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2006, The Year That Was: Part 2

by  in Comic News Comment
2006, The Year That Was: Part 2

Yesterday, CBR News in association with Phoenix, Arizona retailer Atomic Comics presented the first in our two part State of the Industry chat with numerous leaders in the comics industry. Today, we continue our chat with our participants, who are (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 Marketing & Sales, Top Cow

This series was produced by Atomic’s Jake Bell and edited by CBR’s Jonah Weiland.

A few of you have mentioned that getting people into stores is important even if it’s to buy a competitor’s book. What were some of the projects from your competition that most impressed you?

Shannon Denton, Komikwerks: Competitors isn’t my favorite word when dealing with comics. If it really was a competition, we’d stop buying so many comics from “them.” We just look at it like everyone is publishing what they like and our job is to reach like-minded people. But to answer your question, this one is kind of off the radar, but I love what Vertical is doing with the “Buddha” books. Really awesome format and presentation on a decades old work of art.

Tokyopop’s “Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad”

Jonathan Chen, Tokyopop: “Naruto’s” continued success, but strong brands will continue to grow when supported.

Jessie Garza, Viper:The Black Coat” published by Ape was a really cool project.

Ted Adams, IDW: The EC reprints being done by our friends at Gemstone.

Filip Sablik, Top Cow: I have to say, I’ve been very impressed with how intelligently and effectively Marvel has executed “Civil War.” It was a crossover with a purpose and backed by a very solid story idea, which is definitely the key to a successful event. Even when they’ve hit some stumbling blocks, they’ve stuck to their guns and adjusted their production schedule in the best interest of the overall story. It’s not always the most popular decision to make, but you have to respect them for not taking the easy road.

Vincent Hernandez, Aspen: Dynamite’s “Red Sonja” series is really a phenomenal example of an independent book that set its sights high in terms of quality and entertainment and both were achieved. It represented a great example of how an independent publisher can produce a product which can sell just as well as a book from the big two.

Nick Barucci, Dynamite: “Civil War” is a thing of beauty. The delay’s are worth the wait along with great covers by Turner and the Aspen team. And the work Top Cow is doing for Marvel is also re-energizing the look of those books. I’m impressed by “52’s” strong (and consistent) creative output on such a tight schedule.

Tom Brevoort: “52.” I would have bet hard cash that they would have been forced to skip a week by now. Also, it’s nice to have good, strong creative teams back on the main Superman and Batman titles.

Marvel’s “A To Z” Handbook

Paul Levitz, DC: Dan’s built a unique system for comics, utilizing elements of the TV writing team structure. It’s certainly a difficult process and I’m pleased (but not surprised) that we’ve been able to keep it up. I don’t think it’s an easy form for American comics to work in because of the production challenge, but also because it is dependent on a rich creative universe of characters and a deep pool of creative talent…hard assets for a smaller company or one that doesn’t have long-established core characters to work with.

Were there any ideas you wish had crossed your desk first?

Shannon Denton, Komikwerks: I wish we had started with loads of money before we got into publishing! Seriously though, I’m pretty happy with where we’re at. Our output is manageable, our quality is high, and it’s something we all really believe in.

Vince Hernandez, Aspen: Each passing year carries some projects we wish we could’ve scooped up beforehand, and some we did have the opportunity to, and still passed on them. The “Halo” franchise would be a great example of a project any publisher would love to produce in comic book form. Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” is also another great idea which Marvel is currently reaping the benefits from. Both are great decisions in our opinion.

Nick Barucci, Dynamite:Halo!” There are a few licenses out there we would’ve liked to have, but there are always new opportunities when one door closes. Also a few creators that got grabbed up, but again, we work hard to either work with existing talent and use them to their full potential or to find new talent each and every day. Now, a weekly comic, that was brave, and well done, bravo and I wish we’d tried it first (but we’re no where near being there yet to do it successfully, so it’s not a reality)!

Tom Brevoort, Marvel: The “DC Showcase” line of big, thick black and white reprint collections. I totally wish we had gotten there first on that, as it’s such a terrific format, and a big wolfin’ chunk of comics.

David Gabriel, Marvel: A six-page gatefold.

Filip Sablik, Top Cow: It’s a difficult question to answer, because we don’t tend to look at things other publishers are doing and say, “Wow, I wish we’d thought of that.” We do see projects and promotions we admire and appreciate, but the bottom line is that an idea that may work for a company like Marvel probably won’t work the same way for Top Cow. So we tend to focus on what we do best, providing fans with genres that they probably won’t find at the Big Two at the same level of quality that they are accustomed too.

Jonathan Chen, Tokyopop: On that note, I was impressed by VIZ – and their successful publication of their “Shojo Beat” and “Shonen Jump” anthologies. This is traditional for manga in Japan and they have successfully replicated that model here in the States. They’ve created two strong brands for their audience that classify their titles.

Ted Adams, IDW: I would have loved to publish E. C. Segar’s “Popeye” strips, but Fantagraphics is doing an amazing job and I’m very happy to read their books. “Battlestar Galactica” is a license that I wish we’d gone after but, again, Nick and our other friends at Dynamite are doing a terrific job with their comics.

Did you have any pet projects you were really hoping to see succeed? And as a follow up, how did they ultimately do?

DC Comics’ “JSA” #87

Paul Levitz, DC: Most years I don’t have a horse in the race, but ’06 was the first time in ages I had a project as a writer (the fill-in run on “JSA”), and it was great to see that sales held up well during my run.

Axel Alonso: My pet project was “Moon Knight.” I waited 3 years to find the right writer, the right take on the character, and Charlie Huston finally delivered it, the fans embraced it. In the year of Civil War-mania, it was heartening to see that some launches worked without the tie-in. Ghost Rider and Wolverine Origins were other examples of series that launched higher than I expected.

Tom Brevoort, Marvel: I was very happy with the execution, but I do wish that the “Stan Lee Meets” titles would have sold a bit better. They did all right, but they were perhaps an unfortunate victim of crossover mania tying up capital.

Jonathan Chen, Tokyopop: The launch of ChooseWeapon.com and the “Choose Your Weapon” campaign. Things have just gotten off the ground and it looks good.

Josh Pool, Tokyopop: I launched a promotion for a series I work with, “BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad.” I partnered with Interscope to offer an exclusive free download. I thought that this would increase the profile of the series, and while there was a spike, it wasn’t near the level I expected.
I think that this title will really grow when the anime releases early this year from FUNimation. Unfortunately, a lot of licensed series still need anime to succeed.

Filip Sablik, Top Cow: I think “Hunter-Killer” has to be one of the best projects we’ve done in years. You have a taut, intelligent script by one of the top writers in the field, Mark Waid, and art by a living comics legend, Marc Silvestri. We did encounter some delays in the middle of the series, which took a bit of wind out of our initial sales, but I’m hopeful that fans will check out with the complete 12 issue trade paperback collection.

Ape’s “Black Coat”

Shannon Denton, Komikwerks: I’ve mentioned this already, but it is near and dear to our hearts: our entire Actionopolis line. So far they are doing great but it’s a never-ending battle to get the word out.

David Gabriel, Marvel: I really wanted the “Handbooks” to succeed this year and they have surpassed our expectations. I don’t think any other publisher put out anything like it on a regular basis. I also wanted to see the relaunched MAX line succeed and it has. It brings in a new audience to our titles without taking sales away from our other books. No one says, “I can’t buy FF this month because I have to pick up ‘Wisdom!'” They are separate entities and thrive on their own merits.

Why do you think certain projects performed better or worse than expected?

Filip Sablik, Top Cow: That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? It’s a variety of factors that affect sales – a combination of the quality of the editorial, the effectiveness of the marketing message, and of course retailer and fan interest. We’ve tried to really focus on producing a handful of projects that we’re proud of and make sure we utilize every available resource to share our excitement with retailers and fans. Yet, there are some titles like “Freshmen,” which seem to still be struggling to find as strong of a monthly audience as we think it deserves, but do incredibly well with trade paperback sales. Occasionally, even when you have great editorial and innovative marketing to get the message out, a property doesn’t quite find its audience. And that’s the kind of thought that keeps this marketing guy up at night.

Josh Pool, Tokyopop: In our case, the bread and butter of the manga market is still licensed material. Fans want authentic series from Japan as quickly and accurately presented as possible. I think that TOKYOPOP’s original manga program will continue to grow, but not until we’re able to tap the crossover audience.

Verical’s “Buddha”

Nick Barucci, Dynamite: We spend a lot of time and effort marketing both at the retailer and to the consumer, and we try hard to keep the interest level high across all titles. We do it with launches, art changes, new storylines, etc., and I think we succeed for the most part at staying level across all titles, and a most of it comes from the creative community. The thing to keep in mind is that there’s a book for every fan, so all books get accepted differently.

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

David Gabriel, Marvel: I think we are in a trend right now where – like it or not – readers want big things and big things matter. They want the connectivity to the entire universe. They want their continuity established, re-established, and adhered to. Titles that threw in the big guns and created a unified Marvel Universe were the ones best received. No matter how good another might have been, if it didn’t appeal to that mentality, it didn’t perform as well. We’ve taken this into careful consideration for 2007 and readers will see an even stronger Marvel Universe.

Tom Brevoort, Marvel: I wish the marketplace was more generally conducive to totally new things, like “Livewires,” or to more upbeat, fun comics like “The Thing.” But while there’s a strong and vocal segment of the audience that really wants this kind of material, it isn’t yet broad enough that it can sustain such projects at the level we need to make them viable. But we’ll keep trying.

Top Cow’s “Hunter/Killer”

David Gabriel, Marvel: I think “Agents of Atlas” falls into this category, too. It’s always amazing that the top rated and reviewed titles do not always match the top sellers. Usually, the top sellers are the books garnering the most vocal negativity.

Shannon Denton, Komikwerks: We launched an ebooks program, selling comics in PDF format through a variety of online venues. They sell OK, but the program didn’t perform as well as we had hoped. The current generation of readers may not yet be ready to buy their comics in downloadable form, but soon they will, and then we’ll be poised to rule the world!! Well, maybe not rule the world, but we’ll sell more ebooks. Right now, it’s hard to get our products in front of the right people. The marketing channel for comic ebooks isn’t exactly huge at the moment.
On the other hand, in the case of the Actionopolis books, they performed well because we hit a cross-over audience. Our creators are comic pros who have a fanbase willing to buy the books. And the books are so well done, that people who have never heard of the creators will still want to buy them for their kids.

Vince Hernandez, Aspen: We’re always pretty good with judging expectations on a project so we knew our “Fathom: Volume 2” series would do well for us. On the flip side, the “Soulfire” release schedule didn’t meet our original expectations, which of course was the result of some unexpected bumps in the road along the way. It’s a very tricky thing to predict the fans’ ultimate response to any certain project. If we had that answer, everything we released would be a hit!

So with the successes and disappointments of 2006 in mind, if you could, go back and deliver a message to yourself one year ago, what would it be?

Jessie Garza, Viper: It would be to publish a few books we did as single issues as graphic novels instead.

Jonathan Chen, Tokyopop: I probably would have told myself to put more attention on our POP Fiction line.

Josh Pool, Tokyopop: Create branded campaigns to work with many different titles. Like Marvel and DC do with major events to shake up their series, a buzz campaign for multiple titles across a single genre can be extremely effective.

Filip Sablik, Top Cow: Zombies. 2006 will be the year of Zombies.

“Employee Of The Month”

David Gabriel, Marvel: Don’t see “Employee of the Month.”

Shannon Denton, Komikwerks: Hurry up with that KomikSpace idea!

Tom Brevoort, Marvel: Don’t fly coach with Joe Quesada.

Axel Alonso, Marvel: When flying coach with Joe Quesada and Tom Brevoort, get there early and ask for an exit row seat.

Vince Hernandez, Aspen: Our message to ourselves would be to continue to stay true to the standards of quality and entertainment our fans have grown accustomed to. 2006 proved to us that we can still meet our expectations in terms of release schedules and fan satisfaction while expanding as a company with even more projects planned for this year.

Nick Barucci, Dynamite: I think you need to take the long view as we’ve seen with stuff like the “Lone Ranger” and “Red Sonja” and the rest. Tracking day-to-day in terms of sales is crucial, but some things will end up surprising you pleasantly at the end, when the close-up view isn’t as rosy.

Last chance to hype 2007. What do you have in store in 100 words or less?

Josh Pool, Tokyopop: The growth of our original manga program is the biggest deal.

Jonathan Chen, Tokyopop: We’re very excited about “My Dead Girlfriend” by Eric Wight, who is the ghost artist for Seth Cohen on “The O.C”. We are very excited to have such high caliber talent working with us.

Filip Sablik, Top Cow: If I told you about it all, we’d be here all day. So instead, I’ll touch on “First Born,” our big three issue event in the summer which will center around Witchblade and The Darkness. That story has been building over Marz’s entire run on “Witchblade” and is shaping up to be an incredible ride for old and new fans alike. And the art by Croatian painting sensation, Stjepan Sejic is going to really impress folks.

David Gabriel, Marvel: “Mighty Avengers,” “Ultimates 3,” “Dark Tower,” “Thor,” “Spider-Man Back in Black,” “World War Hulk”… even a brief return from “Howard the Duck.”

Tom Brevoort, Marvel: More of the same, but different – just like Stan would’ve done!

Ted Adams, IDW: We’re bringing the Star Trek license back to comics and I’m really proud of the books we’ve got planned. The first series, with “The Next Generation” characters by David Tischman and Casey Maloney, launches at the end of January. We’ll also have lots of new Transformers titles, including a prequel to “The Transformers” movie. But, the biggest event for us will be the release of the “30 Days of Night” movie in October. We’ve got a bunch of new “30 Days of Night” material planned for the entire year and will be doing some big events that tie into the movie’s release in October.

Viz’s “Shojo Beat”

Shannon Denton, Komikwerks: More Actionopolis! More graphic novels! Our first TV show! And a drastic overhaul of Komikwerks.com – keep an eye out for that!

Vince Hernandez, Aspen: Fans of our popular “Fathom” series will be happy to know they will see the release of an all new mini-series featuring the fan favorite Fathom character Kiani in January with the release of “Kiani” #0, as well as the highly-anticipated release of “Fathom: Volume 3” in 2007. Michael Turner and Peter Steigerwald will be wrapping up volume one of “Soulfire” and jumping headfirst into Marvel Comic’s huge release “Ultimate Wolverine.” The acclaimed adventure comedy “Shrugged” will see its grand finale in the spring. Aspen will also be continuing to produce the popular web comics for the “Heroes” television show on NBC.com.

Paul Levitz, DC: A small part of Will Eisner’s dream has been realized, in the cultural acceptance of graphic novels as literature/art which has permitted the press coverage, reviews, award nominations and the like that have been growing over the past few years. Another aspect is the increased dedicated space in bookstores, which was particularly important to him. But of the hundreds of best-selling books this year, only one was a graphic novel, and we’ve only begun the process of writers and artists developing the full range of material that can be brought to the audience in graphic novel form. We have a long way to fulfilling Will’s dream, but with a little work and luck, each year will get us closer.

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