Hello, I’m Michael Wiggam. I have been a comic fan since the time I could read: I used an issue of and an X-Men coloring book to study phonics at the age of four. Now, twenty-two years and 7,000 comics later, I have a degree in English and Marketing. The focus of this column will encompass these three facets of my life, with a leaning towards a marketing perspective on comic books.Marketing is not advertising in the same way that a bird is not a robin – ads are a small part of the bigger whole. Marketing plays into so many aspects of comic book culture that the normal reader is probably only aware of ten percent of its existence. So, look forward to topics like toys, movies, branding, and more. (Just for a sneak peak and a for instance, next week, I will look at the NBC show “Heroes” and its use of an online comic book for promotional purposes.)
In a follow-up to the popular weekly comic 52, DC Comics announced Countdown, which starts its numbering with issue 51 and will, well, countdown from there. The comic not only follows the weekly publishing schedule of 52, though. Countdown also plays on the trend of the specials which led to Infinite Crisis – the forefather of 52 itself. A rotating cast and creative team will be represented with each issue, presumably leading to a company-wide crossover at its end.
Countdown’s first hints came directly from Executive Editor of DC Comics, Dan DiDio. In answers to questions about the company’s future, DiDio would say, “Look to the skies.” A background appeared on dccomics.com with the same tagline shortly after, depicting a black horizon and starry night.
Then, just prior to the announcement of the series, the publisher released a second, teaser image. At the New York Comic Convention, supplementary Countdown buttons were given out. Let’s look a little closer at these last two items.
So Begins The Poor Execution
The second Countdown image (at right) DC released depicts twelve characters in different groupings on what seems to be the remains of the Statue of Liberty’s head. The image is obviously a teaser, a snippet with clues of a larger story meant to entice. But the two-page spread – the way it appears in most of DC’s April releases – fails as an advertisement.
First, what about the image says Countdown? The ad reads, “So begins the end…” and “DC Universe 2007.” Putting those two together (and why not with them being on the same page and in the same font?), one may be led to think it means the company is going under, and this year! Not the message to get across with a flagship title. No, only through press releases, can we connect this image to Countdown.
Second, what does this image say about Countdown? A teaser leaves you wanting more, by definition, yet this series cannot deliver exactly what the promotion seems to be selling – Phil Jimenez’s art. The artist of Infinite Crisis draws a dynamic picture, but he is now exclusive to DC Comics’ main competition, Marvel. If someone wants more of what this picture offers, they must go to DC’s rival or back issue bin. Neither options help sell this book.
Third and finally, how does the image tease? The cryptic delivery – DiDio has often said the image’s characters, composition, and even lighting all carry a message – has created buzz. Numerous threads on comic bulletin boards have appeared in attempts to decipher things like the shading on Mary Marvel’s face (her temptation by Eclipso?) or Red Robin (is he Jason Todd?) or Black Canary’s gaze away from Green Arrow (a rejection of his upcoming proposal?). In this manner, the ad does work, but what event does not generate these types of conversations? Conversely, the somber tone of the piece – with dead bodies lining the ground and, again, a crying Superman – works against creating excitement for the product. One may argue that death does sell comic books, almost like sex and, uh, anything else. But what also sells comic book is action, and this image lacks action in every way: the characters stand around, cry, and genuinely do nothing.
At the New York Comic Convention, fans were given four pins for attending panels hosted by DC Comics, and a fifth was handed out to anyone who collected all of the others. The pins (pictured at left) have taglines, like “WWMMD?” a play on the “What Would Jesus Do?” armbands, but substituting Mary Marvel, on an orange backing (except the red “Darkseid Rules” limited pin). Here, with these pins, DC created a promotion that does succeed for Countdown.
Addressing the previous issues with the double-page spread, the pins were given out during panels that spoke directly about the Countdown maxi-series, the taglines actually tell about the stories Countdown will address, and all of this is accomplished with an urgent, action-packed tone.
Furthermore, the pin promotion works on another level. At a large grouping of comic book readers and collectors, what better advertising than one that itself is collectable? Whereas the in-house advertising of comics seems to get lost in a sea of similar promotions (more on the insular advertising within comics in a later column), having something unique and punchy like these pins sticks, pardon the pun, out. And the secondary market created on such sites as eBay keeps the word out there more than a static image could ever hope to.
Issues 51 through 48 of Countdown were made fully returnable by DC, according to a recent release from the company. Bob Wayne, Vice President of sales, says the reason is to allow retailers to “find the right ordering levels.” However, it is a lot easier to get the top selling comic of the month if your initial orders are counted and their returns are not.
A third Countdown image (at right) drawn by Andy Kubert has surfaced with this month’s Previews. The spread looks a little generic and like it could have been that final double-page spread in Infinite Crisis, but the dynamic poses outshine the Jimenez piece by far. Hey, DC, slap a Countdown headline above Superman’s cape and replace the wasted space in your books next time.
Posted originally: 2007-03-19 17:00:42