Last December, writer Marc Andreyko did something that's often hard to find in an industry full of spin, half-truths and hype: he told it like it is. Andreyko e-mailed friends and posted a challenge of the GeoffJohns.Com boards, where he explained that his acclaimed DC Comics series "Manhunter" needed a sales boost. The writer's frank discussion and lack of spin endeared many to him and he's been rewarding fans with new twists ever since. The latest issue, #18, revealed that longtime JSA member Obsidian is gay and in past issues we've learned that our lead heroine, Manhunter, has a familial relation to the world's first superteam. As part of a two-day series, CBR News caught up with Andreyko to further discuss what it's like to sell a new character in this day & age, while also reintroducting readers to the very concept driving "Manhunter.""OK, 'Manhunter' is about Kate Spencer, a federal prosecutor in L.A. who specializes in superhuman crime. after tiring of seeing villains manipulate the system only to get out and kill more, Kate takes matters into her own hands," explained Andreyko. "She builds a costume from confiscated super-stuff in an evidence locker and goes out to fight, and sometimes kill, criminals.
"The book evolved from a conversation I had with Dan DiDio after my 'Thunder Agents' project was stillborn. He said he was looking for a new Manhunter, a female one. From that seed of an idea, I came up with Kate and her backstory.
"Kate Spencer is a 'broad' in the old-school, best-sense-of-the-word. She is based on Rosalind Russell, Kate Hepburn, Helen Mirren'd 'Jane Tennyson' from 'Prime Suspect' and a little of the 'Body Heat' era Kathleen Turner.
"Peter Robinson is her successful novelist ex-husband who still carries a torch for her.
"Dylan Battles is a former tech-guy-to-the-supervillains and now in the witness protection program. Kate has blackmailed him into becoming her 'Q' (altho Dylan likes it)!
"Ramsey Robinson is Kate's 6 year old son who was almost killed in an accident with the Manhunter power-staff in issue #2.
"Cameron Chase is a DEO agent and college chum of Kate's who recently found out Kate's "other job" and introduced her to DEO Director Bones.
"Damon Matthews is Kate's co-counsel and has recently been revealed to be the boyfriend of Todd Rice (a.k.a. Obsidian).
"Mark Shaw, the former Manhunter of the '80's and now Dylan's housemate, is trying to get his life together after the tech that made him Manhunter almost drove him insane."
Now you know, and as they say, that's half the battle. The other half includes the deluge of acclaim for Andreyko's work on the series, which wasn't exactly what he expected when he tackled a C-list superhero. "Well, first I must say how surprised and gratified I am by the response. I have never had anything like this happen before, so I'm still a bit dazed by it all, but, since it may help get some new readers, here are some things some big-wigs have said:
"Manhunter is taut, fresh, funny and grim. It gets under the skin of the superhero game in a unique way. I haven't missed an ish."
-- Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Firefly," "Astonishing X-men")
"Manhunter is the most addictive book in the DCU. The perfect bridge between crime and super hero genres. Stop punishing yourself and start buying it."
-- Phil Hester ("Green Arrow," "The Coffin")
"Manhunter is one of those books that you'll probably hate, assuming you hate brilliant characterization, snappy and quirky dialogue, and kick-butt superhero action. It has the kind of charge and verve and smarts shared by books like 'Ultimates' and 'Planetary,' and the art is always outstanding. Just read the damn thing. You'll thank me for suggesting it."
-- Gail Simone ("Villains United," "Birds of Prey")
"Andreyko is creating stories that demand your attention, and reward it with twists and action and great characters. One of the finest super-hero books on the market."
-- Ed Brubaker ("Sleeper," "X-Men: Deadly Genesis," "Daredevil")
"Andreyko is writing the kind of book I've always wanted to see in the DC Universe... street-level, highly-emotional, and action-packed. And he's writing the hell out of it!"
-- Joe Casey ("Godland," "Fantastic 4: First Family," "Iron Man")
"There is no reason in the world that you should not be buying, reading, cherishing, and celebrating this book! 'Manhunter' is the best of what modern super-hero comics should be - virtuoso story-telling, fantastic art, a bad-ass hot chick in the lead, and a hefty dose of just plain smarts thrown into the action"
-- Greg Rucka ("OMAC," "Gotham Central," "Queen and Country," "Checkmate")
"And, websites like ComicFanatic.com, silverbulletcomics.com, paperbackreader.com have given us pretty sterling reviews. and, lest I forget, 'Wizard Magazine' calls Manhunter 'a top-notch comic you should be buying' as well as naming me a 'Talent on the Rise.' All of which is incredibly nice and, hopefully, will get some late-comers to the 'Manhunter' party to dive in!"
Still, Andreyko is honest about the difficulties faced by "Manhunter" in finding an audience, with numbers far below where he'd like. "The most frustrating thing is getting people to find the book," said Andreyko. "We have an amazing success rate of getting people to fall in love with the book after they read an issue or two, but, apart from the big cities, lots of stores are only ordering 1-2 copies (and not reordering when they sell those), or for their pull-file customers, or, worse, not at all.
"All I ask is if you don't order the book, get 2-3 and see what happens. If you sell out of those, up your orders a copy or two, and so on.. I even have an offer for retailers that if, starting with #20, if they order five additional copies of the book, I will buy whatever they can't sell back from them!"
Even though "Manhunter" may seem like a lost cause to some, the fact that the book is closing on two years of stories is a success story in itself. Andreyko points to other books that have beaten the odds and has hope for the future. "Well, look at 'Runaways,' 'Sentinel,' 'Walking Dead' and 'Invincible.' It is rare, but it can happen. And I'm not giving up. I love doing this book and I am prouder of it than almost anything else I've ever done. I believe in the series and want to do it as long as I can. I think people, given the chance to read it, will respond to the passion the entire team has for 'Manhunter.'
"And my "buy-back" guarantee is a pretty big thing to do. I don't have the $$$ or I would take out quote-laden ads or do a .25 cent issue. But, I have spent a lot of my own money mailing copies out to people to get them to try the book. And it has worked better than expected. We still need more help though."
Still, in almost two years, the book hasn't found the audience Andreyko would like, while other new books like "Young Avengers" or "Runaways" beat the series in sales. So why aren't fans flocking to the book? "Once again, I think the main problem is availability," contends Andreyko. "That, coupled with so many event books and tie-ins, make readers very particular about where they spend their money. I get that. Plus, a new female character with the name of five earlier failed versions? I'm not expecting 100K in sales. but, this book is firmly ensconced in the DCU while being totally accessible to new readers. (some of the biggest fans of the book are friends of mine who've never read comics before.)
"I know the feeling of resistance in trying a new title. What if you love it and its cancelled? But that attitude more often than not is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don't try new stuff, the market will shrink until everything is just an X-Spider-Bat-Super-Ultimate-All-Star book!"
That all said, it's been some time since there's been a truly monster hit with a new superhero comic (that has sustained itself) and Andreyko isn't daunted by the challenge. He explains, "I don't think there have been as many 'big' superheroes launched because we've become busy re-inventing the ones we already have whether through Crises, Houses of M, Secret Wars, etc. Another big thing is the creator-owned phenomena: many guys (and gals) have saved their best ideas for themselves (i.e. 'Spawn,' 'Savage Dragon,' 'Invincible,' 'Powers,' 'Kabuki'....). The incentive of use of the characters in other media and actually getting paid for it is quite attractive. That said, I have lots of ideas and this one was best served smack-dab in the DCU. Hopefully, the people reading this will see that 'Manhunter' is now a part of the DCU and an important one at that. (More on that later.....)"
The responsibility for increasing sales on "Manhunter" and increasing sales rests on, in Andreyko's mind, the retailers. "The responsibility for retailers is to order like businessmen, not fans. I cannot tell you how many stores I have been into where an employee tells a customer not to buy something. That doesn't happen in other businesses. If you don't like something someone is buying, you don't dissuade them or make them feel bad! Can you imagine if a Border's employee hated Stephen King and made sure to tell everyone who bought a King book?
"That self-destructive attitude overflows into ordering in a lot of cases (and as someone who worked in comics' retail from the ages of 12-26, I was guilty of this one). They order like fans and only order books they like, not necessarily what will sell. Or they are afraid to try something new because 'new books always fail, so I won't order this one' thus causing a self-fulfilling prophecy. And, like I said, I'm not asking every retailer in the country to order hundreds of copies of 'Manhunter,' I'm simply asking for a chance. Metaphor alert again: Imagine your local Stop-n-Shop doesn't think a lot of people are interested in, say, milk. They order 10 bottles. And sell out. But they decide not to get any more for a month. And the next time, they only order six bottles. Once again, ridiculous, right?
"All I ask, for all titles, is if you order two and sell out. Get two more. Maybe you can sell four. If those sell, get five or six.... who knows? You might have another long-term seller."
In the end, Marc Andreyko is willing to look inward and think about what he could have done to make the book a bigger success, though he feels he's given his heart and soul to "Manhunter." "I don't know, really. I've spent a decent amount of money sending out copies of the book and the trade. I bug all you web-sites to cover 'Manhunter' as much as you can (which, graciously, you have done in the hour of need). If I was independently wealthy, I guess I could order a few thousand copies of each issue....:) There's always more to be done, it's just a matter of the money and the time available for one guy.
"If you haven't tried 'Manhunter': why not? It's a well-reviewed book with a devoted fanbase and creators who pour their soul into every issue. And nine out of ten people who try it, well, they stick around as regulars. That and the fact that it cures the common cold."
Return tomorrow as Andreyko reveals plans for "Manhunter" as part of the "One Year Later" storyline.