2006, The Year That Was: Part 1

As we leave the holidays and 2006 behind, it's time to look back on what transpired in 2006 and take a look at the current State of the Industry. CBR News in association with Pheonix, Arizona retailer Atomic Comics, presents the first of a two-part Q&A with many of the comic industries leaders and innovators about what took place in 2006. This series was produced by Atomic's Jake Bell and edited by CBR's Jonah Weiland.

In our first article, we hear from the following participants (in alphabetical order):

  • Ted Adams, Co-President/Owner, IDW Publishing
  • Axel Alonso, Executive Editor, Marvel Comics
  • Nick Barucci, President and Publisher, Dynamite Entertainment
  • Tom Brevoort, Executive Editor, Marvel Comics
  • Jonathan Chen, Marketing Manager, Tokyopop
  • Shannon Denton, Co-Founder, Komikwerks
  • David Gabriel, VP of Sales, Marvel Comics
  • Jessie Garza, President, Viper Comics
  • Vince Hernandez, Editor-In-Chief, Aspen Comics
  • Paul Levitz, President, DC Comics
  • Josh Pool, Marketing Manager, Tokyopop
  • Filip Sablik, VP Marketin & Sales, Top Cow

What do you think was the one project that had the biggest impact on the comics industry in 2006?

Josh Pool, Tokyopop : Marvel's "Civil War." I think that it was the most successfully run and branded crossover event within any major universe.

Vince Hernandez, Aspen : Marvel's "Civil War" definitely fits the bill. It brought loyal, and more importantly, new readers into comic books stores to buy this book and its respective spin-off titles. Bringing in new readers to comic shops is always a good thing.

Tom Brevoort, Marvel : "Civil War" galvanized the readers who were already in the marketplace, and drew in new and lapsed readers due to the mainstream promotion the series received. Love it or hate it, everybody was paying attention to it.

David Gabriel, Marvel : Besides just restating the obvious, I'd have to say the unmasking of Spider-Man within the pages of "Civil War" had the biggest impact on the entire industry. When you boil it down, the excitement and mainstream press that came about from that one incident as more than anything we have seen in a very long time and it spoke volumes in terms of sales for retailers and for Marvel.

Nick Barucci, Dynamite Entertainment : Event driven books like "Civil War" and "52" have again showed us that the "blockbuster" brings in the readers. But, for a company like us, putting out a book like "Army of Darkness" month in and out led us to outside recognition in the form of a Spike Scream Award and a cross-over with the "Marvel Zombies."

Filip Sablik, Top Cow : Robert Kirkman winning a horror award on Spike TV is a pretty significant indicator of how mainstream comics are these days. And credit where it's due, I think the folks over at Marvel did an impressive job promoting and executing "Civil War." The guys at DC also had a big year with attention generated for their One Year Later event and Brian K. Vaughan's "Pride of Baghdad."

Jonathan Chen, Tokyopop : I gotta say the DC Comics Super Heroes commemorative stamps were definitely a front runnerin my book. I mean, you got the government pushing superheroes... how cool is that?

Shannon Denton, Komikwerks : I'll go a little different direction and mention the gathering of creators and fans as one big interconnected community on websites like MySpace, ComicSpace, et cetera. This collaboration is helping push our industry forward. Mark my words, we're about to see how imagination and technology are revolutionizing an art form! Oh wait, those weren't my words. Scott McCloud said something like that… mark Scott's words, then!

What do you think are some of the events or milestones of 2006 that really shine a spotlight on the success of the industry?

Filip Sablik, Top Cow : Well, we'd certainly like to think that "Witchblade" #100 had not only a big impact for Top Cow, but also for the industry as a whole. It's a pretty impressive feat for any publisher to reach 100 consecutive issues published of a single series.

Josh Pool, Tokyopop : I think that the biggest triumph for comics in general was watching the mainstream further embrace the market. With Marvel and DC making huge movies successfully, more and more fans are finding comics than ever.

Filip Sablik, Top Cow : In addition to the things I've mentioned earlier, over at Top Cow we feel incredibly elated at the number of multi-media licensing deals we've managed to set up and announce in the last year. We have "The Darkness" video game coming from 2K Games. We also have the "Witchblade" Anime and Manga properties.

Ted Adams, IDW : We increased our gross sales by over 25% and had our strongest financial year ever.

Axel Alonso, Marvel : Yes. Sales. People are buying and they're eating up a lot of different initiatives. We knew that "Civil War" would be big – we just didn't know how big. But we had no idea that the Dabel Brothers books would hit they way they did, or that the launch of a more obscure character like Moon Knight would find the audience it did.

Josh Pool, Tokyopop : " Fruits Basket," Volume 15 sold over 12,000 units in its initialweek.

Ted Adams, IDW : I'm personally proud of the work we published by Ash Wood and Ben Templesmith and by the release of "The Complete Chester Gould's Dick Tracy," Volume 1 and Eric Shanower's "Adventures in Oz." I think our "Swallow" art books (which are put together by Ash Wood) are among the best things IDW has ever published.

Tom Brevoort, Marvel : We've once again got a top-ten list where - regardless of which titles are on the list in a given month - all ten books sell in excess of 100,000 copies. That's a dramatic change from only a few years ago, when we struggled as an industry to publish two titles that could do 100,000 out of the gate. It speaks to the strengthening of the direct market in general, and to the ancillary benefits of having a wider variety of material out in the mainstream, and the power of movies and television to help generate interest in these characters and their stories. And hopefully, the best is yet to come.

David Gabriel, Marvel : Along with what Tom has said, I think what I have found most exciting is that we have done an excellent job keeping solid selling numbers on titles. There had been a period when a series would launch, drop significantly by the third or fourth issue, and then be cancelled. We've found we are keeping readers much longer on all our titles and that means keeping more monthly titles alive which all translates into more customers returning every month to get the next issue.

If we're all agreed that sales are up and things look bright for the industry, how can we ride this success? The last time business was this good was the 1990s and we all know what happened there. What's the key to keeping things going without killing the golden goose?

Paul Levitz, DC : Keep reaching out to readers and reinvest from our successes with new creative material.

Nick Barucci, Dynamite : Remember the mistakes of the past, first and foremost. Also, and just as important, keep the product fresh and accessible and use the main stream success/awareness to bring new people in.

Tom Brevoort, Marvel : The answer is incredibly simple, yet incredibly difficult: we need to behave responsibly. And that means sometimes leaving money on the table in the short term for the long term good. As we move further and further back into the realm of variant covers and gimmick interiors and all that, we need to be careful that the readers who simply want to be entertained by the stories are being serviced - and that the readers who like these special editions don't feel like we're going this route so often that we're taking advantage of them.

Axel Alonso, Marvel : I totally agree. Besides being willing to walk away from short-term money, we need to continue to diversify our publishing plan, and cater to the different types of readers who are out there: the old-school fans and the new readers.

David Gabriel, Marvel : We need to reach out to new readers, but also help retailers open new stores to reach those new readers. The industry is thriving right now, but if we don't reach beyond our own self-imposed walls, we will have the problems of the past. However, I think all publishers have been acutely aware of this, and Tom is correct. We all just need to act responsibly. Sometimes that means saying no to another variant cover on just any old book and other times it simply means partnering with our retailers and listening and responding to their needs and concerns.

Jonathan Chen, Tokyopop : Keep writing to expose new readers, while maintaining a connection tothe older bracket of the market. Good characters and good stories matter.

Filip Sablik, Top Cow : The problem with the '90s was that eventually we sacrificed quality for the quick dollar. But as long as the content is there, fans will return for more product. It's like the movie analogy that's been used in the past, when there are a ton of good movies out you don't think to limit the number of movies you see in a month. You just go out and see them, because the content is compelling.

Vince Hernandez, Aspen : Aspen was founded in a down period in comics to begin with, so we won't change anything we've done up to this point. Right now, comics are in a sort of renaissance where great, distinctive, and creative properties are springing up all over the place. It's our duty as publishers to maintain this high quality of storytelling and art, and not to try to trick fans with gimmicks and other ploys other than good comic book production.

Shannon Denton, Komikwerks : Right. Don't flood the market with bogus gimmicks. Also, given that comics is already a niche market, I would encourage publishers to put out material they're enthusiastic about, rather than just "what sells" or "what movie people might want."

Diversification and reaching out to larger audiences sound great, but how? Does anyone have any specifics they can point to that they've done or any plans in the works?

David Gabriel, Marvel : With our partnership with the Davel Brothers and with the "Halo" graphic novel and even a smaller project like the "Guiding Light" comic, we have been working diligently to get new customers into comic shops. Not an easy task and one that has really not be accomplished in years. Getting readers of Laurell K. Hamilton and gamers who play "Halo" into stores and looking at comics has done tremendous things for the entire industry.

Even when we hear that retailers are selling other publishers' titles to those folks when they come into the store, the initiative still serves to strengthen our retail partners and just makes good sense for the long term health of the industry.

Paul Levitz, DC : Hopefully our continuing leadership in the graphic novel field - '06 saw so much that we've been working on for years become conventional wisdom in comics, and we're continuing to build the creative platforms and business systems to allow the category to keep it's growth going

Shannon Denton, Komikwerks : We launched Actionopolis, a line of illustrated novels for young adults, which featured many comic creators as the writers and artists. This book line has been praised by reviewers and retailers in the book industry as a crossover between the comics and prose mediums. This has helped us get a lot of attention from people who normally wouldn't give comics a second look. And now, across the country comic book readers are no longer viewed as pale-faced geeks who live in their parents' basement, they are viewed as humanity's equals! Well, okay, that last part didn't really happen.

Josh Pool, Tokyopop : "Go!" did the first "Read" poster to promote literacy among teens featuring a manga character. Perhaps doing something similar to Free Comic Book Day that can be geared toward schools and centered around promoting literacy?

Tom Brevoort, Marvel : I think the ramp-up of our collections division has created benefits for everybody. We're publishing a wider range of material in collected form than ever before. We also have made a concentrated effort through our digest books and outreach programs to target and entice the next generation of readers through the "Marvel Adventures" line of titles.

It seems everyone agrees diversification is a key to drawing in a new audience, but as non-super heroic stories gain more and more recognition, what is the state of superheroes?

Paul Levitz, DC : Superheroes remain by far the dominant category in comic shops, and account for a far higher percentage of graphic novels in bookstores than any category other than manga, so I think the heroes are pretty healthy. My hope would be that they continue to grow and flourish along with the other genres of graphic novels.

Tom Brevoort, Marvel : Perfectly fine - in fact, better than ever. The larger mainstream acceptance of super-heroic fiction is at something of an all-time high, as the success of "Heroes" points out. And yes, absolutely, comics can tell any kind of story one can imagine - and should. But by that same token, there's nothing wrong with a good superhero story, well told.

Vincent Hernandez, Aspen : Superheroes are - and always will be - a large element of the comic book industry that cannot - and should not - be ignored. I don't anticipate the state of superheroes to diminish much, and I think these non-superhero books can only bring new readers into the fold, bringing awareness to the classic superhero books in the process.

Shannon Denton, Komikwerks : They have radiated eyes and flammable heads. That will always be cool. I'm sure they'll do fine, but they may have to deal with being the "indie" comics someday when girls' manga becomes the mainstream.

Nick Barucci, Dynamite : Variety is the spice of life, super-hero stories are still the foundation of our business, and it's because they are larger than life, they're where it all began and there's no reason to abandon them, just spin them around every once in awhile to keep things interesting.

Jessie Garza, Viper : I think comic fans many times are less willing to take a chance on new product ifit's not the traditional comic book hero, but I think things are changing.

Filip Sablik, Top Cow : I think that's where companies like Top Cow and Image and others can do well, by providing fans with alternate genres and stories. We certainly draw from our superhero roots, but we present horror, crime, science fiction, supernatural, and espionage tales with that familiar superhero element. We think it allows our books to appeal to superhero fans and those that are looking for something a bit different. And it makes our material ideal for adapting into other media.

Jonathan Chen, Tokyopop : I think it's an interesting situation as I think the result is that super heroes are forced to have a stronger personal identity than they ever have before. I think that fans are now seeing true personal struggle as characters are becoming more dynamic and mature than they ever have been before.

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