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A View From The Cheap Seats:
An open letter to Dan DiDio By Rich Watson
Dan DiDio Vice-President, Editorial DC Comics 1700 Broadway New York NY 10019
Dear Mr. DiDio,
Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee have made Batman a top-selling book ever since last fall, and along with the forthcoming Superman/Batman series, also written by Loeb, Mark Waid's Superman: Birthright, and the JLA/Avengers crossover, there's no doubt that DC has generated its share of anticipatory buzz this year. However, there are other new books that I fear may not receive the recognition they deserve. If that happens, that would be an opportunity lost, an opportunity to bring in new readers that our industry sorely needs. I am certain that this is a concern you share. I refer not to the books that are part of the Vertigo, WildStorm, or Paradox imprints, but new releases under the central DC line that expand beyond the superhero genre.
DC is no stranger to genre titles. Recent titles like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Angel Love, Ms. Tree Quarterly, and Spelljammer can be seen as the successors to titles like Our Army at War, House of Mystery, and Young Romance, books that sold well in their heyday and were popular because they were everywhere, and people knew about them. Sadly, this is no longer the case today, for a number of reasons, and as a result the diversity inherent in the medium goes largely unrecognized by everyday people, who think of only superheroes when they think of comics - if they think of them at all. This is beginning to change, but progress has been glacial and incremental at best. You have put your marketing muscle behind Batman and it has proved a vital component in its success. Now I ask you to do the same for other DC books that I believe have the potential to be as big, if not bigger, and reach a wider audience.
Peter Bagge's satire Sweatshop has already launched. Later this year DC will also release: Peter David's urban horror book Fallen Angel, the teen books Bad Girls and iCandy, the anthology Solo, and Keith Giffen and Colleen Doran's epic fantasy Reign of the Zodiac. All of these books, if they were marketed outside the industry, could attract a sizeable audience and do very well - the kind of audience that devours manga in record numbers. As you are no doubt aware, manga books cover a wide range of material and follow fewer of the conventions that superhero titles have. Marvel has attempted to subsidize this formula with their Tsunami line of books, genre titles that get collected into trade paperbacks quickly. And I need not remind you of how aggressively Marvel promotes their material, to veteran and neophyte readers alike.
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Out of all the aforementioned titles, the one I believe could be huge is Reign of the Zodiac. And by huge I mean it could be the next Sandman. It has all the right elements: a large cast of characters that are distinctive and individual; a visual approach that draws upon elements familiar to the world we know (including choice of costumes and architecture) yet have a fantastical style to them; a long-term story that will grow and evolve and be different at the end than it was at the beginning; and two creators with their own fan followings who have proven themselves capable of working in different genres.
In an interview at the Comic Book Resources website earlier this year, Giffen described the audience Zodiac is for: "Fans who like story-driven books, and not everything is spelled out for you, and each chapter is like you get deeper into the story, that stuff is all over the place. If you're into the five minutes, sound bite, read it and it's over [comics], do me a favor and stay away from the book… If this book fails, it won't be because of the heart we put into it. This is the one if it fails, it'll hurt." And as for his expectations for how well it would do, I believe this quote is crucial: "I can't predict the audience. I think our hope is to get out of the comic market and into the astrology audience, and have them see that 'hey, they're making a book here for me.'" (Emphasis added.)
In a Newsarama/Comic Shop News interview you did earlier this year, you said, "If we're trying to redefine the medium, we have to create new product, though; we can't just rehash what we did twenty years ago. And we have to work together to make this happen… We know superheroes, and we do them well, but that's not all we can do. The success of Vertigo and WildStorm, the success of projects like The Road to Perdition [sic], proves that we can do other things very well-better than anyone else." You have the capability and the resources to promote books like Zodiac properly and keep it within the public eye, and this is key. The longer it's out there, the more opportunities there will be for people to buy it, and the more money it will make.
In the same interview, you also said, "I am such a strong believer in the monthly books. If comics are going to succeed in the long term, people have to want to come back on a monthly basis. It's great to create a wonderful prestige format book or a wonderful hardcover, but that's a one-time thing. It could appeal to a casual reader making a spontaneous buy-but a spontaneous buy isn't enough to make the industry succeed in the long term. We want to draw readers in week after week; we have to get them in the habit of buying comics, not just graphic novels and trade paperbacks." With all due respect to your knowledge and experience, while I understand your point of view in this matter, I believe the monthly books should naturally lead to the trade paperback editions. Why has a critically acclaimed monthly like Catwoman only received one trade after over a year and a half? Why has a delightful all-ages book like Gotham Girls not found new life as a trade now that the monthlies have run their course? Why do creators like Geoff Johns have to use money-back guarantees on a fresh and inventive book like H-E-R-O so that the monthlies will continue to be produced, and ultimately reproduced, in trades?
DC is recognized worldwide as home to the most well-known superhero books. With new titles like Reign of the Zodiac and the others, in addition to the Vertigo, WildStorm and Paradox titles, DC should also be known for more. I implore you, please don't let this chance go by, not while comics are just beginning to become respectable again. Let the rest of the world know about these new books. Let them see them the way we already do.
So if you missed out on Cheap Seats Top 10 pick Vogelein by Jane Irwin, she recently announced that the TPB will be coming out this fall. The artist posted on the CBR Indy Comics board that the collected edition would be solicited in the August Previews for release in October…
Interesting article at the site Ninth Art by Hawaiian Dick writer B. Clay Moore about a small press movement in Kansas City, beginning with a month long comics art exhibition and possibly expanding to a convention for next year…
Lorelei creator Steve Roman has announced his next project: a graphic novel he's co-writing with none other than Stan Lee himself. Stan Lee's Riftworld, due next year from iBooks, is about a struggling comic book publisher that recruits a pair of extra-dimensional giants to promote their newest book. And the art team isn't too shabby either - Dave Gibbons, Dan Jurgens and Steven Butler, among others. This sounds like it'll be pretty big (though can it possibly match the dizzying heights that Stripperella will no doubt reach?), so be sure to look out for it…
You might have seen it by now, but just in case you haven't, this guy named Todd Verbeek has created a page where he explains the terms of Marvel/Epic's work for hire contract in plain English. If you're still interested in submitting a pitch, you probably ought to read this first.