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I thought I was done with this topic. If you read my Picks of the Week post this week, you’ll know how angry I was with this issue; from the way it was market to the issue itself. Well, last night I read Skottie Young’s latest blog, which is about people being negative about the industry, but not giving positive examples of how to improve it. For those of you don’t know who Skottie is, he is an amazing cartoonist and comic book creator, who is currently working on the Marvel’s Wizard of Oz book. Check his site and his work out if you haven’t already; the man can draw.

As soon as I read Skottie’s post, I immediately thought about my PoW post from Wednesday; it really was a negative post with no real positive solutions or suggestions. So, I decided that I would take Skottie’s advice and give some of these positive suggestions on what could have been done different to market Fantastic Four #587: The Last Stand of Johnny Storm.

Pre-Release Marketing

Many of you already know that Marvel marketed this issue pretty heavily for the last five months or so, letting the comics community know that in this issue, a member of the Fantastic Four would die. This can be a common practice for the death of a major character in a superhero book. Earlier this year, the X-Men’s Nightcrawler and Cable were also killed, and leading up to his death, Marvel solicited that during the X-Men event, Second Coming, that two X-Men would die. This makes sense from a marketing stand point; let readers and retailers know ahead of time that way retailers can order enough books for the readers to find out who gets killed, and how it happens. On the other hand though, when Captain American, Steve Rogers, was killed about 4 years ago, it wasn’t announced in the solicitations and it took everyone by surprise (more on this later).

Announcing a character is going to die ensures sales rise; retailers have to order their books from Diamond months in advance, and if they know something big is going down in a particular issue, and they know that this something big is the death of a character, then they can be prepared for the readers who are going to want to read this issue. If you also read my post on Comics Aren’t for Everyone, you’ll know that I mentioned Marvel EIC Axel Alonso’s view on how readers want to keep up with everything that is going on in that particular universe. It makes sense then that readers would pick up this issue of Fantastic Four so they can continue to be caught up on continuity. Announcing the death then is procedure in the comics community. This obviously isn’t the best method as it gives away a piece of the story well before hand, but the way comics are bought and sold right now, and I don’t have any good ideas for that.

The Infamous Polybag

A lot of fans were taken aback and down right confused when Tom Brevoort announced that issue #587 would be placed in a polybag, thus keeping secret the member who would die. My problem with the polybag is that, as I said in my PoW post, it is an old piece of marketing that was used in the 90s when everything was over the top and every first issue and major event was a collectors item, and is a marketing tool that is made fun of today. Using it now can be seen as a bit of nostalgia, but in a time when readers want comics to be considered more than just funny books and wish that they reached a bigger audience, using the polybag is sort of Marvel telling their fans that they don’t care to move forward, they care that this issue becomes a collectors item and that it sells a lot.

Comics aren’t collectors items any more. Sure you can collect them, but they aren’t going to worth anything in the future, not when they can be reprinted as many times as Marvel wants and can be released digitally. Digitally though is where Marvel should have gone from the very beginning of marketing for this book. Releasing this digitally first would secure that the death remains a secret until its release; fans could even download it early, and as soon as the release date hits, it becomes unlocked. Think about how many people with apple devices, PC’s and Android phones could have read this that aren’t reading comics, and those fans that do have these devices. There are so many more options too when you release this digitally.Have the entire arc available digitally at a reduced price, get people to read the entire story, not just the end of it. Hell, give them away for free, that will really ensure people are reading the whole thing, plus it will highlight to people how stories work on an issue by issue basis. You could even sell and have ready other major comics where characters died, such as Captain America or Nightcrawler, and once the issue has been released, put on some more big Fantastic Four books, especially ones involving Johnny Storm (after writing this I checked my Marvel app on my iPhone, they do have a not of Fantastic Four books featured for $1.99).

Early Release and the Press Release

Last week Marvel quickly turned their lets-keep-this-book-secret-by-putting-it-in-a-polybag strategy to lets-make-this-issue-a-collectors-item by announcing that they would allow shops to sell this issue a day early, and then this week put out a press release telling the word who died. We know what happened, people flocked to a LCS and bought the issue. I’ve given my opinion on this decision, but what would alternatives could there been? If you are releasing the book digitally, why not release it early digitally instead of in the shops? Fans my cry foul to this, but I think a lot of them have cried foul over everything that has happened anyway. And if you are going to spoil it by sending out a press release, why not have the press release tell people how to get it digitally. Think about the press Marvel could have gotten if they promoted digital comics; it could have been great for the whole industry and not just them. Or do the best of both worlds, have the hard copy and digital copy released at the same time.

I am sure there are a ton of other ways that Marvel could have marketed this book without promoting comics as a collectors medium, as well as spoiling fans, these are just come of them. What are your ideas though? What could have Marvel done differently to promote and sell this book? Did they do the right thing, and I’m the odd man out? Tell me that too.

After months without my iPhone (long story) I finally received my new iPhone 4. It is so nice to have it back, but trying to remember what apps I had is kind of difficult (I lost my mac the same week I lost my iPhone). While going through the multitude of apps, I decided download the free comic book apps: Marvel, DC, Image and Comixology.  I wasn’t going to; I wanted to read my first digital comic on the iPad, but I was bored the other night so I decided to read a free comic off of Comixology’s free app. I didn’t want to read any old comic, i wanted something new, fresh and a first issue, so I picked Chew #1 by John Layman and Rob Guillory.

Before I get into the digital aspect of this comic, I want to talk about the comic itself really quickly. This comic is all kinds of crazy. It has a wild premises; Detective Tony Chu can see the psychic remnants of the food he eats, except beets. The catch is that Tony will eat the flesh of the dead to see how they died. Ya, crazy. It’s a really well written comic with some great art by Guillory. I think I will pick this up in trades cause it was the fun. Now on to the digital aspect of this comic.

My initial reaction was amazement. I love comics, but one of my biggest issues with them have been that I am able to see the coming panels before i read them, and sometimes that can play spoiler. It doesn’t happen often, and i haven’t been really spoiled in a long time, but it still has happened and will probably happen again. When viewing a comic in an app like comixology’s, you view it panel by panel; just swipe your finger to the right and you get to the next panel. It was great to read the comic like this, giving me a feeling of unexpectedness, which would work really great in some genres: thriller, detective, horror. But there was one issue with this; larger panels were broken down segments of word balloons. This gives you another dimension of unexpectedness, as you can’t see what sentence is next, but what it also did was not allow you to see the panel in its entirety, and i didn’t like that, as viewing a full panel obviously is apart of the story telling. At this point I’ve only read one comic and haven’t been through the options so I could very well change aspects of how to view any comic, but this is about my initial reaction to reading a comic on a digital app.

I will definitely read another comic on one of the apps I have; probably the free ones for now. I need to see what comics are for sale and see if anything is something I need to, or have been looking forward to reading. This has gotten me thinking about the future of digital comics, and more than likely the future of comics in general. Right now almost every comic that you can get off these apps are comics that have been out for at least 6 months, hardly any are day and date. Marvel is playing with day and date releases with their Ultimate Thor mini series, and I believe Robert Kirkman and Image are doing something similar with The Walking Dead. Ultimately what some fans want is to have all their comics day and date instead of going into their local comic shop and purchasing hard copies. I can certainly see the attraction; you can sit on your couch, press download, read and when your done just hit the close button. You don’t have to store your physical copy anywhere, and your girlfriend won’t get mad at you for leaving them around. The flip side of this is that the direct market and LCS will lose money because customers just aren’t coming in. But nothing is as simple as it seems.

Companies like Marvel and DC don’t want to lose money on producing day and date if enough people aren’t going to purchase them, and there is faithfulness to the direct market who have been selling their product since spinner racks have become a thing of the past. With the addition of products like the iPad, iPhone, netbooks and droid phones there is an untapped market who may want to jump into comics given the opportunity. It’s still early in the digital game, both in software/viewing and distribution and the big players need to do something to really test the waters. If you want to see what people are willing to buy, make a comic only available digitally. make that day and date, market it like crazy, and see what happens. Technology is moving fast and if these companies don’t move with it someone else is going to offer a product that is far better than theres.

lately it feels like comics have taken a big step towards the grave; as a fan and would be contributor it saddens me to see this. there is hope out there, it better get here soon though.

Panel Flow

Kyle Lawlor

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