Monday, June 1, 2015

If I Made It: Comic Reform

  I was thinking about comics this morning, as I often do, mostly about the industry of comics and how there is just so much stuff out there.  I don't really think that makes things better, I think it ends up diluting your product.  I think, from a logical standpoint, it makes more sense to have fewer things across more mediums than a lot of things in one medium.  The most important thing to remember is that comic books, and their related intellectual property, is an industry now and not a business.  A business is a mom and pop stationary store.  If stationary dries up, as long as they have the store front, they can change things up and sell something different or find another job is something retail related.

  An industry needs to self perpetuating and being that means you can't eat your customers or yourself for the sake of profit.  The idea of an industry is you take less profit initially so you make more money over time because if your industry collapses nobody has a job anymore.  If your stationary store goes under you can still find a job in the 'retail industry'.  If the retail industry goes away you can't suddenly get a job in healthcare.  So you have to ensure the security of your people and even your competitors by not salting the earth for everybody.  Since I know Marvel the best I'll be using Marvel in my examples but I'm not really criticizing Marvel or any particular brand.  This is just how I would do it if someone gave me full control over a major brand in the industry.


  In January of every year I would take two weeks and sit down with everyone to hash out a plan for the year.  The plan isn't set in stone but it would act as a guide.  This would be the time for all the departments to talk and plan.  What are our movies doing?  What should we do to support it?  How should comics, TV and movies tie-in?  How can we support that with merchandise?  What are our titles coming out this year?  Who's working on them?  What are we building to?  What are our character arcs?

A 3 Pillar System of Profit

  Nobody wants to hear me talk about this for very long but it needs to be said where the money is coming from.  It would come from 3 places.  Comic book sales, the smallest expected pillar.  You'll see why in a bit but it wouldn't be the biggest profit center.

  Merchandise sales, the next biggest pillar.  You aim at 3 markets: kids, teens, adults.  Adults and teens will buy baby stuff for either their own kids or for younger family members, so you market baby stuff to older humans.  Gender and race is irrelevant when compared to age, if you make stuff that is appealing then people will buy it.  End of story.  Every movie gets a wave of action figures, when there are no movies then people get a wave of general characters they all come from the same toy line and are of comparable scale and quality.  The website provides a subscriber wave, like the GI Joe FSS, of super obscure characters for major collectors at a premium, but fair, price.  Action figures, t-shirts, phone cases, all that cool stuff fall into here.

  The biggest is movies/TV shows.  Ideally 4 movies a year, 1 per quarter to prevent burn out.  You have one major TV show (Agents of SHIELD) that you run at a loss.  That show has to be big, that's why you have to run it at a loss.  It is a commercial for all the other cool stuff you're doing, it should feel like a Marvel movie every week for 24 weeks.  Big name cameo's and the center of your universe.  Crossover with your Netflix shows (2 series a year) as well.  Every week for free on a major network people should be reminded why you have the best media.  Then make your mid season shows different every year.  I'm glad to see Agent Carter come back but it would be a good opportunity to try other stuff with limited risk and you could always bring back stuff that works again next season.  Anyone who signs a movie contract is obligated to appear once per season on the company TV show for as long as that contract lasts.  You could use the mid-season mini-series or the Netflix series to give other characters stories.  Black Widow may not fly as a movie but what about as a mid-season series or a limited Netflix series?


  Marvel puts out roughly 60 titles a month.  I would severely cut that.  I would cut that down to 20 a month.  To start I would have 5 weekly titles:

-Avengers: all your Avenger related stories for any affiliated Avengers characters such as Captain America, Falcon, Iron Fist, Hawkeye, Luke Cage etc.

-Spider-Man: your entire Spider-verse is represented here.

-Journey Into Mystery: all your mythology based characters such as Thor-verse, Hercules etc. as well your super science characters like Fantastic Four

-Guardians of the Galaxy: your entire cosmic branch ie Silver Surfer, GotG, Kree/Skrull etc.

-Strange Tales: all your mystic characters such as Dr. Strange, Ghost Rider, Sleepwalker, Blade etc

  Then every month you have a rotating group of 15 comics.  When you approve a series you approve it for 4, 6 or 12 issues.  Any story less than that gets shuffled to the weeklies.  The guaranteed series length ensures you get a complete story and not some bullshit that gets cancelled.  If editorial thinks a premise is weak you can try a two-shot in the weeklies then upgrade it to a 4 issue series and go from there.  The system minimizes risk while allowing new things to be tried and makes it so readers don't get burned.  12 issue arcs would be the most major and use the biggest players, the weeklies are really just there to drive people to the monthly arcs.  Use the weeklies for filler stories or side stories to explore other ideas and characters so you aren't giving every concept a book to wring audience interest out.  Something like Spider-Man could be about Peter Parker one week and Miles Morales the next.  Or Spider-Gwen or Spider-Woman or Spider-Punk or even Spider-Ham.  Then Spectacular Spider-Man is your big 12 issue monthly series and it focuses on Peter Parker.  Maybe Miles gets a 6 issue monthly, Spider-Gwen a 4 issue monthly.  The monthlies flesh stuff out, the weeklies drive interest and take risks.

  There would be a 6 month breather between arcs.  Say you Green Light a 12 issue Thor series, you tell your story and you let it cool for 6 months.  Use the weeklies to keep it warm if you have to but let the character and the audience cool for a bit.  Make people WANT to see the character again, give them a chance to MISS them.


  Events happen at a minimum of every 2 years or as creative demands.  If you can't think of a way you want to change your world than sit on an idea for a while.  Civil War was fun but it was immediately followed by World War Hulk, Secret Invasion and Dark Reign.  The list goes on and on.  That was just main world stuff not including Ultimatum and another Annihilation!  That's too many major world changes.  I know these event books sell but eventually people WILL stop buying them.  It's not a cow you can milk perpetually and this is an industry that needs to keep on going, not a business we can all move on from.  So, do them sparingly and make them matter.  If fans hate the result then find some other way around that, don't just retcon stuff.


  Just like people can burn out on characters they can burn out on creators.  I actually really like Brian Michael Bendis but holy shit am I sick of seeing his name on stuff.  Just like with the comics give creators a break.  No creator can do consecutive series, if someone does a 12 issue Captain America run they don't get to do the next 12 issue Cap run in 6 months.  Someone else gets that.  Rotate creators and if editorial thinks a creator is weak maybe don't renew Cap for another 12 issue series, maybe only renew him for a 4 issue series to try the new guy and rotate him out if he doesn't work.

  If a particular creator jives with a character or resonates with an audience then give them an apprentice.  Maybe have them write a couple short series together.  Put veterans with new meat so that new meat can develop a voice.  The vet's are going to retire someday and you will need those rookies to fill those places.  Maybe not do exactly what their predecessors did but perhaps keep a certain voice or perspective that works.  Creative should be collaborative.

  Pay yo' damn creators.  I think if you manage to keep someone for 10 years and they're a work horse you should take care of them.  20 years and you should keep them until they retire.  30+ and you should makes sure they never have to worry about retirement.  You give them a golden parachute.  If a series performs then creative should get a cut (writers, artists and editorial).  If somebody creates a character then create a sliding scale of payment: the company owns 80% the first year you stay, 70% the next and so on.  After 10 years with the company that character goes back to the creator.  If you bail on the company then you get a chance to buy that character for its remaining value and shop it somewhere else.  If the character is valuable and the creator wants to buy it then the company gets a chance to buy it from the creator at three times the total value.  If nobody really cares then residuals get locked at the rate they were when you left.  It gives creative an incentive to stay and if they go it gives them a chance to take their character while letting the brand keep it and fairly compensating the creator.

  For my own indulgence the math would look like this:

Character X makes Company $10 a year
The first year Company makes $8 Creator makes $2 (ratio changes every year for 10 years)
Creator leaves the first year he works at Company.  Creator can buy Character X for $8 or Company can buy it for $30.  If neither the Creator or Company want to buy Character X then Creator makes $2 a year until creator dies.

  The system is weighted towards creative but allows the business to make money.  The creator, if they're lucky, might only be around professionally another 30-50 years.  The company has the goal of being around over the infinite horizon so they will eventually make that money back by using the character, the creator needs either the money or the character rights while they are still alive.  Of course, if you're a company man, then you eventually get all the money your character makes as a reward for sticking it out.  Finally make deals for the people or estates of the people who have already created your legacy characters.  Keep them happy too, lawsuits are bad press.  Suing people for their own hard work, no matter how logical it may seem, makes you look like a villain and nobody like to buy things from villains.


  If you want something to last forever you need to manage wear.  I learned that in watchmaking.  You can keep entropy at bay for a long, long, long time as long as you manage wear.  That includes replacing worn things or changing how a thing wears via adjustments.  The problem is you won't see a ton of money upfront managing wear.  You make more money selling people a new watch but people can only own so many watches.  It's better to pull a little bit of money here and there fixing the one watch they own rather then them buying a second watch and not able to afford repairs.  You can make the money once or you can make less money multiple times.  However with comic characters being such huge money right now even if you lost half your profit to creators and 'advertising' (such as your TV show or actors) you'd still be making pretty good money.  If you want it to last though you need to keep your audience and your creative team fresh.  You can't burn them out on title after title, event after event, thing after thing.  That's obvious just in the time since Marvel has been around.  They have already burned out Punisher, Wolverine and Deadpool in just the short time those characters have been around.  You have to let your audience cool on someone, start to miss them and then bring them back.  Avengers movies do huge numbers because you only see something like that once every 3 years.  If you put the same Avengers movie out every year people would stop seeing those as well.  You spread the characters and the genres around then bring those hands together occasionally to deliver something unique.

  The way they've divided up the movies into 'Phases' is good, each Phase a story arc possibly every 3 phases building up a major 2 part movie that ties the set together.  That's good, that's a plan and it leads to better movies than "People like this character, make character movie!" followed by "People don't like character, cease character movie!" which is then followed by "People like character again, restart character movie!" and you end up like Spider-Man with 3 reboots in 10 years or Batman with a reboot 3 years after the last movie in your reboot.  That's ridiculous and if I have to see either origin story again I'm going to put a gun in my mouth.

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