Jun 10, 2011

How Is DC Reaching Out to New Readers?

This is not an article about quality. I just want to make that clear.

I've been resisting the urge to react any more to DC's reboot/relaunch until all the titles are announced, so I may react to the creative teams and the premises behind their titles with some distance. And I'm still going to save all that for a later post, but one recent solicitation in particular makes me wonder, just exactly how is DC reaching out, as they claim, to new readers?

I'm working on a few assumptions here, and some of them may just be plain wrong. One is that the reboot is not aimed at us, the old reader. DC keeps using the phrase "today's audience," and I for one am clearly from "yesterday's audience." I haven't even bought a DC comic since the last issue of DC LEGACIES (which I wrote about here). I haven't followed characters in a long time. Generally, I follow creators I love on projects that sound interesting to me, and from there, I discover new creators. So I know for a fact that I'm not the target audience here.

Presumably, the target audience is new readers - perhaps readers who know little to nothing about comics, who don't know who the "good" creators are or what's been done before. And that's fair.

So with that, I have to ask, exactly how is putting Rob Liefeld on a new HAWK AND DOVE series supposed to attract new readers?

I'm as surprised as you are that there are feet here.

No, this isn't an article about quality. I dislike Rob Liefeld and his work as much as I would assume 90% of you people reading this right now, but I'm perfectly willing to admit that Rob Liefeld has a very solid fanbase who will follow him wherever he goes and whatever he does.

How exactly is this supposed to attract new readers? Budjette Tan told me, "Same way it attracted new readers like me back in 1988." And that's a fair answer. Think about how you got your first comic. For me, having comics around the house because of an older brother, I was used to picking up stories in the middle of a big arc. You kind of just get in the car in the middle of the road and ride along, relying on osmosis to give you all the details you need.

But that's the thing. That was 1988, two years after the hottest period in comics, which increased its audience greatly, and right before the boom of the speculator's market. You could pick up any title off the stands that looked interesting, because (1) it looked interesting, and (2) it was on the stands. Comics these days don't have that, do they? The "stands" are specialty stores, where only the people like us go. I've supported such specialty stores my whole comic book–reading life, but it was the comics that I bought in the grocery store at the age of 8 that got me going to these stores in the first place. Without them being so readily available as my mom was buying groceries, I never would have thought of going into any of the local comics stores.

That was also 1988, when you could pick up any issue of any comic and it would explain to you what you're missing. Most comics these days don't do that (I blame the whole "writing for the trade" thing). It's not the history that makes comics inaccessible; it's the refusal to explain it within the story so that it reads better when collected in a series of books.

Digital distribution can only help in terms of exposure, yes. It makes it available to people who don't go into the brick-and-mortar stores. But the online markets are so large that you can't just expect people to see it lying around and giving it a shot. Comics don't have a Netflix where they can rent a bunch of comics for small fees. For all the sites out there, they also don't have a Rotten Tomatoes to tell them what's recommended - what they have are various websites like mine. Comics also don't have a Pandora, where they can have readers try out their product easily. People buy stuff online because they know to look for it online, not because they run into it online.

So once again, how is Rob Liefeld on HAWK AND DOVE supposed to bring in the new readers? I don't see it happening. The market is so insular these days that the only people who would care about this are the Rob Liefeld fans. This is not an issue of quality. This is putting an artist with a solid fanbase on a small property that he is known for and expecting it to sell. This is like putting Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez on a relaunch of ATARI FORCE and expecting it to succeed in the flooded market in your month of first issues. And I love Garcia-Lopez.

Do we really think this title is going to stick out in the 52 titles that DC is launching? Do we really think that most of them will?

Why are new readers supposed to care, for example, that John Constantine is now in a Justice League? Does the new reader care for the Martian Manhunter in Stormwatch? Perhaps they could, but not, I think, with the language that DC is using to promote these titles.

Forsooth, even the language of the solicitations sounds clearly directed at the older readers, and not the new ones. The solicit for NIGHTWING, for example, reads:
"After a tenure as the Batman of Gotham, Dick Grayson resumes his mantle as Nightwing! As Dick embraces his identity, Haley’s Circus, the big top where he once performed with his family, returns to Gotham - bringing with it a history of murder, mystery and superhuman evil. Nightwing must confront friends and enemies from his past as he searches for the source of an even greater evil."
It's very dependent on the character's past, and is not exactly the type of promotion that I would think would be given to a new fan who these first issues are presumably aimed at.

I gotta admit, this one looks good.

There's, of course, the entire argument that the continuity shouldn't hinder readability and accessibility, as I mentioned earlier, but if that's the case, why are we getting these relaunches from number 1 to begin with?

For all of DC's talk that they are reaching out to today's audience, thus far they seem to still be talking simply to us. They're referencing the continuity that they're supposed to be cleaning up, and their promotions require knowledge of these characters and creators in order to be fully grasped.

I'm still waiting for the announcements for the rest of the DC Universe's relaunch. Creatively speaking, I still need to wait and see to figure out which ones interest me, and which ones I think will be good. But for all my anticipation for these creative choices and for all my desire to see this succeed, I'm becoming more and more primarily interested in seeing just how they plan on promoting this and selling it to their targeted audience — "today's readers." I'm very curious to see how they'll do it. They have three months to stop talking to us and start talking to the people who aren't listening.

Let's hope they succeed.


Norby Ela said...

Haven't read HAWK AND DOVE yet. But, just basing it on Liefeld's take -- No, thank you.

But, I just wanna add a certain artist that is making me want to grab a DC title - Francesco Francavilla. I might get his take of SWAMP THING (Yeah, you heard it right, Duy. :-)), Snyder-Capullo's BATMAN and, hopefully, Morrison's SUPERMAN title.

DC got me in with great creative teams. I confess, I'm not a DC reader. I usually read their some of their books in their Vertigo line. Hopefully, in the future, DC wont let me down.

Duy Tano said...

It's true, you don't read DC. But you don't really count as a "new" reader either. It more feels like they're shifting around the people in the existing audience rather than actually getting people who don't read comics.

Norby Ela said...

True that! :-)

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