I may not have grown up with GI Joe – I was in the wrong country for that; they were called “Action Force” where I was, which is just generic enough for you to not care that much when you’re the right age – but somehow, I’ve always believed that knowing really is half the battle. That phrase struck me yesterday, reading about the 2000AD/Rebellion deal with Barnes & Noble to fill the space left by their removal of DC Comics’ GNs from their shelves, for somewhat obvious reasons. I mean, it’s great that Rebellion has such shelf space for 2000AD material, but… will anyone in America really know enough about the brand for it to mean anything?
2000AD has always, historically, faced the three-pronged problem of breaking the American market of unfamiliarity, format and frequency; as a weekly comic with five or six short strips every issue, it’s something that’s just doesn’t really sell to American audiences, raised on the chunkier 22-ish pages every month model. To make matters worse – or, at least, more difficult – all of the series with the possible exception of Judge Dredd are as unfamiliar to American audiences as they are oddly nostalgic and comforting to British ones (Rogue Trooper! Strontium Dog! Nemesis The Warlock! Oh, if only you could see the rosy glow on my cheeks just from thinking of said stories and characters). Theoretically, collections defeat two of those concerns (format and frequency – although, I’d argue, the pacing of six-page installments could still throw off readers used to longer episodes), leaving just the “Who are these guys?” problem to overcome.
The approach that Rebellion seems to be taking to combat that feels very smart; it’s almost downplaying the stars of the stories in favor of the people creating the stories. Making as much as possible out of the fact that 2000AD has featured work from creators who’ve gone on to become successes in the American mainstream and Direct markets (Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Mike Carey, Dan Abnett, Andy Diggle, Brian Bolland, Dave Gibbons, Frazer Irving, Simon Bisley, Garth Ennis and so on and so on; almost every British creator of note served their time with the title throughout its 30+ year history), many of the American editions center around that level of brand-name recognition instead of trying to sell people on brand new characters or ideas. Instead, it’s “You like Alan Moore, right? Here’s a bunch of his short stories that you may never have seen before!” which seems like a very good move when you’re plugging your books into a slot that used to be marked Watchmen.
But part of me wonders if there’s another market out there to, one that possibly makes more sense than the Direct Market crowd, which has shown a large number of signs that it’s unwilling or unable to support anything it doesn’t already know intimately (Okay, maybe that’s a little bit too harsh…): The manga market. The more I think about it, the more I realize that 2000AD essentially is British manga – Short series (that, in olden days, lived or died based on reader feedback) based as much in plot than in character, presented in a weekly anthology based around a particular genre, in this case science fiction. If the pacing from the original format may cause DM readers pause, it should be no problem for manga readers, who are also likelier to be more accepting of new concepts and characters, not to mention the idea of narratives with beginnings, middles and endings. Not only that, but the manga audience is already in bookstores, and so are theoretically perfectly placed for the Barnes & Noble move.
To get back to my whole GI Joe thing, 2000AD/Rebellion has won, if not half the battle, then a nice part of it by getting their books positioned prominently in B&N. But making sure that people know that they’re there, and know what they are, and who they’re for… that really is the most important part of the whole thing, and that battle is just waiting there to be fought. I really, really hope it goes well – and that the right targets are chosen.