All publishers are Columbuses. The successful author is their America. The reflection that they – like Columbus – didn’t discover what they expected to discover, didn’t discover what they started out to discover, doesn’t trouble them. ~~ Mark Twain
I provided in Part I flawless, exhaustive proof that the comic book world can support another publisher of superhero books, I would go so far as to say it even needs another. (Admittedly, my idea of “flawless, exhaustive proof” may be skewed by my years in the software industry. I have fond memories of eight figure deals brokered solely on three word pitches like “on-line breakfast cereal.”) This business about Marvel and DC owning the superhero market? Pish. Posh. Too many superhero titles on the racks already? Not when you remove all the crep. I think the comic buying marketplace -- the whole of it, not just the direct market -- is screaming for another line of superhero product. They’re looking for an excuse not to buy Marvel and DC, they want a complete and wonderful tapestry of Gadgetman and Infinityguy stories and they want them told their way.
And I have no idea what that way is. Look, I’m the big ideas guy here, someone else can fill in the details.
There are basically three ways to go about creating this rich, universal canvas on which to base this new comic book company (we haven’t picked a name yet, we’re waiting for input from the VC’s, you know, to get buy-in). The first is purely organic. Start from scratch, maybe telling pulp stories and then moving to what we now consider traditional superhero comics, introduce characters slowly all the while allowing various creators to lend their voice and spirit to the universe and individual character lore. The characters will eventually grow into icons, some becoming brands unto themselves. Wonderful stories will be told, television shows and movies made, words and ideas lifted right from the stories and into our everyday lexicon. Eventually, 30, 40, 50 years down the road we’ll have a wholly formed comic book universe from which hundreds, nee, thousands of characters will have sprung and a 38% market share achieved.
The only thing one would need to pull this strategy off was best verbalized by my brother every time we got ourselves ass deep in some stupid scheme typically involving lighter fluid, duct tape and beer. Picture the shit roughly six inches from the fan, at which point Tom would calmly say, “All we need now is a time machine.” That’s what you’d need to pull off the “organic method”.
You see, Bob, Jerry, we’re in the 21st century now, we need results yesterday or sooner. We’ve got investors to satisfy and a hungry fan base that’s none to happy they can’t buy action figures and HeroClix for each and every one of Gadgetguy’s 38 villains for Christmas this year. If you want to grow your superhero universe organically you’re going to have to go back in time to maybe 1960 or so to do it. Maybe you have already. Bob does look like a young Stan Lee. Regardless, we don’t have time to sit around waiting for things to mature, life moves too fast. Hell, I cut two movie deals and an Underoos licensing contract while I typed that last sentence.
So “organic” is out. The next option is holistic.
With the holistic approach we sit down and map out the entire universe before hand, the characters, relationships, alliances, mysterious-forces-at-work, maybe even the unique physics, chemistry and psychology. (Careful with that last one.) This has to be done in a way that provides not only a clarifying framework but flexibility for the creators. Maybe you get together a group of experienced creators and an editor or two and start bouncing ideas around. Maybe you generate a bible of sorts that can serve as the guidebook for all scripting to come. Maybe you play a drinking game where everyone has to take a shot of Stoli whenever someone “creates” a character that’s a direct rip-off from the big two. Again you see why I’m not a details guy.
This approach may be more structured but it certainly has its risks. Much of Superman and Batman’s mythology was developed over time – an overly thought out approach would undoubtedly have robbed some of the charm from these characters. (Not that there was much charm left after the 90’s got through with them.) Interestingly, despite decades of storytelling, the mythology around many of Marvel’s prominent characters remains largely unchanged, perhaps because they were products of a more modern approach to comic book superheroes. The other risk is the outward appearance that these are “corporate” creations, perhaps limiting their appeal to certain readers and quite naturally inviting comparisons to the big two. This results in ongoing creators having a larger credibility hurdle to clear than they might with a more organic approach and possibly limiting the breadth and style of storytelling. That should be your matra guys, don't limit breadth and style.
Who would want to do things this way? Who could possibly have the time, energy and wherewithal to generate this sort of hitchhiker’s guide? I’m so glad you asked, because as it turns out my buddies over at Platinum Studios have done exactly that. Along this exact formula, Platinum Studios has created the Macroverse, a full-blown comic universe complete with superheroes, non-super heroes, parallel universes and its very own 1,000 page (plus) bible. The Macroverse bible was originally created with input from the likes of Greg Weisman (creator of
Here’s the real kicker to the holistic approach done right: intellectual property control. You wanna do movie deals? Sell Gadgetguy underpants, computer games and fruit rollups? In today’s comic book world, where even 12-year-old fan-fic writers can be heard uttering the phrase “creator owned property”, you better own the IP free and clear. (This is one of the reasons Platinum, while they’ll accept comic book pitches on any other genre, will not listen to anything relating capes and tights. In this way they minimize potential legal entanglements.) The real truth about this approach is that it’s not necessarily about doing comics really, really well, it’s at least as much about creating jet fuel for far more lucrative licensing and movie deals. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with that -- I’m a businessman, not an artiste -- but everyone won’t agree with that approach, many will hate it. So the important thing when implementing this strategy is to remember that while doing comics really, really well may not be part of your mission statement, that doesn’t automatically mean they have to be done poorly.
Anyway, Bob, Jerry, I know for a fact your day jobs at Costco don’t pay enough to take the Platinum Studios route and the VC guys said they were tied up funding a Chinese version of You Tube - besides neither of you know enough other industry types to pull together a whole universe from scratch anyway. Maybe what you need is a third way, a way I like to call Open Source Heroes. In Part III I'll primer that for you.