach to newsstand and direct market sales while editor in chief of Marvel, I would think so.

Personally, I read comics and magazines in both print and digital format. I enjoy both. I'm more likely to try a title in digital format based on its lower price. However, the comic still has to contain both good story and art. That keeps me coming back to the title issue after issue regardless of the format.

Thank you again for a fantastic, insightful blog. And thank you also for your work on the Dark Horse Gold Key characters over the past year or so. Great stuff!

Lincoln G. said...

God, Jim - I wish you could get into the conversation I'm having with this dick on my local shop's message board. I'm trying to argue that the big two are ruining comics by pumping out a never ending cycle of awful "events" while smaller publishers can create a higher percentage of quality books with less resources, etc. This ahole accountant is giving me business school quotes about operational leverage and how Fear Itself was a good story and etc. Basically he LIKES mindless dreck as long as it promotes capitalism, characters he loves be damned. Me, I just like Spider-Man...

Driving me up the wall.

Dan said...

M/DC have engaged in so many "death" stories (some real, some not but we still get the "we miss you" storyline anyway) that (1) death is nothing more than a chance to stop buying the title for awhile, and (2) completely obliterates the credibility of continuity.

In any realistic portrayal of the Xmen, Avengers, or Justice League, their deaths would always be the elephant in the room. If they talked about it as much as we would, then it would get boring. And if they don't talk about it, it kinda negates any purpose of doing the story in the first place.

It would clearly alter their perceptions of reality, of their place in the universe. And more just than the occassional obligatory reference to it.

jimshooter said...

Dear Kev,

As I said in a previous answer, I believe that undoing a death violates the "contract" between the entertainment and the audience, barring very special circumstances. In response to popular demand, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought back Sherlock Holmes from seemingly undoable death, but he did it well and I was okay with it. Comic books have seldom done as well. Elektra's re-animation seemed pretty good to me. Miller allowed me to believe it, and gave the sense that it wasn't quite undoing death, really.

ja said...

Defiant1,

People die. Usually at very inconvenient times. It hurts like hell when you love them, and oddly enough, that also applies to characters you've come to care about.

Someone decides to kill off a character you like, you feel cheated. You are upset and angry over the loss of this character whose 'life' and adventures you really enjoyed. Just like in real life, you don't get a choice as to who dies, or when. Just like real life.

When Spock sacrificed himself in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the people who were making the movies thought that was it for Spock. Leonard Nimoy thought it was. The decision to bring him back wasn't until after ST2 was made, even though the director wanted Spock to say or do something that would pay respect to his Vulcan heritage. That's where Spock mind-melding with McCoy, saying "remember", came to be. According to Nimoy, that was to add nuance to the character.

Then he was brought back. I personally thought it was a good way to do it. I accepted it quite well. However, it did NOT AT ALL diminish the sacrifice that the character of Spock made when he brought the engines online in that radioactive chamber, saving the crew.

You dismissed that ending way too cavalierly. But it's much easier to talk about that ending in ST2 as being "crappy" with such cynical hindsight.

In the Captain America movie, Steve Rogers threw himself onto a grenade he thought was going to explode, trying to save the people around him. It made the point that he was literally a self-sacrificing hero. That didn't diminish the character of Steve Rogers. It enhanced it. Not a character flaw, by any means.

"When a hero dies, his stories are over." True. But the LEGEND could begin anew with other characters! New characters could come in to fill his/her shoes, failing miserably or succeeding greatly, depending on the quality of writers and creators producing the stories (or the intentions of really good writers/creators). Hopefully you'd get good ones.

If Marvel actually SAID the Human Torch died, then shame on them. I saw that comic book. Johny Storm did sacrifice himself, and was drawn deep into the Negative Zone by countless creatures until he disappeared from sight. Sure looked like he died. But we never saw a body being killed. Never saw a floating, flaming limb all by itself. Never saw his head being rendered from his torso.

Aside from any/everyone who said he died, I thought it was a nice sacrifice (note that I did not say 'death'). I look forward to when he comes back. Changed in some way when he does? We'll find out...

Everyone's tastes are different. I'm more open to all kinds of nonsense, so long as it's presented well. Some people don't like certain kinds of stories, just like you don't like characters that get lucky all the time. My oldest brother and I went to see the very good movie Contagion, and he was disappointed it wasn't a fast-paced action-adventure flick. That's pretty much all he likes.

Oh well. Can't please everybody.

jimshooter said...

Dear Defiant,

I'm with you to some extent. Brian's Song was moving. Remember the Titans was moving. I like stories that are moving. I also like stories in which the hero doesn't fail, the children are saved, the bad guys don't win and I leave the experience cheering.

ja said...

Jim,

What movies or stories where the hero does fail, where the bad guys do win (to use your general terms), have you enjoyed? What are the films or stories that you have enjoyed, despite your typical story standards?

Marc Miyake said...

My favorite passage about death in American superhero comics is by Chris Tolworthy:

From the beginning, Marvel comics were famous for meaningful deaths. Sure, villains often died and came back, but heroes stayed dead. Earl Wells identifies the heroic death as one way that you can distinguish Stan Lee's work from someone else's ("Once And For All, Who Was The Author of Marvel," The Comics Journal 181). In the early days, Franklin Storm, the Gargoyle, Wonder Man, Al Harper, etc. all died in heroic sacrifices. The comic sometimes voted the greatest ever - Fantastic Four 51, "This Man, This Monster" - ends in heroic sacrifice. Every comic reader from the 1970s can remember Gwen Stacy's death. Death were permanent (though occasionally a clone or impostor would pretend to be the dead person). Death had a huge impact, because it really mattered, and the possibility of death made all other dangers meaningful.

But Marvel Time means permanent change is anathema. Readers who grew up on Marvel Time expect nothing to seriously change, and something changes they want it back the way it was! In 1983 Elektra came back from the dead. The cracks were beginning. In 1986 Phoenix came back (perhaps that name made it inevitable). Then after Shooter left the dam burst.


Tolworthy's list of post-Phoenix resurrections is -- deadening. It's hard to be moved by the routine. As Tolworthy wrote,

"Death has become a revolving door that even the comic characters joke about (see Wikipedia: Comic Book Death). Without the possibility of meaningful death, and with Marvel Time ensuring that nothing else really changes, drama is almost impossible."

I would add that maybe the deaths and resurrections of primary characters (e.g., Superman, Captain America) resonate differently from those of secondary characters (e.g., Captain Marvel, Phoenix, and Elektra). The former are mass media events; the latter are unknown outside our community. And the deaths and resurrections of villains are in a third category for me, perhaps because

(1) I expect villains to be frequently (but not always!) defeated and even seem to die

(2) the departures and comebacks of villains aren't hyped (since they're expected?)

Has anyone ever really been upset about the return of Dr. Doom? Not me. But the "death" and return of Superman was a major factor in driving me away from comics almost 20 years ago.

PS: Is Al Harper's death more important than I thought? I read Silver Surfer #5 years ago but didn't recognize Harper's name when I first read Tolworthy's article.

Eric Garrison said...

Hi Jim,

Love your blog, some very insightful comments on the business of the comic industry, as well as upwards and downwards trends.

I think the industry overall is going to move in a much more steep decline. There's only so may times you can read the same stories, or the same situations. How many times has Spider-Man lifted up the huge building? How many times has he saved Aunt May?

Your core argument of QUALITY ranks true. Look at Walking Dead. That comic has been steadily growing in recent years, as well as generating its own TV show. It's well written, and provides a lot of value to the reader. It almost reads like a TV show, with prepackaged seasons in the book material.

Some superhero comics have gone against the fold (like Batman). They have grown character arcs and steady growth in sales and fanbase. The comic companies seem to respect the reader.

The constant churn of death and live (especially at Marvel lately) is disgusting.

All of this doesn't justify a $4.00 comic. People WILL pay for quality, but not crap.

Online looks to be an interesting distribution model, and it would be interesting to see if some comic companies are successful in their online distribution channels ($4.00 for a digital file does not make sense).

Online comics like Penny Arcade are successful, but also first of all FREE. They are then collected and make their money through collections and associated merchandise. If only mainstream publishers could follow the same model.

Love your blog. Hope to see you in the Bay Area at a show one of these days

Defiant1 said...

I guess the real way to sum up my opinion is that if the hero is going to die, the stories with him/her should be over and I don't want 20 years of the flashbacks that will inevitably occur. It's a huge plot disappointment when I'm preferring to find inspiration. I know flashbacks will occur, so I appreciate it when writers don't even embark upon that path. A death issue itself is not the story that motivates me to buy a comic. It's my cue that it should be over. I'm more than happy to skip that issue altogether.

Just as I'm not a fan of Victorian themed dramas with romanticized views of what it's like to live without modern conveniences, I don't have a lot of interest in reading an overly sadistic (and sometimes unimaginative) writer's exploration in terminally abusing characters that I liked.

To me it's no different than if you kicked my cat every time I saw you. I'm rooting for my cat to scratch your eyes out. I'm not rooting for it to die.

Can death be good in a story? Yes. I loved the movie Shadowlands, but it's also a very logical, informative, and moving example of how to cope with both death and love.

jimshooter said...

Dear Defiant,

At VALIANT, I wrote a story in which it was stated that, inevitably, in 1999, Shadowman would die. I absolutely intended to stick to that. I wanted to make comics history -- for the first time ever, even if Shadowman was our best seller, I intended to cancel the series due to the death of the star. No other company would do it. No one else would dare cancel a success, because creating a success was so mysterious and haphazard to other companies they would fear to risk it. To me, it would have said to the audience: "We know how to create a success. We can do it again. We dare ANYTHING! Do not look away!"

jimshooter said...

Dear Chris,

My thoughts regarding any distribution of comics: Make them good. Make them available. The readers will find us.

jimshooter said...

Dear Lincoln,

The argument that "mindless dreck" is what the masses want and is the way to succeed is always the opening innovators need to kick ass and take names. Ask Matt Groening.

jimshooter said...

Dear ja,

A Man for All Seasons. A Clockwork Orange. The Death of Captain Marvel. Many more.

Shawn James said...

I had my own dilemma with bringing a character back from the dead in one of my novels.
In 2002 I killed off the villain in my first Book. I wanted to adhere to the policy of "Dead is Dead."

But around 2004 I realized I made a mistake. I started see the full potential of my antagonist and i wanted to use them for other stories. Lucky for me I had a nice little loophole built into the structure of the story. And with her being a bad guy, there were a lot of benefits to bringing her back to antagonize another hero.

I feel bad guys can be brought back from the dead as it adds surprise and builds suspense. Bad guys are the center of conflict, so their deaths add drama and make the story more entertianing.

Heroes need to stay dead unless it's a special circumstance. They make so many noble sacrifices by giving their lives that their deaths nowadays have no impact on the reader. Lately the dead/alive thing has been done to death to the point where I read about it I roll my eyes. I pretty much know a hero is gonna be back in 12-24 months, so I just bide my time.

That shouldn't be.

Heroes dying should be big. They should have impact like Bucky, Gwen Stacy, Uncle Ben, Captain Marvel and Jason Todd. I feel the living characters grew from watching those characters die, and it changed the way readers saw these heroes operate. Bringing characters back from the dead really cheapens those stories and the message in them.

Defiant1 said...

Jim,

Overall, I trust you to handle death. The death of Torque was disappointing, but you were doing good things with it. I wasn't pleased with the death of Elektra, the death of Jean Grey, and the death of Captain Marvel. I feel the last two were fairly established characters with many years of fans having a vested interest in reading them. In the case of Elektra, Daredevil always worked best when he interacted with a strong female lead. It didn't matter who it was. It helped define his character. My recollection is that stories fell a little flat after that saga. I can even understand giving the green light to the Death of Captain Marvel given the circumstances, but it was a huge disappointment because I felt he'd never really been meshed into the continuity as well as he could have. Starlin had done great things with him. I felt like his potential was cut short due to lagging sales.

I thought that announcing the death of Shadowman was brilliant. It added a sense of intrigue and it meant that everything he had to do better matter for something.

I'd like to think that the planned suicide of your Shooter character at DEFIANT was going to be a high tension failed attempt. With the powers he had, I'm skeptical that his attempt would work and it would have left both a terrible dilemma to face if he can't kill himself as well as leaving him with a boatload of choices to make with regards to how he decided to live out his life.

Anonymous said...

"I'd like to think that the planned suicide of your Shooter character at DEFIANT...."

[MikeAnon:] HUH-WHA-WHO--? When was THIS supposed to happen??? [--MikeAnon]

Defiant1 said...

Jim,

Were you in any way involved with the creation of Master Darque or the plotting sessions that were to introduce him? Before Barry left, he'd done a storyline titled something like "Falling through time". In the epilogue, Master Darque is shown and the time stamp shows it taking place before prior to the date the story began. The date on the time stamp coincided with the day Lydia bit Jack Boniface. If planned by Barry, I thought that was brilliant and it could have played in with all the other tight continuity around that moment. Evidently no one at Valiant ever noticed the date in the epilogue. The late Seaborn Adamson shopped for comics where I hung out. He was the Valiant archivist that collected all the info on the characters for the staff. He wrote the date off as a mistake. Perhaps only Barry knew if it was a mistake, but again, I thought it was the best thing Valiant did after you were out.

ja said...

Jim said, "A Man for All Seasons. A Clockwork Orange. The Death of Captain Marvel. Many more."

Excellent examples. Thanks.

Defiant1 said...

MikeAnon,

Obviously you've never visited my messageboard :)
It was to be issue #8. Jim plotted the first 8 issues and the series was scripted by Art Holcomb who did an excellent job. A big shakeup was going to happen in maybe issue #6 I believe. Dogs of War was a pleasant surprise for me.

Mister.44 said...

re: Dead is dead

I think the media is a big factor to if dead is dead. Simply put, serial entertainment is the hardest to have your heroes (and villains) stay dead. The worst offenders are also the most prolific - soap operas. (Coincidentally, as I started to get out of comics, I liked X-Men to a soap opera. With Adamantium claws.)

This is why a movie or book is way more likely to have a 'main' character die. Books and movies are - usually - finite and a one off. This is how you can have a dead Joker and Two Face in the Batman films, or a dead Green Goblin and Doc Oct. Or like some of my favorite characters from the first Dragonlance novels.

I can appreciate the "Dead is dead" concept - but there is always a problem with jackassess killing off characters in stupid ways. This is why had *ZERO* issues with Boba Fett surviving the Sarlaac (twice, if you count the Marvel issue where he was rescued and then placed back into the Sarlaac).

And then there are "non cannon" stories or "elseworld" stories where deaths make sense that they wouldn't in the regular continuity, such as the Joker's in DKR.

Bouncelot said...

Phillip Beadham said...
"As regards the death & rebirth motif in Marvel, I would draw a distinction (I'm talking about the 70s/early 80s - I not interested in talking about the modern trash) between characters who die, supposedly for good, only to be brought back, and characters whereby death & rebirth is part of their origin. Phoenix, Adam Warlock, and Captain Marvell died, supposedly for good, whereas in the case of Moonknight, Drax, and Wonderman, death & rebirth is part of their origin stories."

Surely death and rebirth IS part of Phoenix's origin story. Jean Grey sacrificed her life to save the X-Men, died, and was reborn as the far more powerful Phoenix. That's the whole reason the character's called Phoenix.

PC said...

Since nobody mentioned it: Adam Warlock is currently on his second death. He was brought back by Jim Starlin in "Silver Surfer" in 1990, and had two monthly series in the 90s boom. I don't know if it was Starlin's idea, or Gruenwald's or DeFalco's.

After "Annihilation: Conquest", Warlock was turned to the Magus and was murdered by an evil parallel universe Captain Mar-Vell. He's presently dead, but his shtick includes wrapping himself in a cocoon every time he needs to regenerate, so I expect him to be back soon.

Mister.44 said...

re: "but there is always a problem with jackassess killing off characters in stupid ways."

Oh I wanted to tell this story - The Star Trek movie where they were killing off Kirk (Generations?). My friend went to go see it and report back that they killed Kirk. I said, "Well, that's ok. As long as they didn't make it something stupid like he fell down a bunch of stairs."

There was an awkward silence and then, "Yeeeaaahhhh... that is sorta what they did."

:o(

Dave C said...

This goes slightly OT but. . .

Have a happy Thanksgiving today, Mr. Shooter.

I've immensely enjoyed your blog for these last several months. As a long time fan of the medium, it's fascinating to hear about the creative end all the way to the business side of the industry.

Also, have you ever thought about opining about how the slew of comic book based movies that are out there? Which movie got it right and which one needed work?

Thanks for hard work you did back in the Marvel days and the continued effort you put forth now.

Phillip Beadham said...

Bouncelot, you're absolutely correct; death & rebirth is intrinsic to Phoenix's origin, just as it is with Drax, Wonderman, and Moonknight. That very obvious fact occurred to me, just after I'd written what I'd written. Like one of Pavlov's dog's, I saw the words "Captain Marvel" and immediately started writing, without thinking carefully enough about what I was saying. My fault. Also, my comment that I was glad Captain Marvell died, was very ill-considered. Deep apologies to members whom the story resonated with, for personal reasons. I also thought more could have been done with Captain Marvell; but as the series stopped when it did, its high quality is memorable. No poor artists & writers got a chance ruin it.

The blog's much interesting now it's about comics again, not political views, etc.

Discussing the deaths of characters in comics, I think we're also forgetting something important - the target audience. Lots of the readers of comics are young ( I certainly started young). My favourite superhero, as a young kid, was Captain Britain, in his original incarnation. At the age of 9, I was disgusted when British Marvel had him killed off, by 'Death's White Rider' - a villain whom the Black Knight then easily dispatched with one stroke of his sword, making a mockery of CB's death (or that's how I saw it, as a young kid).

When a character dies from cancer, if very young readers are experiencing a bereavement, and this character was a favourite of theirs, one might be entering difficult territory. The argument could be made that older readers understand the story and what it is trying to say. Very young readers might not. I remember after X-Men # 136/7, mothers were writing in to the letters page, saying their children were in tears after Phoenix died. I never had this reaction, but it's quite a responsibility for a writer/editor (I know Jim will have already thought about all aspects of this; I'm just saying that we - the readers - don't necessarily think about it from that point of view). Life is hard; but what's the age when one has to realize that? There isn't a simple answer.

I don't want to get the blog back onto the political discussion again, because I hated that. But maybe part of the reason why Ditko wanted characters presented in black & white, is because he knew lots of the readers were very young. Young kids see the world in black & white. They only understand that it isn't black and white when they get a bit older. Very young readers don't want to see 'morally ambiguous' characters ripping people to shreds every five minutes. At age 11, more 'grown up' stories started to interest me more - e.g. Moon Knight - but at 8 or 9, the ability to see the 'shades of grey', probably isn't there.

Kev from Alt said...

The Phoenix force can be reborn as many times as you want (although it is no longer interesting to me), but it exists independently of the host. Jean Grey's sacrifice was heroic and moving and Jean Grey should never have been reborn.

gn6196 said...

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!

jimshooter said...

Dear Defiant,

Barry is a genius. I had nothing to do with Master Darque.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Shooter,

As someone who is only an occasional comic book reader, I have read your blogs with great interest. Whilst I would agree that sales have been hurt by poor quality as much or more as by distribution issues (I read comics rarely because most new comics seem dull and unentertaining to me). However, there is one distribution issue that I feel may be directly linked to quality. To quote from the Chuck Rozanski account that you linked to:

"...[the Direct Market] actually ended up destroying the entry point of most new readers. While most comics specialty shops do a great job of servicing their existing clients, the distressing truth is that many shops inadvertently (or sometimes blatantly...) give the appearance of being private clubs, where only the already initiated need apply. Newsstands, on the other hand, are quite egalitarian, offering everyone the same access to new comics and magazines, in a usually very family friendly environment..."

Why was that change important for quality as well as removing an entry point for new readers? Well, because a general audience will judge comics against other forms of storytelling - novels, movies, television, etc. - and assess its quality accordingly. Hardcore comics fans might well be judging comics against other comics, and what might seem "good" in those terms might appear sub-standard when compared to popular fiction in all its forms. Also, it strikes me that there are (as with certain other sci-fi and fantasy fandoms) a significant number that prize continuity and "callbacks" above good storytelling. That "spotty" newsstand audience that didn't feel the need to collect everything, that included a lot of people who didn't fit the largely male, 18-34 demographic that appears to be the publishers' view of LCS shoppers, they were probably more likely to be swayed into buying by good stories. But they aren't the target audience, the "private club" in the comic shops are the ones being targeted, so comics are tailored to the fandom rather than general tastes.

Whether or not they are "good", comics have become a niche product for a niche audience - and the direct market means that it would be hard for even an outstanding comic to break out of that niche. Someone used the example of "Lost" to show how a something good could become big by word of mouth, and how if something was good, people would find it. But "Lost" was not exactly hard to find - it was shown in primetime on a major TV network (who made an effort to promote it). It wasn't as if it was on some obscure channel that only fantasy-obsessed geeks knew about. Similarly, the revival of "Doctor Who" became a huge hit because head writer Russell T. Davies didn't simply ensure that the stories were good, but also ensured that they were tailored not for existing fans, but for a mass audience that might not necessarily like science fiction, let alone the "old" Doctor Who series. And the BBC put it in a primetime slot on their main channel, treated it as one of their flagship dramas and promoted it like mad...which helped(!) Even "Harry Potter" was available in the children's section of ordinary bookstores - so again, not exactly hidden away from the general public in a place that they would not normally visit.

If comic sales levels are to increase in the long-term, then good comics are only the start. Yes, new readers won't keep buying if the quality isn't there, but they won't buy in the first place if the product is hidden in specialist stores that these potential readers may never enter. It may take a general move to digital (along with newspapers/magazines) to create a new "egalitarian" channel to bring comics back to the mass market.

World Famous Psycho Chicken said...

Jim a question about Rom.

Did Marvel ever consider buying him outright? He only has value as a comic property.

jimshooter said...

Dear Dave C,

I'll do a movie review or two soon. Thanks.

czeskleba said...

Regarding the argument people are making that it's hard to refrain from killing off and resurrecting characters in serial fiction, I would point out that comic writers in general had no problem avoiding the overuse of these devices up until the 80's. From the beginning of superhero comics until the mid-80's, these devices were used very sparingly... I can count on one hand the number of characters that came back to life. Writers seemed to understood that excessive use of such things would blunt their impact and begin to seem silly.

To bring the discussion full circle, I would postulate that the rise of comic shops, and the shift from casual buyers to comic fans as the main target audience, is what led to the excessive use of death and resurrection today. I think in the 80's the publishers discovered that death sells to fans. "Death issues" have for some reason long been considered more "valuable" by fans, and the change factor and shock factor are appealing to longtime fans who are jaded and bored with the status quo. It's notable that as fan readers became a greater percentage of total readers in the late 80s and 90s, deaths and resurrections of characters skyrocketed. DC's Crisis was the beginning of the trend of excessively killing off characters as a stunt to sell to fans. Now that fans are the only audience, we have a situation where death and resurrections are used to ridiculous extremes.

Anonymous said...

"If you'd read Psalms 22 & 24, it gives you a huge clue that he never was going to really die. He ascended."

[MikeAnon:] Incorrect. According to the Gospels, Jesus *did* die. For real. Spirit left body. Dead. Remember, in the Bible "dead" doesn't mean "ceases to exist." It just means the human soul departs from the human body -- the soul goes to wherever it's going, and the body decays. Only in Jesus' case his soul, after having descended to "Abraham's bosom" (i.e., the comforting portion of Sheol reserved for the righteous dead, as opposed to "Hades," the tormenting portion of Sheol reserved for the unrighteous dead) was returned from Sheol and reunited with his body and his body was glorified (i.e., made perfect and imperishible). And then after making a few appearances to his disciples over the course of 7 weeks, he ascended to sit at the right hand of God the Father. [--MikeAnon]

"He wasn't the first person to ascend either."

[MikeAnon:] Correct. Prior to Jesus, there were two human beings, Enoch and Elijah, who ascended to heaven without dying and being resurrected. But they did not ascend to heaven with perfect, imperishable bodies, so their story isn't over. According to Revelation, God sends from heaven "two faithful witnesses" before the Great Tribulation. It is thought by some that these witnesses are Enoch and Elijah, who were taken up by God and held in stasis to be sent again into the world to preach at the appointed time. These witnesses are then killed and raised from the dead in glorified bodies after 3-1/2 days (so as not to detract from the honor of Jesus' 3-day resurrection), and then they ascended to heaven as Jesus did, though not to sit at the right hand of the Father as Jesus did, as that's not their place -- only God the Son can sit at the right hand of God the Father. [--MikeAnon]

Defiant1 said...

Corrections accepted. I was talking about the spirit.

You left out the apocryphal claim that Jesus went to hell and set Adam free. :)

Anonymous said...

No offense (although it is really impossible to believe it), but the only thing harder to believe than the stories in comic books are the stories in the Bible. Maybe we should reboot it to try to streamline the continuity.

Mister.44 said...

Ever notice that when a statement starts with, "No offense...", it usually is a statement best left unsaid?

Anonymous said...

Well if we are to receive lessons in Biblical teachings in this forum I see no reason the rationalist viewpoint should not also be presented.

Anonymous said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Cheers.
--Rick Dee

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

I used to go to comics stores every week. They were within walking distance of where I lived. Distribution was not a problem for me. Nonetheless, I quit regularly buying "mainstream" comics nearly 20 years ago. It was declining quality that drove me away, not lack of availability. One could put a comics vending machine outside my front door and I wouldn't buy the stuff. One could even give me free downloads and I still wouldn't read the stuff. And if that's how someone who's read comics for 36 years feels, how would a civilian feel?

I suspect pros have forgotten how a civilian feels. This inability to empathize leads to the distribution argument. We're making such great stuff that it'd sell if only it were on every newsstand. "Great" -- to whom? What Anonymous wrote today at 12:35 PM may apply to fans-turned-pros as well as fans:

Hardcore comics fans might well be judging comics against other comics, and what might seem "good" in those terms might appear sub-standard when compared to popular fiction in all its forms.

Is even an award-winning comic really that "great" compared to other forms of fiction out there?

Here's a case of a "great" comic that got great distribution, yet may not be a big hit. The Green Lantern magazine I saw at the supermarket on Saturday says, "Witness the Beginning of BLACKEST NIGHT!" Does that mean anything to civilians? To be fair, I guess "The Dead Will Rise!" might give some idea of what "BLACKEST NIGHT" is about, but I bet somebody thought the mere mention of a "big" event -- "big" to anyone in our shrinking subculture -- would impress outsiders. And even if an outsider did buy this magazine's reprints of Blackest Night #0 and #1, would they be driven to find #2-8? Would they even know #2-8 existed?

The cover is cluttered compared to those of the previous two issues, and all three issues have generic covers that don't tell me anything about the contents. Compare those covers with the covers from 50 years ago which are far more informative. The fan will reflexively buy anything with Green Lantern on it; the civilian won't. The fans -- and pros -- have forgotten the civilian-friendly comics that made them love Green Lantern in the first place decades ago.

Covers give comics an advantage over other media. I have to sit through a movie trailer or a TV commercial to get an idea of what a movie or TV show is about, whereas I can glance at a comic cover and decide, "I want that!" Thirty seconds versus three seconds. Generic covers take away this advantage. They resemble movie posters ... which tend to resemble each other. I can't say I've seen a movie poster design that made me want to see a movie. I read the info on movie posters -- the title, staff, and release date -- but the designs themselves are usually forgettable.

Thanks for the memo listing the distributors before the Age of Diamond. I bet a lot of readers here can ID their local distributors. I probably got my comics through Comics Hawaii back in '83 when I started going to comics stores. I was initially surprised to see a Hawaii company on this list, but maybe Hawaii's isolated location is most suitable for a specialist.

Anonymous said...

Amazing the need for certain people to turn this into a religious bashing thread. But then some people cant help belittling others.

Marc Miyake said...

Dear Jim,

Were there any plans for Broadway to leverage its mainstream media connections and credentials to get distribution outside the direct market? All of the Broadway titles -- including the concepts briefly introduced in Babes -- seemed to appeal more to civilians than to longtime superhero fans. A TV adaptation of Star Seed could have been the Smallville of the 90s!

Dear JayJay,

You described the licensed comics as "good enough if you are a fan of the show or the game." The best licensed comics are good, no, great enough to stand alone and outshadow the source material. How many readers of Bill Mantlo's ROM owned the toy or even just wanted one? Licensed comics done so well that even outsiders can enjoy them could be entry points for comics in general. Alas, I doubt publishers see them that way.

Dear Mister.44,

I've noticed that, which is why I try not to say things that others would preface with "No offense."

YHVH said...

Something that needs to be said re: killing off characters:

Comic book writers that want to kill off characters are kind of like guys who want to have sex with virgins. Those guys who want to have sex with virgins want to do so because the women will be "ruined" for all other men. Or it's like guys who use public toilets and don't flush, or people that hock loogies on door handles in public buildings; they want to make their mark by ruining the experience for everyone else.

It's a power trip for them. They want to be the writer who wrote the last issue of that character's life. They want to be known as the Writer To End All Other Writers, the last writer the character ever had. It comes from a very juvenile place.

The problem isn't characters being resurrected - the problem is writers killing off perfectly good characters in the first place. It's stupid, it's childish, and it's bad for business, as most characters that get killed could have continued making money for the comic company.

Defiant1 said...

OMY!! YHVH has spoken!

arnie said...

if i had a choice to learn how to tell a story in comics, between Jack Kirby an Todd McFarland i 'd choose Jack. Why? Todd added to to comics and has a studio on the 12th floor. Jack designed the building Todd "draws" in. one is an occupant and the other is an architect. my point is, if your going to learn anything, why not close your mouth, and learn something from one of the people that laid the foundation we all create upon.

Jim Shooter is by no means the master guru of all things comics. However, is the closet we will be able to get, to the builders. he grew up with them, and i supposed he gleaned as much knowledge as he could. So, it surprises me at no end, when Mr. Shooter offers his opinions of distribution, and what's wrong with comics in general, then gets shouted down for it. He knows things based on "actual experience", not imagined speculation. but i suppose it's easier to believe what you want, especially when you can stay lazy in your craft.

Thanks Mr. Shooter for the insight...

jimshooter said...

Dear World Famous Psycho Chicken,

RE: Did Marvel consider buying ROM: Not while I was there.

jimshooter said...

Dear Marc,

We thought Broadway Video's connections would help us get Broadway Comics properties into TV and film, and the properties were created (to some extent) with that in mind. Turned out BV wasn't able to help much, connections or not. It's a tough row to hoe. P.S. In some cases, the connections I had were better than theirs.

Anonymous said...

Or...maybe a writer just has such a fantastic story that involves the death of a character that they just have to tell it and the readers are left better off for it?

That's also a pretty unfair (and kind'a arrogant) statement to make about the intentions of creators, YHVH. When Stan Lee killed off Wonder Man in his very first appearance, was he really making sure that nobody else ever got to enjoy using him? CURSE that evil Stan Lee and his all consuming power trip!

Is this "No deAths, EVER!" mantra just something that applies to COMIC BOOK WRITERS, YHVH? Or all writers? Was Shakespeare killing off Mercutio all about making sure nobody else got to write him in the sequel, eh? How would you have ended Old Yeller? Maybe he just goes to the vets and gets a shot?

The death of a character, where it serves the story and is meaningful, is a perfectly valid storytelling concept.

The death of Captain Marvell remains to this day, in the comic book industry, a remarkable and unique story that reflects how even superheroes can face fights they cannot win with punches or laser beams.

There have been some pointless and silly deaths in comic books done for shock value (Avengers Disassembled) or sales spikes/events (Death of Superman) definitely but to suggest that no character can ever NOT die is ridiculous.

Daz White

Andy E. Nystrom said...

I've altered my views on character deaths over the years slightly but as a general rule I'm still against resurrections. My biggest problem is at this point characters should start to notice (and on rare occasions characters *have* noticed) that resurrections are pretty common. I think it's less heroic for a character to sacrifice their life if the character knows that at some point they'll be back. Sure it's still a sacrifice because there are things that will need to be done as soon as they return but it's still not as big a sacrifices if they know they won't be coming back. Villains likewise sometimes only have a chance to really learn the folly of their ways when they realize they're going to meet a permanent end. And if a character gets too emotional over another character's death in a world where resurrections are common, the reader can end up feeling that the surviving character is overreacting.

Now there are exceptions. Some characters are talented at faking their deaths. If the writer deliberately built in an escape route for a death and the death intentionally has a big question mark around it, that's fine; that's doubly true if the death is in the middle of a story where their return is part of that story.

Obviously there's characters where resurrection is built into the concept or the death is the start of their story. Deadman, Resurrection Man, Dracula etc count as these. Even these though there should be a way to permanently dispatch them to the great beyond.

Another reason that I've come around to is if a character only died due to shock value or the death is otherwise not very well thought out, I've become pretty forgiving. It's ironic that characters with very good deaths (Flash, Green Goblin) get resurrection, whereas characters like the Rita DeMara version of of Yellowjacket whose death meant nothing sometimes either stay dead or as in her case return to the grave after a storyline ends. I'd be fine if Rita's return in Chaos War was revealed to be more permanent than is currently believed, but I'd
give some serious thought to abandoning the Marvel Universe if Mar-Vell returned since of the two of them, his death had the most meaning.

(Aside, why would Hercules in Chaos War opt to bring back Alpha Flight permanently and not characters who had been Avengers?)

And on very rare occasions a return is okay because it just makes sense, though the latter should be used sparingly. One example is Hobgoblin, whose return only happened because the writer got to reveal who Hobgoblin was really supposed to be. In this case though his alter ego Ned Leeds remained dead.

And of course alternate realities and successors don't count because they're separate characters.

One thing that I think writers overlook is being dead doesn't mean they can't be used. It just means that the writers have to be particularly clever to do so: characters can go back in time to before a character is dead, a character who is dead in the present can travel forward in time from the past, flashbacks can happen, etc. If a dead character is really, truly needed for a story, there's ways to use them without negating the death.

bmcmolo said...

In the 80s, one of the greatest stories ever was the death of the Executioner. It still gives me chills to think about. I'm sure they've brought him back now and invalidated it (I gave up on Thor almost immediately after Simonson left) but I definitely didn't get a sense from that issue that Walt was killing off the character so no one else would get their grimy mitts on him.

Jim, two people you haven't talked too much about are Walt and JM DeMatteis, both of whom did some of my favorite work on your watch. (JM's run on Captain America defined the character for me in a way no other writer has. Ditto for Walt's Thor.) Both of them have kind words to say about you and your era at Marvel, so I'm assuming there's no hard feelings there. Any fun anecdotes involving JM or Walt?

Hope everyone had a fun Turkey Day. Here at the McMolo household, we had one hell of a turkey cranberry from the slow cooker - came out so good I seem to be bringing it up everywhere I go...

JayJayJackson said...

Dear Marc,

When I worked at Marvel my impression was that the licensed books were considered to be of less importance (or status?) than the regular Marvel books. Some of the people I spoke to who worked on the licensed books seemed as though they would have preferred to work on something "better." I can understand because when you are working for a comic that is licensed from a company, you have all sorts of restrictions about what you can and can't do and a back story or continuity that may not make much sense, having been written by toy people. They can be very difficult.

Given my impression from coworkers and given that I think that comics have declined in story quality as a whole, I'm somewhat surprised when any comic from one of the large publishers is readable.

I've played World of Warcraft since it was out of beta and I'm familiar with it's convoluted, nonsensical and mostly boring back story. I'm amazed that anyone can come up with something good given that source material. But some of the comics weren't terrible and the tack that some of the ones I read took were interesting. Though some I threw down in confusion after only reading half of it. One of the WoW novel writers gave me one of the books he had written and it was really good considering what he had to work with.

So I guess the moral of the story is, if you read something with incredibly low expectations, you might be pleasantly surprised. And I like to be pleasantly surprised. lol.

jimshooter said...

Dear bmcmolo,

Walt Simonson and Marc DeMatteis stories coming soon. Thanks.

Jay C said...

Jim,

I'm glad you didn't let DeMatteis assassinate Captain America. I understand that he was very angry over it at the time but has come around to appreciating your editorial perspective.

Man, a Marvel editor who let his creators do crazy, creative stuff (like turn Thor into a frog) but could still say NO to things like assassination and illegitimate Spider-Man babies . . . those were the good old days.

Anonymous said...

It's sad when adaptations are often able to capture the essence of superheroes better than the source material.

As mangled as IRON MAN was from Civil War and subsequent plot lines, then the movie seemed to capture the essence and blammo, he's a household word. (Yeah, the sequel was okay, not as great as the first.)

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES was able to show a variety of facets of the Batman, from the serious to the silly--and Mark Hamill's Joker rivaled Jack Nicholson's and Heath Ledger, showing Hamill could make you forget some kid from a desert planet.

Spinning off B:TAS series, JUSTICE LEAGUE, showed there was an untapped potential of stories from the Big Three of the DC universe to licensed properties including western cowboys and still appeal to a wide audience.

Currently the animated YOUNG JUSTICE series has picked up the baton and showed the essence of both the JLA and some of the appeal of TEEN TITANS, with great plots and characterization, including a Batman that rivals B:TAS and the Nolan version.

Speaking of live action, the two Christopher Nolan Batman movies have been DC's biggest critical success since SUPERMAN II.

Of course the first two Spider-Man movies of the 21st century tapped into core essence of Spider-Man--and it looks like the reboot will show the world Peter had a love interest before MJ (tho I don't know if Betty Brant, much Liz Allan are included, but I digress).

Personally CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER, even more so than X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, are period stories about heroes, that gained gravitas thru the times they lived in. Cap was a refreshing change from so many grim 'n' gritty, conflicted, reluctant heroes and / or anti-heroes. Steve Rogers was a super hero even before he had super powers.

-- Ken from Chicago

P.S. That's not to say comic books can't depict the essence of super heroes that fans clamor for, but often TPTB, especially at the Big Two, seem to arbitrarily make changes more for financial reasons than artistic ones (I'm looking at you Marvel for demanding changes to the Hulk that Peter David had successful written for a decade, changes so anathema that Peter quit, only to months later revert to the storylines Peter had wanted to use all along), hiring rising talent from indie publishers or even stars from prose, tv or movie fields, who have great stories to tell--but that don't mesh with the characters they are working on and time isn't giving to transition or even foreshadow major changes resulting in abrupt changes to plot and characterization. The editors who might seem to be the one to catch those conflicts are undermined by TPTB who want the celebrity talent working on the book. Eventually some fans give up super hero comic books, if not the super heroes themselves.

Defiant1 said...

Jim,

I'd love to hear your opinion of the movie Hancock since it seemed to rip off.... ummm.... borrow so many elements from Broadway comics.

jimshooter said...

Dear Defiant,

I haven't seen Hancock yet, but I'll make a point of it. Thanks.

Defiant1 said...

Reportedly, the plot had been floating around Hollywood since.... 1996.

Pete said...

Yeah, but when it was still called "Tonight He Comes" it was a sincere story without humour, showing a superhero in a way not much unlike Astro City's Samaritan. The change came with Michael Mann leaving the project. In a short time it transformed into a superhero action comedy.

Jimmy T said...

Thank You for stating so clearly that comics should be GOOD. There is no substitution for a comic to have a quality artist, Inker, Letterer and colorist. A decent script. It seems that editors are a bunch of fanboys and the DC idea is to pay $10.00 a page to third world countries to do the art skip the inker darken the book saturate a few colors on a weak story and they are off and running. more then half their new relaunch pales to most every indy book I see lately. And the wonder why they needed a relaunch...they should read your blog. Thanks and best of luck to you!
Jimmy T

Jeff Zoslaw said...

On the subject of Marvel movies: which ones have you seen and how well did they present the characters in your
opinion? Disney should at least offer you a consulting gig on the next batch of movies (after next year's Avengers).

Jeff Zoslaw said...

Guess I'm kind of seconding Dave C's earlier query...

John K. said...

Jim,

thank you for this blog! So many interesting stories...

I'm especially loving the distribution tales. It parallels something I'm going through now. I produced a film last year with financing from private investors, and I'm finding- not unexpectedly - that it is difficult to get the film out to an audience and achieve profitability on a shoestring budget.
Distributors don't want to pay anything for an indie film. I don't need to be a millionaire but I have to pay back investors to continue to make films.

To give a short version of my theory on how film companies screwed up their business, they had a good piece of the financial pie creating the films, making tapes that could be rented, and then a third revenue stream with television and cable. It appears that they wanted to jump out all the middlemen - 3rd party distributors, video stores, etc - and sell tapes/discs direct to the consumer, as well as control all the cheap-but-profitable ways of getting content out to the masses to take the whole pie for themselves. And we've arrived at a point where people have moved to digital and rental stores are gone...go to a Best Buy. They have approximately 50% of the space they used to for DVD sales.

Sounds like something similar happened with comics - moving to direct sales for more control, gimmicks crashing the market, making things more insular to keep the readers already in. But the strange thing about the DVD market is that prices have gone DOWN as content becomes "old", where comics keep going up and there is an assumed rise in value to older issues, to the point where there is no cheap entry point for someone to even figure out why they should like comics.
Especially after reading so many accounts of "Gi Joe/Star Wars/Transformers got me into comic collecting" on this blog - hell, that was my story too, with a sub to Star Wars and Joe derived from one of my mother's women-centric magazines - I wonder if Marvel and DC could somehow provide that "gateway" experience that would make people want more comics, in a way that does not involve lowering the prices.

Or is it as simple as this - comics are something people outgrow as they age, because they know what currently costs them $4 used to be 60 cents?

Anonymous said...

For me the biggest gripe is the art. Most of the art in modern comics just looks like poopoo. So clean and polished, it's absolutely lifeless and not a hint of personality. For the most part you couldn't tell one guys page of crappy digital art from the next, because there's no style...not a single ounce of it. I wonder just how lazy these guys will get. What's next, digital paint overs? Photo manipulations? Sigh...

Will Collier said...

Aha... thanks to this and the Chuck Rozanski (sorry if this is a double-post, by the way) columns, I now understand how Westfield was able to sell new comics for way under the cover price (they advertised sales at 40 cents for years in the 80's after both Marvel and DC upped their prices beyond that). Been wondering how they got away with that pricing since I was in junior high.

Thanks, Jim... and thanks, Westfield.

Will Collier said...

Incidentally, regarding the "gateway drug" theory of licensed properties, the first comic I bought with my own money was Star Wars #5, at (roughly) age 9. Couple of years later I was buying X-Men and Teen Titans, and a couple of years after that, Cerebus and Elfquest.

Moral of the story (and one that today's industry still wants to ignore): If you don't get comic readers when they're kids, you'll probably never get them as adults...