Friday, March 10, 2006

Don't bother showing or telling.

Say what you like about Infinite Crisis (and you will, I know. Don’t give me that look), but at least it was impossible to get bored with it ahead of time. Oh, sure, you could get bored of all the hype, and of all the Countdown to… miniseries that theoretically led into the series itself, but still, you couldn’t actually get bored of Infinite Crisis, because no-one knew what the book was actually about until the end of the second issue.

(There are, of course, numerous problems with keeping everything about the book so secret that even those who read the first issue of it still have no idea what the true plot of the series is going to be, not least of which the fact that people who read the first issue would be perfectly within their rights and common sense to read the first issue, put it down and think “Huh. So that made no sense. I don’t think I’ll both coming back for the second issue.” Retailers, too, were screwed by this way of doing business, in that they were ordering more or less blind when it came to gauging potential interest in the series. All they had to go on, and the readers of the first issue as well, for that matter, was the hype, which was more than slightly misleading. Yes, each of the lead-in storylines, from The OMAC Project to the JLA arc Crisis of Conscience tied in with the overall storyline in some respects, but none of them really went more than a small part towards showing the bigger picture. It wouldn’t be entirely off-base to consider each of those lead-ins as a series of misdirections and red herrings to stop people from guessing just what was going to happen in the actual Infinite Crisis book itself.)

(Now that I think about it, while it may have been impossible to get bored of Infinite Crisis before it debuted because no-one outside of DC actually knew what it was about, it was more than possible to get frustrated with it for being so coy and for giving out so many misdirections. Hmm.)

(Too many parentheses, do you think?)

By contrast, Marvel’s summer event book, Civil War – it’s not a crossover, as Marvel will repeatedly tell you, despite the three tie-in miniseries that accompany the run (Civil War: Frontline, X-Men: Civil War, and Runaways/Young Avengers ), or the two oneshots that tie-in (Civil War: Opening Shot, Civil War: Daily Bugle ), or even the tie-in issues of various regular books, including seven issue arcs in Amazing Spider-Man and Wolverine, and a five issue epilogue arc in New Avengers. Because all of those are tie-ins, and not crossovers, you understand? – is something that I am feeling really bored with already, and it’s not out until May. Because I already have seen preview pages from the first issue, last month. And I’ve already read several million interviews where the plot is explained, and the creators congratulate themselves on the real world parallels to the current political climate in America while explaining that such parallels can be ignored if you’re a Republican who doesn’t like to mix politics with your superheroin’. It’s gotten to the point where not only do I feel like there’s any point in reading the actual comic book, beyond a voyeuristic interest in the mechanics of the whole thing, because I know exactly what to expect, but that I feel as if the comic book came out a couple of months ago already.

I know, I know. This isn’t a new complaint; both Joe Quesada and Dan Didio are known for complaining that spoilers are ruining the comic book experience, and that it’s getting harder to surprise the fans these days and trades are killing comics and yadda yadda yadda. And, you know, it’s true, but still, that’s not what I mean. What I’m more concerned about is that the publicity that the publishers are putting out for the books is doing the opposite of what it’s supposed to do; my apathy for Civil War isn’t based upon any spoilers from fans or rumor or gossip, but the very things released to get people excited about the damn thing.

I’d feel comforted if I thought it was just me. I have no problem being contrary, and I’m not uncomfortable feeling weird, as Elliott Smith once warbled. But looking on sites like Newsarama and Millarworld, a large part of a fanbase that would normally be going crazy for this kind of book are seemingly left cold by it, complaining that it’s yet another book in the mold of Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Infinite Crisis, Identity Crisis and whatever comes next in the effort of the Big Two to outdo each other and grab more market share. Meanwhile, DC’s current strategy of hyping up books by setting them up as mysteries – What is Infinite Crisis all about? What happens in all of the One Year Later books? – seems to be paying off, with Infinite Crisis maintaining its level of success even midway into an increasingly confused run.

Maybe that’s the next step: Media blackout marketing. As the market reacts negatively to seeing what’s coming up, the next big thing becomes telling people that something is important while also telling them that you can’t tell them why it’s important. Give people not the story of the issue, but the story of the tease, and see what happens next. It’s not a sure thing – Marvel tried it with X-Men: Deadly Genesis, but no-one apparently believed them, leading both writer Ed Brubaker and Joe Quesada to reveal more and more of the plot to try and convince people that it was a book with plot ramifications for other books in the future, but that perhaps speaks more to the credibility of Marvel hype than anything else – but if nothing else, it avoids the feeling of “Seen it already” that spells doom for a project that is still months away and is the cornerstone for the publishing plan for your company for the next few years.

Now, of course, watch as all those people who are claiming to be underwhelmed by Civil War rush out and buy both variant editions of the first issue, and it becomes the largest-selling book in comic history. Because, in some part of the back of your head, we all know that it’s going to happen.

The Wonder of Boilerplate Responses (or, Why did I bother?)

Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2006 12:53:00 -0800 (PST)
From: "Graeme McMillan"
Subject: Comics altruism, or what DC's website needs
To: Dan Didio

Hi. I'm Graeme McMillan, one
of the men who apparently can set the industry on fire, according to some random people on the internet
. I used to be one of those random people on the internet, doing a blog called Fanboy Rampage!!! that embodied everything that is bad about the comics internet without meaning to do so. If you ever read it or heard about it, I'm sorry. If not, forget I mentioned it. Anyway, presuming that (a) this email got to you, and (b) you're still reading, I'd like to introduce this random concept to you:

The DC Comics website needs a blog. A *good* blog.

Now, please understand: I'm not saying that I want to write this blog. And I'm not even saying that anyone I know should be writing this blog. But I have an idea of what this blog should be like, and I wanted to share it with you purely to GET IT OUT OF MY HEAD. Seriously, for no reason whatsoever, I've had a model of what kind of blog DC should have in my head since before Wondercon - when I would've grabbed you and babbled this out to you in person, but you were always either in panels or disappearing into shady corners with Greg Rucka - and I just want someone in DC to see it and shoot it down so that I know that it's not a good idea gone to waste because I never mentioned it to anyone.

Okay? Okay.

ONE BLOG LATER

(Or: How to do a DC Comics blog to replace Crisis Counselling with something more original content-heavy that may direct traffic to DC's site and/or DC's comics)

Imagine DC in Demand, but with a different conversational tone - less huckster, because people online don't react well to that, especially when the same information is available elsewhere, without the patronising "Hey! Ion is going to be the BOOK OF THE SUMMER!" schtick - and a different purpose. Part of the mission of the blog would be to spotlight upcoming books and offer exclusive preview art/covers/news - Imagine if the six new books spinning out of Infinite Crisis could've been at least teased on DC's site before the Newsarama story? - in the same way that DC in Demand does right now. But it's the other parts of the mission that would make the blog a site that people go to.

I don't know if any of you watch Grey's Anatomy on TV. Or, for that matter, Battlestar Galactica (If not, then you should; both of them are well done serial dramas, and occasionally feature people exploding). Something that both of those shows are good at doing is promoting themselves online through show blogs written by the show's writers. It's the Grey's Anatomy model that I think that a good DC blog should follow: http://www.greyswriters.com/

Each week, following the previous night's show, the writer of that episode goes online to write something about the decisions made by characters/plot/writers the previous evening. It can be something direct - talking about why a character had to die – or something abstract - why the writer doesn't like the choice a character made, but realized that it was integral to the story. It's a neat trick, something that makes the fans feel like they're getting something extra, while also letting the writers deflect criticism by answering it before it's been properly made. Imagine something like this for a book like 52 - each week, one of the creators writes about a particular story thread, or why they used a particular character, or whatever. It potentially increases the drive for fans to pick up the book, to know what the writers are talking about, but also continues the buzz for those who have already bought the book on Wednesday - "What will Mark Waid have to say about Booster Gold's death?!?" or whatever.

(Alternatively, imagine this for every single One Year Later book: Why a new Catwoman? Why Green Arrow in legal office? Why take Batman out of Gotham for a year again? Why new Birds of Prey, and how were they chosen? etc etc etc...)

The third thing that a DCU blog could offer is backmatter, to use the Warren Ellis term: The kind of thing that appeared at the back of the Villains United trade, where each and every character was identified. Or to give backgrounds of semi-forgotten characters such as those who're being said to populate 52. Or to link to positive reviews or DC books, or to answer questions that've been emailed in... The kind of things that letter columns used to do, way back when, in other words. Bonding with the readers, in a way.

The tone of writing I'm imagining for this theoretical blog would be humorous and somewhat snarky, but with a somewhat reverential tone to the source material. Imagine Dave Campbell – from http://daveslongbox.blogspot.com - writing, perhaps, or someone similar. Ideally it'd provide a personality that the DC site currently lacks, and that personality would be something approaching nerdy but lovable, and with teeth when needs be. Something intelligent, and non-insulting the online fanbase; less lowest-common-denomenator, if I could only spell that last word (As much as I love Alex Seguira, his Newsarama column is pitched too "Gee Whiz, COMICS!!!" for even the Newsarama audience, I think).

Like I said, the reason I'm sending this to you is because I'd like to read it, and because it seems like something that'd fit into the current DCU brand, such as it is. And, you know, to get it out my head... Whatever you do with this, is up to you. But if you read this far, then, hey. Thanks. I'm surprised you did, mind you...

Thanks,
Graeme


Date: Thu, 9 Mar 2006 08:37:05 -0800
From: XXXX XXXX
Subject: RE: Comics altruism, or what DC's website needs
To: fanboyrampage@yahoo.com

Dear Graeme,
Hi there, my name is XXXX XXXXX and I am Dan DiDio's assistant. Dan asked me to send you a note as he is busy. Thank you for taking the time to share your opinions about a blog with us. We have shared your email with the good folks in marketing and the online folks as well. We appreciate your dedication to DC Comics and we hope you enjoy what we have in store for 2006.

Best,
Jann Jones