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CBR TV @ SDCC 2014: Sam Humphries on the Creative Risks of “Avengers A.I.” & the Fallacy of Numbers

by  in Comic News Comment
CBR TV @ SDCC 2014: Sam Humphries on the Creative Risks of “Avengers A.I.” & the Fallacy of Numbers

Writer Sam Humphries visited the CBR Yacht at Comic-Con International in San Diego to speak with Jonah Weiland about his fan-favorite work on “Avengers A.I.”, why writing “Legendary Star-Lord” helped his mom finally understand what he does for a living and more. They discuss how much creative freedom Humphries was given on “A.I.,” whether he worried about the book finding an audience and how tough the market is for new books. They also talk about the overall healthy of the industry, why the public’s obsession with numbers is a bad thing and why the numbers release regarding comics are not necessarily accurate or consistent.

Humphries Heads to the Very, Very Far Future in “Avengers A.I.”

On whether he worries about the potential audience or just the story he’s writing: It’s hard not to concern yourself with it. It’s hard to put it out of your mind, but that’s exactly what you need to do. Something like “Avengers A.I.” — it was definitely out there. But it is a very cutthroat market, to the point where twelve issues is an ongoing series, you know. That’s about the average age for a series that’s not “Uncanny X-Men” or “Avengers” or something like that. There’s so many variables, there’s so many things that come into play and there’s so much about this market that we just don’t know. There’s no really good demographic information, it’s just anecdotal, there’s no real strong voice for retailers. You talk to retailers about what they want, what they don’t want, you get a million different answers. The readers are all over the place. Some are very vocal on the Internet, but it seems that the majority of them don’t actually participate in conversations online. It’s almost impossible to do an effective job of concerning yourself with that too much.

At a certain point as a creator, if you’re not a publisher or an editor, what you have to do is say that ‘The only thing that’s 100% within my control is writing the best book possible.’ If you’re worried too much about all this stuff and trying to guess at where all the gray areas are it makes it very hard to do the best book you can. Especially on a book like “Avengers A.I.” where Marvel really gave me so much leeway to do what I wanted — leeway I may never get to have on a Marvel book again just ’cause the situation was so special and so unique and they gave me so much trust. If I worried too much about that I may not have been able to take advantage of that situation and produce the kind of book like you’re talking about which was definitely out there for a typical Marvel comic.

On the obsession with sales numbers surrounding comic books and why the numbers don’t reflect a book’s true success: I think it was on Reddit when I was doing an Ask Me Anything, somebody was like, “Why don’t you think ‘Avengers A.I.’ didn’t find an audience?” And I decided to say, “Look, it did find a audience. It found an audience. Whether or not that’s you or the way you define an audience is a different question.” Going back to like numbers and sales numbers and stuff, we have a hunger for sales charts and sales numbers and stuff. Comics are not unique in that. I don’t think that’s a fault of the comic book industry or CBR who publishes them, or anybody else who publishes them, but what I really regret is we have a unique situation, at least for the direct market, where we have one source of numbers, and that’s Diamond Comics. For one reason or another they refuse to release accurate numbers. Some people say those numbers are inaccurate but they’re fudged, you could say maybe they’re 10% more or 10% less across the board, but from what I’ve seen, and I don’t even see that much, it seems clear that the numbers are inconsistently wrong. You can’t always say that because “Batman” is this number and “Avengers” is this number that they’re both wrong in the same way. They’re both wrong in inconsistent ways that make it impossible to use these numbers in the charts to say anything about what’s happening for any book or the marketplace in general.

That’s my regret is we have this hunger for numbers, that’s not going anywhere. We have a source for numbers that could give us accurate information about how books are doing but that just isn’t happening. So most of the conversation, which could be a good conversation between various disciplines online about the comic book industry is based on inaccurate information so people like you or me or somebody else who wants to have a talk about where the market is and where it should be going, we’re wasting our time because we’re using information that’s not accurate.

Humphries Launches “The Legendary Star-Lord” into the Marvel Universe

On why the health of the industry is better than some people would have you believe: From what I understand that’s absolutely true. Again, it’s difficult because other industries, they have the money to spend on the companies that actually can take the statistics — they can take a small sample group and extrapolate information about a marketplace from that. I think comics is in need of something like that in a bad way. I think we get lucky as an industry a lot just by kind of riding momentum and riding with the currents when really we could have a stronger industry and be making better decisions for ourselves if we had that kind of accurate information available. Information that other entertainment industries already have on a daily basis. … There may be some reason that I’m not aware of, but as far as I’m concerned I feel like there needs to be more transparency about how books are doing, how the numbers are, how healthy the industry is.

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