2013 starts tomorrow and, with it, a brand new year of comic book glory. Flash Forward is a look at the upcoming year with three fantastic retailers: Chris Humphries of Alpha Comics, Shanna Wallace of Graham Crackers Comics and David Meyer of Mayhem Comics. They were kind enough to offer their time and thoughts on the coming year by taking on ten epic questions.
Aaron Long: We’re going to start with a question about the creator owned market: what ongoing creator owned title do you see dominating the market in 2013?
Chris Humphries: Walking Dead is the big creator-owned comic that keeps getting bigger. It has the longevity and broad appeal that will just keep drawing people in. People visit shops just for the Walking Dead, it is that big of a deal.
Shanna Wallace: SAGA. Image comics has given creators new zest for reinventing themselves, and Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples are taking full advantage. Offering readings a new fresh take on a fan favorite (a sci-fi mixed fantasy), there’s no easy way to top this title.
David Meyer: Walking Dead will most likely going to be the big dog. However, Saga and Great Pacific are growing at a fast rate. Would not be surprised if one of those take over top spot. My guess is that Saga will be the top independent at the end of the year.
AL: In the past few years we’ve seen some creators rise very quickly from the indie ranks to mainstream books. Who will be the breakout writer in 2013?
CH: Justin Jordan & Jim Zubkavich are two writers that everyone needs to pay attention to. Their creator-owned books Luther Strode and Skullkickers (respectively) have built a solid fan-base. Now they are both working on DC comics as well. I can easily see these two champions of creator-owned becoming heroes of the mainstream. Their creator-owned books have a level of excitement that big superhero books need.
SW: Jonathan Hickman has been the premier prophet rising from indie to mainstream, but this year keep an eye on Justin Jordan, the mind behind Image’s Luther Strode, who is already being picked up by DC; and Joe Hill who has brought hordes of readers to IDW with Locke & Key and The Cape. I would like to see these Indie creators given work on a Vertigo title, or a Max title, something with more creator input and less editorial string pulling.
DM: I think Joe Mulvey is going places, sooner rather than later. He is a double threat, writer and artist. Scam is a great book, sure to get him more attention from the big boys.
AL: On the flip side of the coin, 2012 saw several high profile creators step away or reduce their workload in the superhero realm. In 2013, who do you foresee taking a step back from their current workload and shifting into a different mindset?
CH: Anyone who can make the choice to work exclusively on creator owned and be their own boss deserves huge congratulations. Not just anyone can do that. I can’t predict who will be able to do that next but now that Bryan Hitch has announced he is leaving Marvel I wonder if we will see more artists make the move to creator- owned.
SW: Ironically one of my favorite writers, Mark Waid, has done the opposite: leaving behind his original titles Irredeemable and Incorruptible to return to capes via Daredevil and Hulk – and thank the comic Gods for that because Daredevil has been fantastic!! The best step away this year for me was Grant Morrison and Derrick Robertson jumping into a completely original, seedy tale: Happy. Image Comics in 2012 – be still my beating heart.
I would love to see Jason Aaron do something creator owned, as he has been Marvel’s heavy hitter for the past year, and though he’s been phenomenal, nothing beats his own creative ventures Scalped and Other Side.
DM: Based on recent events, Gail Simone may take on more creator owned work. Currently Leaving Megaopolis is in production to be released early next year. My feeling is it is just the tip of the iceberg. Gail is a great writer with a solid fanbase eager to support her next projects.
AL: DC Comics has announced an unnamed Superman project and teased The Trinity War, and Marvel recently announced Age of Ultron. Do you feel either of these books will hit the sales levels that Night of the Owls and Avengers Vs. X-Men did this past summer?
CH: Snyder and Lee on a comic together is automatically a hit. I can see it doing numbers like Batman.Trinity war and Age of Ultron isn’t on anyone’s radar yet. No one brings those comics up in the shop. No talk, no buzz. No draw for new or lapsed readers. Can’t see these comics doing as well as AvX or Batman.
SW: Court of Owls has already been topped (at least in my store) by the current event Death of the Family, and beating these numbers is going to be difficult. DC fans LOVE a good Batman crossover, but do they care about Pandora, Phantom Stranger and The Question, the three key characters in this Trinity War event? Not so much.
With Age of Ultron, the accelerated schedule would worry this retailer, if not for the fan favorite return of ULTRON!! If the story involved a lengthy setup, I would be cringing at the thought of large invoices with no payoff; but the event opening with Ultron’s takeover should keep readers crying for more. Even I can’t wait for this one.
DM: Age of Ultron will probably sell more. This is something anticipated for a very long time and Marvel is being pretty good at executing their relaunch/reboot NOW! initiative. Not really sure that Trinity War is going to do that well. Seems like there is to big of a gap between its announcement and it actually happening. The Superman maxi with Scott Snyder and Jim Lee is going to be huge. Between their two fanbases and the build up to the Man of Steel movie it should do well.
AL: I quizzed you about the breakout writer a bit earlier: now you have to pick an artist. What artist do you see really taking the industry by storm this coming year?
CH: Now that it has been announced that Glory is ending I wonder where Sophie Campbell will be going to next. Depending on the book she could really explode. If Marvel isn’t looking at her to pick up where a current Marvel Now artist drops off they are missing out.
SW: If she wasn’t so busy with Saga, my money would be on Fiona Staples to take off this coming year. My new favorite artist has been killing it at Image, and we’ll see if the big two pick up this gem: Nick Pitarra. I would love to see Pitarra’s disjointedly detailed pencils on a Punisher book, or a Wolverine Max title.
DM: Frank Cho, who has had success with Liberty Meadows, is about to be introduced to a larger audience with the Savage Wolverine. Great artist about to step onto the largest of stages.
AL: What titles do you see being in the next wave of cuts from the New 52, and what titles do you think will be the first to fall from Marvel NOW!?
CH: Rumour is already out there that Team 7 and Sword of Sorcery will end at #8. If that’s true that will put us into April. I think that might be a time where DC will launch some big things. There are many New 52 books that don’t perform well. The next wave of cuts could be the biggest we’ve seen yet.
Marvel on the other hand isn’t using numbering as part of branding. I suspect we will only get more “Marvel Now” books and only seeing older series getting cancelled.
SW: There are several dying DC titles, among the top of the losers here are my picks for an immediate death: Savage Hawkman: doesn’t get readers; Fury of Firestorm is dragging it’s feet; and Grifter just doesn’t seem to grab anyone’s attention.
It’s hard to judge Marvel Now harshly as it’s just began and has been strong so far, but unless they change the artist, Iron Man is prime for the chopping. How is Greg Land still getting a paycheck, I can trace too!
DM: So sad to say, unless there is significant uptick of Deathstroke with change in talent to Justin Jordan, who is doing great, it will go next. Dial H is well below the magic 20K mark, Batwing needs a lot of help to increase its sales. I am not sure Phantom Stranger will be a stand alone book past trinity war. Finally, Savage Hawkman. I have not really paid a lot of attention personally to Marvel NOW!. From what I gather, Avengers Arena is pretty horrible.
AL: What do you think is the greatest underserved audience or genre in the comic market, and what can comic companies do to address that in 2013?
SW: I feel like the industry right now is open to so many possibilities, and creators are not short on new ideas; Crossed being a great example of that! The depraved have been catered to immensely, with books like Caligula and Crossed.
If any particular audience has cause for complaint, paraplegics, who were previously represented by just a few heroes, are now left with the magical recovery of their idols who possess the ability to walk again. In the instance of Oracle, DC took a character confined to a wheelchair, who previously soared the skies, but made a deeper impact than she ever would have in the cape. The central intelligence hub of the entire super hero community, is now just another bat, running around Gotham. Though the Batgirl series has been great fun, and seeing Barbara back in action is riveting, does the means justify the end? And those who found freedom in her vital role as Oracle, are left in the dust.
We did see an increase in gay and lesbian content, but how these characters are handled is just as important as their existence. In a matter of weeks the partner of Alan Scott was killed, the husband of Kevin Keller was shot, and the hopeful fiance of Northstar kidnapped. Can we have a gay / lesbian story-arc not involve the partner being used as bait or trampled on for the sake of an emotional response? Must we prepare for all partners of the gay characters to receive the “girlfriends in refrigerators” treatment?
DM: Where are the heroes with disabilities? How to fix? Give a great writer like Gail Simone freedom to create those characters and stories. Also, why not appeal to older (read baby boomers) with stories of heroes of advanced age and dealing with the life challenges. Deathstroke was doing that prior to issue 9 but was redirected. Also, if not senior citizens, middle aged folks (read Gen X). There are challenges of caring for elderly relations or boomerang kids. Plently of issues to explore.
AL: The last two years has seen the Big Two companies trying new incentives with retailers, from discounts to variant covers, and expanding their advertising. What things would you like to see them continue in 2013 and what new incentives would you like to see for retailers?
CH: I don’t order extra copies of a comic for the purpose of receiving a variant. I think a better way for a publisher to get me to order more is to send me a full PDF of the comic they are trying to sell. Every time a publisher has done that I’ve ended up ordering extra copies.
SW: DC’s consignment program for Before Watchmen books took the worry out of biting on a risky venture. Retailers had NO idea how fans would react to revisiting such a classic, and ordering high made sense but also terrified most stores. Having the ability to order more with the promise of getting the buck back if it doesn’t sell is the absolute best thing any publisher can do to guarantee stacks on the shelves. Back up your product. And if it’s as good as the publisher thinks it is, everyone will win. Many Before Watchmen books outsold my consignment copies to the point that I couldn’t return them, they sold! THAT’S good business.
Something we saw more of in recent years and less of this year, a tool to really spreading word and keeping fans up to date, are checklist fliers. Fliers can get lost and go unnoticed, but any time a retailer throws a checklist out for crossovers or big events, those events sell more. When a publisher neglects to print the checklists, I actually have customers asking for them.
I’d like to take a moment and answer a reversal for this question: what would you NOT like to see…
Marvel has increased their release schedule to the point of over saturation. When readers have to come in 3 times a month for every single book, the only one who loses is the retailer. Retailers must order the books that customers want, even if said customers aren’t ready for the next issue and therefore wait. Retailers are forced to pay their invoice regardless if anyone buys it. If Marvel continues to pump out books weekly, retailers, not fans, may have to start cutting themselves as to just stay in business.
DM: A few variants, maybe 2 or 3 at most to be offered. Don’t put crazy stipulations on retailers to be able to order them. When new titles are offered by the big 2, offer returnability programs. They need to communicate continuously to check in with retailers to find out their needs, what they are seeing, promo material, etc.
AL: What do you feel are the best tools a retailer can use to keep their customer base excited about comics in 2013?
CH: Best tool for that is the person behind the counter. A big part of the comic shop experience is interaction with someone who works in comics. The best promotion a comic can have is someone in the shop talking about it.
SW: Conversation. When someone walks into a comic book store they are bombarded with bright shiny stuff, posters, advertisements, toys, fun galore – it’s hard to focus on upcoming events. Conversation is a retailers best tool to excite customers.
Also, what I said above about checklists. Checklists Checklists Checklists!!!!
DM: First and foremost, customer service. Share enthusiasm of comics with customers. Social media, but not going through the motions. It is important to have a social media plan and actively review and update as needed. Events at the store, free comic book day is huge!
AL: And now, the big one: from the Big Two publishers, what will be the runaway title of the year?
CH: Heh, well my crystal ball only works up-to two months into the future. No doubt All-New X-Men and Batman will continue to really well. This past year has seen readership go up. Hopefully the big publishers have good plans to keep the snowball rolling.
SW: All New X-men hit the ground running, with X-Men fans and Bendis fans alike jumping on with a frenzy. I suspect New Avengers will crush everyone’s expectations and will wow us into oblivion, Jonathan Hickman is going to rule 2013.
DM: Batman will continue its dominance of DC, but a well executed Marvel NOW! title such as Uncanny Avengers or an X-Men title will be the big winner. Ok, if I have to choose, Uncanny X-Men. But would not be surprised to see the so-called Superior Spider-man end up at the top. Nostradamus would be proud.
A huge, huge thanks to Chris, Shanna & David for agreeing to this, and peering into the crystal ball to see what the next year holds!