"INFINITY" - BUT WHAT'S BEYOND?
Special thanks this week to Pipeline Friend Joe Torcivia, for this headline and his astute question: What should we make of all the new comics companies debuting next year?
There is a sudden rash of them, isn't there? Gorilla. Infinity. CrossGen. Black Bull. We haven't seen this many new companies debut since the boom years back in the early 1990s.
So let's guess at which ones are doomed to failure, and which look likely to succeed. The interesting thing is that they all have fundamentally different attitudes, both creatively and financially.
GORILLA is the odds-on favorite right now. They have the power of some of the best-selling creators currently working in mainstream comics, combined with the power of the Image corporate structure. In addition, their unique funding arrangement with the eHERO.com web site allows them to survive some mistakes, should that be necessary. Granted, the books they put out aren't guaranteed to be huge hits the way the original Image founders' books were. But Busiek, Waid, et. al. do carry with them certain audiences from the get-go. The incremental press release strategy - whereby all books aren't announced at the start, but rather month by month - will guarantee a lot of attention being paid to the line even before the first book comes out. The downside of this is that after all this excitement and attention, they're first books are being set up for a large fall, or at the very least a disappointment. We waited 15 years for a new STAR WARS movie. Look at what all that anticipation brought us in THE PHANTOM MENACE earlier this year.
None of that diminishes the fact that Waid, Busiek, Kelly, Kesel, Grummett are some of the most talented and popular creators working in comics today. They have the added benefit of not being dummies, too. The Gorilla line promises to be about more than just superheroes, and there are even hints of different distribution methods for these books. While they're constrained by Image's contract with Diamond at the outset, I'm sure they'll find creative ways around it, or just wait out the contract, should Image choose not to renew. Busiek has long been a proponent of a different payload delivery - more graphic novels and trade paperbacks to make comics more profitable for newsstands. Hopefully, we'll see some of that come into play.
Black Bull is the controversial new publisher of comics from Gareb Shamus, also known as the president and publisher of WIZARD: THE GUIDE TO COMICS. The controversy arises from conflicts of interest, something that doesn't seem to bother fans of THE COMICS JOURNAL and Fantagraphics all that much. Of course, TCJ wears its heart on its sleeve and its conflicts are usually readily apparent. Take the debacle earlier this year of the 100 Best Comics of the Century, an amazing number of which were published by Fantagraphics.
But I'm off on a tangent already…
Black Bull so far has only one title planned, from Mark Waid, Amanda Conner, and Jimmy Palmiotti. It's called GATECRASHER and Wizard is doing everything it can to promote it, from faux subscription cards prepackaged in Wizard itself to multiple-page ads touting the new series. (We're all curious if Black Bull is paying the same ad rates to Wizard as other companies.)
This is not creator-owned stuff. The book is Gareb Shamus-owned, so if and when any of the creators mentioned above leave, new ones can come aboard. I have no doubt that that will happen sooner than later. Waid will get busy with his Gorilla output and want to concentrate on that, or Palmiotti will need to ink other books or what have you… Shamus has the pull to bring in other top name creators to the book, even if it's just the subconscious pull of Wizard promotion. But the question is whether this one will turn into Acclaim2, where all the top name creators seemed to leave after 6 months and sales plummeted.
This is Brian Pulido's new company, just announced last week. He's trying to be a cross between Top Cow and "action, adventure, fantasy, sci-fi and the supernatural." Actually, that might just be redundant.
It's the classic case of comics as the means to an end. I'll try not to psychoanalyze Pulido or put words in his mouth, but if he thinks this is the way to draw new readers to comics, then I have to think he's sadly mistaken. Although I applaud any attempts to bring comics to new audiences, making comics that are to be used as storyboards for movies is not the way. Aside from the original BATMAN movie, how many Hollywood projects have brought in outside readers to comicdom? Did THE ROCKETEER, which was a pretty terrific film? THE PHANTOM? THE SHADOW? BLADE?
Pulido can couch Infinity all he wants as a way of reaching new readers, but that's not what INFINITY is about. It's about getting into Hollywood and leaving this small little industry behind. After getting a taste of Hollywood with the impending LADY DEATH animated movie, I guess he wanted more, and this is how. The sad thing is that this might be necessary. If this industry drops any lower in sales figures, it might be the only way to survive. Maybe he's smart. I don't know. Right now I just see it as following the trend, hoping for Hollywood's big payday.
Basically, this company will last for as long as Hollywood pays attention to it. If the first book isn't optioned right away, it'll be gone in a heartbeat. My guess is that the usual Hollywood machine of buying rights to titles so that the competition doesn't get to it first will perpetuate this company. It also means we'll get plenty of announcements for movies which will never happen.
The final nail I can put in the Infinity coffin, though, is that nobody really cares. There was a buzz associated with CrossGen and its hiring practice and studio atmosphere; with Black Bull and its relationship with Wizard; with Gorilla and its big name creators. All Inifinity has going for it is a LADY DEATH animated video and Brian Pulido. How many people does that excite?
This might be the most interesting comics company coming next year. It hasn't been created inside of a pre-existing company. It's not in extistance for the sole purpose of getting into Hollywood or the fast cash. It's actually a true experimentation in comics making. They made a big deal in doing an "open casting call" for talent, bringing in an interesting mix of comics rookies and veterans, including Brandon Peterson, Ron Marz, and Barb Kesel.
And it's all situated inside of a studio. All the talent involved will be working side by side in the CrossGen bullpen, in the hopes that the synergy will pay off. That's why I see this as the company that interests me the most.
I don't know if it's going to be successful or not. Its opening salvo of titles looks like a misfire to me. For starters, it's all fantasy stuff. I just see that market as being a bit too over saturated these days. Granted, this may just be my personal taste. I'm not a big fantasy guy. Maybe I should just be happy that it's not another superhero universe.
It is, however five titles interconnected inside of one universe that can supposedly be read separately without problem. This sounds like any of Jim Shooter's failed universe concepts, from Broadway to Defiant to Valiant. I don't like that. Nor do I believe in the concept of "You can pick any single issue up and not feel like you're missing the story. However, if you pick up all four titles, you'll get the whole story." Huh?!? On the other hand, one of the titles will be an anthology title, so that will be nice. =)
As much as I hope to see this grand comics-making experiment succeed, I just don't see it happening. The parallels to Jim Shooter's various universes are too eerie for me. Let's go with 4 to 1 odds to survive the first year. I'll assume the CrossGen investors don't want to turn tail right away.
In the end, though, none of this conjecture will matter when the clock turns to the year 2000 and Russia nukes us all off the planet.
If that doesn't happen, though, come back here on Tuesday for a mess of comics reviews: SUPERBOY, SAVAGE DRAGON, FLASH, DIVINE RIGHT, BLAIR WHICH?, and more more more. Next Friday's Pipeline2 will be the long-awaited interview with WOLVERINE guest inker Derek Fridolfs.
See you then! Happy New Year!