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Making A Mark: The Comic Book Show with an Online Comic

Written by Michael Wiggam on Tuesday, March 27 2007 and posted in Features
Here… Oh?! A promise is a promise is a promise. I said this week would be devoted to the “novels” of the NBC series “Heroes,” which is basically a comic book come to life. And, well, here we go… The NBC website houses twenty-five “novels” as of this article’s writing, with art by [...]

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industry faves such as Michael Turner, Phil Jimenez, Michael Gaydos, as well as others, and writing from lesser known industry writers, whose works include The Covenant and comic adaptations of “Powerpuff Girls.”

Heroes The “novels” (the quotations marks come for two reasons: that’s what the site calls them, and the term is a poor attempt to dress up the word comic*) run 7-8 pages, with the first two pages always remaining the same. The first page is a car ad for the Nissan Versa (pictured when they start sponsoring The Outhouse, heh). The second is an introductory page, which went from one of Michael Turner’s best drawings ever (pictured at right) to a simpler black page with white lettering.

But, let’s look at this ad for a moment. Nissan probably pays to cover the cost of creating these “novels” (okay, we can drop it now and call it an online comic). A quick comparison of a random comic from my week’s pull list: 22 pages of story, 12 ads (not counting the inside cover, back cover, or the back inside cover), and only 2 of those are outside ads – i.e. not house ads put in by the same comic company.

The idea of a comic coinciding with a feature is nothing new; movies do it all the time. The marketing idea behind the concept goes as follows: if we want an already built-in fan base to follow a work, find that base and use their common bond to bring them to our product. Sometimes it works for you – Serenity the comic sold extremely well, and Buffy comics are still going strong years after the franchise left television – and sometimes it fails – while Dark Horse continues to pump out Star Wars books, the comic adaptation of Episode II spoiled the ending quite famously weeks before the film was released.

Hawk Would Shred it Too What makes “Heroes” and its tie-in comic original is the material. The stories fill in pieces that may leave you wondering, like Micah’s fight at school, but they also give us scenes that build character into new dimensions. Did you know that Hiro’s grandfather died in the Hirsoshima blast and that Hiro feels his destiny is connected to a copy of Action Comics #1 his grandfather gave him? (By the way, to the horror of any comic fan, Hiro shreds what we can only assume to be a first printing of the book, based on dates, after returning from a similar blast in New York’s future. See the horror at left.)

To Be Continued…
Another reason that this marketing campaign works is the “360 Experience” that NBC pushes. Interactivity, speculators say, is the wave of marketing’s future. Get “Top Chef” text messages sent to your phone, chat online with Bill Maher at the end of “Real Time’s” broadcast, and, of course, watch extra clips, bloopers, and anything else that can translate easily to YouTube from your favorite shows. But the “360 Experience” goes a step further.

At the end of this season of “Heroes,” NBC promises to continue the comic in the show’s absence. Do you know the reason Coke still spends about 10% of their profits annually on marketing when they are the number one cola producer? If you said brand recognition, stop opening new windows and searching Wikipedia – that’s cheating! But you’re still right. Declines in sales can be intrinsically linked to the exposure and repetition of product. If you want to phase something out, let it go by the wayside for months at a time (looking at you “Lost“), but, if you want to keep the enthusiasm of an audience fresh or at least less abated, you try to comic up with ideas, like an online comic, to keep the product on the buyer’s mind.

Side Items
The comics carry a production note towards the end of the series (so far). “An Invisible College Production” reads a credit on their splash pages. Keen-eyed fans will recognize the idea of an Invisible College from Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. However, the idea and original mention of the Invisible College can be found in an aside of Neil Gaiman’s masterful Vertigo series, and Invisible’s predecessor, The Sandman.

What will kill “Heroes”? And if you answered Kryptonite, ha! Wikipedia failed you this time, didn’t it? Go try another site! No, seriously, the show suffers from a few maladies, which are a bit to go into, but let’s at least give them a mention.

HeroesThe X-Files syndrome: mounting and mounting suspense only works if there are pay-offs in the end. Solution? Try working with “the Levitz paradigm” (seriously, O’Neil’s book, read it), where head storylines come to conclusion while feeding into subplots that become the head storyline, ad naseum. The comic book syndrome: so many males read comics, and there is little female readership – same with “Heroes,” the slant goes towards a male audience. Solution? Cut the female suffering. Of the few deaths on-screen, they have mainly been women. A gruesome amount of time was spent on the corpse of a woman with super-hearing. And Claire, a main character, is invulnerable, but unlike Superman she isn’t unscathed (see: picture at right). The girl has been naked and impaled in the back of her head, had her cheerleading outfit burned and cut off her body more time than Spider-Man has had his torn to shreds, and gets beat up a lot. Now, assuredly, the producers are not living out masochistic fantasy with the character – they obviously want to pull the “real world” angle – but the constant abuse and miraculous healing of a teenage girl in a skimpy skirt does send signals.

*To show I am not just being nitpicky about the terminology here, go read Dennis O’Neil’s The DC Guide to Writing Comics to see how he breaks down the different comic book formats.

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To discuss.


Posted originally: 2007-03-27 19:44:28

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