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

April 13, 2005

DC Comics Confirms Cessation of 2000 AD, Humanoids Graphic Novel Lines

The funny thing about DC Comics ending its publishing relationship with Humanoids' graphic novels and aggressive collections of serials from 2000 AD is that it's the company's first business decision regarding those imprints that makes any sense.

imageThere was little -- and by little I mean the polite version of "nothing" -- to indicate a bigger potential audience for the sometimes masterful, sometimes inscrutable French graphic novels in the Humanoids line than were already aware and able to seek out those titles. Even someone sleeping on Incal bedsheets wouldn't have been able to forecast a future sales point that justified bringing in an entire new entity with whom to split money. Not with a straight face, anyway. DC Comics' publishing strategy seemed to be to cheapen these books up (reduction in size being the most obvious change) and put them on the market with little additional promotion. It was like a film company acquiring a suite of lavishly produced foreign films and instead of trying to maximize the deluxe DVD market deciding to bust out a bunch of $4.99 no-extra single-disc jobbies and dump them in the nation's Costcos and Wal-Marts, hoping that the audiences for Will and Grace Season Three and The Best of Larry the Cable Guy will be intrigued enough to sample. They didn't know what they had, and they didn't know what to do with it.

imageI know three of the twelve people in the United States that were clamoring for collections from the sometimes over-the-top adventure comics serials appearing over the years in the British magazine 2000 AD and any attendant publications, and I still never saw a single one of DC's books. How weird is that? I'm still not sure it isn't a practical joke. The 2000 AD effort probably wouldn't have been successful if it had come out printed in ink that made people who touched it better looking, but being so uncreative about format by going with non-bargain, rudimentarily designed, and rumored to be muddily printed graphic novels robs this effort of even a hint of romance. I would have bought a $5 bi-monthly packed super-cheapie or something like that. It still would have tanked, though.

So what have we learned?

1. Despite their press, comics have only a few strong-sellers, and fewer strong categories. Manga and comic strips (both classic and new) seem to be reasonably well-established book-market categories, with several strong sellers. Superheroes are not generally a strong category. Art comics aren't either, despite the occasional hit. General interest fiction and adventure genres book are not strong categories, and even lack breakout hits.

2. DC dumping these lines reasonably early in their relationships with each is both an indictment of the marketing department of its recent past and an indication its marketing department of the future wants to concentrate on core product.

3. It might be just me, but I think this may point out a real weakness of big companies like DC in their tendency to avoid playing favorites. There might have been a tent-pole title or two in each line, but it seems like a strategy to emphasize those was eschewed for a swarm-the-decks approach. To me that feels like the way they approach their superhero titles. It's hard to judge where the marketing effort was concentrated when you're talking about trace amounts, though.

4. Don't forget, DC didn't announce the closure of each line until after they failed to solicit them and fans noticed and asked. Classy! My guess is that this was so the dozens of people buying these books wouldn't skip buying into a trade series never to see completion, but I'm cynical that way.

5. In the end, buying into these lines was a bad idea followed by another bad idea, and DC has no one to blame but itself.

6. Robert Boyd makes the funny point here how Humanoids benefited from the DC deal, since not being insane they were targeting Hollywood, not American audiences. For some reason, this makes me think of Humanoids as a company getting kicked out of a hotel suite and back to a regular room, shuffling down the hallway with a big grin on its face.
posted 2:57 pm PST | Permalink

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