Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Civil War Delayed:
I usually don't do a lot of the "comics industry events" commentary because really, plenty of people are talking about these things already, and who cares what I have to add...

But I'm so pissed at this new Civil War delay announcement and the reaction it's getting that I feel I have to vent. You've been warned.

First of all, as a reader, I couldn't really give a shit. This type of event isn't really my thing, and despite liking some of the action sequences in issue two, mostly I've found this to be not for me. I was skimming through issue three, and I doubt very much I'll be doing much more than skimming issue four whenever the fuck it actually comes out. Most of the debate has focused on the reader angle, with the defenders (including the "professionals" at Marvel who should know better) arguing that it's a triumph for art, and hooray for Marvel for delaying all their books for a month and a half so that they don't have to get somebody else to do the art.

Which is bullshit, because Civil War is more commerce than art anyway, but again, that's neither here nor there. For the purposes of my post, the effect on the readers is of no consequence.

No, what's being ignored, not just by the readers (from whom I'd expect it... really, why should they care) but from the folks at Marvel (who should really be more aware of it) is the impact this is going to have on the retailers. You can be a jackass and say that retailers should have learned not to put their faith in Marvel and this is what they get for investing so heavily in the crossover, but that's the ignorance of someone who doesn't know how retail works speaking. Trust me, as a retailer who has little interest in most of the popular Marvel/DC books, the bulk of the sales in my shop still come from those books. I can get readers to try out new books, but mostly, the same 3-6 books sell every week to 90% of the customers, and I can pick them out by looking at the shipping list. 52, Civil War, whatever Marvel and DC are pushing or Wizard is behind, etc. I don't get to set the tastes of my customers, I get to react to it and try to push the other books I would really like to sell in hopes of getting some open-minded customers to try them out and spread the word.

So basically, Marvel has fucked over the retailers with this thing. Millar talks big in his statement that "Marvel believe in the project and they feel me and Steve have formed a good team. Something they don’t want to fuck with for the sake of squeezing a few more bucks into the next financial quarter and so, after doing their sums, decided they’ll take a hit."

How noble. How wonderful. How nice of them to decide that they'll take the hit. Except, of course, they won't.

Marvel is a gigantic company that can survive a cashflow deficiency for a month which will be made up when the book sells a month or two months late when it comes out because their books aren't returnable and the fanbase has become conditioned to late books.

No, the people taking the real hit are the retailers. The sudden disappearance of several of their biggest selling books for a month means less cash flow then planned in August, and probably less sales of other books in September when the money that would have been allocated to other new books in that month is instead allocated to late Civil War books. Because the buying pattern of the average comics consumer is not that they have X number of dollars to spend on comics each month, and if the comics they like don't come in, they spend those dollars on other comics. No, in fact the buying pattern is that they have X comics they are planning to buy, and if those comics don't come in, the cash more often than not goes right back in the wallet or out to music, movies, videogames or other forms of entertainment.

And comic shops are not gigantic corporations who can easily absorb a financial hit. I'm not saying this is going to drive shops under (although it could well kill new ones that were promising, or older ones that are struggling to regain their footing), but it is a worrying sign, and it is certainly going to hurt all but the biggest of chain stores.

What's really telling about all this is Marvel's reaction to it. They put out the press release not when they knew the delay was coming (c'mon, they know how much art and story they've got in-house) but at the absolute last minute before the book was supposed to ship. Then, when they do send out the press release to inform the retailers, is there any kind of apology? Any kind of "Look, we know this is fucked up, here's how we're going to help you?"

No. Instead, there's "We're going to add more crossovers to give you more blind guessing to do with who's going to buy what crossovers and how many you should order!" There's "We're doing it because we want the book to be great, and you should really thank us for this!" There's "Art takes time!"

Which is an interesting contrast with Tom Breevort's public shaming of Dan Slott a few months back for being a week or two late on his assignments. Apparently if it's someone whose books are not tightly tied in to every schedule and frankly don't really matter if they miss a ship date by a week or two, it's an unprofessional catastrophe, but if it's the flagship book whose month of lateness takes down a huge chunk of the publishing schedule it's something we should thank them for doing.

Basically, editorial fucked up. They're either completely incompetent or cynically calculating, both of which should leave a bad taste in the fans' mouths. Either they had no idea that the artist who could complete a book in six weeks was going to run late on a monthly schedule, in which case they're idiots, or they knew this book was going to be late and they figured they could get away with it.

Let's face it, it's probably the latter. And truthfully, they're right. Marvel isn't going to hurt, and if a few of the retailers go out of business, it really doesn't affect them in the short-term. But the honorable thing to do would have been to be upfront with your retail partners, offer a realistic shipping schedule off the bat and let everyone plan for this new type of schedule, rather than lying in order to hype the book so that the fans were already invested and the retailers were already invested and were left with no recourse in planning their own cash-flow.

I don't have a good summation for you here. Essentially, as always, Marvel wins and gets to do whatever it wants, professionalism be damned, and the fans at large thank them for it. But I felt I at least needed to vent, and I do feel somewhat better as a result.

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