When people from all across the comics industry need answers from inside Marvel Comics, they Talk to the Hat.
An outstanding industry vet and fashion forward editor, Marvel SVP of Publishing Tom Brevoort is back on CBR News for Marvel’s TALK TO THE HAT. Our latest weekly look inside the minds at Marvel sees Tom partake in a special back-and-forth with a representative from a vitally important group to Marvel Publishing: the Direct Market retail community.
Stepping into the interviewer’s seat this week is retailer Jud Meyers, co-founder and co-proprietor of Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks AND Northridge ,CA. A longtime comic shop owner and manager (and also a former CBR columnist with ReTales), Meyers has plenty of stories, plenty of opinions and plenty of questions about the comics industry from Tom’s point of view. Below, Tom and Jud jam on everything from the accessibility of the “Avengers” franchise to the popularity of superhero deaths like the Human Torch. Plus, Tom describes why he thinks Marvel has been unable to launch a Vertigo-like imprint and the current status of the long awaited “Marvelman” comics of Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham! Read on!
Kiel Phegley: Jud, I’m going to let this be your show, but before we let you loose on Tom, I thought we might want to have you introduce yourself to the readers. Folks know how comics retail works in a general sense and they may know Earth-2 or you from your online presence, but what can you say about your official position and what it’s like running a comic shop day in, day out?
Jud Meyers: I’m the co-owner of Earth-2 and also technically the CEO. I manage both locations, so I’m on the front lines pretty much every day in one store or the other. I try to keep my finger on the pulse of everything that’s happening on the floor of each shop at all times. While there’s a lot of stores these days that spend a lot of time working online — and we do have some things online — we’re really more old fashioned. I try to spend a lot of time on the floor with the people.
Tom Brevoort: Jud, very nice to meet you. I quite enjoyed your now days-gone-by column at CBR. I thought you had good insights, and certainly you were a good raconteur — you told a good story every time out. I feel like I know you a little bit. Maybe not too much. We’ll see how the rest of the call goes. [Laughter]
Meyers: I’ll start with a little bit about book product. Marvel is obviously still committed to periodical production, and you guys offer many discount tiers to help those of us in the Direct Market keep monthlies on the stands and order well and order right. With the news about some big box bookstores struggling to pay their bills or offer any new product, what, if any, initiatives does Marvel have to help smaller Direct Market stores increase their book product ordering without feeling their own financial pressures?
Brevoort: That’s a great question that I’m unfortunately going to have very little optics on. That whole end of our business is presided over by David Gabriel. I don’t know what particular plans or outreach we might be doing because I don’t have firsthand knowledge of that area. For the most part, what I’m dealing with on the day-to-day basis is our new periodical publishing. Our collected editions — the hardcovers and trade paperbacks and even various magazine products we have going to chain stores — all gets handled by David and his guys. But in speaking to David, he’s said that there are a lot of deals each week in the Marvel Mailer and to look for, in particular, the 10 for $30 and upcoming 4 for $25 deals. So there are definitely efforts from the sales side of things to make sure you can increase your stock of Marvel books.
Just speaking extemporaneously, I guess it’s different from shop to shop since it’s changed a great deal from the days when every business was dealing with turning over monthly periodical publishing and dealing much less frequently with book stock than now. That has to change everything about how you order on the monthly order form, how you allocate resources and how you figure out what you think you can turn once or multiple times and what has a shelf life. Just for my own education, how do you even estimate that? In your outlet, what’s the difference — not in units but maybe in dollars or percentages — between weekly comic sales and collected edition sales?
Meyers: Well, with the advent of new [Point of Sale] systems we use, it really is something that we track on a regular basis, and we see all the different trends. But I can probably tell you that for most of the smaller comic book retail stores, periodicals still drive the majority of sales in the Direct Market stores. Percentage-wise, it’s obviously not something we all share information on. For us, the book product is creeping up fast, but that’s because of our own business model and the coastal market we’re in. But periodicals are definitely something we’re constantly concerned about. We want more book product, and we want to focus more on that.
Segueing into this, we do a lot of monthly talking about orders. The Marvel catalogue is just packed with stuff each month, and not everything sells equally. And I wonder, as someone who’s familiar with all the material — and we stores order first, before the consumer buys the product — I know you gauge things based on consumer response, but how much thought goes into gauging retailer reaction first? Because if we don’t order it, they don’t buy it.
Brevoort: Yeah. I think we try to think about that all the time, but it can become a hazy thing in terms of our day-to-day operation. When it comes to the creative end, what most of our guys are concerned with is, “What’s the story that we’re telling?” Hopefully, if it’s a story we’re putting in one of our books, we think it’s exciting enough and interesting enough that the writer and artist and editor and everyone up the chain of command thinks there’s some merit to telling that story. It doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the ground level assumption we make going in. I think our editorial staff and our staff in general tends to understand — and we can always be better about these things — that really, when we’re putting together our solicitations and Previews catalog materials and anything that gets seen before F.O.C., as much as you’re taking a large “shotgun” approach to getting as many eyeballs as possible, really, the target more than anyone is the retailer.
As you say, if you guys don’t buy into the notion of a product and take a position on it, it almost doesn’t matter how many people might want it after that. There’s no availability. And it seems that particularly in our business on the periodical side, the turnover rate is so fast, because a week later, there are new books out there. If you miss that window of the week a book comes out, we can do a second printing or a third printing to capture some of that lost audience, but I don’t think it’s as easy as it would be [if people got it on week one]. People don’t hang around past that window as much as we’d like them to, if only because next week there’s a flight of additional titles, and the week after that, there’s another flight.
Meyers: Well, here’s what’s interesting: from a retailer perspective, that’s not necessarily true. How we rack your books is very important. Here’s an example: you have “Avengers” and “New Avengers” and “Secret Avengers.” And you have all these books with story arcs which are then collected. In our store, I still have “Avengers” #1 and “New Avengers” #1 face out, and I give rack space to the continuing issues. For “Uncanny X-Force,” I have an entire shelf that’s #1 through the current issue. And people do come in, start at #1 and pick up a bunch of the periodicals at one time. So while there is some, “Hey, they’re moving on to the next thing,” it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Eventually things become back issues, and you bag them, board them and mark them up a little bit. But that #1 that I’ve ordered hundreds of is still there and still selling at cover price on the rack. With “Avengers” and the buzz for the movie and all the great Marvel films coming out, it’s very, very important that they have a way in so the average guy off the street doesn’t go, “So this is ‘Avengers’ #13 — do I start here?” I know that everything can’t be kept in stock, but I can say that from my perspective, I’m thinking, “Just how long can I keep this out? Six months? Eight months?”
And that leads me to another question that’s maybe in your ballpark. You have “Avengers” and “New Avengers.” I have to pitch those to people. It seemed like there was a narrative difference between “New Avengers” and “Dark Avengers” coming out of “Secret Invasion,” but that doesn’t seem like the case here. We have The Heroic Age, which came in and then dissipated a little bit. So we’ve got “Avengers,” “New Avengers” and “Secret Avengers” which are a little different in tone, but what do you suggest — because there is some disconnect there — in terms of the concepts that I can pitch to my customers?
Brevoort:That’s a good question, but if I could skirt it for two seconds, I’d have to say that I really like the fact that you take the long term approach on those series and have first issues there for six, seven or eight months. That helps so that somebody can come in if there’s been some buzz and pick up six months of issues back to #1. That’s tremendous. That’s certainly the way a number of shops used to run back in the day — I say with my cane and my old man’s beard — when I was a reader. And as the economy’s gotten worse and as finances have gotten tight, retailers have not been able to take that position as much. I think it’s good. I hope it’s proving worthwhile for you, because it’s terrific that someone can still go into your shop with all the buzz coming up to the Avengers movie and start at issue #1.
But as for the actual titles, I think If I had to boil them down to that core concept to get across what ground each of those books stands on, the “Avengers” book is the easiest to pitch. It’s the concept in a nutshell. It’s all the biggest Marvel characters teamed-up together, doing the big things and fighting the foes no single superhero could withstand. It’s the corest of the core. “New Avengers” — the way I would define it — is that it’s the slightly quirkier Avengers book. It’s a little more ground level. It’s a little more outre. It’s got a few more characters with an edge or a darkness to them. This is embodied in the fact that Wolverine tends to stand with that group more often than not, but also guys like Iron Fist and Cage and even Spidey and the Thing. It’s the more ground level book. In “Avengers,” they’re in Avengers Tower. They’re up above. In “New Avengers,” they’re on the ground and in Avengers Mansion and dealing with problems that, while no less catastrophic, still have a fairly grounded, real world perspective.
And then “Secret Avengers” is Steve Rogers’ covert special missions team. They’re going out there secretly, under the radar and taking care of big problems before they become problems that the Avengers or the New Avengers have to deal with. That book also has a slightly more espionage-y feel to it. It’s got a tone similar to — and this is no surprise because he wrote both of them — Ed Brubaker’s “Captain America” series. You’ve also got “Avengers Academy” which is about teaching the potentially going wrong superhumans of tomorrow the Avengers traditions of today in the hopes that they can become the Avengers of tomorrow. So I don’t know if that gives you enough to position those differently to everybody…
Meyers: Well, that was kind of trick question, because I wanted to see if you described it the way I do. [Laughs] It’s remarkably similar.
Brevoort: Good! What I’m doing must be working then!
Meyers: The only thing I’d add is that on “Avengers Academy” — which I love — I always connect it to “Runaways” a little bit. I give it the “Avengers/Runaways” treatment.
Brevoort: I can see that.
Meyers: But it’s really a hell of a lot easier pitching the different Avengers books to customers than it is answering “Which Deadpool book should I read?” With that, it’s like “Throw a stone.” [Laughter]
Brevoort: Well, the fortunate thing on that side is that we’re whittling down the amount of Deadpool stuff we have now. I think we’re just down to “Deadpool” and “DeadpoolMAX” which should be enough to differentiate them. “Deadpool” is Deadpool, and “DeadpoolMAX” is Deadpool with the brakes off. But absolutely, when we were doing “Merc With A Mouth” and “Deadpool Corps” and “Prelude to Deadpool Corps” and “Deadpool Corps: The Aftermath” and “Deadpool Merc With a Mouth Corps” — I absolutely can see how you’d have a hard time differentiating one from the next. That was just a crazy moment where for whatever reason, that character hit the zeitgeist, and we jumped in with both feet.
Meyers: Since I mentioned Marvel movies, and we talked about “Avengers,” I’m curious to hear what you have to say about entry points. If we have people who come into our stores and say, “I used to read Marvel. I don’t read much anymore, but these are the characters I used to love,” then it’s easy for me to put “Civil War” in their hands and have it feel like they’re jumping into a major action movie. All the Marvel character are in it, and they can jump from “Civil War” through to “Secret Invasion,” and I have all the event books. But the entry points for the newbie — the people who walk in and go, “I don’t know. I liked ‘Thor’ and want to see ‘Captain America'” — I’m interested in where you think they should go. What’s the entry point for them?
Brevoort: I think that that tends to change. Some of it depends on exactly who they are. I would probably pitch a slightly different thing to a 12-year-old or a ten-year-old coming in than I would a 25-year-old. Part of that is just that there’s a difference between how those generations read comics and how comfortable they are with comics, which is something I’m sure you’ve seen in your travels. I don’t know that there’s one panacea for everything. I do know that in general — and I don’t even have a book I’d point to…
Meyers: Well, then let’s just say “Thor.” The average guy in his 20s who comes in and says, “Where do I start with Thor?”
Brevoort: I think with Thor I’d start with one of three places. The most obvious place I’d point him would be “Mighty Thor” #1. Again, it’s got that nice, easy #1 on the front, and it hopefully has enough ease of entry that someone could pick it up after seeing the film and begin on our ride. It’s got an A-level creative team with Matt [Fraction] and Olivier [Coipel]. It looks beautiful with Laura Martin [on colors]. It’s a little bit odd in that it’s Matt’s second story arc rather than his first. And so, I think it was relatively successful, but I don’t know if it’s as successful as it would have been had it been Matt’s absolute first issue.
If you want to go back slightly further, I would point him to the first Matt trade as a nice, clean point that would be relevant to the film. Or I might go back even further to the Olivier/JMS stuff, which was the beginning of the modern Thor stories that the film certainly drew upon. And if you’re talking about somebody that has a nostalgic connection to the character, I’d maybe start with some of the big ticket items like the [Walt] Simonson hardcover, which is not only pretty cool but hernia-inducing. I’d tend to hit one of those three. Depending on who it is — like, if it was a younger audience,Â you may also want to hit one of the books more aimed literally at that younger audience whether it’s “Thor: The Mighty Avenger” digests or any of the other Marvel Adventures material.
But if you’re talking about a potential, weekly customer coming in looking for a place to start, start him at the #1. That’s why we did it.
Meyers: So if you’re thinking of something a little more difficult like Captain America, where do you go there? If they just into the current “Captain America” series, they’re not going to know what’s going on.
Brevoort: Again, with Cap we’re doing the exact same thing. We’ve got “Captain America” #1 coming out right before the film, and we’re taking pains — even though Ed’s been writing the book for seven years now — to make that first arc as entry friendly and as movie reflective as possible. We try to do that as much as we can, particularly on movies like “Cap” and “Thor” that we have better optics on well ahead of time. Even though at the same time that “Cap” #1 is coming out the character is involved in “Fear Itself” and all sorts of other crazy things, the “Cap” #1 issue is designed to be as smooth an entry point into Cap and Marvel publishing as it possibly could be. And again, we put the best guys we could on there — Ed and Steve McNiven and Mark Morales and Justin Ponsor — so it’ll look great , read well and then be a nice and smooth thing.
The second thing I would point them to, following the same sort of pattern, is that first Ed/Steve Epting trade. I’d start them at the last “Captain America” #1, which is sort of a crazy thing to say, but it gets odd when we’re talking about multiple “Captain America” #1s. That’s the world we live in. But while it’s seven years old, that material is still relevant to the world we live in today. I think the opening arc — particularly the opening issue of that run — is relatively accessible. I don’t think there’s very much in it beyond Cap, the Red Skull, mysterious stuff going on with the finding of what turned out to be Bucky in a tube and Cap fighting guys on top of a moving train. So that too I think would be an easy enough lead in coming out of the “Cap” film for fans. And it gives you a bridge into “Civil War” and all the other events that came after that.
But at the moment the movie drops, I would absolutely put “Captain America” #1 in anyone’s hands.
Meyers: That’s all really great, and I think you’ll make a great retailer some day. [Laughter]
Brevoort: In my retirement!
Meyers: But one of the things I wanted to put out there as a retailer on the line is that when somebody walks in, and they haven’t been in a comic shop before or at least in a long time, they don’t come in asking, “Who’s dead or dying?” They come in and ask, “Is this still around? Do they still make this particular comic or character?” One thing I have had success with is the Heroic Age where there was a positive aspect to it. While you can have dark material inside, the idea was that they wanted to see the characters they love alive and well fighting crime. That, to me, has so much more longevity than another death. And I know you guys think about that. I know you know that there’s a quick sale window for a big event where someone dies.
I have to tell you, though, the death of the Human Torch is a quick sort of jolt compared to the monthly “Fantastic Four” readers that have gone back to all the Hickman issues and have started spending money on the “Fantastic Four” trades. They’re actually enjoying the issues where he’s still alive! [Brevoort Laughs] They didn’t really much care at the end of the day about the death part of it. It’s what came before and what comes after. So for a retailer, when we look at these things, we’re wondering where’s the money to be made before and after. That’s what readers are going to ask. I love what Hickman is doing on that book. He was built for the Fantastic Four, and it’s wonderful for me to be able to give a book to readers that’s an access point to a title that’s been difficult for us to keep readers on. I just wanted to put that out because retailers talk about this with one another. We say, “Okay, there’s another death coming. Where do we make our money not on ‘The Death Issue’ but on what came before and what’s next?” That’s what makes us order.
Brevoort: And we try to take that into account. Although, obviously there are two kinds of death in essence — and now watch me “Reader’s Digest” this idea down to nothing. There’s the death that’s a big stunt, and then there’s the death that grows, theoretically, out of a story. The difference is that one you promote the hell out of in a mainstream way while the other sneaks up on people from behind so they go “Oh my God! That character died!” It’s harder to brace retailers for the second kind because we’re not going to want that information to get out to people and spoil the story. In the first case — well, technically in both, but really in the first case — it’s easier to plan ahead. As with the FF death, in addition to making sure the bagged issue dropped the day it came out, we made sure that all the other issues in that storyline were in print for that week. If you had people coming in as we hoped you would after hearing about the death of the Torch on the news, you’d not only have that new bagged “FF” issue, but you’d also have the other issues in the arc even if you’d sold through once. All the collections before that were already out at that point. I think up through issue #582 was out in if not softcover then certainly hardcover by then.
Meyers: Yeah. And here’s a little thing you can understand from a retailers point of view — and not all retailers do this, but we sure do. Say a hardcover’s out. People come in and they say, “I want to feed on this stuff,” so they go back and get the trade. But when the next thing is a hardcover, nobody wants to buy that. It’s like, nobody’s going to come off the street and buy an Omnibus. They’re coming in to buy some comic books. It’s the issues. That’s what they want. They say, “What are the issues coming after this, because I don’t want the hardcover, and I don’t want to wait for the trade because I’m hungry.” So if I don’t have those issues, I am losing the readers. I might put together a set of all the issues leading up to it, or I’ll do everything in my power to keep those issues there so that they get as many as they want.
And on a practical level, if I’ve got a $3.99 comic, and someone comes in and wants eight issues because that’s the whole thing, well then I’ve got $32. If they come in and buy a trade or a hardcover, I don’t make as much money. And if some of these become back issues, and I mark them at $4.99, then that’s what’s paying the rent. The books are the gift that keep on giving, and they go longer and longer. So in the moment, the death issue is not what’s making me money.
Brevoort: It’s everything else that you can hand sell based on the fact that the death issue is getting people into the shop.
Meyers: Yeah, because the average reader who’s been reading forever looks at that issue and goes, “Yeah, but we didn’t see him die. What happens now? Oh, Spider-Man takes over — that’s interesting.” But they’re not as interested in it, as opposed to the guy that hasn’t been reading “Fantastic Four” but read about it in the Times and comes in going, “Oh my God, the Human Torch is dead!” That guy ends up reading this very emotional story about Johnny Storm, and they go, “Wow. What’s been happening in ‘Fantastic Four’ up until now?” So my goal as a retailer is to get them buying more and not just taking this polybagged issue and putting it in their closet.
Brevoort: I’m completely on board with that. And certainly, if you have thoughts as to what we could do beyond what we’re doing, I’m very open to hearing about that.
Meyers: Well, certainly DC has always kept things in print a little bit longer than Marvel. It’s been a little bit easier to get the backlog of individual issues, and that really does make it easier to do what I’m talking about — going “If you want the last five issues, here I’ve got them.” We can keep reordering, and frankly, one of the things DC gets from us is that we’re not just reordering one book at a time. We’re ordering five to ten copies. And if I’ve got a few books where I’m order five to ten of at a time, then they’re getting a lot of my money. I know that I’m going to make the money off of it when I can still get it rather than having to find an alternate method — other retailers who act as sub-distributors or what have you — or do the thing that you want us to do, which is increase our initial orders. It’s easier for me to do a nice, big initial order and know that for the next couple of months or weeks, I’m able to go back to the well and order another ten and another ten. Then you can experience that we’re reordering a lot, that while I make money at $3.99 each time, so are you. A lot of retailers aren’t ordering as many trades as you may like at $14.99, however they are ordering ten or 15 copies of series from the last few months. If I look in my system and it’s a red dot, I have to say, “Okay…now I’m on the hunt!” And that becomes very exhausting. That’s the life of a retailer. I know there’s costs involved for you, but the difference we feel is that it’s a little easier to get the past few months of a DC title than a Marvel title.
Brevoort: I think we’ve been trying to accommodate for that, at least in cases where there’s something big going on. We know there’s going to be a certain amount of interest once the “Death of Spider-Man” issue of “Ultimate Spider-Man” drops, and I believe that the rest of that arc and at least the rest of “Ultimates Vs. Avengers” and the other stuff, that’s there we will go back to press on so they’re available the same day. I don’t know that we can take a position financially, fiscally, to do that with absolutely everything. This is the kind of game that David has to play. When he knows there’s an interest, he’ll overprint ahead of time, or we’ll rush to get a second printing out. Because we absolutely know that when you sell a book, we make money too. We see that. But he has to balance the books too on the other side in the same way you do. If you buy a book and you don’t sell it, then you’ve already invested in it. So too, if we take a position but don’t move as many copies as we thought, then we eat those copies as well. In the same way you need to balance what you order initially and go to reorders for or have to find from ancillary sources if there’s even more demand, so too do we have to play that juggling game of “How many of these do we think we’ll get orders on? How deep can we go?” That will be different for “Fear Itself” #1 than it will be for a random issue of “Hulk.”
Meyers: But what I’m saying is that if I order heavy on “Avengers” #1 — and I’ve got quite a bit of “Avengers” #1 that’s leading into #2 or 3 — then when issue #2 or 3 is unavailable, it’s a brick wall. I don’t know what to do with that. I’ve got all these #1s, and people are coming in saying, “I bought #1 yesterday, and it was so great. Where’s #2? Where’s #3?” I have to look at them and go, “I’m sold out. I’m trying to get more, but I’m sold out.” So I guess what I’m saying is that if you were thinking about making any changes or were looking at an individual title to take a stronger position on, it’d be with those second and third issues. Maybe it’s not issue #6, 7 and 8, but I can tell you that for me, when I can get them going but then I lose momentum, I lose them forever. It’s more likely that they’re not coming back. They just go, “Oh well. Whatever.” I can take a strong position on #1, 2 and 3, but when they’re successful, it doesn’t matter how strong a position I took. I’m going to sell through.
Brevoort: That’s something for us to take on board a little bit. I appreciate you speaking up on it. That’s something I can relate to David and we might be able to adjust a little bit. If we’re going too conservative on, as you say, #2s and #3s, then maybe we can take a stronger position there if we think there’s a chance on building a long term book.
Meyers: Changing topics, you guys have always been very superhero based with the best superhero books on the market — a little more adult, a little more action-oriented. But is Marvel planning anything at all for non-superhero serials? We’ve got “Fables” and we’ve got “Y.” We’ve got “Walking Dead” and “Locke & Key.” We’ve got these successful, non-superhero titles on our racks that are going to backlist trade paperbacks, and they become evergreens. They keep on making us money month after month, year after year. Is Marvel doing anything outside of licensed comics that’s a little different and would appeal to a different kind of reader than would come looking for a normal Marvel comic?
Brevoort: I tell ya, that’s a riddle that I don’t think we’ve quite cracked yet. We’ve tried a number of different things over a number of different years, and we just haven’t gotten it quite right. We’ve not been able to put the right thing together in the right way. Inevitably, the market as a whole seems to tell us “We want your superhero stuff, and we’re not as interested in the other stuff.” I think most of the books you’ve mentioned, had they been Marvel titles, they wouldn’t still be around right now. It’s just a difference in the publishing model that Vertigo had or that Image/Robert Kirkman had to be able to run these books at a deficit and allow them to build so they can get to have the audience they have now and enjoy this tremendous backlist. I don’t think there’s a format yet that Robert hasn’t put his stuff in yet, and if he finds another, I’m sure he’ll reprint it in that format too! [Laughter] And if he still makes money with that, that’s terrific.
We’ve tried a number of things. Most recently — and maybe this isn’t quite what you’re talking about but it was part of our intention — we’ve reintroduced some of the old CrossGen properties. None of them have the visual ethos of a superhero book, and all of them are entry level whether you read the old CrossGen stuff or not. We just cherry-picked the best bits from the old CrossGen incarnations and tried to reinvent them. They did okay, but not really spectacularly. I don’t know how much that has to do with the fact that we took a kind of soft position with them and launched with miniseries. I don’t really know. Sometimes I think it’s just the zeitgeist. Something like “Y: The Last Man” had a great core concept that was explained in the first issue, and then the book delivered on that hook. But for every “Y” there is, there’s another Vertigo title that ran for 14 issues and then vanished without a trace. But somehow their model is such that they’ve been able to key into that sort of thing not super consistently but at least consistently enough that they’ve always got one or two books that can build up this floating backlist and continue to reinvigorate things in perpetuity and over many formats.
I don’t know, for us, rather than in the core superhero line, whether we’ve entirely cracked that. We certainly intend to keep trying on those things. I have a project myself coming up with Andy Diggle that’s sort of a modern…I don’t want to call it a Western so much because the word “Western” immediately makes people go to sleep. [Laughter] But it’s a contemporary, Western-styled, hard boiled action series. It’s not a superhero book, and you’ll see it in the Previews catalog where I hope it’ll look good and attractive. But I don’t know if that’s exactly the kind of thing you’re talking about. It certainly doesn’t have as easy and universal a hook as “Y: The Last Man.” Some of these ideas, I think there’s an intangibility to them. “Walking Dead” is the book that worked. Why didn’t the other six zombie comics that launched then work too?
Meyers: Well, it’s because of Robert Kirkman and his talent and Brian K. Vaughan and his talent. The thing you’re talking about is that Marvel touts itself to have — and does have — some of the greatest writers in the industry. And many of them, even Bendis, come from their own self-published world where they broke in from and where their challenging, non-superhero material was made. And then they come on board, and they’re writing straight-up superhero titles. You say that if “Y: The Last Man” would have been at Marvel, it wouldn’t have been successful. I tend to disagree. I think it would have been successful because you have this extraordinary writer with an extraordinary idea who was let loose with a story he wanted to tell. And it was marketed toward someone other than a superhero reader. And there is a big market for that.
Brevoort: When I say, “It wouldn’t have been successful,” what I mean is — and I don’t have the exact numbers on hand, so I’m going to ballpark it — the actual sales figures on “Y: The Last Man” as a monthly comic book were pretty dismal. They were terrible numbers. They were the kinds of numbers where if that was a regular monthly Marvel comic, we would have cancelled it. That’s just the reality of what our financial setup is. And Vertigo, for whatever reason within the DC hierarchy and because they do the kind of material you’re talking about with most of their audience in collected form, they tend to take a deeper position on stuff. They were able to keep “Y” going at least until that first collection came out so it could build some positive buzz and sales from that. What I’m talking about is that literally if Brian and Pia came over here and released the exact same first six issues of “Y” under the Marvel label, I am relatively confident that we would have cancelled it. And we would have cancelled it for the same reason that — for good or ill — we require of all Marvel books. Each Marvel book needs to earn its keep.
Every once in a while, we’re able to make an exception for a particular title that we think has some ancillary value or one that might be able to build an audience over time. But in general, every Marvel book needs to sell X amount in order to cover its part of the pie in terms of paying for itself and paying its creators and paying for this lovely office that I’m sitting in right now. It’s just a different model. And we’ve never been able to crack how to do that material at the minimum level that we would need to find that success elsewhere.
With the licensed books, it’s a little different. While I don’t need to sell as many copies of the monthly “Dark Tower” serialized issues, there’s such a demand for it as a collection because Stephen King is a big name and he has fans who come out to buy this stuff in book form, that makes up for the weaker sales up front. With something like “Y: The Last Man,” that wouldn’t have been the case. It would have been more difficult — not impossible, but more difficult — to justify carrying that through and saying, “Let’s get to the first collection. Let’s get to 12 and see what happens.” It’s not like we’ve never tried that on a book, but there are only so many dice roles we can make before somebody else is doing this job and not me. [Laughter]
So it is absolutely something we want to do. We continue to struggle to find ways to do non-superhero material. Axel Alonso our E-I-C — all of his formative days in the comics industry came working for Vertigo. His brain is very much wired for that kind of story. It’s just been very difficult to bridge the gap with the Marvel audience. I also tend to think — and this may just be me projecting, so feel free to tell me if I’m full of crap — but I tend to wonder, if Marvel would have published “Y: The Last Man,” would it have been as readily embraced so quickly? Again, we’re talking about the exact same material Vertigo had published. At this point, there’s an expectation and a track record when it comes to Vertigo. I hear that something is a Vertigo book, and I automatically have a picture of it in my mind. There’s a confidence level there for the kind of people who like this thing. With Marvel, there’s a different expectation, and I wonder if it’s not more difficult for us — since we don’t have the track record of doing that sort of thing particularly well — to get that foothold. It doesn’t mean we won’t keep trying to do that sort of material. It just means we need to be smarter and even perhaps luckier to find something that can break through in the manner of those books. I’d love to have ten “X: The Last X-Man” trades on the shelves that we could sell for many, many months the way Vertigo has done with “Y.” It’s just been very tough the way we’re set up fiscally to find the median where we can support something like that and allow it to find an audience.
Meyers: Well, we retailers are rooting for you.
Brevoort: [Laughs] I appreciate it. Hopefully we’ll figure it out sooner or later.
Meyers: I want to turn this around for a minute and ask if there are any questions you have for me about what we do that you may not see in your sales charts. Because I can tell you that there are things I can print out from my P.O.S. system and get charts and do trends, but really at the end of the day, answers require questions of my staff and customers to get the real meat and potatoes and emotion of it. Do you have any questions where you go “I always wanted to know this?” Not that I can represent the entirety of the retail base, but I’m interested to hear what you have questions about.
Brevoort: Let me see if I can hit you with one or two things. As it turns out, I do speak fairly regularly with the retailers here in New York, which is not an entirely accurate snapshot, of course. It’s kind of skewed because Manhattan is different from other places in the country and around the world. So every retailer gives me a slightly different answer to all of these things because their client base is slightly different and their own interests are different. But the kind of information I could use most readily is, in terms of books coming up — new releases certainly but also the next issue or arc of “Iron Man,” “Cap” or what have you — what is most likely to give you the confidence to order more? How do you go about your ordering cycle when it comes to next issue’s books? You know what your sell through is. What are you looking at in particular in terms of what the next issue is? What information could we be giving you that could help you sell better and make us all more money? What information are we giving you that’s too much and that you don’t need, that’s cluttering your ordering process up?
Meyers: Well, I’m going to tell you a thing you already know and that you’ve probably heard a million times: consistency. I know the challenges of that are great. But it’s the consistency of teams, the consistency of storylines and the consistency of continuity. That’s obviously a challenge all the time for you, but I can say that the consistency of “Iron Man” makes it a hell of a lot easier for me to track because I know what my reader base is, and it’s not changed. It’s not like somehow the story has radically changed or there have been ten different artists or writers who change things every few months. It makes it perfect for me because I know on the long run that there’s going to be the same writer and artist, or even if there’s a fill-in artist, it’ll only be for one issue. I know they’ll keep coming back to this particular thing.
And with “Uncanny X-Force,” which has been a huge hit for us, you have this same writer and extraordinary Opena artwork that everybody loves because it’s so cinematic, but you only have that art for two or three issues at a time. Here’s the thing about that: there was no drop off. I thought there would be, but there wasn’t any. And that’s because the writing was consistent. The continuity was consistent. The storyline was consistent. It didn’t change with the change of artist, so people didn’t feel like, “Well, I’ve got my trade or my hardcover here, so I don’t have to continue reading because I don’t like this team.”
And for us, why does “Avengers” continue to sell? It’s not just because of Bendis. It’s because it’s consistent — the writer, the art and the story. And yes, it may seem like the Avengers continuity can be totally different from the continuity in another Marvel book. But people don’t care. They just know they’re going to be coming back to the thing that they love. From a retailer’s perspective, when we look at a catalog that says “CLASSIFIED — Just wait until _______ does this!” we all go, “Oh, shit.” That means there’s going to be a different creative team and a change in storylines and no one knows what’s going to happen. When it says, “Written by T.B.D.” we go, “Oh, no!” because we know that you don’t even know who’s going to do the book, just that it’s going to be someone different. And that’s understandable because there’s a lot you deal with, but when you ask what can help us, I’ll give you the same answer we give to DC or Dark Horse or Image: Give us something consistent.
Brevoort: Can you give us the secret answers you don’t give to DC and Dark Horse? [Laughter]
Meyers: Yeah, after this phone call!
Brevoort: That’s what I’m looking for.
Meyers: You know, one thing I wanted to put out there — and you know from my column that I’m very much about people — is one of the things I talked about at the last ComicsPRO meeting. I was sitting there with all the big wigs at the bar, which is where the really great stuff comes out, and they said to me, “Whenever I’m in town, I go to the comic book store.” And I said to them, “If you go to a town, and you head to the comic store and see the people in there and see what people are buying and talk to the staff, you’re doing it in the middle of the day. There’s a million things going on and phone calls coming in and lunch meetings to get to. It’s a lot of distraction. But when has it ever been that you’ve called a local retailer and said, ‘Hey, it’s me’ — because everyone knows who you are — ‘I’m going to be in town soon, and I wanted to come by after your close for 15 or 20 minutes and walk your store. I want to see how you rack things and why you did what you did with the merchandise. How did that work for you at point of purchase?'” Because I feel like if you called and spent 15 or 20 minutes with a retailer after calling them up, they’d think it would be great.
It’s not just about what we’re selling, but it’s how we sell it. It’s what we do to get it into people’s hands. The merchandising and how we sell things without having to talk to the customers — you can look at that and get a feel for the soldiers who are fighting for you. That’s what we’re doing. We don’t take a stance of “Damn Marvel!” We’re your army, and we’re out here going, “Give us the flack jacket. Give us the guns. Give us whatever we need to go out there and get the job done.” Every once in a while, it’s great for you to walk among the troops and instill an emotional connection with us. So I would encourage you and everybody there — and I don’t know how David would feel about it. But when you come into a city — I’m not talking New York but just a town where you can pick a store, and go, “I’m going to go and talk to the troops after hours. Maybe they have a shitty store, but maybe they have a great story. You may say to yourself “We had an idea for a point of purchase display, and then I went into a story in Ohio, and they had a display that looked good and was effective — next time we do a P.O.P. display, we’re using that idea.” It’s just those little things where we’re the Direct Market. There’s not that many of us. You may think, “It’s so big, we can’t get to it all,” but you can. Over five years, if you do that in every place you travel for a convention, you’d hit a lot of stores and meet a lot of people. And those people that you spent 15 minutes with are going to increase their orders and fight more for you because they have a personal connection to not Marvel, but to Tom. That’s just a recommendation.
Brevoort: I think that’s pretty good advice. As a general rule, I go to the shop every week. I still buy comics, believe it or not. Every Wednesday morning or evening depending on the week, I’m there. And I’m fortunate to live in a place where we’ve got two or three really good shops within walking distance of Marvel, but also where I live out on Long Island, there’s a really good shop near my home. Granted, that’s not the same thing as you’re talking about. Certainly, when I’m out of town — particular if it’s the middle of the week and new books are dropping — I try to find the local shop. I don’t know that I necessarily have gone to the extent of calling the guy beforehand or taking the 15 minutes you’re talking about, but maybe that’s something I should do more of when the opportunity arrives. There’s some legitimacy to what you’re saying. And that’s something I’ll try to put to effect in what little travels I do. But I definitely appreciate that you and the other retailers are the guys on the front line and that you clearly love this business and this industry and these characters in the same way that we do. And it’s in everybody’s best interest for us to work together to sell as much and expand our parameters. So I’ll take that on board as I travel, assuming I do travel over the next couple of years. And I’ll advocate it to the other folks up here: Axel and Steve and Nick and Joe Q. Joe Q will probably tend to do that anyway…because he gregarious. [Laughter] But it’s a good point. I like to see how these things are sold and how they’re sold in different places. And I do try to find the local shops whenever I can and wherever I happen to be.
I should add that this is something other people at Marvel do, especially David, who makes it a point to visit retailers whenever he’s on vacation or somewhere for business.
Meyers: And it’s great, because while we want creators in our stores since that brings people in, we actually have more in common with you because we’re salespeople. We’re trying to sell things and continue to make money. Creators like to sell things, but they really like to create. And we’ve got more in common with you than we do with the writer at his computer because sometimes you have to stay and work late for one thing or another, and there are plenty of times where I’ve got to call my wife and say, “I’m going to be a couple of hours late.” And there I am, late at night alone in my store doing what I need to do to get things ready, and I bet you’ve got nights like that to.
Brevoort: Oh yeah! It’s no secret. Also, my office looks like one of your stores. [Laughter] We have that in common too.
Meyers: Then maybe I should visit you and see how you merchandise in your office.
Brevoort: We’d be happy to have you up! Is there anything else you wanted to ask as long as we’re here?
Meyers: Sure. When are we getting “Marvelman?”
Brevoort: [Laughs] Honestly, the short answer is “As soon as everything is ready.” It should come as no surprise that while we have overcome 80 to 90% of all the loop closing that we have to do, there’s still more to be done. Everybody’s ready and lined up, and now the book’s been announced for two years. But we’ve spoken to Neil [Gaiman]. We’ve spoken to Mark Buckingham. Eventually, once every single thing is lined up, we’ll get to a point where they can come back, finish “The Silver Age” and do the “Dark Age” story they always had planned, and we’ll get the earlier four collections in some way, shape or form back into the marketplace. It should come as no shock to you that Marvelman has been screwed up in terms of one issue or another legally for decades now. So while we have gone over most of it, we really want to make sure that we have every hatch battened down before we try to roll any of this stuff out. We’re getting there.
I’m sorry it’s taken so long since we announced the whole thing — we were excited about it! And we thought other people would be too, but we didn’t anticipate it would take this long. Things move slowly, particularly because we’re trying to make sure everything is done right and above board and everyone involved is satisfied. So have patience. We’re getting to it. It is coming. We will get there. We’re trying to do that thing that fans talk about every once in a while where they say, “Rather than having this come out haphazardly, couldn’t you just get the whole project done and then release it?” We’re not quite doing that, but we’re doing that sort of thing. We’re making sure everything is as it should be before we start to roll these out so we don’t have an enormous problem after we’ve put two issues out and then everything is jammed up again.
Meyers: Well, luckily it’s no secret that every retailer in the world is just dying to give you all their money for this.
Brevoort: [Laughs] Me too! I can’t wait to have those stories back in print as well. I have copies of all the old collections and the Eclipse issues. Hell, I have them in “Warrior.” I was buying “Warrior” back in the ’80s! So I know that material forwards and backwards, and I’d love to have it back in a more modern package and in a more modern edition. We’re making steady progress. One after another, things get done, but then some new complication will crop up. It’s all behind-the-scenes legal stuff, and even the differences between American copyright law and UK copyright law make for a whole different set of issues to deal with. Back in the day, I don’t know if Eclipse closed all those loops either. So we’re trying to make sure that when we’re ready to go, everything is as it should be.
Meyers: I had to ask, my friend.
Brevoort: That’s what I’m here for. But for now the news on Marvelman is: We’re working on it!
Have some questions for Marvel’s Talk To The Hat? Please visit the CUP O’ Q&A thread in CBR’s Marvel Universe forum. It’s now the dedicated thread for all connections between Board Members and the Marvel Executive staff that CBR will pull questions for next week’s installment of our weekly fan-generated question-and-answer column! Do it to it!