Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What Would I Do?

There's a sort of meme going around about what YOU would do if you were put in charge of DC or Marvel. I'm no businesswoman, and I sincerely doubt anyone would listen to my business advice, but if I were in charge? Hmmmm. This is all off the top of my head, first draft, so PLEASE feel free to criticize.

I pick DC since I'm an Aquaman fan.

What does DC have going for it?
1) History... literally generations worth.
2) A backstock of stories that fills rooms, many of it published only once.
3) Iconic characters that are instantly recognized by much of the world.
4) A solid group of writers and artists that turn out great works every year.

What does DC have going against it?
1) History... too much for a new fan to absorb.
2) Continuity, the need keep iconic characters static, or return them to the status quo by the end of a story, thus stifling development.
3) Fans that demand too much and give too little in return.
4) The high cost of publishing, including getting rights to republish that massive backstock in new formats.

What are the challenges DC faces over the next few years? Loss of audience, lack of profit on the publishing side, and keeping the master corporation happy, I guess.

Loss of audience means loss of profits, so the number one initiative would be to rebuild the audience. What kind of audience does DC want? Obviously, a demographic with money to spend is the best, but they also want to build the future. So they need to appeal to teenagers and college-age adults.

Rebuilding an audience is not a simple task. You can't just put the current books into new hands and expect them to start picking up the book. In fact, the way the current books are written, you are unlikely to get many fans with any initiative that relies on just getting books into people's hands. Advertising is not going to cut it. In addition to getting new readers to look at the books, DC also must appeal to new readers.

DC's clumsy attempts to get new readers so far have included new lines with completely new characters and new lines with old characters re-imagined. The first takes advantage of only one of DC's strengths, the second grabs at three of them. The biggest problem with DC's reimaginings so far is that they've concentrated on a very young audience. The "Johnny DC" books are fine for building future fans in a long-term way, but aren't going to do much for the immediate bottom line.

If I were in charge, books with new characters would be put at a low priority. No translated Manga, no new girls' line. Vertigo and all would keep their place, but they would not be part of this initiative. Johnny DC would also keep its place, including the Super Friends and Titans for kids. Those books are what I'd consider a good start on future readers... they just need more exposure to potential readers. More on that later.

So, I'm looking at DC's main line of books. We've got your Superman, your Batman, and the rest of the books. That's pretty much how DC sorts them.

So as "queen of DC" in this exercise, the first thing I would do is trim Superman and Batman to two books each. Superman gets ACTION COMICS and SUPERMAN. Batman gets DETECTIVE COMICS and BATMAN. The main story will be carried in the title bearing the name of the character, with back-up stories in each issue. ACTION and DETECTIVE will only have one-off tales or some multi-part stories featuring characters from the Superman and Batman families. Page counts will be increased, but each book will only be a monthly.

For the rest of the DC Universe, I would bring back ADVENTURE COMICS with a rotating cast of main characters. I'd anchor it with Green Lantern and the Flash, making it their monthly book, and put at least two other stories in it that would rotate according to popularity and what the company wants to promote. I would also bring back ALL STAR COMICS anchored with Wonder Woman and the JSA. Again, rotating stories would fill out the books. Three other books would be the JUSTICE LEAGUE, TITANS, and LEGION. They would each have back-up stories as well.

In short, I'd make every single DC main line book an anthology with a higher page count.

But wait, there's more!

Naturally you aren't going to be able to fit everything DC wants to publish in those nine titles. So I would also allow mini-series. With a big caveat. Every mini-series must have a definite beginning, middle, and end. You see, the biggest problem with DC comics is that the characters have no end. It's a strength in some ways, but it becomes a weakness when the readers feel like they've read everything there is to read about a particular character. The character doesn't progress, doesn't move forward... nothing happens. And there are only so many ways to tell the same Superman story. Which is why there MUST be back-up stories introducing readers to other characters that can be allowed to develop.

So, to drag this back to my point, I would allow for mini-series to be published but they must conform to standard storytelling. They've got to be going somewhere. They must add to the universe.

*whew* That's a lot of thinking for one post. I think I'll finish this thing tomorrow. Feel free to comment, but keep in mind there's more coming... including how to attract readers like bees to flowers.