C2E2: Major Announcements Hit Diamond Summit

The Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (AKA "C2E2") kicked off what has become its traditional "zero day" event on Thursday as Diamond Comic Distributors held its annual Retailer Summit in the ballrooms just off the convention floor.

The all-day event was anchored by workshops on retail topics and more intimate focus group sessions with representatives from companies including Archaia, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Dark Horse, Diamond itself, DC, Dynamite, IDW, Image, Marvel, Valiant, WizKids and Zenescope. But as usual, the big action in terms of news came with the night's wrap-up dinner where publishers teases and announced many new projects including two new spinoffs for Dark Horse's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 9," a new horror series from Tim Seeley, a "Danger Girl/G.I. Joe" crossover from IDW and new details from DC's Nielsen survey on the impact of the New 52.

The day's early sessions were heavily focused on the retailers as publisher's took to different platforms to pitch comic shop owners on their new products an initiatives. Image Publisher Eric Stephenson appeared at the day's lunch to argue for the strength of creator-owned comics as the primary driver of new comics ideas over the past 20 years. DC Co-Publisher Dan Didio and SVP of Sales Bob Wayne showed off a portfolio of new art from the anticipated "Before Watchmen" project. And reps from Diamond Digital made the case for brick and mortar retailers to get involved with digital comic sales to expand their range and customer base. In between the more intimate sessions, Diamond held some "retail olympics" at general group gatherings where shop owners would compete for some rare products in speed contests to bag and board issues or look up old comic prices. (For more, see Heidi MacDonald at The Beat and her invaluable Twitter feed.)

When the distributor's big dinner kicked off that evening with newly installed employee Chris Powell inviting the retailers and introducing Dynamite President Nick Barrucci who presented the first slate of publisher news. "We're shipping 'The Shadow' next week, and we wanted to let everybody know that we're also shipping the hand-drawn sketch covers by Alex Ross and Jae Lee day-and-date," he said to cheers from members around the room who qualified for the original art incentives. "Speaking of 'The Shadow,' we're almost sold out of issue #1, and it looks like we're going to go to a second print." Barrucci went on to talk up the publisher's incoming seven-issue crossover "Prophecy" by Ron Marz which will have no tie-in books and one cover for each issue. He explained that this kind of event is what they've heard retailers want and are hoping to see that reflected in the numbers. Dynamite's other big incoming releases include pulp anti-hero "The Spider" and Vampirella universe title "Pantha." He promised that after introducing the classic vampire heroine last year and her panther counterpart in 2012, Dynamite will continue to roll out the horror heroes they purchased from Harris Publications in the future.

Barrucci also promised a continuation of the publisher's relationship with writer and director Kevin Smith who already launched "The Green Hornet" and "Bionic Man" for Dynamite, though he didn't elaborate on what Smith's next franchise might be. At the end of his presentation, Barrucci gave away two of the Ross and Lee "Shadow" sketch covers to shops who won a blind drawing. He noted that Dynamite would give away ten more of the variants to retailers who have the best "The Shadow" on sale displays in their stores.

Dark Horse went second as Editor Scott Allie and marketing managers Jeremy Atkins and Matt Parkinson went through their upcoming slate. The trio started by talking up incoming tie-ins for the popular "Mass Effect 3" video game, noting that the 3.5 million game units sold made for 3.5 million potential comic readers. The new tie-in series "Mass Effect: Homeworlds" continues to see involvement with creator Mac Walters with final scripts by Jeremy Barlow. A similar property for the publisher will be the upcoming "Dragon Age" tie-in which will also see heavy involvement from the game's writer. A hardcover collection of the currently online only series will be out soon with an ongoing series launching in August.

Allie spoke about the "Buffy" line of comics, calling the multiple series "probably our strongest line right now." While the announced "Drusilla" series was recently put on hold, the Editor announced that Jeff Parker and Brian Ching will team for a "Willow" series with covers by David Mack and "Buffy" fan favorite Megan Lara. Also in store is a "Spike" series by Victor Gischler and Paul Lee with covers by former IDW "Angel" cover artist Jenny Frison and Steve Morris launching in August. For three months at the end of the summer, Dark Horse will ship a Buffy book every week with hopes that it will draw the faithful fans into stores each and every Wednesday. Allie also said that the future issues of the main "Buffy" title will focus on the villains and feature pages by the legendary Russ Heath.

The second arc of "Conan" by Brian Wood will be a three-issue arc by James Herring, but Becky Cloonan will continue to work on the series long term. "Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi" did well for the publisher, Parkinson said. There are more plans for the original trilogy characters including the death of Boba Fett as written by Tom Taylor in "Star Wars: Blood Ties." More plans are in store for Darth Vader and Darth Maul comes July. Atkins also announced that readers will soon see a "Star Wars" book set in the original trilogy era written by one of Dark Horse's biggest talents.

Eric Powell appeared on stage then to make his own announcement in his own way. "What's with all this licensed crap?" he joked adding that he remains committed to creator-owned comics since he read online that Marvel sold Gary Friedrich's organs to fund "Avengers Vs. X-Men" and with ties to the mafia, took Jack Kirby's heirs out to be shot. Allie and company shouted at the creator that what he read were lies, to which he said, "You guys are acting like a high school education from Tennessee isn't good enough to read something on the internet and tell if it's true or not!" He then announced that "The Goon" will soon go monthly.

Dark Horse took their presentation back to talk up series including the webcomic "Battlepug" by Mike Norton, which will hit in July, fantasy adventure "Alabaster," Brian Wood's "The Massive" which spins out of "Dark Horse Presents," Michael Avon Oeming's "Victories" which Allie called "the sickest superhero book to come out since 'The Boys'" and Paul Tobin's incoming horror comic "Colder." Finally, they announced a new series by Tim Seeley called "Ex Sanguine" of which Allie said was pitched as "Buffy and Angel crossed with 'Natural Born Killers.'" For more on that book, check CBR's exclusive interview.

Marvel was up next with Manager of Sales and Communications Arune Singh taking the mic. The major PR and advertising push for "Avengers Vs. X-Men" was talked up in terms of an attempt to keep sales and interest high over the course of the entire event and not just at its start. Singh promised that issue #3 is "the greatest Captain America/Wolverine fight that you've ever seen written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by John Romita, Jr." Issue #0 has sold out, and #1 has gone to a second printing. He also noted that Marvel has scaled tie-ins back and that the books that do tie-in will have important story points such as "Secret Avengers" focusing on a team flying into space to fight the Phoenix Force.

Singh also noted the teased marriage coming to "Astonishing X-Men" will break via a major national media outlet, and that ten to 20 mainstream and comics media outlets looking to do coverage of the story. He compared the move to the introduction of Miles Morales where Glenn Beck called Marvel evil. "We're telling you guys right now, this is going to be huge. In issue #50, you're going to see a historic proposal, and in issue #51, you'll see a historic wedding."

June's "Spider-Men" will kick off Marvel's plans for the 50th anniversary of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's iconic character, and the crossover between Peter Parker and Miles Morales will also get a mainstream media push in a story Singh promised would matter to the long term lives of both heroes.

Captain America returns to the Ultimate Universe this summer for a crossover event between "Ultimate Comics Spider-Man," "Ultimate Comics X-Men" and "Ultimate Comics The Ultimates." Again, Singh promised national attention for the story akin to the death of Johnny Storm based on a key decision a character makes within the course of the crossover. Overall, Singh called Marvel's plans for 2012 historic on many fronts with the final tease being a major shake up in the wake of "Avengers Vs. X-Men."

IDW's newly promoted VP of Marketing Dirk Wood then took to the stage. He opened his presentation by gently mocking Kevin Smith's "Comic Book Men" show to say how grateful he was that America was getting an honest picture of what comic book stores were like. Wood went on to praise the hard work and uniqueness of the comic store experience, saying that the feeling a kid gets flipping through a comic will never come from an iPad.

"The Crow" is coming to IDW this July by John Shirley (screenwriter for the original Brandon Lee movie) and Kevin Colden with variant covers by James O'Barr. Its incoming "KISS" series will be written by Chris Ryall and Tom Waltz with art by Jamal Igle and Casey Maloney. "Transformers Regeneration" - a continuation of the old Marvel series by Simon Furman and Andrew Wildman - kicks off with issue #80.5 on Free Comic Book Day.

"We're going to be doing some streamlining for our entire line. We've heard we have too many tie-ins for some of these properties [and] to make them more fan friendly," Wood said before moving on to discuss "Mars Attacks" by John Layman and John McCrea which will feature 55 covers. Wood admitted that might be a tough sell, but that the promotion should be fun for fans. A second Dave Stevens art book featuring all his non-Rocketeer stories and covers in one place is in the pipeline along with more "Rocketeer" via a new mini series by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee called "Cargo of Doom."

A logo preview of Judge Dredd appeared on screen of which Wood said, "We don't know much about what's coming except that a lot of creators want to work on this." bHe promised a huge program of both reprints of classic comics and new materia, joking that IDW couldn't line up likeness rights for Silvester Stalone, but they did get his brother Frank. Another big launch will be the incoming "Road Rage" series co-written by father/son team Stephen King and Joe Hill.

"If you told me I'd be this excited about 'Popeye,' I wouldn't have believed you," Wood said of the new book by Langridge which was originally planned as being a four-issue mini series. Due to the creator's enjoyment, the title has been expanded to an ongoing for the foreseeable future. "Frankenstein Alive, Alive!" by Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson earned some applause as the book was fully returnable.

On the streamlining front, "Godzilla" will become a singe, ongoing monthly by Duane Swierczynski and Simon Gane with the occasional special mini series like the just announced James Stokoe book. Additionally, Wood announced some cleaning up of the "G.I. Joe" line on the way in the near future, and that "Dungeons and Dragons: Forgotten Realms" by Ed Greenwood will be the only "D&D" series. The same will hold true for the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" series with the exception of the current "micro-series." Wood said the main book has gained in sales at the retailer level every month. IDW's "Magic The Gathering" will soon feature cards from the game with every new issue.

Joe Hill's "Omega" series of "Locke & Key" will be the last regular installment of the series, but Wood promised Hill had more plans in the future. Darwyn Cooke's "The Score" - based on the Richard Stark novel - is coming in June.

Wood then announced a "Danger Girl/G.I. Joe" crossover for July which he described as "J. Scott Campbell's dream book." The series will be written by Campbell and co-creator Andy Hartnell and drawn by John Rauch.

On the reprint front, a collection of the late Frank Frazetta's humor comics, and new "Artist Editions" are on the way for "The Spirit," Wally Wood, "Groo" and Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli's "Daredevil: Born Again." Wood also noted future releases for "Womanthology" which will be an ongoing title and the just-announced "Battle Beasts" toy tie-in, which you can read more about now on CBR.

The final presentation of the night came from DC Comics' SVP of Sales Bob Wayne and VP of Marketing John Cunningham with Marketing staffer Adam Phillips riding shotgun. Wayne thanked the retailers for their support throughout the launch of the New 52 line of titles before handing off to Cunningham to present the results of the New 52 consumer surveys conducted by Nielsen.

The Marketing VP said this survey was the first of many steps DC plans to make in researching their readership and sales reach. He noted that for people who say, "That didn't tell me anything I didn't already know," it's good for a company to know their assumptions are right rather than just think they may be. There were three surveys done through Nielsen - an in-person one done in six stores, a "bag stuffer" handed out to fans and an online one. Cunningham noted that the response was as active and "rabid" as any Nielsen could recall in their history, with fans excited to give their opinions on the books. He noted that in the future, they'd like to do more surveys with "non-Wednesday" customers as the response overall was given by dedicated comic books fans, although the online results skewed heavily female in readership.

On the question of who bought the New 52, male readers dominated by 93 to 7% in gender. The average age for readers was between 22 to 44 years. Cunningham noted that the added percentages of 13 to 17 and 18 to 24 meant that there was a solid percentage of younger readers coming in. White readers were also very high, but there were impressive percentages of Black, Latino and Asian readers as well. Over half of the readers surveyed were people who have been reading comics for over 20 years, but the numbers were about equal amongst other categories. Cunningham noted that overall, these kinds of numbers made for an "avid fanbase" though there was 12 to 14% of physical respondents who were lapsed readers with 30% of online survey takers identifying as lapsed readers. Around 5% were brand new readers.

Moving to what consumers thought of the New 52, a high percentage of readers bought 20 or more titles while lapsed readers often purchased around ten or more at the launch. Also, online sites, social networks and DC's own website accounted for a large percentage of how fans became aware of the new books. Across the surveys, 70 to 90% of respondents preferred to buy their books at comic shops, which Cunningham praised retailers for. 60 to 75% said they went to the shops that week to buy a New 52 book. While a complaint across the survey was sellouts of titles, Cunningham said despite that problematic idea, it proved that even people responding online preferred to buy at least some of their comics in print, which he said proved the idea of same day digital taking away from print was not just in their heads. At the same time, around 20% of people said they were buying the #1 issues as a speculator investment. Overall, most of the titles got high marks after being read with respondents saying they'd come back for more - an idea Cunningham said was proving true in Wayne's sales data.

In regards to digital versus print, Cunningham said 20 to 25% of print buyers said they did so was because "it was cool" and 20 to 25% of digital buyers bought that way for the same reason. He said this meant there was "no monolithic part of this audience" in regard to one format battling the other. Finally, Cunningham showed a slide saying that most respondents are happy with their retailer experience in the Direct Market, with one of the key areas to please customers being backlist in stock. He also said the next Nielsen survey would soon be announced as DC had no intent of doing this as a one time thing.

Wayne then gave a brief presentation on incoming products including showing off the new package designs for the recently renamed DC Collectibles line which is using the DC "reveal" logo as a theme across its products. He noted the exclusives and incentives for retailers when ordering "Before Watchmen" series, saying that DC would be doing some TV advertising for the heavily promoted with commercials on G4, IFC, BBC America, Cartoon Network and TBS. There are also a number of online ads coming for the books. DC will also hand out a "New Frontiersman" newspaper mock-up on the floor of C2E2 to promote the book, and eventually a line of DC Collectible products will come out tying into "Before Watchmen" as well as the incoming "The Dark Knight Rises" film.

Wayne promoted "Batman: Earth One" - the new graphic novel by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank - by saying the publisher sold 100,000 copies of "Superman: Earth One" and that the Batman edition is currently trending at 135% of "Superman" sales.

On the new comics front, Wayne revealed that the incoming "New 52" themed Free Comic Book Day offering written by Johns will reintroduce two DC characters not yet seen in the new DCU and introduce some brand new characters as well. The book will include a four-page gatefold splash by Jim Lee. Wayne noted high pre-orders for New 52 second wave titles like "Earth-2" and promised a commitment for the publisher to continue its "Drawing the Line at $2.99" campaign with 67 out of 81 July titles - or 82.7% of comics - shipping at the lower price point. Upcoming releases from Vertigo include Sean Murphy's "Punk Rock Jesus," Scott Snyder's next "American Vampire" mini series "Lord of Nightmares" and a new printing of volume 1 of "Fables" which will ship to retailers who ordered during a recent sale of the old printing with the same 10% discount.

DC also plans more "MAD" magazine product including a "MAD Presents Batman" special to tie in to "The Dark Knight Rises," an "Amazingly Stupid MAD" trade to tie in to the new "MAD" TV series on Cartoon Network and a fourth volume of the classic "MAD Archives" which will come with new printings of volumes one and two.

Also on the TV front will be a May launching mass market kids magazine based on the DC Nation lineup of toons on Cartoon Network called "DC Nation Super Spectacular" which will be anchored by comics based on the new "Green Lantern" animated series.

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