FANHUNTER: Fans & Pros Fight To Save "Manhunter"

Back in November, CBR News brought you an impassioned plea from "Manhunter" writer Marc Andreyko to support the upcoming five-issue stay of execution that the critically-acclaimed, but poorly-performing series has been granted by DC Executive Editor Dan Didio. But two issues in, with no significant bump in sales figures, word come down that issue 30 would be "Manhunter's" final issue. Despite that news, fans of the series remain very dedicated to it. CBR News spoke with some of Andreyko's biggest fans about their campaign to keep "Manhunter" on the stands, and a few of Andreyko's peers about the difficulties that smaller books face in the mainstream comic marketplace.

The prolific Brian Michael Bendis took a moment out of his busy schedule to laud both Marc and the book. "Marc is the real deal and 'Manhunter' is a great series," Bendis told CBR News. "I think you should buy it just so when Marc is eventually put in charge of one of the major icons of one of the major companies, as he well should be, you can be the hip guy and tell everyone how you were reading him since 'Manhunter.'"

Andreyko's fellow DC scribe Greg Rucka was also quick to sing "Manhunter's" praises. "I think what makes 'Manhunter' so successful is what Marc does so well, which is it's honest," Rucka said. "And I think that that's how you get good drama and good story is that you can do just about anything you want, but if you don't make it emotionally honest, it's crap. And Marc is very, very good at making his stories emotionally honest."

Rucka, too, has endured the bitter taste of premature cancellation: His critically acclaimed "Gotham Central" got the axe last February. Rucka said the onus is less on the publishers and more on the retailers to get the word out about longshot books. "I think there are a lot of comic book stores out there that are tiny little stores that are run by people who don't have a lot of imagination and who aren't willing to take a chance on different books," he said. "And they think that the only way that they can have a successful comic book store is by ordering and selling the same things they've always ordered and sold, the same books over and over again. And that's why you see the same books over and over again in the top ten and top twenty, because they won't give anything else a try. You get a retailer who handsells 'Manhunter,' they handsell it to somebody who wasn't gonna pick it up, the odds are they're gonna keep reading it because it's good."

Then there are the die-hard fans who traipse to their local comic shops month in and month out to pick up the latest issue of "Manhunter." Tad Dupre, who works surveillance at a card-room in a Casino in Washington, is also the webmaster of the pre-eminent "Manhunter" fansite, www.manhuntercomics.com. Dupre spoke with CBR about the site's origins and what they've done, and continue to do, to support the book.

"Manhuntercomics.com originally started with a message board at Second String Sanctuary, and then about four months later I started the fan site," Dupre said. Dupre was going to create a Green Lantern fansite, but fellow "Manhunter" fan Brian Thomer convinced Dupre that there were already more than enough of those to go around. So the two set their sites on "Manhunter," Dupre designing the site and Thomer writing its first piece of content, the 20k Challenge. Andreyko himself got onboard to help promote the idea, whose stated goal was to boost "Manhunter" sales to 20,000 by the time issue 25 hit the stands.

"The 20K Challenge was just another of my many attempts to draw attention to the title," Thomer said. "I was basically throwing down the gauntlet to other 'Manhunter' fans to spread the word on the book. We didn't hit our goal, but the idea got a lot of attention on the internet and Marc Andreyko got in on it, so I guess it worked to an extent."

Thomer, who was a law student when "Manhunter" was first published, thought he could "empathize with Kate Spencer's frustration with the legal system. The concept is something that I've always wanted to see, a hero treating these supervillains the same way they treat their victims, but still maintaining a sense of justice. The characters are all distinctive, three dimensional and fleshed out. Throw in great dialogue and intense action and what's not to like?"

Nursing student Krystal Flores was a latecomer to "Manhunter" fandom, but the California native was so impressed with the series that when news of the book's cancellation reached her ears, she started a "Save Manhunter" group on MySpace. "I knew that a message board could only do so much when it came to 'Manhunter,' but I felt that MySpace could do so much more," Flores said. "After reading such a wonderful book and just getting into it, there was no way in hell I was going to let it go away. So I made the group and added every comic fan I could find on my list and urged them to read 'Manhunter' and to help us save the book."

Adam Rosko, employee of Pulp Fiction Comics in Long Beach, CA, has been encouraging customers to buy "Mahunter" ever since its first cancellation was announced. And to raise awareness about the series, December was "Manhunter Month" at Pulp Fiction Comics. "We made a display for the store with an article I wrote on who Kate is, a bit about the fan following, like the MySpace group, pictures, ordering more of the first TPB and really recommending the book," Rosko said. "In comics, most people are afraid to try new things, and Manhunter is a character that we think people will love and they just don't know about her, so we're gonna do our best to get her some notice."

Interestingly enough, it is the characterization of Manhunter's alter ego Kate Spencer that keeps fans coming back to the book. "Marc, to me, makes the main character, Kate Spencer, so real within the book, unlike some of the other superhero books," Dupre said. "Kate had so many quirks and some of them I completely understood and identified with."

Flores shared Dupre's sentiment. "I love how Kate Spencer is so real," she told CBR News. "She's a single working mom who must balance her work and crime fighting to make time for her son. She manages to do it all with flying colors too. She's independent and awesome. She's a role model for women everywhere. She's right up there with Wonder Woman for me." "Marc and the series' artists make everything in the book very real, more real than in any mainstream superhero book," Rosko said.. "Kate's single-parenthood and divorce, the incredible supporting cast, and a very, very authentic Los Angeles give the readers a more unique superhero experience than what is out there today. To add about the supporting cast, there is a lot a high drama and comedy in the book, and Marc handles it in such a careful way that is never becomes soap-opera-y and tacky."

Thomer had this to say to fans who want to keep Manhunter from riding off into the sunset: "First and foremost, add the title to your pull list, that way at least your order is guaranteed every month. And ask your retailer to order at least one copy for the shelf if he/she doesn't already and reorder if it sells out. After that, I just say to spread the word."

"Buy more than one copy; if the 14,000+ people buying the book order just one more book each, the series will stay around," Dupre said. "I myself have been buying five copies of each issue since issue #23 and plan to buy that many as long as the book is still around."

"If you have a MySpace, put it to good use and spread the word of 'Manhunter.' Leave it in people's comments, post bulletins, whatever!" Flores suggested. "You never know if you might strike some non-'Manhunter' fan's curiousity."

"It wouldn't hurt to write a letter to DC," Rosko put forth. "It worked to get 'Manhunter' back on the shelves, and if new readers write in telling them they liked it, DC should notice. Writing letters got us to #30, but we cant get lazy, otherwise we may not get #31."

"Manhunter" isn't the first series that's been saved by an organized, grassroots campaign of fan support, and the movement's leaders are reassured that their pleas aren't falling on deaf ears. "Knowing that someone as big as DC is taking the time out to listen to us makes you feel really appreciated," Flores said. "You suddenly don't feel so anonymous anymore. Makes me feel better about where my $2.99 is going."

"I think that's one of the good things about comics being a relatively small medium compared to movies or television," Rosko said. "Comic fans have a voice, and the companies listen. They want to make us happy. Sure, they can't make everyone happy, but with 'Manhunter' back on the shelves, 'Spider-Girl' getting a huge push at Marvel and many series launching because of fan interest, there is the proof that they really do care." Though not one to discourage fan activism, Rucka's take on the grassroots fan movement was tempered by the publishers' bottom line. "Publishers are in the business to make money," Rucka said. "Sadly that does not therefore mean that they're in the business of publishing good books." Rucka, himself, is at something of a loss about how to get the word out. "Skywriting doesn't seem to do it. Running around, jumping up and down, at the top of your lungs saying, 'This is good, read it,' doesn't seem to do it. Dancing naked in the streets doesn't seem to do it. At which point I'm kind of out of ideas.

"The sad truth is quality doesn't win out," Rucka lamented. "Every now and then something worthy will survive. But the history of all art, the road is littered with the corpses of the titles that almost made it."

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