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You have probably heard the news by now that DC Comics (and Warner Media as a whole) had to execute massive layoffs in the past due to many financial reasons, the most obvious one being Covid-19. But for those that have been following the comic book industry for quite some time now, we knew that something like this would happen: many mainstream comic book publishers, along with the two juggernauts that are Marvel and DC, have been making a lot of bad decisions over the years and the delicate state of the industry couldn’t withstand the aftermath of the Covid-19 lockdown and everything that it represents.
Focusing on the comic book area, which is what this blog is about, there have been a lot of writers, artists, colorists and inkers fired, a lot of books cancelled, and a lot of worries about the future of DC Comics. Jim Lee, one of the heads of the company, has stated that they are still in the business of publishing comics (as worrisome as that statement may sound) and they are looking to only publish the best and the finest books possible.
That’s all well and good, but if DC Comics got themselves in this situation, it wasn’t just because of the virus – a stable industry would have survived this. There are underlying issues that need to be addressed in order to get better results in the near future, and here are a few of my suggestions for this.
Stop Relying So Much On Batman And His Cast
Batman has always been one of DC’s most popular characters, so it’s natural that he is in the forefront of everything when it comes to comics. The problem arises when Batman becomes the company’s whole focus.
There have been multiple Batman miniseries, titles and whatnot throughout the years from DC Comics, always trying to using the Dark Knight’s brand to attract sales, but this has been in detriment to the rest of the characters. Let’s take DC Black Label, for example, which was focused on top tier talent writing and drawing comics that would be outside of the main continuity. Apart from a couple of comics like Frank Miller’s Superman: Year One and a few Wonder Woman titles, they were all mostly Batman-centric or comics about the Joker and Harley Quinn (two other characters that have been exploited way too much), with little to no interest in many other characters.
There is also the risk of saturation and generating Batman fatigue, which is only going to hurt the only character that is sustaining your company right now, so a balance has to be found. Batman is fully established in the DC pantheon, and he doesn’t need a lot of marketing to sell among comic book readers – focus your efforts on other areas. And about that…
Seize The Other DC Characters
It’s hard to think that a company that has the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, the Teen Titans, Nightwing, Green Arrow and many more is struggling with sales of their solo titles and totally depending on Batman comics, but here we are.
I remember that when Geoff Johns was writing it, Green Lantern was one of the best-selling comics in the industry. Why was that? It had a quality story, it had great art, it had a clear structure, it was rich in DC continuity and mythology, and it had a consistent creative team. Tell me why we don’t get that anymore? Why don’t characters like Wonder Woman, the Teen Titans and Nightwing, characters that have so many fans all over the world, get the top tier talent that they deserve?
We can even look at Aquaman, who has never been the greatest of commercial successes except for the Jason Momoa-led film, which was a massive success in terms of box office revenue. And what does DC Comics do with this momentum? Absolutely nothing. Not to personally attack writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, but she was far from a fitting option to capitalize on an increasing interest in Aquaman, and her dithering writing style didn’t do the character any favors.
If we look at it from a business perspective, these characters are commercial assets, and you need to invest in them in order to make them more interesting to your audience. Most DC fans love these characters, so give them what they want and do it right!
Investment In Marketing
Marketing in the comic book industry is virtually non-existent. There should be a greater emphasis on this, but most people don’t talk about it much. Put the books in places where they can reach more people. Make videos. Go big on social media. Engage with the audience. Take note of what the Manga industry does in Japan and try to tailor that to the industry here – when the My Hero Academia manga is vastly outselling characters like Superman or Flash, which have been around for almost eight decades and everybody on this planet knows them, you know you have a marketing problem.
There is also the reputation that many DC writers and artists generate when they spend all day arguing and fighting with people on Twitter and other social media platforms. It puts readers off because they don’t want to be disrespected. Writer Tom King, who was, in theory, one of the biggest names in the industry at the time, was fighting with former Superman actor Dean Cain because the latter had a different view to King about the Man of Steel’s famous line “Truth, Justice and the American way”. This was later exacerbated when Scott Snyder jumped into the discussion to take a hit at Cain simply because they didn’t like his opinion. Add to that the many childish disputes that comic book pros have had on Twitter in recent years, and you have readers not wanting to buy certain titles because they were blocked or downright insulted by the writer or the artist.
Tell me, is that a good recipe for success? Regardless of how you feel about certain topics, comic book pros are representing the comic book companies they work for, and this type of behavior scares customers away. It doesn’t help their business, especially when you consider that right now the industry needs every single customer and reader they can get.
Stop With The Reboots
A while ago, I wrote a review about the legendary DC event Crisis on Infinite Earths. While I don’t have anything against the story per se (I actually enjoyed it), my problem with it is that it started this tendency from DC higher-ups to constantly change stuff about the comic book universe’s continuity and make constant reboots. Readers these days have a very hard time understanding the history behind each character and the events that are happening at the moment.
Like legendary Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter used to say: every issue can be a new reader’s first issue. After all, whether it’s buying a single issue, a trade paperback, an omnibus or a graphic novel, it’s very likely that they need a bit of context. Having clear continuity can help a lot in that regard, allowing readers to have an easier time understanding this universe they are just getting to know.
These reboots were done in theory to create a clean slate and give readers an easier starting point, but it has become counterproductive, and it has only hurt DC Comics as a whole.
Seize The Multiverse
It has always been interesting to me how DC has tried to make radical changes to their characters with their reboots and continuity-altering events when they could just seize the multiverse to its full potential. It’s something that they always had over Marvel, and it is something that can make one heck of a difference for them.
Some fans want a continuity that starts from scratch. Other fans want the classic post-crisis continuity. Some want different stories outside of the main continuity. Others want more experimentation with these characters. Instead of focusing on just one, why not give every group what they want? This might not be the best strategy right now, because they don’t have enough resources, but long term it could be quite interesting.
Make Earth-1 about the classic post-crisis DC Universe, Earth-2 about a clean slate with all the characters starting from scratch, Earth-3 can be about the Justice Society, Earth-4 can be about Captain Marvel, Earth-5 can be about Vertigo if they want to relaunch it, Earth-6 the Watchmen universe and so on. That way the creators and fans can have their cake and eat it too: the fans get the continuities they want, and the writers get space to do what they want without pissing everybody off like they have done in the past. It’s the perfect solution which will make everybody happy.
Stop Writing For The Trade
Now, single issues might be on the way out in the coming years, but that is a whole other discussion, and I don’t want to dwell on that right now. But as long as single issues are still being sold, DC (and other publishers as well) need to stop focusing on writing for the trade.
Decompression is not a helpful strategy when you are offering single issues because readers are not getting their money’s worth. Imagine paying five dollars to get just a single piece of a whole story. Unless you’re writing a story that is going to be generational (and that is very unlikely), then your efforts should be focused on giving people a strong story in each issue.
Every single issue sale counts in this current state of affairs, and DC has to get the most out of every story they write. There’s no room to focus on just one thing – they need to tap into all of the possibilities.