Now that we are half a year into DC’s “Rebirth,” I think it’s safe to say that the readers are pleased with the event’s back-to-basics approach. Coming off the heels of the”The New 52″ shake-up, “Rebirth” is like reuniting with an old friend. The lesson learned here, as far as I’m concerned, is that readers appreciate tradition as much as they do excitement.
I realize that comics are a business and that means that the goal is to make money, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the fans. There was a time when companies actually believed that if you built the best product, or provided the best service, that people would develop a brand loyalty. Zenith, and old television company, used to have a slogan that said, “the quality goes in before the name goes on it.” This wasn’t such a rarity back in the day, but as the consumer market marched on, and competition from cheaper products and services flooded the market, this philosophy became an endangered one. Now I’m not going to talk about global economics here — this equally applies comic books, and how DC has shown us that, particularly in this industry, quality still matters.
Don’t get me wrong: not everything coming out of “Rebirth” is a gem, but the philosophy is on-target. This got me thinking about what modern comic-book publishers might do to strengthen their brand, to entrench customer loyalty. Before you start naysaying me, and point out all the companies that don’t do these things, keep in mind these are broad statements. Of course there are companies that are more conscious of quality than others, yet these are points that I think most publishers should keep in mind, especially the big two.
1) Stop Price Gouging. I’ll admit that printing comics is expensive. Anyone who has printed their own comic before should know that. Though do comics really need to be $5.00 a pop these days? Yes, there have been some changes on this front recently, with companies trying to keep their books around the $2.99 mark, but I still see plenty out there that are closer to $4 and $5. A number of reports and articles suggest that the prices of comics have outpaced inflation. Although there are some reasons for that, mainly production value — back when comics started out they were printed on poor quality paper, far from the high gloss, heavier weight that is used today — but I still think the costs can be managed better. I, for one, would be inclined to purchase more books printed at a slightly lower quality if it meant I could afford more books.
2) No Reprints. I know this one will get many of you scratching your heads. How in the world are reprints bad for the industry? Well, they are not bad for the publisher. If a particular comic is hotter than anticipated, then the publishers sends it back to press to capture more of those sales. This is great if your industry is a non-collectable one, but by limiting reprints you create more value in the books that are sold. More value drives more speculation, which drives up more sales. On the back end it creates a larger demand for back issues, which helps out the comic shops. I should mention that stories should still be collected as trade paperbacks.
3) Enough with the Mega Events. It is now a staple of the industry to have overblown crossover events, where the publisher tries to force customers into buying tons of comics they normally wouldn’t. It’s gotten so bad that these events sometimes overlap, or even run concurrently. The standard, compartmentalized storytelling format seems to be a dinosaur in the modern era of these events. I will admit that some of them are great, and I would hate to see them disappear altogether, but the reality is this: I like comics A, and B, and have no interest in comics C, or D, so stop trying to get me to buy them all. One event a year is more than enough.
4) No Resurrections. This is another thing that seems to go hand-in-hand with the industry, at least the superhero industry. A hero dies, is replaced, and then the original is brought back through some new technology or magic. Sure, there have been stories where it worked, although there are plenty where it didn’t. This constant cycle of cheating death cheapens the industry. Ask yourself seriously: when a hero or villain dies, does it even matter anymore? It also diminishes the stories that came before in some cases. Take a look at the death of Jason Todd for example. A Death In the Family was a powerful story, one meant to have a lasting effect on the Batman mythos. The character was revived for shock value, and his initial demise now holds little-to-no meaning.
5) No More Gimmicks. This trend has been around in comics for a long time, coming into its own back in the 90s. Flashy covers, pre-bagged comics, variants, all of it is simply ways to try and get you to spend more money. Instead of giving us a bunch of junk that really has nothing to do with the story, how about paying creators more with all that money spent on supplemental collectables. Maybe if more publishers were interested in keeping quality creators happy, and less on making a quick buck, we could have a creative team that stayed on a book for more than six or seven issues. There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon for a creative team to stay on one for book for multiple years. I don’t want your gimmicks, and yes, I see them for what they are.
6) Story First. This might seems like a no-brainer, but the truth of the matter is that in today’s industry many, but not all, are so worried about increasing sales that they overlook storytelling. There are some truly amazing creators out there, and with the new love that Hollywood has shown superheroes, there’s now billions — that’s right, billions — of dollars floating around making many people rich. The bulk of that money is at the big two, and going to their parent companies, but that money is still there. Let some of the earnings trickle down to keep quality creators happy. Focus on telling the best stories you can, not the mega event designed to cram as many popular heroes and villains as you can into one title.
Like I said before, not all the companies are guilty of these things but a fair number of them are, especially the big two. Sure, they might be conducting what has become standard business practices; it doesn’t mean that they are right, or that it’s too late to change. I’d like to see the day when I can once again confidently pick up a new comic from a publisher because they have earned my loyalty.