Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary
















Home > Commentary and Features

CBR: DC Comics Ends Minx Imprint
posted September 25, 2008
 

image

By Tom Spurgeon

So I wake up in the middle of the night to see that Comic Book Resources has a report up saying that DC Comics has ended its Minx line of graphic novels aimed primarily at the female teen and 'tween audience, with some projects in development to be published, some perhaps to be repurposed as Vertigo graphic novels, and others not to be published at all. The line was started in Spring 2007 with some fanfare and masterminded by DC editor Shelly Bond with I believe the input and supervision of Karen Berger. The official ending date is January 2009.

Here's DC's official announcement, arriving Thursday morning:
Minx will cease publication beginning January '09. Minx was an experimental imprint for DC Comics and we are extremely proud of the books we published and the stories we told during the past two years. We thank all of the writers and artists who lent their talents to our endeavor and especially thank readers who came along for the ride. DC Comics remains committed to publishing diverse material for diverse audiences as we continue to welcome new readers.
So what happened? The books seem to me to have been reasonably well-received if not overwhelmingly praised or ever enthused over. My memory is that there was some fan discussion early on about the high number of male writers involved in the line at its conception and whether or not the imprint title was a turn-off. I also recall some recent in-review criticism that Ross Campbell's Water Baby may have been a bit too sexual in nature for the intended audience.

imageAs the CBR article smartly notes -- whoops, my second look say it outright claims -- that a key consideration was an appraisal by Random House book people as to their ability to place this work on shelves in bookstores in a way that would facilitate sales. DC switched to distribution by the book giant last Spring in a mostly quiet but major move to goose an already-solid distribution program in that sales arena.

Forthcoming books included Insta-Life (Deborah Vankin, Rick Mays), Token (Alisa Kwitney, Joelle Jones) and I think Emiko Superstar (Mariko Tamaki, Steve Rolston), although the last of those three may have already slipped out ahead of its announced mid-October release date. There may be a David Hahn book which is not up yet on their site but word of which had slipped into those book catalogs with a longer lead time.

Books in the line included The Plain Janes and its sequel Janes In Love (Cecil Castellucci, Jim Rugg), The New York Four (Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly), Burnout (Rebecca Donner, Inaki Miranda), Water Baby (Ross Campbell), Kimmie66 (Aaron Alexovich), Confessions of a Blabbermouth (Mike Carey, Louise Carey and Aaron Alexovich), Good as Lily (Derek Kirk Kim, Jesse Hamm), Clubbing (Andi Watson, Josh Howard), and Re-Gifters (Mike Carey, Marc Hempel, Sonny Liew).

I note with a bit of embarrassment that this is fewer than the seven to ten books planned for 2008 announced during the original conception of the line, and no books seem to have come out until summer of this year, which seems to me an indication that things were not functioning as expected and is something that should have been noted on this site before now.

imageI spoke this morning to cartoonist Jim Rugg, who worked as the artist on the Plain Janes books in collaboration with writer Cecil Castellucci.

"To be honest, it was a very pleasant working experience," says Rugg. "My interaction was almost exclusively with Shelly Bond, her assistant editor Angela Rufino, and writer Cecil Castellucci. They were all excellent to work with -- very receptive of my suggestions and input for the book, prompt and patient in answering questions I would have, and very supportive about the work I did. Probably the best part of the experience for me was meeting Cecil, whom I now consider a friend."

He added, "I'm disappointed to see the line canceled. The books weren't aimed at me, obviously. But as a fan of comics, I think it was exciting to have a line of books dedicated to young women. I hope the rest of the industry doesn't see this as some sort of validation for the boys club sexist-bullshit-mentality that's plagued mainstream comics for far too long."

Although I imagine the finger will be pointed at a lack of effective marketing -- 1) every market failure can be seen as a failure of marketing, 2) effective target marketing is a legitimate problem within comics, 3) people in comics like to invoke marketing as a sort of magic pixie dust -- I seem to remember the line launching with a reasonable amount of fanfare including an announcement in major media during its late 2006 "here we come" phase, and looking at their product list I can vouch that I was as aware of as great a percentage of the individual books in the Minx line as I was of any line at DC. At a certain point, wishing for more effective marketing is sort of like wishing that a book in the line would have been a new Twilight content-wise. Valerie D'Orazio notes a couple of more recent efforts such as the line doing giveaways at the New York MoCCA Festival and sponsoring the 2008 Lulu Awards.

My gut says that a bigger set of factors may have been more along the lines of what I would call structural: how/if to sell these books through Direct Market accounts, finding the right tone while still getting good books out of people, getting new authors in addition to seeing to the desires to work on the line from creators with whom you have an established relationship, how to pay people for the investment of time in the projects necessary to make the books while keeping the endeavor profitable, where to shelve them in bookstores, how to keep them a vital concern within the corporate structure and competing interests of DC's overall culture.

Shannon Smith, who worked in book retail during the Minx launch, wrote to CR this morning that the basic problems facing Minx may have been much simpler than content or marketing or institutonal support. "I'm not this line's target audience but I liked it and hoped it would work. I was in book retail at the time and was excited to have something I could recommend to the kids buying Gossip Girl and other YA stuff. I was an inventory manager at Borders during the time Minx was being hyped and when it rolled out and I can tell you lack of marketing was not an issue. It was the most marketed venture I saw during my seven years with Borders other than the monthly marketing rolled out by manga publishers. (DC and Marvel don't touch in a year the displays, shelve talkers, flyers, book marks, etc. etc. that manga publishers dump on bookstores in a week). Minx did a good job with the marketing. They just forgot to ask us to put the books in the right place. It's that simple.

"Where to shelve them is everything," Smith wrote. "The spine is everything. Manga publishers understand this. Marvel and DC don't have a clue."

In addition to various issues surrounding the book's publication and dissemination, one must always consider the possibility that the books' content was such that they found the sales level they deserved, or very close to it. I don't necessarily buy that the books were overly artsy and bohemian as a group -- I might if the issue were 40,000 in sales versus 500,000, not the much smaller numbers certainly at stake -- but it could simply be the books just weren't doing it for their intended audience. They were books you could convince yourself might be successful, not books that you were stunned to find out weren't.

What I would imagine might be most distressing for many people on this story -- bear with me, I'm typing this in the middle of the night, and it's been a weird week -- is the seemingly erratic nature of the institutional backing. DC seemed perfectly suited to support a line like this within its larger corporate umbrella until it had a chance to find an audience or fail to do so. You may be able to debate the overall effectiveness of the Minx launch, but DC's dropping of a substantial amount of money on outside marketing, for instance, showed that they were right there with the imprint. To follow this up with a line-wide cancellation in less than two years provides a contrast so striking it's stunning. The move recasts all of the decisions since day one in a critical light where we look for the exact moment when the loss of faith came.

No matter how much money you spend on outside marketing, twenty-two months is a brutally short time in which to nurture a comics imprint. For one thing, it means that there was -- at best -- maybe a chance for the barest of mid-course corrections of the kind that seem logical would happen during the roll-out years of such an initiative. In other words, if you were in charge of such a line and took to heart, say, that the line needed more work from female authors and artists, the books you commissioned to solve that perceived problem might be coming out now. The books that did appear on the stands from Minx didn't arrive in seasons but fairly dribbled out, falling a bit short of the number of releases projected for it. I don't know a ton about publishing, but three and a half seasons to establish a line and a category where you don't increase the number of books in the second year and sort of skip the first half of year two? That doesn't sound like a job for Shelly Bond, it sounds like one of the Herculean labors facing Grant Morrison's Superman.

(I've been reminded by a few people this morning that an additionally puzzling addendum/potential irony to the closure less than two years in is that Minx and some of the first books were in the works for a long time leading up to launch.)

Canceling Minx now not only ends what must have been a very decent gig for a lot of people, not only suspends what was one of the few corporate comics opportunities that didn't involve drawing/writing superheroes at funerals or vampires turning on their own or whatever, and pulls the plug on what might have been some halfway decent books as the line settled in, it also stands as a vote of no-confidence from one of comics' biggest entities in doing comics their way for that market -- or, really, any market not superheroes. It should also frankly cast doubt on DC's commitment to such lines and ability to execute them, which is crazy considering the talent to which they have access and the general resources they have, but I'm not sure how else to put it. In a sense, you could argue that a near-penniless Fantagraphics put more institutional effort into and showed more patience in trying to get their failed Monster line over back in the early '90s.

It's also a potentially signficiant setback for scattered efforts at other companies like Skim and Chiggers, books that might have benefited from having four to eight fellow-travelers in the season they're released. I don't think either one of those books will be hurt, mind you -- I have every confidence Hope Larson's talent would have found an audience in 1978 -- but it seems to me potentially bad news for books working that same territory. If you'll forgive me thinking out loud, I imagine that if I were planning to do a book aimed at that audience in 2012 or 2014 I'd rather do it with Minx releasing books as opposed to Minx not releasing them.

This would also, I imagine, set a sales standard or perhaps simply a public expectation of one on DC's forthcoming crime line to perform better than this one did, which could be interesting pressure. It could even have an effect on DC's on-line Zuda effort by showing how quickly DC can withdraw support from non-core interests.

Also, although this is definitely not comics, the line's fate may also change our perception of news stories put out there the last couple of months that DC is an increasingly important member of the Time Warner family in terms of it being a place to develop content. Canceling an entire line of potential cross-media properties suggests this could be a more limited interest by Time Warner than what we might have originally inferred and what this means is that Time Warner simply wants more Dark Knights and potential Iron Mans, and is less than interested in anything DC has that's not a grim superhero.

I suppose there's also some follow-up to do in terms of rights reversion -- creators getting their work back to do what they want with it -- but I don't get the sense that we're talking a ton of properties nor work of the type where you could imagine them automatically settling in at a different company.

*****

Update: Writer Brian Wood of The New York Four and a planned sequel sent me the following as he was about to post it on his own site. I may work it back into the body of the above as time permits.

image"The ending of Minx is, of course, sad, and it should be sad to all of us, not just those involved in producing and publishing the books. A lot of people were very negative of the imprint from the start, for all kind of reasons, but I would hope that all of us (meaning industry professionals and readers alike) would have been happy to see Minx live up to its potential, to capture a new audience and bring more people in. The fact it didn't, that it couldn't, is bad news for everyone and a reason to mourn the loss.

"Editor Shelly Bond called me up yesterday and told me the bad news. I wasn't part of Minx from day one, but I know how important this was to her, going back a lot of years. She is a fantastic editor, a great supporter and champion, and one of the most sincere and genuine people I have met in my career. Because of her not only does The New York Four exist, but there will be a second volume in the series. Not sure when, or under what imprint, but we're working on it. I have no doubt that she went out of her way to make sure that happened for me and my collaborator Ryan Kelly.

"I fear clicking around on the web to read the news and reactions to this. No doubt there will be plenty of armchair quarterbacking, people not only crying that they knew it was coming, or they predicted it, or that it's some kind of triumph of their way of thinking over Shelly and DC's... but also comments suggesting what Minx could have done differently in order to make it. Like they alone had the magic solution, the secret formula. I think I can say with utter certainty that anything that the collective "we" could think up, it occurred to DC first. They tried all they could, and it didn't work. Again, this is bad for all of us. But they tried, we all tried. Minx represents not only a financial risk undertaken by DC, but the hard work and ideas and hopes of a lot of writers and artists and people supporting us.

"Today is Shelly Bond's birthday, by the way."