Reaching for the Skylanders
The first few issues of the "Skylanders" comics I've written have sold more than 300,000 copies thus far. That's a pretty big number
Issue #1 from IDW sold out of its nearly 15,000-copy print run in the direct market. More than 45,000 copies of the first collected edition (featuring issues #1-#3) went into the book market, and have been selling briskly. More than 50,000 of the hardcover collection edition were sold to Scholastic for book fairs and book clubs. And more than 200,000 issues were sold in IDW's micro-comic fun pack format in places like Toys "R" Us, Walmart, Target, and GameStop. I'm told the Toys "R" Us micro fun packs were the best-selling item in the entire retail chain the week they launched.
I'm not under any illusions that the "Skylanders" comics are selling in those numbers due to my involvement (though hopefully they're entertaining, at least in part due to my involvement, and the involvement of the rest of the creative team). No, the "Skylanders" comics are selling because they're comics featuring the "Skylanders" franchise, which has been racking up video game and toy sales in astounding numbers the last few years.
When I was working on the Skylanders "SWAP Force" video game at the offices of Activision subsidiary Vicarious Visions (located about half an hour from my house), I wondered why the franchise had yet to make the leap to comics. It seemed like a natural pairing. Skylanders boasts an expansive universe and literally hundreds of characters, each with a unique design and special abilities.
It took a while, but the license finally landed at IDW, which reached out to me with the offer to write the series because of my experience working on the game. It was really my first time being part of what you'd consider a "kids" property, but I enjoyed contributing to the game, and saw the comics as an extension of that.
So I took the gig, but also realized that it's not the kind of thing that a good chunk of the industry would pay attention to. These are not comics that will be given much notice by the comics press. For the most part, you don't burnish your reputation as a writer by writing material for kids, especially on a pre-existing franchise. The issues themselves aren't likely to be reviewed. Titles appropriate to children most often exist in a kind of comics netherworld.
I was also aware that writing a kid-friendly title is not something I'm known for. I've done superheroes like "Green Lantern" and "Silver Surfer," I've done supernatural like "Witchblade," I've done creator-owned like "Ravine" and "Shinku" (complete with graphic violence, nudity and swearing). But kid-friendly? Not really. Probably the closest I've come is my creator-owned "Dragon Prince," which might be more of a YA read.
But never having done something is probably the best reason to do it. I've always said I want to work on a variety of material. As far as I'm concerned, the best way for a creator to remain interested and engaged is to work on a smorgasbord of projects, rather than a steady diet of the same thing over and over. Right now, I switch between a supernatural procedural like "Witchblade," a pulp adventure like "John Carter: Warlord of Mars," and superhero fare with a couple of DC's "Convergence" titles, plus a few others. Adding "Skylanders" to that mix is just stretching a different set of writing muscles.
And the thing is... I'm having fun. I'm having a grand time writing the stories, working with my buddy Dave Rodriguez as co-writer, and a collection of talented artists. I always try to write stories that I would want to read, and "Skylanders" is no different. The model in the back of my head is the classic Warner Bros. cartoons I grew up on. Bugs, Daffy and their brethren appealed to me as a kid, and they still appealed as an adult, because the best of them work on two levels: broad humor, and then the more sly, tongue-in-cheek stuff. Hopefully we're pulling off something like that with "Skylanders."
Contrary to what you might think from scanning the myriad titles on comic store racks, comics are supposed to be fun. Or at least, it's okay for them to be fun. It's okay for them to be for kids.
I did a signing at Comic Depot in Saratoga Springs, NY the week that "Skylanders" #1 hit the direct market. Yes, I signed some copies of other comic as well, but mostly I signed "Skylanders" issues for kids between 6 and maybe 10 years-old, all of whom seemed pretty excited simply to have their hands on the comic (much more so than getting that comic signed by me).
There's something wholly satisfying about getting comics into the hands of young kids. There's a sense of wonder on their part, of unvarnished delight. Nobody's thinking about CGC valuation. Nobody's revved up to go online and throw rocks at comics and creators. They're just excited to be reading something that makes them happy, and hopefully fires their imaginations.
Maybe "Skylanders" will be their gateway comic before they move on to superheroes, and then to whatever creator-owned opus rules shelves in 2025. I'd like to think we'll get at least a few of them to make comics a lifelong habit.
I'm doing another Skylanders-fueled signing this Saturday at Sound Go Round in Vestal, NY, which just expanded from a music store by adding a full-service comic aspect. I'm hoping the signing is packed with kids again. We've gotta get them started somewhere, right?
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Witchblade" and the graphic novel series "Ravine" for Top Cow, "Skylanders" for IDW, "John Carter: Warlord of Mars" for Dynamite, "The Protectors" for Athlitacomics, and Sunday-style strips "The Mucker" and "Korak" for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com.