The skinny on the Marvel Retailer Rally

So on Monday you were frantically calling the Marvel Comics offices in Manhattan trying to find out who was going to be in an upcoming issue of Spider-Man or what's the latest with the X-Men. You tried the phone extension of one editor at Marvel, followed by another, and another, but they all went to voice mail each time. Where was everybody?

Monday afternoon Marvel's staff could be found 7 blocks away from their offices in Manhattan, at the China Club, a night club that's probably never seen that many comic collectors at one time ever. Usually home to club goers and hip-hop DJ's, The China Club on Monday was host to Marvel Comics' Retailer Rally, a gathering of comic industry professionals, retailers and journalists. CBR News contributing writer Kelly Sue DeConnick was among the journalists in attendance, observing the events as they happened and talking with principals at each company.

While the event was organized by Marvel Comics it was open to everyone in the industry. While some publishers declined to participate for their own reasons, companies represented at this event included CPM Manga, Chaos! Comics, Collectible Concepts, Diamond Comics Distributors, Diamond Select, Alliance, Dynamic Forces, Image Comics and Wizard Enterprises. (Images from the event can be found here.)

The day began at 9:00 in the morning with presentations from the various companies. Bill Jemas opened the event with a moment of silence for the World Trade Center victims. Jemas said the terrorists attacked the WTC because they wanted to shut down the American economy and that by moving forward with businesses we were answering a "call to duty; not a call to arms."

"If you're in this room this morning," Jemas said," you're a good person doing a good thing. … Afterall, we're funny book guys."

Jemas also noted that his "bad reputation" in the industry as a man who speaks his mind and holds back no punches is "well-deserved."

Emphasis was placed on the fact that this rally was an opportunity for retailers to express their concerns and grievances. Jemas said that Editor-in-Chief Joe Queseda had suggested a "Yell at Jemas" booth and that he, Jemas, was fine with that idea, so retailers should feel free to approach him at the sponsor booths and "yell."

Jemas is aware he's under a microscope as President of Marvel comics and knows full well there are two kind of executives; those who admit their mistakes and try to correct them and those who make excuses. He hopes he is in the former group.

He commented on the state of the comic industry about how it has relied heavily on one big excuse over the years: the distribution system is flawed; there is no mass-market distribution. Jemas offered that a long time ago there was a grain of truth to that excuse but that it was no longer viable. He feels the major companies, Marvel/DC/Dark Horse, have offered better product in the last six months. As Distribution hasn't changed, but sales have gone up, better product must be the answer.

Earlier this year Marvel comics abandoned the Comics Code, a group set-up with certain standards deemed appropriate for comics publishing. Jemas talked about their decision to leave the code, boiling it down to the fact they felt their business was about having fun & making money. He didn't understand how the Comics Code helped with either of those things. He felt that fear was at war with freedom.

The podium was then handed over to EIC Joe Quesada who took the opportunity to introduce all the companies and sponsors in attendance and emphasized they were there "to get an education from the retailers."

Soon after taking the stage Quesada introduced a surprise guest, Todd McFarlane. McFarlane welcomed everyone and said those who made it to this event represented the "toughest of the crew." He said that there were a number of "cling-ons" in the 90's and that the retailers who made it through were the tough guys, the blue prints. "Thanks for showing up; glad you're all still pushing the plow," said McFarlane.

Next up was Nick Barrucci of Dynamic Forces. In addition to detailing future offerings from his company, Barrucci discussed how he was in London on the day of the attack and he felt frustrated that there was nothing he could do to help from there. He was pleased to announce that the Captain America lithograph available through their Web site has raised over $2,000.00 for Red Cross.

Dynamic Forces will also be offering a signed edition of the Marvel Comics benefit book, "Heroes," and mentioned that Marvel editor Bob Greenberger suggested the autographed versions go for $19.95 - so that they were affordable for everyone. Dynamic Forces agreed. Barrucci asked retailers to pay retail on the books if they can, in order to raise more money for the charities.

Following the Dynamic Forces presentation it was time for Image Comics to strut their stuff. Who better to give that presentation that Marvel Comics EIC Joe Quesada! Quesada read off a tongue-in-cheek list of Image essentials for retailers that included:

  • Tellos: Reluctant Heroes - "Harry Potter meets Tolkein by way of Narnia."
  • Age of Bronze - "Longer-lasting Trojans."
  • Witchblade
  • The Red Star - "Story so big it had to be Over-Sized."
  • Savage Dragon
  • Rising Stars: Born to Fire
  • Kabuki: Metamorphosis
  • Spawn Batman - "Because Image wants to cash in, too."
  • Powers: Who Killed RetroGirl?
  • Bluntman & Chronic - "Should be in stores before the DVD hits the previously-viewed section."

The Chaos! Comics presentation was up next, but their materials hadn't arrived so they moved onto the next presentation from Collectible Concepts, the organizers of the official Marvel Fan Club.

Paul S. Lipschutz, CEO of Collectible Concepts, announced a "Program for Patriotism" whereby his company will make direct efforts to contribute to the Red Cross, which includes donating $1 of each Web site memberships to Red Cross.

Creative director Lyn Lipschutz announced that retailers who sell Marvel Fan Club site memberships will get $1 for the clerk and $5 for the store for each membership. She also noted they will give away Captain America window clings as a way of raising national morale.

"Whenever there's a tragedy, you need to know that there's someone there with supernatural powers who's going to help you," Lyn Lipshutz told those in attendance.

Following a break in the presentations it was back to business. First at the podium was Alan Rosenberg from Big Apple Cons who announced a benefit convention to be held on October 12th and 13th. Admission will be free but a request for donations will be made at the door. Every donation collected will be given to the families of victims of the WTC disaster. On the Big Apple Con Web site promoter Michael Carbonaro hoped that they could raise $10,000 or more in donations for the relief efforts.

Next up was the official Marvel Comics slide-show presentation given by Marvel Comics Marketing Communications Manager Bill Rosemann. Rosemann took a look at books coming out through the middle of next year.

Among the books mentioned was the much talked about "Heroes" benefit book. (More on this book can be found here with art previews featuring artwork by Dale Keon, Tom Palmer and Adam Kubert. With a list of creators that could only be called a dream team, this pin-up book will benefit the families of NYC Rescue Personnel. Published in magazine size it will contain mostly pin-ups and some text, including a piece from CBR's own Gail Simone.

"The Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons piece will raise the hairs on the back of your neck," said Rosemann.

The decision to publish a pin-up book came down to an issue of time. It provided Marvel with the fastest way to raise money and benefit those who've worked tirelessly since the attacks on September 11th.

Following the "Heroes" book Marvel announced a second benefit book called "Moment of Silence." To be released in December, "Moment of Silence" will feature four short true stories and stories inspired by the events following the attack without words, part of the Marvel Comics 'Nuff Said' event. Kevin Smith has committed to an 8-page story with Igor Korday penciling, Bill Jemas will write a piece that Mark Bagley will pencil, Brian Michael Bendis will write a piece with Chuck Austen penciling, John Romita Jr. will pencil a piece written by Joe Queseda and Alex Ross will paint the Joe Queseda-penciled covers. The money raised will go to the families of civilian victims.

Rosemann also detailed many other releases which included, but not limited to

  • "Cage" by Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben due February, 2002
  • "Black Widow: Codename Widow" a three issue series by Greg Rucka with art by Greg Horn out March of 2002
  • "Elektra & Wolverine: The Redeemer" by Greg Rucka and Yoshitaka Amano A 56 page illustrated prose novel released beginning in November and going through January. Hardcover and soft cover collections planned.
  • "Nightcrawler" coming November 28th by Chris Kipiniak, a playwright discovered by Marvel Editorial when a staffer was invited to see his show.
  • "Daredevil #26" which reunites Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev who are "really excited to be working together again." This story kicks off Marvel Knights fourth year.
  • "Marvel Knights Double Shot" due out October 10th featuring painted covers by Glenn Fabry. The first issue features stories starring Daredevil by Rob Haynes and Punisher by Garth Ennis and Joe Quesada. The second issue contains a Nick Fury story by Grant Morrison and Manuel Gutierrez. The third will feature a fully CGI painted Elektra story by Greg Rucka and Greg Horn.
  • "Elektra #6" by Brian Bendis and Chuck Austen which crosses over with Daredevil #28. Scheduled for release December 12th as part of the 'Nuff Said' event and Rosemann noted "The big question here is can Brian Michael Bendis write a story without 8-billion little word balloons?" Editor Stuart Moore told CBR News that Greg Ruck takes over as the regular writer of Elektra with issue #7, probably starting with a 3-issue storyline.
    [Marvel Knights Catpain America]
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  • "Captain America #1" which relaunches as a Marvel Knights title by John Ney Reiber writing and John Cassaday providing the interiors due out April, 2002. After the WTC attack the original story was tabled and a new story was started that directly addresses the attacks on America. Editor Stuart Moore described the story to CBR News as "balanced and intense."
  • A "Captain Britain" trade paperback collection due for release January 16th. Alan Moore who gave his permission for use of the stories will also be providing an introduction to the book and series artist Alan Davis has provided a new cover for the trade collection.

Other presentations were given by Wizard Publishing, CPM Manga and Diamond Select. A Q&A session followed with all sponsors in attendance fielding questions from the retailers. The question which brought the biggest response came from Stephen Passarelli of Action Comics. Mr. Passarelli expressed his concern that industry leaders were not doing enough advertising to bring new readers into comics shops. Hijinx ensued at this point with other retailers attempting to either respond to or add to his question and Vampirella, Maria Diangelis in costume, even got involved, interrupting two retailers so that she could pose her question about how comics companies prepare their costumed-presenters to answer difficult questions from children.

Marvel responded admirably, addressing the marketing question by saying that they have a "guerilla marketing" technique. They can't afford the media blitzes that they'd like to do, so they do as much of everything as they can.

"I mean, I won't lie to you," said Quesada, "at Marvel we are trying to be media whores."

Jemas offered to Vampirella that he didn't know what other companies did, but at Marvel they do train their costumed presenters to interact with children.

After the presentations ended everyone was invited to return to the lounge downstairs and meet the sponsors at their tables again. They were encouraged to get autographs from the creators in attendance, the Kubert brothers and John Cassaday in particular, as well.

Kelly Sue DeConnick contributed to this story.

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